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Interview: Tommy Stinson

As a founding member of legendary alt-rock pioneers the Replacements, Tommy Stinson cemented his place in music history and had a hand in influencing artists as diverse as Green Day, Wilco, the Hold Steady and Lorde.

tommy stinson the replacements

Described as both the “best band of the ’80s” (Musician magazine) and “the greatest band that never was” (Rolling Stone), the Replacements were critical darlings during their lifetime, yet achieved little commercial and mainstream acclaim.

After their 1991 implosion, Minneapolis native Stinson added an 18-year stint as bassist of Guns N’ Roses to his rock and roll résumé, becoming a bonafide rock stalwart in the process, while appreciation of the Replacements’ discography grew steadily.

Following a much-lauded and somewhat tumultuous Replacements reunion in 2013-15, a new line-up of Bash & Pop, a band vehicle for Stinson’s solo work, was formed last year. The group’s first album in 24 years, Anything Could Happen, was released in January, and marked a return to the spontaneous recording methods that were a feature of early Replacements records.

Now 51, the amiable and down-to-earth Stinson is enjoying making music as much as ever.

What’s life been like since the new album came out?

We’ve been touring a lot. We’ve just done a five-week tour with the Psychedelic Furs here in the States and we had a rip of a time. However you would categorise the Psychedelic Furs, their audience was really sweet to us – a rock and roll band – and we had a really good run. I look forward to hopefully doing that again some day.

Is Bash & Pop back for good?

We’re going to keep fuelling it and moving forward. The reason it became Bash & Pop was that we made a band record. On the first Bash & Pop record, I played more instruments than I wanted to play and it ended up being me, the drummer and sometimes the guitar player making that record. This was more of a group effort. We would hash out the songs and do them in five takes, tops. We kind of took the template from how we used to do things in the ’80s.

When we started the Replacements, we would record in a particular way. Paul would show us the basis of a song, either in our basement or in the studio. He would say “Hey, Bob [Stinson, lead guitar], play the melody like this,” and we would record it, getting the best recording we could in as few takes as possible. Back then, tape was expensive for us, so we had to do it quickly. I took that template and applied it to my new record and I think people understand why and I think they can feel that in the record.

Do you prefer being in charge of making your own record, as opposed to being at the whim of a Westerberg or an Axl?

I like all different kinds of things. I like producing and I like playing a role in a band – all of those things I’ve done over the years. With Bash & Pop, the songs we write together end up guiding us instead of us trying to guide the song into being something it’s not. That’s why I like playing with these guys – we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.

With the advent of all these computerised recording devices, people can get so bogged down. And I’m not saying I’ve never done that, because I did two solo records on digital devices that I maybe spent too much time thinking about. You can overthink a whole lot of things with them. But when you’ve got a whole band in the room, and they’re there for a weekend only, they’re sleeping in your house with you, and you’re getting all stinky together, you can maybe capture something in one great moment.

Were you generally happy with how the Replacements reunion went, and would you have liked it to be longer?

To be honest with you, I think we could’ve stretched it out a little bit longer. I don’t know if Paul wasn’t having fun with it, you know about that whole T-shirt thing? [Westerberg wore T-shirts with a single letter spray-painted on them over a number of shows, which, in order, spelt “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past”.] Dude, if you’re so not into it, then why the fuck did we do it? I’ll be super frank with you about that.

When we did the Mats reunion, I thought it would make people happy, it would be super fun, and we’d maybe make some money. We did it, and I thought it was fun, but if it wasn’t fun in [Westerberg’s] head, then why the fuck did we do it? I don’t know if that was directed at me, or who it was directed at, but he kind of made a statement with his shirts that meant the tour finished up with a negative purpose and we should have stopped when we were ahead.

I say this candidly because I think that, at this point in our lives, whatever message you are trying to get across, this is not the best way to do it. The best way to do it would be to play until you don’t want to play, then move on and do something else. That’s what I do – call me kooky for calling it what it is. We only live here once, and when you get in your 50s, why would you do that you feel that you have to do, instead of what you want? Neither one of us had to do any of it, and it was fun for a while, but the T-shirt thing bummed me the fuck out.

Will you play together again?

Not if he pulls out another T-shirt message – fuck that [laughs]. I’m kidding a bit. I never say never, but it would have to happen only if the stars align in the perfect way, where we thought we could have fun with it and not get caught up in the bullshit.

