Tuesday 31 March 2015

E.P.: Carpool Conversation - 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream'

Carpool Conversation, 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream'

Info: In the bands own words; 'After a chance meeting at a dental hygienist and a near drowning incident in a Hyde Park Lido, Carpool Conversation began it's London leg.' What do you mean you don't know what a lido is? Okay, I didn't either,'A lido is a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun or participate in water sports. On a cruise ship or ocean liner, the deck with outdoor pools and the surrounding facilities are often designated the lido deck.'

Carpool Conversation's second E.P. is steeped in 60's psych-garage rock but also jumps into ska on at least more than one occasion. Opening track 'Night Owl' sets what is an unrelenting tone through the whole 4 songs on the recording, feverish drumming and guitar riffs that bring forth The Yardbirds 'For Your Love' and the United States of America (the band, not the country). Lead single 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream' is a delightful skiffle that mixes ska leanings with the aforementioned psych-rock, like if The Specials were given a new synthetic hallucinogen and asked to play 'Miserlou' backwards. 'Toil' is a nice piece of fun as well, and the most ska feeling song on the E.P., hard not to conjure images of Madness on this one with a tiny hint of light-hearted Clash. Altogether a very entertaining, sometimes explosive and cool contemporary homage to an under-appreciated sound.

Carpool Conversation, 'Night Owl'

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Single: Bells Atlas - 'Future Bones'

Bells Atlas

Bells Atlas, 'Future Bones'

Info: Bells Atlas emerges from the vibrant cultural and musical backdrop of Oakland, CA. Blending soulful vocals, an affinity for rhythm and an adventurous spirit, this dynamic group has arrived at a sound their own. Self-described as 'kaleidosonic soul punch afro-soul, rhythm pop-sicles taste the rainbow Missy Elliot meets Bjork meets the Malian-born love child of David Longstreth and Annie Clark or something like that'. 

'Future Bones' gets straight down to business with it's stark beats and chillwave electronic sounds from the get go. It certainly is an afro-soul track, with it's sequenced heavy drumming introduction, and my god, those vocals from lead singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu are to die for, like the perfect melding of Sneaker Pimps and Beth Orton, and musically Blueboy's 'Remember Me' tempered by good indie-pop. It's hard to describe in a way but it's very easy to listen to, and I also quite enjoyed their studio performance of their older song 'Video Star' as well (below). There's a nice effortless blend of styles in Bells Atlas' music and it's highly enjoyable. 'Future Bones' is out today.

Bells Atlas, 'Video Star'

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Saturday 28 March 2015

Single Release: Astronauts, etc. - 'I Know'

Photo: Ginger Fierstein

Astronauts, etc., 'I Know'

Info: If there was some way of putting music in a future date diary, 'I Know' would be immediately slotted into the calendar for the first hazy summer evening of the year. Astronauts, etc. are from Oakland, California and are the new musical project of Toro Y Moi keyboardist Anthony Ferraro. Self-described as somewhere in between Grizzly Bear, The Bee Gees and Sade, I can see where they are coming from with the intro guitars and harmonies. The later guitar solo at the opening of the track is such a nice lazy blues riff and the gentle percussion throughout combined with acoustic guitar are deep down mellow. Images of falling in slow motion from the clouds and landing on a giant ball of cotton wool abound and are enough to create a desire to hear more offerings from Astronauts, etc.

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Interview: Frank Kearns of Cactus World News

Cactus World News, 'Years Later', 1986

Info: Cactus World News were formed in 1984 when founding members, guitarist Frank Kearns and front man Eoin McEvoy, met up in a flat in Cabra and wrote 'The Bridge' (below) together. Shortly after their inaugural jamming session, Wayne Sheehy (drums) and Fergal MacAindris (bass) would complete the band's line-up and Cactus World News were ready to set off on an incredible musical voyage together. It could be said that the seeds of this journey were planted years before however, Kearns attended Mount Temple school in Clontarf at the same time as U2, who needless to say, had a shared passion and whose musical paths would cross time and time again over the coming decade in particular. All four band members already had 6-7 years experience in various bands behind them before CWN got together which prepared them to a degree for tours of the United States, supporting The Cult on their U.K. tour in 1985 and their appearance at the epic 14 hour long, 1986 Self-Aid concert at the RDS in aid of the 250,000 unemployed in Ireland at the time. 

The more I've researched the band in the last week and especially following my conversation with Frank, the more I've come to the realisation that the story of Cactus World News is a fascinating one, a treasure trove of rock music history from the 1980's and a new perspective of the scene in my home town from that era, here's their story as told by Frank Kearns himself;

To start off I wanted to know more about about Self-Aid in 1986, the benefit concert held in aid of the unemployed when there were 250,000 people out of work in the country, with over 350,000 on the live register at the moment, (admittedly with a larger population), were things worse back then than they are now?

