Haunted Heart (Damaged Goods)
It's a case of if it ain't broken don't fix it as London rock'n'roll duo continue to quietly please third time around.
They say third time's a charm. No one knows why, but they do. Proverbial witterings aside, we're back here with Jack Sandham (guitar slinger, organ grinder, smokin' voice) and Wednesday Lyle (barefoot drums, sultry voice) worshipping at the alter of well-crafted, polite-ish rock'n'roll. They've quietly built up a nice following via previous outings 'Beat Stampede' and 'Skeleton Soul' and they continue to refine their art on this latest LP (notice the two word album title thing? More minimal than Kings Of Leon's five syllables anyhow).
If you like your garage trashy best look away now. This is soulful rock'n'roll that looks to the blues/gospel/Southern 50s/60s version of rock'n'roll served up by heroes like Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, and Dusty Springfield. In that sense they have more in common with the Black Keys and aforementioned KOL than, say, Royal Blood and the White Stripes. Having said that they definitely know how to testify and kick up the dust on a tight-as-a-nut rhythm once they start revving that engine. The title track does just that, and is destined for a modern Hollywood soundtrack somewhere; with it's slightly distorted organ chugs, insistent handclaps and spiky short melodic guitar solo. 'Downlow' pulls off a similar trick, with Lyle's deadpan vocals doing their best to keep up with the high speed train going on beneath.
'Doom Train' has a loose rockabilly/boogie stop-start base that actually touches on The Cramps rough'n'ready psychobilly, though I suspect it's come to them via the influence of voodoo master Jim Jones. But it's on their delicate, Americana moments that Cowbell are most affecting. It's a lost art for modern rockers to deliver genuinely, whiskey-in-chair-at-midnight tender moments. On 'Neon Blue' the slide guitar is thrust centre stage as the dancing partner to Sandham's whispered urban blues tale, and 'Something's Gotta Give' channels Lou Reed on the VU's sparse-sounding third-album with delightful success. Closing track 'No Trouble' is five minutes of authentic southern soul that could have been presented to Solomon Burke for his final album. It's stirring stuff, and deserves a wider audience.
If 'Haunted Heart' falls down anywhere it's that it moves very much in its own comfort zone: it knows what it likes and doesn't deviate from it's prime influences. If you can live with that then you'll be humming this shit 'til the cows come home. And Christ knows in these troubled times you take your comforts where you can.
Haunted Heart is out now on LP, CD and for download via Damaged Goods
Neon Spiral EP (self-released)
The Kettering quartet have just dropped their third EP, and my word it’s a corker. Four tracks that trade heavily in fuzz and drone, it’s a metallic knockout mix of all their primary influences, and a few more beside. They open with ‘War In My Head’, which is all Telescopes/Suicide tendencies and thickset grungey alt-rock dynamics, held together with a hypnotic hi-hat beat and J&MC guitar pulse that keeps your eye on the horizon. It goes through several phases, regularly swaying left and right to display its message - before collapsing on the floor, having given all it could at the altar of degenerate rock’n’roll. Sea-sickness may kick in if you didn’t take your pill beforehand. It’s possibly their best song to date, and should win them plenty of new admirers.
‘Swamp Thing’ lurches into view swiftly, driven on some maniacal Black Sabbath-styled riff and vocal intonation. The Fun House sludge is relentless over six minutes, coming to life in double time for the last ninety seconds where guitarist Tom pulls his best Wayne Kramer riff out the bag. Occasionally singer Dean yelps in a way that recalls John Lydon in his PILed up days (as opposed to his current Brexit-loving daze), and all is briefly right with the world. This sort of warped heaviness could get you locked up in Arkham if you’re not careful, boys.
