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

CF poll: What were/are you wearing in 1992, 2002, 2012 and 2022?

Jeffrey, Claudia and Miggy at the Middle East, 1995. Polaroid by Gail O’Hara

This is another poll that didn’t fit into chickfactor 19!

What were you wearing in 1992? Like what was your style? What was your uniform of choice? 


Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields (pictured): Hoping that you will dig up some of the many great photos you took of me. In one of them, I am wearing a “New Jersey Is For Lovers” shirt that I still occasionally wear, although it is full of holes now and best suited for night wear. I found it at a Goodwill in Honolulu (!), summer of 1992.

Janice Headley (CF/KEXP): Thrift-store vintage dresses with mens’ blazers and oxford shoes. Black-and-white striped tights with fake Doc Martens and XL band tees as a dress. Big eyeglasses because my parents deemed me too young for contact lenses. 

Daniel Handler: Whatever was on the floor of my room.

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Worn out jeans, flannels and Doc Martins.

Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, Simple Machines Records): Golf jacket, cutoff cord shorts with tights, baggy t-shirts or Japanese baseball uniform tops

Clare Wadd (Sarah Records): Well, we didn’t have any money so clothes weren’t really a thing for us. Mostly skirts and t-shirts, black tights, flat shoes. I don’t think I could afford DMs then, though I always wanted some. Lots of jumpers in winter.

Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants): Same as now, jeans, shirt, brogues. I have a lot of jackets.

Alicia Vanden Heuvel (the Aislers Set, Poundsign, Speakeasy Studios): Baggie t-shirts, doc martins, flannels, hats, and black eyeliner. I was a goth/grunge teenager who just had her life changed by Nirvana and the Breeders.    

John Lindaman: I think 1992 was square in the middle of a horrible Hawaiian shirt and long hair phase. Apologies to all.

Beth Arzy: Fred Perry tops, thrift shop brown cords, Mary Jane shoes or flowery 60s dresses. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Peter Momtchiloff: A western shirt, a suede jacket, and horrible black Levi jeans

Theresa Kereakes: 1992 found me wearing a uniform of pleated plaid skirts, black tights, black turtlenecks, string of pearls, and before you think, “preppy beatnik” I always wore Doc Martens. I worked at PBS and I treated it as if it were Catholic school.

Dickon Edwards: I think I was trying to wear stripey blue and white matelot t-shirts, alongside band t-shirts, plus jeans. The whole hooded top look associated with ‘Madchester’ had died away by then, and I think the whole grunge explosion had left everyone in simple band t-shirts and jeans.

Kevin Alvir: I was a child, so like gigantic t-shirts that doubled as a tunic with umbro shorts. 

Tracy Wilson (Turntable Report): Vintage dresses, thrift store cardigans, saddle shoes, Bettie Page bangs, and a Sanrio bag—likely Little Twin Stars or Hello Kitty.

Gail CF: Vintage raincoat, black shorts with leggings underneath, fluevogs, flannel shirts, enormous indie Ts, Mr. Friendly backpacks. 

Fred Thomas: It was a transitional time, and I’m pretty sure I mostly wore band shirts (Misfits, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Flag, etc.) and big, huge skater pants.

Pete Paphides: the search for a classic button-up cardigan like the ones worn by people’s parents in the 1950s and 1960s is a lifelong pursuit.

What were you wearing in 2002? 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: Height of the 69 Love Songs era. I wore a selection of tight sports jackets in very bright colors, some of which make a word when you zip them up- “BER-LIN”. “BROOK-LYN”. Etc. Also, I was obsessed with British caps.

Daniel Handler: Suits, when I went out.

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Corduroys, Gingham shirts and Jack Purcells

Kristin Thomson: Maternity wear, but not the stuff that makes you look like an infant.

Stuart Moxham: As above

Alicia Aislers Set: Those were Aislers Set days and my favorite things to wear were stay pressed Levi’s, button up shirt, a tie or sweater vest, parka.  Of course stripes because, Jean Seberg… 

John Lindaman: All brown.

Janice Headley: Low rise bootcut jeans, spaghetti-strap tops, platform shoes, and baby barrettes in pixie-cut hair, because I was young. 

Beth Arzy: Less garish dresses, Fred Perry tops, unmemorable skirts. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Theresa Kereakes:  In 2002, I was on the road with a 200-person crew.  T-shirts and jeans. 

Kevin Alvir: Some sort of striped t-shirt with a jean and some purposely fun sneakers. The face of fashion: the look of an overgrown child.

Gail CF: I was working at a teen magazine in NYC. Casual, comfortable. Vintage dresses, motorcycle boots, gingham, sneakers. 

Tracy Wilson: It’s a mod mod world. 

Fred Thomas: Almost entirely thrift store attire, and I had yet to realize that synthetic fabrics weren’t really the way to go for me. Lots of polyester pants, ill-fitting cowboy shirts, tight polo shirts in springy colors, corduroy jackets, and I definitely had one of those garage rock caps that people wore in 2002.

Jim Ruiz: In 1984 I was a real thrift shop Mod, by the mid-’90s, these clothes had worn out and I was reduced to wearing pajamas as stage clothes or trying to dress like a college professor.  Now, almost 40 years later, thanks to narrow lapels and skinny jeans and the internet! I am able to dress the way I’ve always wanted to, and better!  Plus, I still have a full head of hair, and my former bandmate Allison has been cutting it for me. I feel really lucky, it’s crazy. Thanks for asking!

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Pete Paphides: May I refer you to my previous answer?


What were you wearing in 2012? 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I had a daughter in the summer of 2010 and don’t particularly remember the next 3 years. I did go on tour for over 2 months of 2012, insanely. I must have worn clothes. 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Dark jeans, more gingham shirts and Onitsuka Tigers

Kristin Thomson: Skinny jeans, vintage tops or band t-shirt, zip up hoodie

Stuart Moxham: As above

Alicia: Same thing as 2002. Ha ha ha  

Beth Arzy: Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. Same as the above… Same as it ever was. 

Fred Thomas: No more synthetic materials! A combination of basics (many pilfered from my job at American Apparel) and a few nicer, more interesting pieces either found in thrift shops or from high end men’s fashion retailers.

Theresa Kereakes: I moved to Tennessee in 2008, and it’s fairly warm for the most part. I like a sun dress and a straw hat.

John Lindaman: All grey.

Clare Wadd: Jeans a lot

Kevin Alvir: Hair with intention. A striking sweater or cardigan and fitted jeans. 

Gail CF: Living in Portland so durable rainwear; red clogs; A-line skirts; cardigans; I basically dress like Paddington Bear in general. Hair: long with bangs. 

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Daniel Handler: Cardigans.

Tracy Wilson: Space Age flight attendant

What are you wearing in 2022? 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Gray jeans, hoodies, Doc Martins or Onitsuka Tigers

Kristin Thomson: Today, I am wearing my “Ripley” outfit. Army green long sleeved jumpsuit/flightsuit, sneaks. 

Stuart Moxham: As above but with trouser braces and hats.

Alicia: Well, now I like to throw in some comfortable jeans, a soft sweater, old man slippers, maybe even sandals sometimes! I’m getting old. It’s time to embrace the inner Mr Rogers.  

Beth Arzy: Have fallen in love with loafers and have many pairs of Adidas. Bit more conservative on the clothes side with more acceptable things in the wardrobe for work. More Fred Perrys. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I am currently recycling some very old shirts that I found in my folks’ house a year ago. In college, like many, I wore loose baggy T-shirts. I found some pretty great ones from the late 80’s and early 90’s, souvenirs from a cross country trip in the early 90’s (Stonehenge in Maryhill Washington, Calamity Jane museum in Deadwood, S Dakota), Also, multiple shirts with artwork by Jad Fair. So, under my winter sweaters, I am enjoying wearing my old weirdo Tshirt collection right now. 

John Lindaman: As many colors as I can bring myself to wear (still mostly grey).

Clare Wadd: Jean even more. T-shirts, jumpers, currently vests. It’s still cold. Dresses when I go out, but still home a lot.

Peter Momtchiloff: A cardigan and pinstripe trousers

Fred Thomas: I now have way too many clothes, as some of the Jane’s Addiction shirts from 1992 and tight polo shirts from 2002 are still in rotation. I try to stick to more basic, streamlined presentation these days, but get inspiration from films, record covers, and other images that most people wouldn’t register just by quickly scanning my outfit.

Theresa Kereakes: Pajamas! “Work from home” means I ask myself, “Am I working in my PJs or sleeping in my clothes?” It’s all yoga pants and hoodies over band t-shirts purchased during the dark days of lockdowns as a way to put money into the non-touring economy.

Kevin Alvir: I wear what I wore in 1992…which is like a gigantic tunic with shorts. 