Are you happy with the amount of respect the Replacements got in the band’s lifetime?

I never look back like that. We’re from Minneapolis – the music community in Minneapolis when we were kids in the ’80s rivalled, in my opinion, any music community in that era, or in any other era I’ve even seen. We had Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs, there was us, and lots of art-y bands. We all hung out together, played shows together, travelled together, and it was a real community.

Back in the day, Minneapolis was like the World Series for bands. Whatever bands we played with, we wondered who was going to win the game tonight – it was very competitive, but in a healthy way. I haven’t seen it yet. I lived in L.A. for over 20 years and only saw it in some ways, but completely different. It was a very special scene and I would love to converse with anyone who thinks they lived in a similar kind of music community.

What’s your favourite Replacements album?

I can’t listen to any of them, but if I were going to be straight-up honest with you, the one I can listen to the most is All Shook Down. It didn’t sell as much as Don’t Tell a Soul, but I think that’s when the Replacements were appreciated in a greater realm because of the songwriting. Paul wrote some great songs on that record.

If you listen to that record, and it was hard enough for me to listen to it to even remember the parts I played, that’s a great record. He did what Paul is best at – he basically produced that. Some of is is perhaps a little over-thought, but that whole record stands up completely, from top to bottom. It’s dark as fuck, though. You don’t know want to throw on your headphones on a sunny day and go for a walk in the park with that one on, because you’ll want to fucking slit your throat. But whatever.

Will you play with Guns ‘N’ Roses again?

I never say never about that either. I’d say it’s about as likely as doing the Replacements again. I think they don’t need me – they’ve got Duff and Slash and they’re doing their thing. They’re all my friends and I’m glad they’re all out there, working their butts off and having a good time. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about them. Unless Duff quits, and he was the last man standing the last time, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to need my fucking bass-playing skills any time soon [laughs]. Just sayin’.

You’ve been in bands since you were 12, 13. How do you stay grounded and stop yourself going crazy?

I’m still working that out [laughs]. It isn’t easy. A lot of people think that because you’re on stage, everything is great, but a lot of hard work goes into that at every level, whether you’re playing a club, theatre or stadium. It is a hard thing, and I’m not going to boo-hoo about my woes or anything like that, but it’s hard to balance that life and have some semblance of normality for yourself.

Any chance of a trip Down Under?

I’ve been talking to [You Am I guitarist] Davey Lane about it a lot, and trying to get You Am I to be my backing band [laughs]. We’ve been talking for years about it. Maybe I can go over go myself, although I hate doing the solo acoustic thing by myself – I like to have someone I can spitball with, and make shit up or whatever. I’ve always had a good time in Australia, so never say never. I can do a whole bunch of things that’ll either be fun or completely fucking disastrous [laughs].

Anything Could Happen by Bash & Pop is out now.

Check out all things Tommy Stinson here.

For The Brag

Interview: Mark ‘E’ Everett of Eels

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SINCE their formation in 1995, the members of genre-spanning Eels have been an ever-changing musical entity that has produced eleven albums of songs filled with themes of loss, love and introspection. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is the band’s latest release, and as their enigmatic leader – more often known simply as E – puts it, it’s their most revealing to date. I spoke to E to discover what inspired this period of intense reflection.

Congratulations on the new album. How does it feel knowing it’s in the public’s hands?

Well, I guess it’s a relief. Putting out any kind of album is a hard, vulnerable process, and this one is kind of doubly so as it’s so personal. I don’t recommend doing it.

Yet you’ve been doing it quite a bit in the last few years.

Well, not necessarily; we don’t always work in the typical way. We didn’t make five records in the last five years like it appears or how they’ve come out. There was a four-year gap between the Blinking Lights album and the Hombre Lobo album, and during that period we made the next three records, which all came out in a year. So it’s more like we’ve made five albums in nine years.

How long did you have the songs before recording?

About half of them were done before the last album we put out, Wonderful, Glorious. The other half were done after, so it’s all pretty recent, or about half is pretty recent.

Who did you work with on the album?

It’s the exact same group of guys that made Wonderful, Glorious, but you’d never guess it because it’s so different sounding. It’s just the band, you know? Me and the four guys who’ve been touring the world for several years now. Plus, an orchestra and some outside musicians, but even the orchestral arrangements were done by the guys in the band.

