Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mani (Primal Scream) interview: 2011


Whether it's a public image he's created or just a day in the life, Gary 'Mani' Mounfield – Primal Scream's riotous bass player – still exhibits a burning-the-candle-at-both-ends young man's energy and wit. But the man at the centre of two of the UK's most influential bands of the last 20-odd years has earned the right to play whatever hand he damn well wants. It was after all Mani's smacked-out bass gave The Stone Roses their signature sound and has since 1996, rumbled through all of Primal Scream's records. But it was while he and his Stone Roses buddies were enjoying what looked like start of a long, exciting career that a little Scottish band, who so far had little to crow about besides two lack lustre '60s influenced rock albums, dropped the biggest acid-rock record of the times. The fast-changing underground club music scene in Britain finally got the benchmark album in Screamadelica it had needed to set the bar high. Primal Scream had arrived and The Stone Roses suddenly seemed to get very wobbly indeed.

20 years on and Mani - who could in another reality have been discussing a Stone Roses 'Don't Look Back' tour - is instead shooting the shit on his adopted band's re-visit to a defining moment in music. While singer Bobby Gillespie has continued to guide his band away from the warped psyche-rock of Screamadelica – Mani, who missed the wild, hedonistic 'Scream of the early '90s, defies his leader's wish to 'chill-out' with age. "I've been bugging the band to get stuck into the back catalogue for years and Bob (Gillespie) was dead-set against it." He begins proudly. In his time as a member of Primal Scream, Mounfield hasn't felt first hand the level of hype that was created by Screamadelica. He's unabashedly in agreement with the media and the public that the album was their peak and in turn had the objectivity to convince the rest of the band to bring it back to the stage.

"Well I think I'm more enthusiastic about it than Bobby or any of the other guys who played on the original album." He says, grinning, "I'm playing like a fucking juvenile you know, and seeing the sheer beauty in it. I mean I've been part of Primal Scream for the last 13 fucking year's man, playing songs off this album but the difference now is we've put a lot of effort into keeping to its original sound by stripping everything back and building it back up again for the shows. We've kept a lot of (producer) Andrew Weatherall's original stuff – and it's been a grind – but I tell you what, it was such a pay-off to see 11,000  people the other week going mad for it at the Olympia in London." He continues, "To me, the songs on that album deserved to be brought to people who maybe weren't old enough to hear them the first time around or weren't even born yet. Playing to the festival crowds, like we have been recently, you're not always playing to the converted you know like in the club shows, so I hope we can turn those people onto something they maybe wouldn't have ordinarily liked or heard before. That's the power of music, man."

Gillespie & Mani
The frank-talking bassist was enjoying Stone Roses first year of success when Screamadelica hit like the freak storm nobody could've predicted considering Primal Scream's patchy past and slow-to-capitalise follow-up. Of the two bands to emerge triumphant years later, most people's hard-earned would surely have backed the 'Roses to carry on. History had other plans for Mani though, and while he saw his old band through to their end in 1996, he'd made a new home in Primal Scream before the amps had even been unplugged for the last time at camp Stone Rose. "I think I've learned a lot more from playing in this band than I would have if the 'Roses had kept going." Mani claims, "I broadened me horizons when I joined this band, no question. I was always a big fan of Primal Scream because they were so similar to us (Stone Roses), if not musically, then personally. We had a lot of the same values and similar backgrounds and so we were all firm friends early on." He remembers, "We used to always be slobbering over each other in clubs, ecstasy'd out of our fuckin' minds out in Glasgow or Manchester and so there was no doubt when the 'Roses split up where I was headed."

Mani (middle back) with Stone Roses
Just as the hazy groove-rock of the Stone Roses wiped out the competition in 1989, the following year-and-a-half belonged to Screamadelica. A young Mani was paying close attention and, he claims he saw a connection between what his old band had done previously to what Primal achieved in 1991. "I kind of looked at it as the natural progression from us having, say break-beats on Fools Gold, and also the progression of a bunch of like-minded guys wanting to do something new." He confirms, "You have to remember, guitar bands weren't being played in the clubs and acid house was taking over and there's nothing wrong with a bit of cross-pollination in music if you can make it work. Primal Scream were ballsy bastards to try it, and only a very few bands have managed to really pull off a thing like that." One of keys to Screamadelica's sound was the work of not one, but five producers. Apart from Andrew Weatherall's overall weaving of samples, loops and thick beats, it was DJ Dr Alex Patterson (a.k.a The Orb)'s co-production on Screamadelica that had dance fiends grabbing for the twelve-inches'.