I think things are pretty much the same except we have the benefit of more advanced technology and also we have a lot more people from different backgrounds in the country now, it was such a monoculture back then, other than that it's pretty much the same. With regard to Self-Aid, you have to remember, back in those days you obviously had U2 starting off and they were actually doing really well, and that was kind of inspiring, and everyone felt 'Well hold on, people actually like us somewhere else, like in America'. There was very little to be proud of, there was nothing in fact to be proud of. Coming from that background, it was a breath of fresh air that in America, people were very receptive to music in Ireland and the whole story, and obviously U2 benefited from that. Ourselves in Cactus, we were happy to appear on stage that day and play, it was a real sense of coming of age, 'this is our music, this is what we do', Irish music didn't have to be just diddly-eye any more, that wasn't something I was ever into, having been raised on rock music, especially The Ramones, for example.

Around the time of Self-Aid and the endemic unemployment, expectations were lower, we've just gone through a huge Celtic Tiger false economy boom based on house prices, people thought they had this piggy bank and their house was giving them all this money, but the whole thing was built on sand, when the rug was pulled away people went into shock. I think back then we didn't have that, we weren't coming from having something and then losing it, we never had it to start with, we had nothing and were coming from nothing. Emigration was the only real answer, I emigrated to London with my band Blue Russia for 2 and a half years, and I really didn't want to do that but we felt we had to do it because there was nothing really happening at home, when I came back to Ireland in 1984 to form Cactus with Eoin, the guys (U2) had just done the War album. 

I felt things were looking up for Ireland, you could feel the energy growing, we just got our head down and worked our asses off. To go on stage at Self-Aid and to look around at all the PA and equipment and the organisation, just so shortly after Live Aid was amazing, this was our Live Aid, you kind of feel proud, you know, yeah we can do this and put this stuff together, because we're always putting each other down. You have to remember as well back then that RTÉ and 2FM, with all their bollocks about supporting Irish music, didn't support Irish music, they didn't play the bands, or if they did there was the usual comment of 'Not bad for an Irish song', I actually remember hearing that lots of times, there were exceptions to the rule of course, but that was the national inferiority complex in full swing.

It seems that things haven't changed that much in terms of Irish bands getting airplay, shows that focus on unsigned or independent artists are rare and seen as a novelty, with the big stations almost looking for a pat on the back for featuring such acts for an hour here and there per week.

Some of the programmes are just vehicles for advertising, but there are good ones, Fiachna Ó Braonáin stood in for John Creedon I think on RTÉ radio there recently, he was great! Playing Robbie Robertson, The Sex Pistols, it was great to hear that. 

Going back to Self-Aid, there were some incredible acts in the line-up like Thin Lizzy (minus Phil who passed away four months previous sadly), U2, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Chris Rea, The Pogues and it was also The Boomtown Rats last performance, it must have been amazing to be around such musicians, do you have any particular memories that stand out at that time and how did you perceive your own status back then?

We were compared here obviously with U2, because we were of the same era and no matter what we did, we were never going to be as successful as U2 were in Irish peoples eyes, we sold over 250,000 albums which would be unheard of nowadays, we toured the States and were signed to the Mother label, but when we did Self-Aid, that gig gave us a sense of pride, here we are, we've arrived to this point, that yes, everyone needs a role model to look up to, a sense of if they can do it, we can we definitely do it. I'm actually working on a book at the moment, it's not an ordinary music book, like a timeline or anything, a memoir if you like, my own life from the very beginning, I have so many anecdotes from that period, people say 'you should write this stuff down'. It got me thinking that, you know I've never actually talked about my early days with U2, my background, I was in Mount Temple with the guys, Larry was my best mate, I formed Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, which is what the Killing Bono film was about, I was played by the actor David Fennelly, it's not War & Peace but it's kind of a comedy, it's a funny, interesting movie. After Frankie & The Corpses I formed The Fast, a Ramones cover band, then Blue Russia and finally Cactus.

Cactus World News, 'The Bridge', Self-Aid, 1986, RDS

Another musician who performed at Self-Aid was Rory Gallagher, he was a special talent to say the least.

You know what, I totally agree, he's like Stevie Ray Vaughan, he always had that energy coming through his hands, Stevie Ray Vaughan had really heavy gauge strings, and so did Rory, and that's how he got the tone, when myself and The Edge were in school in Mount Temple in 1978, The Edge was a big fan of his, songs like 'Bullfrog Blues', and all his solos, Rory Gallagher had a lot of respect around the country, everyone just knew he was coming from the heart, he spoke through his hands with his music. I think you couldn't have picked a better artist to be into, it's like food, you are what you eat and it's the same with the music you listen to. Thin Lizzy were our icons growing up, we just loved Lizzy, they were a proper rock band and rock stars. I was lucky enough to have Phil Lynott produce one of the songs on my band Blue Russia's single release 'Russian Around / She Never Came', in Lombard studios, and we toured around Ireland with him at the time back in 1982 which was an experience in it's own.

