The Clientele Is Back. YAY.

Photo courtesy of James Hornsey

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)

Front cover image: Long Life, 1823 by Kameda Bōsai, Minneapolis Institute of Art

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.

Photo via James Hornsey

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.

Photo courtesy of James Hornsey

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.

Photo courtesy James Hornsey

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. 

Not the usual drummer / courtesy of James Hornsey

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.

Not the usual drummer either / courtesy of James Hornsey
Tiny baby Clientele
The band circa 2017
Artwork by Tae Won Yu; created for a CF22 poster (2014)

The Decline of Mall Civilization, Second Edition

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know who Michael Galinsky is. We interviewed him back in 2021 (and also in our paper zine) when he was putting together an art show, and he posts zillions of photos of all your favorite bands from the olden days in NYC and Hoboken on his socials. He makes films and TV shows and was in Sleepyhead. He was 20 years old when he drove across the U.S. making these images. He originally made a book called Malls Across America (Steidl, 2010), which is out of print. So he made his own new mall book, The Decline of Mall Civilization, in 2011. He is in the midst of crowdfunding the second edition of The Decline of Mall Civilization, so we wanted to share some of his 1989 photographs shot in malls across America, which have gone viral umpteen times. Interview by Gail / Photos by Michael Galinsky 

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Chickfactor: Let’s start with the basics about the book(s). 
Michael Galinsky: I created this project when I took a color printing class in 1989. It was at NYU, but it was not in the art school. It was in the education school. I didn’t feel like I was an art student. I had this idea that I wasn’t that kind of creative person and the way that I took photos was more observational, which didn’t seem like art, but it also didn’t feel like journalism. I was going to a photo bookstore a few times a week, going through all these books and figuring out what I liked. What I found I liked was mostly stuff that was documentary in style but wasn’t really a documentary—so it was folks like Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander or Garry Winogrand. People who were observing the world, but from kind of a specific and interesting point of view that wasn’t so specific and interesting that it drew attention to their prowess as a technical shooter. I was really annoyed by technical stuff. It almost always ended up feeling like advertising copy or something, or drawing attention to this precision stuff that I wasn’t interested in. There was this connection between photography and music, and what I was mostly photographing at the time was shows. I was just trying to figure out what it was to be a photographer. a friend who was a photo student looked my photos, and he was like, “you should be trying to figure out what you’re shooting.” That was such great advice, to be thinking of the frame as a frame. My photo education was this bookstore where I looked at stuff, and then the first class I had was this color photography class and the teacher was awesome. Her first assignment was to watch River’s Edge and think about the color, the way it’s used and what it’s trying to say. 
Keanu’s best work probably. 
By far. It’s just a weird, crazy movie but it made me think, how are the images being used, and how is the camera being used? So even in photography, it started making me think about storytelling. I had to have a project. My girlfriend went to college on Long Island. I was visiting her, and we went to the mall, and I was like, “Oh my God, I have my project.” I shot like a roll that week. I went back the next week. My teacher was like, “this is great, you should continue this project.” So, I drove across the country, I took pictures all over the place. No idea what the fuck I was doing. 

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Which route did you take? 
I went with my friend Sebastian; first we drove from Chapel Hill to Columbus, OH, because my aunt lived there. Then we went to Chicago, where we stayed with Gene Booth, and he took us to some malls and then we went to Detroit, where we met my friend Tom, and he took us to some malls. Then we just hightailed it across the country. I think we stopped in Wisconsin, but we didn’t find a mall. We just kind of stumbled upon places. We got to San Francisco after going up through Seattle and down and then our car got broken into; thankfully, we’d camped on the side of the road the night before and the car was a fucking mess. I had a bag with the film in it and the ones that were shot had not been separated from the unshot ones. That night I separated them out and I stuck that (shot) bag under the front seat. The other film got stolen. My friend was like, “I’m done.” It’s hard to travel, so we drove from San Francisco 40 hours straight to Saint Louis, shot a couple malls there. We did stop once near Denver, in a mall in Aurora, Colorado, but literally didn’t sleep. One of us slept, the other drove. 
What kind of chemicals were in your body to be able to do that? Just caffeine? 
A lot of coffee and cokes. When you got tired of driving, you just switch seats. If you can’t keep your eyes open, you can’t keep your eyes open. 
Originally there was no interest in the project. I had no concept of how you do something with work when you have it. I went to one gallery where they literally laughed at me. They’re like, “these are pictures of people in malls. Yeah, it’s not really for us.” I just felt ashamed and weird, and I never did anything with them. I showed them once when we (Sleepyhead) played with Guided By Voices at Threadwaxing. I set up a projector and I projected them on the back wall. And then they went back into the box.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

In 2010 I put them online and they went crazy. I found a box of the slides. I had two boxes, which I thought were the best ones. I started scanning those. Some of the other ones, all the rejects, are the best ones. They didn’t used to mean anything, but now they do. They’re the wide shots and stuff. I didn’t think those were important at the time. I brought them back to New York. I did a Kickstarter and that ended up being a book called Malls Across America, which went viral again when it came out and sold out. It’s hard to get now and what happened was because they didn’t reprint it. 
When it was going viral, this designer came to me and said, “hey, I have this imprint on Steidl or Rizzoli, would you like to do one of those?” He wanted to look at the slides. He wasn’t even a guy who’s ever on the Internet, but so many people contacted him. He was like, “OK, let’s do a book.” We could do it on Rizzoli. It will be in the malls, or we could do it on Steidl and then you could make this amazing book. You probably won’t get paid, but it’ll be the most beautiful book ever. I knew who Steidl was because I’d filmed a conversation between him and Robert Frank at the New York Public Library. So I was like Rizzoli, it should be in the malls. He’s like, OK. The next day I was at Hot Docs film festival and this guy I was with says, “let’s go see this movie: How to Make a Book with Steidl.” I was like, “you’re kidding.” The first movie there was him making books with Robert Frank. I was like, “OK, let’s do it on Steidl,” which ended up being a nightmare. They took forever; they printed a beautiful book. They didn’t see me as the artist, they saw the designer, Peter Miles, as the artist. It was his project to them. So, they didn’t let me come to help make it. Then I had 300 books to send to backers, and they charged me like $25 a book. But at that point, Kickstarter, you didn’t add in shipping. So, I had to ship these books all over the world. It cost me more to do this than I raised for making the books. So, it was kind of a nightmare. 

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Malls Across America was all double page spreads and it was meant to be lay flat, but they didn’t. The printing itself is unbelievable. You can’t believe that this is a printed book. I mean, it looks so beautiful. The paper is so thick. I was told it was going to lay flat. I wasn’t there and it didn’t happen. People still appreciate that book. It was like The Times top ten list and stuff like that. It’s out of print. And if they want to reprint it, I will let them. But they did also destroy a bunch of my slides because they wet plate scanned them, and I was like, it’s Steidl, I don’t need to check them. And then when I replied to rescan them for this book, I found some of them are all covered in mold. Steidl wouldn’t give me their scans until I explained that to them. They did it as a wet plate scan, meaning they got wet and then didn’t dry them properly so when they put them back in, they were moldy. I would have them do the book again if they wanted to because I’d like it to be out. I’d like them to do a second printing. But they didn’t and it’s fine. What I’m going to do next is make a book that combines the best of both books. 

I didn’t feel like I had the agency to like kind of reprint the book that they designed. So I made an entirely new book with entirely new images, and that book was called The Decline of Mall Civilization, which, as anybody in your audience knows, is a reference to the Penelope Spheeris series. I was really into those movies. It made sense that I was documenting in the same way as maybe she did, in an observational way that wasn’t judgmental and was open to whatever it was, even if some of it seemed a little silly. And so I made that book, I did a Kickstarter and that sold out immediately. So that book now goes for $500 like the first one. 
Then I met with a publicist in Brooklyn, and I was like, “listen, I’m going to make this go viral.” And she was like, “Yes, everybody believes that.” I’m like, no, no, really. I was like, please make sure they print enough. She was like, “OK.” The Kickstarter was 2011 and this was 2013, so I had a bunch of really angry backers, and I got them to all them. But here’s the thing: The book also, because it was priced pretty cheap, actually they priced it at like $36, even though they charged me $25. One article in Gizmodo had a like an Amazon clicker, it sold well over 600 copies. It also talked about The Americans; it sold 75 copies of that. It sold out so fast that it didn’t even go to stores. It never went to stores in the US, like no stores were able to get it. And then they said, “OK, yeah, yeah, we’ll reprint it but then they didn’t.” So that’s why it costs so much now (from $500 to $4000). A few years later, I made a new book, which is entirely my own. All new images, laid out differently, Tae (Won Yu) designed it. 

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Recently, this website called Chasing the 80s made a reel of the book, and it just went crazy. It got like 600,000 views. So, I was getting crushed with requests for The Decline, and I don’t have it. And the price was going up even more. I was like, OK, I already have the printer, I already have the drop shipper. I’m just going to do another Kickstarter because these people want it so badly and it doesn’t seem fair to kind of be like “you can’t have it.”  
I spent a lot of time looking at older books of older photos that resonated with me, even though I hadn’t been in that time. I was really into music at the time and reading about old music. I was aware that if you’re looking at Television pictures, someone was there, and they were taking those pictures and nobody else was. I started to go to shows and take pictures of bands that I liked but I wouldn’t do it if anybody else was taking pictures because film was expensive and I was in my head, it was like, this is important, it needs to be documented. That’s how I felt about the malls. You never saw anybody in the mall with a camera and I knew they would go away, and I thought, this is going to be interesting in a while. Now, 30 years later, it has a much deeper resonance.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

What was it about that original mall that made you think this was a good idea? Generally, people didn’t know you were photographing them.
Right. I was shooting from the hip, and I was doing it like as if I was … quite immediately it felt like this is what America is. I was thinking about Robert Frank’s The Americans and he shot so much in diners and honkytonks, like if he was going across America now he would be shooting in malls. But I also thought of William Eggleston, if he was doing it in malls, he would be doing it in color like William Eggleston because photography expands, and color had become possible and had become an art form. I was kind of combining those two elements in my head and I didn’t have a lot of great technical prowess, but I was also taking a lot of anthropology, religious studies classes, sociology. So, I was thinking like the way you want to do this is without judgment, even though was a judgmental punk rock motherfucker and I hated the mall, I was like, that’s not the way to make this work. 

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

A lot of people in places with malls didn’t have other options. They don’t live near cafes or pubs. It’s where I worked as a teenager. Has anyone in the photos contacted you? Tell us a story about any of those people. 
There’s a picture of two couples, like an old couple looking one way and a young couple looking another way on a bench. And it’s almost like kind of mirror images of these couples. And I was like, oh, that’s great. I was on my Facebook page for 10 years and just before the book came out, someone was like, “hey, that’s me.” She came to the opening and we started talking at a signing at Dashwood Books in New York. Mike McGonigal was there. Tae was there. My friend Jimmy was there. Suki was there. The woman I had photographed was like “Oh my God, like two years before that, I had a pink liberty Mohawk.” She said her favorite band was the Butthole Surfers, and half the people at the opening realized we had all been at the same Butthole Surfers show at the Ritz in 1987.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Once I studied all the Top 40s and Billboard 100s from every year of my lifetime and the late 80s had the worst popular music. What did these malls had in common, what was the vibe? 
The malls all had a sense of placelessness. I took a couple pictures outside a mall, but they all look the same outside and they all look the same inside. When I got back, I tried to write down the names of all the malls. Like I could kind of tell from a set where it was. Sometimes I couldn’t even and so I’d write that. But then when I had to scan them, I had to take all the images out. So now I don’t know where they’re from, but I can usually tell by the floors is the most telling sign. Woodfield Mall had amazing architecture. Southdale Mall in Minneapolis was one of the very first malls. So that was kind of lucky. I stumbled upon that, and it was designed by Victor Gruen, who designed the first malls. But also, what was weird is there’s a mall in Vancouver, WA, looked just like one in Columbia, MO, it was literally the same with all the same places in the food court. It was such a weird, shocking thing.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Have you ever had a problem with somebody you photographed asking you to remove it? 
Once or twice, someone didn’t like the way they looked. Most people are happy to have it documented. I haven’t had any issues with this project, but I’ve had it with other things. It’s confusing because one of the important aspects of a free culture is that we should be free to make images in a public space. I mean, that’s the law. No one has the right to say “you can’t take my picture” if you’re out in public. You can’t then turn around and like use it to sell something, but you can make art out of it. And that’s important. But it’s also important to be respectful of what other people desire but trying to balance that out with public needs. there are people who do it problematically. At the same time, if you look at what’s so important to our culture, if we didn’t have Vivian Maier and Robert Frank, these things are important for understanding our culture in the future.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

Things are so much more politicized now. 
People have often said to me, “hey, don’t take my picture” and I’ll try to honor that. But when it’s violent and they grab your camera, they get in the way of you photographing or talking to someone else, and they’ll disrupt it, they also don’t want to be seen. It’s complicated and important for the free flow of information that we allow these things to happen. We are in such a weirdly politicized moment that I’m less interested in doing anything political anymore, and it’s hard to find the value in a lot of this stuff. 

Do you have any tips for photographers who want to make their own book or crowdfund? 
Number one, be patient. Shoot a lot. Be Organized. Double back everything up and take the time to put them in a folder with a date and some keywords so that you can find stuff later, which I didn’t do. I did kind of organize my negatives back in the day, but not that well. The main power of photography is it captures something that will be gone. It captures a moment that will not be repeated. 
Don’t launch until you’ve already created a lot of connectivity, so people who will share it, websites that will share it because without networks, without people sharing the work, it’s difficult. There was so much demand for this that I set up a sign up for an e-mail. So, the first day of this campaign we already made 50% of the money. So, it relies on having people willing to share and want to back what you’re doing. Someone will share it; I’ll see it get shared and then there’s two sales. So, it really does impact it. So, make sure that the people you have as allies are going to step up and be an ally. 

You collector geeks need this book: order here.

Photographs by Michael Galinsky, 1989.