‘Fudge Mountain’ is period shoegaze drone ala Loop and Spacemen 3, and is neither offensive nor much to shout about - until the fourth minute, when everything drops away and the stellar bass line comes into focus and some light is let in. From there it’s onto the stratosphere (if only the inner version). Closer ‘Microsleep’ is the magnum narcotic opus: jazzy beats underlying an early 90s indebted exterior. Intense and broody (like Smashing Pumpkins), krauty (like Ride), a little self-indulgent (like Pearl Jam), it’s custom-made for the alt-rockers of a certain vintage to lose their shit to. And also perfectly suited to the contemporary psych scene. These lot know what they’re doing at every single minute of this EP. Transfer you attention in their direction swiftly.
Neon Spiral is available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. A vinyl version will follow in the next month or so.
Obermann Rides Again (Dirty Water)
“Raw and tender rock’n’roll songsmithery”, says the press release. And that, in a nutshell, is the long-term appeal of the Rochester/London trio with the granite name. The Big Beat Sound might seem to some as same-old repetitive background noise, but getting it right is a fine art. That takes mastery.
‘Obermann’ is their ninth release, and first for five years. For the uninitiated singer/guitarist Mickey Hampshire and drummer Bruce Brand first came together in the Milkshakes in the early 1980s, whilst bassist John Gibbs first materialised in [the recently reformed] Scottish beatsters The Kaisers. That Mickey and co. are still bashing away together at it after more than 25 years is testament to sheer bloody-mindedness, and more importantly an ability to turn basic raw materials into song-shaped Taj Mahals year after year, to the public's delight.
As with most beat bands the sound rarely changes album to album, and so here is more of their mix of hard rockers and softer songs [not ‘ballads’!]. 'I Ain't Hurting For You’ is as sharp as ever, with a scream’n’buzzsaw solo combo that’d shame bands half their age. ‘I Don’t Understand Her Anymore’ has a low-key beauty, wonky Stylophone wizardry and all, that’s hard to put into words, but you will feel it. The Bo beat takes a front seat, as usual, on occasion, most effectively on the Ludella Black-featuring ‘You Don’t Have To Travel’. Producer Jim Riley blows a mean harp on the brooding blues of ‘I’m The Unforgiver’, which would sit nicely on Blue And Lonesome. ‘Won’t See Me Again’ would make Dave and Ray proud, whilst the plaintive ‘What Do You Do' shows there’s versatility in this Medway business. The album finishes with a title track that’s loud, proud and full of vim.
Lyrically Hampshire is as straight as a die, maintaining the bad-woman-did-me-wrong, but-I-win-in-the-end routine. ‘Redacted Man’ is a lovely touch; taking a current political lexicon and shifting the idea to a relationship is a clever twist. Lines will jump out at you here there and everywhere, e.g. “your dangerous mind, like a loaded gun”. It’s not a perfect album: on rumblers ‘Don’t Torment Me’ and ‘The Unsignposted Road’ you can hear the formula overstepping the songcraft. But it matters not, because a cracking song is always only a step away.
Hampshire songs aren’t all look-at-me noisy bluster: instead they seep into your brain after a few plays and [masonic] lodge themselves there. They manifestly show how pub rock can be as great on the feet and in the heart as any prog opus. Long-term fans will be impressed, and new converts will find plenty to love. Everyone wins.
[Bonus news: apparently we can soon expect new vinyl and download releases from The Masonics’ back catalogue, starting with Outside Looking In and a new singles compilation]
Obermann Rides Again is out now via digital platforms. There’s a limited, 500-press vinyl version too if you look hard enough.
KING SALAMI & THE CUMBERLAND 3
Goin’ Back To Wurstville (Dirty Water)
Runners-up? Runners-up, really? When last year the London rhythm’n’punk band appeared on the BBC as part of its search for Britain’s Best Part Time Band they should have been a shoo-in to win. Alas, terrible ska band Bombskare won. Which, on reflection, is probably for the best, because the band should first and foremost be known for the music and the shows, not winning some quickly thought-up show to fill the TV schedule of BBC Two. The band are a constant inspiration to all who come across them, working tirelessly to entertain us kick-seeking fools via many recordings and countless tours.
