Timber Timbre at Muziekgieterij, Maastricht – an interview

What is going on? I will arrive later in Maastricht, Netherlands, than the band itself, Timber Timbre, who have travelled all the way from Switzerland…Holiday traffic jams, roadworks galore and then a city thronging with people and coaches from all over Europe. Ah, the city’s greatest son, André Rieu is playing his hometown in a beautiful old open air setting slap bang in the middle of the city. Masses of fans queue up and populate every, and I mean every, restaurant and cafe in town. Will there be still people attending Timber Timbre at the Muziekgieterij tonight? I am not insinuating that the fans share a musical taste here but that visitors might simply not get into town…But they do, many of them, and they are being well rewarded with a great final gig before the venue’s summer lull. Here we go:Timber Timbre at Muziekgieterij, Maastricht – an interview.

Timber Timbre at Muziekgieterij, Maastricht - an interview

Timber Timbre play songs from all albums, neatly interject the new “Sincerely, Future Pollution” album and do so with a dark, hypnotic and yet danceable vibe. Encores galore, a very friendly band, what more do you want. It is however very dark, suits the music, suits Taylor Kirk, but does not suit the camera so much…

Earlier in the afternoon, a tired Taylor Kirk enters the venue from the tour coach and kindly chats to Offbeat Music Blog. A quiet, pensive, well-spoken man who strikes me as very modest and friendly with a good sense of humour.

At this point, I would like to thank Ingrid Huhn at City Slang and Yann Dupuis, tour manager, for making it possible and as always the great crew at the Muziekgieterij, the appreciative audience of this venue and of course Timber Timbre for the great performance. And now we chat:


Timber Timbre at Muziekgieterij, Maastricht - an interview

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you very much, Taylor, for taking the time for this interview on your rather strenuous tour!

Taylor Kirk (Timber Timbre): Yes, of course.

OMB: Has there been a defining moment in your life where you decided, music is something I want to do and totally immerse myself in it and create?

Taylor Kirk: I can remember as a kid seeing another kid, a couple of years older than me: He was playing guitar at a friend’s place. He was playing “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana. This really captured my imagination and I understood that I needed to be able to do that. That was the only real kind of moment. From that point on it was just something that needed to be done at some level.

OMB: How old were you there?

Taylor Kirk: I think I was maybe twelve or thirteen.

OMB: And did you come from a musical family?

Taylor Kirk: Yeah, my Dad is actually a drummer. We used to actually play together when I learned to play guitar. We would jam.

OMB: You joined bands before Timber Timbre. Were they in the same kind of genre?

Taylor Kirk: I suppose, yeah. I was mostly playing drums before this project in other people’s friends’ bands, kind of, yeah, rock’n roll music.

OMB: When you look back at Timber Timbre and the bands before that, do you see a straight line in your development, in your songwriting?

Taylor Kirk: Yeah, to me it is quite linear. It changes a certain way. I can track where it’s come from and how it’s changed. I observed that. And also, you know, part of that is intentional and deliberate, and part is also subconscious and a result of learning.

OMB: When you sit down to write a song, do you think about the perception they might receive or is that at the back of your mind and you write them for yourself?

Taylor Kirk: I remember when I began making recordings, writing songs, that it was really just for me – it was for my own kind of catharsis or pleasure. Now, as I go along, I notice more and more that the thing is kind of infected by this concern that it has another purpose, that it is not just meant for me. I always try and put that away but it is there. It is too bad. I wish I could somehow undo that. I don’t know what that would mean to reverse that kind of idea or that factor, you know.

OMB: You recorded your new album “Sincerely Future Pollution” in France in a studio that was full of old, mainly electronic, instruments and you made use of them in a big way. But did you already have in mind before that to change direction a little bit?

Taylor Kirk: Oh yes! The idea was that we would make something that was decidedly electronic and maybe even sort of uptempo or danceable. Something more kind of fun. There was a curiosity about doing something different. It didn’t really go as planned but we did end up embracing this different instrumentation. It is not hugely different but I guess it is just the era of the synthesisers we were using.

OMB: For me it is not so different. There is some new additions but it is still Timber Timbre.

Taylor Kirk: For some it was a big deal.

