Our final chickfactor 30 party in London was an afternoon Hangover Lounge affair at the Betsey Trotwood and had kind of a chill vibe that was welcome after two nights at the packed Lexington! Marlody is a new signing on Rob and Amelia’s Skep Wax label and her moody, intimate songs were quiet and poignant at a time when finally coming together after so long was so needed. Her music was a reminder that we all need to share our stories. The Catenary Wires are of course pop legends: Amelia Fletcher, Rob Pursey, Ian Button and Andy Lewis. They played stellar songs from their latest, Birling Gap, which you should snap up if you haven’t got it, and even thrilled the audience with a Heavenly song, “Cool Guitar Boy,” in advance of their couple of Bush Hall shows next spring, which was so so fun.
London is a place I was lucky to call home for half a decade and I miss it like crazy. chickfactor’s cofounder Pam Berry has lived there since the late ’90s and I love being able to go back and see people at these events in these places that miraculously are still open. I wish we could do it every year! Thanks again to the musicians, bands, venues, Paul Kelly for backline wrangling, the sound people, Hangover Lounge, Tae Won Yu, the folks who put me and others up, the documenters, readers, fans, friends, strangers, and pop lovers who make up this incredible community.
Christina Riley / Artsick Chickfactor 30 NY and London Oakland Weekender 2022 Glasgow Breaks from social media Rock and Roll Vegan Donut bar in Monterey White Lotus season 2 on HBO Simon Guild guitar pedals Meditation Chickfactor 19 issue, and shirt designed by Jen Sbragia Buzzcocks tribute compilation cassette for Oakland Weekender 2022
BONUS: -Pop sockets for saving my phone from the swiper on a bike in London, haha!
Bridget St John my list: a collection of some of the meaningful/impactful/grateful and awe inspiring experiences of 2022
Nicola Walker – magnetic irresistible UK actor
The Split – I could make the whole list revolve around her and the other extraordinary actors she works with…
Colin Farrell & Jamie Lee Curtis Actors on Actors
Brady’s Irish Ground Coffee / Celtic Blend
Banshee’s of Inishereen
every Adirondack sunset
the caeser’s salad at Da Umberto in NYC
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
WNYC – especially The Brian Lehrer Show & Fresh Air
Hampstead – with Brendan Gleeson & Diane
the daily, weekly, monthly endless resilience strength tenacity and spirit of the Ukrainian people
Jennifer O’Connor / musician, owner of Kiam Records and Main Street Beat Lizzo – Special (Atlantic) Flock – Flock (Strut) Mabe Fratti – Se Ve Desde Aqui (Tin Angel) Beach House – Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop) Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine (300 Entertainment) They Hate Change – Finally, New (Jagjaguwar) Harry Styles – Harry’s House (Columbia) Cass McCombs – Heartland (Anti) Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw) Madonna – Finally Enough Love (Rhino/Warner)
Daniel Handler’s favorite books this year: Kathryn Davis, Aurelia Aurelia Fadhil al-Azzawi, Fadhil al-Azzawi’s Beautiful Creatures Jakuta Alikavazovic translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Night as it Falls Chen Chen, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency Fanny Howe, London-rose/beauty will save the world Hiromi Ito, translated by Jeffrey Angles, Wild Grass On the Riverbank Geoffrey Nutter, Giant Moth Perishes Carl Phillips, Then The War Keiler Roberts, The Joy of Quitting Peter Rock, Passersthrough Kathleen Scanlan, Kick The Latch
Jim Ruiz and Emily Ruiz from Jim Ruiz Set
9 T.V. series from the ’60s that got us through the pandemic and beyond. 1. Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent Man) 2. Gidget 3. The Saint 4. Batman 5. Hawaii 5-0 6. Mission Impossible 7. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 8. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E 9. Mannix
Lyle Hysen (Bank Robber Music and Royal Arctic Institute)
Mike Baggetta / Jim Keltner / Mike Watt (Big Ego) Everywhen We Go Dezron Douglas – Atalaya (International Anthem) Hermanos Gutiérrez – El Bueno Y El Malo (Easy Eye Sound) Hammered Hulls – Careening (Dischord) Horse Lords- Comradely Objects (Rvng Intl). Julian Lage – View With A Room (Blue Note) Beth Orton – Weather Alive (Partisan) Jeff Parker – Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy (Eremite Records) Romero –Turn It On – (Cool Death) Stella – Up and away (Sub-Pop)