This, their third album, starts with a little bit of show-business razzmatazz, as sax-playing singer [and musical fellow traveller] Colonel Spencer of MFC Chicken fame gives them an MC-style intro. It sets the scene just like the live show, and the first track that follows is classic Salami: ‘Pineapple Mama’ being the twitchy, butt-shaking bastard offspring of Dr. Feelgood and The Sonics. The sound remains the same. Why improve on perfection?
There’s not much need to discuss individual tracks, for the template is clear throughout. Lashings and lashings of demented R&B played with skill and abandon by a well-versed combo. King Salami himself and his sandpaper-rough voice lead the way via entertaining stories about women, dancing, and, occasionally, meat products. 2016 single ‘Tiger In My Tank’ is mercifully included here, as it’s smoking. The intensity never lets up, the quality never drops below first-rate, and if you like your tityshakin’, rockin’ garage ‘Wild’ and ‘Swinging’ then you’ve come to the right place. Now you’re here pull up a chair and never leave.
The title for Britain’s Most Entertaining Band has a clear weiner. [best leave it there, in case I think up any more meat-based puns to make you groan].
Goin’ Back To Wurstville is out now on LP, CD, and DL via Dirty Water
In This Perfect Hell (Groovie/Dirty Water)
For the uninitiated The Routes are an Anglo-Nipponese garage trio, and that’s not something you get to announce very often. This fifth album was written, recorded, mixed and played on (except the drums) by the Anglo bit of the band, Christopher Jack. I mention that because this is pretty close to a solo record of Jack’s, and thus a slightly different beast from before. The R&B swing you usually get from them band has a different tone this time: often replaced by the type of sinister, very stoned, heavy reverb Fuzzinations that John Dwyer has been traversing with Thee Oh Sees in recent times. If you’ve heard the last album Skeletons then time to readjust your sonic earphones, as we’re not in the same prefecture anymore, Tonty...
This is Modern Garage, where the fuzz sound remains key, but many of the authenticity hang-ups of the sixties garage scene are put away in the closest with the Chelsea Boots. As long as you don’t throw out the Trash with the bathwater, this is absolutely fine. And luckily for us listeners Jack doesn’t. He has a particular way with his guitar sound and vocal delivery to have already stamped a trademark on his sound, so it’s not an alien departure at all. But now you can positively taste the thickness of the trip, as slabs of echoing buzzsaw guitar puncture the ears from every direction.
Opener 'Thousand Forgotten Dreams' trails the sludge love of a thousand stoner rock bands with a penchant for Jesus and Mary Chain (aka “pop”) as well as yer usual Sabbath. 'Something Slipped Through My Window' is a glam-beated one-directional onslaught; Marc Bolan on a comedown, if you like. “Peeling Face” is great uptempo bubblegum garage: cheap Ace Tone organ bubbling away whilst Jack has a full-on meltdown. Even pacier is ‘No Permanance’, which maintains a winning - relentless, even - motorik groove’n’drone combination [Can influences are always going to win you bonus points at Tender Prey]. This theme is explored again on ‘Oblivious’ to great, if ever-so-slightly intimidating, effect.
'Worry' is all minor-key doom, with a simple up’n’down blues riff that’s Primitive Central, aided and abetted by a cracking shouty chorus. Put it on the latest Back From The Grave and it fits perfectly. 'Make You Hate Me More' similarly delivers. Turns out they still do authentic sixties, then. The lyrics are still the tongue-in-cheek “watch out, I’m a charming shithead” style, and when you do a catch an intelligible line through the murk it invariably induces a grin.
It you can stomach the heavy, tinny, reverberating production values that renders the album distinctly monotone then you’ll be In Perfect Fuzz Heaven with In This Perfect Hell. Acid Punk, baby, is still where it’s at.
