chatting with tufthunter leader peter momtchiloff

PETER

you guys know guitar player and indie legend peter momtchiloff (we call him “momtch”) from his former bands talulah gosh, heavenly, marine research (and many others) and his current bands the would-be-goods, les clochards, etc. for his new project, deep hits by tufthunter, he has assembled a cast of musicians and assigned songs to a bunch of singers. the album is available for free (there are a handful of CDs out there he’s made for friends) and, despite demand for vinyl, he has no interest in capitalizing on it. the record is a true gem that features some of our favorite singers ever: (chickfactor co-founder) pam berry (black tambourine, withered hand, the pines, etc.); lupe núñez-fernández, (pipas, amor de días); claudia gonson (the magnetic fields, future bible heroes); jessica griffin (would-be-goods); amelia fletcher (talulah gosh, heavenly, tender trap, the catenary wires, etc.); lois, bid and loads of others. we asked momtch a few questions but be sure to read ben’s interview with him also. interview by gail

chickfactor: what made you want to do this record?
peter: I have always written a lot of songs, and a few of them have been played and recorded by bands I’ve been in (talulah gosh and the would-be-goods in particular). but I think there is something a bit uncomfortable about a singer being fed songs by another member of the band: fine now and then, but not as the basis for a band. ¶ with my midlife manpunk band hot hooves, I decided to try something I hadn’t done before: singing (some of the) songs myself. I enjoyed this, but was not surprised to discover that I don’t really have the voice to be a good lead vocalist. ¶ so what to do with my songs? asking a different person to sing each one seemed a good way to try to make the most of them. I’m surprised that more people haven’t done this.

cf: how did you go about selecting the people involved?
for most of the bass and drums, I turned to my clochards colleagues ian and gary—I knew they would do a great job. the singers are all friends, so that made it hard for them to say no (no one did). I know plenty of other singers, but these are the people I felt most comfortable asking. ¶ I regret that the music industry seems increasingly to favour the working model of a controlling auteur (artist, producer, or artist/producer combo). I knew I didn’t want to go down that path. for me, personal interaction is the essence of pop music. so I used a collaborative model, starting by working out the basic tracks with my crack oxford rhythm section. and I didn’t try to tell anyone what to play or how to sing their parts.

cf: how long have you been working on / writing the songs?
one is from the 1980s, one from the 1990s, and most of the rest from the last few years.  In late 2013 I went through all the songs I could remember and picked the best ones.

cf: do you want me to ask debsey if she’ll sing on the next one?
sure! though I’d have to work hard to try to come up with something good enough. I’ve been a fan since I heard “been teen” on the radio in 1981.

cf: what guitarists inspired you growing up?
in the order in which I came to them: rock’n’rollers like scotty moore; then george harrison; steve cropper; wilko johnson; dave edmunds; tom verlaine and richard lloyd of television; leo nocentelli of the meters; and various people who played with howlin’ wolf and james brown. I apologize for failing to live up to this list. my favourite guitar players to listen to are steve cropper and django reinhardt.

cf: who are some of the best bands in oxford right now?
apart from my own, I like a couple of punk/metal bands called agness pike and girl power, and a lady/gentleman duo called the other dramas. my clochards colleague karen cleave is developing a very interesting act which I think she is calling mermaid noises. I imagine all these acts will remain local attractions, and I think that’s just fine.

cf: if you had to put tufthunter in a record store “genre” what would you choose?
it was nice when we could all think of ourselves as “alternative”—is that still legitimate, or would we be deceiving ourselves? I am certainly “independent,” given I don’t even have a record label.

cf: why did you not want to charge anyone for this record/package it and sell as vinyl or CD?
it was partly pragmatic: what I would like is for people to hear the music, and I don’t need a financial return. for a little-known band, putting a record on sale can be self-defeating in terms of dissemination, especially if you don’t work hard on selling it at live shows. many people who like music are now fairly unused to mechanisms for buying records, so those mechanisms tend to represent a barrier to dissemination. ¶ in addition, observing the rituals of the record industry and its media, I confess to a certain distaste, and an unwillingness to join in that game. it would be undignified for a gentleman of my years. ¶ so I decided that I would make CDs to give out freely to friends and acquaintances; and that I would make the record free to download, to enable it to reach a wider audience if there is one.

cf: do you have any memorable stories about talulah gosh, heavenly, would-be-goods or your time spent in chickfactor-land?
I’ve generally been content to let my past life slip into oblivion. I remember facts and scenes, but not experiences, on the whole. ¶ looking back I recall what a pleasure it has been to hang around with other bands.  I must have met hundreds over the years and with very few exceptions they have been friendly and comradely. ¶ in place of forgotten stories, let me mention some of the most unusual shows I’ve played. ¶ talulah gosh supporting the blow monkeys at the new theatre in oxford—marooned with our tiny amps in the middle of an enormous stage more accustomed to the tread of quo and cliff. ¶ heavenly doing a tour of japan not only as ourselves but also as bogus BMX, stand-ins for the BMX bandits, backing their singer duglas, who ate only chips for the entire trip, out of fear of surreptitious seafood contamination. ¶ marine research playing with shellac and fugazi in east london—both bands were completely without pretensions and treated us as equals. ¶ would-be-goods on the same bill as an indie fashion show in greenwich village, thanks to chickfactor. ¶ scarlet’s well playing at an art squat commune in berlin, complete with a huge vat of vegan chili, authentically 1980s, but 25 years on. also ostpol, a bar in dresden offering a meticulous exercise in ddr retro chic/naff. ¶ les clochards playing as the only support to tom jones [sic] in the middle of a wood in suffolk.

cf: will there be another tufthunter LP?
the first time someone asked me this I found myself saying that maybe I had drained this particular wound. I report that metaphor in case it seems revealing. ¶ I am going to do a couple more tunes, because there are specific singers I still want to involve. I would certainly enjoy doing another album, but I have used most of my best songs and it might take a very long time to come up with enough again.

cf: thanks!
thank you! I suspect it was you who put pitchfork onto the record—most grateful.