Travis Elborough In no particular order – I ended up listening to quite a few things on cassette this year, one consequence of spending 10 days in bed with Covid in April with only my walkman to hand for audio entertainment, and probably als0 vinyl pressing plant backlogs but here’s some stuff that hit my ears this year. – baker’s top 10 at 11
Artist/Album Loop – Sonacy Kemper Norton – Rife (cassette) Opal X – Twister (cassette) Telefis – a Dó (cassette) Blue Spectre – Silver Screen Cosey Fanni Tutti – Delia Derbyshire soundtrack album Andrew Poppy – Jelly Robyn Hitchcock – Shuttlemania (cassette and LP) The Advisory Circle – Full Circle Xopher Davidson – Lux Perpetua Nkisi – NDOMBALA (A Journey to Avebury)
Ed Mazzucco (Shelflife Records / Tears Run Rings) 1. Billow Observatory – Stareside 2. RxGibbs – Eternal 3. Motifs – Remember A Stranger 4. Life On Venus – Homewards 5. Martin Courtney – Magic Sign 6. Marine Eyes – Chamomile 7. Humdrum – Superbloom 8. Foliage – Can’t Go Anywhere 9. Jeanines – Don’t Wait For A Sign 10. Korine – Mt. Airy
Julie Underwood (CF contributor!) 1. Beyoncé – Renaissance 2. Wet Leg – Wet Leg 3. Alvvays – Blue Rev 4. Alex G – God Save The Animals 5. Angel Olsen – Big Time 6. The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field 7. Plains – I Walked With You A Ways 8. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow 9. Sasami – Squeeze 10. Yard Act – The Overload
Kendall Meade (Mascott, CF contributor)
Songs on repeat 2022 “San Francisco” Bonny Doon “Problem With It” and “Abeline” Plains “Mistakes” Sharon Van Etten “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” Weyes Blood “Anti Hero” Taylor Swift “Daylight” Harry Styles
Beatrix Madell (Girl Scout Handbook) My top ten songs of all time from the members of Boygenius: 1) “Night Shift,” Lucy Dacus 2) “Chelsea,” Phoebe Bridgers 3) “I Know the End,” Phoebe Bridgers 4) “Hot and Heavy,” Lucy Dacus 5) “Waiting Room,” Phoebe Bridgers 6) “Timefighter,” Lucy Dacus 7) “Graceland Too,” Phoebe Bridgers 8) “Me and My Dog,” Boygenius 9) “Song in E,” Julien Baker 10) “Punisher,” Phoebe Bridgers
Some Stars of 2022 Both Welcome and Unwelcome
Excellent books that are also mysteries: The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran The Violin Conspiracy: a novel by Brendan Slocumb Vera Kelly: Lost and Found by Rosalie Knecht The Second Cut by Louise Welch The Verifiers by Jane Pek The Maid by Nita Prose Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia. P. Manansala The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill Confidence by Denise Mina
despair over Ukraine (et al)
Podsies: my ability to tolerate current news became I guess you’d say…refracted (?) i.e. bearable only by hearing it through other countries’ news like The Rest is Politics, or through the lens of a specific frame like the art world, The Week in Art or The Art Angle (scammers too). Gave esotericism a twirl with The Secret History of Western Esotericism, yikes, I do not have any idea what Earl Fountainelle was talking about much of the time, but interesting all the same. Also enjoyed for different moods and needs: Shedunnit, Art Law Podcast, The Witch Wave, The Read, Bad Gays, Don’t Ask Tig, The Bald and the Beautiful, My Favorite Murder.
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum, Salem Witch Board Museum (Ouija boards)
what is the word where you don’t want to mention anything for fear of forgetting something, i.e. some standout 2022 shows: id m theft able outdoor show in Elfland, Paulownia at Waterworks.
tried to figure out what to do about mortality
reading play aloud – The Mousetrap on a writing retreat – very fun, recommend
Desus and Mero breakup. All right, sad, but I console myself: a) performers-writers-artists need to grow and sometimes that means change b) think of all they gave us
finally watched Lord of the Rings for details of that experience read here
Brittney Griner WTF and thank god
if nothing else may I please recommend @archaeologyart on the instagrammo
Rob Pursey (The Catenary Wires, Skep Wax Records, Swansea Sound, Heavenly, etc.) After a long pandemic period of not going out I made a list of ten places I liked to visit and was very very happy to re-visit.