In This Perfect Hell is out on vinyl via Groovie Records and download via Dirty Water mid-March
Caught In The Darkness [Sugarbush Records (LP)/Easter Records (CD/DL)]
This one re-emerged from the endless pile of mess that my life became after moving back to England from Oz. At first I thought that it was too late to review as it came out twelve months ago, but then this Internety Thing timely revealed that the bastion of quality power-pop and psych, Sugarbush Records, has done a limited run of vinyl pressings, and released it in December. Talk about breathing new life into a much deserved record.
So without any more ado, let me sing the praises of this Milwaukee troupe on their fourth LP. My review of previous album Things That Shine & Glow was gushing. “Why aren’t these guys megastars?”, I pondered - and I’m still am asking the same question. They are America’s Pugwash, really: mixing power-pop pace and melody to dreamier ideas on the slower numbers. They come out the gate with the title track and it’s ‘65 Beatles joy all around. ‘Thursday Girl’ marries the sonic adventures of The Electric Prunes and Jeff Lynne to create Guitar Pop Nirvana. The quality never really dips for the rest of the album, and singling out certain tracks seems a little unfair. But I will say that if you played ‘All The Way’ to anyone and claimed it was the new Foxygen single they wouldn’t suspect anything was up. ‘She Has It All’ swings with the confident verve of prime-era Prisoners [does praise come much higher than that?], and comes with a lovely paisley-centric Wurlitzer-sounding middle-eight that captivates on every playback. One final mention: for the galloping ‘I’ll Stand In Line’, which has that special, warm, yearning, humble and vulnerable feeling that very few bands that are not called The Pale Fountains or Love could ever conjure.
I’m not alone in praising 'the Trolley' [as probably no one is calling them]. It seems that every decent blog feels the same way about this one, with top comments appearing on many throughout 2016 (where? On Shepherd Express, Milwaukee Record, Broken Hearted Toy, Powerpopaholic, Power Pop Revival, Pop Geek Heaven, The Strange Bew, Goldmine, The Big Takeover, Sweet Sweet Music, Sound Renaissance, I Don't Hear a Single, Pop Junkie, and Pop That Goes Crunch!!!). No one who has this record has ever regretted the decision. And for Zombies, ELO, and general harmony-pop fans, this album is ESSENTIAL.
Caught In The Darkness is out now on orange vinyl via Sugarbush or CD and DL
THE SOUND OF POP ART
Drama (England In June)
This Cambridge quartet has been quietly making a riot on the retro scene for the past few years, so it’s great to finally hear an album by them [this is actually their third]. It’s very much an ensemble piece, both in terms of the multitude of guests on here, and the styles displayed. The project is helmed by songwriter Chris Free; kudos to him for the continued effort put into this project.
The opening track ‘Freedom’ got a review on here a few months back, and we spoke of it’s excellent breezy summer feel. It still hits the spot in shivering November: it’s mix of 80s/early 90s influences (Paul Weller Movement, the acid jazz scene), plus a sprinkling of ’60s Dusty, making it the 2016 pop tune of choice for the sussed generation. On playback it’s not surprising to learn that Free refined his trade as a songwriter during this time period, appearing on Weller’s Respond label. The honeyed singing of Louise Turner on ‘Freedom’ is calm and sultry and perfect for these songs. Her vocal delivery is eerily similar to that of Kylie Minogue, but I’m not sure that’s intentional. It’s great, anyway.
With it’s soft parping horns, stellar sax line [by Gary Malby] and delicate organ sound ‘Kiss The World Goodbye’ is a soft-sike piece of neo-Bacharach that is to be both admired and loved in equal measure, it’s serious lyrical subject a nice counterweight to the melody. Sara Onyett’s exquisite Motown-esque bass playing leads the way on ‘Secondary Modern’, and is one to fill any dancefloor. Perhaps the best thing on here is “hidden track” ‘Shape Of Jazz’, which isn’t jazzy at all, but a straight four-to-the-floor Motown stomper that you’d expect is the centrepiece to their live set.