Gail CF: comfy dresses, tunics, leggings, athleisure. Carhartt! I seem to be addicted to thermals and flannel. 

Janice Headley: Big, thick sweaters and high-rise jeans ’cause it’s cold AF here in MI. 

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Daniel Handler: Ill-fitting outerwear.

Tracy Wilson: Soft pants and all the colors.

CF poll: How did you learn about music 10, 20, 30 years ago (if you were alive) and how do you learn about it now?

Alicia Aislers Set / Poundsign on the back of CF15 (2002)

Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set, Poundsign, Speakeasy Studios): 10 years ago I was mostly touring and going to live shows. frequenting my local record shops, especially Aquarius records here in the Mission, which sadly closed in 2016. I saw Elliott Smith perform there solo once. 20 years ago, it would be through college radio, zines, live shows, indie websites, touring…. 30 years ago, I could barely get a radio station out in the desert where I grew up (Desert Hot Springs, California). There was no internet, we would hitch rides to “civilization” where we would go to Tower records, and spend all our savings buying like one or two records.. I’d sit at the radio, trying to get KROQ, taping my favorite songs, then sit late into the night waiting for MTV’s 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation to come on, so I could “maybe” see the Cure or something good. 

Daniel Handler: I remember going to record stores and humming songs I’d heard on the radio to confused clerks.  Now I know what the song is called but not what it sounds like.

Clare Wadd (Sarah Records): With difficulty back then I think. People might play you things, but you couldn’t necessarily buy them. John Peel used to play some older records now and then. Now you hear a lot of older music on 6 Music alongside the new, and of course you can track down anything via reissues or online.

Janice Headley (CF, KEXP): Chickfactor, the “thank you” sections in CD liner notes, band t-shirts other bands would wear in their publicity photos, record label rosters back when labels had a defined aesthetic, TV and film soundtracks. Nowadays, I discover bands through my day job (at a radio station), social media, algorithms, labels that still have a defined aesthetic. 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Seeking out specific label’s catalogs (Factory, Creation, Sarah, Subway…) and now I learn about it on Instagram or friends sharing info on bands I may like.

Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, Simple Machines Records): I now learn about it through (1) college radio, (2) friends, and (3) Spotify.

Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants): I grew up in a musical world; my father was a singer (he’s too old now, at 92,) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical and stage music. We had radio, records, I also had an elder brother who had a stereo and headphones in the early ’70s because, as a sailor, he’d been to Japan. Girlfriends and their older sisters’ record collections majored too. In terms of making music, I sang as a child in church and later in musicals which my dad starred in. I’m pretty much self-taught at playing and composing, obviously influenced by friends though and the records I’ve loved.

Beth Arzy (Jetstream Pony): My cousins were like my sisters and used to give me their old records so I had The Monkees, Olivia Newton John, John Denver when I was 3-4. My mom worked at an easy listening radio station in Northern California when I was 5-6 and I used to get all the records that weren’t easy listening so my life started with vinyl. Now it’s bands we play with who I love, word of mouth, and (this won’t make me popular) algorithms suggesting things I may like. They’re often right!  

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: When I met Stephin and other friends in the ’80s and ’90s, we discovered music through Boston’s amazing web of college radio stations. Also, by going to record stores and reading indie zines and the larger music magazines. I also learned about music through a combo of friends (like you!) telling me what they were listening to and going to see shows. Today, I still sometimes learn about music through the radio, while driving in my car or through online radio stations. Stephin’s monthly online DJ session on Lot Radio is fun, as is “How does it Feel to be Loved?” Obviously, the internet- Online music magazines, online performances on Youtube, etc. I also learn about music by reading the NY Times, New Yorker and listening to NPR. Sigh. I am definitely a 50-something East Coast liberal. 

Theresa Kereakes: Thirty years ago, we still had reliable radio without too much consolidation. But I mostly learned about music from indie record stores. Going back to when I was at UCLA in the ’70s (gasp, 46 years ago), I learned about music from the late Gary Stewart, who worked at the Rhino Records store on Westwood Blvd. I bought Elvis Costello and Jam records from him the moment they arrived at the store. I also learned about music that preceded my consciousness from the Capitol Records Swap Meet. Twenty years ago, I was producing a radio show for Sirius, and labels, both major and indie, sent me new music. Ten years ago til the present, I rely on friends, favorite record stores, and interviews with my favorite musicians if they’re asked what they’re listening to. I discovered Roxy Music because David Bowie mentioned to either Dinah Shore or Dick Cavett that he liked them (this was during the Eno era). I learned when I was working at the very mainstream VH1 that mainstream artists don’t always have mainstream tastes. Elton John loved Blur back then, and now, he loves Aaron Lee Tasjan.

John Lindaman (True Love Always): Obviously eternally from surrounding yourself with friends with better taste than you. 30ish years ago I worked at B Dalton Booksellers, and I would read every guitar/music magazine that came in. I also took care of my guitar teacher Tony Geballe’s record collection when he went to Turkey for six months, and it was loaded to the gills with Fripp/ECM/Frith/Eno type stuff, the closest thing to an encyclopedic music streaming service that existed then. An amazing opportunity for a young person—sorry I probably scratched up your records, Tony! 20 and 10 years ago it was from going to good record stores, and the glory days of Emusic. I got downloads of tons of great out of print Brazilian albums from a site run by a guy named Zecalouro, which has since gone dark. Now BANDCAMP.

Gail CF: 1992: Working at Washington City Paper and then Spin. Promos. Combing record stores. Pam & Co. Mike Schulman at Vinyl Ink Records recommending things; Chris, Josh and Jeff at Kim’s (later Other Music) suggesting things. Reading Option, NME and Melody Maker and zines. 2002: Putting out CF15 after 10 years of CF, I learned about music via the internet, Other Music and friends, bands giving me music. 2012: Doing an issue (CF17) forced me to dig deep into what had come out in our 20th anniversary year; PR folks helped. The internet, maybe Soundcloud. WFMU online. Friends, DJs, bands giving me stuff. 2022: Bandcamp for sure; labels, bands/PR folks sending me stuff; WFMU; blogs and friends doing music stuff! 

Fred Thomas: 10 years ago: That was probably the tail end of the blog era for me, where I’d read about or blindly download obscure music from small blogs or bigger music criticism/culture sites. ¶ 20 years ago: Working full time at the record store and taking chances buying whatever came through that sounded interesting or a friend I trusted was excited about. Seeing shows in the same way. There was already an ocean of new music then, but not as much information, so I didn’t always know much about the music I liked. Some of it was blank CDRs or tapes with no track-listings. ¶ 30 years ago: that would have been when I was just getting out of relying on MTV and the radio as the primary sources of new music and started listening to stuff played by friends’ older siblings or the older punk kids who weren’t too annoyed by me at the record shops. Once in 1992 an older record store clerk asked me if I’d help them clean up the house they were moving out of and they paid me with about 70 dubbed tapes of music I’d never heard of before. That was a pretty formative moment. It’s interesting because presently I draw on parts of all the means I’ve used to learn about new music for the past 30 years, just more fragmentally and less from one main source. 

Tracy Wilson (Turntable Report): Thirty years ago I learned about music through talking to customers at the record store I was working at, by reading every music fanzine I could get my hands on, from the sales people at all the different labels and distros I purchased music from, shopping at other record stores, and by going to shows at least three days a week. The only thing that has changed now I that I go to less shows during the pandemic and I have the internet. 

Pete Paphides: 40 years ago: Smash Hits, Record Mirror, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 30 years ago: Melody Maker, NME, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 20 years ago: hanging out in record stores with Bob Stanley ¶ 10 years ago, hanging out in record stores both with and without Bob Stanley; going in looking for one record, coming out with something completely different because of what was playing, or because something caught my eye. 

Kevin Alvir (Hairs): in 2012: Pitchfork (puke) and assorted music blogs. in 2002: reading Spin Magazine or whatever played on MTV. But I was real into Athens, GA… so whatever those associated labels put out. in 1992: I sat in the passenger seat of my brother’s car. He played Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Dramarama, etc. and those albums mean so much to me. 