Tufthunter-Deep-Hits-graphic-for-Weblog

bohemia forever: the lilac time interview

we interviewed mr duffy for chickfactor 14 back when both of us lived in london, but as his group the lilac time are about to release a new album called no sad songs, we figured it was time to catch up! most of you know him but if not, some fun facts: he was the original singer for duran duran. he spent a few years as robbie williams’ music director. he was in new york city around the time of 9.11 to play a chickfactor party and we were very grateful that A. the show went on and B. he let us write the set list (his presence there at that time was oddly comforting!). he’s been writing beautiful “flower music” for like 30 years. he’s currently somewhat recently become happy, married, a dad and a resident of cornwall. we asked him a few questions to find out what’s been happening.

chickfactor: tell me about no sad songs. was there a theme or aesthetic you were trying to achieve with this record?
it was a sprawling 20+ song mess of aesthetic revolution until I realized that a double album would never get finished. It was without beginning, middle or end in whatever order jean-luc godard would have put them. I just picked the ten I thought I could pull together and finish without crying or without blowing up the house. by chance the ones I picked seem to tell the story of us as a family and musical group going as far west as you can go, in the united kingdom, without discovering america. the song “the western greyhound” vaguely encapsulates the story.
Lyrics:
We took the Western Greyhound
Down the Atlantic Highway
And that’s when we found
Our way home

For on a clear day
You can make out something
We all believed in
Something good…

Now in the dead of winter
Can we make a beach head
In the desert
Of our dreams

I saw a sign in heaven
Bohemia forever
Another dream of wonder
How wonderful to dream.

we grew up in a time when people believed in things and in more than things. In 1978, when I left school, the gap between rich and poor in the UK was at its narrowest. was revolution possible? the counterculture’s lineage from beat to hippy to punk wasn’t expected to just bail.  but instead we were blessed with the never-ending ’80s, the revenge of the ’50s. and governments that want to bury us back into the ’30s. So this album is about nurturing that “little flame among the ashes” like all the others. that’s the light we work by.

how has your approach to songwriting changed over time?
the first good song I wrote was “aztec moon,” which was released, eventually, on the devils’ dark circles record in 2002. I wrote it in 1978 just before I went to art college in birmingham and started the durans with john and nick. I was 17 and had just read jack kerouac’s mexico city blues for the first time and was filled with inspiration and wonder and I stood in my bedroom in birmingham and sang. I was amazed that I had written a song that sounded like a song. over the years and I mean perhaps decades, I tried to get to a more completely personal lyrical style, but now almost 40 years later all the songs sound personal, the choice of literary thievery becomes as personal and as poignant as a faded family snap shot. It becomes the story of your life!

how has your relationship with music changed in the 30 years(!) youve been making records?
I suppose my relationship with music has remained the same and the same as everyone else. you hear something and you love it and get excited. you get filled with righteousness or foolishness and sing and dance in the kitchen or discotheque.

I’d listen to records and then go upstairs and play my bass and try to channel whatever it was. even when I’d had hits and made albums I’d do the same kind of thing. I watched a little don’t look back every day before going to record the eponymous lilac time album.
and I still have massive fads and buy everything by people, fill in gaps, get obsessive. I watched travelling for a living, the watersons documentary from the ’60s and immediately I was on eBay buying vinyl and listening to nothing else, telling the band we were going to have record exactly like them. not that they listen to me anymore.

my relationship with the music business in comparison isn’t as jolly. having made my first record in 1979 seymour stein and sire gave me dance hits in 1983—amazing. I had a pop hit in the UK in 1985—scary—and then from 1987 the lilac time “I swore to write but poetry and live upon a hill”— POETRY!
and yet I still get angry with the guys who, when the compact disc was invented, invited us into their luxury offices and told us “you make the software and we’ll make the hardware.” the guys, and they always were blokes, who already didn’t have a clue when I signed to WEA in broadwick street in 1982, but still have well-paid jobs now, even though they are the ones who sold out to apple and iTunes knowing we wouldn’t make a penny. and then gave away everything to the streamers. they didn’t even sell the family silver—they just gave it away.

is being happy a good way to feel while trying to make a record?
I have no idea why I became depressed and I had years of great therapy that was very helpful and even inspiring. maybe melancholy is in you from birth and something pushes it to the fore at some point. illnesses do make people feel special. when I was first prescribed antidepressants and realised I was looking forward to going to the supermarket that this meant I was leaving my cage of specialness, my great palace of sadness and that I could not only become normal but even gormless. I was “if I cant be successful at least I can be depressed.”

this was an incentive to make this recording. to address how miserable the last few lilac time records had been. we all like a happy ending, right? but equally I’m not sure what really made me not depressed. but then I got married and had a daughter, we are—as the ramones said clearly—a happy family and looking after a family, putting them first, doing what that involves, cooking, cleaning, was a first for me, domesticity hadn’t really happened in my first 50 years. I don’t know if putting others first is what killed the depression? for I’d have taken just not being depressed, happiness didn’t come into it.

also, and by the by, accurate checking for vitamin D didn’t arrive until 3 or 4 years ago and I was virtually without any. since then I have been well and truly shot up with Mr D. I wonder if nick drake and other great depressives could have been checked what great music we would have been deprived of and what happy lives they may have lived.

why has it taken seven years since youve put out an album?
runout groove, the last album, disappeared faster than most of my records. I hadn’t realised how things had changed since releasing keep going, which had at least paid for itself. With runout groove I committed us to playing shows, with a six-piece lilac time and crew, at the green man festival and queen elizabeth hall, that we filmed and recorded (for the film memory & desire). the film shows me slowly realizing things perhaps weren’t going to plan. I obviously came back from california thinking I was neil young or someone. so after that I decided we’d just to record for ourselves and never play again. then we found ourselves all in cornwall playing in the basement and it didn’t feel that different to ’87 and the first album. then I suppose that egomaniacal desire to share our greatness reappeared.

tell us about the folks who contribute to this record. who did what? how did the process go in the studio?
it’s just me, claire, nick and melvin. all duffys but melvin not so directly related. melvin: steel guitar. claire: keys, strings and vocals. nick: instruments people mock. and me on guitar, bass and drums. it’s the first record I recorded songs and then changed everything, retaining perhaps only the original mandolin. so perhaps it was a little more worked on or considered or something, but it wasn’t laboured, it was revelatory.

will you tour/play shows to mark the records release?
we’re playing the port eliot festival on the 2nd of august as a trio.

what do you think is the best role of songwriter in 2015 society?
I can only talk personally but I’d have to say saviour of brutalist architecture and flower child.

has living in cornwall had an effect on the way you write songs?
it’s good to be somewhere so far away from london and everywhere else. apart from when you need to be in london or somewhere else and then you’re miles away. but it’s good to be somewhere so far away.

what happened to the other 10 songs you recorded since moving there? will they be released?
yes, it should be lilac10, the next album. at the moment it’s called the second post. we also have a rarities collection I’m slowly compiling and a live album that just needs mastering. we’re going to reedit and retitle the film memory & desire, adding some new stuff and older stuff that’s turned up and generally cheering it up a bit. and as always, there’s the book I’ve been writing since 1979, boxes and boxes of it, I’d like to finally finish it or some of it and add the thousands and thousands of pictures to make something lovely. because lovely is where it’s at, gail.