Elsewhere you’ll hear the driving Spencer Davis Group/Georgie Fame-esuqe R&B-pop of ‘Mr A James’ and ‘Intoxicated Soul’ that, for me, is their most accomplished forte. ‘Generation X’ meanwhile might be the most derivative thing on here - it’s 80s Weller worshiping tones unmistakable - but as you don’t hear it often these days it’s nonetheless very pleasant. You might hear his ‘Dad Rock’ influence left right and centre, but utilising those smooth, jazzy Style Council ideas is, ironically, pretty fresh in 2016 [see also on the atmospheric title track, and on the nu-soul of ‘So High’].
The songwriting on this album is great, the playing is great...a shame the production is a little thin, but budget constraints for self-financed bands is always limiting, so who am I to knock. If you like your retro pop to be smooth, mature and summery then Drama will be Heaven sent. In fact, everyone will take something from this album, such is the overall quality and diversity of influences. Nice work, team.
Drama is out now via Bandcamp and on CD on December 8.
Here Come The No-Things!! (CopaseDisques)
Edinburgh natives The No-Things have a membership with excellent garage-rock pedigree in former bands from Scotland and France. Their debut LP is a quality summation of all their number have so far learnt on the their punking travels. In essence, keep it primitive and sexy - and the Gods of Trash will smile upon thee.
The No-Things roll call is: vocalist/harmonica player Laurent Mombel [Les BOF!], guitarist Alex [of Paris’ The Carpet Sellers], drummer Calvin Burt [The Thanes etc.], and bassist Scott Shaw [The AMs]. And together do they deliver a set of catchy, blistering rock’n’roll? Abso-fuckin-lutely they do.
The sound is uncompromising, straight-down-the-middle trashy garage punk, heavily influenced by not just the original 60s fuzzers, but by those that have passed this way since. The Fuzztones, Chesterfield Kings, and The Gun Club from the 80s are clearly touchstones. And they are most definitely contemporaries of King Salami & The Cumberland 3, Barrence Whitfield & The Savages, and MFC Chicken. The album opens with the fierce ‘Don’t Get On My Tits’, and you can almost see through the speakers the band writhing around the recording studio as you listen along. If authenticity is the true spirit of rock’n’roll then here, even though they are retreading a worn path, is the blues-wailin’ Real Deal. Even this early on it’s hard to resist the urge to bang-a-head. There’s more dirty slabs of heavy drums, rumbling bass, phat guitar lashes and spat out vocals on tracks such as ‘The Norvin’, ‘Diamond Ring’, and ‘Then She Was Gone’. ‘Who Did You Bob Rob’, similarly, is stolen out of the back pocket of The Sonics, or possibly The Wailers. We also get quite a bit Stones-aping, British Invasion-adoring sassy beat wiggle on ‘I Know An Old Woman’, ‘The Dollar Bills’, and ‘Champagne’. Don Craine would heartily approve.
‘J’vais etre riche’ allows Mombel to indulge in some Black Francis/Jack White vocal hiccups, and it sounds just right. ‘The Purple Dance’ shimmies like the New York Dolls, whilst ‘Stickin’ Around’ does a Cheap Trick to win you over. The closing track - ‘I’m All Alone’ - is a Stooges-esque clangfest that is a subtle as all that went before. I tried to find a boring song on the album: I failed. Often these top hole live garage bands fail to recreate their personal, visceral excitement (you know, sweaty men giving it some) when confined in the recording studio, but here they’ve avoided that pitfall like it doesn't even exist.
Right, I’m back off to dance around the room some more and then go kick the neighbour’s dog. This is how this album makes you feel.
'Here Come The No-Things!!' is out on CD and vinyl on November 4th via CopaseDisques
Time Will Pass (Mersol Music)
Has it really been nine years since the release of this Dublin quintet's debut? The calendar does not lie. Are we pleased they are back? You should be, based on this LP.
The band clearly don’t mess about in paying respect to their inspirations. The Urges sound is enthrall to the progressive 60s psych of the west coast (primarily The Doors and Love), the baroque orchestrations of prime Scott Walker and The Zombies, and the neo-scousedelia of The Teardrop Explodes and The Coral.