Dickon Edwards: My memory is very bad about this. But I think in 2012, I had drifted away from listening to new music, but was still going to gigs at the Boogaloo and other smallish London venues. 2002: Word of mouth, reading the NME, still listening to John Peel. 1992: All the music papers, Peel, BBC Radio 1, music TV like The Chart Show.

chickfactor 19 is out now

The new issues are here! Jen Sbragia and I have been working diligently to bring you a new issue to read during these very challenging times. Edited by me (Gail O’Hara) and designed by Jen Sbragia, the issue is 72 pages long and has two covers (red and yellow):

The covers feature (clockwise from top left):
Rachel Aggs.
Horsegirl.
Sacred Paws.
The Umbrellas.

chickfactor 19 features interviews with:
Artsick
Connie Lovatt (Containe, The Pacific Ocean, etc.)
Dan Bejar (Destroyer)
Gina Davidson (Marine Girls, The Fenestration)
Horsegirl
Kevin Alvir’s Fanboy Memoirs
Magic Roundabout
Melenas
(interview by Janice Headley)
Rachel Aggs (Sacred Paws, Shopping, Trash Kit)
Rachel Love (Dolly Mixture, Spelt)
(interview by Gail and Gaylord Fields)
Rebecca Cole (Clay Cole, Minders, Wild Flag)
Sacred Paws
Say Sue Me
(interview by James McNew)
Seablite
The Umbrellas
Laura Veirs
(interview by Rachel Blumberg)
+ Our usual silly polls where indie stars answer our latest round of Qs
+ Lois Maffeo on the latest Tracey Thorn book, Theresa Kereakes on the Poly Styrene doc
+ Loads of record reviews: albums, EPs, 7-inch singles, reissues, comps, collections, films, books and live shows
+ Our esteemed contributors (writers, artists and photographers) including Kevin Alvir, Rachel Blumberg, Joe Brooker, Angelina Capodanno, Jason Cohen, Gaylord Fields, Amy Greenan, Glenn Griffith, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Edwina Hay, Janice Headley, HK Kahng, Theresa Kereakes, Beatrix Madell, Dawn Sutter Madell, Lois Maffeo, James McNew, Kendall Meade, Stephin Merritt, Peter Momtchiloff, Nancy Novotny, Gail O’Hara, Chris Phillips, Sukhdev Sandhu, Jen Sbragia, Stephen Troussé, Julie Underwood, Lydia Vanderloo & Doug Wallen
Order a copy of Chickfactor 19 here!
US ONLY
CANADA
UK & REST OF WORLD
Stockists:
Quimby’s in Chicago
Record Grouch in Brooklyn
Monorail in Glasgow
My Vinyl Underground and Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon
End of An Ear in Austin
Peel Gallery in Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Coming soon: Main Street Beat in Nyack, Sonic Boom in Seattle, Atomic Books in Baltimore and Grimey’s in Nashville
Also online at K Recs or Jigsaw

Rachel Aggs photographed in SE Portland, 2019. Photo: Gail O’Hara
The Umbrellas photographed at the Elizabeth Cotten mural (painted by Scott Nurkin) in Carrboro, NC, 2021. Photo: Gail O’Hara
Horsegirl photographed in Washington, D.C., March 2022. Photo: Gail O’Hara

Sacred Paws photographed by Edwina Hay in Brooklyn, 2019.

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 

the reds, pinks & purples (glenn donaldson) interview!

Photo courtesy of Glenn Donaldson

Our interview with San Francisco songwriter GLENN DONALDSON (currently of the reds, pinks & purples and vacant gardens, formerly of skygreen leopards and art museums, etc.) is long overdue, as he’s been making great jangly music for decades. Of course everyone is still listening to Uncommon Weather, and Summer at Land’s End comes out today/on Feb. 4 but the U.S. vinyl has been delayed thanks to satan, I mean Adele or something. Collector nerds: If you haven’t already preordered the vinyl LP, do it. There are two vinyl editions: a limited-edition double yellow vinyl record with a bonus album of instrumental songs not on the album, which is only available in the U.S. from Slumberland, and a green single vinyl LP version. UK people: the vinyl is actually out today (Feb. 4) on Tough Love. Interview by Kevin Alvir 

Summer at Land’s End

chickfactor: What is your life like these days in San Francisco? 
Glenn Donaldson: Pretty simple and hermit-like. I work from home, take walks around the neighborhood, record songs. I’m really into making vegan stews from scratch lately. It’s all about having a base of shiitake mushrooms and fermented bean paste. They are pretty good!
cf: This is very chickfactor: What were you like as a teenager?
An insecure dork, but maybe most people were like that. I was hung up on girls and moping around.
cf: also chickfactor: What is driving you mad?
Constantly entering passwords, which is 90% of remote work.
cf: What spurred you into making music?
Punk was alive in Fullerton when I was a youth, and that was the siren song. It felt like a place where a loser like me could be great. In my hometown we had Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, etc. These are world-class bands, so it felt like anything was possible.

Photo nicked from the Reds, Pinks & Purples’ Bandcamp page

cf: Did you always see yourself doing music? If it were not music, what else do you think you’d be doing?
I wanted to be an artist of some kind, maybe a poet or a painter or a musician. I wanted to wear striped sweaters and drink espresso in dimly lit cafes.
cf: Do you do anything else outside of music? Gardening, visual arts, etc…
I’m a crude artist as well, mostly collage, some painting and bad stoner drawings…and now photographing my neighborhood I suppose? I have a book of collage art coming out this year on a micro-press.
cf: Your work has a cinematic feel to it. I get a sense you are inspired by movies and books. Are you? Can you elaborate on that? 
That’s a nice compliment, thanks. My favorite writer is Denton Welch. He had a way of taking everyday events like a walk through a garden and making it epic. Movies sure… but I feel like I’m more directly influenced by comedy, the idea of really opening yourself up as a performer and dealing with raw and personal stuff.
cf: Anything that you are watching on tv or (shall I say) streaming?
I like that new HBO series Somebody Somewhere. It probably won’t find a huge audience, but I think it’s beautiful. An old favorite is Detectorists. I love small stories.

Photo nicked from the Reds, Pinks & Purples’ Bandcamp page

cf: A great question for our auteurs: Do you prefer to play live or record?
Definitely recording. There’s nothing more satisfying that putting the final touch on a song, painting on some bits of feedback or melody lines. I struggle with even wanting to play live, but it is rewarding and helps you move onto the next bit of inspiration.
cf: Can you tell us what your first song that you wrote was like?
It was definitely a rip-off of a Dischord-type hardcore song. I didn’t play any instruments until much later, so this would be just me imagining hardcore riffs and writing really bad lyrics about “Justice” or something I knew nothing about.
cf: Is there a source of inspiration or influence that people who follow your music may find surprising?
I love Lana Del Rey. She’s my favorite contemporary songwriter. The more cringey she gets, the more I eat it up. “Arcadia” is the best song out right now. I’m a student of classic songwriting, so my list of favorites would be very long (see below), but I’ll mention Leonard Cohen, Kirsty MacColl and Peter Tosh off the top of my head.
cf: Can you describe your worst live music experience? As a performer / audience member.
Someone threw a lit cigarette at me at a festival in Belgium and almost set my shirt on fire. For some reason they stuck my band Skygreen Leopards, an acoustic band, on before BORIS, and the Belgian doom metal fans were enraged. It was totally stupid and insane but very memorable!

Uncommon Weather

cf: I’ve asked you this over social media, but what does Astral Projection feel like? Reds, Pinks & Purples have a song called “I’d Rather Astral Project.” Hence, my audacity to ask this… I think I may have experienced this—I do a ton of meditation… but I would love to hear what other people have to say about it.
Oh, interesting left turn! That song is a bit tongue-in-cheek about having social anxiety basically, but I do wonder about the power of the mind sometimes, powerful stuff, especially if you get into visualization and meditation. I have taken LSD a few times, and you can definitely arrive without traveling. 
cf: How do you feel the past two years have changed you? (y’know – the pandemic)
I am more comfortably and colorfully dressed with many clashing patterns. Also, I am into colorful sneakers all of sudden after never wearing them at all. I am suddenly more successful as a musician than I have ever been, and yet I barely leave my neighborhood. 
cf: When things get back to workable normal, what do you want to do with yourself / yr music?
I want to tour and play some enormous festivals, really sell out and make big gestures like Bono. Set my shirt on fire with cigarettes and lose my mind permanently while onstage, then crash hard coming back to reality, realizing that it’s all pointless. CF

Records Glenn Cannot Live Without
Unrest, Imperial f.f.r.r.
Long Fin Killie, Houdini
The Magnetic Fields, The House of Tomorrow
Tracey Thorn, A Distant Shore
Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll
Bad Brains, I Against I
Colin Newman, A to Z
Codeine, Barely Real
The Smiths, Meat is Murder
Reptile House, Listen to the Powersoul
East River Pipe, Shining Hours in a Can
Jones Very, Words & Days
The Jam, Sound Affects
Augustus Pablo, East of the River Nile
Galaxie 500, Today
Die Kreuzen, Century Days
American Music Club, Engine
Hüsker Dü, Warehouse: Songs & Stories
Go-Betweens, Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express
Eyeless in Gaza, Caught in Flux

brand-new interview with massage!