1. Rye Church Tower. You have to pay, but not very much, to climb up to the top of this beautiful old building. Narrow stone corridors, creaking wooden staircases, and then you climb a rickety ladder right next to the huge church bells – try to not to do this at midday – and then you’re out onto the tower roof through a trapezium-shaped wooden door. You get to admire the aerial view of this perfect hill-town and of the marshes and Dungeness in the distance. 2. The Betsey Trotwood, London. One of those venues that had to fight for survival during the pandemic. A warm, sanctuary of music. Always has friends in it. 3. Larkins Ale House, Cranbrook. A tiny purveyor of local ale. Very hospitable. On the first Sunday we went in, they asked if we wanted a free snack and handed over a plateful of them, like a free meal really. The beer is perfect. 4. Fairfield Church. A peculiar, isolated survivor on the Kent Marsh and now a place where we are able to put on Skep Arts events. No water, no electricity, no light. Beautifully basic. 5. The Oast, Rainham. Another lovely little venue where our friends at Careful Now Promotions somehow manage to book the best indie bands, every month. 6. The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. An art gallery, a cafe, a great record shop (Music’s Not Dead), all housed in one of the most beautiful Twentieth Century public buildings, right by the sea. 7. Nutmeg Cafe, Tenterden. Best local coffee, friendly staff, dangerous pastries. 8. The Ellen Terry Theatre, Smallhythe. Another place that became a Skep Arts venue this year. A thatched barn, converted into a theatre by a Suffragette group in the early Twentieth Century. I don’t think there is anywhere else like this in the world. 9. London Bridge Station. I am still awestruck by the roof and the pillars of this huge building. It’s worth going to London just to see it. 10. The Chinese Supermarket in Hastings. Everything you need is here – all kinds of noodles, of rice, of spices. And home-made bao buns in the steamer by the check-out.
Joe Brooker (Pines / Foxgloves / CF contributor) 2022 Top 10
1 / Close-Up I’d long known of Shoreditch’s Close-Up Film Centre, but only in 2022 did I actually pay for membership and start watching films here: Bergman’s Persona for the first time, Godard’s Le Mépris for at least the sixth, Spanish films of the 1970s, in the little cinema where film abruptly starts as a light in the darkness. I love the array of thousands of DVDs to browse any time. The place reminds me a little of the Poetry Café, which I once knew as another oasis of culture.
2 / Chloe Under-the-radar BBC drama about identity and imposture, memory and teen friendship, social climbing and social media, all refreshingly based in the West Country.
3 / Ride As a student in Norwich I missed seeing Ride though they played only a few hundred yards away from me. Now by contrast I travel a hundred miles back to Norwich to see them play their debut LP Nowhere. Some of the audience are younger than I was then. The music is marvellous and fresh, but above all I just love the idea of seeing Ride in Norwich.
4 / Bordando el manto terrestre In the vast last room of Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition I’m stunned to encounter Remedios Varo’s triptych of paintings Bordando el manto terrestre / Embroidering the Earth’s Crust (1961). I’ve read about this painting, looked at reproductions, so many times that I feel a rare awe before the original painting, with its size, texture and detail. In the same year, I might say something similar of Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère (1882), which I’m taken aback to find in the Courtauld.
5 / Isokon Building Hampstead is a storied place but not well known to this South Londoner. A friend shows me around it: mile after mile of avenues green with trees, well-preserved housing, modernist outliers. Down a side street, flowering suburbia like Tolkien’s Hobbiton, I see for the first time the art deco Lawn Road Flats, known as the Isokon Building. Cherished by the many lovers of modern architecture, it’s spectacular: pure white, curved, its stairwell magnificent; an ocean liner.
6 / Sandymount Strand James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in 1922, and set in Dublin on 16th June. On 16th June 2022, a Joycean friend leads me out to Sandymount Strand, to retrace the steps of Stephen Dedalus in the novel’s third episode, as evening falls instead of the book’s morning. Almost alone amid the vast space we step across wet mud, puddles, treacherous ground, as a calm dusk slowly dims all around us. Finally we must take off our shoes and socks to paddle across streams, maybe similar ones to those that Dedalus feared would sweep him away with the tide.
7 / The Magnetic Fields Touching down in West London they play Quickies and representatives from most of their other records; songs I think I’ve never heard live, like ‘Love Goes Home To Paris In The Spring’ and ‘It’s Only Time’. The encore yields ‘100,000 Fireflies’. I don’t recall them sounding better, and the set list offers what now feels like one standard after another, a great American songbook of its own.
