Interview: Bossy Love

This interview originally ran as a Herald Arts magazine cover feature in August 2016.

There’s a great 1980s video by The Specials, for their ode to urban discontent, Ghost Town. It sees the ska revivalists crammed in a car, patrolling a city – presumably Coventry – navigating empty streets and socio-political angst, and defining an era in the process.

Their monochrome promo is loosely invoked in a recent clip from R&B livewires Bossy Love, but in their audio-visual rewrite, the car cruises Glasgow, the city is thriving, the subject is physical (the song is called Body), the mood is joyous – and the passengers are not a vintage 2 Tone troupe, but rather the day-glo future of Scottish pop.

Bossy Love are vocalist / MC Amandah Wilkinson and drummer / producer John Baillie Jr. They variously conjure Robyn, The Dream, Beyonce and Neneh Cherry with Rocketnumbernine, and they’re as bold and fun and glorious as their name suggests. Their track titles play out like exclamatory pop demands (Want Some, Sweat It Out, Tell You What, new single Call Me Up), while the music unleashes not so much an invitation to dance as an order.

They’ve only released a handful of singles and mixtapes to date, but have already bagged a heavyweight management deal (they share a roster with PJ Harvey and Radiohead), and had their brilliant recent Glastonbury performance televised by the BBC – and all from their HQ in Dennistoun, Glasgow.

The three of us meet in a Duke Street cafe, and talk about pop, architecture and happenstance over twice-fried chips and cheese, and builder’s tea in china cups. Baillie Jr and Wilkinson constantly spark off each other, sharing tales about playing with Kelis, the wonder of Glasgow, and how burgers and the Megabus saved their band.

The duo first crossed paths in 2008, while Wilkinson, then still based in her native Australia, was in the UK with her Gold Coast indie-punk rabble Operator Please. They ended up sharing a bill with Baillie Jr’s Glasgow fight-pop champions Dananananaykroyd. “We were both supporting The Futureheads at Fat Sam’s in Dundee,” Wilkinson recalls. “We rocked up to the gig, I got to the dressing room, and I saw the name Dananananaykroyd on the wall. I was really scared, because I’d heard so much about them, and I thought they were this scene-y kind of band. But then John, looking half-jaked, knocks on the door, nearly falls down the stairs, and does this: [she takes a deep breath, wavers backwards, closes one eye, drools and slurs] ‘Hey, I’m John, we’re sharing a dressing room…’”

Baillie Jr interjects. “I remember none of this. Obviously.”

“We clicked right away,” Wilkinson continues. “We spent three hours in there, being hyperactive, talking about the same stupid stuff.” They made their first recordings in Baillie Jr’s Glasgow flat shortly thereafter. “Nobody’s ever heard those tracks we did in 2008,” he reminisces. “We might resurrect at least one of them.”

Wilkinson nods earnestly. “We totally should. That track was banging.”

They kept in touch.

Towards the end of 2012, Wilkinson disbanded Operator Please, and moved to London with music in mind. “Bossy Love had been an idea for a while, and I had this bunch of demos, so I sent them to John,” Wilkinson says. Baillie Jr set to work on them that day. “The first thing he sent me back was Call Me Up, and I was amazed. Without having had to say a word, it was everything I’d ever wanted in a song.”

They worked together on a series of demos entitled Me + You through 2013, with Wilkinson travelling up to Scotland every few weekends. “I worked for Crossrail in London,” she recalls. “I’d leave the office on Friday night, get the overnight Megabus up to Glasgow, and John would pick me up in at six in the morning. We’d work on the tracks all weekend, and then I’d travel back down through Sunday night and go straight to work.”

There’s a sense of physical (and emotional) transportation in much of Bossy Love’s work, perhaps because of their origins in transit and motion. They’re propulsive, gleaming, and high-impact, yet they’re also deceptively minimalist, not least on Sweat It Out. It’s a stripped-back, beat-fuelled tropical jam that elicits Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, and the work of that song’s super-producer: the doyen of less-is-more, Quincy Jones.

“I love that,” says Baillie Jr, and aligns such precision pop with modernist architecture. “I have this theory,” he offers. “When you go into an old building, with ornate cornicing and everything, it ticks the ‘nice building’ box. But if you go into somewhere new, where you can see how it’s been built, and you can work out how it’s standing up, it has a certain presence, and power, of its own. I think it’s the same with music. If you can hear it, if everything’s clear to you, if you can pick things out, it can sound heavier. It can have more power. You don’t need much.”

That aesthetic resonates with fellow Glasgow electro trailblazers Hudson Mohawke and Chvrches, and Bossy Love highlight the city’s burgeoning (counter) cultural community in other ways, too: their genre-defying vibes noise up dance clubs, rock dives, indie gatherings and riot grrrl stages (they played an early gig for feminista-pop collective TYCI), and they underscore the city’s knack for nurturing brilliant, singular artists (see also: HQFU, Kathryn Joseph, Ela Orleans, Golden Teacher, Auntie Flo, The Van T’s – and WHITE, with whom they shared a stage at this year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award ceremony at Paisley Town Hall, and with whom they play at Edinburgh’s Summerhall tonight).

“What I love about here is that we’ve got loads of friends that are in way different bands, all amazing at what they do, and there’s no competition,” Wilkinson says. Little wonder, perhaps, she was drawn to the city. She moved to Glasgow in 2014, thanks to a Bossy Love residency at Edinburgh’s Bongo Club, and Baillie Jr’s sideline as a kick-ass barbecue restauranteur.

“The Bongo residency was a real catalyst for me moving,” says Wilkinson of the venue, which was also a critical early space for Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers. “John would DJ, I would MC and sing over other people’s tracks, and then we started dropping our own songs,” she remembers. “The only problem was travelling from London and back to play.”

Baillie Jr had a plan. He opened up a “burger shop” – the delectable Texan hangout Dennistoun BBQ – and offered Wilkinson a job.

The duo’s nascent Bongo Club set-up has since evolved into an incandescent live show. Their gigs are thrilling and action-packed (Wilkinson can bust some moves), and the band always look like they’re having a ball. “We do a lot of pre-production, and put a lot of work in beforehand – and then we try to forget about it all onstage,” Bailllie Jr laughs. “Who in a crowd connects with someone trying to be perfect in front of you, anyway? People connect with vulnerability. It always feels like the wheels are about to come off at any minute when we’re playing live – and we’re not that bothered. A crowd doesn’t owe you anything. Your job is to go up there and try to summon something. Mistakes can free you up. You should be surprised as a performer, too.”