Photo courtesy of Massage

New Jersey natives Andrew Romano and Alex Naidus met in New York, but they became especially close friends after relocating to LA just six months apart in 2013. A few years later they found themselves playing together—almost accidentally—in Massage. This was an unexpected second act for Alex, who had previously played bass in the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. ¶ Much more low-key by design, Massage started with a single demo that Alex had penned but never shared in his Pains days. Soon there were more members—including bassist David Rager, original drummer Michael Felix and subsequent drummer Natalie de Almeida—and a strikingly melodic debut album in 2018’s Oh Boy. Quietly staking their claim as among the most ardent students of jangle pop in LA’s deeply fragmented music scene, Massage followed up that record with 2021’s Still Life, a dramatic leap ahead in songwriting chops and collective confidence. Showcasing the voices and songs of Andrew and Alex as well as those of keyboardist Gabi Ferrer, the album earned release through labels in Australia and Spain, beyond the band’s US home on Mt. St. Mtn. in Sacramento. ¶ The songs on Still Life feel instantly classic, hitting all the right touchstones while remaining very much their own creations. Following the opening one-two hit of “Half a Feeling” and “Made of Moods,” there’s the lasting sensation that we’re experiencing something special and well worth cherishing. Sung by Gabi with music written by Romano, “10 & 2” is another highlight, as is the Gabi-helmed “The Double.” The more recent Lane Lines EP has followed through on the second album’s dazzling promise, foregrounding a new studio version of the album track “In Gray & Blue” and showing subtle new sides of the band. ¶ We chatted with Andrew and Alex (both journalists), the cofounding songwriters of Massage in early 2022 about starting the band, fine-tuning their round-robin songwriting and the West Coast indie scene. intro and interview by Doug Wallen

Photo courtesy of Massage

chickfactor: Alex, can you talk about following up Pains with Massage?
Alex: It was one of those life things where everything happens at once: I left the band, I was in a long relationship that ended, and I started a job at Buzzfeed. I started in New York, but there was a job opening in LA. “Leaving music behind” sounds so dramatic, but I needed to start my new life. I was kinda heartbroken and coming to a city I didn’t know that well. I didn’t have any plans to join a new band, and I purposefully didn’t do that for a while. ¶ The impetus to start again was Michael [Felix], the first drummer in Massage. He played on the first album and half of Still Life. He wanted to start playing drums again and said, “What if we just jam?” I told him I wasn’t really a jammer, and I just had a bass. But there was a rehearsal space where you could rent a guitar by the hour. ¶ It was purely just a way to hang out. I only knew how to play a few songs on guitar, [including] a song I wrote while I was in Pains. It was just a demo I made at home for fun. So we played that and it was a good time. I mentioned it to Andrew at a party and he said, “I want to do that.” And unbeknownst to me, Michael had the same thing happen with his friend David [Rager], who’s [now] the bassist for Massage. We rented the same rehearsal space and there were two guitars, bass, drums and my one song from five years ago. And it was like, “This is fun. We could keep doing this.”
Andrew: We both had the experience of writing songs for high school bands when we were younger. I didn’t think I would ever have a band that was a creative outlet again, but then we stumbled onto this thing. It was just friends doing music, with no great ambition beyond that.
CF: It sounds so accidental. Did you share a lot of touchstones right away, or how much did it sound like Massage early on?
Andrew: Well, that first song, “Kevin’s Coming Over,” is on the first album.
CF: So that was sort of the blueprint.
Andrew: Yeah. Alex and I were friends in New York but not really close, and then we became really good friends out here. There was a mutual friend of ours named Kevin who was doing night school. [The song] was just ramshackle, really rough indiepop. I think it’s about Kevin, but also an attempt to do that kind of thing. ¶ We like the same bands. I think the first phase of Massage was us writing towards the sound we wanted. The first record is kind of halfway there, and Still Life feels like we’ve gotten to that point, where the songs we write are really the kind of songs we like to listen to. But we do feel like we’re learning this as we go.
CF: Again, it seems very organic. I loved the first record but it didn’t get a lot of attention, but Still Life has had a higher profile and is on a few different labels…
Alex: I hope so. If it just finds its audience however it does, that’s cool. It blew my mind that a couple people not only didn’t know I used to be in Pains, but didn’t even know who Pains is. That’s rare, in fairness, but it’s neat. It’s just interesting how it flows.
CF: So neither of you had properly sang lead before. Did you have to build yourselves up to that?
Alex: There are definitely times where I have the singer syndrome that I feel like a lot of people have, especially people who make music like this. There’s an impulse to bury the vocals. But that’s what I sound like, and I’ll just do the best I can. The songs come first: to me the vocals are serving the songs.
Andrew: I’ve been on a bit of a New Order kick, and in New Order, when Ian Curtis died, they didn’t know which one of them was going to sing in this new band. It ended up being Bernard Sumner. He’s not a [natural] singer by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t want anyone else singing in that band. There’s something so perfect about the precision in a lot of their music and then the fragility and vulnerability of his voice. It makes that band work. So having a little imperfection can make it more appealing. 
CF: And the keyboardist, Gabrielle, sings and writes songs as well.
Andrew: Gabi is my sister-in-law. It felt like this big gap [of time] before she joined, but it was only a few weeks after we started.

CF: I love how the new record flows between the three of you. Is it tricky to accommodate three singers and songwriters in one band?
Alex: Not at all. It just lays where it lays. Andrew and I have this thing too, where we write a lot of songs and share demos to inspire each other. So we end up with the same amount of songs, and Gabi will have hers too. There’s a symmetry that just happens naturally. Sometimes I think about that band Sloan, who have three main songwriters.
Andrew: Teenage Fanclub too.
Alex: Right. I always wondered how they do that, [but] it just comes out of us and we look at the [collective] pile. So far it’s been easier than you’d think.
Andrew: The Go-Betweens are a total model in that regard too. They worked together really well to [showcase] the best songs. I’ve done a couple songs now where I’ve written the music and the melody and then handed it over to Gabi to sing and write the lyrics. The first one was “Crying Out Loud” on the first record, and then “10 and 2” on this record. It’s amazing to see her come back with lyrics that are a million times more eloquent than anything I could have come up with—and suit her voice so well. ¶ And Gabi is a fantastic harmony singer, both in finding the right harmony and having this unusual tone and tenor to her voice that just melds really well. So the amount of harmonies in the band is a direct result of that.
Alex: She [also] does all the visual art for everything we’ve done, and she does music videos and animation.

CF: What does it feel like to be an indie pop band in LA, especially when San Francisco indie pop is having such a moment right now? Have you found your niche?
Andrew: So you’ve noticed we’re not from San Francisco? (Laughter) We get lumped in and people say we’re from there. Because the name for the San Francisco scene now is “fog pop,” we were joking that we’re “smog pop.” We’ve got two smog pop bands in LA; we need a third one so you can write the trend piece. ¶ We love everything that’s going on in San Francisco, including bands we’ve played with a bunch of times—Cindy, Flowertown, Telephone Numbers, April Magazine—to the point where we’re envious about what they’ve got going on there. It seems like a really kind and friendly scene. We don’t have that in LA. One band we love and have played a few shows with is Semi Trucks, which used to be Venetian Blinds. They have a record [Vs. California] that just came out on Meritorio in Spain. ¶ Other than that, it’s been pretty [sparse]. But the past two years have been pretty weird [due to the pandemic]. We haven’t played a lot of shows, so there’s been a pause of any scene formation. But I’m not aware of many bands here doing the kind of thing we do.
Alex: It has felt ephemeral too, because the last show we played pre-pandemic was with the band Semi Trucks used to be, Venetian Blinds. But also this band Smokescreens, who are on Slumberland and had David Kilgour record their album. But I think that band isn’t a band anymore. Our friend David Stern, who plays as D.A. Stern, also has a record on Slumberland. ¶ This is so much of an enthusiastic friend exercise for us that our version of a scene is when we have band practice every week and go out for beers after. We’ll all go to shows together too, so we can kind of carry our own scene around in a little backpack with us. We are our own scene, and that’s satisfying enough for me.
Andrew: It’d be nice to foster that a bit more. Le Pain is another cool band who just formed here. The bass player used to be in Dummy, and they’ve put out a few singles. But LA’s a weird place: whatever the music scene is here, I don’t know what it is. It’s so vast, and then you get close to the Hollywood side and it’s got nothing to do with our lives. There’s a place on our side of town that we play at a lot called Permanent Records Roadhouse, and it’s nice to have a home base. ¶ And you can knock the internet all you want, but there’s a scene that can form virtually. There are all these bands we’ve discovered through Bobo Integral in Spain or Mt. St. Mtn., our label up north [in Sacramento]. And there’s a label in London called Prefect: they put out The Tubs, Mt. Misery and a French band called Eggs. You start finding these little pockets of like-minded bands throughout the world and exchange messages. In these pandemic times, that’s been a nice substitute for not having a tight-knit scene here in LA. 