"It was all just a time of pure fucking genius on many levels, you know." Mani says, "The world's greatest DJs came from that scene and Alex (The Orb) did, in my mind, the fucking best mixes of those songs on Screamadelica." The Orb remixes of Higher Than The Sun and Slip Inside This House have arguably become the essential versions over the album mixes. Those all-class singles extended the album's shelf life for two years as Loaded, Movin' On Up and Come Together continued their assault on the UK top 40 between February 1990 and February '92. Each one demonstrated a different side to the band while remaining identifiable as Primal Scream. The Glasgow lads had somehow tapped into the mystic cosmic funk and nothing they turned their hand to seemed to fail. How else could they have passed as a soul, psychedelic pop, acid house and blues rock band all in one release?

"Too many bands out there now are scared to deviate from whatever their last album sounded like and Primal Scream was never interested in doing that, you know." Mani offers, "I mean if you want to do that you might as well get a job in a fucking hat shop. Music should be a fucking tight-rope walk done by outsiders, ne'er do-wells, junkies and vagabonds mate." Mani encapsulates the 'Scream in this one sentence but his bravado, he reckons, isn't reinforced by any universal love for the band. "Back home we kind of get ignored in a lot of respects. I mean, I don't give a fuck what they say about us in the UK – I still think we're one of the best fucking bands still doin' it, but we don't get a lot of support." He adds, "But you know what, Primal Scream isn't our job, man it's what we do twenty-four-seven and we know how to kick it from arsehole to balls and I don't see any other rock n' roll bands playing with the kind of feeling we give it."
While Stone Roses' front man Ian Brown spent most of the '90s in and out of trouble/prison, Mani fought, mouthed-off and shocked for all he was worth, but somehow got away with it. That is at least until last year when supergroup Freebass, on the verge of releasing their debut album, ended suddenly with a very public serve of humiliation from Mani to Peter Hook – the group's founder and ex-New Order bassist. Freebass, which also included ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, was in Mani's words, "Something to keep me match fit while the 'Scream were doin' nothing." He confesses, "I might have tainted a good friendship there, I'm such a gobshite sometimes, but we put a lot of effort into making that album and I should have been there to promote it instead of slagging Hooky off." Mani accused Hook (via Twitter) of getting fat off Ian Curtis's blood money for touring Joy Division with none of original members. "God bless him though, and look, I apologised to Peter and we're friends still, but in the end everybody bailed out of fucking Freebass." Mani laughs, "What can I say, I'm from Manchester mate and we're a bunch of gobby bastards so whatever I said at the time that was just me being me. That's what comes from spending time with the likes of Ian Brown and Liam Gallagher in the pub!"
Mani's salutes 'The Man'. 

The big gob, the much bigger than required bass amp and the cheeky stoned grin all suggest Mani has his priorities in order and Stone Roses reunions or failed supergroups aren't among them. Right now his sights are set on winning over his Australian fans again following 2009's sensory-annihilating shows. "I'm countin' the days off on my wall chart until I can get on that plane and come over to Melbourne mate." Mani barks, "Love the fuckin' place, love the people and can't wait to come and play for you all again." He adds in a festive tone, "Melbourne for me is like Australia's Manchester, man. It's got that pure love for music and I never have to worry about having a shit time when I'm there." When the Screamadelica Don't Look Back shows wrap up, it is already widely rumoured that the band are heading straight back into the studio to record album number 10. Mani's sure of only one thing though, the new stuff will be 'unlike anything they've done before.' "Well we could end up doing a fucking skiffle album, you just never know." He laughs, "That's something we haven't tried yet and we've been around for about 8,000 years now so maybe it's time." Mani says, cracking up. "We're gonna turn into travelling freak show freaks like the bearded lady or the fucking human dick, you know what I mean?" He splutters, "There's a kind of voyeuristic way in which people see Primal Scream, I think. They're just staring going 'what the fuck is that all about?' So we can't disappoint 'em can we?"