Blue Russia, 'Russian Around'

How did Cactus World News start off and can you tell us a bit more about Bono's involvement with the early days of the band?

I remember returning from London on the boat, and rang Larry (Mullen) as soon as I got back, and he told me that this guy, Eoin McEvoy is interested in forming a band with you, because he knew I was pissed off in London. Larry gave me his number and I called Eoin and we arranged to meet in a small flat in Cabra, and I brought my white Strat, a small amp, overdrive peddle and a delay peddle and he had an acoustic guitar and I was like 'What the fuck is this? Buddy Holly shit! This is not going to work', but then I heard him sing and I was like woah hang on a second this is a really good voice, and we basically came out with 'The Bridge' there and then, and we thought, how could this be so easy? Then of course the electricity went, because back then you had to put money in the meter, so he said 'Look, I can give you lunch or we can continue to jam?' and I said 'Fuck the lunch!' and he put the money in the meter and we kept going. 

We ended up writing a good few songs together and Eoin knew Mark Coleman, who was an engineer in SCS studios, who went on to be PA for Bono in the 80's, but before that he was the engineer at SCS and we went into the studio with him and had a really enjoyable demo session, 'The Bridge' was called 'Night Tide' at that stage, we finished that and then Bono was asking 'Eoin how is your demo getting on?', and then he listened to it and thought 'this is incredible', he got really excited about it and insisted on coming down to the rehearsal studio. At the time we were the loudest band in the country, we used to cause earthquakes in that place, I was using octave pedals, Fergal was doing his big bass and I was using feedback as well, 15-20 years before anyone else was doing it, we used to have this amazing sound coming out and top that off with the vocals and acoustic guitar. 

Shortly afterwards Bono came into this absolute storm of a rehearsal one day, in the middle of December in '85, it was snowing heavily as I recall and Bono came down and we played him 'The Bridge' and went over the arrangements and he said he wanted us to sign to Mother. We were thinging 'Great but shit, what are people going to think?' (because of our close relationship) but Bono said you know it doesn't matter what people think, it's either a good song and people will like it or it's not. So we ended up in Windmill Lane at a weekend in the office upstairs where the drum sound was much better, the police were called because of the noise and it was manic, Bono kept telling us to get more and more into it and it got crazy. He brought up a load of U2 fans who'd travelled all the way from Germany into the room which was mad and they loved it, so we thought, well, if the Germans like it.....! 

It was the 6th of January, 1985, and we got into the car with him after and listened to a few mixes and then he said 'Look I've got to go to the States, I don't want anyone to listen to these tapes, we've got 6 mixes, I'm going to listen to them myself, and I'll phone you from over there and we'll choose a mix.' So two weeks later he phoned me at home and said 'What number do you like?' I said I liked 5 and 6 and he said 'Yeah I like number 5 the best', so I said I'd ring Eoin and the others and call him back, and we agreed we wouldn't let anyone hear the tapes. 

He had to head off again for a month, but in the meantime, someone in Windmill had leaked a copy off the tape and gave it to a London record company, who went absolutely apeshit over it, and started calling me every hour on the hour after, saying (cockney accent) 'Listen mate, come on over, we've got a limo ready for ya', I remember telling Eoin and the rest of the band that this guy wants to put a limo outside the studio, drive us home to get our passports and fly us over to London! But we knew it was not something we wanted to do. From that time on things started really hotting up, more phone calls, making copies of the cassette and handing it around, and then we had our first gig. I think it was in the Iveagh Rooms, and the place was just packed with about 30 A&R label men from the UK, the place was like a feeding frenzy, they wanted to sign us immediately, we got a manger and ultimately agreed that MCA records would be the one, and then it all really took off. 

The 1980's is a neglected era as far as my generation and those a bit younger are concerned, and people would know very little about the bands in Ireland from that time, apart from Thin Lizzy, U2, 
Boomtown Rats etc. I always think there must have been so much more going on just underneath the surface. I only heard about The Blades, for example, in the last few years. What are your thoughts on exposure for bands back then versus nowadays?