photograph courtesy of the lilac time. the album is out on tapete records on april 2.

no-sad-songs-1024x768

bill callahan: the chickfactor interview

we are thrilled to have an interview with the phenomenal american singer songwriter… (originally appeared on paper in chickfactor 17, which came out in december 2012)

interview by connie lovatt and gail o’hara // photograph by kirstie shanley

chickfactor: what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by a man about being a man?
bill callahan: I don’t think I’ve been given much advice man to man. I wish I had. I think it’s mostly women that have taught me about being a man anyway. a healthy woman wants you to be a man. I grew up with two sisters and they wanted me to be a man right from the start. they were so happy I was a little boyman – I could sense it from their faces. as soon as I could walk my sisters begged me to put on a tutu. this ballerina tutu we had lying around. maybe it was left over from when one or both of my sisters went through their little princess phases. seeing their reaction to me in the tutu was the first time I felt like a man. and I never looked back.


cf: what’s the best insurance against your own shenanigans?

bill: there isn’t any really. things always come back to haunt. and if they don’t, the looming spectre of threat is worse. if we let the shenanigans win….

cf: what were you like as a teenager?

bill: dumb. I was just in receiving mode, programming mode and I was kind of inoperable in that state. just taking things in or waiting for an opening in the race. it helps to have a soundtrack to such times and I listened to music 7 or 8 hours per day. classic rock radio, which I found some worth in but after awhile it started to feel like some drunk guy waking you up every time you fall asleep and just laughing at you and not saying anything. I realized a lot of classic rock is not classic at all. I had been taking their word for it at first. I was always counting the days until school ended, for years and years. and when it did it was even better than I dreamed.

cf: what was the first song you wrote and why and what was it called?

bill: when I was really little I wrote a song called, “peanut butter shoe.” the lyrics were, “it’s new, it’s blue, it’s a peanut butter shoe!” I think I wrote it, since you ask why, to mirror the life impulse inside a human.

cf: tell us about your songwriting process/ space/rituals.

bill: I’m not a ritualist and space is not something I really notice either. well, I guess I like electric light, no natural light and no window. I don’t like to know what time of day it is and I don’t like to see natural events happening. writing and music are human concepts—like electric light, so it helps to block out anything from the unadorned natural world. there is a pen I like, I buy by the carton. I just bought a carton yesterday. I couldn’t find black. It has to be black because of the primal black and white thing, primitive brain sight and film noir. I always turn down help from those big store employees because they never know anything but this time I said yes, where’s the black. he found it. It was in a newly designed box because now the pens are “made from recycled electronics.” I guess this is good but I don’t want to get cellular microbes in my notebooks.

cf: have you ever had to stop listening to a song or band because of a certain person or memory?

bill: maybe, but I wouldn’t think it was a struggle. if a memory or event was that strong then the song probably should go where that person or memory went anyway.

cf: does it bother you when your lyrics are misinterpreted?

bill: I think it happens all the time. I think I also misinterpret other people’s lyrics, other people’s everything. that is the lair of the audience, that is where you make your connection – from yourself. listening to music is not a passive act. when you’re a teenager and your parents wonder how you can just sit and listen listen listen. you’re making all your connections then. your head is dancing with it. so I think “misinterpreted” is the same as “interpreted” really. who can put the “mis-” on there? only the creator and half the time the creator can’t even concretize an interpretation. if someone has an interpretation of my lyrics that feels to me to be way off base, I just think that is the level that person is on at that time. that is where they are finding a connection to the song. but don’t get angry if I or someone else has a different interpretation of the song. I’ve often been told I am lying, when someone asks me what a line I wrote means. because songs become part of the body, part of the psyche, part of the filter of the way a person sees the world. when you tell them something else, they feel as if their essence is being negated. this is why people are so fiercely passionate about the music they love. the music is them.

cf: on most days would you prefer an elaborate breakfast or an elaborate dinner?

bill: oh man. an elaborate breakfast usually says, “I’m going to fuck off today” or “damn, life is good, ain’t it?” both of which are good sentiments. but mostly I like a simple breakfast cos I’m in no mood, you know? I think I like a simply elaborate breakfast. just toss a couple basil leaves in my eggs and I’ll be like, “damn!” breakfast should be simple but with a tiny zing. like raspberries in your oatmeal. food can’t stand on its own though, for me. I can’t have an elaborate dinner and think, “what a great day this is or was based on this meal!” it’s more of a bonus thing, like, “I had a great day of work and now look at this delicious hot pocket before me. it has basil on it.”

cf: what singer or songwriter do you feel is solidly romantic yet gets little credit for being so?

bill: I’m not sure about credit, as I don’t always keep track of public perception of things but—van morrison is quite the romantic scamp, I think. and I don’t feel like I’ve heard people talking about that.

records bill can’t live without
> steely dan, aja
> various artists, keep the pressure down
> barrington levy, run come ya
> television, marquee moon
> marvin gaye, “what’s going on”

CF_17_cover1

mini-interview with kurt heasley of the lilys

true story: after the first time I saw the lilys in concert (june 3, 2003 at the crocodile with swirlies and explosions in the sky!), I dizzily said to my (now ex-)husband, “his last name is heasley, and mine is headley—I’m gonna go tell him that!” and he put his hand on my arm and said, “don’t,” with a serious look on his face.

WELL, GUESS WHAT, KURT?! WE STILL HAVE SIMILAR LAST NAMES!

kurt was sweet enough to answer some questions after a chickfactor dress rehearsal show at the lilypad in cambridge, ma. the lilys play chickfactor 22 with withered hand, jim ruiz set, and amor de días on thursday, march 20 (night one of two) at the wonderful bell house in brooklyn. eeeeeeeee!!!

photo by gail o’hara • interview by janice headley

well, to start off —how did it go last night?! what’s the line-up gonna be like for CF22?
Last night was great. Awesome, a lot of fun. It was more like a gala, grrr and I’ll be playing on Thursday with Nightime Gallagher.

are you still in cambridge right now? you’ve got old ties to that town! does it feel good to be back in yr old stompin’ grounds?
Yes, I am literally in Cambridge RIGHT now. I’ve worked with so many creative and enterprising friends here in New England, Providence, Northampton. This just seemed like the obvious place to come when we left the ashram. I like the four seasons in Massachusets. It’s not just about coming back to this area. We do have connections here, people we care about that live here, but from other places, too, like Virginia. Also, it’s close to New York, where I like to record.