Wilkinson nods. “I love surprises. We supported Kelis in London the other week, and John did a new harmony onstage that he’d never tried before. He totally nailed it. And I was like that, into the microphone – [wide eyed, euphoric, punching the air] – ‘YES!’”

These days, they’re bolstered to a three-piece onstage, thanks to keyboard maharishi Ollie Cox – who, as fate would have it, was looking for a flatmate just as Wilkinson moved to Glasgow. “Everything just fell in line when I moved up here,” she muses. “It’s obviously how it was all supposed to be – this long, travelling idea that came to life when John and I started working together.”

We step out of the cafe; blink into the afternoon as the sun comes out. Baillie Jr squints at Wilkinson. “When I look back at us doing dance tracks in 2008, I knew then,” he says. “I knew we had unfinished business. We always had something. But you lived in Australia. And now here you are in Dennistoun.”

They head for their respective homes, this East End boy and East End girl, who light up the room and the sky and the city. Bossy Love is all you need.

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Interview: King Creosote

This feature originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on August 25, 2016.

Elton John was bang on, as usual. It really is lonely out in space. Take Major Tom’s solitary tin-can odyssey, or Lou Reed’s forlorn Satellite of Love. Or take the new album from King Creosote, which sees our astral pop swashbuckler, aka Fife’s Kenny Anderson, navigate the vagaries of the cosmos – its isolation, obscurity, absence; its uncertainty and darkness; its light and stars and shadows – and reflect upon the distance between us.

Astronaut Meets Appleman, released next month, is the official follow-up to 2014’s celebrated From Scotland With Love, and may be KC’s most celestial and earthly album to date. If From Scotland With Love was a stunning epistle to (and from) our collective past, and 2011’s Mercury-shortlisted Diamond Mine was a love letter to the East Neuk of Fife, then Astronaut Meets Appleman is a series of postcards from the edges – of emotion, time, the coast, the sky, the underground, patience, silence and hope.

It’s a wilfully disoriented record, but it’s never alienating. Chamber-pop lullaby Betelgeuse locates him all at sea in the universe (“My ship has set course for the space in between Orion’s Belt and Betelgeuse, and I may not back”), bluegrass lament Wake Up To This finds him dealing with a leaky roof and / or biblical penance (“I deserve the flood”), and calypso serenade Love Life calls forth Flashdance and Scarlett Johansson before crashing back to earth (“she’ll have you ground down”).

We usually meet at Anderson’s house, do interviews over Earl Grey tea and macaroni pies at his Crail kitchen table. But Astronaut Meets Appleman sees KC depart his comfort zone – musically, lyrically, geographically – so this time, he journeys to the Central Belt. We meet in a Bridge of Allan pub, put the world and neighbouring planets to rights, surrounded by late-afternoon locals, two dogs, and a handful of men in their sixties who seem disinterested until Anderson makes to leave – at which point they accost him, tell him they love him, sing the praises of Bats in the Attic (from his Diamond Mine collaboration with Jon Hopkins), and continue to rave about his “magical” voice long after he has pulled down his hat, huddled into his jacket, and headed for home.

That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. Anderson has been amassing a DIY trove of intergalactic ballads and squeezebox shanties since the early 90s – not to mention his bluegrass punk peregrinations in the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra and Khartoum Heroes, his beloved Fence Collective cabal (James Yorkston, KT Tunstall et al), and a mid-2000s major-label deal with Warners – but Diamond Mine and From Scotland With Love are the records that have quietly, slowly captured wider public affection.

Diamond Mine’s excavation and re-honing of songs from Anderson’s prodigious back catalogue (a conservative estimate might put it at 100 albums) shines light on a timeless body of work full of hidden gems, and his recent albums follow a similar trajectory: historic favourites like My Favourite Girl and Pauper’s Dough were revisited on 2014’s hit From Scotland With Love along with original specially written works, and Astronaut Meets Appleman transforms and re-contextualises older recordings alongside new songs. Stunning orchestral-pop hymn Faux Call was a b-side almost 10 years ago; several tracks had a low-key outing on last year’s Smavulgar LP. Anderson’s songs seem to have their own time zones, life-spans and circuitous flight paths. People find him in their own time.

Now that they’ve done so, he seems to be trying to get lost again. He ventured into remote spaces making Astronaut Meets Appleman, which was variously recorded at Analogue Catalogue in Ireland’s County Down, and An Tobar on the Isle of Mull – although his spiritual home, Glasgow’s Chem19 studios, still played a part, as did its stellar foreman, Paul Savage, who co-produced the album. “I love Chem 19, I love Paul, we’ve done loads together, but I have to say, having places with views for a change – that was just stunning,” Anderson offers.

The music, too, evokes picturesque terrain, thanks to Catriona McKay’s exquisite harp, Hannah Fisher’s swoon-inducing fiddle, and the thrilling bagpipes of Mairearad Green, alongside KC’s stunning big band ensemble. “I thought it would be great to make a record that was musically Scottish after From Scotland With Love, which wasn’t really that Scottish at all,” he says, with trademark good-natured contrariness. “But I didn’t want this to be a traditional album. Like that Hendrix thing that Mairearad busts out, it totally grabs you.” He plays air bagpipes in the pub.

Green contributes to an anti-wind turbine song called Melin Wynt, named after a Welsh town called windmill, despite there being no windmills there. This clearly appeals to Anderson’s humour. His lyrical modus operandi has long been brilliant, cryptic wordplay – his protagonists and subject matter disguised in allusion, ambiguity and landscape – as best exemplified, perhaps, by You’ve No Clue Do You, the lead single from 2007’s major-label opus, Bombshell. The song unravels itself like a crossword puzzle (you’ll note the word Cluedo within the title, and the drive-rock whodunnit is populated by Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, et al). It contains one of KC’s most telling lines: “That’s yet another wrong guess.” We can but try.