The Linda Smith Interview

Linda Smith in Brooklyn in the 1980s; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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

Linda with Peggy Bitzer in the early ’80s; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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. 

Girls Ranch is (from left): Elizabeth Downing, Dee Dee Taylor, Peggy Bitzer, Linda; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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!

Paul Baroody and Linda in NY; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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.

Rehearsing at 14K Cabaret in 1991; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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.

Rehearsing at 14K Cabaret in 1991; photo courtesy Linda Smith

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. 

Linda Smith; photo by Peggy Bitzer

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.

Much of my old music and all of my new music is available here: lindasmith2.bandcamp.com 

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

The Woods on the Staten Island Ferry; photo courtesy Linda Smith

An interview with author Jude Rogers

Many of you already know Jude Rogers for her wonderful music writing in the Guardian, the Quietus, the NME, and formerly Word and Smoke fanzine. Her 2022 memoir, The Sound of Being Human, is excerpted here on our very site: Read some of her chapter about being a super-fan of R.E.M. as a teenager. Her book is the rare memoir that manages to tell her story and teach us about the science of how music impacts our brains in a way that is both personal and universal. Here she talks about the book, which is just out in the U.S. and a perfect holiday gift for everyone you know, her own music history, her new podcast Songbook, which dissects music books, and tons more! Interview by Gail O’Hara / photographs courtesy of Jude Rogers

Jude watching Neneh Cherry at the Big Chill Fest, 2011

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 for radio, 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. 

Sticker of Neneh Cherry on her high school maths book (she was 12)

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.

Jude, age 15, in her R.E.M./Evan Dando/Nirvana/Britpop bedroom

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.  

Jude and her best pal Dan C at Pulp in 2011

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! 

R.E.M. superfan Jude and Michael Stipe

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. 

The Q with Jude’s McCartney interview. She interviewed him minutes after she realized she was miscarrying.

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. 

Jude, age 3, with her dad

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.   

Jude dancing at her 40th bday

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. 

Jude just after dancing to “Heat Wave” at her wedding

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!

Folk legend Shirley Collins (left) with Jude; Collins inspired Chapter 8 in the book

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. 

Heavenly in the U.S.A.

In honor of the forthcoming Heavenly reissues (Skep Wax will rerelease all the Heavenly LPs on vinyl soon: Heavenly vs Satan is available on pre-order now; Le Jardin de Heavenly will follow next April and the other two will come along at six month intervals)—in addition to the John Peel Sessions on Precious Recordings and the announcement of the band’s forthcoming gigs at Bush Hall in London in May 2023—we asked the band to think back to 30 years ago and tell us about their impressions of the U.S. in the olden days! The very first issue of chickfactor was handed out at a Heavenly / Lois gig in Sept. 1992; I reviewed their second album in SPIN around the same time, and we interviewed them in chickfactor zine (Amelia is on the cover of issue 2).

Heavenly: Peter, Amelia, Rob, Mathew, and Cathy. Photo by Alison Wonderland

ROB PURSEY
Going to America was overwhelming, partly because we were going to meet loads of people for the first time—people whose records we’d heard, but from a distance of 3500 miles. Two of the encounters I remember most vividly from that first Heavenly trip are Phoebe Summersquash (Small Factory) and Jeffrey Underhill (Honeybunch).  Phoebe is one of the select band of people known as ‘girl drummers’. She was the most diminutive person in the band, she wore glasses and she smiled all the time, even while she beating the hell out of a drumkit. I loved that combination of effortless glee and thunderous noise. She was the living antidote to those theatrical drummers (and guitarists) who pretend to be working out in the gym, or summoning Satan, as if that was crucial to making a great sound. 

Heavenly. Photo by Alison Wonderland

Jeffrey Underhill, we met, I think, in Rhode Island. I don’t really remember the gig very well, but I was a big fan of Honeybunch. Their song ‘Mine Your Own Business’ was in my head all the time, and it still provides the soundtrack for my memories of our first trip to the US. Anyway, what I remember about Jeffrey was the fact that he showed up in a back alley in a really great old blue/green semi-beater of a car. I am a bit of a nut about old cars, and liked this one a lot. Me and Jeffrey didn’t talk much, I imagine we were both somewhat shy, but I do remember sitting on the bonnet thinking ‘this is the best car, and it belongs to the person who played the best song’.

Image courtesy of Heavenly

The encounters with all these new people came to a head at the Chickfactor Party, where there was a whole community was assembling. I didn’t really know anyone there, of course, but I somehow felt like I could get to know and like all of them. We were a long way from the UK, but we felt at home. Part of the reason for this was that women were running the Chickfactor show, and these were wry, witty women.  There was a lot of intellect behind Chickfactor, and a definite attitude, but there was a lot of humour too. The humour was a sign of confidence—there was nothing apologetic about it. That’s what being in Heavenly felt like. The women in our band were obviously in charge, but they wore it lightly. So New York, or at least this little indie corner of New York, felt more amenable to our band than a lot of places back in the UK. It was a good feeling.

Amelia: Image courtesy of Heavenly

CATHY ROGERS
I’m not sure any of my memories are really separable. The synapses which connect Heavenly to America all sit in a viscous bath of coffee and the new kind of cool of the straight edge punks and the smell of wet trees driving through Oregon and Massachusetts and the swooning delight of being in the same venn diagram overlap as the really rioting riot grrrls and gigs not being gigs any more but shows and the sheer heat of new experiences and new loves. America just felt so great. It was like finding a version of us that was just so sure of itself. So certain. Walk around the town like you own it…everyone, all the time.

Cathy: Image courtesy of Heavenly

Compared with that overpowering sense of it all, specific memories feel a bit humble. The drive down from Olympia to play a show with a band who turned out to be Tiger Trap, Calvin saying, classic understatement, ‘I guess you might kinda like this band.’ Meeting them to play a show together in this kind of basement garage, them all wearing roller skates, us being powerless to resist charms on that level. For some reason, having a conversation with a bunch of people about our favourite foods and everyone out-doing each other for eccentricity, then Molly from Bratmobile saying ‘I just want to eat rice’ and that becoming one of those weird things that I think of literally every time I cook rice. The novelty, playing at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, of being fed really well before a show. Laughing over-hearing an old guy in the audience, saying – after a whole raft of indie bands – about Lois, ‘Finally someone who can actually sing’. Meeting Ted and Jodi for the first time and being so jealous that Pete was somehow already friends with them, then seeing Jodi’s band (with another girl with a rad American name like Brooklyn or Maddison, I’m pretty sure the band was called The Runways) and thinking these were the most sensational people I’d ever met. Being interviewed for this magazine called Chickfactor and hearing of another wait what cool girls are somehow allowed to be mainstream now magazine called Sassy and realising that culture was an actual thing and the world changes and feeling that we lived in some small backwater but we were so lucky because we were here, for now. 

Amelia. Image courtesy of Heavenly

AMELIA FLETCHER
– On our first US tour, Pete and I being dropped off by Small Factory in Hartford, Connecticut, in the middle of the night. We were near the place we were all staying with my parents, and figured we’d call a taxi to get us home. But it turned out that the place we stopped at had been robbed the week before, and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by police cars. We were freaked out. It felt like an episode of Starsky and Hutch. Then, when asked where we were heading, we realised we couldn’t remember the address. Not at all suspicious! In the end, though, the police believed the daft English people and gave us a lift home in the police car.

– Meeting Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields at Chet’s Last Call in Boston. She asked if I had time to come and record a song for her and Stephin Merritt’s side project, the 6ths, the next day. I said why not. I had heard ‘100,000 Fireflies’ on the ‘One Last Kiss’ compilation and liked it a lot. I remember I sang ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in an especially breathy way, and Stephin commented that I came complete with my own reverb!

Image courtesy of Heavenly

– Playing at the Fantagraphics Comics Warehouse in Seattle with Beat Happening and another band who I just remember as being very smelly! It was a great space, and I was excited because I was a big fan of ‘Love and Rockets’. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl both came, which seemed pretty thrilling too. We were easily thrilled!

The Heavenly option. Photo by Alison Wonderland

– Arriving in Olympia at the start of a West Coast tour, meeting Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and discovering Riot Grrrl. There was a visceral buzz around the whole place, and we quickly got very excited about it too. We had always been a feminist band, but in a quiet sort of way. We didn’t really feel part of the UK feminist movement at the time. It was fighting for stuff that was no doubt important but didn’t seem relevant to our concerns. So it was thrilling and empowering to find people discussing the issues that really had affected us. And to discover a whole set of new bands who had found a way of being outspoken and angry but also huge fun. It had a big impact on us, musically and personally.

Heavenly. Image courtesy of the band

PETER MOMTCHILOFF
I have opened the drawer in which I left my old memories of Heavenly in the USA. There is a lot there, but I can’t fit it together into any kind of story. My colleagues’ reminiscences do what I seem not to be able to. As a kind of coda, I do remember that we were brought down to earth by our first gig back in England after a West Coast tour, feeling rather pleased with ourselves. It was in a pub in Gillingham, to about five men and a dog. I don’t think they even turned the pub TV off while we played.

The late Mathew Fletcher. Image courtesy of Heavenly

An interview with Michael Grace Jr. / My Favorite

Andrea Vaughn and Michael Grace Jr. in 1995. Image courtesy My Favorite

Coming from the land of Hal Hartley (uh, Long Island), My Favorite was/is a stylish, mod-ish punky pop band that formed in 1993, connected with us via zines and postcards, and played at some of our early shows in NYC. The band has existed in two time periods: 1993-2005, when (according to their Bandcamp) “teenage misfits gather around black mass of water called Lake Ronkonkama, release 7″s, release 2 LPs, go to Sweden, die.” Legend has it Michael Grace Jr. and Darren Amadio formed MF at SUNY Stony Brook, then added Andrea Vaughn, Gil Abad, and Todbot. The ’80s had just ended so it was an influence! They released their first cassette and a few seven-inches between 1993-1995, the latter on Harriet Records. They were quite active between that time and 2003, then called it quits and reemerged in 2014. (Grace was also in the Secret History as well.) We spoke with Michael on the eve of the first release in a series of three EPs via HHBTM and WIAIWYA. Interview by Gail / Images courtesy My Favorite

My Favorite circa 2022. Photograph by Jen Meller

How are you holding up in the pandemic era? 
I’m OK! Honestly the pandemic has been instructive in a sense. I was, and still am, worried for myself and my parents and my friends—COVID is serious stuff. But on a different level, the pandemic helped me realize just how isolated I had let myself become in the years prior to COVID. How comfortable I had gotten with my depression, and with being apart from so many things that used to bring me joy. Seeing people on social media freaking out about all the stuff they weren’t doing, all the stuff they were missing, it just shook me out of a certain complacency. Because things hadn’t really changed that much for me. So it encouraged me to take a hard look at my life and recommit to letting people in, to taking chances, to making my art. So seeing this first EP finally released, it means a lot to me. I’m still a bit battered and dazed, but I feel a little like Mad Max (Sad Max?!) emerging from a smoldering wasteland. Onwards!
What were you like as a child/teen? Was your family musical? 
Gail! That’s a novella at least! I was a very awkward and introverted child, prone to daydreaming and getting lost in movies and books and drawing. I was sick a lot, and I didn’t really have many friends. My mother was insanely overprotective and her anxiety both affected and infected me. And those were the best years of my childhood! Becoming a teenager was much, much worse and that period was pitted with incidents of violence and abuse. All of that only pushed me further into my own inventions and fantasies. They became a kind of sanctuary to me. A haunted castle of self (Abandoned Castle of My Soul?!) You come to have a very complicated relationship with trauma when you start to believe that all your gifts have sprung from it. There is no My Favorite without all that darkness. But there was nearly no me, because of it. That takes a long time to sort out. ¶ Eventually music joined books and painting to really save me as a teen—and to help me find people whom I could feel seen by, and safe around. Perhaps that’s why I kept some of the spirit of that era with me in the music I made over the decades that followed. ¶ My grandfather on my mother’s side supposedly played violin, though I never saw or heard him play. He had a violin case, but I used to imagine that it was full of cash or secret ledgers. We were a Sicilian-American family in Queens, and the mythology of the mafia still remained during my early childhood. However, his son—my Uncle Joe—replaced Felix Pappalardi as the bassist in Mountain with Leslie West, and was a really great rock ‘n’ roll musician. He gave me my first guitar, but I couldn’t play it because I was left-handed. On my dad’s side were mainly cops.