How do you stop your song-writing veering across the line between personal and self-indulgent?

I’m aware of the line. I think someone could take a cursory look or listen to it and go ‘this guy is so self-indulgent’ or whatever, but it’s the opposite to me. Why it’s such a hard record to put out is because I’m kind of throwing my dignity under the bus to make a point and so people can hopefully learn from my mistakes. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to do, but it’s not a comfortable thing to do. I believe it’s a lot more selfless than selfish.

What mistakes would you like people to learn from?

I think it’s plainly spelt out in the record on songs like ‘Agatha Chang’. I was in a situation that was a good situation for me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t appreciate it and I blew it.

So, it’s purely about relationships.

In this case it’s about a relationship, yeah.

Do you take control of every aspect of the creative process, or are you happy to let other band members step in?

This might appear to be a solo type of record, because of the title and the photo on the front, but it’s very much a band record. About half the songs were co-written with guys in the band, they did the orchestral arrangements and they play on everything, so there’s a lot of collaborating going on.

So, Eels is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

No, it’s a dictatorship for sure! The buck has to stop somewhere and the buck stops here, but I’m smart enough to be open to everyone’s ideas and suggestions.

Are you happy for someone in the band to tell you if an idea you have isn’t any good?

Yeah, because that’s what I like about collaborating. You can get a lot of stuff out of someone else that you can’t get out of yourself, and that’s probably the most fun part; coming up with something that you never would have come up with by yourself.

Why was 2007 the right time to release your autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know?

I don’t know if it was the right time. It’s an odd time to write your life story when you’re 40. I used to experiment; no one asked me to do it. I wanted to see what it all added up to, and when I finished it I thought there might be something to offer the world here, and decided to put it out. It was such a nice feeling to do something as an experiment and have it be praised. I probably have more people come up to me in the street and say something about the book than the music at this point, you know?

Is it something you would do again?

Writing a book is very hard and lonely work and isn’t nearly as fun as making music. But if anyone who has read the book is interested in a sequel, the closest thing to it would this new album; the major update on what has happened since then.

The album has received almost universally good reviews so far. Do you read or care about reviews?

Well, it’s always nice if people get something out of it and appreciate your hard work, but I think the best thing to do is to brush it all off; it’s not something that really matters, I don’t think.

What are your touring plans?

Right now we’re about to go across America, then across Europe. We always intend to get [to Australia], but the last couple of times we haven’t because of scheduling conflicts. We’re trying to get there this year, and hopefully we will.

Do you see the release of a new album as solely a vehicle for touring?

I think of them as two different things. When you make a new album, the record company often wants you to go on tour. Touring has become the funnest part of my life; I look forward to it, and whether there was a record or not, I’d want to be doing it.

What will you be doing for the rest of the year after the tour?

That’s it; it’s a blank slate after the tour ends, but I don’t know when that’s going to end yet. I’m just pouring everything I’ve got into that, and there’s nothing in the works. I don’t know what will happen; maybe it’s time for a long nap.

THE CAUTIONARY TALES OF MARK OLIVER EVERETT BY EELS IS OUT NOW.

Interview: James Williamson of Iggy and the Stooges

james williamson

IN 1973 Iggy and the Stooges – Iggy Pop, James Williamson, and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton – released Raw Power; a seminal rock album that stunned audiences of the day and introduced the music world to the first spewings of punk. After the band fell apart in 1974, guitarist Williamson left music behind and had a successful career in the electronics and software industries, before rejoining the band in 2009. In 2010 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and released their latest record Ready to Die last year. Williamson’s new project involves re-workings of songs from the Raw Power era; a collection which will be released as an album entitled Re-Licked.

Why did you decide to re-visit these songs?

You know, it was a series of things. I’ve always kind of wanted to hear those songs recorded properly. Back in the day we thought when we wrote them that they would be on a studio album, and we toured with them. Then we changed management, and unfortunately we didn’t get the option for another record from Columbia Records after Raw Power, so all that existed of those songs was the bootlegs for all these years. I started out wanting to find a female vocalist, as I thought ‘Open Up And Bleed’ would really be good for someone who sang kind of like Janis Joplin, and so I looked and looked and a friend of mine in Austin, Texas sent me a link to Carolyn Wonderland singing, and I just said ‘that’s my girl’. I got in touch with her, and she was totally cool; didn’t know me from anybody, but was totally cool to record it. That’s the first single [and is] coming out on Record Store Day on the 19th of April. I was pretty inspired to go on and continue doing them, and I’m so glad I did as all these singers have stepped up and done a fantastic job. Really, I think you’re going to be pretty amazed at some of these performances.