But on Astronaut Meets Appleman, his words, on occasion, seem more straightforward than usual. Anderson nods. “There was the dislocation of getting out of the usual city and using other instruments with this record, but I also wanted to push myself songwriting wise,” he says. “I wanted to try and get some naivety back. If I’d done this record three years ago, there are lines that I’d never have left like this. I’d have kept on twisting words, I’d have kept on overthinking it. But here, I’ve let that go a bit. Sometimes you just have to take it on the chin and accept that you say daft sh*t.”

It’s hard not to suspect that this is a double-bluff; that such lyrics are deceptively simple – and therefore twice as complex as usual – but Anderson laughs off the suggestion. “I’m not always being cryptic here. And that’s allowed me to try and assert myself as someone who’s not as good as even I sometimes think I am. I can be banal. Everyone can. To allow yourself to be average, that’s what I’m aiming for.”

To what extent has writing for From Scotland With Love – which was largely composed in response to a brief – impacted on Anderson’s new material? “I think writing to rote for From Scotland With Love, and that whole idea of taking myself out of the equation, has freed me up a bit,” he offers. “I’d never done anything like that before. And I like that now, if I want, I can just go with the first couplet, and move on. The song can work anyway.

“The other thing is that taking the cleverness away from the words makes you concentrate on what’s going on with the music a bit more,” he continues. “The songs are getting longer and longer to accommodate everybody. There’s all these instruments. There’s all these singers.” It’s a beautiful record as a result – the unhurried arrangements of Faux Call and Rules of Engagement in particular are breathtaking, and will delight fans of Diamond Mine and From Scotland With Love. But KC is not one to rest. “I actually almost feel I’ve stretched that big band idea as far as I can now,” he says. “I already hear this as a stepping stone to the next thing, even though I don’t know what that is yet.”

The album title similarly grapples with the unknown. “It’s a reality check,” says our DIY rocket man. “It’s an illustration of what my life’s like. This record wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for emailing WAV files around, and yet it doesn’t matter how much we strive for this digital utopia, there’s always this other thing that bites us in the ass, and it’s real life. It’s people. It’s mistakes. And then there’s the fact that I feel like I’m always reaching for something. I feel like I always have been. And I never get there.”

There’s a song about the moon on Astronaut Meets Appleman. Or rather, there’s a song called Surface, about losing sight of ourselves (and each other); about being eclipsed and taking cover; about seeking light and glimmering hope and finding a way when darkness falls. “It’s a heady descent,” King Creosote sings, and he’s right of course. But the sun also rises.


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Interview: Anna Meredith

Anna Meredith press 2016 Please Credit Kate Bones - lo resolution
This interview originally ran via The Quietus in April 201

South Queensferry is a picturesque old town on the banks of the Firth of Forth. Stationed between the river’s iconic road and railway bridges, it’s a realm of blurred and eddying boundaries – between city, countryside and coast; land and sea; history and industry.

Before the bridges existed, it was a ferry crossing from Edinburgh to Fife, and since then it’s thrived on making connections – ancient, modern, geographical, social – and composer / pop alchemist Anna Meredith grew up there.

Meredith, now based in London, has written music for Hong Kong park benches, Singapore sleep-pods, M6 service stations and Suffolk MRI scanners. She’s shared bills with Anna Calvi, James Blake and These New Puritans, versed Goldie in the world of classics, written concertos for human beatboxers, and was Composer in Residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Her recent BBC Proms performances have spanned a body-percussion magnum opus, collaborations with Laura Marling and The Stranglers (for the debut 6Music Prom), and a Last
Night At The Proms composition, Froms, which was simultaneously played by five symphony orchestras across the UK, and broadcast to 40 million people.

Caught your breath? Her thrilling debut album, Varmints was released last month on Moshi Moshi.


NM: South Queensferry’s one of those places that isn’t one thing or another – it’s not in the city, nor quite in the country; it’s defined by bridges to other people and places – and I wondered if that landscape is reflected in the sociable, accessible, boundary-crossing music you make…

AM: “Yeah, it’s a slightly strange place to grow up, South Queensferry – in that your postcode’s Edinburgh, I went to school in Edinburgh, most of my mates lived in Central Edinburgh, and I went to orchestras and music groups every night there after school – but I spent most of my teenage years wishing we actually lived in the city. I feel like I spent half my life back then on incredibly infrequent buses. There was this amazing bus that used to go back and forth late from the city centre, it was called the Night Reveller – isn’t that a great name for a bus? You had this kind of Sophie’s choice between either a bus at quarter past midnight, and then there was nothing till quarter to three. So you’d just be sat there, on Waverley Bridge, in your tiny little sparkly dress, waiting and waiting for the Night Reveller. Or the Night Hawk, that was another one. They were always like the seventh circle of hell, those buses, with everyone being sick, winding through all the little rural villages out of the city…”

As much as those nocturnal odysseys sound faintly gothic and grim (and familiar), they also underscore ideas of human contact, and progression, which seem to be at the heart of your work – from your Connect It symphony, which embraced the human body as instrument and orchestra, to Varmints: an album of driving, communal party music.

“Composing can be really isolated. You write the piece, you hand it over to an orchestra, and that’s the end of your relationship. You’re not involved with the performance at all. But I guess I’ve always had this nagging idea that I wanted to be doing stuff with people – that’s why me and some friends put together the Camberwell Composers’ Collective. I’m quite a people person, so it feels pretty weird that I’ve ended up mainly doing this thing where I’m on my own for days and days and days on end, just sitting in my pants and hoodie, thinking, ‘Oh God, I really need to see somebody soon’. [Laughs] That’s why playing in a band, with this record, is so much fun.”

How did making the album compare to your classical commissions, in terms of how you decided on instrumentation – especially with regard to what traditional, or synthesised, sounds you used? There’s everything on there from cello, clarinet and xylophone, to all manner of bombastic, and sublime, electro divinations…

“Everything comes from a really practical place – it’s not like there’s been a guiding artistic principle that’s governed it all. I’m not a craftsman, I’m not somebody who enjoys spending hours finding a vintage synth, or a valve, or whatever. If it can work with really shitty sounds, then I’m happy, because that means the material’s good.
But I’ve also got a brilliant band, so we work with whatever sounds best.”