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Daniel Snaith (Caribou) interview: 2011


Speaking to me today, only fifteen minutes
before he is due on stage at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the UK, Canadian-born Daniel Snaith's live set is to follow Holy Fuck's mind-twisting synth-storm, but his tone suggests he could just as easily be preparing for a quiet night in. Yet the anti-star producer/musician - who goes by the mysterious pseudonym, Caribou and moonlights as a mathematician - does indeed have a lot to crow about following the release of one of last year's most captivating album's, Swim.

Caribou (formerly known as Manitoba – it’s a legal thing), is a rapidly evolving monster, gathering plenty of new tricks with each passing release. Over five studio albums, Snaith has opted to bridge the gap between cold electro-blip wankery and luscious folk-pop with enchanting results. He’s blending organic instruments more and more with beats and loops and as Caribou's relentless touring continues and, as Melbourne is soon to discover, these days he leans heavier on a full live band.
"I"ve come along way from just playing my laptop on stage." He begins, "Last time I was in Melbourne it was January 2008, and my show has changed considerably since those simpler times." He continues, "There's four of us now - two drum kits, guitar and keyboard - and although we play heavily electronic-based music, having a live band doesn't restrict us to just jamming to a backing track or whatever. We can be flexible and spontaneous and that actually has increased a lot of possibilities for playing the songs live and so now, my favourite versions of the songs are the ones we play live right now." As a professor of mathematics, Snaith always has something to fall back on if the songs stop coming, but his drive to create music all but crushed a possible future standing in class-rooms.
"Yeah, I mean I loved doing my PHD in mathematics, but I can't say that I feel I'm missing out on anything at all because I chose music as a career." Daniel remarks, "Besides I see my obsession with music as a kind of healthy thing to pursue." He laughs, "With the exception of when I’m on tour, I want to be creating music all of the time because it's always a joy and a pleasure to do. It takes over everything really, and thankfully my wife's very tolerant of me being away for so much of the year." The growth in Caribou's music since his fairly basic early approach has of course meant increasingly elaborate concerts – although, he claims, artists like him have had to wait for the technology to catch up.
"The whole point of live music, as I see it, is to allow improvisation and freedom to experiment, but in electronic music, that has been seen as problematic I think by a lot of artists, and until a few years ago that really was the case, but technology now has made performing this music live far less limiting." He adds, "My music's always kind of fluctuated between electronic productions and more live band sounding, so I’ve always acknowledged the value of both probably equally. Over the last couple of years a lot of music I’ve been listening to has involved more exotic instrumentation and so on the last album (Swim) I experimented with some weird combinations, like fore example on Bowls. That has only a harp, bass drum and Tibetan bowls, and I doubt if I was working within the confines of a rock band, I would have even considered using those instruments, it would have been ludicrous." Snaith's bending of the rules of electronic music stems from a love of unearthing the latest rare grooves and re-discovering the music of his childhood.  Some have remarked on a '60s pop influence but one that's usually mixed with razor sharp beats, recalling The Avalanches at times. Snaith says of his current obsession.
"My sensation at the moment is scrambling to keep up with so much great music coming out from all over the place. For example there's this compilation of electro music from South Africa that came out on the Honest John label this year, and again I was like this is the most amazing record I’ve heard!" Dan laughs, "But what a great problem to have - too much good music to discover and listen to." He adds, "The key thing for me is being inspired by the spirit of this new music I'm discovering right now. In the past I think my records to a fault have been too much influenced by the music I grew up listening to – the psychedelic '60s or whatever. But this time I was much more aware of making my own sonic signature or stamp on the record."


Monday, January 10, 2011

Graham Lewis and Colin Newman (Wire) interview: 2011

(L-R) Newman & Lewis

London's Wire in some form or another have existed now for 37 years. But the band mostly associated with punk and experimental albums Pink Flag, 154 and Chairs Missing, have seemingly stood at the cusp of dissolve for most of their musical life. They rarely communicate, and spend more time on solo or side projects than 'doing' Wire, and yet have seen many of their peers rise and fall around them. Talking with the two core members of this seminal band - Graham Lewis and Colin Newman – it's difficult to draw any parallels at all with the pair, (who insisted on being interviewed separately), except that neither one sees any good reason to quit.