Michael and Andrea’s one-off zine. Image courtesy My Favorite

Tell us about the Long Island scene from your early days (zines, shows, etc.) 
As a young teen, there was heavy metal and hardcore—so given those choices I opted for hardcore, but I wasn’t especially suited to it. I was the worst skateboarder in Lake Ronkonkoma. I did find our first drummer in a hardcore group and convinced him to join our 11th grade new wave band, which also included Darren Amadio, who went on to be my guitarist/musical partner for the next 20 years in My Favorite and The Secret History. Long Island was ahead of the curve in terms of radio stations and clubs though. WLIR was one of America’s first commercial stations dedicated to new wave (a decent documentary on it dropped a few years ago). Duran Duran used to fly into JFK, take a limousine out to Long Island to do an interview, and then straight back to play Madison Square Garden. WUSB—the college radio station in Stony Brook—was also great, especially Lister-Hewan Lowe’s reggae show called “Saturday’s A Party.” There were also dance clubs like Malibu and Spyze that were nearly on the level of places like Danceteria and Limelight. This was during my high school years, roughly 1987–1991. ¶  Once college started in the ’90s, it was really a mishmash of scenes and styles as indie and grunge came into prominence. But in the clubs—synthpop, industrial, and the new romantic stuff never really went away. We went to these little strip-mall goth clubs in the suburbs. It was laughable, but also sort of amazing. I listened to my fair share of Britpop—especially Suede, Blur, and Pulp. I was intrigued by techno and house but did not have the stamina necessary for raves. Still, I listened to stuff like 808 State, Future Sound of London, A Guy Called Gerald, and Mr. Fingers. I read the NME every week, but also started to send away for indie pop zines and follow labels like Teenbeat and K, and Kill Rock Stars. I wasn’t entirely sure about the music, but I loved the spirit. I found Riot Grrrl really inspiring. When I got Huggy Bear’s “Weaponry Listens To Love” LP, it really shook me, like an indie pop “Unknown Pleasures.” ¶ So there was really no organized indie pop scene on Long Island then. If we were on punk bills, we skewed our set a little heavy; if we were playing with synthpop or shoegaze bands we went that way. It worked for us. I wasn’t very committed to any sound or scene. I felt like we were doing something that created its own world. I know that sounds arrogant, but in a way—it proved true for many. ¶ There were a lot of zines on Long Island, mostly personal zines, and I did a big one-off with Andrea from MF called “Absolute Beginners,” which connected us to a myriad of people via the P.O. box. It was an innocent time, with the internet in its infancy, and the years peeled away slowly in the ’90s like a sunburn. Few cared about a weirdo pop band from Long Island, and we had no musical careerist aspirations at that time. So we went to school, worked some really menial jobs, and played whatever shows we could. At that time, it felt great to put out a 7” a year on these interesting little labels.
What was the indie pop scene like when you started out with MF and how did it change through the decades? 
Our first single was “Go Kid Go” / “Absolute Beginners Again” in 1994, and then “The Informers” / “Detectives Of Suburbia” in 1995 on Harriet Records— which I was really excited to be on in no small part because of the Magnetic Fields single they had done. It also didn’t hurt that the label was named after my most beloved YA book, Harriet The Spy. In 1996 we did two split singles (“Working Class Jacket” and “Modulate”) and then spent nearly two years trying to make a record that wasn’t very indie pop at all. To be honest, I had been drawn to indie pop due to the leftist politics and “up with kids” energy of scenes and labels in the Pacific Northwest and D.C. Yet having our label run by a Harvard professor, we ended up in this little Northeast cabal of bands and small college shows. And it was, frankly, culture shock. We were legitimate working class and middle-class kids with Long Island accents. We all went to community colleges and state universities. Playing in Cambridge, at MIT, at Bryn Mawr, at Brown. It was wild. No amount of thrift store cardigans and barrettes could conceal a rich kid from us, and vice versa. We were treated as somewhat of a curiosity, playing decade-old synths and wearing the preppy clothes they had themselves self-consciously forgone. It was clear we were up to something with this soul boy/Benetton kid look. But what? It was some Fabulous Mr. Ripley shit and Brideshead wasn’t entirely having it. ¶ That said, I have some amazing memories of those years, especially mini-tours with Go Sailor and the Softies and Holiday and the Push Kings. But there were other nights we were playing with bands whose parents were famous right-wing Texan senators. I’m not saying this was that kid’s fault, but it was just a whole new world from the punk and goth scenes where we had started out on Long Island. A lot of wealth, and a lot of privilege. Occasionally it felt like we were in a kitschy bubble, and I really wanted to pop it. ¶ I also found the shambolic, half-trying aesthetic of some indie pop to reflect how little it all actually mattered to them. Like, was this just some sort of rumspringa before jobs in finance and summer houses in Cape Cod? By this point I really wanted to change pop the way my heroes did. But my depression and anxiety got deeper the more I failed to figure out where we belonged in all of this. We spent half a year doing demos for Minty Fresh, and when that didn’t amount to anything, we made the poor decision to max out our credit cards trying to make a slick, retro-sounding record that would be defiantly anti-grunge and anti-lofi. ¶ The biggest change in the indie scene for us came around the year 2000. The Love at Absolute Zero LP came out in 1999, and while it might have been polarizing, it was also quite acclaimed in certain circles, and solidified our fan base. Then when electroclash started, we had a second scene to not really fit into, but one in which we had some simpatico and overlap. Then with the emergence of the Strokes and the explosion of interest in NYC bands, we were able to hold our own in that scene, as we were a group with both post-punk and art rock influences. We actually headlined a CMJ show at Brownies in the early aughts that featured both the Walkmen and Interpol in probably their first years of existence. Though I continued to live a mainly monk-like existence, I did find the glamour and sleaze of these years exciting on a Warholian level. So between indie pop, electroclash, and the next wave NYC scene we had fashioned a kind of praxis, a Venn diagram for being My Favorite. Those were the best years, and I think it’s reflected in the songs we wrote during them.

You played at a number of chickfactor things back in the day. Any memories or connections made at those? 
My main memory of chickfactor was how it helped me learn about and get deeper into bands like Belle & Sebastian and the Magnetic Fields (that and being slagged off by Sleater-Kinney in the Jukebox Jury thing). So then to end up being able to eventually play with both those bands and have friendships with certain members (we actually talked Claudia Gonson into managing us for like three months), it was really special. I also remember being exposed to Momus and Nick Drake through chickfactor. I had a real appreciation for the lens through which your crew saw indie. There was just a really high curatorial quality, and whenever we were able to play a CF party or show it was a real thrill.

Setlist, 2003. Image courtesy My Favorite

Do you see it as having a political side to it? Your band always seemed to. 
It, as in indie pop? I think it could have and should have had an even more political side to it. Considering how important Riot Grrrl was to the formative years of the scene, I think it is disappointing that it didn’t. But I’ve touched upon some of the reasons it may not have. I remember a popular indie pop zine writer who was vocally pro–George W. Bush, and some of the uncomfortable silences that would follow when I challenged him. The vibe was that it was rude of me to take shots at this “nice, harmless bookish guy.” It drove me crazy. And now look where we are! I’m not saying that artists need to write political songs—they are very hard to do well. I had a few like “Working Class Jacket,” “Detectives of Suburbia,” and “The Informers,” but overall, that wasn’t my focus in any didactic way. I tried to write about life, and by doing that I think this dystopia of late capitalism emerged in our songs. However, I always thought that a band should, in their art and interviews and personas make it very clear where they stood. I really admired artists like Billy Bragg and Heaven 17 and the Style Council for doing that. If I couldn’t be in a band that talked about kicking fascists in the balls, I didn’t want to be in one at all. 

Michael and Kurt, 2005. Image courtesy My Favorite

How do we save this country from evil (and idiocy)?  
I’m really not sure, but it is clear we have to! I think for now, we support and protect all the people the Right wants to erase or harm, and we stay vocal and vigilant about how much peril we are in. Voting is part of it, but it’s also about solidarity. It’s about pushing back at the insane narratives that are poisoning our country. It’s also about expecting more from Democrats in an intelligent and strategic way. We are getting outschemed by Nazis. We just have to keep fighting and not get demoralized, no matter how bad it gets. We need as much Socialism as we can get this Nation to swallow.

2003. Image courtesy My Favorite

You guys seemed to have a very ’80s and very mod style back then. What were some of the things you were into then? 
Yeah, like I mentioned before, Long Island was really the center of New Wave radio and culture on the East Coast via WLIR, Malibu, My Father’s Place, etc. I was just a kid in the ’80s but I do think some of that culture rubbed off on me. Seeing the punks, mods, and new wavers on the bus, and in the park. They seemed like Star Wars characters to me. These fantastical others that I wanted to know, and eventually—be. At around the age of 14 I experienced certain trauma, and after that I had less desire than ever to “be normal.” So these “freaks” became like saints to me. By the time the ’90s arrived, I was really intent on reclaiming that feeling and (hopefully) reimagining it into something new. As grunge emerged, I gravitated toward the mod/skinhead thing mostly to be contrary. The irony was that I was too poor and too ethnic to be accepted by the preps in the ’80s, but in the ’90s, in the context of a band, I could appropriate that look and try to make it my own. It was my way of saying “I am my own gatekeeper now.” Or actually, my own gatecrasher. I related to the original mods—working class kids who subverted Savile Row, subverted the “respectability” of the middle class, and became an unsettling mirror of it. Like a double agent. That’s what I was trying to do. So I blended ’80s prep/Ivy League (a lot of which you could get cheap in thrift stores as it was no longer trendy during grunge) with skinhead style and a sort of Italian mod thing, like how Marcello Mastroianni or Pasolini dressed. And honestly—I still dress the same way to this day.

Image courtesy My Favorite

Who are your style icons? 
Aside from the folks I just mentioned—Paul Weller in the Style Council, just fantastic looks one after another. Andy Warhol in the ’70s, with all the tweed and corduroy blazers and school ties and paint-splattered jeans. Jean-Michel Basquiat in the ’80s, making Ivy League look worn and weary in this slyly confrontational way. Lou Reed for just being so immutably “New York.” Bryan Ferry in his rich and bored phase. And of course David Bowie—especially during the period after Ziggy. The apocalyptic soul boy of “Young Americans” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I’m also a fan of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, though I tend to blend in their influence subtly. Let’s see, who else—James Dean. Marvin Gaye. Peter Murphy and Mick Karn in Dali’s Car. Agent Cooper.

1999. Image courtesy My Favorite

How would you describe your own personal style? 
I’ve touched on a lot of it already. I’ve always been interested in taking style cues from scenes and circles I never had access to—like Ivy League and European couture and juxtaposing it with suburban and urban street styles. I like to mix in odd things like aristocratic British bog-wear lol—Barbour field coats, plaid caps and black rubber rain loafers. I like to make playful nods at my Sicilian heritage by wearing gold chains and saint medallions. I also love skinhead style and the ’80s/’90s “casuals” look—Burberry macs, Fila and Lacoste, khakis and soccer jerseys. I like to have fun and be ironic and give people a sense that something is just—off. It’s all a kind of performance art to me. Like “Who let this person into our club?” The answer is I let myself in, hit the buffet, scrawled “My Favorite Forever” on the bathroom mirror, and got the fuck out. ¶ I usually dress like an ’80s burnout or beach bum when I’m just hanging out. Especially in the summer. Weird t-shirts and cutoff jeans and sunglasses. Sneakers with holes in them.

Kurt Brondo, 2003. Image courtesy My Favorite

As someone who seems as big a Smiths fan as I was, how does it feel listening to their music now that we know what kind of person Morrissey is? He’s definitely a complicated character. 
It is absolutely one of the strangest and most disenchanting experiences of my life to watch someone who was so important to me in my late teens/early twenties start to fall from grace and just keep falling. There isn’t a thing he says or creates now that contains anything of value. It’s just grievance and narcissism. And it’s gross. He is a deeply reactionary figure, and all he does for me now is serve as a reminder to be vigilant as you get older. Of your biases. Of your blind spots. I don’t even want to give him any more oxygen than that. But at least we still have Johnny. 

Gilbert Abad, 2022. Photograph by Jen Meller

I feel like “miserablism” was a sort of goth, sort of nerdcore movement that never got explored as a thing. 
I think you are probably right, but maybe that’s a good thing? Even as someone who has suffered from serious depression for most of his life, I wouldn’t want to be known as an artist who glamorized or commodified that sort of darkness. The world is still imbued with beauty, and each being has value, and none of us was created to suffer. I know my songs deal a lot with shadowy thoughts and feelings, but that’s not all they deal with. I believe in love and I believe we can heal—and help others to.

Playing in Gothenburg, Sweden, 2004. Image courtesy My Favorite

Why do you think My Favorite were big in Sweden? 
Well, the boring answer is that one particular magazine and one particular national radio show in Sweden were very influential, and both of them championed us ruthlessly. But why did they? I think that’s the more interesting part of the answer. I’m not really sure. I think I have a certain respect for melody and rhythm, two classical attributes of pop that I think Swedes have a taste for. I also think that despite us using so many European reference points in our music, there was also something brash and reckless about us that owed more to America. Judging by the quasi-riotous crowds we’d draw in places like Gothenburg, I think the Swedish fans tapped into that. Understood that we were some really fucked-up kids, that it wasn’t a put on. I think that quiet storm of feeling in our music felt liberating to them. They tore off the plastic wrap, where other people couldn’t see past their own reflections in it.
What was the first record you bought? 
I think it may have been Judas Priest’s Defenders of The Faith. Satanic Panic was a big thing on Long Island in the early ’80s and I was a textbook case of a 12-year-old really into the devil. At least in a Dungeons & Dragons way.
What was your first gig? 
Hmmm, I think it was INXS!
Tour horror stories? 
Gratefully, we haven’t been robbed or left stranded somewhere. But one time in Norway I remember our rental van getting grazed by a trolley car as we were hurtling the wrong way down a cobblestone street, and we were really close to colliding with it head on and being killed in a ball of fire.
What are some of the weirdest events you ever played? 
In 1994 we played a DIY event called Vulvapalooza at the old Gas Station—the illegal East Village venue where GG Allin died. We sounded like OMD, and the punks and Riot Grrrls were just shaking their heads. We were four boys and Andrea. After we played, a young woman with like 11 safety pins through her face came up to me and simply said, “One vulva was not enough vulvas to play Vulvapoolaza.” 
Who is your favorite lyricist ever and why? 
Oh, that’s really hard. There are so many good ones. It’s pretentious to say that I was more influenced by certain writers and poets like Sylvia Plath or—God help me—Bret Easton Ellis, but in my earliest years that was probably true. So instead of discussing the pantheon let me give credit to a couple underrated people. Brett Anderson from Suede had a very distinctive lyrical style. He’s like a pop art vending machine full of apocalyptic pulp sci-fi novels. I remember being really into that. And Bernard Sumner is one of the best “bad lyricists” ever. There is something so awkward and artless about his lyrics, but like—they work, and his imagery feels uniquely idiosyncratic. When is “Blue Monday”? Who are the “Thieves Like Us”? What is “The Perfect Kiss”? I mean, no one wants me to wax on about Donald Fagen or Lou Reed in Chickfactor. (sure we do.—editor)

Opening for Belle & Sebastian, 2003. Image courtesy My Favorite

Do you have pets, kids, hobbies, a day job? Tell us more. 
I do not have any pets or kids, though I love being an uncle to my amazing five-year-old niece Franny. She is literally my best friend. I think I’m too intense and crazy to have any “hobbies.” Everything I do I get really into, even if it is hitting golf balls at the local dilapidated driving range. I guess watching YouTube videos about every nerdy thing on earth would be my main hobby. Like “Who Was More Powerful: Gandalf or Darth Vader?” I’m not proud of it. I watch a decent amount of baseball and soccer. I have a couple day jobs but being a part-time art professor at the local community college is the one I enjoy the most. I’m working on a trilogy of YA novels set in the My Favorite Extended Cinematic Universe, but I don’t consider that a hobby—more a burden.
What are you reading, watching, listening to, cooking? 
Fiction-wise I’ve been reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and re-reading On Rockaway by Jill Eisenstadt. Nonfiction, I’ve been crawling through Sweet Dreams, a long oral history of the New Romantics. I watch way too much TV. I mean, I’m still watching Westworld long after most replicants jumped ship. I’m most excited for the upcoming final season of Atlanta. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff—old and new—but Miserable Chillers, Swan Lingo, Holy Wire, and Scam Avenue have all released amazing music over the last few years. Cooking? I’m always trying to re-create my grandmother’s pasta dishes from my youth. Sicilian stuff with fried zucchini and red pepper flakes, Parmigiano Reggiano, fennel and sardines and the like. 
What are some of your favorite records in 2022? 
Kristeen Young’s The Beauty Shop. Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind.
What song is currently stuck in your head? 
“To Turn You On,” by Roxy Music, but that’s because I just saw them at Madison Square Garden last night. The first arena show I’ve been to in maybe ten years. Bryan Ferry’s voice isn’t what it once was, but I had chills the entire show nonetheless. Beautiful.