You sing on Varmints: that’s a new progression…

“Yeah, singing was a bit scary, and it’s definitely a step on from anything I’ve ever done before. But there’s a real accountability thing with this album. I wanted it to tie in with it feeling like I’ve done everything on it, and I also always want to push myself. I can’t think of anything – in a musical sense – where I’ve ever said, ‘Oh no, that’s too much for me’. Or, ‘I can’t do that, it’s too scary’. So even though I definitely do not have the best voice, it is my voice, and that’s what this whole thing is about. It’s honest. It’s not very polished. But that’s how I sing – like a squeaky five-year-old boy. [Laughs] I’ve made that work for me. I’ve got loads of amazing singer mates that I could have used, but I wanted not to make it seem like anyone else. I really wanted to make it clear that there was no-one else behind the record. There’s not some dude behind the scenes, who’s actually doing all the stuff. This has, from start to finish, been my thing.

“And when I’ve done everything, start to finish, I think it’s important to point that out. Hopefully it’s also a good role model for younger girls, to feel that they can do it. Whenever I’m teaching teenage girl composers, the one thing I always say is – don’t be too daunted by stuff you don’t know how to do. Because, having dipped my toe into this whole world, I’ve realised that there are as many factions and preconceptions and problems and rules [in pop] as there are in classical music. Someone, somewhere will always tell you what they think you should be doing. But all you should really be doing is working out what you want to do, and what you can do for yourself.”

You also explore your lyrical voice and language on Varmints. Even the titles seem loaded with poetry, or incongruity – from ‘Taken’s galloping choral euphoria, which feels like it gives us everything (and then some), to the woozy wordless diction of ‘Honeyed Words’…

“I’ve been thinking of titles in some form for years, but it’s been interesting watching how they evolve. I like idea that something’s not quite what you think it’s going to be. And quite a lot of the album track titles are slightly – I dread to use the word steam-punk, but it’s that idea of something being archaic but powerful, or spindly but massive, in whatever form.”

There’s a glorious cognitive dissonance in tracks like ‘Nautilus’, whose title evokes a fairly fragile mollusc, but whose sound is colossal and brawny and blazing with rock-opera histrionics..

“Exactly – and that’s gone on in lots of my classical stuff as well. Like Axeman for Electric Bassoon, where you look at a bassoon player, but it’s wired up to an electric guitar pedal, so – again – it’s that idea that what you see, or what you expect, is not what you hear.”

Other titles are founded on mythology, and memory. I’m sure I once read that your early EPs – Black Prince Fury (2012) and Jet Black Raider (2013) – were named after your mother’s imaginary horses…

“Haha, that’s right – isn’t that brilliant? My mum and her friend, when they were about eight, they thought they were imaginary horses. I’ve known about it forever, because whenever her friend would call, she’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s such and-such – she’s the one from the days when we used to think we were horses.’ So, I’ve always had those names in my head. And now they’re records.”

I love that idea of taking something abstract, or imagined, and making it physical; of creating a monument to a reverie. There are these giant horse-head sculptures near us, The Kelpies, and every time we pass them, my daughter’s fascinated by the fact that they’re what she calls, “Myths made out of metal”…

“Yeah, I love that too. It’s like taking a bit of something and making it whole. I guess that’s a lovely thing about doing this album – and it’s opposed to everything else I’ve done in my life – which is that it actually exists. First of all – and I know every band in the world must have this problem – but, as a composer, it seems amazing to put so much time and energy into something that nobody’s even asked for. That’s a very strange idea to me. Normally, with commissions, people are paying me, and there’s a deadline, and there’s a structure. But with stuff like this, with making an album, you’re living on the belief of the future of the whole thing.

“And now these EPs, this album, are things. They’re objects. Whereas anything else I’ve written is played once and then possibly never played again. All that weird process of building and creating something that’s just a moment in time and then passes on forever is quite a strange thing to get your head around. So it’s lovely to actually make something physical, that you build out of nothing.”


They’re building a new Forth bridge in South Queensferry later this summer. It promises an original, improved and uncharted mode of forging connections, defying limitations and bringing people and places together. It’s an inspired idea, but not unprecedented. Some of its restless natives have been breaking that very ground for years.

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Interview: Minor victories

minor victories pic
This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) in May 2016.

Stuart Braithwaite has been losing sleep. You may not be surprised to hear this, given his predisposition for invoking untold dread as a member of post-rock leviathans Mogwai – from composing for film-maker Mark Cousins’ nuclear meditation, Atomic, to conjuring fearful psalms for undead people (they soundtracked French zombie TV smash, Les Revenants).

But the root of Braithwaite’s nocturnal trauma is more chilling than any ex-corpse apocalypse or Cold War dystopia. He’s been having anxiety dreams. They’re caused by his moonlighting in a shoegaze supergroup called Minor Victories.

This searing, dreamy alt-rock alliance comprises guitarist Braithwaite, vocalist Rachel Goswell (Slowdive, Mojave 3), drummer Justin Lockey (Editors) and his brother James (bass) – not to mention exquisite guest turns from The Twilight Sad’s brooding lodestar James Graham, and Mark Kozelek aka Sun Kil Moon. They release their debut album next month. They play their first-ever shows this week. They have barely met each other.

According to Braithwaite’s recent nightmares, here is how those gigs play out. “I have the lyrics written in front of me, because I do a bit of singing, but they’re too small and I can’t read them,” he shudders. “I try to wing it, but the words are too wee, so I just sing gibberish. And when I look up, everyone’s left, because it’s so sh***.” He hazards a laugh. Still, he’s not alone. “Barry [Burns, Mogwai] had one about Atomic, where all the keyboards just made animal sounds.” Mogwai’slive debut of Atomic – which crashed the UK Top 20 Album Chart last month – is also scheduled to take place this week, to Braithwaite’s mild hysteria.)

Despite the guitarist’s subconscious concerns, here’s what’s rather more likely to happen at this week’s Minor Victories shows: collective swooning, voluble cheering and covert weeping, prompted by a gorgeous, languorous body of work. Despite the songs’ gravitas and cohesion, however, they were created in fragments, in remote parts, and emailed round band members who had rarely, if ever, met.