What other singers do you have on there and how did you come to work with them?

The next single is with a girl called Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays; she just completely rocks on ‘I Gotta Right’ and ‘Heavy Liquid’. That’ll come out around June-ish. I’ve got Ariel Pink on ‘She Creatures From The Hollywood Hills’, Jello Biafra on ‘Head On’, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream is going to do ‘Scene Of The Crime’, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart and on and on. There’s thirteen of them altogether; it’s a real showcase for singers, if you will, and a tribute to our song-writing.

Did you originally want Iggy to sing on the album?

Well, you know, initially I did. Initially he and I discussed it as a possible album instead of the last one that we did. We decided against it because of the obvious comparisons between the young Stooges and the old Stooges, and so it just didn’t seem like a good idea to get bogged down in all these comparisons. I feel like we made a good album with Ready To Die, but I still had it on my bucket list to do these songs properly, and so the obvious way for me to avoid the comparisons was to have a fresh look at them, re-arrange the songs and bring in other singers. Then it becomes a tribute to the song-writing, rather than an attempt to compete with your younger self.

What makes Raw Power so damn good?

I think it’s the song-writing; pure and simple. Those songs – and God knows, they’ve been mishandled in every way possible by many different people – still sound good, even if the mix is crap or whatever. It just doesn’t matter. The song-writing is the most essential ingredient, but also the playing was ground-breaking. That was my first album, so I didn’t know anything about the studio and had to defer to Iggy. Iggy’s not the most technical person in the world, and he’s a very creative guy and wants to push the envelope, but sometimes in the studio that’s not a good idea. With that record we made the engineer do a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have done, and there were some technical problems; the bass was like mush and the drum track was almost non-existent. Given what Bowie had to work with, he did a pretty good job, albeit a little bit arty. Anyway, he made me sound great, and I’ve got to be thankful for that [laughs]. For an album which is essentially guitar and vocals, it’s pretty good. Jack White has made an entire career out of it.

How did you feel when people said Iggy and the Stooges couldn’t play properly or weren’t real musicians?

Well, I think we proved them wrong. History will probably show that we were good musicians, and we were also very creative and willing to take chances, and not just try to to imitate what was popular at the time. God knows, when we made Raw Power, they were still tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree, you know? That was the popular music at the time. We pushed the envelope, and although it didn’t do us any good career-wise until much much later, we were successful; it just took a really long time.

There seems to be so much of the Vietnam War in Raw Power. Was that a major influence on the recording?

Yes. No doubt about it. Certainly the riffs from ‘Search and Destroy’. The genesis of that was me in the rehearsal room screwing around with the guys, playing ‘machine gun’ on the guitar. They kind of liked that, and that’s how that song started. There was a little bit of influence on our playing, but there was a ton of influence on Iggy’s lyrics. He’s a very topical writer; if you look at any of his stuff, it’s stuff that’s in the newspaper at the time. That’s the way he writes.

Any chance of a trip to Australia any time soon?

I’ve been asked that question a lot and I’d absolutely love to do it. The thing is trying to organise thirteen singers to show up anywhere is daunting, never mind get them all to Australia. It’d be a challenge, but I’m up for it, and if we can find a promoter to step up and do that, I’d love to. I love Australia; I’ve been there a couple of times now. The Stooges aren’t touring this year, but when we do start touring again, Australia is certainly a viable venue for us.

Do you think you’ll ever retire from music, like you have done from your electronics career?

I’m sure I will, but before I do I’d like to work on a different type of music. Because I was out of music for so long I’ve got a lot of music still in me, and that’s part of what doing this new album is about. The stuff has a fresh new look and sound to it, and I feel good about that. How long more The Stooges go on; I don’t know. There’s not many of us left, for one thing. What I do on-stage is just stand there and play, and assuming I don’t get arthritis or something and can’t play – like Keith Richards or someone like that – I can do it for a long time. But Iggy; he’s 66. When we go back out again he’ll be 67, 68. How many guys are going to stage dive at that point? If anybody will, he will, but I’m just saying, you know?