Opening for Belle & Sebastian, 2003. Image courtesy My Favorite

Tell us about the EP. 
Tender Is the Nightshift: Part 1 is the first in a 3-EP series, and it is a return to My Favorite 17 years later with a skeleton crew of bandmates and a lot of machines and wires. It’s like returning to the city of your youth and finding it a rainy, neon-lit ghetto of ghosts. Which I am aware is pretty much the plot of Blade Runner. It’s a much more dancey/layered and synthetic soul record than anything we’ve done before. A luxury depression product. Or perhaps—a cheap knockoff of a luxury depression product. In all seriousness, doing this now feels like being in the after-hours of your youth. Some sleek steel and glass limbo with a hefty check that is soon to come due. I’m not sure what else to say about it except that we are still doing things in indie pop that others can’t or won’t. We have new stories to tell, and new vantage points from which to tell them, otherwise we wouldn’t bother at all. I have little interest in nostalgia, except as black magic. Anyway Kurt Brondo, Gil Abad and I are very excited and gratified to remake/remodel My Favorite this way. Give a listen! 
What are your future plans? 
Well, we have to finish these last two EPs, and there are songs on there that I can’t wait for people to hear. I’m going to try to get my YA published. I’d really like to travel again for the first time in a good while. And I’d love to play live, and we are working toward that. To be honest, I’ve been in survival mode for so long that the future is a really intangible concept to me. Yet—I always seem to find myself there.
10 records Michael cannot live without

You have to give me 15 otherwise I’ll have a panic attack. Also I’m not including The Smiths on principle right now—but they belong here. Lists are really difficult for me, but these have really been on my mind and turntable during the making of this EP series. OK! Not (necessarily) in order:
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars
Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime?
New Order, Substance
Roxy Music, Stranded
Sade, Diamond Life
The Style Council, Confessions of a Pop Group
Donald Fagen, The Nightfly
Patti Smith, Horses
Prefab Sprout, Protest Songs
Destroyer, Kaputt
Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Don’t Stand Me Down
Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Welcome To The Pleasuredome
Macintosh Plus, Floral Shoppe

Looking back with forgotten ’80s noisy pop band Magic Roundabout

Magic Roundabout was a noisy pop band in Manchester (and Nottingham) that existed from 1986 to 1988 and didn’t release any records at the time (apart from a track on a cassette compilation). This past year, Third Man Records released a 7-inch single called “Sneaky Feelin’” and a six-song LP called Up, which are so up our alley. We checked in with two of the six band members, Nick Davidson and Linda Jennings, to find out more about Magic R and the music they’re making now with Thee Objects. Interview by Gail O’Hara / Images courtesy Magic Roundabout (This interview appears in chickfactor 19, available now in print)

Magic Roundabout

chickfactor: How have you been holding up during the pandemic? What have you been doing?  
Linda: Played my classical guitar, painted and learnt some languages. But gradually stopped that when work started coming in.
Nick: During the pandemic I was putting the Magic Roundabout LP together and sorting out the promotion with the band, best to be busy maybe? I’d retired as a mental health nurse in 2019 so had time to do that. 
How long was Magic Roundabout a band?
Linda: We formed around the summer of 1986 but split in early 1988. So not long.
How did it come together?  
Linda: I was attending Art College and met Paul (Chadwick, bass) on the bus. We chatted about music and decided to form the band.
Was it named after the TV show?  
Linda: Yes.

Where all have you lived? And where do you live now?
Linda: We all lived in and around Bolton, then the band all moved to Nottingham. Nick lives in Shipley. Myself, Paul and Karrie live in Stockport. Nicola is in Bolton and Maria in Sheffield now.
What were you listening to at the time? Did you feel part of a scene, a community?  
Linda: I loved indie/alternative music, ’60s and local bands. Yes, I liked to go to local gigs and support them.
Nick: Shop Assistants and Jesus and Mary Chain were our stepping off points. We’d been passionate about Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, The Fall before them, but I think we were 17/18 in ’86/’87 & we couldn’t play very well. We’d wished we’d been born in the ’60s because everything seemed to be going downhill in the ’80s. To think how it is now. ¶ We were friends with Inspiral Carpets. We recorded at Clint’s studio and they were always supportive of us, there was The Tyme Element, King of the Slums, Dub Sex that we felt an affinity with, at the same level as us, getting nowhere really.
Were you playing lots of shows at the time?
Linda: We seemed to gig quite regularly in 1987 flitting from city to city. We played some quite interesting gigs alongside well known indie bands at the time.  

Magic Roundabout: Tales From the Imaginary Band. A comic strip by Simon Beecroft, 2021 (Japanese version)

Were you from musical families? 
Linda: My mother’s family were musical my Aunt sang professionally for 30 years and appeared on TV.
Nick: My maternal granddad had a great voice and I was told he was a great pianist in the pub, but not so much really. 
What were you like as teenagers?
Linda: I was a chatterbox; Nick was precocious the rest of the band were quiet types. 
First gig? First record you bought with your own money?
Linda:
I went to see Blancmange with my best friend at Manchester Apollo.
I bought “Man With the Child in His Eyes” by Kate Bush. 
Nick: Toyah at 13 with my mum; “Mickey” Toni Basil.
Why was the original LP never released?  
Nick: There never was an LP. We just had a lot of recordings, actually enough for a double LP. In ’87 we really got the recording bug and it was relatively cheap to record in studios that were appearing in Manchester. We recorded a few longform pieces (as I’d guess they’d be called today) we could only fit one on a single LP.
Linda: We seemed to whip through 1987 like a whirlwind and never endeavoured to find a label or promoter at the time.

Karrie Price, Nottingham, 1987

Did John Peel ever give it attention?  
Linda: I don’t think we sent him any recordings? But if we did maybe he just had too many to listen to.
How did it end up coming out on Third Man?
Linda: Originally Ian Masters and Nick fancied releasing it from old cassette copies, but Third Man got to hear it and wanted to sign us. So we all jumped on board.
What role did Ian Masters and Warren Defever play in getting the record out?  
Linda: Originally Ian Masters did a cover of our song “Carol in Your Eyes.” He asked me to pen out the lyrics from an old cassette copy. Then Ian and Nick wanted to release all our best recordings. So through Warren and Third Man our old cassette recordings got cleaned up remastered and pressed onto vinyl to our delight (no tape hiss). 
Nick: We’d met Ian Masters at one of our gigs in ’87 and, as I did the sorting out bit of the band, he befriended me. Magic Roundabout were booked to headline Pale Saints’ first gig in Leeds in 88 by Ian, but we spit up before that could happen. We stayed in touch and became good friends. We (me and Ian) released stuff as PinkEyeSore in the 2000s, recording by post. ¶ More recently Ian encouraged us to do something with our old recordings. Which we obviously did. 
What other bands were you guys in? are you in now?
Linda: I have been in many bands as well as playing solo and duo over the years. Some covers bands and some original. At the moment I gig as solo, duo/band, playing original/covers. 

Linda Jennings recording as Thee Objects, Manchester, 2009

What are you up to these days? Jobs, pets, kids?
Linda: I teach guitar, bass, vocals, keyboards, ukulele and percussion as well as running regular music nights, I do mainly covers gigs. I’ve played most genres. I have one son. No pets as I’m too busy to devote my time to one at the moment. 
What are you watching, reading, listening to?
Linda: I like watching documentaries on music, art and sciences. 
I don’t watch any terrestrial TV. I like European cinema. 
I support local writers of prose and poetry.
I like reading books on health, diet and psychology. 
I like a variety of musical styles, most stuff apart from death metal and really dull current pop music. 
What are Thee Objects up to these days?
Linda: I’ve worked with Nick over the years and written and recorded with him. The current lineup doesn’t include me at the moment due to other musical commitments but we are hoping to get to together pretty soon to collaborate once again.
Nick: That feels like a whole other story. Recording with Nikki Barr of ’80s UK band Bubblegum Splash! and with Ollie from Evans The Death this year hopefully. Maybe some more 3 Eyed Monkey. ¶ We are looking to release a tape/LP of a couple of Magic Roundabout tracks from ’88, “She’s a Waterfall 2” and “Buildings of Sunshine” and remix/reimaging of MR songs by some pals this year as well, plus part 2 of our comic by Simon Beecroft. Lots of other stuff to be honest. 

Collage by Maddy Underwood, 2022

Records Magic Roundabout cannot live without   

Linda
Larkin Poe, Venom & Faith
Jellyfish, Bellybutton 
John Lennon, Imagine,  
Melody Gardot, My One And Only Thrill
G Love and the Special Sauce, S/T
This Mortal Coil, It’ll End In Tears
Carpenters, Close To You 
The Velvet Underground & Nico, S/T 
David Bowie, Black Star
Frank Zappa, Apostrophe 

Nick
Echo & the Bunnymen, Porcupine
The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat
Broadcast, Tender Buttons
Pefkin, Celestial Lights
Severed Heads, Clifford Darling, Please Don’t Live in the Past
Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love & Hate  
The Seeds, “Mr Farmer”
Miaow, “Fate”
Silver Apples, “Program”
Poison Girls, “Persons Unknown”

Paul and Nick outside The Boardwalk Club, Manchester, 1987

shop assistance: tracy wilson and turntable report

welcome to our new series on record sellers! first up is:
Name: Tracy Wilson 
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Operates: Turntable Report, Courtesy Desk, Record CollectHer
Has worked at: Flipside Records (1988-94), Deep Groove in RVA (2010-2016-ish), and has been running Courtesy Desk since Jan. 2021.
Bands: Dahlia Seed (1992-’96), Positive No (2012-2020), Outer World

Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Music lifer Tracy Wilson has been involved in independent music since 1988, starting out as a music-obsessed teenager working at the legendary brick & mortar New Jersey shop Flipside. Many of you know her emo band Dahlia Seed (1992-1996). Then she landed at Caroline Distribution working as a store rep and project manager (1996-2006). When the pandemic hit, Tracy started Turntable Report, a newsletter that does some deep dives to find some of the coolest unheard music out there. As the subscriber base quickly grew, she found her readership was having trouble locating certain titles, so she established the mail order Courtesy Desk. She also does an Insta series called Record CollectHer to correct one massive problem in the music world: the lack of female voices, especially when discussing collecting music. She also does pop-ups in Richmond, Virginia, that offer new records from Courtesy Desk and some used titles, including detailed pricing stickers letting customers know about the record with a description, a RIYL, notes if it might be color vinyl, limited, numbered, or anything else that might help the record find a home. Interview by Mike Turner + Images courtesy Tracy Wilson

This is the first in a new series of interviews with people from independent music retail. 

chickfactor: Have you been surprised by the success and growth of Turntable Report? What made you want to launch a newsletter?
Tracy Wilson: Absolutely floored. Popular culture carries deep nostalgia and quite honestly, I have heard so much of that music for the bulk of my life, I don’t need to hear these older “classic” records ever again. I’m good—ha! I have had a long-standing obsession with new music and have kept tabs on it for decades—whether I was working in the music industry or not. As our band Positive No was wrapping up in Jan of 2020, I wanted to fill this hole in my life with a new project that meant just as much to me. I had no idea how many people were looking for a newsletter hyper-focused on new, underground music so I released my first report with zero expectations. It went out to fewer than 50 people at first. It has grown to nearly a thousand readers with zero promotion over these past two years and I am so honored to have these subscribers. It gives me hope that there are a lot of people out there who want to discover new voices and open themselves up to new talent. I know there is no shortage of truly remarkable new records out there, so it is really thrilling to be able to share these finds with a community of people who are equally as passionate about taking these paths less traveled.
When Covid hit, you and Kenneth were doing lots of Facebook DJ party live streams until they started killing the livestreams due to copyright. Did this help spark the next steps of Turntable Report into Courtesy Desk and then Record CollectHER? What is your goal with Record CollectHER? 
During the early days of Covid, we had no idea what to do with ourselves. Even though it was only two years ago, it feels like a lifetime ago. The entire world was fumbling through the dark, trying to make sense of things, and find ways to make the days that all blurred together have purpose and meaning. I felt especially desperate to turn my panic into something productive. We went from being very social people who had spent nearly a decade in a busy touring band and spending a lot of time at events centered around art and music. We suddenly found ourselves stripped of all that stimulation and like everyone else, coping with a never-ending parade of never experienced before horrors. Live streaming DJ sets was a way to connect with friends and fellow music fanatics without having to use words we didn’t have yet for what we were all experiencing. The Turntable Report was already happening; however, I now had less distractions to take me away from it. As my discovery of new music grew along with the number of subscribers, I was surprised to learn that this community of readers didn’t just want to read about these records or hear them, they also wanted to own them. Almost as shocking as it was to discover how few media outlets new music fans have to rely upon, was learning that most record shops are not selling these smaller, underground artists either. Courtesy Desk was born out of the necessity to offer readers a place to purchase the music they were reading about. There is power in numbers so rather than just one of us paying to import just one copy of a record which is terribly expensive, if there are 10 of us who all want this record, I can import it in bulk at a much lower cost so not only are we rewarded with the music we want, but at a savings that I get to pass on to my readers who are now also my customers in some cases. I only sell the items I write about so my shop is highly unusual in that sense. ¶ As a woman who has worked at various record stores throughout my life and have also been collecting records since I was a kid, I also know what it feels like to be an outsider in something I have dedicated my life to and am still passionate about. Minorities are often pushed out of these male dominated spaces and in many cases face extreme sexism/toxic masculinity. I created the Instagram account Record CollectHER to highlight and celebrate fellow minority record collectors who deserve to feel respected and cared for. I wanted to steer the conversation away from the flexing of who owns the most records or the rarest, and offer a comfortable place to share their personal stories about what their collection means to them and how it reflects who they are as a person. Record CollectHER is my humble way of bringing us all together and giving this family of music fans a caring home via our mutual love of collecting music.