OMB: For some it was a HUGE deal to the point that they claimed this is not Timber Timbre anymore. How did you deal with that?

Taylor Kirk: I dunno. That was kind of the initial reaction when we started to share the recording with friends and contemporaries and they found it to be…well, it was weird to them and somehow unfamiliar. So that got me a little bit concerned at the time. I never found that it was that unusual.

OMB: Maybe people see Timber Timbre from a different angle sometimes than yourself?

Taylor Kirk: Could be, yeah!

OMB: When you write songs, you do this on your own, I presume and then go into the studio. Do your band colleagues find it difficult, those not being their own songs, to add to them?

Taylor Kirk: No, it seems, as we’ve gone along, they have insinuated themselves more into the thing and made themselves indispensable. To the show but also to the recording process and to the composing as well and arranging. This time around we spent a lot of time together, evolving the songs, the three of us, Mathieu and Simon and myself. Olivier, our former drummer – he was also very involved with sounds and he played quite a lot on the album as well….Did I lose track there?

OMB: No, not at all, you are right on track (laughter). What did you have in mind other than from the musical perspective, from the lyrical and atmospheric side, when you started out doing the album?

Taylor Kirk: All these kind of notes and observations I collected, textural kind of references – all of them were kind of revolving around this science fiction ideas of dystopic realities. I started to consider that we were now living in one of these science fiction worlds that had been written about in the past, had this idea that we had arrived in the future.

OMB: Do you mean the power or the digitalisation?

Taylor Kirk: Yes, that but also the ephemeral nature of how things are disposable and how fast things are moving now.

OMB: You live in Montreal, Canada. Canada is becoming really popular right now, back on the map when we talk about “America”, isn’t it? You are lucky to live there.

Taylor Kirk: Yes, I guess so.

OMB: From the feel of your older recordings and knowing you write in solitude, one would assume you live in the countryside, but Montreal is a pretty big place, isn’t it?

Taylor Kirk: Yeah, it’s a proper city. I dunno, I really thought I was destined to return to the woods. I grew up in a rural place. But I haven’t managed to do it yet. I haven’t managed to be courageous enough to do that on my own. One day…

OMB: If, like you said, tend to write “in a bubble”, how do you find touring? You have one stressful tour here at the moment.

Taylor Kirk: It’s fun. I really really used to hate it. I really preferred to be at home but somehow I have adjusted and I have come to like it and need it. It’s weird. It has been very different now with this group. It’s become a lot more fun to do it with this group of people. To play in this kind of traditional format of a rock group is much more satisfying, I think. People know what this is and they respond to it. As opposed to what we were doing years ago. It was really difficult.

OMB: With the audience?

Taylor Kirk: Yeah, to win people over in the format that we were approaching it with before.

OMB: And now you get a good feedback?

Taylor Kirk: Yeah, it doesn’t require the same level of patience and attention. It is a bit more like (snaps fingers).

OMB: With the more complex nature of the instrumentation on your new album, are the songs more difficult to take to a stage?

Taylor Kirk: It is only really now that we had to pay attention to honour what we have done with the recordings with the live show. It is still a bit bigger and heavier but we have never been overly concerned about that. This time we weren’t really able to do other arrangements because of the nuanced things. Everything needed to be there.

OMB: So it was a bit like jumping into cold water then. But it worked out fine?

Taylor Kirk: Oh yeah, yeah! There was a big concern also that the new music wasn’t going to fit with the older repertoire but it’s all good.

OMB: Which song on the new album “Sincerely Future Pollution” best exemplifies the spirit of the album?

Taylor Kirk: The one that I was really the most proud of was “Sincerely Future Pollution”, the song. Because we really realised it as a group. That was probably the first time that something had been created organically between all of us together. It is quite anonymous on the recording but that’s the one for me.

OMB: Are there songs that you won’t play anymore from the past or on the contrary are there songs that you can still totally identify with?

Taylor Kirk: Oh yeah! I mean there are lots of songs that we never played because we just never were able to make them compelling in a live setting. And certainly there is older music that we have played for so long that it needs to be put away for a little while. Yeah, I dunno, I think everything from the catalogue is still cool, is still relevant. But maybe the first two recordings, “Cedar Shakes” and “Medicinals” – these were home recordings I did on my own. These are much more rooted in blues music and folk music. It would be tricky to find a place for a lot of these songs.