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND CAROLYN WONDERLAND’s NEW LIMITED VINYL SINGLE ‘OPEN UP AND BLEED’/’GIMME SOME SKIN’ WILL BE AVAILABLE AT INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES WORLDWIDE ON RECORD STORE DAY, APRIL 19TH 2014.

Interview: Melanie Safka

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NEW YORK-BORN Melanie Safka – better known simply as Melanie – is true singer-songwriter royalty. Having been thrust into the spotlight as a relatively unknown 22 year-old folk singer by an appearance at the now legendary Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, she has gone on to make a long career out of music and songwriting. An upcoming tour of Australia will allow fans the chance to hear classic songs ‘Brand New Key’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)’.

What can fans expect from your shows on your upcoming tour?

They can expect me to do some of my new ones and some of my old ones. They do not have to fear that I will do a jazz version of ‘Brand New Key’ or something. Some people get older and think it will be very clever to do jazz versions of their songs, but I won’t be doing that. It’ll be a good cross section of hits and things that were maybe not even released. Usually I’m really in touch and I’ll often decide at the very last minute what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to disappoint people so I’ll do songs that people know. Honestly, I’ve sometimes got real die-hard Melanie people who don’t want to hear ‘Brand New Key’ and want to hear the newer or more obscure things. There will be something for them too.

How much new material do you have?

I write all the time and I have a new album, which was quasi-released. I’ll be bringing some CDs with me to have at the shows; it’ll be like Melanie’s garage sale. The new album is called Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me. My son and I write together and he just produced a new single called ‘Make It Work For Me’. I’m thinking that we live in a world where people just download a song they like, so I decided to do it that way. But of course, for those people who want a concept album, we’ve been working on an orchestrated Melanie piece. My son is a real composer and has toured all over the world as a solo concert guitarist, and he’ll be with me as well as an Australian contingent. It should be a lot of fun.

Could your new material be called classic Melanie material, in terms of style?

I don’t know; I’ve never really identified myself. When you really think about it, my hits were all over the place; a pretty eclectic mix. One record was a gospel hit, with 46 gospel singers and the next was a little whimsical thing and the next was ‘Beautiful People’, or however chronologically it goes; I know they’re all in there somewhere. I’m always a little all over the map, so is there such a thing as a ‘classic’ Melanie song? They’re all me, I guess.

You’ll probably forever be associated with Woodstock and the hippy movement. What are your main memories of the festival?

I remember everything; I could take three days to talk about it. When I arrived I was totally not an experienced performer. I didn’t have any hit records, just one recording that was being played on underground radio, and if even one percent of that audience had ever heard it, it would have been amazing. I was terrified, and on top of that I was really an introvert – and still really am, but I’ve learned how to handle it. The terror mounted all day long. I went to the festival with my mother, as I was working on a film score in England where my husband was producing and we had been working together. I almost thought that maybe I shouldn’t do this Woodstock thing, but decided that I suppose I should go. I thought it was going to be like a little picnic in a field with arts and crafts, and families with picnic blankets; I had no clue. Communications then were so different; the hype hadn’t hit England and at the last minute my mother picked me up and we drove to Woodstock. We hit some traffic and I thought there was maybe an accident or something, and when I finally got to a phone booth and got someone on the phone, we realised the traffic had something to do with this festival thing; it wasn’t just weekend traffic or anything like that. Then I began to shake, and when we got to the rendezvous place someone told me to go to a helicopter, and I’d never been in a helicopter and asked them why we can’t just go in a car like everybody else. My mother and I went towards the helicopter and somebody stopped us and said ‘Who’s she?’ I replied ‘It’s my mom,’ and they told us she couldn’t come; it was bands and managers only. So I got into the helicopter alone, having said goodbye to my mother, and I get brought to this field where I didn’t even know what this ‘stuff’ was underneath me. I asked the pilot what it was, and he said ‘It’s people!’ I’d never seen anything like it; it was incredible. I was led to a tent where I didn’t have even as much as a backstage pass, so if I wandered too far from the backstage area, Hell’s Angels types would pick me up and bring me back out to the crowd. I would have to say ‘No, no, I’m an artist, I’m supposed to sing!’ and I would sing a line from ‘Beautiful People’ or something, and they took me back. By night time it began to rain and I thought everyone would surely go home, and the announcer made a statement saying that someone was passing out thousands of candles and some inspirational little note. Then someone came in and said ‘You’re on next’. I really, really thought I was going to die; I can’t even say how terrified I was. All day long I was waiting, and people had been telling me all day that I was on next before postponing it, and this time I was waiting for the postponement, but it didn’t come. I went on and had an out-of-body experience and rejoined myself somewhere during ‘Beautiful People’. The thing was, because it started to rain and the announcer was talking about the candles being passed out, I’m forever linked with the lighting of things at festivals even before the song ‘Candles In The Rain’. It was an amazing camaraderie that everyone wanted to continue, and then I wrote that song and bringing something that lit to a Melanie show became the thing to do.