how has it felt reuniting for chickfactor? I saw you play solo last year in los angeles for CF20… have you enjoyed revisiting these older songs?
I’ve had nothing but fun with these last rounds of chickfactor, 20, 21 and now 22. I see playing songs from the first four albums as some sort of measurement of time and it offers a change in perspective whenever they’re revisited. Any opportunity to re-learn songs from those albums again proves to be enlightening and fun. I see how my approach to music has differed. I’ve loosened up significantly since I wrote those first recordings.

do you think you’ll ever do a show playing the Better Can’t Make Your Life Better-era material?
I do see playing live a lot more over the next few years. We did play a lot of those songs the last time I was in California working with the full band. Having the sound and feel of Better Can’t Make Your Life Better and Services for the Soon to Be Departed live all hinges on having the exact right players in the line-up. And I love playing with them. So, yes I’m thinking that we will find the people interested in making that happen and materializing the mythology.

are plans still in motion to reissue In the Presence of Nothing? will any other albums be reissued? in particular, Eccsame the Photon Band??? (on a personal note, I once drove three hours from portland to seattle listening to NOTHING but “day of the monkey” over and over again on repeat… for THREE HOURS… and I could’ve done three more. that song is so special to me!)
We had some archival issues with that reissue of ITPON that are still being addressed. There are so many people that I have worked with over the years that it makes reissuing the work challenging, but it is definitely something that I want to do and have been working on putting together for many years now, In fact, I am currently negotiating the reissues of three records over the next year and a half with Mike Schulman of Slumberland Records. He just sent me some old DAT recordings today that I am looking forward to hearing. We’ve also talked about recording a new project.

I read you were working on a K Heasley album at one point! are you writing new songs? will you be playing them this week? will there by a new lilys album anytime soon? what are the new songs like, stylistically?
Everything I do is a K. Heasley album at some point! I did record a split 7-inch with Big Trouble that I finished last year—I think you can find it on SoundCloud. (ed. note—you can!) I’ve been working on a number of new songs, I record all the time and on whatever’s available as part of my writing, but it will take actually getting in to the studio with the people from all over that I love to work with and have great respect for before you’ll be seeing that new lilys album. Actually, it is possible there will be no more lilys and that there’ll just be something new, I do have some other projects in mind. I’ve been working a lot with Nightime Gallagher recently. Whatever it is, it’s not just about the music anymore, music is visual and physical, it’s a whole show and I have a lot of ideas for the next project that include a big multimedia environment. Stylistically I’d say these new songs are solar pop.

mini-interview with the clientele

we first heard the clientele when they played a chickfactor/papercuts party in london in 1999 and were dazzled for life (we interviewed them in CF13, 2000). they continue to be one of our favorite bands, even if they’ve been less than prolific the past few years (we also love alasdair’s other band, amor de días, natch). we asked alasdair a few questions in advance of their first US show in 4 years (and first with this classic lineup in 9): we cannot wait to see them! the clientele plays at chickfactor 22 with versus, barbara manning and the saturday people on march 21 (night two of two) at the wonderful bell house in brooklyn. be there!

interview & polaroid by gail o’hara

what has the clientele been up to? are you back together for good or just a few shows?
I’ve been slowly and painfully writing a novel, and playing in amor de días. mark has moved into a canal boat and is tuning pianos. james has been growing chillis and playing bass for comet gain. ¶ last year I wrote a couple of songs that sounded more clientele than amor de días and it coincided with an offer for the old lineup to play a festival in denmark, which we decided to do for fun. then merge asked us to record a song or two for their 25th-anniversary 7″ singles club so we had a chance to record together again. that’s all so far.

why was it important to reissue suburban light?
again, it was merge’s decision, as part of their 25-year anniversary reissues series. I over-listened to that record when we mixed it the first time round and I got sick of the songs. james and I were talking about how frustrating that whole time was, we kept losing drummers and we wanted those songs to be on the radio but we were in a little studio trying to cut out the hiss on the tape by sliding the faders up and down. every sound engineer we met tried to make us sound like radiohead. ¶ coming back to it was really positive though—we unearthed a lot of stuff everyone had forgotten. It was weird being in a room and hearing our younger selves bantering on tape. I think the reissue does it justice, and it seems to be a lot of people’s favourite clientele record so hopefully it will be enjoyed.

how has your songwriting process changed since you were a teen?
I learnt that songs don’t need to be symmetrical—if one verse has four lines it’s okay for the second to have three. otherwise, not in any way!

how do you keep your guitar nails from chipping?
on tour you can’t keep them from chipping but once they do chip you can replace them with estee lauder press-ons and superglue. kurt wagner showed me when we toured with lambchop and since then both have become an essential piece of tour kit.

what records are you most excited about these days?
I really enjoyed gerard love’s lightships record. the new boards of canada is interesting. I’ve been catching up on old martin newell and cleaners from venus records and also listening to a lot of virginia astley.

what’s the best pub in london?
for me the pembury tavern in hackney central is OK. also the elderfield in clapton.

who is the comedian in the band?
we are all equally amusing.

what will you do in NYC when not playing?
have lunch at angelica kitchen.

best chickfactor party memory/story?
flying in to play one of the london chickfactor shows after a gig in berlin. we arrived backstage with several bottles of berentzen apfelkorn, which is a kind of schnapps which sends you completely bananas, god knows why we had picked them up but we did. we tried to get club 8 to drink it, a german guy personally interceded and warned them not to deal with us.

mini interview with versus by lois!

versus are one of our long-running music and people crushes. we cannot get enough! they are a chickfactor house band! anyway, we asked another CF event regular (lois maffeo) to interview them for this year’s fest. they play chickfactor 22 friday, march 21, with the clientele, barbara manning & the saturday people at bell house.

interview by lois & photograph by michael galinsky

lois: I was in the middle of a room full of indie bands sleeping on the floor of dave auchenbach’s house after a big night at the providence pop fest in 1992. versus had arrived late, after a gig in some other town. it was probably four in the morning when I woke to see figures with guitar cases moving gingerly across the bedrolls. richard baluyut was stepping over my sleeping bag when he looked down and darkly intoned, “I heard you made brownies.” that phrase (accurate, I may add) kickstarted a long friendship with richard that soon came to include his versus bandmates fontaine and ed and patrick and james. you’d think that over the past 20 years, I would have gotten around to asking richard some of these burning questions. so thanks, gail, for assigning me to interview richard in advance of versus’ appearance at chickfactor 22 on friday, march 21 at the bell house in brooklyn.

is it true that you once got a guitar lesson from roger miller of mission of burma?
richard: I never had a lesson from roger. he did sell me his guitar from mission of burma, before they got back together. when he needed it back, I sent it back to him of course! I believe I still own it, but I haven’t held it in over a decade!

can you describe the ownership timeline of the famous black rickenbacker guitar?
richard: I bought it in 1990, and used it on our early singles. traded it to tae won yu for his SG, which became the versus guitar. tae brought the rickenbacker with him to olympia and made it the classic kicking giant guitar. but he got bored of it and sold it back to me when we were passing through on tour. I sold it to jeff cashvan, who later sold it to carrie brownstein, who made it the signature sleater-kinney guitar. quite an illustrious history! I haven’t seen carrie play it in a long time though; I hope she’s passed it on…

if you could play in any band from the past, which one would it be?
richard: I wish I’d been in the who, isle of wight-era so I would be wearing a jumpsuit…

what is your favorite sci-fi novel?
richard: invisible cities by italo calvino? I was more of a fantasy guy. I only read civil war history now…

what are your top 3 favorite things about new york city?
richard: double-features at film forum. mamoun’s falafel still standing. not living there.