OMB: Is there any question where you would think – sitting at home and thinking about doing an interview – “I would really like to be asked that”?

Taylor Kirk: (Laughs out loud). I never ever think about that. I am not a good interviewee. I get really nervous about these kind of situations.

OMB: Well, this is not television and something big! So, nothing comes to mind?

Taylor Kirk: No, nothing in particular (laughs).

OMB: Thank you very much, Taylor!

Taylor Kirk: Thank you for the opportunity!





Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview

Do you get this feeling too? You have listened to a certain album so many times that the first little sound of just one song off it, makes your mind explode with the memories of that time of your life. Sometimes I do not want to listen to that album later on in my life for the simple reason that I fear I might dilute those strong sentiments. This has been the case for many albums in my case, but certainly for the threesome of “Let Me Come Over”, “Big Red Letter Day” and “Sleepy Eyed” by one of Boston’s and indeed the US’ finest bands Buffalo Tom. I have found though that their later albums (spread over the years since Buffalo Tom are not fully in the music business alone anymore) appealed to me as well, Buffalo Tom having of course grown up too.  Since Buffalo Tom do still play their old songs and graced Europe with a rare set of performances (25th anniversary of “Let Me Come Over”), I went to their gig (giddily excited like everyone else in the series of sold-out shows in Europe). Are you ready? Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview.

Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview

Okay, I am ready to listen to the old songs again. Why? Because Bill Janovitz, Chris Colbourn and Tom Maginnis, just the three of them, without much ado, delivered a burning set of old and new songs. And the old songs have stayed so fresh despite being delivered very true to the originals. Buffalo Tom songs can take a lot memories of a lot of people and there is room for new experiences too.

Thank you so much Buffalo Tom for this amazing gig and everyone at Muziekgieterij too for being such a lovely venue of real music enthusiasts and of course another thank you to Bill Janovitz for the following interview!

Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you very much, Bill, for taking the time for a chat. We are all looking forward to Buffalo Tom’s show tonight here in Maastricht/Netherlands. You seem to have a very loyal fanbase in Belgium and the Netherlands. How come?

Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz: Thank you. I don’t know! You should tell me (laughs)! There are a couple of things: American guitar rock was already fairly popular on an indie level in the Netherlands and Belgium and Germany and the UK when we started in the late eighties. We signed to a label out of the Netherlands, run by a Belgian guy, Megadisc Records. We signed to them and SST in America at around the same time. That was really our first entree to Europe. Also we were produced by J Mascis on our first two albums and he already had some leeway here in Europe. So people were interested in that respect. And we actually had a Dutch promoter to our first tour, the Paperclip people. There was already a circuit for people plus we had the fortune to sign to a Dutch label and the Play It Again Sam people were all involved. We had a good leg up here but the music, I think, appealed to people and I think, they were ready for this kind of thing, at least on the level that we were at.

OMB: I heard you first on a Belgian radio station in the mid-eighties. I think we are about the same age. Belated happy birthday by the way. You were going straight on a tour after your birthday. That must have been pretty rough.

Bill: Nooo, no, it’s a good thing. At this point, a tour of a week is a vacation for me. This is all my birthday week. I love playing music live. You know, we don’t have to tour for months and months at a time like we used to. So, at fifty-one, it’s like…I have a friend who is just here for the ride. He came along because he is having a good time. My friends look at this like: Wow, you get to play to thousands of people or hundreds of people and you tour around and drink beer and have fun and meet people. That’s what touring was when we started. But it gets old very quickly especially when you tour for a month, then go home for a week and then you do another month and then ten years of that. Then it gets burning out.

OMB: You are celebrating the 25th anniversary of your third album “Let Me Come Over”. Did you celebrate the anniversaries of the first two albums as well?

Bill: (Laughs). No, no. We might want to do an anniversary of “Big Red Letter Day” (4th album) because that was a big record for us. I don’t know. At this point it is just an excuse to go out (chuckles).

OMB: Some people also say, that on the third album you found your distinctive voice. The first two albums were fine but it was really Buffalo Tom from the third album on.

Bill: Yeah, that’s right. It is kind of our breakthrough artistic record, for sure.