They (The Blades) were huge back then, neck and neck with U2 at one stage, it was a different kind of music, for me the guitar playing wasn't overly interesting, but what I didn't get at the time was what a great song-writer he was. My whole thing is sound, whereas Eoin might be more into lyrics, like a French person listening to REM, they may not understand the lyrics but they get the message from the sound. With regard to your question though, back then you only had RTÉ1 and 2 and maybe BBC 1 & 2, if something came on the radio or tv that was it, 'Bam!', 5 million people might see it, there was no fragmentation, huge exposure immediately. We also had an ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic country at that point, anything could be shut down and suppressed and the old guard were still in power. But at the same time, the monoculture created a very definable sound, if you try to limit things in creativity you actually often end up with more creativity. 

What I find today in the studio producing albums for bands is that people have too many choices of music they can listen to with the advent of the internet, they don't know what to do with it, they get paralysed, and when they do finish it they end up with anxiety. It's like if you go into Xtravision and can only rent 1 of 10 films, you're content with your choice, but if there's a thousand films to choose from you pick one and walk out wondering was there a better one you could have chosen, it's overwhelming in a sense. Ultimately you've got to write the music that's in you, not what you think other people will like, the result of that is happiness, whereas if you pander to what you think others want to hear you end up with all the worst parts of it.

You're currently on the cusp of releasing previously unheard and rare materials from the Cactus World News archive on Pledgemusic.com, titled Found, tell us more about the release?

It's been great in helping to reconnect with people, I've always been pissed off we never got our legacy sorted out, we've been busy doing different things over the last 20 years or so, but now it's great for people to get to know the band again and find out what we're all about it. The thing about Found is that it's not just a bunch of B-Sides, it's really quality stuff that we were writing towards the end but just never got to release. We were totally passionate about our music, that first album Urban Beaches is a classic album, it just never got the respect it deserves over here, there was just so much politics at home at the time, people thinking we got a leg up because of our connections with U2, and disregarding the fact that we'd all been in bands for numerous years before Cactus. This was 1986, and a lot of the stuff on that album was way ahead of it's time and that never seemed to be acknowledged for some reason.

Cactus World News, 'Urban Beaches', 1986

Finally Frank, what local bands were you a big fan of at the time CWN were starting out in the 1980's, and are there any Irish bands today that tickle your fancy?

Two that stand out are Into Paradise and Blue In Heaven (both from Churchtown). Blue In Heaven went off to the Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record and signed with Island Records, we were both coming from a rock background, and we were kind of at the same level in Ireland at the time. Who I love right now? I like Future Islands, that's my kind of music, I feel something when I hear their music, it's not all over the top trying to be clever, that's to say, over-thinking and up it's own arse, it makes you move, it's life-affirming, and that's what I want from music.

A huge thanks to Frank for taking the time to share some of his memories with the blog, you can check out a load of cool Cactus World News merchandise and music at the Pledgemusic page http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/cwnfound
and more info on the band's discography and previous releases here http://www.irishrock.org/irodb/bands/cactusworldnews.html

Couch By Couchwest: Online Music Festival

Couch By Couchwest Ireland, 'Heyday'

Info: Couch By Couchwest began in 2011 with the novel idea of bringing the music festival online, taking it's name from the well-known Texan festival South By Southwest, it runs in tandem with SXSW each year from the 15th-21st of March. The concept revolves around musicians / artists submitting videos to the festival website of performances from their living-rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, wherever. The CXCW crew then select the best performances and put them online for music fans to enjoy, for free. 

Running the Irish side of things the past three years has been our own talented song-writer Tony Fitz who featured on the blog's Best Irish Tracks of 2014.In addition to Tony, Irish acts performing on CXCW this year included Participant, Sive, We The Oceanographers, Gráinne Hunt and a surprise visit and performance or two with Glen Hansard. As well as the performance of Mic Christopher's 'Heyday' above, you can watch all of the other performances on the CXCW site here http://couchbycouchwest.com/?tag=2015+irish-showcase.

Monday 23 March 2015

New Track: Waterstrider - 'Nowhere Now'

Waterstrider, 'Nowhere Now'

Info: Waterstrider are a five-piece act from Oakland, California comprised of Nate Salman on vocals and guitar, Brijean Murphy on congas / percussion, Scott and Drew Brown on synths and bass / guitar respectively and Walker Johnson on drums. They release their third album, Nowhere Now (see above title track), on the 6th of April. 'Nowhere Now' is easily one of the most addictive indie rock tracks I've heard in quite some time, it's like a mad concoction of MGMT and Modest Mouse before Brian May rushes in in his leathers and gives it some welly on the guitar. I've listened to a few tracks on their Bandcamp page and the below video for the song 'Calliope', which is also on the forthcoming album and it's all good. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but according to their Facebook page they are unsigned which I find bizarre, this is proper alternative indie rock with a thin slice of pop fusion.

Waterstrider, 'Calliope'

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E.P. Review: Creature In The Woods

Creature In The Woods, E.P.