At what point did you realise you’d been part of such an iconic cultural phenomenon?

Maybe when we started doing reunions I realised it was such a monumental thing. I mean, it was a festival and then I did every festival; I became like a festival queen. Every time there was a big festival, Melanie had to be there. I guess the [idea] of me at Woodstock was that I went onto the stage as an unknown and came off as a celebrity. I think that was part of the mystique; after all, there were lots of other people at Woodstock, but I’m so linked to it because of that.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?

I’ve written a musical based on the life of my husband and I. My husband passed away three years ago; he was my manager and producer for all my albums as well as being the father of our children. So it’s a whole new universe, and from the day he passed away I started thinking of this incredible story. He always wanted me to write my journal and memoirs as an autobiography, and I always said I don’t know what to write or that I didn’t have a lot of pictures as I was always so shy that I would run from the photo op. I just don’t think I’m a person who should have a book. On our last road trip he gave me a leather-bound journal and told me to just write. He said it doesn’t matter where you start; at the middle or about single events that happened in my life, or from singing at the United Nations general assembly or different situations and moments. When he passed, I looked at this empty journal and started to write. My first line was ‘Sometimes you don’t know it’s a story until it has an end’. Then I wrote our story, which is really a strange one. We were married for over forty years, working in a business that is relentless and at the same time we were totally opposite [types of] people. I was very young and he just swooped me up, you know? I looked at it from the perspective of forty-three years later against the backdrop of historic events like the war in Vietnam and it all came together as a musical, with some old songs and some new. We did it once, and I’m still looking to do it; it’s a really amazing show. Maybe we’ll get some theatre people in Australia involved.

MELANIE BRINGS HER ‘PEOPLE IN THE FRONT ROW’ TOUR TO AUSTRALIA FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES:

Adelaide Cabaret Festival, SA – Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide
Saturday, 7 June 2014, Sunday, 8 June 2014 and Monday, 9 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.bass.net.au and 131 246

Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, Qld – Thursday, 12 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.brisbanepowerhouse.org and 07 3358 8600

Star Court Theatre, Lismore, NSW – Saturday, 14 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.starcourttheatre.com.au and 02 6622 5005

The Clarendon, Katoomba, NSW – Wednesday, 18 June, 2014
Tickets available from http://www.clarendonguesthouse.com.au/whats_on.html and 02 4782 1322

Interview: Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park

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FORMED in 2001 in the north-east of England, Maxïmo Park are true mainstays of the alternative and indie-rock scenes. Their fifth and latest album, Too Much Information, has just been released, and was recorded and self-produced by the band in Newcastle and Sunderland with additional production duties from The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and Field Music’s David and Peter Brewis. The album is the follow up to 2012’s critically acclaimed The National Health. I spoke to singer Paul Smith, currently touring Europe with the band.

Hi Paul, how are you? How do you feel now that the new album is released?

Yeah, really good. I’m just on the tour bus; up bright and early. We’re in Amsterdam today after being in Brussels last night. [The album release] feels really good. I think if you believe in a bunch of songs and think other people are going to like them you should put them out, and if not don’t bother. Other people put records out just because it’s part of their job or something like that, but for us it has to be something that’s worth offering to the world. We’re feeling very good about the songs and it’s nice to go out and play them after completing them before Christmas. There’s a kind of honeymoon period where you think you’ve made the best record in the world (laughs), then everyone else gets to hear it and some people probably don’t think that. You put it out into the world and go out and try to spread the word about it.