OMB: Did you have to rehearse or did you often play the songs of that third album?

Bill: Most of “Let Me Come Over” we know like the back of our hand but there are some songs that we had to rehearse. Then there are some songs we thought we knew. We just soundchecked now and we soundchecked “Staples” and we were looking at each other, asking “Do you we end here or do you we keep going?” Certain things like that: As soon as you start thinking about it, it is no longer muscle memory and you start to question yourself. But a lot of it is just muscle memory. It is just a matter of reminding yourself and the ball rolls. So most of “Let Me Come Over” we have played but some songs we have not played much at all after that initial tour.

OMB: After “Let Me Come Over” came the two big commercial successes “Big Red Letter Day” and “Let Me Come Over” and then after that “Smitten”. Then, for a long time, there was nothing. Had you decided, okay, we are doing music on the side now.

Bill: Sort of. I don’t think we were that absolute about it. We were more burned out and said, let’s concentrate on our families for now. I had a kid that was being born that year, 1999, and Tom (Maginnis) already had two kids. We were just really tired of it all. It had gone on for longer than we expected. We didn’t say “Let’s break up” or “Let’s do this for a hobby”. It was more like Let’s give this a break for now, Let’s not rush back into the studio. We certainly did not. We did not have another record out for five or almost ten more years. But we kept playing and we would do a few shows here and there, even did little tours. We did this cover of “Going Underground” by The Jam. So we did things like that and always played around Boston. We went on to other jobs and in doing so, getting off that cycle, made music just so much more enjoyable again.

OMB: Maybe because the pressure was off? Probably explains why you three are still playing together and did not start to fight?

Bill: Yeah, that’s right. We might have just done irreparable harm back then. And the fact that we didn’t have a huge hit…it would have been nice to have a huge hit from the financial perspective because then you can do music on your own terms as well. I am friendly with Eddie Vedder. I look at this as a kind of ideal of success. He can go and play smaller places himself and still theatres and things. So he can get that experience. Also he can go “I can make whatever kind of record I want” and they make lots and lots of money. I don’t know if it would have been a good thing for Buffalo Tom or not. I think we are very level-headed, so who knows.

OMB: Your music was independent of any fashion which in the long run was a good thing because you are still there.

Bill: I think we were always more interested in classic kind of things, timeless, not necessarily classic. We were interested in the timeless aspects of music. We loved new sounds and experimenting with new sounds and bands that experimented, artists like My Bloody Valentine. You always want to push that. But we always wanted to write good songs, songs that lasted. “Let Me Come Over” is an interesting example of what you are talking about. At the time Nirvana and the grunge scene were really taking off and we were going back to more acoustic guitar. We double-downed with that idea on “Big Red Letter Day”, made it even more real classic sounding and I think those records hold up very well.

OMB: They do. They stay very fresh. Or do you have songs that you cannot identify with anymore?

Bill: Oh yeah, for sure! Especially those first two records (Buffalo Tom and Birdbrain) where you are still finding your way through. What are we? That’s why “Let Me Come Over” was such a breakthrough because we really coalesced into a thing. On the first two records you are sort of experimenting. Especially “Birdbrain”: It had more darkness to it than there really was about the band, I think. It was a little more grungy than Buffalo Tom actually tended to be. There is song called “Directive” which we don’t play. It is not that I dislike the song or a guy who is me from that record. We just quickly went through them. The other thing about the first two records for any band is, that is all you have for material. That’s basically a set. So you play these songs over and over again and by the time you get into the third, fourth, fifth record, you have all these songs to choose from. We are now on the ninth record and we try and work in some new songs too.

OMB: The albums “Three Easy Pieces” and “Skins” were then spread out over a number of years. How did you find your approach to making a record had changed, not only technologically but also maybe atmospherically?

Bill: The primary thing is, it is all digital. So you can make records at home or at least record sounds at home that are arguably better than our first record’s technology when it was still primitive. It wasn’t so much that technology in general was that primitive. The height of recording technology for me is still the late seventies of analogue. But then digital became so good to where we are now. But the first record was made on very inexpensive analogue equipment. Everybody involved in making the record was sort of inexperienced including the producers and the engineers. It was not a real studio, more like a warehouse space. You were just happy to get the sounds you get. But now, you can take stuff and bring it home and work on it and if the ideas don’t work, that’s fine, because you are not wasting anybody’s time or money. I am no engineer but I know how to get a decent sound with a decent amplifier. And I can sing.