Molly Neuman Hernández and Tracy at a Caroline event, 1990; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Did you have a goal to launch Courtesy Desk and then push to open a record booth or physical location?
I never dreamed my newsletter would snowball into an online store so for a while I was selling records in the back of a beloved vintage clothing shop in Richmond but a recent rent increase put an end to that. If inflation continues like this, I suspect a lot of labels will not be pressing records in 2023. The overcrowded vinyl making/buying community is being weeded out because of insane costs of everything. While this isn’t exactly the resolve the industry was looking for, I imagine pressing plants will be less backed up as fewer people will be able to afford to run vinyl record labels and move over to other formats. You know what the music industry didn’t need? Another playground for the wealthy. One of the things I really love about record collecting was that it was an affordable way for anyone to own art. I am sad to see this evaporate, but music is such a huge part of being a human being that it will always find a way to carry on. The next generation will decide what that landscape will look like and to me aging gracefully is not only accepting what the future brings, but also learning to appreciate that the world keeps moving forward with or without you. 
Do you have a goal to open a full record store or store front or have you given it any serious thought?
Tracy: It has been scary to think too far off into the future. I am still very much taking things month by month. Like most music industry lifers, I do not have much of a nest egg to expand into a larger business. If I were to dream big, I would want to keep a very curated, highly stylized, tiny shop, and have a larger back room space to house my personal record collection that could double as a private social club that invites DJs from around the world to play records, share stories about the music they play, and offer a space for those who want to learn how to DJ, to do so in a friendly space that is open to all. To be clear though, I am really struggling to make plans for a future that still feels so uncertain.
How do you find the stuff you cover in the Turntable Report and stock at Courtesy Desk?
Tracy: This is 30-plus years in the making. For decades I have been reading music mags and newspapers, subscribing to record store newsletters, and joining band/label/distro mailing lists. I love talking to shoppers and employees at record stores. In more recent times I follow hundreds of music-related social media pages, belonging to a network of fellow new music fanatics who are always sharing their newest finds. I listen to radio shows from around the world, check out the occasional music podcast, and follow an absurd amount of people via Bandcamp which alone is a seemingly endless supply of inspiration. I try to keep an open mind and keep my ears filled with as much new music as I can nearly all day, every day. My entire life has been dedicated to music so in turn my social circle is also mostly music people. These peers are also a remarkable resource that I am forever learning from. I may not be the world’s best music writer, but people would be hard pressed to find someone more dedicated to finding new music, lifting up new artists, and  having a willingness to share it with others. Lastly, I work very hard to ensure I am not reliant on algorithms or people who are paid to pitch records to me. I want the music I share with others to be a pure reflection of my dedication, personal taste, and years of experience from being deeply invested in the DIY music community. People can be strangely competitive about finding the next big thing and like to keep these treasures to themselves. I feel the exact opposite way. This should not be a contest. Human beings are making art, pouring themselves into a craft, and they deserve as many of us putting a spotlight on their music as possible. 

Tracy at Flipside; photo by Richard Unhoch

What are your thoughts about RSD?
Record Store Day started with the best intentions, and I think they believe they continue to do important work to drive customers into record stores. Their problem is that RSD has developed into a complicated beast that desperately needs to be reshaped to give back to the music community that helped realize their vision. I am disappointed that RSD has turned a blind eye to the monster they created IE expensive, non-returnable, insanely limited products that pit small businesses against chain stores, bottleneck supply chains that have been further ravaged during pandemic times, and makes life for struggling independent artists even more difficult because major labels continue to control the market and limited/valuable real estate in these shops. There is an ever-growing laundry list of issues that come along with RSD now. They have morphed into something closer to a mob boss backed by the major label thugs who are helping to turn affordable art for the masses into a cut-throat commodity that is closer to day trading than a celebration of human expression. RSD needs to take the time to listen to their community, hear out the needs of their partners, and make some much needed changes. If the music industry wants to survive and grow, RSD needs to help empower and lift the community that has been there for them since the beginning. 
Do you find multi-color-vinyl pressings to be a positive or negative to the industry? 
Ughhhh. I am so completely disinterested in colored vinyl and how it manipulates music fans to focus less on the art and more on obsessive consumerism. The industry has a long history of taking advantage of music fans and catering to big box stores who demand exclusive products. This is not realistic or affordable for most consumers to keep up with nor can independent musicians/labels afford this gross trend that further chokes up already overwhelmed pressing plants.  

Dahlia Seed in 1996; Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Do you find it scary to see the big box retailers getting back into stocking vinyl? Having been in the biz long enough, we know what happens when they pull out of it.
Seriously, the music industry has the shortest memory in the world and NEVER LEARNS FROM THE PAST. The bubble burst is coming and honestly, I am ready for it. Big box retailers are fair-weather friends who don’t really give a shit about the art at the end of the day. A product is a product is a product to them. I don’t blame them for jumping on the fad to make a quick buck, but the end is near. I am truly scared that the biz seemingly has no idea what the shelf life of their product actually is. 
Do you think the CD revival has legs and are we getting near peak vinyl?
I am so nervous to make any prediction when there are so many wild cards in the universe right now. I am still not convinced that new generations will be as excited to own objects that take up space in a world where living spaces are becoming smaller and more expensive. Records, CDs, tapes, books, and DVDs are admittedly a pain in the ass. They take up a lot of space, are a nightmare to move, and more often than not, do not increase in value. In no normal world do collecting any of things makes sense in a digital world. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled it is still happening, but ultimately, even though I am a collector myself, I care about the art and the people who bring that art to life more. I want music to be affordable yet also allow these makers to survive off of their talents. The whole industry needs to be burned down to the ground and reimagined to be more eco-friendly, artist forward, and welcoming to all kinds of people. 

Dahlia Seed pic by Anthony Maddaloni; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

There are so many ways to find records these days: mom & pop shops, box stores, niche curated online shops like yours, mail-orders, direct from bands/labels. Even bigger music sites like Relix and Brooklyn Vegan are selling music now. Do you feel like it’s starting to become over-extended? With this saturation of places to get records, where do you think the taste-maker like yourself fits into the puzzle?
Is this over-extended or more niche driven to meet the needs of a customer base that is more diverse than ever? Will it last? No. I hope I live long enough to see how younger generations transform the industry that us old timers beat to death/ recycle the same ideas decade after decade. A reckoning is coming, and it will include a spectrum of voices the industry stupidly left out of the conversation for half a century. Bring on the new and different. I am part of the dumb old guard. I am self-aware enough to know my days in the business are numbered and I am okay with just being a fan again because ultimately, that is who I am to my core. 
What is next for Courtesy Desk/RecordCollectHer/Turntable Report?
I think a great deal about my age and where/if I still belong in a community that has been my second family for my entire adult life. I do not want to overstay my welcome. Aging out of the community that has been my literal everything for decades is really hard. I think music has allowed many of us Gen Xers to live a Peter Pan lifestyle and figuring out what aging gracefully means to me is a constant internal dialogue. A serious case of Covid early on in 2020 stole my lung power so I have already been forced to reconcile the fact that I am not the person I once was. Singing is much more of a struggle for me now, another thing that has been a huge part of who I am for most of my life. Making music is so important to me, my sanity, and it has also been at the heart of my relationship with my husband. We have been making music together for over a decade and while some couples have children, we make records together. I am currently working very hard to take care of myself after a very hard two years of health issues so I can continue to do the things I love: make music, support the music I believe in, write (poetry/memoir in the works), DJ, and travel. My biggest dream at the moment is to feel good first and see what happens from there. I think as the fog of the pandemic lifts, a large number of us will be making some major life changes. We have all been through a really scary, difficult time. For those of us who are lucky enough to still be here, I think many of us might be feeling better equipped to face the unknown and take some bold chances while we can.

Other Music’s Bert Queiroz and Tracy at a Caroline party; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

What do you think needs to happen more than anything else right now within the music industry?
I cannot stress enough how ready I am for a total industry do-over. I want less old, white men running the show in basically all aspects of the planet. 
With your extensive life within this mess we call indie-rock and so on what advice would you give bands / labels / stores?
I wish I had more confidence through my twenties and thirties to trust myself and my instincts. In the end I let my imposter syndrome get the best of me and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I would beg those who are creative makers and doers to listen to their own voices and ignore the static around them. Don’t be scared to fail because this is how we all learn some of the most important lessons and get better/ become better people. Life goes by so fucking fast and regret is the heaviest weight a person can carry. 

Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Your honesty about getting out of the way is refreshing and I’ve been thinking and feeling that same way myself a bit before the pandemic. I have made some big changes and see my place as more of an information desk for people left out or to use my connections to bring some of the next generation up. To me that kinda feels like what you are doing with all of your projects as well. So instead of looking at it as a way to age out gracefully, could you see how your wealth of knowledge and true DIY spirit could be a resource and inspiration for a lot of folks coming up that haven’t made those connections yet? 
There are a bounty of wildly talented people making music and releasing records right now. I see many of these creatives struggling to find their way and falling into the traps of an industry that likes to take advantage of them at their most vulnerable; vulnerable being that in many cases they are young, naive, and inexperienced. I may not end up in an above the board official music industry position, however as a caring human being, I want to help these people the best I can. The industry is like a hungry vampire always looking for fresh blood. As someone who genuinely wants nothing for these people other than success and happiness, I am dedicated to giving them honest insight and connecting them with the people I know can be trusted. My opinions are not clouded by financial ties to a band or label’s decisions, so when I offer insight to those who come to me, my answers come from a pure place and one based on decades of experience. I don’t have kids, but I am ready to mom tough love anyone in music who might need it. Money and power are of zero interest to me. I want to help nurture these people and their art in a safe and caring way.
What are you up to this summer? 
Our pandemic home recording project Outer World is going to Kansas to record an EP at the relatively new recording studio owned and run by Caulfield from Sweeping Promises. It all came together rather quickly when their European tour was canceled, and they suddenly had some time available. I have been working on strengthening my lungs after two years of long Covid and I honestly wasn’t sure I would ever make another record again. At this point I think my insecurities and nerves after such a rough two years with my voice are my biggest hurdle to overcome, but I can’t imagine a better place or group of people to dive back into the deep end with. I don’t think any of us will ever say we feel like our old selves again, but making music again brings me at least one step closer. CF

Mike Turner is a music industry lifer who founded and runs HHBTM Records and Crashing Through Publicity. Mike also writes for Maggot Brain and God is in the TV, has hosted the Athens Popfest (2004-2018) and worked in independent music retail for decades with time spent in mail-order, corporate stores, and mom & pop brick & mortar.

Positive No in Richmond, 2017; courtesy of Tracy Wilson
Tracy and a coworker at Flipside, 1991; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

An interview with Paul Kelly

Birdie: Debsey Wykes and Paul Kelly

When I think of royal families, I think of the queens of pop Debsey Wykes, Sarah Cracknell and their partners, Paul and Martin Kelly (from East Village, Heavenly Recordings, Heavenly Films, Birdie). In addition to making excellent music in Birdie and East Village, Paul Kelly has been the ultimate branding wizard (who would probably cringe at the word branding) for Saint Etienne, photographer, graphic designer, pub mate and collaborator on such films as Take Three Girls, Finisterre (with Kieran Evans), What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2005), This Is Tomorrow (2007), Lawrence of Belgravia (2011), and How We Used To Live (2013). We interviewed him about music, film, photography, flying, London and all kinds of other stuff. Interview by Gail O’Hara * Images courtesy Paul Kelly

Chickfactor: Let’s talk about Princes Risborough. Is that where you grew up? What was it like? 
Paul Kelly: Princes Risborough is a very small old fashioned market town that sits midway between High Wycombe and Aylesbury about 40 miles west of London. In the late seventies this was a good place to live if you were into music. Due to its close proximity to London a lot of well known bands would use the local venues as warm up shows or add-ons to national tours. Aylesbury had a venue called Friars which, in the late ’60s and early seventies had hosted groups including the Velvet Underground, MC5, Can, Mott the Hoople and Bowie and in the wake of punk was now putting on The Jam, The Clash and Dexys etc. High Wycombe had The Town Hall, The Nags Head and Bucks College where the Sex Pistols played one of their early shows. From our village just outside Princes Risborough, we could get the bus or train into Wycombe or a lift in my sister’s car to Friars. Between these venues we had at least 4 gigs a week and my sisters could usually blag us into most of them, it was a really exciting time. Punk was a big deal in Wycombe and the big local band were called the Xtraverts. They would play Wycombe Town Hall (about 800 people) on a regular basis and reportedly turned down the chance to sign a major record deal. Although there was a healthy music scene in the area, it never really created any bands that would go on to make it outside the area. By the time we managed to get our band together the musical landscape was very different and High Wycombe had fallen off the map tour wise. I think there had been some trouble at an Adam and the Ants gig at the Town Hall which had led to a ban on live music there and the Nags Head had become more of a blues venue. Anyway, by the mid ’80s we weren’t really interested in hanging around any more, we wanted to be in London. We did a few local gigs there but no one was really interested in us and the place felt out of touch as far as we were concerned. I remember going along to see Pere Ubu in ’78 or ’79 at the Town Hall and there were only about 20 people in the audience, it was a Sunday and there was heavy snow blocking the roads. Even so, I had never seen the hall so empty. Pere Ubu were all over the music papers at the time but High Wycombe clearly wasn’t interested. It was odd like that, strange place.