‘Passing Us By’, a single last year, was a softer return for them, and a clear indication of a move away from their immediate garage roots. It’s a mature sound and it suits them wonderfully, being full of swirling kaleidoscopic vignettes, huge harmonies on the chorus, and a barnstorming outro. The second single 'Echoes Softly’ by comparison is a stab of horn-led beat that almost knocks you off your feet. The horn riff is stolen from ‘Reward’ but you can forgive them that, as the song stands up on it’s own (with pace changes that really work well). A spaghetti-western drama condensed to three minutes.
The record displays a confident strut throughout, like on the soulful spasm of ‘I’ve Been Here Before’ (with its charming spoken word section towards the end). There’s a little bit of sag at this juncture when they resort to garage-psych cliches (see the standard 100mph bashings on ‘Face Made For Sorrow’, and the inevitable sitar that appears through the washed-out ‘In The End’). But luckily it’s short-lived. The combustible ‘We Will Find Another Way’ brings us back to their true spirit, the slightly menacing undertone to the vocals offset by a killer guitar riff and heavy lashings of Vox’n’drumz. The equally pounding ‘Now I See’ cleverly manipulates the melody line to produce a thrilling, if unsettling, feeling of lysergia.
‘Strangers’ collective lurching might give you seasickness if you’re not up for the party. No worries though, the chorus will give you focus. With the end in sight ‘Meanwhile’ is the sort of foot-tapping pop ditty the Hollies and Beatles made all their own for a brief period in 1967. In other words, marvellous. The Urges do a superb job here (the many organ parts bedded in, for example, reveal more delights on each listen).
The album finishes with the title track in a similar style to where we began the album, with softer shades, built on tremelo guitar and sheets of organ. It’s beautiful crystalline whole is almost Temples-esque, and should be the next single (nudge nudge).
Its great to have them back: firing on such righteous form, and exploring the different sounds that have so inspired them to create rich, bold songs.
Time Will Pass is released on October 28 and is available on LP, CD and digital download. The band debut the LP in Dublin at the Grand Social on October 29.
Parisian modernist new wavers FRENCH BOUTIK release their debut album, 'Front Pop', on Friday the 21st [on vinyl via CopaseDisques and CD via Detour Records]. Here singer Gabriela talks about the band and album.
- How did you get together?
It’s all about soul nights really. Our guitarist Serge met our drummer Zelda when he was DJing. He had been composing music for the first time in a while and she was interested in writing lyrics. They liked the resulting demo ['Kinky Allumette', released on the Ici Paris EP] and decided to form a band, recruiting original bassist Elian and singer Flora. The latter left due to musical differences after a few shows so Serge asked me to give singing a shot, and a couple years later Jean-Marc, who had been a fan of the group and taken beautiful photos at our Paris shows, joined on bass. As our original organist Iky has left we are constantly recruiting guests for that - mostly Olivier Popincourt, who played on the album, but also Emer O’Hanlon from Trambeat and Susanne Shields who is a jazz artist here in Paris.
- You have many influences going on, from the mid 60s to the mid 90s. Given the divergent sounds, how easy was it to shape the French Boutik sound in your early years?
It was a really natural process. In the very beginning there was an obvious Kinks and Britpop thing going on, but with the move to singing in French, the native language for most of us, the songs became much more original and interesting. We do listen to lots of French music (Burgalat, Dutronc, Hardy, Salvador etc) but the base of the music is probably much more heavily influenced by English speaking bands (XTC, Costello, Everlys, Bacharach, Who, Undertones, Blur, Prisoners, lots of powerpop, soul and jazz too) . So when the band switched languages it really helped to get us out of copycat mode and thinking of songs as our own thing.
The lyrics are very important to us, and we cannot decide on a final melody or even the arrangement until we have those, and actually all four of us now write lyrics, so we end up mixing things up a lot more to create a final song that is much richer and purposeful to try to get the point across. It makes a huge difference even if most of our fans don’t actually understand the lyrics, and I think this has ended up spreading to the English language songs too.