OMB: Are you a bit nostalgic about the old days though? The record shops instead of downloading and streaming, the analogue technology, the music industry, the radio stations?

Bill: Yeah, I mean, I loved the days of spending a Saturday afternoon going to buy records and books and going back to my rented apartment with my girlfriend or my friends. Just having a glass of wine and putting on the new records and reading books and maybe going to a movie. But that was a whole lifestyle of being in my twenties. I don’t know what people in their twenties without kids do now – I am sure there are all kinds of fun things. But I also embraced technology readily. I am kind of an early adopter of things. I love new tools – to a fault. I love Spotify and I love being able to stream music. I think it is a myth that bands, new bands, feel that they missed out on an opportunity to make money. Because we made no royalties from records, you know. You got an advance and if you recouped your advance, then you did not get a very big advance because we were only selling ten, twenty, thirty thousand records. It wasn’t like all of a sudden there was big money in it. I think people make the mistake of thinking, well, if you got played on the radio, you get these royalty cheques from the broadcasters. And that you do get, but that was on the big radio stations. If a couple of people are streaming your…I think, the formulas could be better, don’t get me wrong. I would like to see people getting paid more.
I don’t really get nostalgic for vinyl per se. I understand it and I like to put on records from time to time. But I am much more about streaming music all through my house from my phone and if it sounds good on the high-quality systems I use, high-bit rate and whatever, bla bla bla, the convenience far outweighs – and I am glad to pay ten dollars. Honestly, I would pay twenty dollars a month for the same access. I don’t go buy records anymore, really. I mean, I will, if it helps support a band if they are doing a campaign or that sort of thing. But I don’t really listen to the vinyl anymore. It is located in a part of my house, in the basement.

OMB: Yeah, I keep them there too, looking after them though. I like the feel of vinyl and the look of it. (Me too, says Bill). But I am happy that I can do shows from home and artists can contact me with their music easily. And I can find new music on the internet.

Bill: I don’t know if I would be as adventurous if it was about records. I think I would shut down my mind.

OMB: Sometimes people don’t even get to do records or CDs and they put the music on bandcamp first.

Bill: Then there is that thing. Bandcamp is a great tool. I find a lot of acts that way and I support acts that way. Bandcamp is a great thing because you can put it on any device and listen to it – through Sonos which I use at home.

Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview

OMB: I often hear people saying: Buffalo Tom – oh my, they were great, but they were the perennial maids of honour. But the other bands who made it were not exactly swimming in dosh, like Pavement.

Bill: Yeah, Pavement did a very successful reunion tour. They did okay there. But, yeah, you’re right. There were a lot of bands that did not get to our level but they were a lot of bands that opened up for us or supported us that did go on to big time like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole. But you know, I wouldn’t trade places and be Smashing Pumpkins. Billy is an interesting guy but I wouldn’t want to be in a band with him. (Sees my uncomfortable face and laughs out loud). And apparently nobody else does here. (Laughs even louder). But he is a very nice guy when I have met him. And we were really enjoying playing with them and Hole.It’s just different. Listen, to be able to go and play to 1700 or 1800 people in Brussels or sell out London or come here…it’s just a gift.

OMB: Yeah, it is great, you go on tour and get packed venues still.

Bill: Yeah, we always admired cult artists like Tom Waits or Nick Cave. Even Van Morrison, he was huge in the seventies, but he still plays to loyal audiences. I would love to achieve that level of respect and be able to fill out a theatre any time. I don’t feel we are there. But I think if we devoted more time to the road, we would. But I think it is nice, I mean, the Paradiso in Amsterdam and so on, I never wanted to get much bigger than that. We have gotten respect over the years. There is nothing I would really change too much.

OMB: How do think your songwriting has changed over the years?

Bill: I think we mostly stayed ninety per cent the same (laughs). The lyrics have changed quite a bit. It reflects our lives and our lives as fifty-year olds are very different than when we were twenty-five. Things about adult concerns get in there. The approach of impressionist and stream-of-consciousness and guitar rock is all sort of the same though. We are writing different stuff now – we have a new record coming out which I think is excellent. So, let’s see.