Was your family musical or creative? How many siblings were/are you? 
I have four siblings, three sisters and a brother (Martin) and we were all encouraged to draw and be creative, art was important in our family. I think our parents realised early on that none of us were particularly academic. My father had been a fine art student with a dream of becoming a painter, but that would have been the early 1950s and after leaving art school he was called up for National Service where he ended up becoming a pilot flying jet fighters. He loved flying but hated military life and as soon as his air force career ended and he became a civilian again, he kind of rebelled. He began wearing frilly purple shirts with orange corduroy flares and cowboy boots. This was by now the late sixties and I guess he knew he’d missed a massive cultural revolution and wanted to catch up. He painted the walls of our house orange and covered them with giant collages using pictures from Sunday supplements. Much to our embarrassment he also put up a massive landscape poster of a naked hippy chick covered only in psychedelic body paint on the wall above his and our mum’s bed. He did take up portrait painting for a while after leaving the Royal Air Force but couldn’t make a decent living from it and soon returned to flying. We all left school able to draw reasonably well but with terrible exam grades. Two of my sisters went on to art college and the eldest, Celeste, is still a painter today. I was into aeroplanes as a kid and really wanted to become a pilot. I did learn to fly and even went on to get a pilots licence but my interest in guitars and music eventually took precedence.

What was Martin like as a kid/teen? Stories please. 
Martin is three years younger than me and I suppose he looked up to me when we were children. Our dad was away a lot and being the only boys in a predominantly female household meant that we hung out together quite a lot. We would often play war games and Martin would usually take on the role of the German soldier, this was his choice as he preferred the uniform but also meant that my friends and I could justify his mistreatment. We had some large upturned shipping crates in our back garden and one day, my friend and I decided to turn these into a German tank. Having stacked the smaller crate on top to form a turret we stuffed the bottom one with crunched up balls of newspaper. My friend Mark and I then persuaded Martin to crawl inside telling him that he could be the tank commander facing an attack by the British, whereupon we threw in a match and set the whole thing on fire. Luckily my mother saw the billowing smoke and came out to see what was going on. ¶ On his first day at the middle school which I had already been attending for a couple of years, he came running up to me in the hall to say hello. I was with my friends and trying to remain cool pretended not to know him. Although we were very close at home, I treated him more like a pest when I was with my friends. He always wanted to join in and in retrospect I think I was probably quite cruel to him.

What were you like as teenagers? 
We were quite small and skinny as teenagers and would often get into fights with other kids. This was probably because we looked like an easy target and so people would take us on, but having had a lot of practice fighting each other, we were quite used to scrapping and I think it took people by surprise when we fought back. High Wycombe could be quite rough on a Saturday night and you really needed your wits about you in those days. There was a strong skinhead presence in the town that has been somewhat glamourised by Gavin Watson in his ’Skins’ photography books. Many of the people we came across however were just racist thugs and I remember Martin being lured out of a pub and getting a severe kicking by about 20 skinheads for no reason at all. I’ve still got a scar on my face after having a beer glass thrown at me by one of their gang. I think that threat of violence and small town mentality is something that helped push us away and towards London. By the ’80s we became more obsessed with all things ’60s and although there was also a strong Mod scene in the town we were more on a psyche mid ’60s tip. 

East Village collage

Tell us about the early days of Episode Four/East Village. What kind of band were you wanting to be like? Listening to? 
In the early 1980s Martin and I used to come into London most weekends to check out the music shops in Denmark Street. We couldn’t afford to buy any guitars but would spend hours studying them. We would also pop along to the secondhand record shops in Hanway Street—again mainly just window shopping. Although we weren’t mods, we must have looked like we were and one of the people who we used to chat to in Hanway Street was Shane McGowan. He had a cockney accent in those days and was always suggesting records he thought we might like. He got us into The Pretty Things, The Action, The (British) Birds and groups like that. So when we started our band, we were mainly playing ‘60s garage and psych covers. We would play obscure songs and pretend they were our own. We had three tracks from The Eyes EP in our set for a while and would tell everyone that we had written them. One day when we were hanging out in Shane’s shop Rock On, he asked if we wanted to come along and watch his new band that night. It meant hanging around all day without any money and so we wandered around until evening before heading along to Gossips in Meard Street to witness what turned out to be one of the first Pogues gigs. It wasn’t what we were expecting at all and I don’t think we thought much of them to be honest. We did however meet Alan McGee that night and I bought a copy of his fanzine Communication Blur for 50p. He said “it’s got lots of Rickenbacker guitars in it so you’ll love it!” He also asked us to send a demo of our band as he had a new label that he had started called Creation but unfortunately we never did. Funnily enough—despite it being a fairly empty gig—I’ve later come to know several people who were also there that night including Debsey who was at the time going out with the accordion player from the Pogue Mahone.

The Kelly brothers made a book about Rickenbackers

What was the total lifespan of the band? Where were you playing shows? Who with? Any John Peel or other interest? 
We began as Episode Four in 1983 and after a few personnel changes became East Village by 1986 or ’87 eventually splitting up in 1991. Apart from a handful of local gigs in High Wycombe, our early shows as Episode Four were at places like the Clarendon in Hammersmith. We were on the fringes of the garage scene at first along with groups like the Milkshakes and Prisoners playing with mod bands like Small World. It was only when we met Jeff Barrett and signed to Head Records which then became Sub Aqua that we really started to become a part of that mid ’80s indie scene. We had already been playing with bands like McCarthy and the Wolfhounds and would follow bands like Primal Scream and Orange Juice before that but Jeff was really at the heart of that scene and opened a lot of doors for us. He had been tour manager for the Jesus and Mary Chain and worked at Creation. He had also become the promoter of Subterania which was a key venue in west London along with The Black Horse in Camden and then The Falcon where we played a lot. We toured a fair bit with McCarthy and the House of Love and picked up a bit of a following of our own. When Jeff started Heavenly in 1990 we found ourselves on the hippest label in London with Saint Etienne, Flowered Up and the Manic Street Preachers. Although we were beginning to sell records and play bigger shows, those bands were NME cover stars and were actually getting on TV and had records in the charts so it felt like we were falling behind. Our last gig was at the New Cross Venue in south London, It was probably our biggest headline to date, and from the outside things were looking up but it felt like we were losing ground to everyone else and when we walked off stage, we just looked at each other and said ‘fuck this, let’s quit’. It was a bit of a relief to be honest. We were doing the Big Star, Byrds type thing at a time everyone was tripping out to Screamadelica and so we felt very out of step. Things might have been okay if we’d kept going as things swung back to that West Coast influence with groups like Teenage Fanclub becoming popular a couple of years later. 

East Village was very un-’80s. Was that intentional? 
At the time, I felt the ’80s was the worst decade I could have possibly grown up in. That’s obviously not true as we weren’t at war or living through a thirties style depression but it really seemed like everything good had already happened. We had been so obsessed with the sixties and punk had been and gone so everything felt flat. We just didn’t want anything to do with what was going on in the charts and lived in our own little bubble. We would reject anything mainstream or popular which looking back was stupid. When the Stone Roses came along they embraced success and being in the spotlight which is what gave them that great sense of confidence. It made the indie scene feel introspective and defeatist. I find the ‘80s fascinating looking back, I wish I had just embraced being young a lot more than I did. When the ’90s came along things instantly seemed to pick up, we were open to different types of music including dance music and all our friends started having hit records, it just felt so exciting.

Contact sheet by Paul Kelly

You ended up meeting Bob when he saw you play. In what capacity did you play music with Saint Etienne? Is that when you met Debsey? 
It was at one of our gigs with McCarthy at Portlands in central London that we met Bob. I think he had gone along to review the gig for Melody Maker or something and only caught us by chance. He came over after we had played and asked if we would like to do a flexi single for his fanzine. We arranged to meet him a few days later and have been friends ever since. A few years later we were on a tube train together heading back from a night out when he said, ‘Do you want to hear this song Pete and I have just recorded?’ Although he had an electric guitar in his flat, I had never seen him pick it up and had no idea he had any interest in making music, so it was a complete surprise. I listened on his walkman to ‘Kiss and Make Up’ and couldn’t believe how good it was. We had been plugging away with our band for years and then he and Pete had struck gold at their first attempt! I can’t remember if ‘Only Love Will Break Your Heart’ was on the same tape but I’m pretty sure I heard ‘Kiss and Make Up’ first. The early Saint Etienne gigs were basically PAs where they would play about four songs to tape with a different singer for each song. They were quite awkward and I think they must have realised that they needed to settle on one singer. East Village played a couple of gigs with Saint Etienne when they had Stephanie singing. We all travelled together in a mini bus to Paris for a Heavenly Records showcase in 1991 and someone stuck on a tape of ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’, I hadn’t heard the song before and I said ‘Wow, Steph, that’s amazing!’ she explained sheepishly that it wasn’t her singing and that was the first time I became aware of Sarah. I felt very sorry for Steph as it was clear her days in the band were numbered but I think getting Sarah in was key to the band’s success. When we arrived in Paris, the first thing we all did was drop off our bags at the hotel and hit the town. I remember knocking on the door of the Manics room on the way out and when I walked in they were all lying in their bunks reading Rimbaud and Nietzsche. They had never been abroad before, but I imagine they felt it would be far too crass to go out and get smashed, they were really sweet guys and we got on well but they had a manifesto to uphold. I think James would have secretly liked to have come along with us though. ¶ By the time I was drafted into the live Saint Etienne set up in 1992 Sarah was already established as the lead singer and the band had two albums out. They were looking to expand the live band and as East Village had by then split up, they asked Spencer (East Village drummer) and me to join. Debsey joined the live set up in December ’92 just in time for a Christmas gig in Victoria. Bob and Pete had been fans of Dolly Mixture and tracked her down to record a single for their own label IceRink. The single was to be a cover of the Candlewick Green song ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ but having recorded it with Debsey they realised it could be a hit and re-recorded it as a duet with Sarah and so it came out as a Saint Etienne single instead –  and that’s how I first met Debsey, at a Saint Etienne rehearsal in Leighton Place, Kentish Town. When the band stopped touring at the end of 1994 we got together formed our own band Birdie.

Debsey (Birdie, Dolly Mixture, Saint Etienne) / Photo by Paul Kelly

Speaking of Debsey, what’s it like being married to one of the best singers on Earth? 
We haven’t actually got married yet although we’ve been together for nearly thirty years and our kids have grown up, one has even left home. We keep meaning to get around to it though and I’ll definitely let you know when we do so that you can book your flight.

Also: Will the Dolly Mixture film ever be available widely for all to see? 
I know I say this every year but I really want to get it out early next year. The hold-up has been obtaining clearances for BBC footage as well as for some of the photographs. We just don’t have any kind of budget so it’s been really slow progress but I’m going to make it happen for sure. We are also planning a photo scrapbook and several record re-issues so there should be quite a lot going on over the next few months.

Recording Good Humor in Sweden / Photograph by Paul Kelly

Tell us a bit about how you got rolling into being the house videographer, photographer, filmmaker and designer for Saint Etienne? (Have I got that right?) 
By 1993 Saint Etienne had done a couple of big budget promo videos in the US and Japan with large film crews—teams of runners and makeup artists etc, and just wanted to get back to doing something simple again. I was having a drink with Bob one evening and he said, ‘Hey Paul, you’ve got a Super 8 camera, will you make a video for us?” The song they had lined up as the next single was ‘Avenue’ and so of course I jumped at it. I’d helped out making a couple of the East Village videos which we had shot on Super 8 and so I knew a bit about making promos but it was through Sarah that I met an editor called Mikey Tomkins who she suggested I ask to help me out. We ended up doing a few more videos together although every time the budget was half decent, Creation would get in a professional, I always did the cheap ones! Mikey actually went on to work quite a lot with Stereolab and was quite into the UK riot grrrl scene. ¶ Bob and I used to joke that you could probably make a feature length film with the amount of money being ploughed into some videos at that time and eventually that’s exactly what we did. We all met at Pete’s flat in Islington one day and watched Patrick Kieller’s film ‘London’. Bob said ‘Look, we’ve got a new album coming out and the label want three videos, why don’t we just take the money from all three and make a film with the album as the soundtrack’ That was how Finisterre came about. ¶ When East Village split up I had begun to get back into photography and would do the odd session for bands that I knew. I always had a camera with me in those days and most of the photo shoots I did with Saint Etienne would be impromptu. Once we were midway through a European tour in 1994 and Martin (who was by then managing the band) called one morning from England saying we need some new pictures can you do a quick session with the band while you’re in Switzerland? It was an early start after having played a gig the night before and we all had awful hangovers. I shot a few pictures and then got on the bus to the next show. I sent the film reel back to the UK and didn’t think any more about it until about a month later one of the images turned up on a US single sleeve, Sarah looked great but Bob and Pete looked a bit knackered. That was often how my sessions would come about, very last minute and no makeup budget. ¶ After I finished playing with Saint Etienne, I started a small design and photography business called Phantom with Steve Rowland who had been one of the merchandise guys on the Etienne tours. I had already done a fair bit of paste up design and artwork but he taught me how to use Apple Mac computers and so I began doing a bit of graphic design alongside the film and photography work. I learnt how to edit by watching Mikey.