- Where and when was the album recorded? You were against the idea of doing an album at first…
Apart from the two crowdfunding singles - 'Hitch a Ride' and 'Le Mac' - which were recorded in Paris and then mixed elsewhere, the album was recorded in April of this year at Yeah!Yeah!Yeah! Studios Hamburg with Dennis Rux. Rocket Studios in Croydon did a really cool mix for 'Hitch a Ride' which is also on the album. We were really happy with both the music and the experience of recording the last two EPs in Hamburg with Dennis, so when we decided to try for an album we wanted to go back there. It’s quite intense as you sleep in the studio and it’s a bit out of the centre, so you really do not much else but recording, and we love working with Dennis and he knows what works well with us now. Plus we like his combination of authentic sounds (he has a great collection of older instruments and equipment) without being stuck in retro-ness, just whatever works best for the song. Yes, we really didn’t want to do an album for a long time. We are all working and as we go absolutely crazy over each individual song it takes us a long time to work out the final arrangement. We have a horror of recording any throwaway tracks and did not want the quality to go down as the quantity went up. And also there was the practical problem getting time off and paying for it! But people kept asking about an album so we finally thought that if they were so enthusiastic and were willing to sponsor it why not give it a shot. With the sample two songs, the crowdfunding went really well so we had no choice but to work really hard. We’re really pleased with the result so glad we were pushed into it.
- The album is real tour de force, combining all the best of various mod sounds from beat and jazz, to revival/new wave, to Britpop. It sounds effortless. Is it?
Thank you. Effortless is definitely not the right word though ! We almost lost our minds trying to come up with enough quality new songs (and totally rework a couple of other ones). We had about six months to get the nine new songs together before the recording and for us that is a lot. For each song not only is there a big effort for the right lyrics and key (the latter frequently changes from the original idea), but it takes us a lot of trying out and discarding various ideas for the final melody, harmonies, instrumentation, over a longer period of time. Each song usually requires at least a month of trial and error before we are ready to record and we do prefer a bit longer. Once we have the plan worked out, the more fun part is recording, even if it is hard work. We had only seven days for nine songs which is not much for us. That means keeping to a schedule.
It is so satisfying though hearing the songs in a nice studio (we don’t do demos really - so just have terrible phone rehearsal recordings to judge from before this) and Dennis always has great ideas to make them even better, so it was a huge pleasure despite the intensity.
- The band usually sing in French, but on 'Hitch A Ride' and 'The Rent' on the album this switches to English. Tell us about this.
We do try purposefully to include at least a bit of English in there: the good part of that is that as most of our fans are not French speaking it gives them a way to better connect to the music, and also just to change things up for fun. But we don’t want to follow the general trend in France of singing in English most of the time. It’s not our native language (apart from one of us), so it’s less personal for everyone, and also we are frequently singing about very specific topics which may be local vs general love themes. It would be bizarre to have a song about a French politician (Le Mac) or other local political and societal themes in English. For example La Chemise Déchirée is about the Air France layoffs scandal and l’Expert is talking about popular media pundits who pose as expert journalists. And as mentioned I think the lyrics and the fact that everyone contributes to them is really important for the richness of the songs, which even non-French speakers can pick up on. We would lose this if we only sang in English.
- London has lost a little of its magic in recent years: big housing costs, music venues closing. How has Paris fared in these changing times? Does it still inspire?
We actually have a song exactly about that, called 'Ici Paris'. Unfortunately it’s the same here, apart from that Paris started with less than London as far as live music, so there is hardly anywhere to play with a real drumkit now. All of our friends bands are just like us, always playing the same few places which are constantly in danger of shutting down because of neighbours or financial problems. And the bigger venues are very closed, with industry-only bands.