Both artists discuss their 37 year career – in and outside of Wire – as though strolling through a continually collapsing then self-repairing city, and the fact they are back with a new album and tour basically means the dust has momentarily settled in Wire world. In interview, Colin (guitars and vocals) takes the roll of the articulater, while Graham (bass and vocals) flips between surrealism (when he gets bored) and bluntness (when he doesn't like the question). Both however, are disarmingly personable and, in Graham's case, much more interested in what book I'm reading now than promoting Wire's twelfth album, Red Barked Tree.

It's Colin Newman then who helpfully gives an overview of working on Wire's latest release. "After many years of making records in a kind of patch it up as we go kind of method, this time I thought it'd be nice to try actually sitting down with an acoustic guitar and writing songs." Newman sniffs, "I took them to Graham and he wrote the words for some and I wrote words for others, and it was like what I imagine being in a normal band was like." He laughs, "So then the others learned the songs then we recorded everything in either first or second take, which is something we hadn't really done since the late '70s." Graham Lewis, from his adopted home in Sweden, confirms Wire's renowned recording method. "You can walk through a door over and over again, and each time you'll do it slightly different to last… but it's never going to be as natural as your first entrance." In their long history, it can easily be said that Wire have never fully attempted to gain popularity through their music Their occasional brushes with success were more often down to "misleadingly commercial" singles lifted from albums filled with bizarre noise experiments. Their concerts are usually remembered for the total re-interpretations of songs from across their catalogue, often ignoring fan favourites. Yet music-obsessive's, and particularly musicians from all walks, regard Wire as inspirational.

"I never have an idea of how people are going to react to our music when we're making it and that to me is the most exciting thing." Newman retorts on the topic of Wire's live shows, "We work with the basic shape of a song and after we all kind of grasp that, we feel as though it should be able to be added to or altered however the four of us want. The band as I see it is kind of in two halves right, and that's why you get punk songs with jazz arrangements or virtually one-take demos with loads of post production on them." Newman adds excitedly, One of the new songs, Now Was could have been taken a million different ways for example, but the magic thing is, and it's something I've always tried to maintain with Wire or with any music I do, is the best result comes when you forget you're a musician with so many years experience and just play like you're still learning." Colin as well as Graham have used Wire as a meeting place for much of the band's existence, while exploring a plethora of side-projects. While on a break from Wire in the early '80s, Graham produced and helped launch a then unknown young London artist, Matt Johnson's early recordings effectively giving rise to cult icons, The The. Meanwhile Colin arranged music for Virgin Prunes, Hawkwind and Dead Man Ray as well as recording solo albums. Graham's commitment to only one aspect of music, he says, was never a thought he entertained. Instead the point of Wire, or writing/producing any music, for him was always to remain creatively stimulated.
"Different activities always produce different results, you see." He offers, "I find walking or taking a bath to be more stimulating to me as a writer than sitting in a studio or being on tour." Graham explains, "I like to swim as well, which is a very sculptural expression – not much to do with writing I know, but I've found a lot of my music comes from not being around anything involved with music. I read feverishly and that is my most direct doorway into writing music, but again it doesn't really relate to music except for the way in which printed text is generally quite lyrical." While Graham seeks inspiration through avoidance, Colin by contrast can't help but sound structuralist in his description of making music. "How I think we get the best out of this band, is that we have a high level of discipline." He states "To me writing songs should be about completely separating 'life' from music. You have to create something that can't just be spoken or otherwise, what's the point?" Flipping between Graham and Colin's interviews, it's clear why they wanted individual appointments. They speak well of the each other, but like a punk Lennon and McCartney, theirs is a marriage of convenience rounded out by a need for opposition.

"The four of us in Wire belong to no tradition apart from our own." Colin confides, "Wire is honest in what it is… but what it is, is anyone's guess." He laughs. Graham Lewis on the other hand, considers an unusual childhood introduction to music most of us don't share as being an indicator of what exactly did give rise to Wire. "I remember being 11 years old and living in Suffolk, and it wasn't until years later I understood what impression it made on me, but at that time you would hear these broadcasts from offshore pirate radio stations played through very large speakers along the coastline, and depending on where you stood, you would hear very different records playing at the same time over the top of each other. So you might get Helter Skelter playing over a symphony orchestra, just blasting out of the sky." He grins at the memory, "I guess you could draw the conclusion that that bizarre mashing of records was where the idea for a band like Wire was born."