CF: I love how you guys don’t hide your influences from song to song, whether it’s The La’s or the Jesus and Mary Chain. But do you have moments where you worry that something sounds too much like its inspiration?
Alex: Only occasionally. It’s literally just the Jesus and Mary Chain [thing], especially coming from Pains. When I wrote “Half a Feeling,” it just came out completely done. It felt really good to do, but I thought it was probably too on the nose. I sent it around and Andrew was like, “This rules. We’ve got to use this.” I’ve dragged my feet to this day about that song: there’s a lot I love about it, but I knew [JAMC] would be the one [big] signifier. ¶ But it goes back to what I said earlier about the song being paramount. It’s helpful to have these references we all share. Just little things that can help shape it into what our ears want to hear. But the songs are still distinctly us. 
Andrew: We’re not skilled enough to do the karaoke version. We might like how something works, but we can only ever do it in our own way. It ends up coming out sounding like us. Our limitations make it our own.
Alex: This is a half-baked metaphor, but if you have a state-of-the-art scanner, you put something in and it comes out perfectly. You’ve made a copy: it looks good, but you have the same thing as you had before. But if you think of a punk show flyer, it’s been xeroxed a hundred times and you’ve cut something extra out and taped it there. It’s like faded and black-and-white. That’s our version: the source material may be there, but we’re just doing our best to paste it together with the tools we have.
Andrew: I think we both really are students of how songs work. We’re constantly passing around songs we hear, trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not working. In that sense, we’re always listening to music and trying to unlock its mysteries. ¶ An example would be “In Grey and Blue,” a song there’s two versions of: one done at home for Still Life and one where we got to go do the single version with studio tools. And that came from listening to the Technique album by New Order and asking, “How do these bass lines work? What are they doing with acoustic guitars on these tracks that are otherwise really electronic-sounding? How do those tensions create this sound?” There’s not this great range in the melodies, but there’s something that Sumner does with the range of his syllables that makes it really catchy and memorable. ¶ We went a little overboard with trying to get the sound and the vibe to evoke that, but I don’t think it actually sounds like a New Order song. It just touches on some of the same mechanics. And we’re always thinking about it on that molecular level. That’s what’s interesting to me about writing music. CF

Photo courtesy of Massage

JEANINES!

Alicia and Jed from Jeanines!

When it comes to indie-pop flame keepers, few do it better than the East Coast band Jeanines. We love their 2019 debut album and cannot wait for the next one out early next year on Slumberland. We caught up with Alicia Jeanine and Jed Smith (My Teenage Stride) to see how they’ve been holding up, what they’ve been listening to and doing over the past few strange years since we saw them play in January 2020 in a chilly basement record shop in Portland. Interview by Gail

CF: What has changed since the pandemic happened? Did you have to cancel plans? Change residence? Change your working style? 
Alicia: The week we were supposed to leave for Europe to play the Madrid Popfest plus two other dates, the entire world basically shut down. That was super disappointing, of course, but we hope to get to Europe eventually! I also graduated library school in May 2020 and moved to Western Massachusetts for a new job this February, which totally changed our working style. We used to go to our practice space together weekly and work on recording stuff, but now we have to do almost everything separately. Jed helped me get a super basic recording setup in my apartment here, but things still take much longer and aren’t as fun, unfortunately.
Jed: What Alicia said, plus a West Coast thing in September that got canceled. Since Alicia moved we’ve seen each other plenty, either me up in Massachusetts or her down in the city for shows, but we can’t really practically record in the same way, so that’s a bit frustrating and the process definitely isn’t as fun. 

What were you like as teenagers? 
Alicia: I was socially maladjusted and had very few friends. I was definitely slowly getting into more and more indie bands, but not many people I knew were into that kind of thing. I was pretty isolated and grew up in suburban sprawl not super close to any cities.
Jed: From ages about 13–18, I was more or less completely asocial. So all of junior high and high school, basically. I wasn’t picked on or anything and actually had good social skills—I remember people even trying to befriend me and I’d just…not take them up on it. All of my teen years were spent alone recording songs on a 4-track pretty much as soon as I picked up drums and guitar at 14, doing special effects makeup (I kid you not), and painting (poorly). I can’t really regret not hanging out with anyone during those years because I spent it being creatively productive. Oh, I did have a weird sort of uh…love triangle in like 11th and 12th grade with two girls at school—I was totally in love with one of them who had a boyfriend and the other one had a crush on me and it was fraught and sad and stuff but this all happened at school—I never hung out with them outside of school, nor did I try. So yeah, I was a weird, very much intentionally solitary teen I guess. Okay, that was wayyyyy too much info sorry. 

Are you from musical families? 
Alicia: Yes, my mom has a degree in music and used to teach piano. She only cares about classical music, though. I’m glad to have that foundation (I was forced to take piano and violin throughout my childhood) but I never wanted to be a classical musician. I definitely think some of my ability comes from my mom, though!
Jed: Yeah, my grandmother was a piano player, basically a stride piano player like Jelly Roll Morton or Fats Waller; she was a virtuoso with perfect pitch, wish we’d recorded her. My grandfather played drums a bit in church jazz bands and my mom is a jazz musician semi-professionally. So I grew up with a lot of jazz. 

When did you write your first song, what was it about, what was it called? 
Alicia: I didn’t write my first song until about six years ago, actually, with the encouragement of Jed. I don’t remember what it was called or what it was about, though!
Jed: The first song I remember writing, which I can still recall completely, like arrangement and everything, was when I was 7, and it was called “Salt Water Up My Nose.” It had a sort of music hall McCartney arrangement with groovy drums and bass arpeggios like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. I didn’t start playing instruments till I was 14 though, so I had no means to record any of my ditties till then. I was always obsessively doing it though. 

What is your songwriting process like? 
Alicia: Usually I sit down with the guitar and try to will something into my mind, the beginnings of a song. Often it works but sometimes it’s just not the moment. Other times I’ll get a little snippet of a melody or a phrase in my head and sit down and try to work it into a song.
Jed: Either a song pops into my head and I go record it, or I think about a song I want to exist and I work out the arrangement and everything in my head, including the production aspects, so it’s more like writing a record than a raw song. I don’t sit down with an instrument to write, so it’s an entirely uh…cerebral process, which makes recording it a joyless, obsessive sort of act of transcription. Working with Alicia changes that process and it’s way more fun.

Where do you write and record? 
Alicia: I write songs at home. Most of the recording happens at the practice space in Brooklyn, but now I do some recording in my apartment in Massachusetts.
Jed: I write when I’m doing something mundane like shopping or cleaning or showering—mowing the lawn used to be a good time for thinking of songs. It’s good to have the nervous part of me busy with some other task so I can free up the good part of me to think about songs. I record everything in my practice space/studio in Bushwick. 

Your debut album is awesome! What were you going for when you recorded it? 
Alicia: I always say I write sad folk songs and Jed turns them into indiepop gems. So yeah, I handed them to him as simple acoustic things, and he transformed them into pop hits! We both were super into adding lots of harmonies.
Jed: Thanks! Alicia’s early songs were more often than not minor key songs written with acoustic guitar. I liked the idea of up-tempo, super short minor key pop songs, that’s really the main concept I personally had in mind. I couldn’t think of that many examples of it that were contemporary besides Veronica Falls. We also both really love multipart harmonies including hymnal stuff. 

What’s it like being on Slumberland/WIAIWYA? 
Alicia: Being on Slumberland is a dream come true, and Mike Schulman (Papa Slumber) is the nicest, best person you could hope to have on your team. Working on the EP with John from WIAIWYA was also great.
Jed: Same as Alicia, having a record on Slumberland was always a dream and a lot of my friends over the years were in bands I really loved like Cause-Co Motion and Crystal Stilts, who had records on Slumberland—but my first Slumberland obsession was Aislers Set, and I still consider Linton to be one of the greatest songwriters and pop musicians of the past 20+ years. Their stuff was really inspiring to me. WIAIWYA are another great label with great bands and it’s been an honor having a record there. 

What is the pop community like where you live? 
Alicia: In Brooklyn the pop community is doing all right, perhaps not as vibrant as it’s been in the past. It definitely skews older currently. In Western Mass I’m still trying to find any pop community that might exist!
Jed: Brooklyn/NYC has had a lot of great guitar pop…some you could call indiepop, for whatever it’s worth, but some like the aforementioned Cause Co-Motion and Crystal Stilts, who for me were more part of the continuation and mutation of the sort of 60s music that’s always been the core of my musical DNA. Right now it’s disjointed. But there’s always great music being made everywhere, even if the people making it aren’t letting anyone hear it. 