8 / Ross Macdonald Ross Macdonald is like Raymond Chandler twenty years on: still droll and tough, but private eye Lew Archer tours a changing California with meditative sympathy as well as pugilistic ability. I find that I can read one of his novels in a day, if I do nothing else. I could tell you the titles, but to a degree the novels are happily interchangeable, intricate permutations of recurring features: Archer’s police contacts and helpers, wealthy clients, runaway girls and boys, seedy trailer-park characters or desk clerks. I feel that I could read them forever; there are eighteen, but perhaps a sophisticated artificial intelligence could generate many more. Archer’s narrative voice is laconic, often very humorous, but also every couple of pages flashes into descriptive fire, a margin of writerly excess.
9 / Helen Saunders at the Courtauld She was a modernist painter (1885-1963), associated with the Vorticist movement of the 1910s. Typically enough, the work of the era’s women artists often became obscured, and curators have lately sought to reclaim them from history: in Saunders’ case, culminating in this one-room gathering of her work at the Courtauld Gallery. The retrieval is worthwhile. Saunders’ lines and strokes are clear and bold. She seems to draw and paint with conviction and native talent. Some of her pictures are figurative, showing a mother and child, a house, a canal. Some are much more abstract, imagined patterns and designs, but often with some resemblance to a real-world object or experience. She would merit a larger exhibition, of whatever work has survived the decades of neglect.
10 / The Cure I have loved The Cure for decades, from a distance; never seen them, and often had the impression that my last chance to see them had already passed. But when their lengthy European tour reaches Wembley Arena, at last I’m in the crowd: unusually early, standing as near the front as I can, waiting through a tedious support band. Before a bright picture of the turning Earth, Robert Smith tiptoes on to the stage like a child, peering shyly at the audience. They play numerous ‘new songs that will soon be old songs’, as Smith repeatedly says. They play relatively deep album cuts; few hits in the first two hours. The music is unblemished, the voice strong. Along the way, ‘Pictures of You’, ‘A Night Like This’, the extraordinary ‘Push’ which amazed me when I discovered it on vinyl aged 17. The final encore of rapid-fire bright hits Smith calls his ‘Sunday night disco’. I haven’t felt quite this way about a concert in a long time. Outside, snow is falling.
In honor of the forthcoming Heavenly reissues (Skep Wax will rerelease all the Heavenly LPs on vinyl soon: Heavenly vs Satan is available on pre-order now; Le Jardin de Heavenly will follow next April and the other two will come along at six month intervals)—in addition to the John Peel Sessions on Precious Recordings and the announcement of the band’s forthcoming gigs at Bush Hall in London in May 2023—we asked the band to think back to 30 years ago and tell us about their impressions of the U.S. in the olden days! The very first issue of chickfactor was handed out at a Heavenly / Lois gig in Sept. 1992; I reviewed their second album in SPIN around the same time, and we interviewed them in chickfactor zine (Amelia is on the cover of issue 2).
ROB PURSEY Going to America was overwhelming, partly because we were going to meet loads of people for the first time—people whose records we’d heard, but from a distance of 3500 miles. Two of the encounters I remember most vividly from that first Heavenly trip are Phoebe Summersquash (Small Factory) and Jeffrey Underhill (Honeybunch). Phoebe is one of the select band of people known as ‘girl drummers’. She was the most diminutive person in the band, she wore glasses and she smiled all the time, even while she beating the hell out of a drumkit. I loved that combination of effortless glee and thunderous noise. She was the living antidote to those theatrical drummers (and guitarists) who pretend to be working out in the gym, or summoning Satan, as if that was crucial to making a great sound.
Jeffrey Underhill, we met, I think, in Rhode Island. I don’t really remember the gig very well, but I was a big fan of Honeybunch. Their song ‘Mine Your Own Business’ was in my head all the time, and it still provides the soundtrack for my memories of our first trip to the US. Anyway, what I remember about Jeffrey was the fact that he showed up in a back alley in a really great old blue/green semi-beater of a car. I am a bit of a nut about old cars, and liked this one a lot. Me and Jeffrey didn’t talk much, I imagine we were both somewhat shy, but I do remember sitting on the bonnet thinking ‘this is the best car, and it belongs to the person who played the best song’.