Braithwaite was recruited at the behest of indie trailblazer Goswell. “I was a big fan of Slowdive when I was at school – I went to see them in the early 90s – and when they reformed a couple of years back, we kept bumping into each other at festivals,” he says. “That’s how we got to know each other.” How did Goswell persuade him to join a band who’d never met, and who were going to make an album without everbeing in  the same room? That’s a pretty big sell.

“It started in a low-key way,” Braithwaite recalls. “Rachel messaged me asking if I wanted to play guitar on some songs she was doing with Justin from Editors.” The plan, back then, was for Lockey and Goswell to record a noise EP. But the collaboration found its own momentum, and course, and before they knew it, they had “seven or eight” songs.

“The first song I got was Out To Sea,” Braithwaite remembers. “That was pretty finished, so I just put more guitar over the top. But then something like Breaking My Light changed a lot as we sent it round each other and added stuff on. That was originally just Rachel and a piano, but when I did my guitars, I realised the song could be a lot longer. So we quadrupled the length of it, and then Justin played loads of mad drums over the top, and then – because it was longer – Rachel had to go and write more words,” he explains. Just like that. “It just all worked.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its disembodied origins, and evolution through the ether(net), notions of being untethered loom large on the album – from titles like A Hundred Ropes and Breaking The Light to searching entreaties on Give Up The Ghost (“Won’t you tell me what it’s for?”) and Scattered Ashes (“Tell me what it’s all about…”)

Did they discuss any over-arching aesthetic for the album in advance? “Not really, but I think we’re all from quite similar independent music backgrounds,” Braithwaite offers. “I’m sure we’ve not all got the same record collections, but I think we’ve probably got similar ideas about music.” (You could probably bet on Joy Division, The Cocteau Twins, Berlin-era Bowie and The Cure featuring in their collective jukebox.)

One of the album’s stand-out tracks is Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard), a duet between Goswell and Graham that’s so impassioned, fierce and intimate you’d swear they were singing face-to-face, into one microphone. Not so. “They were never in the same room,” Braithwaite says. “I tried to sing that song at first, but I couldn’t sing high enough. Justin’s a big Twilight Sad fan – Editors have taken them out on tour – and they’re really good friends of ours, I’m a huge fan. So we got James in. It was good fun. When he was recording it, Rachel was on Skype, because she was really particular about exactly how the phrasing should be. She’s a very, very particular musician. Probably more than anyone I’ve ever made music with,” he muses. “And it’s totally worthwhile.”

The video for Scattered Ashes depicts a panic-ravaged urban landscape in which cats look set to take over the earth. In a scene redolent of Mogwai’s Atomic, the promo climaxes in a mushroom cloud: a devastating, earthly reminder that laser-eyed felines and pop music are eternally cool, but we’re all just dust. What with that, and titles like Give Up The Ghost, it’s little wonder Minor Victories look set to haunt our hearts and minds. Don’t have nightmares, do sleep well.

Minor Victories’ debut album is out on June 3 via PIAS / Fat Possum.

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Interview: Savages

This interview was originally published via Instagram Music in January 2016.

Savages don’t pull any punches. But there’s more to the fist on the London­-based quartet’s new album artwork than that. Adore Life, the cinematic post-­punks’ second LP, is by turns inflammatory, menacing and tender, and if the cover’s fist aloft suggests protest, empowerment and jubilation – and maybe holding something (a person?) tight – then their recent singles further explore the myriad expressions of the human hand. The sleeve for “T.I.W.Y.G”’ is almost a wave, or a letting -go. “The Answer” sets forth a raised palm, like in a classroom.

What is the question? The answer is love.

“The idea for the artwork started in the back of the tour bus,” recalls Fay Milton, who plays drums in Savages alongside Jehnny Beth (vocals), Ayse Hassan (bass) and Gemma Thompson (guitar). “We realised we needed something very personal to the band, and something very human. We liked the idea of using the heart tattoo on Jehnny’s wrist. We wanted something which represented the message and the sound of the record,” she explains. “The fist is such a great icon of strength, positivity, resistance, confrontation and solidarity. The tattooed anatomical heart is the depiction of the pain and reality of love.”

Since they formed in London in 2011, Savages have invoked minimalist, dramatic rock that’s primal yet precision­-tooled. It’s honed by a democratic creative process which, says Milton, involves, “All of us bringing ideas, [and] working and reworking the songs until they don’t even resemble their starting point… like a long four-­way train of thought.”

True to this collective spirit, the visual imagery of Adore Life, and its attendant singles, variously features the hands of each band member. The half-­open palm on the artwork for ferocious rock avowal, “The Answer”, belongs to Milton. “I wanted to try a gesture that was more welcoming than the fist,” she offers. The day before their album artwork deadline, she and Beth had an extensive discussion via text message about the myriad meanings of the angles and positions . “That’s just like us to be over­-thinking things at the last minute,” Milton says with a laugh.

Savages’ 2013 debut album, Silence Yourself, was dispatched with a 36­-line manifesto on its sleeve, and while their their second album cover text is minimal in comparison (reading simply, SAVAGES // ADORE LIFE), its image speaks volumes about its direction; suggests a sense of breaking through, of pushing things – to the limit, perhaps. “We definitely wanted to take all of the elements from Silence Yourself and push them further and in different directions,” Milton nods. “And the title, Adore Life, could be seen as a two-­word manifesto for the record.”

Adore Life was recorded in London in April 2015, a few months after the band played a live residency in New York with a view to firing up (and road testing) their new material on­stage. “The songs really take form in that environment,” offers Milton. “It’s the place where anything unnecessary is cut out, and everything becomes harder and faster. It breathes life into the songs.”

Savages thrive on fan interaction, as their recent, chaotic, crowd­-surfing video for “The Answer” attests. “That was an amazing day,” Milton recalls. “About 100 fans came to the shoot [in Lisbon] and jumped and moshed for 10 hours straight. When we weren’t in shot, we went and joined them, so if you look really closely you can probably see us jumping around at the back. It was like one giant party.”

There’s a photo of those fans en route to make the video, and they look delirious. It’s one of many behind­-the-­scenes images that illustrates Savages’ relationship with their fans. “It’s a two way thing, so we need to reflect that in our videos, writing process and Instagrams,” Milton offers.

And what of the shot of their Christmas party – the four of them huddled behind a couple of teapots? Did they don party hats? Sing festive songs? “Haha, no crackers or carols I’m afraid. Just a lot of laughing.”