Chasing everyone out except rich people and tourists and losing the heart of the town is happening at a slower pace here thanks to more legal protections, but it is definitely happening. It’s still a beautiful city but one that is leaking out its soul as the top richest concentrate even more wealth and power and all the nice places to themselves. And those people, even the ones who sincerely want to contribute to the city, aren’t invested enough locally to care about the neighborhoods and traditions. They want everything clean and don’t know enough about the history to appreciate the wonderful things that are still here. This does sadly appear to be a worldwide phenomenon though - London, Paris, New York, San Francisco - all losing their culture by pushing out the non-rich residents who created it. But of course, all of this while not very pleasant is definitely inspiring since we write a lot about politics and society. We’d prefer to have a bit less negative material though.
- Which of your contemporaries strikes a chord with you, that you think we should check out? Unfortunately our favourite group and good friends The Riots from Moscow seem to have disbanded, but despite the lack of clubs here there are lots of great new bands right now if people are interested in new Paris sounds: Popincourt (guest organist Olivier’s project that several of us guest with regularly), All If, The Wave Chargers, Les Kitschenettes, Jon & The Vons, Les Darlings, Os Noctambulos. Also a group that Serge played with years ago, Les Soucoupes Violentes, just reformed with a really great new album.
- Do you know much about the 100 Club?
Probably not as much as English people, but enough to be very excited to play there! Friends used to travel over for the soul nights, and there are so many legendary groups that played there it is a real honour for us. Probably the closest thing here with such a great longtime musical tradition, and that is still going, is the Olympia Theatre but that is much bigger and shows there much more expensive, so it is fantastic that a place which is that legendary, but has more underground sounds, is still going.
- Can you describe the vibe at your live shows? You've built a real following in the UK, so you must be doing something right.
The vibe is always great for us in the UK, we are so happy to be there that we always have a really fun time playing and checking out the other bands and meeting people and I think it shows and spreads to the audience, who may be expecting us to be much more standoffish. And of course now that we have a bit of a following we get to see friends each time.
One really nice thing for us there is that we are now pretty confident there as since our very first shows there we go down really well, even with people that are there to see other bands and have no idea who we are nor any interest in French music. I would guess that besides the fun vibe, a big plus is actually what is a minus for us at home and in the music industry in general, our originality. For better or for worse despite the obvious mod/60s influences we don’t really sound like anyone else, and while that puts off the industry types who have a problem figuring out how to talk about us with the right buzzwords it seems to be really appreciated by the audiences.
- What was the last album you bought?
Group Survey time! For me, I just ordered the new Fay Hallam album and haven’t gotten it yet so can’t say too much except I have heard it is very good and I am a big fan so looking forward to it. Serge just picked up 'Contrasts' by Toots Thielemans, it came out in 1966, a mix of modern jazz and west coast style, very rich harmonically with original orchestration and a light touch. He knew 'Bluesette' from the radio a bit but not the rest and is really pleased. Zelda didn’t buy her latest album but a gift from her brother: 'High' from an Australian group called Royal Headache, it’s garage punk with a soulful male lead vocal that she really loves.
- What plans do you have for after the album?
Hopefully lots of shows to support it! We don’t have a manager nor touring contacts so pretty much wait for invitations to play, we have some coming in from the UK as well as Spain and Italy so just waiting for those to work out. We even miraculously have a few French shows coming up after the Paris Mod Weekender, we’ll have a presentation of the record in Gilbert Joseph, a famous record shop here in Paris, and then our first time in the South in Nice in February.
Honestly we don’t anticipate another big recording for quite a while, it means another crowdfunding and all the time to compose and getting time off. We’d love to have horns and maybe some other guest musicians on the next one which means more time recording too. Luckily we love all the new songs so we won’t get bored of playing them anytime soon :-)
French Boutik play with Lack Of Afro at the 100 Club in London on Thursday November 3rd. Tickets
BY PHIL ISTINE
A blog to pontificate upon music both new and old: mostly reviews, some news, interviews, thought pieces, and exclusive content.