The encounters with all these new people came to a head at the Chickfactor Party, where there was a whole community was assembling. I didn’t really know anyone there, of course, but I somehow felt like I could get to know and like all of them. We were a long way from the UK, but we felt at home. Part of the reason for this was that women were running the Chickfactor show, and these were wry, witty women. There was a lot of intellect behind Chickfactor, and a definite attitude, but there was a lot of humour too. The humour was a sign of confidence—there was nothing apologetic about it. That’s what being in Heavenly felt like. The women in our band were obviously in charge, but they wore it lightly. So New York, or at least this little indie corner of New York, felt more amenable to our band than a lot of places back in the UK. It was a good feeling.
CATHY ROGERS I’m not sure any of my memories are really separable. The synapses which connect Heavenly to America all sit in a viscous bath of coffee and the new kind of cool of the straight edge punks and the smell of wet trees driving through Oregon and Massachusetts and the swooning delight of being in the same venn diagram overlap as the really rioting riot grrrls and gigs not being gigs any more but shows and the sheer heat of new experiences and new loves. America just felt so great. It was like finding a version of us that was just so sure of itself. So certain. Walk around the town like you own it…everyone, all the time.
Compared with that overpowering sense of it all, specific memories feel a bit humble. The drive down from Olympia to play a show with a band who turned out to be Tiger Trap, Calvin saying, classic understatement, ‘I guess you might kinda like this band.’ Meeting them to play a show together in this kind of basement garage, them all wearing roller skates, us being powerless to resist charms on that level. For some reason, having a conversation with a bunch of people about our favourite foods and everyone out-doing each other for eccentricity, then Molly from Bratmobile saying ‘I just want to eat rice’ and that becoming one of those weird things that I think of literally every time I cook rice. The novelty, playing at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, of being fed really well before a show. Laughing over-hearing an old guy in the audience, saying – after a whole raft of indie bands – about Lois, ‘Finally someone who can actually sing’. Meeting Ted and Jodi for the first time and being so jealous that Pete was somehow already friends with them, then seeing Jodi’s band (with another girl with a rad American name like Brooklyn or Maddison, I’m pretty sure the band was called The Runways) and thinking these were the most sensational people I’d ever met. Being interviewed for this magazine called Chickfactor and hearing of another wait what cool girls are somehow allowed to be mainstream now magazine called Sassy and realising that culture was an actual thing and the world changes and feeling that we lived in some small backwater but we were so lucky because we were here, for now.
AMELIA FLETCHER – On our first US tour, Pete and I being dropped off by Small Factory in Hartford, Connecticut, in the middle of the night. We were near the place we were all staying with my parents, and figured we’d call a taxi to get us home. But it turned out that the place we stopped at had been robbed the week before, and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by police cars. We were freaked out. It felt like an episode of Starsky and Hutch. Then, when asked where we were heading, we realised we couldn’t remember the address. Not at all suspicious! In the end, though, the police believed the daft English people and gave us a lift home in the police car.
– Meeting Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields at Chet’s Last Call in Boston. She asked if I had time to come and record a song for her and Stephin Merritt’s side project, the 6ths, the next day. I said why not. I had heard ‘100,000 Fireflies’ on the ‘One Last Kiss’ compilation and liked it a lot. I remember I sang ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in an especially breathy way, and Stephin commented that I came complete with my own reverb!
– Playing at the Fantagraphics Comics Warehouse in Seattle with Beat Happening and another band who I just remember as being very smelly! It was a great space, and I was excited because I was a big fan of ‘Love and Rockets’. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl both came, which seemed pretty thrilling too. We were easily thrilled!
– Arriving in Olympia at the start of a West Coast tour, meeting Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and discovering Riot Grrrl. There was a visceral buzz around the whole place, and we quickly got very excited about it too. We had always been a feminist band, but in a quiet sort of way. We didn’t really feel part of the UK feminist movement at the time. It was fighting for stuff that was no doubt important but didn’t seem relevant to our concerns. So it was thrilling and empowering to find people discussing the issues that really had affected us. And to discover a whole set of new bands who had found a way of being outspoken and angry but also huge fun. It had a big impact on us, musically and personally.
PETER MOMTCHILOFF I have opened the drawer in which I left my old memories of Heavenly in the USA. There is a lot there, but I can’t fit it together into any kind of story. My colleagues’ reminiscences do what I seem not to be able to. As a kind of coda, I do remember that we were brought down to earth by our first gig back in England after a West Coast tour, feeling rather pleased with ourselves. It was in a pub in Gillingham, to about five men and a dog. I don’t think they even turned the pub TV off while we played.