Info: Creature In The Woods hails from Brooklyn, New York on the Sweet Tiger Records label and has just released the above future bass / R n' B four-track self-titled E.P. and it's bloody gorgeous. Opener 'Beneath The Sun' feat. Elisa Coia is a great dance and rave tune that has all the hallmarks of an early 90's classic like Liquid's 'Sweet Harmony' with more contemporary vocals. 'Centuries' is a smooth rap number featuring rhymer LV that reminds me of something you might hear on Childish Gambino's last album, and then the Mount Kimbie and SBTRKT references make sense on the next two tracks. 

'In My Spaceship' again has vocals courtesy of Coia and it's clear this was a good choice, the song itself is intense and drives at you with it's mesmeric rhythm and rising beats, definitely one for the party people. Without comparing the two too closely, anyone who is a fan of Mount Kimbie will instantly be at home with the final track 'Slow', it's one of those songs you visualise yourself moving around in slow motion around a dimly lit room full of people, the happy feeling before a moment of euphoria, slick. Kudos to the man drawing everything together and behind the music, Creature In The Woods is a very enjoyable and groove-tastic E.P., tune x 4!

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Sunday 22 March 2015

Troublemaker: Pantystep - Moments

Info: The Pantystep mixtapes are a series of sets by one half of L.A. hip-hop / rap duo King Fantastic, and long-time beat dropper, Troublemaker. Moments is the fourth release in 4 years and features samples from artists as varied as Willie Nelson at the intro, to SBTRKT, FKA Twigs, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna. An unexpected benefit of the mixtapes is that they also provide a snapshot of the music that's out at the time, and are not restricted to one genre, giving plenty of range for differing tastes. On this particular collection there is a mellow and chilled out feel at its core, with spikes bursting through as required, but definitely a nice ambient vibe for the most part.

Pantystep: Moments is dedicated to couple, Frank and Jan, who have been the team behind all of his artwork down through the years.

To check out Troublemaker's previous Pantystep mixes and purchase downloadable mp3 versions, head along to his Bandcamp page here https://troublemaker.bandcamp.com/track/pantystep-moments

Saturday 21 March 2015

Debut E.P.: Video Blue - 'More Pop Troubles'

Video Blue, 'FILMIC'

Info: Video Blue is the new project from Bold Things guitarist and singer Jim O'Donoghue Martin, with the Dundalk man moving into the electronic sphere on his debut solo E.P., More Pop Troubles. Recorded on a low budget in his bedroom in Hackney, London as well as additional vocals in his home town, Jim used multiple instruments in an effort to find a middle ground between the guitar-based music he's accustomed to making and ambient electronica. 

Opening track 'Talisman' is a moody beat-driven number with sombre vocals that hints at Radiohead's Kid A / Amnesiac era, and has a really nice piano-led breakdown around the two minute mark before setting off again, perhaps the most stark example of the new sound on display. Next comes 'Mammies & Daddies' which blends O'Donoghue Martin's twin styles nicely together, there's an Elliott Smith sound to the opening acoustic guitar intro which quickly morphs into digital but also flits between electric and acoustic. 

After a brief instrumental the E.P. arrives at by far my favourite track, 'FILMIC' (above) is simply delightful, a really charming indie song that leaves you feeling all kinds of happy inside, it's rhythm and jangly guitars make it feel like a low-fi modern take on a La's song. The video is great too, in Jim's own words; 'the inspiration lies somewhere between Fr.Damo from Father Ted and John Kenny's 'Bridies Christening' sketch from the D'unbelievables live show.' Finally 'Real Vernal' closes More Pop Troubles and shows yet another different style at play, with an almost grungy alt-rock sound similar to what you might expect from an artist like Beck.  

Despite the recording being entirely home made, you almost wouldn't notice it, which is a testament to being able to make something sound good without throwing loads of money and gimmicks at it. The five tracks are varied yet undeniably cut from the same hue, with Video Blue's distinctive echoing electric guitar effect and vocal pitch found throughout (apart from on the aforementioned instrumental track 'Troy Bit'). There's no doubting the creativity behind More Pop Troubles and it provides a really interesting insight into the musical thought process of it's creator, who knows where it may lead!

Video Blue, 'Talisman'

If Video Blue's music made you happy, you can make Jim happy by heading over to his SoundCloud and listening to more tunes or even give the Video Blue Bookface Page an auld Like.

Interview: Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting The Race For Space Interview

Public Service Broadcasting, 'Go!'