There’s an aesthetic theme that unifies Savages’ Christmas tea parties, Portuguese moshpits, promo shots and gripping cover art – and that is the band’s predominant framing in black-­and­white. Is it designed as an extension of their stark music – of their impeccable study in the tension between dark and light (and in-­between) – or is it an austere kick against our frantic, technicolour media landscape?

“It does reflect our minimalist tendencies,” Milton nods. “But it was an intuitive decision, and it’s a look that’s been part of Savages from the start. We became monochrome and monochrome became us.”

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Interview: Chvrches

An edited version of this feature ran in The Herald Arts Magazine (Scotland) on March 26, 2016, under the heading: CHVRCHES: MIRACLES DONE IN 45 MINUTES…

There’s an old picture of Chvrches where they’re under a neon sign that promises: There Will Be No Miracles Here.

You have to wonder though.

The Glasgow electro icons have dedicated the last five years to conquering continents, roaring their gospel – a rapturous, enlightening doctrine that draws on industrial synth-pop, feminist punk, epic post-rock, dance-floor anthems and immaculate R&B. Their home-recorded second album, Every Open Eye, tore up charts across the world when it was released last autumn (Top 10 in the US, Top Five in the UK, Number One in Scotland); its 2013 predecessor, The Bones Of What You Believe, is edging toward one million sales; and they headline Glasgow enormodome SSE Hydro next weekend – despite having only played around 10 shows in Scotland to date.

Such achievements are extraordinary, if not miraculous, as is their knack for concurrently coming across as stadium-filling international pop stars and a well-loved local indie act. It’s a brilliant trick of the light, or quantum physics, or black magic, or – most likely – ingenious cyber nous. And it’s crucial to Chvrches’ exceptional charms. They’re a grassroots band with global reach.

All of which means that they’re rarely back in their home-town, let alone all at once. And so it is that vocalist Lauren Mayberry takes time out to talk on the phone during a week’s holiday in New York, while her synth-brandishing colleagues Martin Doherty and Iain Cook suggest an interview in a Glasgow pub that spirals into nigh-on eight hours and covers – among other marvels – Wasabi Kit-Kats, reggae, typography; their alleged alignment with cryptic cult The Illuminati; sportswear, capes and Quincy Jones; and whether Lionel Blair invented the pas-de-basque.

Heavy metal looms large, too. “I feel like we’ve spent most of this interview talking about Iron Maiden,” muses Cook about three hours in, and flaunts the band’s cut-throat commercial instinct by shifting the conversation not to Chvrches’ latest single or tour, but rather to his bygone Christian rock troupe, Ephis Dammim. “It’s Hebrew for boundaries of blood,” he says, as a scarlet votive is placed on our table.

“The candle of shame,” says Doherty, shaking his head. “Day turns to night.”

“It’s night-time now,” Cook declares, in what feels like a Kelvinbridge out-take from The Lost Boys. “More drinks?”

In the beginning, there were Chvrches: a secret cabal who were born on the internet. There were few clues in the early days as to the trio’s Scottish indie lineage (Blue Sky Archives, Aereogramme, The Unwinding Hours, Julia Thirteen, The Twilight Sad); there was simply a thrilling synth-dirge, Lies (2012), anonymously dispatched online. It exploded, spectacularly, everywhere at once – Europe, America, Asia, Australia. Its title resonated across The Bones of What You Believe, then rebounded in the opening salvo of Every Open Eye – “Throw me no bones, and I will tell you no lies, this time…”

If their debut was fixated on anatomy (Lungs, By The Throat) and hidden depths (We Sink, Under The Tide), then Every Open Eye feels more outward-looking, and landscape-focused (perfect storms and turning tides; myriad references to leaving traces, drawing lines in the sand, and burying entities – memories? Bones?). There is a sense of distance. Perhaps of letting go.

Taking a step back was crucial for their second album, says Mayberry, down a long line from America. “Having the space to figure out what we wanted to do this time was really important,” she offers. “Part of that, for me, was finding an aspect of the band that felt more comfortable, because although I’m really proud of what we achieved with the first album, it did all feel like a bit of a sh**storm,” she says with a laugh. “I was pretty exhausted from feeling I was fighting my corner all the time” – Mayberry’s righteous take-downs of online misogynists have been well-documented – “and I wanted to find a better more positive way to frame things.

“I wanted to put a bit more distance between the real life and the band versions of me,” she continues. “But I also started thinking – what is it I actually like about being in a band? What is it I like about writing? And I think it’s about communication, at the end of the day.” This ethos is echoed in Chvrches’ Fanclvb community, and in Mayberry’s feminist collective, TYCI.

Mayberry reassessed her approach to performance, too. “A lot of people have a lot of opinions on a lot of stuff – and that can feel quite overwhelming when you’re on the receiving end of it,” she says. “When I had time to step back from it all, I thought, okay, I didn’t do all the things that some people would project [on me] – but how do I want to do it? Rather than thinking – how would someone want me to front the band? It’s a band of three people, but ultimately there is a front person, and I think that rather than getting caught under the weight of that, I needed to think about what I wanted to do.”

The result, she suggests, means the shows they play now feel a lot more fun. “I like being able to play music that we made, that we love – that’s this kind of emotional bass-y, synth-y pop music – but conducting the show like I’m still in a punk rock band. I like that juxtaposition, and it feels genuine to us.”

Like the band themselves, Every Open Eye has a knack for feeling intimate yet universal; for appearing near and faraway at once. (Much of the album chimes with Rebecca Solnit’s meditation on loss and landscape, A Field Guide To Getting Lost – specifically, her chapters on The Blue of Distance.) But, says Mayberry, there was no over-arching lyrical theme for the record.

It just needed space.

“For me, I guess I need a bit of time to pass, so I can think about things to write about and build up a bank of ideas,” she offers. “I’m not really very good at writing abstract narratives about characters. It has to come from a personal place. So then you actually have to have the experiences in order to write about them.

“But I got to the point of over-analysis – I got caught up in wondering what I wanted the lyrical themes on the record to be,” she continues. “And I never approach writing like that. Ever. In the end, I wrote Never Ending Circles in about 45 minutes on a train – it was just a rough stream-of-consciousness thing. Taking a step back like that ended up being the way I wrote lyrically for this record, and that all started with Never Ending Circles.”