Bill Elder (The Dynamites) interview: 2011


When Nashville-based song writer/guitarist Bill Elder formed The Dynamites in 2005, it spelled the end of a long retirement for the ex-touring band leader, who'd comfortably moved into the producer's chair to remain connected to his love of music. The birth of his group, who are now celebrated world wide for their classic funk/soul reviews, also re-launched the career of one of the '60s hottest soul shouters, Charlie Walker. Walker's credits included opening for James Brown's and Wilson Pickett's concerts, as well as fronting his own band The Sidewinders, who found fame in New York's club circuit back in the day. Walker's near-forgotten status during at The Dynamites' inception was considered somewhat criminal by Elder while all around the then producer, pretenders and plagiarists where being celebrated.

Nashville's contemporary music, Bill suggests on the eve of his band's second Australian visit, is largely riding on the state's name as a way of getting itself heard. The passionate New Orleans native does his best to not mince words about what he sees as 'The Tennessee Plague'. "We're totally outside of the whole Nashville scene. I absolutely hate modern country music so much, and that is what 99 percent of artists from Nashville are playin'." He laughs, "I avoid it at all costs… I mean, The Dynamites came together there, but we didn't play the Nashville game at all." Bill adds, "I will say this though, that place attracts some of the most incredible musicians I've ever had the pleasure of working with. If I wasn't in Nashville I doubt I could have assembled a band of the caliber that these guys in The Dynamites are."

In amongst Tennessee's long tradition of Grand Ole Opry and big hat-wearing stars of blue grass, a steady stream of soul and R&B acts wove its way through, and only in recent years has this secondary history seen a revival. While Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago and New York, to a much greater degree cultivated their mostly black music heritages, the white country scene in Nashville reigned. However, Bill Elder, while assisting on an exhibit celebrating Nashville's contribution to soul, discovered a still thriving scene and was soon amongst musicians perfectly suited to his old-school writing style and improvisational approach to guitar playing.
"The Dynamites, at last count, are a collective of up to 20 people who I can call on at any time to play with." He beams, "So the line-up tends to shift from time to time which lends itself to making our shows evolve quite fast. Plus as a rhythm section that plays together more and more and as we do more and more shows, we've found that it becomes necessary to alter how we perform the songs because we get bored of 'em," he laughs, "Playing with so many gifted musicians, every day you always get fresh ideas coming through on new ways to perform the songs." The Dynamites new Australian release is Kaboom - an album originally recorded in 2007. The group toured a follow-up, Burn It Down, during last year, yet Bill seems quite content to re-launch his debut album onto a new audience.
"It's my view that a band should be able to pull from all their repertoire on stage, but then it is an interesting concept to back right up and go out in front of a new audience, or an audience who are only familiar with a small amount of our work and be kind of introducing yourself." He continues, "As we're putting these (new) sets together, we have made the connection that there's a lot of continuity in what we do. I mean they (Kaboom and Burn It Down) could almost have been a double album." Elder adds confidently, "But we go out there and make timeless music, man, so the way I see it, it doesn't matter what album we're playing from, it's all kinda coming from another time and place." If The Dynamites do belong to a particular time, they'd be most at home in the days of civil rights protests during the first wave of changing attitudes in the US. Bill, in his songs, makes a convincing connection between that era and today's equally complex human rights issues.
"A lot of everyday people were starting to become very active politically in the 1960's and I see that as an important flame to keep alive today." Elder assures, "That alone isn't something that necessarily dominates our songs, but it is a factor I'm interested in." He adds, "A writer should write with all of his mind, you know and one of the things I've tried to do from the inception of this project is keep one foot in the golden era of soul and stretch the other all the way to the artistry of modern times and keep the common threads intact, including what that music meant for people and how it can still say something important." Whatever the world has been up to for the last 40 years, it has left little impression on The Dynamites musically. That is to say, you'll find no inorganic intrusions on their albums, only a love of playing and a reminder of a time when music seemed intricately connected to great leaps in social evolution. Bill, along with his gifted band are sadly more like the exception than the rule in this age: it's a fact that hasn't passed him by either.
"Obviously the music business is a very strange place filled with peaks and valleys, and for a soul band like us to be allowed to do what we do, just because we love it, is kind of a blessing." He says, "Over the last year we've gotten to do many amazing things – a couple of the highlights being our Australian and European tours – sometimes I can hardly believe I'm able to make a living from doing this, you know. I really am blessed."