7 questions for amor de días

when we think of “royals” from the united kingdom, naturally we think of AMOR DE DÍAS, featuring alasdair maclean (frontman of the papillon-obsessed lite psych combo THE CLIENTELE from fleet) and lupe núñez-fernández (one half of the slapdash & adorable pop duo PIPAS). we could not be more excited about seeing them play at chickfactor 22 at the bell house on thursday, march 20, along with withered hand (whose live band will feature pam berry of black tambourine and kenny anderson of king creosote), lilys and jim ruiz set (and mc gaylord fields of wfmu)!

interview by the legendary jim ruiz & photograph by shoko ishikawa

1 distance running
2 love life
3 the live experience
4 where do you most want to live/retire?
5 your meeting gail stories
6 borrowing your name
7 gearhead question

chickfactor: considering the dominance of the UK in middle and long distance running in the past; sir roger bannister’s four-minute mile, sebastian coe and steve ovett’s amazing rivalry on the track, and the astonishing world record of paula radcliffe at the marathon, it was really not a very big surprise to see that you are specializing in the 10k. tell us a little about your training and how you feel it’s going. any tips for those of us who want to start running? what’s your PR (optional)?
alasdair: we have no expertise in running, or specialisms in the 10k. we both ran the new forest half marathon last year and counted ourselves lucky to be alive by the end. the only tip for a 10k run I could offer is don’t sprint the first 3k, the next 7k will not thank you.
lupe: it’s handy for catching the last tube back home after a gig, or the train to the next city on tour. that’s definitely our specialty distance.

charlotte and emily want to know if you are a couple. I assured them I would ask you.
lupe: buy our records and find out! there are hidden messages if you play the vinyl backwards.

emily and I were at an amor de días gig at the triple rock in minneapolis about 3 years ago. that gig was an introduction to your music, it made a big impression on me and I made it a goal to play with you someday. in fact, whenever we visit our friend’s house there is a poster from that gig framed on their wall. do you think that touring is worth it because you never know what impact it has, even if the audience might be small on a given night? or do you think that touring has had its day?
alasdair: what a nice thing to say! I suppose in my career the model of the small gig with a strong connection to the audience has been mostly how it’s happened, and when when that connection really works it’s amazing, nothing can beat it. opening for much bigger bands has taught me that my songs work better in a small space, chamber music rather than a nuremberg rally or a mass singalong.
lupe: touring is usually when you might get to play in front of strangers who’ve never heard your music, and see a sincere reaction. it’s probably very self-indulgent but there’s something to be said for that, whether it’s a good one or not.

living in the middle of a vast continent as we do, without any real possibility of moving anywhere exotic, we are in awe of your EU passports and your seeming ability to move anywhere you please on the continent. do you plan to stay in the UK forever? do you ever miss the sun?
alasdair: come on, minneapolis is about as exotic as it gets! prince lives there! I was born in scotland so have never known the sun. It would be nice to be an internationalist rather than stuck in the UK. I’ll have to work on it.
lupe: when we were in minneapolis a couple of years ago we talked about moving there. I’m not kidding!

tell me how you first met gail….
alasdair: outside NYU in the freezing cold. I think we had eaten polish food for the first time and were semi-comatose.
lupe: I was aware of this cool chick with retro glasses and blond braids at all the shows at fez I went to in the ’90s but I didn’t know her name (or that she’d curated the shows, and put out chickfactor). years later we met in london through our friends pam berry and mark powell—the heat broke at the place where she was staying and I told her she could squat at ours. instant family.

last year the aislers set seemed to take no offense when we changed our name to jim ruiz set. how would you feel about our recording under the name amor de ruiz `rE- ahs?
feel free. it has a classy ring to it.

the classical guitar scares the hell out of me, yet you make it sound so easy. are you self-taught players or do you have years of pumping nylon behind you at some music conservatory? who first inspired you to play classical? who do you listen to for your inspiration?
alasdair: I learnt classical guitar as a kid, my parents put me in for lessons, but I gave up around age 11, and lost a lot of my technique. the first guitarist in the clientele,innes phillips, had the same teacher as me, so we both grew up playing adagios and tangos and only came to playing pop music later—the way for instance george harrison played was a total mystery to us. ¶ my favourite guitarists: toquinho. argentinian folkloric guitarist atahualpa yupanqui. In the flamenco world, nino ricardo. rock guitarists stacey sutherland (13th floor elevators) ron morgan (west coast pop art experimental band), vini reilly (durutti column), maurice deebank (felt) and tom verlaine/richard lloyd. I also really rate ignacio aguilo (hacia dos veranos) and archer prewitt.

lupe: haha definitely self-taught and very limited in my knowledge. I bought a classical guitar for 27 pounds in hackney in 1999, with no previous musical experience or knowledge of what a chord was, etc. I really wanted a bass, or drums, but the guitar was much cheaper, portable. it’s handy as a way of noting a song down, but I definitely don’t consider myself ‘a guitarist’, I just write songs, and make it up as I go along. I think I’m actually a lot better at percussion; my dream is to tour the jazz circuit as a jazz drummer, maybe by the time I’m in my 70s. ¶ my favorite guitarists: probably alasdair, linton from the aislers set, sam prekop and my brother víctor, who taught me that crucial first bass line that started it all (it was “bela lugosi’s dead”).

an interview with barbara manning

there is no one else like barbara manning! when we met her back in the early ’90s, we were mad about her and went to see her all the time (she was on the cover of CF4 with tiger trap). we’ve seen less of her in recent years, which is why we cannot wait to see her play on march 21 at the bell house as part of our chickfactor 22 thing!

interview by douglas wolk & photograph by gail o’hara (taken at, oddly, douglas wolk’s wedding!)