Light years (well, three thousand miles) back in Glasgow, talk revolves round that cardinal song – which opens Every Open Eye – as the candle burns. “It was really important to us to try and capture the same dynamic we had on album one with this record,” says Doherty. “Same studio, us producing, same set up. Day one, we all went in, and just like that: Never Ending Circles.”

Cook elaborates. “Day one, Martin walks straight up to one of our new synths and goes – [mimics the album’s ripping, rippling opening hook]. I was like that – ‘Martin, that is absolute shite,’” he laughs. “I came round to it eventually.”

Doherty grins. “I was trying to write the world’s most annoying riff.”

Cook: “It worked.”

There’s a meticulous precision to Every Open Eye – a hi-octane minimalism that evokes the ultra-pop productions of Quincy Jones. There’s plenty space, but it’s never empty. “That’s something that was really in our minds making the second record,” Cook offers. “Minimalism – specifically, Quincy Jones minimalism. There’s not a lot in those mixes. There’s a few elements, maybe four, but it sounds huge. It sounds massive.”

“We were obsessed with that on this record,” nods Doherty. “We were constantly like – ‘Can we take anything else out? Are there any elements that are working against the DNA or the economy of the song?’ We thought we could do a lot more with less this time,” he says. “Sounds and ideas have to stand up for themselves if they’re more exposed.”

For all that, Every Open Eye is full of warmth. “We’re pretty warm people generally,” Doherty offers. “We’re used to being in bands that wrote directly from their psyche. The whole ethos of indie music was about being a human being, and that’s still an intrinsic part of what we do. It’s like we’re a rock band who play electronic instruments. And write pop songs. We’re always thinking of ways to relate to the more human element of electronic music.”

“Because it gets a bad rap for being cold,” adds Cook. “And while pop in general has almost always been regarded as lowbrow, that tide is starting to turn. I think that one of the reasons things are going well for us is because there’s been that cultural shift, in perception, of seeing pop as high art; as art at all. Look at Beyonce. She’s making relevant, gritty, important music, and challenging political norms. Pop music can have depth. Of course it can.”

“The time I realised how extreme that shift was, was when I heard Shutdown by Skepta,” says Doherty. “That song was ubiquitous, and I suddenly realised that counter-culture and the mainstream were converging. Then I heard Bitch Better Have My Money by Rihanna, and I was like, okay – times have changed. Then, that Weeknd record dropped [Can’t Feel My Face], a deeply subversive, dark song about sex and drugs. That’s the mainstream, man. That’s brilliant.”

“Isn’t that great?” enthuses Cook. “Isn’t that a great time to be making music?

And doing it their way. For album two, Chvrches returned to Cook’s basement studio in Glasgow, where they made The Bones Of What You Believe. “I love that space,” Doherty says. “It feels like home to me now. Whenever we come back, or we’ve got something to do, and we sit in that room, it’s like… snapshots. The first time we sat there, properly, we’d done nothing, and all that we talked about was things that we could maybe do or maybe write. The second time, for this album, we were trying to follow up this perceived huge success. The next time, I don’t even know where we’ll be at, because for me we’re in completely uncharted territory now.

“We’ve already gone past what I ever thought a band who retained total credibility could achieve – and I really feel we have done that, I don’t think we’ve sacrificed anything,” Doherty adds. “We’re getting bigger in front of my eyes, we’re selling more tickets in America than we’ve ever done, we’re selling more records than we ever have. And it’s the same in Glasgow, in our home town…”

The main difference in terms of the studio set up between albums one and two is a redoubled trove of synthesisers. “On the first album, we had three synthesisers, and we stacked them up and did it that way,” explains Cook. “For this album, we were able to afford the shopping list of our teenage dreams. We had it really streamlined, and as a result we discovered a lot of sounds and built new sounds that inspired the music. That’s always been a key thing for us: the technology inspires the writing. New sound, new song.”

“Yeah, and that’s a expensive way to work,” laughs Doherty. “But it was a fortunate by-product of being self-sufficient. We had the budget to record the album, like anyone else does, but instead of spending it on studio time, or Rick Rubin, we reinvested it in ourselves. That was important.”

Bang in the middle of their self-produced record, there’s a euphoric, melancholic anthem called Clearest Blue, whose lyrics give the album its title. It’s bold and bright and exquisite. “Clearest Blue was one of those moments in the studio where you get that flash of light,” recalls Cook. “You can see the crowd, you can see how it’s going to pan out. You don’t get many of those moments in a career, let alone on an album.”

Doherty had a similar revelation as Clearest Blue materialised. “To go from that first day of playing it and jumping around the studio, to seeing 10 thousand people bouncing at the same time to that song at [London’s] Alexandra Palace – that’s serious,” he says. “That’s amazing.”

The day we meet, Clearest Blue has prompted another ardent response – this time in the guise of a YouTube film that suggests the song proves Chvrches’ alliance with an infamous mystic faction. “We’ve just had our first Illuminati exposé online,” beams Cook. “I got half way through it and started believing it myself.”

The YouTube revelation is incredible in its depth and detail, and underscores the extent to which fans clamour to get inside Chvrches’ songs.

“Oh man, totally – that’s a life goal,” Cook nods. “When people start writing about your band in terms of mythology and symbolism it’s like, okay, I feel like I’ve achieved something. And the myths in rock ‘n’ roll are always more interesting than the truth. The truth is, I got out my bed this morning and had a bagel.”

Doherty looks thoughtful. “I think people feel like we’re connected to the internet; that we’re almost synonymous with it,” he says. “And when the lines of communication between us are so short, and so clear, that maybe breeds a higher level of engagement and fanaticism to some extent.”

“It’s that idea of finding a sense of belonging and identity in music,” Cook notes. “That’s something that I grew up with, as a metal kid, but it still exists – bands like Iron Maiden, they go to India or South America and play stadiums, multiple nights. That’s not something I thought I’d ever achieve in any band I played in, that level of dedication.”

Chvrches have long induced such fevered communal exultation – online, in live arenas, and on the dancefloor. As with their debut, Every Open Eye plays out as two perfectly-crafted sides of vinyl – and simultaneously as a glorious 11-track club set. “It was sequenced for vinyl, but I love the club thing, although I hadn’t thought of it before,” says Cook. “I also read that someone’s done a blog about how the album follows the dramatic arc of a John Hughes movie. Maybe there’s something universal about that narrative form.”