Whose lyrics do you adore? 
Alicia: Nothing is coming to mind right off the bat, but I’ve always found the Siddeleys’ lyrics quite clever.
Jed: I’m always reticent to say it, but I think Mick Jagger is one of the greatest lyricists of all time when he’s not being childishly misogynistic, and weirdly underrated in that sense…especially considering they’re the second most famous band of all time. Other than that, Linton from Aislers Set’s lyrics are one of the things about them that’s exceptional and makes them stand out from other bands associated with indie pop. I also think Kim Deal is one of the most underrated lyricists of all time, especially on Pod. Chris Knox also. 

Where in NYC are you living now? If we came to visit for one day, what should we do? 
Alicia: Jed lives (and I used to live) in Ridgewood, Queens, right next to North Brooklyn. Depends what you like to do! Ridgewood has some great restaurants and bars (both old and new). The music scene right now is kind of in flux/trying to emerge from the pandemic.
Jed: I live in Queens right over the Brooklyn border next to Bushwick. NYC is a horrible place for a day trip or a several-day trip, I think it’s best experienced by actually living here. 

How has NYC changed since the crazy time started? 
Alicia: A lot of places have closed but some haven’t. A lot more outdoor seating, of course! 
Jed: It’s weird and traumatic and wonderful as ever. The music venue situation is upsetting but I think it’s finding ways to mend. Andy Bodor deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Cakeshop forever. 

Can you cook? What is your specialty? 
Alicia: I can cook but don’t like to. Sometimes I make this thing with green beans and kidney beans that sounds boring and bad but tastes quite good.
Jed: For about four years, I was an obsessive bread baker—like three times a week or so, back in like the mid-2000s. Other than that, Mexican and Italian are my things since forever. 

What’s in the fridge? 
Alicia: Eggs, yogurt, fruit, salad stuff, seltzer.
Jed: Yogurt, too much cheese, beans, too much seltzer. 

What day jobs have you had? 
Alicia:
 Librarian, proofreader/editor, software tester, admin stuff.
Jed: Special education, barista, video store/music store, proofreader/editor, copywriter, internet “journalist,” music lessons, recording engineer/producer, soundtrack composer. Past couple of years it’s mostly been copywriting and recording/producing, paid work–wise. I also do wet work for the CIA occasionally. Not really though. OR DO I REALLY THOUGH?

What are you reading/watching/eating at the moment? 
Alicia: I’m about to start reading something that looks really good, but I don’t remember the name! I’ve been watching so much Masterchef, it’s very dumb.
Jed: If I visit Alicia it’s nonstop Masterchef, so I guess I have to count that. World/American cinema from 1935 or so to 1985ish. Reading, I’m on a Joan Didion kick right now and just finished Kiss of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. I also read books about sharks and deep sea life as often as possible. 

What radio shows/DJs/podcasts do you love? 
Alicia: Lately into podcasts by Jamie Loftus; the current one is about Cathy comics. Also love Maintenance Phase (about bodies/dieting/health fads) and You’re Wrong About (rehashing historical moments with witty banter).
Jed: My friend Neal Ramirez has a great show called Sound Burger, and my friends Owen Kline and Sean O’Keefe both have wonderful, unpredictable shows on this indie station called K-PISS (no, really.)

Fave record stores? 
Alicia: None in particular, but I love places with a great and well-priced used selection.
Jed: Earwax, Captured Tracks store, Academy Records, Deep Cuts, and Rough Trade, all in Brooklyn except for Deep Cuts, are/were all great. 

How do you consume music? (Platforms, formats)
Alicia: Spotify and records, mostly.
Jed: I rarely listen to music casually so it’s usually one song or piece, on YouTube, staring at the screen, or my iTunes library. I think YouTube is the best option for music on the internet outside of Bandcamp (for newer/smaller artists).

Do you use any apps or software in to make music? 
Alicia: Logic to record; Voice Memo to jot down ideas.
Jed: Logic for recording and production, voice memo to remember a vocal melody occasionally. In the past I’ve also used Audacity and Garageband.  

Who is your style icon? 
Alicia: No one?
Jed: No one. Though David Hemmings’ white pants in Blow-Up make him 10x more foxy. 

What are your day jobs? Hobbies? Pets? Kids? 
Alicia: I’m the outreach librarian at the public library. Music is my hobby, I suppose. I have two beautiful cats—a calico named Heidi, and a gray and white tabby named Biscuit. They are delightful.
Jed: I’m a copywriter as my regular thing, peppered with recording/mixing/soundtrack work throughout the year. My extremely lovely black cat Elsa is my familiar. 

What would you do this summer if money and COVID were not in the way of your dreams? 
Alicia: Travel more and maybe tour.
Jed: Buy a car and do a road trip across the country and then drive up the coast of California listening to “Babylon Sisters” on repeat. Help some friends out.

What bands/venues do you want to play with/at? 
Alicia: Dream pairings that won’t happen—Aislers Set, Dear Nora. 
Jed: Alicia’s picks are good. My Teenage Stride played in this cool outdoor venue at Primavera years ago. I’d like to do that again but having rehearsed more. 

Future plans? Upcoming tours/records? 
Alicia: We have a new LP coming out in early 2022 and we are hopefully playing some dates in California at the beginning of January around the SF Popfest!
Jed: New Jeanines LP in early 2022 on Slumberland as well as new Mick Trouble LP on Emotional Response in January, with a special limited edition w/flexidisc bonus thingie for Rough Trade which I’m excited about. Touring Jeanines and Mick in SF Popfest and the West Coast in January also. 

Records Alicia Cannot Live Without
Dear Nora – Three States
The Siddeleys – Slum Clearance
Les Calamités – C’est Complet
The Aislers Set – How I Learned to Write Backwards
Nice Try – S/T (2016)
The Mantles – Long Enough to Leave
Elliott Smith – all?
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
Go Sailor – S/T
Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely

Songs That Jed Cannot Live Without
“All My Hollowness,” Tall Dwarfs
“Nothing But Heartaches,” the Supremes
“This Angry Silence,” Television Personalities
“Anything Could Happen,” The Clean 
“Myself When I Am Real,” Charles Mingus (from Mingus Plays Piano)
“Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops
“Luck of Lucien,” A Tribe Called Quest
“Back Up Against the Wall,” Circle Jerks
“Doe,” The Breeders
“Quick Step,” The Adverts
“Ready Teddy,” Little Richard
“Hit It and Quit It,” Funkadelic 
“They Don’t Know,” Kirsty MacColl 
“Don’t Believe the Hype,” Public Enemy 
“Oogum Boogum,” Brenton Wood
“Lady Rachael,” Kevin Ayers
“Solace- A Mexican Serenade,” Scott Joplin
“Dawn,” The Four Seasons
“Get Right Back,” Maxine Nightingale 
“I Bet You,” Funkadelic 
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath- Black Sabbath
“Theme de Camille” from Contempt/Le Mepris soundtrack- George Delerue 
“Queen of Fools,” Barbara Mills
“Do I Love You,” Ronettes 
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper
“Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home,” Kinks
“Gideon’s Bible,” John Cale 
“Touch the Hem of His Garment,” Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
“Mona,” The Beach Boys
“Electric Funeral,” Black Sabbath
“Sweet & Dandy,” Toots & The Maytals
“Into The Groove,” Madonna
“After Eight,” Neu!  
“Your Heart Out,” The Fall
“No Side To Fall In,” The Raincoats
“Street Fighting Man,” Rolling Stones
“When I Grow Up,” The Beach Boys
and every Velvet Underground album 

IPUC at 30! The International Pop Underground Convention Remembered by Those Who Were There on its 30th Anniversary

We asked a few folks to look back and try to remember what it felt like attending, organizing, and performing at the very influential International Pop Underground Convention, which took place August 20–25, 1991 in Olympia, Washington, was organized by Calvin and Candice from K Records, and featured a crazy good lineup including Beat Happening, Bratmobile, the Pastels, Jad Fair, Kicking Giant, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Sleepyhead, Scrawl, Nikki McClure, Rose Melberg and loads more. This type of festival became a blueprint and surely influenced our foray into party throwing a few years later. Some folks remember it as a magical utopian moment in time, others were stressed and disillusioned. Whatever those who attended felt, it was a pivotal moment for independent labels, great pop and punk music, and a spirit and community still with us today.