Monday, January 3, 2011

Bryce Avary (The Rocket Summer) interview: 2011


The festively named Rocket Summer is one-man band Bryce Avary's pop-punk vehicle, which has over the last 11 years, earned the young Texan an obsessive, although mostly US, fanbase. The obvious contradiction in Avary's music – a somewhat grown-up, joyful take on the emo/screamo movement – created a small, but steadily growing shift away from the more self-absorbed facets typical of the genre. His songs, much like the man himself, lean towards tentative optimism and taking responsibility for oneself, all with a gleam of building resistance to life's nasty bits. 

Avary is a prodigiously talented musician and genuinely nice guy. But as we talk ahead of his debut Australian tour, he displays a kind of sheltered but verging-on-breaking-out persona. His life as a musician began at the age of 14 yet at 27, his wonder at the world outside of his hometown of Colleyville, Texas seems still largely intact. His recordings – four albums so far – have all been written and produced within Texas and he has undertaken very few overseas tours. The long haul to Australia must seem daunting, I propose, as Bryce sleepily gathers his thoughts on tackling all new terrain.

"It was something that probably should have happened long ago, but the stars just didn't line-up until now." He begins, "I'm super excited about it though, and I know a lot of people have been waiting a long time for me to get down there, so I'm really motivated to play the best possible show for them." He adds, "Australia's going to be getting a pretty well oiled machine because I've had so many years touring in the US, and so I'm confident we can win you guys over. But as far as playing to a new audience goes, I have the feeling I don't need to worry too much about people not knowing my music, because I get a lot of requests on (various social networks) to come down and play." Our conversation is punctuated by the sound of cars on an open road; Bryce tells me he and his touring band are gigging around their home state in warm up mode for Soundwave.
"I'm currently driving around Texas in this crappy rented RV, and it's got all of these photos of kinda cheesy all-American families plastered all on it." He laughs, "It's like a travelling billboard for this company called Cruise America!" Bryce's main companion on tour apart from his guitarist, bassist and drummer, is his wife Tara who runs the merchandise stall at the concerts. Although she's not musically involved with his band, Bryce credits Tara as his muse - and quality control expert. "My wife is my musical metre of what's bad and what's good." He confirms, "She always tells when something's crap or not if I'm ever getting too caught up in myself."

Avary as a child took up several instruments including guitar, drums and keyboard and was fluent in each one before he turned 14. He developed early on a love of hard rock – "Iron Maiden, man anyone who plays guitar has gotta love Maiden!" - An influence that's hinted at in even his poppier tracks – but naturally, it was a local favourite Bryce fell hardest for. "Yeah, Pantera are from Dallas, so they were really huge here and were one of the first bands I got totally into." He adds, "Probably my favourite band now though would have to be The Polyphonic Spree, who we actually once had to play directly after at a festival." He exclaims, "I remember thinking, how do you follow a 35 piece vocal band with our little touring quartet? It was a very, very hard act to follow!"

As Bryce prepares for his Australian rock festival debut, thoughts of having to follow a Polyphonic Spree show are soon replaced by ones of sharing a bill with Iron Maiden. Avary continues, "I doubt very much that we'll be on anytime close to Maiden, let alone after them, so it should be okay." He laughs, "We tend to get a much younger audience at our shows, which is great, but that does kind of affect when and where we can play also." Bryce's music, at casual glance, sits somewhere in between power-pop and punk. The Rocket Summer's addition to Soundwave is a testament to the festival's offering of rock acts from all styles, but the less forgiving US metal festivals circuit lead to a toughening up of Bryce's shows, he explains. "When you're competing with much bigger bands who already have a really strong fan base, you can't be too precious about your set list. I want every person that comes to see our show to walk away going, 'that was brilliant'." He smiles, "I don't want them to go away thinking 'it was okay, but I missed MXPX for that', you know!"