what are your active or semi-active musical projects these days?
the musical projects that I have been working with for years, such as glands of external secretion, butte county free music society, and others continue to release limited releases. the newest release on which I contribute guitar and singing is from the group, this is yvonne lovejoy; a 45 on psychic encumbrance records called wolverine, an ode to one of the X-men heroes.

locally in long beach, I have been playing bass with a collective of friends and we call ourselves celebration of bad news. we improvise while recording the session so that we can hone in on the best parts for our song structures. my favorite element of celebration of bad news is our singer who reminds me of a female blend of both can singers, a bit of pauline oliveros, and a good splash of fearless punk rock. to have a group that faces in: we are all so eager to play and we look at each other as we play, music makes itself easily. I enjoy being a background singer or to not sing at all while I play. for me, playing this way is both relaxing and an adrenaline rush. however, as you say “semi-active” project, we only seem to be able to get together once a month. last week we had the cops called on us by a suburban neighbor which wrecked the session. now that I am a working stiff, I sure see how valuable time is. if I looked at a pie chart of my time spent being creative versus time working, I’d see why I feel creatively out of balance.

a very bright side to this creative conundrum is my husband, dan. he is always encouraging me to write songs or pick up my guitar. he is a producer from the early L.A. punk rock days. some of his best known work includes legal weapon and alice bag’s cambridge apostles and las tres. dan works on his music at home all the time. I feel that if I could just catch up with my work and sleep better hours, I would pick up my guitar to write again. and when that happens, dan is ready to record me.

what’s a record that means something very different to you now than it did 20 years ago? what changed?
when was 20 years ago? 1994??? good god. that doesn’t seem that long ago; does it to you? let me go back to that year in my head again. I was 29 years old, working at reckless records on haight street in san francisco. I was working on truth walks In sleepy shadows and nowhere had just come out. I felt like I finally had a productive, fun working band with melanie clarin, brently pusser, margaret murray as the sf seals. I got to travel to holland to record with james mcnew that year. I felt like musical success was around the corner….

okay I know! oasis’ first record!!! I used to love the first and second records because the music had a swagger and sound that made me feel confident and easy going. I was quite obsessed with noel gallagher during those couple of years. but, just the other week as I was driving along on highway 405, I put on oasis and the music just did nothing for me. I craved that old feeling you usually get from a well-loved song, but I did not feel it. so I put on television’s first record instead.

you’re an exceptional interpreter of other people’s songs. what’s a song you wish you could perform but can’t, for whatever reason?
thank you for your compliment! that means a lot to me, douglas! a song I continue to try to cover but never seem to get down is “stardust” by hoagy carmichael and mitchell parish. since 1927 it has become the most recorded song in the world. it happens to be my favorite song; this “song about a song about love.” I found out that it also was my grandfather, big rip’s favorite song and was played at my grandparent’s wedding.  It’s a “bucket list” wish of mine to record it. but I just never seem to play it smoothly enough for my liking.

you wrote “better by bounds” with george jones in mind. what other performer, past or present, would you like to write a song for, and why?
douglas, your questions are excellent and I am finding them interesting to think about and not difficult to answer.  thank you for taking your time to organize this interview.

I would really like to write a song for kendra smith to sing and record. she has been an enduring hero of mine since she influenced my singing style back in the early ’80s. especially I would like to sing behind her someday; another “bucket list” wish, but I know that she is very private and elusive. I doubt sincerely that she is aware of my existence and I don’t have any desire to disturb her.

what kinds of collaborations are you best at?
I like spontaneous collaborations, but those are impossible to plan. my mind says that I must feel comfortable with my other collaborators in order to create, but I know in my heart that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to making good music.

the album I recorded in new zealand was full of fairly spontaneous collaborations and I was not always comfortable with my collaborators. every song was recorded the day it was written, except for one I had ready to go. recording those songs was utterly terrifying because I had so much fan-admiration for the artists I worked with (graeme downes, chris knox, denise roughan and david mitchell, robert scott, david kilgour) that I was determined to make good use of their time. I did my best to connect to my musical muse so that what I contributed was open-minded and high quality. I can still listen to the songs on the album, in new zealand, and feel proud of our results.

gail tells me you’re teaching chemistry in high school these days. what are you like as a teacher? how does teaching relate to performing for you (or does it)?
wow, douglas. you are very perceptive because teaching certainly is performing and there is no worse audience than 36 bored teenagers. as a teacher I am loud, funny, informative, compassionate, caring, annoyed, fierce and sometimes inappropriate. I have a lot to learn to get where I want to be as a teacher.  one important thing I have learned within the past months is that teaching requires putting on a show, a new one, every day; and if that show bombs there is no way to close the curtain and ask the ushers to see the audience out for their refund.

what’s the most fruitful piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
to view everyone as though they are wearing a shirt that says, “please help me feel good about myself.”

barbara will play night two of chickfactor 22 at the bell house, brooklyn, on march 21.

new jim ruiz interview & vinyl announcement!

Jim-Ruiz-Set-2

it is no secret over here at CFHQ that we dig the jim ruiz set (and the legendary jim ruiz group before it). they’ve been playing at CF events since back in the 1990s, and pam berry had the good sense to interview them back in chickfactor #9. ruiz & co. recently released a fan-fricking-tastic (third album finally) album called mount curve avenue (the compact disc and “digital files” came out on allen clapp’s mystery lawn music label and korda records), and we are excited to tell the world the latest news about that record: jim ruiz set has teamed up with portland, oregon’s ace shelflife record company to put mount curve avenue out on light-blue vinyl! we cannot wait to get our chocolate-smudged fingers on a copy. read more over on the jim ruiz blog and preorder your light-blue vinyl copy right here. the interview that follows was conducted by allen clapp to run in advance of chickfactor 21 last month, but the lazy editor didn’t get it posted in time. enjoy!

chickfactor: jim, you’ve always had a unique blend of melancholy and humor in your songwriting (you even referred to your uncle as being something of a mexican woody allen in one of your songs). who are some other songwriters past or present who can do that thing you do?

jim ruiz: thanks, that’s very kind. I think you could probably trace it back to 1989 and listening to the jazz butcher sing “girlfriend,” “only a rumor” or max eider sing “D.R.I.N.K.”  you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and maybe you just do both. they were able to be able to be incredibly funny but never cross into the realm of novelty. I suppose loudon wainright III does kind of the same thing. there’s no reason depressing confessional lyrics need to be so serious.