The most exciting thing for me in 2021 was that Amelia and I started a record label (SkepWax). We first talked about it 30 years ago, so it’s had quite a long gestation.
I guess lockdown is to blame. Prior to this we’d never had enough spare time, and suddenly we had loads of it. We only released our own records to start with, partly because we couldn’t face the idea of messing up other people’s. But it’s gone pretty well, so in 2022 we will be ‘expanding our roster’.
Anyway, I thought I’d share my ten best things about starting a label.
The local post office. Despite the Tories’ best efforts, there are still elements of the state’s architecture that still function. The postal service is one of them. Things arrive on time. You don’t worry about your item being chucked around. The couple who run our local post office are really friendly. Occasionally other customers can get irked – it probably is annoying trying to collect your pension if the person in front is mailing fifty cassette singles to various parts of the world. But the British like queueing, and even more than that they like grumbling about the people in front of them in the queue, so this isn’t such a massive problem.
Having a song played on the radio. This was always the most exciting thing about being in a band, but it’s doubly exciting now, especially as DJs tend to be quite good about naming the record label.
Seeing your record in a shop. Again, this was always exciting but now it’s even better. There’s the thing that you have made, waiting patiently in the rack for someone to fall in love with it.
Getting to know the community of writers, bloggers, online DJs. Just under the radar of the mainstream, there are hundreds of people keeping the independent music scene alive by sharing their enthusiasm. There’s some really good writing out there too. It’s a good gang to be part of.
Getting to know people who run cool record stores. Those places were the conduit to a better world when I was a teenager (in my case, Revolver Records in Bristol) and I’m probably still a bit starstruck when I go into them. Now that we are adults and have records to sell, it’s like getting permission to go behind the scenes at the theatre. You’ve been in the audience for years, wondering who’s doing the lighting, putting the props on stage, directing the actors – and now you are backstage chatting with those people. They are immensely knowledgeable and generally very supportive.
Rubber stamps. We’ve got a ‘Skep Wax’ rubber stamp that gets applied to the envelopes for the records we mail out personally. It’s the most analogue object in the world and creates a pleasingly imperfect image every time.
Co-releasing with other indie labels. There is a very strong sense of solidarity amongst people who are working really hard to do something good without any expectation of making a lot of money.
Being local and global at the same time. Everything we do happens on the dining table, or in the spare room (with occasional trips up the road to the post office). And then, a few months later, people in Brazil, Indonesia and America get to hear the results.
Choosing which medium to release on. There are so many options – cassette, CD, vinyl, download, streaming. You don’t have to do all of them. You can choose the one that’s best for the release in question. If you want to do a 3” CD, you can. If you want to do a one-sided 7” single with a 50-page book, you can.
‘Expanding our roster…’ The fact that other bands are prepared to trust us with their art is a good feeling, if a little nerve-wracking. But it does mean that 2022 won’t be boring.
Skep Wax will soon announce Under the Bridge, a compilation album that will be very exciting for anyone who liked Sarah Records.
if you’re here, chances are you adore music by talulah gosh, heavenly, marine research and tender trap. the odds are good, then, that you already like the catenary wires, featuring indiepop royals amelia fletcher and rob pursey. they’ve just released a new album, til the morning, on tapete records and are heading out on tour just now. we caught up with them about their band, their kids, and their lives in kent these days. interview by gail o
chickfactor: what did you set out to sound like with the catenary wires?
amelia:initially we were aiming to sound really minimal. we had moved to the countryside and didn’t know anyone, so we started out as just the two of us playing at home, late at night, with our daughter’s small acoustic guitar. on the first album (red red skies), we wanted to retain that homespun melancholic intimacy, so we kept the instrumentation very simple. this had the upside that we worked really hard on the songwriting and the lyrics, but we ended up feeling that the songs were almost forced to do too much because the instrumentation wasn’t doing enough. we decided to see if we could find a way to achieve the same intimacy, while creating something more musically interesting too.
rob:we wanted it to sound full and rich, but we didn’t want it to sound like any of our previous bands (with a standard rhythm section and standard instruments driving everything). so we recorded the guitar and singing first, knowing that this might be enough, then added the other instruments—and then, if we felt we needed any, we added drums. so, the whole thing was recorded upside down, really. the ‘drums’ were often a piece of wood dropped on the floor, or a metal agricultural trailer being hit. we wrote the songs and recorded them in a fairly remote, rural place, and we wanted the record to sound like that.