Pete and Bob / Photo by Paul Kelly

What are some experiences you had touring / working with them? Inside dirt? They’ve been a band now for 30+ years: What is their secret of longevity? 
Touring with Saint Etienne was absolutely fantastic, it was great fun and quite hedonistic. I think people who encountered us were often quite shocked. I feel sorry for anyone who had to share a flight with us back then. At its peak the touring party consisted of about 16 people and we would all be smoking and drinking and causing all sorts of mayhem, it was more like a rock band on tour and probably didn’t fit people’s pre-conceived image of Saint Etienne. I think things reached a tipping point towards the end of 1994 which is probably why the band took a break and sacked most of the backing band and crew. We were playing Hultsfred Festival in Sweden and all of the acts were being transported by shuttle bus from the hotel to the festival site. There were several bands sharing the bus on the outward journey to the festival site, including Keith Flint and the Prodigy who specifically requested not to be put in the same bus with us on the way back. On the return trip Spencer and a couple of the crew decided to climb up through a skylight at the back of the bus, crawl along the roof and back down through the front skylight. This was while the bus was travelling at about 60mph along a motorway at night. News of their antics spread and it became a talking point back at the hotel. Oasis who were also on the bill, appropriated the story which made the national newspapers back in the UK complete with an artists impression of Liam bus surfing. Everyone generally got on really well and Pete was absolutely hilarious. During gigs he would often give up any attempt to play his keyboard about three songs in and start dancing around the stage. For a while we had a life-size cardboard cutout of Jamiroquai that would be placed at the side of the stage. We were convinced he’d stolen our Melodica from the practice rooms we shared back in London. Pete would generally end up dancing around with this thing until the last night of the tour when he just started kicking it to pieces. Soon afterwards we saw a picture of Björk (who had also shared the same rehearsal rooms) in the NME playing what looked very much like our missing Melodica! I think the fact that Saint Etienne have never had massive success has allowed them to make exactly the kind of records they want to make. This means they are always fresh and not afraid to experiment. If they had had really big hits at the start it could have been a very different story. They came along just ahead of the Britpop thing and were able to sit outside of that whole scene which means they’re not stuck with that label either.

The films you’ve made together with them reflect a deep love of London and they show a desire to endlessly document the city as well. What year did you move to London and how has it changed since then, for better and worse? 
I guess we were drawn together in part by having a similar aesthetic which had come out of growing up watching the same films and television programmes as each other. We shared a lot of reference points and would spend hours discussing things from our childhood and how it would be great to recreate aspects of the things we love. We also watched a lot of films and old recordings of TV shows on the tour bus and so we got to discover things together.  ¶ I had first moved to London in 1980 with my eldest sister. We shared a flat together in Wood Green and signed on the dole. I think she was trying to get into Camberwell art college or something as we spent a lot of time down there in the Student Union bar. She was friends with the actor Tim Roth who was just starting out on his career. No one had any money but we seemed to be there a lot. The first time I went to the Job Centre in London, I was asked what my interests were and when I said art and music they said, ‘Ah, we have a job available as trainee record sleeve designer.’ I went for the interview and got a job with a company called Hills-Archer as a trainee graphic designer working on record sleeves, this was in the days when there was really high unemployment in England and jobs like this were impossible to find, it was such a stroke of luck. We eventually had to move out of the flat and I stupidly gave up the job and went back on the dole. I moved back to London again in 1984 with my girlfriend at the time, she was at North London Polytechnic and we lived in a variety of horrible little studio flats. London seemed really expensive back then but at least you could get somewhere to live even if it was a squat, I don’t know how anyone could afford to move here now without rich parents. I think London was far more accessible then, it was a thing young people could do, even if they were on the dole as most bands or anyone looking for some kind of alternative life usually were.

If you were in charge of your country’s political power right now, what would you do immediately? 
House prices in this country are ridiculous, which in turn creates unaffordable rents. I think it’s the single biggest issue as it effects every other aspect of life in the UK. ¶ I would impose rent caps, heavily tax second homes and introduce basic universal income. I would also make MPs personally accountable and liable for their actions and lies. ¶ The Royal Family should be abolished and their estate—about 1.5% of land in Britain given back to the country. The only argument anyone seems to put forward to justify their existence is based around tourism! I’m sure far more people come to Britain because of the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. 

I was lucky to live in London during what seemed like a golden age of Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne events—fun stuff at the Barbican and your residency at the South Bank. Is there a sense now that the city will return to in-person events post-pandemic? Are we post-pandemic? We aren’t in this country. 
I imagine the pandemic has only just reached some places and so its effect will probably go on for years. Things do seem to be returning to some kind of normality here in London at least, people are desperate to go out again and see eachother. ¶ I do think the nineties and early 2000s felt very optimistic in the UK, especially in London. It definitely changed after the financial crash in 2008 and I remember going for a drink with a friend just before Christmas in 2011 and we were reflecting on what felt like a really depressing year. We didn’t realise then the horror that lay ahead with Brexit, Trump and Covid. Years of Tory austerity and division has left this country paranoid and vulnerable. It’s really sad to say but I think you did see a real golden period while you were here and that has pretty well disappeared. I really hope it does pick up but while we have such a powerful right wing press and people are being brainwashed and keep voting Conservative I can’t see things changing very soon. 

You mentioned in an interview in 2014 that you no longer were able to photograph London with fresh eyes: Do you still take your camera out these days? Or is it more just occasional smartphone camera use? 
Was just thinking about this earlier today. I find it really difficult to photograph anything these days. Everyone is documenting every aspect of their lives these days. It’s difficult to trust anything you see. ¶ Yes, I don’t really know why that is. Maybe it’s just the volume of images being created now. We are bombarded with film and photography these days and it’s difficult to be enthused or believe what you are looking at sometimes. I used to shoot every day but now I rarely ever take a picture. Like most people these days I tend to use my phone. I do film stuff for work but not really for myself anymore which is a shame as I used to get so much out of it. I hope it’s not just because I’m getting older. I do love scanning old negatives and finding stuff that way but it’s not really creating anything new. My son has just started at a sixth form film school and I think young people have a very different relationship with photography. They have grown up with CGI and photoshop and I don’t think they worry too much about authenticity and maybe that’s good thing. Often, when I visit another city or somewhere I haven’t been before I get that sense of awe and I’m sure it is easier to be inspired by somewhere you are not familiar with. I do still love London and I don’t think you can ever really see enough of the place.

What are some of your favorite books and films and songs about London? 
Well, I have to include our mutual friends Travis Elborough and Sukhdev Sandhu here who have both written some wonderful books about London that have shaped the way I view the city myself. ¶ One book which is not strictly about London but urban life is Soft City written in 1974 by Jonathan Raban. It still feels incredibly relevant and reminds you that the experience of living in a city is a universal experience. Travis told me once that he re reads it every time he starts a new book. Nairn’s London is essential along with Soho Night & Day by Frank Norman and Jeffrey Bernard. ¶ Musically the Beatles represent London more than anyone else to me. I know a lot of people will disagree but all of their records are recorded here and most of the record sleeves are shot in London. ¶ Rubber Soul sounds like London to me. Also the Kinks of course.

What is missing from London now that you feel it used to have? 
Most of the pubs seem to have been turned into wine bars or restaurants. ¶ It feels like the very people we would go into pubs to avoid in the 1980s now run them.

What are your favorite parks, pubs, public spaces? Favorite place to get takeaway? 
I’m practically a vegan now and I’m not really bothered about eating out or restaurants to be honest, although Debsey and I do occasionally go along to Indian Veg on Chapel Market which is still hanging on here in Islington (mainly because it’s cheap but the food is good). Our local pub is the Betsey Trotwood which is run by our great friend Raz. We actually played there as Birdie on a Track and Field night before Raz became the landlord and Patrick who now plays in Birdie is the bar manager. It’s a wonderful pub and something of a cultural hotspot for London as a whole. When Debsey and I were first together we spent a lot of time hanging around the South Bank, including the BFI, National Theatre and especially the Royal Festival Hall, not always for concerts but just to hang out in the foyer. It used to be quite empty during the day and had a wonderful gentle atmosphere, it’s much busier these days as the South Bank has opened up with the Tate Modern etc and we don’t get down there so much anymore. Those large free empty public spaces can be very special though.

Nerd alert: What camera(s) do you have and what films do you prefer? Who are some photographers you most admire? 
For film work it’s pretty well all digital now and I have a Sony A7s. Unless I’m working on a decent budget I’ll just use that. I haven’t upgraded that camera for ages and I’m not really sure what people are using these days. If I’m taking still pictures for a job, people tend to expect a really fast turnaround and there is no budget for film and processing these days so I just use an old Canon 5D, very basic but does the job. However, I still have a Nikon FE2 and a Pentax K1000 which is my favourite as it’s so easy to use and small. I still shoot Super 8 and have a couple of Braun Nizo cameras, but that’s as expensive as shooting on 16mm these days so I might try going back to that. One of my favourite photographers of all time is Fred Herzog. I love his beautiful colour street photography taken in Canada in the ’50s and ‘60s, amazing! I used to shoot a lot on Ektachrome colour slide film because I thought that had a similar look. Didn’t they stop making Ektachrome for a while, or did they change it somehow?

Presented by the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture and chickfactor; poster by Seen Studio with Paul’s images

How did you get started in filmmaking? Seems like you’ve been involved with it from all angles (director, cinematographer, editor, producer, camera operator). Which parts of the process interest you the most? 
My dad was a keen photographer. He also shot a lot of 8mm movie film which fascinated me. I think my mum must have sensed my interest because she bought me a Kodak Super 8 camera when I was about 10 or something. As well as filming aeroplanes all the time I used to make action films with Martin as the stunt man, I still have a few and they are quite funny. I would edit in camera which meant everything had to be captured in the first take. There was a Children’s TV show in the UK called ‘Screen Test’ and they had a feature on film editing which inspired me to get a splicer and start chopping up my films. My middle sister Frances and I clubbed together to buy a Pentax 35mm camera in about 1979 and that was a revolution. I’m not sure why but we decided to buy black and white Ilford film and suddenly everything looked really professional. It’s funny she would shoot half of the film taking pictures of horses and other animals and I would shoot the other half, talking pictures of derelict cars and aeroplanes. I eventually bought my sister’s share in the camera for about £20 and became more serious about it. I was in a band by this time though and it wasn’t until we split up that I began to get work taking pictures and eventually making videos. I really wish I’d taken it along to gigs more. At the time I just wanted to enjoy the shows and the camera got in the way, also the film was really expensive.

How involved are you with Heavenly Films? 
Heavenly Films is basically my brother Martin, Travis Elborough and me. One project we are currently trying to finish is a film about Soho which we’ve been working on together for a couple of years but have had to take a break from during Covid. We also ran a monthly film club at Regent Street Cinema opposite BBC Broadcasting House which was great fun and very successful. We would always invite a guest speaker to talk with Travis after the screening and we had some great guests including the legendary masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki and Peter Blake among many others. That also took a break due to Covid but we should have it up and running again before too long.

You also made a film about Lawrence (from Felt): I remember attending a screening at the Curzon and he was supposed to turn up but he didn’t. Tell us about making that film: was it difficult to pin him down to get things shot? Please tell us some funny stories about Lawrence. Is he still making music? Are you friends? 
I think that was the only scheduled Q&A screening Lawrence didn’t turn up for. I later found out that he had seen the cinema programme in advance and thought that the price of a ticket for the screening and Q&A was £18.30 (about $23). He thought that was extortionate and didn’t want to face any of his fans who might be there as he felt they’d been ripped off by the cinema. The 18.30 in the programme actually referred to the time of the event though which was 6.30pm. I was annoyed at the time as I had to do the Q&A alone in front of a room who had almost all come along to hear Lawrence speak, but when I found out the reason I just thought it was really funny, classic Lawrence. I was actually with Lawrence yesterday, the British Film Institute have just released a Blu Ray edition of the film and we were doing some press together. He has quite a few projects on at the moment and is on great form. I get the feeling he only really tends to get in touch with me if he wants something or needs help but maybe we are all a bit like that really and he’s always good fun to hang out with.

What kind of impact has parenthood had on your creative process? What are the kids like? Do they like your music? Are they musical or photography buffs? 
Debsey and I had our first child just around the time we started making records as Birdie. It was quite a struggle juggling the band with childcare, especially for Debsey. I think Sadie our daughter saw the guitar as competition and would inevitably start crying as soon as either of us picked it up. Debs would have to hide away in another room to write on the piano whenever Sadie was asleep. It was really rare for us to be able to sit together and play as we had done when we first started. When recording we would take it in turns wheeling Sadie around in the pushchair through the streets of Walthamstow while the other person would work. She is now 25 and I don’t think she has ever actually listened willingly to one of our songs. I think she is quite embarrassed about our own musical endeavours. Occasionally however Debsey will pop up on a rerun of Top Of The Pops singing “Happy Talk” or “Wot” with Captain Sensible which she finds quite amusing. Our son Donovan has just started film school and is gradually accepting a few more of our music and film choices.

What song is stuck in your head? 
‘If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake’

Paul flying with his dad

I read somewhere you are a trained pilot and carpenter. Why? 
Bloody hell, how did you know that? The carpentry thing came about while I was on the dole. The Tories who were in power at the time came up with a scheme to hide the unemployment figures by pretending that everyone was actually in training. In order to continue receiving benefit you had to take on an apprenticeship. There were about five options, mainly building related and I chose carpentry. I had to juggle playing gigs and rehearsing at night with learning how to make a cut roof and staircase but I did end up with a City and Guilds certificate in carpentry and a free toolbox full of tools so it wasn’t all bad. The flying thing was something I had always loved since I was very small. I guess I wanted to be like my dad and so I started flying when I was 14 and went solo on my 17th birthday, I loved aeroplanes and flying but I couldn’t relate to that culture. There were a lot of people I really liked but the only career option was to join the military or become an airline pilot, neither of which appealed. I had discovered electric guitars and punk at around the same time and the pull was too great. As I get older I do feel drawn back to aeroplanes and I spend much of my spare time visiting old airfields and aircraft museums.