Info: Along with Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, London duo Public Service Broadcasting's The Race For Space has easily been one of the best albums of 2015 for me so far. Aside from the two excellent singles, 'Gagarin' and 'Go!', the album, like it's 2013 predecessor, Inform - Educate - Entertain, is brimming with atmospheric and energising tracks such as 'Sputnik', the menacing 'Fire In The Cockpit'. In some ways it feels like a chronological segmented voyage, telling the individual stories of space exploration from it's beginnings, before pausing for thought on the final track 'Tomorrow', which could easily have had a question mark at the end of it's title. 

I've often found it strange that it's now been almost 43 years since astronaut Eugene Cernan became the last man on the Moon when he climbed the ladder of Apollo 17 back in 1972. Climbing aboard the shuttle he paused and said; 'As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.' As well as the music itself, I think that thematically The Race For Space is perhaps unwittingly a reminder of past endeavours whilst sharing the hopefulness of Cernan's words. I was fortunate enough to be able to pick the brain of banjo maestro / multi-instrumentalist, J. Willgoose, Esq., and find out more about making of the new album ahead of the pair's two Irish dates in Mandela Hall in Belfast and The Button Factory in Dublin on the 3rd and 5th of May respectively (more info below).

Hello chaps, how are you doing? Congratulations on another fantastic album with The Race For Space and the amazing video for your single ‘Gagarin’.

Hello! We’re fine thanks. A bit tired (currently in New Zealand and still don’t know what day it is, really) but all is well.

Obviously a central trait to your songs is excerpts from old archival footage, particularly information broadcasts and propaganda pieces, how do you access such material?

We use a variety of sources – for the new record it was a combination of the NASA Audio Collection and the BFI’s (British Film Institute) collection of Russian space material, and we’ve previously used the Prelinger Archives, more BFI material and worked with Studiocanal too.

The themes you cover explore topics such as war on your first album, Inform - Educate - Entertain, and now space exploration on The Race for Space, do either of you have a background or particular interest in history?

That’s the funny thing – no, not really. I gave up history when I was 14 because it seemed like too much hard work, so I just did languages instead. And even PSB didn’t start out because of a love of history – it started because of a love of the sound of these voices, of the character and evocativeness that they lent to our music. As we’ve gone on, the historical side of things has become much more closely woven into what we do and why we do it, but it really started off as just a happy accident.

Your first single from the new album, ‘Gagarin’ has a deliciously funky sound that could have been the title music to a 1970’s cop tv show, is old funk music a favoured genre of yours?

Yeah, I’ve got quite a few funk records in the collection and Wriggles is also prone to a bit of it. He can really play, too, so I wanted to write something that’d stretch him and make him use his full set of skills on the drum kit – he hasn’t thanked me for it yet, but maybe one day! I just think life is too 
short to restrict yourself to listening to only one style of music, or, worse, making only one style of music, so I listen to all kinds of stuff in the hope that some of it filters through into our own stuff.

Public Service Broadcasting, 'Gagarin'

When I was listening to tracks like ‘Fire In The Cockpit’ and opening song, ‘The Race For Space’ I started imagining them as the backdrop to scenes from films like Duncan Jones’ Moon and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, would you enjoy the opportunity to record an OST for a sci-fi film? And while we’re on the topic, have you any favourite space-based films?

Moon is a great film, I loved it and especially its soundtrack. Yes, I’d love to do some soundtrack work, but it’s an extremely competitive area (and quite a closed shop too, it seems) so I’m not expecting a call any time soon. In a way this album is our own soundtrack to the space age. My favourite science fiction films would be 2001, Blade Runner (not strictly space-based but with an amazing soundtrack too) and I have to admit to being a bit of a Star Wars nut.

A lot of people’s jaws would drop at the idea of mixing the bluegrass of the banjo with electronic sounds but it works a treat, tell us a bit about how it became integrated into your music?

I like both styles of music and I bought a banjo a while back, so it seemed fairly natural to me even if it was a bit of an odd choice! The banjo is a great instrument though and really versatile. Played in the melodic style it can really have a lovely, melancholic air to it.

Public Service Broadcasting The Race For Space

Given the audio-visual nature of your live shows, I would imagine a concert with a full orchestra could prove to be a pretty exciting combination of the two, is it something you’ve ever thought of doing?

I don’t know – I’m always a bit wary of throwing too much into the equation because it seems that that’s something bands do when they’re running a bit short of inspiration. But doing bigger live shows with more musicians would be fun – I just think you’ve got to be careful not to get ahead of yourself, that’s all!

You played in The Button Factory in 2013 following the release of the first album and return there in May this year, a good choice of venue for the type of show you put on. One stand out memory I have of the venue is seeing Death In Vegas there after The Contino Sessions was released, visuals, done correctly, can really have a huge impact, what are the logistics involved in setting up for such a performance?