cf: tell us a bit more about the new album.
amelia: we are really pleased with how it has worked out. it is made up of twelve songs which are pretty varied but have lots of common thematic threads, both lyrically and musically. we recorded the album with andy lewis. we met him when he was playing with the indie band spearmint, but we were impressed by his far wider set of music references, such as having produced judy dyble (fairport convention), having played bass with paul weller and DJ-ing 60s soul records. he was also happy to work with us to record it at home. his theory is that wherever you can plug in a kettle, you can make an album. so we decided to test that out. I think my favourite song is “dream town,” partly because I don’t think it quite sounds like anything else, partly because I find it moving, and partly because it feels very real to me. more prosaically, it is also one of the most jointly written of the songs, in that we both wrote parts of the tune and both wrote parts of the lyrics. a lot of the songs are co-written to some extent, but we rarely hit that degree of balance.
rob: the building where we recorded the music is not soundproofed, so you can occasionally hear birds tweeting in the background, and other rustic noises too. the songs are not exactly idyllic though, so hopefully these gentle rural sounds feel poignant rather than whimsical. we are always a bit paranoid about turning into folk musicians, I don’t know why, but here we are, recording gentle songs in lovely countryside with the birds tweeting away in the background. we discussed this issue with andy, and have made sure that the birds have reverb on them, so they aren’t too ‘pastoral’.
cf: has becoming parents influenced the music that you’re making?
rob: I’m sure it has, in many ways. sometimes very literally. for example, the lyrics to “hollywood” are a reaction to our daughters’ love of US TV shows, US YouTubers, the ongoing dream of fame and celebrity in L.A. because of my old job (running a TV drama company), I saw the process up close and I am very aware of the gap between the dream and reality. I think the harvey weinstein scandal was breaking at the time too. in the last bit of the song, my voice is his voice, and the voice of many other male directors and producers, telling the young actress to give a performance that is disingenuous and potentially exploitative.
on top of that, we get to hear a lot of the music they like. quite a lot of it is about falling in love, how great it is to kiss someone etc.—just like pop music has always been. so we redressed the balance by doing songs about divorce, falling out of love, adultery etc.
we are also influenced by living with our mothers. amelia’s mum passed away last autumn—she had parkinson’s disease so took quite a lot of looking after. my mum is with us still, and is very fit and well. but both of them lost their husbands and had to face life on their own again. they both experienced the ultimate, un-wished for divorce. and I think that influenced a few of our songs.
amelia: having to be at home to look after my mum also influenced our decision to record the album at home. at the time, we thought we might be making a compromise in not using a proper studio, but actually working at home allowed us more flexibility to try things and gave the whole album a better sense of place, as per rob’s comments about the birds, above. we used local musicians too, including a fluegelhorn player and trombonist from the village, who usually play in military bands but really enjoyed having to turn their hand to indie! we have ended up filming our videos very locally too and editing them ourselves at home. it just seems in keeping.
cf: are your daughters recording and playing shows these days? do tell. rob: dora’s band (wait what) seem to have stopped. they’ve all been doing their GCSE exams, so maybe that’s why. they are more sensible than we are. dora’s still playing the guitar though, and I reckon she will find herself in another band. I hope so. I think it just depends on meeting the right people to be in a band with. ivy is also playing a lot of music, and is a very good singer. she sings ‘properly’. earlier this evening she was doing a rendition of “back to black” by amy winehouse. that’s who she sounds like. how terrifying!
cf: what’s happening in kent these days? are there any good musicians or bands coming from the region?
amelia: a strange thing happened when we met our producer, andy lewis. it turned out that he already knew the tiny village in kent where we live—which no one has usually ever heard of—because he had just finished recording an album here with fay hallam. it turned out that she was a neighbour who lived about 6 doors away from us. we in fact already knew about her music but were totally unaware of her proximity! she is a really great hammond player and singer and she ended up both playing on the album and becoming a member of the live band.
rob: in a pub down the road, on the second tuesday of every month, the local folk singers gather and take it in turns to sing their trad songs. I really like it, and maybe when I am 75 I will see if they let me join in.
cf: what’s in the fridge? what’s in the picnic basket?
rob: in the fridge, there is a lot of daal and cauliflower curry, cos we made far too much of it yesterday. there is a pot of crab apple jelly that my dad made. there are bottles of beer. and there are parsnips. not sure what to do about them.