It’s a formidable illusion though, conjuring so many distinct narratives in parallel. How do they do it? “I’ll tell you how you do it,” Doherty deadpans. “Eighty or 100 revisions of a tracklist.”

Cook buries his head in his hands.

“Oh well,” Doherty brightens. “On album three, we can relax a bit. We can do whatever we want. I don’t mean this in a flippant way, but a lot of people have successful first albums and the second record, so very often, is a disappointment for fans, or a disappointment for people that the band are in business with, and ultimately it becomes a disappointment for the band themselves. We were obsessed with not making that mistake,” he says. “We had to make sure everything was right and we wanted to put out a great record and focus on the music completely. Now that’s done, the ship is out to sea, so to speak, and we’ve got a genuine career – and we really do feel like we have a genuine career – so now’s the time to have some fun with that. To really explore the creativity a bit more. I think we might even take more than six weeks off between this album and the next one.”

Cook nods. “I might even be willing to relax my 45 minute rule on album three. The double album rule still stands though. No double albums.”

“What about the no shorts on stage rule?” Doherty ventures.

Cook looks through him. “Come on, man. That stays”.

Given their escalating banks of synths, how about capes, a la Rick Wakeman?

“Capes are fine,” shrugs Cook. “I love capes. Wizard hats, that’s cool. But sportswear? Not good.”

Chvrches wear their fortunes lightly. They bear the weight of their pop miracles well.

Chvrches play Glasgow SSE Hydro (with support from The Twilight Sad) on April 2.

Related article: CHVRCHES interview, The Herald, Dec 13

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Interview: Hinds

This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on February 19, 2016.

Don’t be misled by the cervine vibes of Madrid garage-pop rabble Hinds. Their name might conjure Frida Kahlo’s barbed self-portrait, The Wounded Deer, or Goldfrapp’s nascent obsession with antlers, but it was, they say, picked almost at random – a haphazard moniker for a band they thought would never play a gig, let alone make an album.

Yet their debut LP, Leave Me Alone, came out last month to widespread fawning, thanks to their harmonic take on kamikaze rock ‘n’ roll.

We speak while Hinds are on the road – they’ve veered across Europe, the US and beyond almost constantly over the past two years, and won fans from Los Angeles to Glasgow, where they’ll return this weekend for their second sold-out show in the city. Despite their musical travels in place, and in time (they variously invoke The Velvet Underground, Thee Headcoatees, Thee Oh Sees and The Shangri-Las), Hinds are very much a product of the (counter) culture and geography of Madrid.

“I think Madrid is more poor in a way, than Barcelona, the youth and stuff, and I guess that makes us more brash, and DIY, and lo-fi, and punk,” says vocalist / guitarist Ana Garcia Perrote. “I think also the fact that Barcelona is closer to the rest of Europe, geographically, means a lot of big bands go there if they’re playing in Spain – they don’t come to Madrid because it’s so far.” So they do their own thing there. “We grew up surrounded by people who were musicians, or who did pictures. We were like a big band, like 100 people, doing music, doing art.”

Hinds formed in 2011, and then again in 2013: a band so good they made it twice. Perrote and co-vocalist / guitarist Carlotta Cosials started as a two-piece called Deers in 2011, “just for fun”, and played some covers, played some shows, then called it a day. “We stopped because we stopped having fun,” recalls Perrote. “We did this one horrible gig and we were so embarrassed that we just stopped playing. But we kept being friends. It wasn’t such a big deal that the band didn’t work, it was more like – okay, let’s just be friends for a while. And that worked.”

But rock ‘n’ roll intervened in 2013, as rock ‘n’ roll does. “Two years later, we came back from a festival and we were feeling melancholic – you know that way when you come back from a great trip and you’re sad because it’s over? So we started watching old YouTube videos of us from when we played together, and we were like, maybe we should play again,” Perrote recalls. “And when we did, the magic happened again – because we always felt, since the very beginning, that we did something special, even when it was covers. All the things that people seem to really appreciate about our band – the rhythms and tempo changes and singing together, and doing that thing like, ‘Now you sing and I’ll respond’, we always had that. But this time, when we got together, we wrote our own songs.”

Those intervening couple of years are interesting – the time during which Perrote and Cosials were resolutely not a band seems to have been crucial in forging the camaraderie, and musical ideas, which provide the foundations for Hinds’ grrrl-gang charms. “Exactly,” nods Perotte. “When we first played together, we played all sorts of covers – The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, the xx – our taste in music was not defined at all. We were music lovers, but we didn’t really know what we liked. What we discovered in between the two beginnings of our band was all this new music that was young, alive, and about things we thought and felt. It helped us realise we didn’t have to write like Bob Dylan. Now we always try to do honest music, talk about what we feel, scream when we’re angry. And we love that.”

When the band was born for the second time, they were still a duo, still called Deers. Soon thereafter, they welcomed bassist Ade Martin and drummer Amber Grimbergen to their increasingly thrilling ranks. But as they made a name for themselves, they were forced to change their moniker, following a legal threat from an existing Montreal band with a similar name (Dears). “The name Deers had come to us in a stupid way, it was just for fun, it was totally random,” Perrote recalls. “But when we had to change it last year, we suddenly felt so naked. We felt like they were taking everything we had built with that name. So having a name that was similar – Hinds – explained that we were going to be the same.”

While Hinds’ name may have been half-accidental, their debut album title – Leave Me Alone – was anything but. “We take real care over all our songs, and we take a lot of time,” Perrote explains. “And although the title didn’t come with any [particular] song, it was about the whole project, because it’s so personal to us. This started with just Carlotta and I and two acoustic guitars, and then suddenly our team was growing, and everyone had an opinion – some in a good way, some in a bad way. And we understand that we have a label and stuff, and that we have to do things. But the music is ours. That’s just the four of us. Leave me alone for this. Don’t touch that.”

They’re untouchable, all right, these raucous leaders of the pack.

Hinds play Stereo, Glasgow on Sunday. Leave Me Alone is out now via Lucky Number / Mom and Pop

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