Have you thought about reforming East Village for a few shows? Did you get new fans with the Slumberland reissue? Are you still in touch with the other guys (apart from Martin of course)? 
Believe me, no one needs to witness an East Village reunion. I must admit I have played with Martin and Spencer fairly recently and it was great fun. It was as though we had never stopped, all very natural and instinctive. Having said that I can’t imagine doing live shows with East Village in front of an audience again. Maybe if there were no mobile phones and it could just exist in the moment I could enjoy it, but the idea that someone might document the event and post it on YouTube would be horrific. John now lives in China and I only see him once every couple of years. I’m not on Facebook but I think Martin and Spence speak with him a fair bit.

Will Birdie play at chickfactor 30? 
Yes

What films are in the works now? If you had all the time and money in the world, what dream projects would you make? 
Apart from the Soho film that I mentioned earlier, Martin and I have been working along with Stephen Pastel and Sam Knee of ‘A Scene In Between’ on an archive only project covering the UK ’80s independent music scene. Using archive only it’s a montage of Super 8 home movies, photographs and home video with audio interviews from bands, fanzine writers and journalists etc. who all grew up in that time starting with the Glasgow music scene in the late ’70s and ending up in 1989. ¶ When I was a kid, I had an old magazine with someone building a wooden kayak on the cover, I used to look at that picture for hours. I really like the idea of building a wooden boat in a beautiful old workshop. I’m not really interested in boats but I like the idea of building one. 

Any other future plans? A photo book perhaps? 
Haha that’s what YOU should do, you have an amazing photo archive. ¶ I am thinking of putting together a book of my dad’s paintings and cartoons, just a small run to give to the family and maybe sell a few. They are so beautiful and should be seen by a wider audience. There’s also the Dolly Mixture photography book of course. 
Thanks, Paul! 

Order the Lawrence of Belgravia blu-ray here. 

THE COLLOQUIUM FOR UNPOPULAR CULTURE and SPECTACLE THEATER present LAWRENCE OF BELGRAVIA (dir. Paul Kelly, 2011), 85 min. – very rare screening
WHEN: Saturday 18 June 2022, 5pm
WHERE: Spectacle Theatre, 124 3rd Street, Brooklyn (directions here)
Free and open to the public

gary olson!

for the past 30 years, vocalist-songwriter-trumpeter gary olson has led the brooklyn-based pastoral-pop band the ladybug transistor through seven full-lengths, mostly all released via merge records. he’s also established himself as a go-to engineer, working from his home studio, named marlborough farms, on albums by hamish kilgour, jens lekman, and his very own self-titled solo debut LP, released via tapete records in may 2020. ¶ though billed as a “solo release,” olson was supported by norwegian artists ole and jorn åleskjær (of the band loch ness mouse), and the album was recorded in both brooklyn and hayland, norway. we asked the kind-hearted, soft-spoken singer-songwriter about the trans-atlantic recording experience and how it was to release an album during a pandemic. interview by janice headley

Gary Olson. Photo by Åke Strömer

chickfactor: what made you want to release a solo album after decades of being ladybug transistor? 
I had been thinking about it for a long time, even going back to 2005. and then whenever I’d gather a few songs together, it would just wind up being becoming whatever the next ladybug record was. ¶ I think some of it was just… a clean slate after all this time. also maybe some flexibility as to who I could play with. I haven’t even got to play many live shows, but when I get around to doing it, it could be a duo or a full band or … just not being kind of bound to the strict “band” structure, and just being able to be more flexible with things. 
cf: so the songs on this new album, how far did they date back or were they written fresh in that 2019 period?
we probably started in 2017 or 2018. I got a lot of encouragement from the guys who wound up co-writing all the songs on the whole album, where in 2017 or ’18, they just started sending me scraps of song ideas and we started trading ideas back and forth. and that’s what led to the 7-inch that came out before the record. 
cf: did you email files back and forth? or is there some website where you can collaborate?
I did go over to norway—both the brothers, ole and jorn, they’re old friends of mine from the first time [ladybug] visited, going back to like 1999. we had always talked about doing some projects together. ole, the guitarist, had accompanied me for a little solo tour in norway and sweden and spain, when I wasn’t doing stuff with ladybug. but somehow, we didn’t write that much together. ¶ so we finally got around to doing it, and it was good to get a little bit of a push from them. they’d send me a rough draft—sometimes just a riff of a song or something that’s a little more fully formed—and then I’d start working on it and send it back. then I actually wound up going over to norway to record with the musicians that they put together, probably like four or five times over the process of it. so I did make it over there quite a bit, to work on all the basic tracking and all the things that kind of help to do in person and some arranging. and then from there we were able to send files back and forth to get it done. 

Gary at CFHQ in East London, 2004-5.

cf: how do brooklyn and hayland differ? 
well, in hayland, there’s no town. It’s maybe 90 minutes outside of oslo and it’s real farming, rural country. the closest supermarket is maybe 15 minutes away and there’s a little village that’s maybe half an hour away. 
cf: that sounds like where I’m living in michigan. 
ole and his brother, they’re real country boys. they grew up out there. ¶ the things that are similar, though, is we both have operated our little studios outside of our house, and in his case, out of the barn in his backyard. he manages to get a good sound out there and the barn looks awesome. They’re really easy. It’s a real family vibe when I’m out there. they’re always happy to have me stay for a week or however long it takes. so it’s almost become this nice tradition over the years of going out there and visiting them. when I was there a few summers ago, I stayed at a little cabin in their backyard and you could see the moose walking out of the forest at a certain hour, if you were lucky. 
cf: that must have been really strange for you when the pandemic hit and then you weren’t doing these trips to norway. 
yeah, I mean, thankfully, I was able to get over there a lot, and airfare to oslo is amazingly inexpensive. It’s as cheap as flying to california or to the west coast. we did have a lot of plans and we were going to try to tour as much as possible and take whatever opportunity came our way. so yeah, the timing couldn’t have been worse. the record came out in may 2020, and that was pretty much the peak of everything: of COVID, of social unrest, political unrest. it was a hard time to find the space for this little record.

Gary playing with the Aislers Set at Chickfactor 20, Bush Hall London, 2012. Photo: Gail O’Hara

cf: a lot of bands delayed their release dates, but you held fast to 2020. why? 
my record label is in germany, and they were a bit more optimistic about things. the record was already manufactured, it was already going into distribution, and at that time, I think that no one thought we’d be in the same place nearly two years later. maybe it would just be a few months before everything got back to normal. so, it was a little bit of a gamble. I think the worst part of it is that many shops were closed for so long that it didn’t get into the stores at that crucial time. as far as browsing, I don’t think people really got to see it on the shelves very much. 
cf: now that restrictions are starting to lift, do you think you’ll eventually do a tour? 
yeah, I have plans that have been canceled twice already. [laughs] there’s a german tour that was supposed to happen in april that looks like it’s happening in november now, and then there’s some little festivals in norway that are coming in the summer, and I’ll probably do at least a few more shows around that. and I did do a show in new york last summer, in that little window right before delta hit. 
cf: gosh, that’s right. was it an outdoor venue?
no, that was indoors. it was a little hectic. no one really knows how to act when you’re in an indoor setting. to have a beer, you have to pull your mask down for a second. especially at that time when things were really coming back strong. it was hard to get the etiquette down, at a show. 
cf: totally. [ladybug bassist/violinist/vocalist] julia came and visited me when I was in new york for the yo la tengo hanukkah shows. and it was exactly like that: you’d pull your mask down to drink, and then, the music’s so loud, if you want to talk, you kind of have to get up in each other’s faces. yeah, it’s a strange time for a show. 
yeah, I’m hoping we turn the corner now because I’d really love to get out there and play again. I only did that one show in new york, so I’m just hoping there’ll be more sometime this spring or summer.  

cf: that would be so awesome. so, you came up with this very clever idea during the pandemic to deliver album purchases in the new york area via your bike! can you tell us about this brainstorm and what those bike rides were like? 
well, I really wanted to get the record distributed in new york because all the stores were closed. so I had the label send me a big box of them, and then got the word out that I’d be willing to deliver anywhere within the five boroughs. I’m not normally much of a long-distance cyclist, but I thought it would be an interesting way to see … I lived in new york my whole life, but I saw so many new streets and parts of neighborhoods that I’d never seen before when I was getting all the way out to queens and into manhattan. and it was also really nice to see people, because at that time, a lot of people were just emerging from isolating for a couple of months. I met a lot of people who hadn’t seen their families and hadn’t really left their neighborhood even. after a couple of months of just more or less doing the same, it was that thaw of seeing people face-to-face and having a short conversation and checking in—sometimes a longer one, I’d sit outside and have a beer with people and it was really nice. I even made a couple of new friends along the way that I still hang out with. 
cf: oh my goodness, that couldn’t be sweeter. so the new album, it definitely sounds kind of ladybuggy, but it also has maybe more of like a ’70s pop thing going on. and I was wondering, what were your influences in the making of this album?
I’m trying to think if there is anything in particular. I’m always bad when I’m put on the spot about influences, but it’s OK. I think it’s more about trying to get a natural sounding production, which has always been something that I go for. so it might sound like the ’70s. maybe that’s where I’m wandering around [laughs].
cf: I can’t remember the title of it, but there was one song in particular that reminded me of that bee gees song “massachusetts.”
oh yeah, which ladybug covered, oh, a good 20-odd years ago. 
cf: it just kind of had that sort of hazy, melancholy kind of quality…
probably something with a lot of strings, I’d imagine, if it sounded like the bee gees. 
cf: I don’t know if you still do this, but what cassettes do you currently have in your kitchen? 
Let’s see. we had our kitchen painted, so there’s only a few dozen in there, but I do have a box that I stored here on this couch. let’s see what we’ve got: the bobby fuller four… 
cf: oh, I’m not familiar with them.
you know, “I fought the law”? 
cf: oh, yeah!

cf: do two more. 
the shop assistants… 
cf: yay! 
and oh yeah, gail might like this one: the cure’s standing on a beach and side two has all the b-sides and rarities from that time, so it’s a double play cassette. this one is actually what inspired me to do my own little cassette release. I did an edition of the album that’s 50 copies, and the b-side to the cassette is an instrumental version of the whole album, but I replaced the vocals with trumpet melody, so it’s almost like the easy listening version of the record, and that’s only available on the cassette itself. there’s no digital version of it, but maybe I should get around to putting something up.
cf: classic chickfactor question: what would be on your rider? 
our classic one was, we’d always ask for chocolate, especially for san [fadyl] when he was with us, our drummer, and we’d always ask for candy, especially when we were touring in europe, because we just wound up with a lot of local or random stuff or some easter candy. whatever local junk food they had was always interesting. 
cf: what was your first concert, as a youth? 
[pause] do I have to say? [laughs] It’s so embarrassing. I could remember my first five, and the contrast is pretty wild. my first one was rush at nassau coliseum on long island, and I think my second was u2 on the unforgettable fire tour at radio city music hall with the waterboys. yeah. and the third was either like depeche mode and the smiths, around that same time. 

Gary Olson. Photo by Åke Strömer

cf: were they on the same bill? 
no, but they both played. I went to a lot of shows at the beacon theater and they were both at the beacon. we got really lucky with the smiths tickets because my friend brian and I were waiting on line to buy tickets. you used to be able to get the best seats if you went to the venue the day they went on sale, because they always held the first five or six rows and you could only get those in the box office…
cf: wait, when you say “on line,” you mean like a physical queue? 
yeah, yeah, yeah. these were paper tickets. this was 1985. [laughs] the whole culture of kids my age waiting in line for concert tickets, you know, it was a very social thing you could do. so, we went up to the beacon theater to wait on line to buy smiths tickets. and as we were getting closer and closer to the box office, there was this rumor making its way down the line that after the first show sold out, they’d start selling tickets for a second show. so we just hovered around the box office until they started selling tickets for the second show and we got second row center tickets. 
cf: oh my god, that is so fortuitous. oh my god, so jealous. [laughs] so, I read that you are a gardener. and I have to ask, like, have you started anything yet? or like, what are you going to plant this year? or, what’s your favorite thing to plant right now?
It’s still a little too cold out to do any prep outside, but I think sometime in march or april, we’ll start turning over the soil in the backyard. we grow a lot of tomatoes, and cucumbers do well over here, and like a big variety of peppers. we make the most of our yard in the back. normally, we’ll have at least a dozen tomato plants back there. 
cf: it must be really sunny? 
we do what we can. we had to prune a couple of trees to get a little more sunlight back there, but yeah, that does keep us busy. 

Gary Olson’s bike map

cf: my partner has a huge backyard. it’s like an acre big and he gardens, which is why when I read that you garden, I was like, “oh, I wonder what he grows?” 
do you have any pests that come and eat your stuff? any deer or…? 
cf: yes, but I’m not sure what it is [laughs]… we have deer here. we have wild turkeys and they’re huge and they run in, like, flocks. 
yeah, they’re exciting when you see them. i see them in pennsylvania sometimes. there’s a grape arbor on the side porch here at the house, and normally you don’t get many pests or animals bothering anything in the back, but they love the grapes, the raccoons and possums. so, in the mornings, in the summer, in the fall, they’ll just come and sneak in in the middle of the night and have a party and the whole porch is just covered with grape skins and like the remains of whatever they’re eating. 
cf: we have a black walnut tree, they kind of have like this tennis ball casing and then the actual nut is within it. and I think it’s raccoons, squirrels, or one of those guys, but they crack them open and they just leave all the shelling in the yard. we cleaned the yard at some point last year and had bags and bags of shells. 
wow.
cf: well, I only have one more question for you, and it’s another classic chickfactor question: gary olson, what do you have in your fridge right now? 
[pause] can I go look for you? taking a look really quickly. I just took a picture so I could look at it while I’m on the call with you and it’s like a crime scene. There’s way too much stuff, but let’s see. There are not too many things that are fresh because I’m about to go out of town for a week and I’ve been working for a while. but there are some blueberries, there’s miso, there’s kimchi. there’s a lot of cheese. I make kombucha, so there’s several bottles of kombucha. those are all the interesting things. There’s some beer, but sometimes I’ll have beer in the refrigerator for like two months. I just don’t go through it very quickly. CF