over the course of your three recorded albums, you cover a lot of musical ground, but there seem to be a few kinds of songs to which you gravitate: transportation songs, songs that mention or reference your musical heroes, and self-referential songs that look back on an earlier time in your life. is this coincidental, or are those the things that most occupy the mind of the legendary jim ruiz?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. okay, you’re on to me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would notice that! true, perhaps more than most people, I go back to the well. in my defense, I do tend to stop at three. for instance, “groningen,” “minneapolis,” and “mij amsterdam.” there were no city songs on this record (mount curve avenue), but if you got a good thing going, why not! who would have wanted to hear tony bennett follow up “I left my heart in san francisco” with “I’ll see you in oakland—next time!” and “down and out in redwood city?”  I would have!

you’ve always been more of a mod than a rocker. is it easier to be a mod in 2013 than it was in the mid 1990s?

no, it’s easier to be a mod when you’re in your late teens or early 20s, no matter what year it is. even bradley wiggins (winner of last year’s tour de france) seems just too old to pull off the mod look. at some point you reach the “aging mod dude” status. of course when I look in the mirror I think “hey mod!” but luckily people around here just look at me and think “preppy.”

last time I saw you, I noticed your volkswagen vanagon had a decidedly non-stock color scheme. would you care to describe this? how many paint jobs has your famous van had during its lifetime?

the vanagon has only had two paint schemes but many brush coats. as you probably know, car rust is an inevitable fact of life in minnesota. luckily as a child I painted many model airplanes, mostly from WWII.  I didn’t suspect I would later use that skill on my car, the transition was a natural and easy one.

what’s the best thing about playing a chickfactor show?

just being asked kind of blows my mind.  in london gail bestowed on us the title of “chickfactor band.” it wasn’t a public ceremony, and it didn’t come with a little statue, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget and will always treasure.

order your copy of the latest jim ruiz set LP (well, yes, on vinyl, silly, right here!)

a new future bible heroes interview!

future-bible-heroes-partygoing-video-640x358

future bible heroes is a songwriting collaboration between stephin merritt and christopher ewen (figures on a beach, the hiddle variable, famous boston DJ) with vocals from claudia gonson and merritt. in addition to reissuing their earlier recordings, they’re about to release their first album in 11 years, titled partygoing, and it’s effing ace (as good as their debut, memories of love). they will play chickfactor 21 on june 12 along with the aluminum group, honeybunch and true love always, mc gaylord fields and special guests. stephin will not perform due to ear issues; the live lineup will feature gonson, ewen, magnetic fields singer shirley simms and anthony kaczynski (figures on a beach). see you at bell house!

I did this interview to write their bio for merge records, but I wanted to print it here. I interviewed them back in chickfactor 11 also! interview by gail

chickfactor: the previous FBH album came out in 2002. now it’s 2013. have you been working on it for 11 years or did you begin more recently? what took so long?

stephin: since 2002 I’ve made four stage musicals and four magnetic fields albums, a gothic archies album and a through-sung live score to a silent film. but in fact chris and I have been working on FBH too, and parts of the songs “when evening falls on tinseltown” and “a drink is just the thing” are quite old. the first describes my experience of living in los angeles—and leaving it, which I did while recording partygoing; the second describes solving all your problems with alcohol, which I don’t do much anymore either. writing true and heartfelt lyrics is pointless because once you get around to singing them, they’re lies.

cf: do you feel freer and more playful making FBH music because it’s not your “day job”? your singing—especially on “how very strange” and “drink nothing but champagne”—is very funny.

stephin: thank you. I had other funny voices that didn’t make it onto the record, but they should be available as either bonus tracks or blackmail fodder. after singing exactly like angela lansbury on “mr. punch,” claudia has retired her stage-cockney voice, but I hope she changes her mind for the concerts. I want to see that.

cf: do you know when you write a song whether it will be for FBH, TMF or something else?

stephin: I only write FBH songs to chris’s instrumental songs (which are often perfectly listenable and finished before I get them), so I always know whose song I’m writing. I don’t always know what album I’m writing for, though: this album has less science fiction than before, but I had dozens of half-finished songs in that j.g. ballard universe mapped so much better by gary numan and john foxx.

cf: was there a theme for this record? I know it’s called partygoing but it seems like aging, rejection, death and austerity are recurring themes.

stephin: write what you know (as they tell you in school, when you don’t know anything yet). those happen to be the themes of most of my work, I’m happy to report. aging is a great theme for any writer, because one never runs out of material, and everyone over 12 is obsessed with it.

cf: do you have a different lyrical approach for FBH than for TMF?

stephin: other than a tendency toward science fiction, which sort of matches the “futuristic” synthesizers, I’m not aware of any difference. I’m still just sitting around in bars with a song in my head, rhyming “arcade” and “rodomontade.”

cf: how has FBH’s recording process changed since the previous releases?

stephin: for partygoing I encouraged chris to let me do more of the work, and just give me skeletal fragments, and then we could toss them back and forth as though we were playing a “sport” of some kind. and I did some remixing, not like junior vasquez, but like me, and the results sound a bit more like me than chris sometimes. which some will hate of course.

cf: are there any ’80s-sounding new bands that you’re fond of? contemporary acts?

stephin: the “electroclash” moment came and went without anyone ever contacting us about it, but I always quite liked ladytron, miss kittin, robyn, peaches, goldfrapp and their imitators. they’re all women. what can I say, I’m a gay man, I cried in public when donna summer died. my favorite country song of the last ten years is “you and I” by lady gaga (closely followed by trailer choir’s “rockin’ the beer gut,” a major feminist accomplishment which could never have been in the country charts I grew up on). our roots are in new wave.

cf: you seem to be able to get away with writing about anything as a lyricist. has anyone ever been offended by something you wrote? whose lyrics inspire you?

stephin: when the new york times trashed my first chinese opera adaptation, the reviewer was shocked that I used the word “fucking” in a song, and implied that it indicated a lack of seriousness on my part. now, on my planet, any medium that can’t use the word “fucking” is aimed at pre-school american children, a demographic not known for its patronage of opera, chinese or no. I’ve been listening to nothing but felt recently.

cf: any plans for the 6ths, the gothic archies, TMF? theater and film?

stephin: I’m writing a lot these days for all of the above, but nothing I can talk about yet.

cf: how does recording for FBH differ from working on TMF records?

claudia: chris first composes lots of sonic ideas, like dozens of them, and sends them to stephin. then, stephin makes melody lines over some of them, and decides which are the ones he wants to use for the album. the process goes back and forth. sometimes chris adjusts the pitch or tempo or adds a new section to accommodate the melody stephin has written. once the songs are written, we record lead vocals and harmonies, and a few more instruments.

cf: you sing on partygoing—do you contribute any other sounds / ideas?