Convention pass courtesy of Rose Melberg

Did you attend the convention? What made you want to go? 
Nikki McClure: Yes. It felt like it would be the center of the world that week. I had a job in the mountains during the week (field ornithology) and threatened to quit when my boss wouldn’t let me take the week off as promised. He let me go and keep my job. I was willing to risk complete poverty for the Convention. My boyfriend at the time went to Europe with Nirvana to the Reading Festival. That moment felt like a cultural divide. Everything shifted in August 1991.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile): YES!  I was a major K kid from ’87 on, so it was a no-brainer I was going. That was the entire center of my universe—virtually EVERY band I loved at the time was playing IPU.  I was OBSESSED with Beat Happening! Bratmobile were asked by Calvin Johnson to play as well—a total dream come true!  Bratmobile were actually the only band to play 2 shows at IPU—both on Girl Night—8/20, and an early morning show with Kicking Giant and Jad Fair on 8/23.
Michael Galinsky: Sleepyhead got invited to play, largely due to Tae’s suggestion. I don’t think we even had a single out yet, maybe we did… it’s murky, but we had just done our first 10-day, 5-show tour that July. So, we were a little more prepared to play. I might have gone even if we weren’t playing, but I was also pretty broke so it would have been a big reach for me. Thankfully the awesome folks in Treehouse offered us a place to stay, which made it more possible. Allison from Bratmobile lent us her car to go pick up Rachael, our drummer, about two hours before we had to play. All went smoothly until we left the airport and realized we needed gas. She had given us the key to the car but not the gas key, which we discovered when we pulled over to get gas. Thankfully we made it into town and had to jump on stage shortly after we got there.

Memories from Lois Maffeo


Tobi Vail: Yes. I honestly don’t remember if I wanted to go or not. I mostly grew up in Olympia and I was a part of the K scene as a teenager but after I was assaulted by a stranger at 18 (in my first apartment in Eugene) what I perceived to be traditional gender roles and cute 1950s aesthetic of K no longer spoke to me (if it ever really did). I was in a band with Calvin (’85–89) as a teen and I looked up to him but that experience ended on a bad note. The year before IPU I was part of a feminist awakening of young women in the NW music scene, which eventually led to us starting riot grrrl. We were angry and pushing back against male domination and patriarchy and at that point I feel like most men in the Olympia music scene were threatened by us—exceptions were the teenagers in Unwound and the guys in Nirvana, who were super supportive. We had a little trouble communicating with K when they were distributing our self-released demo tape and ended up pulling it from their mail order to distribute on our own and I don’t think they understood why we wanted to control everything but that was really important to us at the time. So it was nice that the festival was organized by a woman (Candice) who became a co-owner of K. In retrospect I do appreciate that K sold our tape through their mail order and I appreciate their support but I wish that we had been able to communicate with them a little better about sales.
Ira Robbins: I was there and wrote about it in Rolling Stone, which earned me a death threat from Ian Svenonius.

Bratmobile photographed by Michael Galinsky

Had there been other festivals like this you’d been to before? What felt different about it? 
Nikki M: It really felt like a Convention and not just some shows. A Convention needed banners! So I made some from dyed sheets with sticks found on the old growth forests I was working in. I made them on the floor of the ranger cabin that I lived at during the week, rolled them up and headed to Oly then unfurled them from the windows of The Martin apartments. There was more happening than music. It was a collection of people forming an international underground community and network. It was important work.
Candice Pedersen (IPUC organizer/formerly K Records): I’d never been to a music festival or conference before. The IPU was designed so that the bands and the audience would come to us! But seriously, the IPU convention was a chance to be at a conference that was designed by the kids for the kids. 
Erin Bratmobile: Festivals for “our” brand of indie were not so commonplace at this point.  Of all things, I’d won tickets to the first Lollapalooza, so attended that in DC the SAME week as IPU, turned 19 that day, then flew to Olympia.
Tobi Bikini Kill: No.
Michael Sleepyhead: We went to a couple of others after this. Lotsa Pop Losers (which wasn’t as big but had a similar inclusive vibe) and Lollipops and Booze, which was more of a schedule of shows with a pass over the course of a week than a festival like this. So, no, this was a truly unique and powerful event.

Scrawl photographed by Rose Melberg

Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together? 
Candice Pedersen: Everything and nothing. I remember being adamant that the design should include blackberries as they are Olympia in August in a nutshell. I remember hand making the badges. I remember when it was proposed (not by us!) that there should be a “girl night” and worrying that if it was the first night no one would be there. Which was exactly what didn’t happen. It was the most electric night of the entire festival. I remember the Sub Pop BBQ—it was great to have them as part of the convention even if there wasn’t any food. 
Nikki M: I made banners. I helped Candice make invites. Calvin had issued a call to action which is still vital and raw. She wanted formal invites mailed to people. I made a blackberry vine image, which now seems fitting for those hot, sweet, thorn-scratched days.

Convention pass courtesy of Stephen Pastel

Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like? 
Stephen Pastel: From our perspective just being invited was really exciting. It was the first time we’d played in the US and it was the first time we’d played a community type event on that scale. Everything about it seemed thought through, joined up—the groups, the audiences, the spaces, the city. We were so impressed by all the work that Calvin, Candice and their friends had put into it—it was so ahead of its time. I remember the Beat Happening show being incredible, seeing them at their best in a beautiful theatre space with an absolutely packed out audience just going wild for them.  It felt like we were at the epicentre of something new and the world had suddenly changed for the better.   
Rose Melberg: I remember going to my first punk show at 13. all guys of course. it was like Social Distortion and Battalion of Saints and I was standing in the back of the venue in Sacramento. I was tiny. I was up in the top and my first thought was: the safe place is on stage. I was terrified of what was happening in the pit but I wanted to be a part of that and I saw it in my mind. I was having all these ideas of what it would look like and feel like to sing in a punk band, just scream and be above everyone. it was my first punk show and that was the feeling I got. I wanted to be on the stage. partly out of fear and partly out of power but mostly because I wanted to be part of it so bad. I was 19 when got up onstage at IPU. I was terrified. I had a physical reaction to it. my hands shook violently. I wanted to get on that stage so bad but my body wouldn’t even let me. I had to kind of detach because I knew I wanted it so bad—even though my body was telling me “don’t do this”—I couldn’t even hold my guitar pick. I was so desperate to be included. I didn’t want to feel left out. I didn’t want to be in the audience. I wanted to be liked and acknowledged and heard (from chickfactor 18, interview with the Softies).
Nikki M: This was also my first time performing. I sang a few songs at Girl Night, the songs I sang in the woods to ward away bears. It was powerful to hear those songs fill the theater. Those 5 minutes were life altering.The theater was packed. It was the first night and every one was so eager and open to possibility. We were creating our own world.
Michael Sleepyhead: It was wonderful to be there, but no one had even heard of us so it was kind of like going to a film festival with your first film, where you don’t know a lot of folks. Although, this was a little different as we knew a couple of the bands from their visits to NY and we had Tae to make some introductions. It was fun to play for sure, but also kind of hard to do an outdoor show when we had never done anything remotely like that. We were young and excited and it just meant a ton to us to be invited into the community. 

Bikini Kill photographed by Rose Melberg

Tobi Bikini Kill: Bikini Kill got to play the festival but we were added late and had to play an afternoon show on a small stage. I feel like someone from DC got us on the bill at the last minute but I really can’t be sure. I remember feeling kind of bummed that we didn’t get to play with Nation of Ulysses who we had been on tour with and spent the summer with in DC but I was happy that we got to play. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to practice that summer as Kathi, our bass player, had gone to Europe by herself. It was a hard show for us. We weren’t ready and had a lot of equipment trouble but I think some of it was pretty good.
Erin Bratmobile: Girl Night especially was completely intense.  The stuff of legend now!  The launching point for so much.  Heavens 2 Betsy played their first ever show at IPU—Rose Melberg as Tiger Trap, too.  So I got to witness both Corin Tucker and Rose Melberg’s first times on stage.  I remember Corin coming up to me after the show and complimenting me on the Bratmobile set.  It was all so new to me, too—I had no idea how to respond!  

Beat Happening photographed by Rose Melberg

Fans, what do you remember loving about it? 
Nikki M: Probably many Performers were Fans 90% of the time. I remember dancing and responding to the immediacy of sound and to the intimacy of hanging out with those who just made you dance so crazy afterwards. It was a Convention, We were all attendees, not so much fan or performer.
Michael Sleepyhead: As a fan I was blown away by seeing a lot of bands I had only heard about, like Bikini Kill, Jad with the Pastels was amazing. Seeing Beat Happening play to a packed house that was all in was astounding. Nation of Ulysses was on fire. the Bratmobile Kicking Giant show was inspiring. It was also nice that the whole thing felt very community focused.
Erin Bratmobile: Olympia is magic.  Being able to just WALK and see every band I loved over the course of a week was wild. All of my heroes were playing!  When Stephen Pastel asked to borrow my Sears Silvertone amp—well, he was a hero of mine to say the least.  Just a couple years before I was buying my first Pastels album, and now, not only was I playing the same festival of them, Stephen liked my amp?! There was not a whole lot of divide between the bands and the fans. The bands were fans, too!
Tobi Bikini Kill: I lived across the street. It was overwhelming. People kept coming over to my teeny tiny apartment. It was nice to have friends in town but there was no escape. I don’t remember the fans, it seemed like everyone here was in a band and it was just like people in the audience getting up on stage and vice versa. That was pretty cool.
Rich Siegmeister: I was friends with Sleepyhead but they made their own arrangements and I traveled there by myself. I needed a hotel. K records was offering to help and it sounds crazy now but they randomly placed people together. I ended up in a room with a nice guy. We didn’t hang out much together but when it came time to sleep, he came out in silvery silk pajamas. We were each in our single beds but crazy. Also I was hanging outside talking to some nice people from New Zealand. I was telling them how I loved the Clean and the Chills and this all girl group Look Blue Go Purple. They got a look on their faces and then one of them yelled out “Lizzie you got a fan.” A member of the band was there and couldn’t believed I was listening to them.