It depends on the size of the stage and the amount of production equipment we’re bringing but it can be a challenge. We’re still a fairly small, self-financing and self-releasing outfit so we always seem to be doing things on the cheap and almost killing ourselves through over-work in the process… it’s worth the effort though.

Finally, I really loved the video for ‘Gagarin’ and watched the ‘making of’ clip you recently posted online, it looked like immense fun, have the two of you broken out into the dance routine in public yet?

Ha, thanks. We need a bit more practice first though – it’s been a while since the 'Gagarin' video shoot!

*Public Service Broadcasting are currently in the United States as part of their world tour and return to Europe in April for the U.K. / Ireland leg, with shows in Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and London already selling out. With their two shows in Belfast and Dublin only weeks away now is the time to get tickets if you're thinking of heading along and want to experience a spell-binding live performance like the one below, you can get ticket from Ticketmaster.ie here.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Acid-Nab - Electronic Harmonics

Acid-Nab, 'Leave It Alone'

Info: Acid-Nab (Stephen McNally) is an electronic artist from Belfast who relocated to Larne in 2012 where he started working on new material at Red 7 Entertainment studios, culminating in the release of his debut album, Electronic Harmonics, last year. The album's seven tracks provide a nice mix of styles, from the drum and bass sounds on 'Superglue' to more down-tempo explorations on the lovely 'Leave It Alone' (above), which has a St.Germain acid-jazz sound to it. 

McNally cites Air as one of his main  influences, and that clearly comes through in the first half of the appropriately named 'Life's a Beach', definite shades of 'Remember' from Moon Safari, before setting of on a nice guitar-laden journey courtesy of musician Gareth Long. On 'Legs To Stand' the Belfastman ably tries his hand at a bit of reggae vocals, a little Finley Quaye in parts, and a really enjoyable jamming session with multiple guitars to be heard. There's a pretty sizeable collection of tracks to be found on Acid-Nab's SoundCloud page if you like what you've heard already, I've found a few favourites that precede Electronic Harmonics such as 'your it' and 'The Polar Shift'.

Acid-Nab, 'Life's a Beach'

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Interview: Thom Huhtala of Bad River

Photo: Laura-Lynn Petrick

Info: Thom Huhtala is a Toronto drone-rock musician with a pretty voracious musical output spanning the last few years including solo work and bands such as recently formed Sweaty Fish and Bad River. Last month Bad River released their latest album, Mouth (above), which sees Huthala and co. 'explore the limits of alternative rock, creating a heady, intense experience for listeners in search of spaced out jams to float about within. The album is bold, creative and exhilarating capturing a very unique take on modern alternative rock meets dark psychedelia.'

Mouth is certainly a trippy album, floating nicely between the distortion of opening track 'SAVED' and the care-free vibes to be found on the excellent 'Imagine Nation', the guitars reminding me a bit of some of the instrumental funkiness found on The Beastie Boys' 'Ricky's Theme' from Ill Communication. 'Water Movements' meandering and gentle bluesy sounds are also another really laid-back experience that ooze cool. The strut comes back on fifth track 'The Street', echoed vocals running alongside grungy guitars and rhythmic cymbals, all portraying a subtly rebellious attitude. Towards the end of Mouth comes the track, 'Wake' which personifies the whole album in a sense, and by the end of which your ears and brain have melted within it's disorientating pull. Like Bad River's previous albums, Mouth takes you on a surreal and enjoyable journey into the underworld, which is surprisingly sunny, despite how that may sound.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable electronic mail exchange with the man behind this sorcery, Mr. Huhtala himself, first though, here's a great video for 'Plasticine' from Bad River's 2014 album, Button Battery Syndrome;

Bad River, 'Plasticine'

You seem to have worked on a variety of musical projects in the past, such as your solo work and recently formed band Sweaty Fish, do you enjoy dipping your toes into different waters? 

I think that playing with different people and drawing from different influences is a great tool in shaping the art or music you call your own. I have realized that it’s, firstly, a lot more fun to share and nurture an idea with people you respect the opinions of. Secondly, I have never thought of myself as having any sort of supreme taste or clout – having people around to keep you in check 
is very important. This is the reason I moved away from playing under my own name, and starting new bands allows me to wear different hats. I’m gaining more knowledge as to what it is I want to make. Sweaty Fish, our new band doesn’t have any recordings yet, but the guys I’ve been playing with are challenging me in new ways and it’s exciting again.

Your music could be described as drone / prog-rock and when descriptions like that are used they usually conjure up bands like Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine, aside from that I could strangely hear similarities to The Dandy Warhols' first album, particularly on tracks such as 'Slowly Grow' and 'The Street', is that a disgracefully insulting comparison? 

Haha I wouldn’t say it was disgracefully insulting, no. That being said, I was never too big on The Dandy’s growing up. I can understand the comparisons though, for me it revolves around an almost monotonous repetition, which I admittedly am a sucker for.