claudia: on one song, there is a musique concrète solo. each member was instructed to go out and do field recordings of various ambient sounds, and stephin and his engineer charles knitted together all these sounds to make the solo. on other songs too, stephin added a few other instrumental lines. but the instrumental backing tracks, for the most part, are chris’s work.

cf: why do FBH play live so rarely?

claudia: we put out albums so rarely, that we didn’t have much occasion to tour. we did tour a bit after the first two albums, but back then it was incredibly difficult to get a stage set up with all those enormous bulky synths. we may do some shows for this album release, but the issue will revolve around the opposite problem, how to perform live in an interesting way without just hitting a button on a computer.

cf: do you feel freer and more playful making FBH music because it’s not your “day job”?

claudia: as the band’s manager, I can certainly say yes. but I also feel this way about playing with the magnetic fields. I enjoy my creative role with the band, since most of my time is spent wrangling over deals and contracts.

cf: who is pretending to be david bowie?

claudia: stephin.

cf: is the FBH fan different from the TMF fan?

claudia: I think we have a lot of crossover but I have discovered that people, like my daughter and my parents, really enjoy FBH, because it’s got a synth-based sound and catchy beats. It’s very accessible to the disco set.

cf: how do you feel this album compares with the previous releases?

claudia: I really like the album. stephin and chris wrote some exceptional songs. it’s a bit depressing, lots of songs about suicide, and a nostalgic yearning for youth and happiness. but I think most of the FBH albums are like that.

cf: can we expect another FBH album in 2024?

claudia: hope so!

cf: the previous FBH album came out in 2002. now it’s 2013. what took so long? have you been working on it for 11 years or did you begin more recently?

chris: we began more recently. part of the reason it took so long is that stephin is obviously involved with a lot of other musical projects. another is that—since we all live in different cities, especially when stephin was living in los angeles—it was a bit more of a challenge for us to coordinate everything. back when we were recording eternal youth, we were both experimenting with different recording technologies, and successfully integrating them was somewhat of a hurdle. technology has finally caught up with what we want to do, so it seemed like the right time to collaborate again. I started coming up with some new ideas for FBH towards the end of 2009. a couple of TMF albums happened between then and now, so 2013 has turned out to be the year we’re releasing a new album.

cf: there are a lot of modern-day new bands that try to sound 1980s. are there any that match up to those from the original decade?

chris: when we released memories of love back in 1997, I was very surprised that the american press were quick to dub us an ’80s “new wave” band. it wasn’t our intention to be classified that way, and it certainly wasn’t what was in my head as we were writing and recording the album. I think that happened because we used a lot of synthesizers, which wasn’t very much in fashion back then. the times seem to have changed, and synthesizers are back in vogue, but this time around we didn’t make a conscious decision to make a blatantly new wave revival record either. however, we did use a lot of synths. ¶ one of the things that continues to attract me to a lot of music that came out in the ’80s is that it sounded like itself. it was new, fresh and surprising at the time…some of it still sounds that way. musical approaches and points of reference were blurred or sometimes completely obliterated. these days, it’s pretty easy for me to pick out what ’80s band influenced the sound of any particular new band, so the element of wonder is I experience listening to them isn’t as apparent. that said, I’m currently really enjoying the most recent albums by the soft moon, the knife / fever ray, freezepop, yan wagner and the horrors, to name a few.

cf: what kind of changes in technology have had an effect on the way FBH works?

chris: when we recorded our first two albums, we used our phones and the mail a lot, and sent things to each other on cassette or DAT. or we had to be in the same city. these days, it’s a lot easier for us to send music & ideas back and forth and develop them more fully. my studio set-up now is a lot more conducive to multi-track recording, and I’m not a slave to MIDI anymore. overall, the ways we work together have become much more flexible.

cf: there are scant details on the two first FBH albums about the “sounds” you make. can you share more info here and do SM / CG contribute to the music also?

chris: on those first two albums, I would basically come up with some song idea, and record all or most of the instruments at my studio in boston, usually MIDI sequences driven by a hardware sequencer live to two track. stephin would then get these fully formed instrumental tracks and have to write the lyrics and vocal melodies either around what I had come up with, or complementing it in some way. It became a process unto itself, as the instrumental tracks were already fully mixed, and any changes would mean lots of editing and completely re-recording the track on my end, or completely rewriting the lyrics on his. as far as the sounds go, I enjoy experimenting in my studio, and am quite content to just play around with sound manipulation. some songs came about because of a certain sound I was happy with…a full track could be inspired by something very simple. I also like to write at a piano, and then arrange those pieces for a fuller instrumentation. on the first couple of albums, since the music was already pretty much finished by the time stephin got the tracks, he & claudia would come up with elaborate backing vocal tracks, and in a few instances, stephin would add a lead instrument. these days, we have a lot more options.

cf: the house of tomorrow site says: “future bible heroes are a songwriting collaboration between stephin merritt (words and melodies) and chris ewen (instruments).” can you clarify your roles?

chris: nowadays we are much more of an integrated collaboration, and there isn’t one particular way a song will develop. “living, loving, partygoing” began as an idea stephin sang into my voicemail one night. “love is a luxury” began with the lyrics. as far as the tracks I instigated go, I made a point of sending stephin a lot of demos or song sketches, which I’d then develop more fully as necessary. this time around, we were able to write songs together using different approaches, and were able to arrange them along the way.

cf: whose music gives you inspiration?

chris: I love producers who love experimenting in the studio…conny plank, martin hannett, joe meek, lindsey buckingham. I continue to admire the magnetic fields of course, all of yellow magic orchestra, abba, brian eno, the gentlemen in cluster (or now, qluster), vince clarke, the throbbing gristle family, the human league and a lot of french and german synth-pop. recent inspirations include laurie spiegel’s the expanding universe re-issue, and everything john foxx has been doing lately.

cf: how long have you known stephin and claudia? how have they changed?

chris: we go back a while… we met around 1987 or 1988 I think, during the buffalo rome days. it’s hard to pinpoint exact changes—we’ve remained good friends over the years and through many scenarios, which means that they continue to possess the qualities that drew us together in the first place. claudia has become more self-assured. stephin’s become a more social creature. I think we’ve all grown up, which is probably something I’ve needed to do.

cf: are you involved in other musical projects these days?

chris: I’ve decided to completely revamp a project I started a few years ago called the hidden variable. It was a collaboration I instigated with several dark fiction authors, whose lyrics I set to music. besides a song I wrote with neil gaiman that claudia sings on, and one with gahan wilson that cosey fanni tutti sings, I’m planning on re-recording the entire album. there may also be the possibility of some instrumental solo material, and I’ll continue to come up with new ideas for FBH, in case we feel the urge to record a new album at some point.