Sleepyhead photographed by Michael Galinsky

It was a very exciting new fresh time for music and culture: What did the community feel like then and is some of it still intact for you? 
Candice P: The community felt intimate and yet also disparate. Everyone was together but still had their own thing going, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t say the community from then is still intact for me. But, many of the friendships I had then and made then are still the most important friendships I have today. And many faded as they do.
Erin Bratmobile: It’s hard to understand in retrospect, and it might not even be fully understood unless you were there, but IPU was like the big bang and really everything came from that in a lot of ways. It’s all still totally intact. Friendships formed over that week for so many have been life long. It was life changing, and that’s not hyperbole.
Michael Sleepyhead: That community is still foundational for me. Tae drew the cover for our first single and he designed my photo book two years ago. I went on to make films but my foundational community is still the music one. It is wildly more open and supportive than the film world. 
Nikki M: The community was always present then and possibilities were always blooming. Now that spirit is there, but things aren’t nearly as spontaneous or untamed. It feels like it might just be me, but I think we all are thinking that…maybe? We all have embers we carry from that time and still use in our lives.
Tobi Bikini Kill: For me it was a little bit of a sad time. Nirvana wanted to play and they were not allowed because they had signed to a major label. The ’80s were ending and the ’90s were starting. L7 were great. I was confused that they got to play but Nirvana didn’t. I remember wishing that they didn’t sign but understanding why they did. I didn’t think we needed corporations to buy and sell our music and I think that was kind of the main idea of IPU.

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

What performances do you remember? New artists discovered? 
Candice P: I love all my children equally. 
Erin Bratmobile: I STILL hear IPU stage banter replaying in my head.  Thee Headcoats: “Oh, fuck your mother.” L7: “Keep your elbows off the knockers!!” The Bikini Kill set was absolutely revolutionary. The Mummies were incredible! I remember heading straight to the pit—all of Bikini Kill and all of Bratmobile together—to watch the Nation of Ulysses.  After their blistering performance, I remember James Canty coming back out onstage to humbly announce the release of their first record.  I was SO PROUD!  
Tobi Bikini Kill: Bratmobile played two sets I think and they were very good. Heavens To Betsy at girl night were incredible. Mecca Normal were great, as always. I remember being excited The Pastels were going to play but I would have been more excited to have seen them a few years earlier when they were still one of my favorite groups. Nation of Ulysses was my favorite group at the time but I remember Thee Headcoats as being the best group at IPU by far. They had played Olympia the year before and both shows were nuts. I think the band I discovered at the fest is The Mummies—they were so good and fun and funny. Fugazi was great too.
Nikki M: Fugazi. Heavens to Betsy. Rose. Jad Fair. Beat Happening. I Scream Truck. Nation of Ulysses. The Pastels. Cake walk. A picnic with no food.

Slim Kill Rock Stars, Rose Melberg and Al Some Velvet Sidewalk (photo courtesy of Rose)

What was the vibe in general? 
Candice P: For me the vibe was hectic. The Pastels were staying in my apartment, I had to co-host the event, and I was trying to spend time with friends. The time flew by. I was supposed join the Pastels on their west coast tour after the convention but I was too exhausted/sick to go. Chris Jordan so kindly took my place at the last minute. 
Nikki M: Festive. Spontaneous. After this past year, it seems fantastical that we once so freely mingled and danced and ate cake. It was powerful. All dreams became possible.
Tobi Bikini Kill: A little stressful. Like too much going on at once. It was also very odd to have people not from here acting like it was quaint or cute or utopian or something and not really understanding where they were. By 1991, Olympia was no longer a milltown but the brewery was still here. It was still pretty working class, the center of southwest Washington, which was populated by loggers and timber workers. It was a kind of rough place to live if you were nonconformist. The Evergreen State College is a public school and very progressive but it’s very small. Olympia never really was a liberal college town because the population of students has always been just a few thousand and my impression is that most people who end up going there are kids from the NW who couldn’t afford or get into a more expensive school. Local kids who went to punk shows and hippies from Evergreen got targeted and bullied and physically assaulted by guys in pickup trucks downtown. The IPU people didn’t really seem to notice any of that. Also it rains more than 150 days a year in Olympia and it was very sunny that week. It all seemed like a dream.

Tae Kicking Giant photographed by Michael Galinsky

Why do you think there was this link between D.C. and Olympia? Was it down to individuals or was it just a shared ethos? 
Nikki M: Both! Individuals sharing an ethos but with differences between the East and West. Both explored and created cultural freedom. For the Cake Walk, Cynthia Connolly (DC and Dischord) made a vegan chocolate cake topped with freshly picked blackberries, if I remember correctly. That cake seemed the perfect pairing of the 2 sides of the country.
Candice: It’s a shared ethos. 
Erin Bratmobile: I think it began as certain individuals and grew to be a shared ethos.  Calvin Johnson lived in Bethesda, MD, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, so was involved in the DC punk scene before going back to Olympia and Evergreen. Then the cross-pollination of the scenes continued. DC had great record stores like Yesterday & Today that stocked K titles, and Calvin visited family in the DC area all through the ’80s into the early ’90s, always bringing along records and making more connections. I connected with being a K and indie kid before I then grew to intensely love Dischord and the DC underground. Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi were my gateway drug in that regard, if that makes sense!
Tobi Bikini Kill: Olympia is the capital of Washington so there are a lot of natural connections—one of them being that Calvin went to high school in both places.
Michael Sleepyhead: I think it was both the shared ideals and the musical influences created a strong cross current that made sense—I felt like going on tour was like being in the pony express. Bands carried information and ideas from one town to the next and in some ways DC and Oly were kind of the terminuses at the end of the routes.

Rose Melberg, the very first time she ever got onstage or sang into a microphone. (Photo courtesy Rose)

Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it? 
Nikki M: Who cared? We were mostly happy to outnumber the logging trucks.
Tobi Bikini Kill: Yes and no.
Candice: I think there was national media outside of indie fanzines. I remember Ira Robbins wrote something. But, if people “got it” or not didn’t concern me. “It” was something for different for everyone. And, I didn’t care if media got what it was to me.  

The Pastels photographed by Rose Melberg

Is there anything else you remember? 
Candice: I don’t remember meeting Scotty but he remembers meeting me (I asked him how old he was!). But, I’m glad we were both there because one year later we started dating and 29 years later we’re still together. 
Nikki M: Driving with Calvin to the Sup Pop picnic but there was no food left. People signing the back of the Kill Rock Stars albums like they were yearbooks with the silkscreen ink still a bit tacky. Melvins at the park. Blueprint posters taped to my door fading over time. Was this the festival that the theater cat peed on the shirts?
Erin Bratmobile: The first Kill Rock stars comp came out on vinyl the week of IPU, all hand silkscreened covers, with no time even to put the art on the back yet. So all of the copies given to the bands that were on the comp had hand done covers and blank backs. Several of us, myself included, got autographs of the other bands on the blank backs, high school yearbook style. 
Tobi Bikini Kill: The first Kill Rock Stars compilation came out at IPU. The front was silkscreened and the back was blank so everyone used the back like a yearbook and signed each other’s records. That was pretty cool. 
Michael Sleepyhead: I don’t have a good tactile memory. Thankfully I have pictures, though not nearly enough from that event. What I do recall was that the whole summer felt the beginning of something for me. It takes a lot of hope to start a band and then commit to it in the way that we felt we needed to. The summer before we had moved to Providence to live together. It wasn’t an easy transition but we muddled through and became more of a band. We started to play out in NY a lot which connected us with NY bands like flying saucer, ruby falls, antietam, and many others. II spent months booking that first tour which we went on a few weeks before IPU. On that trip we met some incredibly creative people and that just changed my life. Then we went out to Olympia and that sense of being part of a community became some much more profound.

See more photos of IPUC by Michael Galinsky here.

Rachel Kicking Giant (photographed by Rose Melberg)
The Pastels with Jad Fair (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Bratmobile with Michelle Noel (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Some Velvet Sidewalk (photographed by Rose Melberg)

Sleepyhead (photographed by Rose Melberg)
Kicking Giant (Photographed by Michael Galinsky)

label spotlight: shelflife records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed loves futbol!