You've recently signed up to Irish independent label Little L Records who primarily operate online, that whole side of things has completely reshaped how music is presented to the public and can be quite empowering for artists, but do you see any downside to this advancement? 

Sure, I mean a few years ago I had this very shocking realization that the life I had always kind of dreamed about or whatever was essentially a thing of the past. Labels, and tours operate in different ways and have different methods of staying alive. You have to adapt in order to survive and music itself is really at a crossroad. For me, the traditional route wasn’t really an option, but, having said that, I definitely was able to jockey myself enough to start getting some gigs, etc. – something that may not have happened without the internet / social media. LLR is such a great thing, and has introduced me to tons of music from all over the globe. There is such a great community going on there and I personally love the fact that it mainly exists online. It is very of our times. The web itself is totally the wild west, too. Anything is possible and almost encouraged. Overall, I see it as a positive because I am an optimistic person (today) and frankly there’s no looking back so we should all just get on with it. 

In previous interviews you've discussed how you sometimes like to make music to listen to with drugs, have you ever been blown away by an album under the influence, only to hear it again in the cold light of day and realise it was actually pretty shit? 

HA! Well ya there are often comparisons to my music making people feel strung out or whatever which is kind of cool I guess? If drugs are cool? Which they certainly are not. I was once in Mexico having a blast and getting blasted while listening to Jimmy Buffett songs with my pal, Ian. We ended up getting really hammered etc, as one does listening to songs with such titles as 'Boat Drinks' and 'Cheeseburger in Paradise.' The day and the drinking progressed and somehow we had convinced Ian to sing 'Copa Cobana' by Barry Manilow with 
this small mariachi band playing near the disco. It was agreed how awesome of a song it truly was and that the mariachi / brass band could "really kill it". Ian gets up there and tore it apart, everyone was dancing and really enjoying themselves. He began stomping around the stage waving his shirt in the air and we all thought it was hilarious. I can honestly say that I’ve never liked that song though and it’s a memory I have burned into my brain forever now. I don’t know if that answers your question even remotely. Maybe also any dance music I have probably stumbled around to at The Dome in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Despite the fact we have the music of the world at our fingertips as a result of the aforementioned advancements, could you direct Irish music fans toward any good acts currently making music in Toronto? 

Oh YAH Bud! No Worries Eh! Toronto is great right now. I have in recent years almost exclusively listened to Canadian music, as it is seemingly endless. Blogs like Weird Canada not only helped me at times to expose my own music to certain people but I find myself continuously visiting to hear the new shit. Tons of really awesome DIY projects are featured there. Give a man a fish…..

As for bands from Toronto who fucking rock: New Fries, Weaves, The Soupcans, Several Futures, Shrines. I’ve also always been a sucker for Fucked Up, BSS, Do Make Say Think and the rest of the heavies. 

Looking at some of your past music videos such as Bad River's 'Plasticine' and 'I'm Gone, Goodbye' they start out like unremarkable home videos before turning into a trip down the rabbit hole, can we expect a similarly pyschedelic visual treat for any of the tracks on the new album Mouth

I can say that something is in the works, yeah. However that’s kind of all I can say. The visual side to my work is something that is important to me, so I’m always hoping to step the game up a notch. 

Mouth is your third album with the Bad River setup, and follows 2014's Button Battery Syndromewhich felt a little more bluesier and mellow than the grunge and distortion on Mouth, do you see each album as a single progression that grows from the last or do you write each one in isolation? 

Each project is different for sure but there is probably still some lineage if for no other reason than the fact that it’s me who is making it, and I am growing older and my tastes are changing. I would also hate to be pigeon holed in a certain genre or whatever. Mouth was a project where I was hoping to make things a little heavier and maybe start introducing some new themes. The tracks like "Boer’s Falls" for example are kind of like things I have done on previous albums, but want to keep evolving and recycling. 

Given your high output over the last few years, can we assume that you're not taking a short break and have already started working on new material? 

Sweaty Fish is my new touring project so we’re really just hoping to book a bunch of shows and fuck some shit up for a while. As for my own work I haven’t had time really to start thinking about it again, but it’s all good, frankly. I’m writing some songs for this new group and Bad River, sadly, will be sitting on the back burner for the immediate future while we figure some stuff out, but, if you want to see me play live, it is still very possible. I also have begun producing some smaller musical endeavours at my home studio. 

Maybe you can hear me on some of those. Like in the background cooking eggs in my underwear.

Look / Like & Listen: 

Website: http://www.badrivermusic.com/

Bookface: https://www.facebook.com/thomhuhtalabadriver

Bandcamp: http://thomhuhtala.bandcamp.com/