amelia: there is nothing in the picnic basket. but at least there isa picnic basket. which means one day there might even be a picnic! you never know.
cf: what records do you play more than anything?
amelia:we get force-fed a lot of car seat headrest, brockhampton and billie eilish by the girls, all of which are really pretty good. if we are allowed to play anything ourselves, I usually find myself heading for the delgados (older) and girl ray (newer). rob is a bit obsessed with sleaford mods. we also keep on listening to some of the great duettists, such as nancy and lee, serge gainsbourg and brigitte bardot, johnny cash and june carter, just to see how they go about making duets work. we still feel we have a lot to learn on that front.
cf: is there any news about your previous bands (reissues, etc.)?
rob: I don’t think so. personally, I like leaving those things as they are. you can hear most of it online if you want to, and I think it’s a bit odd when bands start behaving like their own archivists. we did just discover a cache of old T-shirts—talulah gosh, heavenly etc. I took pictures of amelia wearing them (the history of our bands in T-shirt form, see more on our instagram: @thecatenarywires) and we put them online. actually, sorry, there was one shirt that was an XL, so I had to wear that one. anyway, it was much-liked by the indie fraternity, so that probably goes to show that there is an appetite for the old stuff. I also found the old U-Matic video of ‘I fell in love last night’, the first heavenly single. I’ll get it digitised at some point and stick it online so people can watch it again, if they like.
amelia:well damaged goods did reissue all the talulah gosh stuff recently, so we do let these things happen sometimes. I’d personally quite like to do a ‘greatest hits’ that covers all our bands. but we’d probably end up having such big arguments about what actually were the ‘greatest hits’ that it may not be worth it!
cf: what’s a good story about john jervis you can tell us?
rob: john’s girlfriend, alexandra, is an amazing knitter and maker of clothes, and john is now mostly dressed in things that she makes. he looks very stylish, these days.
cf: who is your favorite london band these days?
rob: I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know. I spend too much time in kentish pubs listening to octogenarian folk singers and have lost touch with the capital, and its young people.
cf: what are the catenary wires up to this summer?
rob: we are playing at indietracks! we will spend a lot of time with the kids, once school breaks up. we are going on holiday with them, to jamaica. we don’t normally do that sort of holiday, but I help out with a charity that’s based over there, so that’s our pretext. we are also going to visit athens, georgia, and new york, and will be playing a couple of catenary wires shows—just as a duo. most of our gigs these days are as a five-piece (with andy lewis on bass, fay hallam on keyboard and ian button on drums), but we like going back to the duo format occasionally.
amelia:we are really just on holiday in america too, but we thought we would slip in as many shows as the kids would accept, which ended up being just two. they are semi-tolerant of, but not at all impressed by, our indie antics. CF
• THE PASTELS — The pop geniuses Stephen McRobbie, Katrina Mitchell & Co. came down from Glasgow to play at CF20 in London. We are thrilled to have them back.
• LOIS — Lois Maffeo is indie royalty from Olympia, Washington, where she has made many great albums for K Records.
• KICKING GIANT — Tae Won Yu & Rachel Carns formed this powerful union in New York via Olympia, WA, in 1989. This is their first-ever show in the UK. A double LP reissue of their early work, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989–1993, will come out on Drawing Room Records later this year.
• KITES AT NIGHT are Rose Melberg & Jon Manning (with Jen Sbragia on bass for this show), whose previous band was called Imaginary Pants. This is their first show in London.
• THE SOFTIES — Indiepop queens Rose Melberg & Jen Sbragia (from Vancouver BC & Portland OR, respectively) reunited for the chickfactor 20 shows in 2012 in NYC, Portland and SF. This is their first-ever show in London.
• STEVIE JACKSON is the amazing guitarist, singer and songwriter in Belle & Sebastian! He also happened to write a song named after our zine “chickfactor.”
• THE WOULD-BE-GOODS — Jessica Griffin, Peter Momtchiloff, Debbie Greensmith & Andy Warren are indie legends based in London & St Leonards.
• THE CATENARY WIRES — This super-duo formed in 2014 when Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (ex-Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap) moved out of London.
• Gaylord Fields is an excellent WFMU DJ, a music writer and a longtime MC for chickfactor events.
• The Hangover Lounge is a much-beloved event that happened for years at the Lexington, a label and a community that’s often collaborated with chickfactor before.
• chickfactor is a fanzine started by Pam Berry and Gail O’Hara in 1992. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, it will publish a new print zine in late 2017.