How have the songs been going down so far?

Really well, it has to be said. Every time you put something out there is an element of nervousness as we wonder if anyone will like it. We like it, that’s a given; but what’s the response going to be? I think people have really enjoyed songs like ‘Brain Cells’ and ‘Leave This Island’ which we’ve offered to the world a little bit earlier than the rest. It’s almost like getting people used to the idea of the evolution of the band and putting out songs that prick up the ears of those who haven’t heard the band before, or perhaps have preconceptions of what the band is. Again, that could potentially put some people off; those who like a certain sound about your band, but we try to transcend any issues people might have with the songs and they’ve just taken them to their hearts and responded really well. The nervousness is over now.

You mentioned the evolution of the band. In what way has this album evolved your sound?

I think we’ve probably become more confident. After the last album and having a break we were never quite sure how it’d be when we got back together, and sure enough it was quite difficult to start writing again. Once we got back in the groove we wanted to keep going and write songs in a certain way, and move on and put more things like literary references into the songs. I think beforehand they had been more subconscious, but this time around there are mentions of Lydia Davis and Audre Lorde and in the album booklet I’ve put in a few recommended readings and things that inspired the songs. That’s one way the lyrics have moved on a bit; there’s more of a storytelling thing there and each verse is kind of episodic. In saying that, we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water, yet there are moments on the album where there are no guitars, which is something that we wouldn’t have done before. We’ve been more bold on this record, and we decided that whatever the song needs we’ll do it and not be bothered about an album being really coherent or something like that. One of the earmarks of the record is that it’s pretty eclectic. If we needed no guitars we removed them, if we needed loud guitars we turned them up, if I needed to sing soft I did it, and so on and so forth. It’s an album of extremes, but it’s nice to still have the essence of Maxïmo Park in the end.

Tell me a little about some of the bonus tracks on the album. You have ‘Middlesbrough Man’, a slightly altered cover of ‘Edinburgh Man’ by The Fall. Why did you pick that?

There are a few songs that we all really love, and a few albums that we all really love. After that, we all have quite individual tastes. With the covers on the album, we decided to just do things we like. ‘Edinburgh Man’ was a song we used to play when driving down to London or somewhere to play gigs before we got signed. It’s a bit of a sing-along for The Fall; some of their tracks are quite out there, and when we were doing this cover I started singing “I want to be in Middlesbrough” instead. Syllable-wise it all fitted in, and we did two versions before deciding to go with the Middlesbrough one as I’m from the area. Somehow all the lyrics fitted; from going walking on bridges at dawn and the cobbled streets which reminded me of going to football matches at Ayresome Park when I was a lad. There’s even a folklore festival in my hometown, and [Fall singer] Mark E. Smith sings “keep me away from the festival”, which is obviously about the Edinburgh festival, but it reminds me of being a kid.

What do you think he’d make of your cover? Did you have to ask his permission?

We did have to ask permission and we regretted it, but he’d probably hate it! (laughs)

You also have some Nick Drake on there.

Yeah, Nick Drake was one the first people who got me more seriously into music. I was listening to stuff like The Smiths and grunge when I was 12 or 13 years old; that’s what was happening at the time. Then I heard Nick Drake for the first time and it got me really into folk music and made me want to pick up the guitar. My dad had a Spanish guitar and we would get it down and strum it and it wouldn’t sound very good, but listening to Nick Drake’s beautiful finger picking would encourage me to play more. Having said that, it’s me playing the guitar on the record and it’s more strum-y. I had played at a Nick Drake night with people like Robyn Hitchcock and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside and played ‘Northern Sky’. The version you can hear on the album is my demo they used to play the guitar at the event as I was too scared. But yeah, I’m a massive fan of Nick Drake; his music strikes a chord with where I’m from and where I grew up.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Touring?

Yeah, we’ve got loads of touring to do. Once you’ve got the songs you’ve got this puppy dog-esque enthusiasm for wanting to play the songs and for people to hear them. You want to mix it up and play old songs next to the new ones. People have responded in a very enthusiastic way. If we can get across to Australia, that would be great. We’re off to Japan soon as well; we’re playing there on the third of April. That’s one of the perks of being in a band, being able to see a little bit of the world, as well as being a rock star! (laughs)

TOO MUCH INFORMATION BY MAXIMO PARK IS OUT NOW.