OMB: Yes, I wanted to keep that secret until last. Because you have a very big surprise, you are working on a new record. It is almost finished?

Bill: Yeah, it’s done and we are having it mixed next week or so by John Agnello (Me: Woohoo!) who actually produced and mixed “Sleepy Eyed”. And he’s obviously done quite a bit since then (laughs). That should be interesting. He is a nice guy. It was a pledge music campaign – a crowd-sourcing thing. It did very well and it is still open if people wanna pledge!

OMB: But you have your own label?

Bill: Yeah, I am not sure who is going to release it. It’s going be us in partnership with somebody maybe.

OMB: Will you play a new song tonight?

Bill, Yeah, I think we will play a song.

OMB: Thank you very much!

Bill: Thank you so much, Alice!

Buffalo Tom play Muziekgieterij Maastricht plus interview

Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017

Yours truly has long been a fan of Pictish Trail – Johnny Lynch with his band, as a duo or solo. Nothing like the longing and wildness in the song “Winter Home Disco”. He presented a shiny, glittering album of ten delicate songs to us recently: “Future Echoes”. Since Johnny now resides on the Isle Of Eigg, one of the Small Islands, part of the Inner Hebrides in Scotland, I even contemplated to take the Road To The Isles…I haven’t do so yet but I still give you Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017. How? Read on!

Less than one hundred people live on Eigg and do so totally independent from the mainland. And yes, you can write songs there and much more…Johnny runs a record label there – Lost Map Records (featuring artists like Rozi Plain, Kid Canaveral and Seamus Fogarty and organises a festival even on the island called Howlin’ Fling!

Would I ever have a chance to see Pictish Trail in action? Yeeeeessss, British Sea Power, brilliant band in now yet another way, picked Pictish Trail as support for their UK and Europe tour. British Sea Power have also played at a Howlin’ Fling festival!

On site at the Gebäude 9, Cologne, Johnny agreed to a chat and turns out to be the kindest and funniest man ever – well, music in most cases does not lie! See for the interview with Pictish Trail’s Johnny below.

Pictish Trail - an interview in May 2017

I have to tell you about this gig…the venue is empty, Pictish Trail manage to call  some people in. Bewilderment on the audience’s faces, then careful laughter and nodding, more laughter, sheer amazement. This development is followed by people going outside telling the rest to come in for Heaven’s sake. Those who remained outside until British Sea Power’s set were reproached in no uncertain terms by the ones inside that they have missed brilliance! I was there to witness it and totally agree. Pictish Trail were present just as a duo, Johnny and Suse on bass and great vocals (and with a tremendous sense of humour too). It was to be an acoustic set, consisting of some heart-warming songs on bass and acoustic guitar first. Without giving too much away, we were treated to the thirty-seconds songs from the soundbox afterwards and one full song from the new album with Johnny wandering in his kaftan through the audience. I still have my mouth hanging open…many insects have found their way in since Thursday…I don’t care.

Check out Pictish Trail’s website for more information and soundbites and other goodies.

And here comes Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017

Offbeat Music Blog:
Thank you very much for taking the time, Johnny! We sadly never make it to the Isle of Eigg, so it is great that you are supporting British Sea Power and we meet you here.

Pictish Trail:
No problem!

Is your festival on the Isle of Eigg/Scotland taking place this year?

Pictish Trail:
It has not happened yet. It is happening at the end of July. We have not announced anyone who is playing yet, so it is all top secret. But we will announce it in the next few weeks. Basically, I am still organising it. I have booked all the bands but I don’t know where to put them all. There is not much accommodation on the Isle of Eigg.

I know! So what do you usually do? Tents?

Pictish Trail:
There is a lot of camping and there is a hostel in the middle of the island. It is not a massive hostel but it is big enough and it is very good. So, I’ve got a lot of the bands staying there all together. So, yeah, it’s gonna be messy (laughs).

Do you get midges?

Pictish Trail:
We do get midges but I don’t think that they are that bad but then I have been living on Eigg for seven years and I think you can get used to it.

Are they not interested in you anymore?

Pictish Trail:
I’ve got a protective forcefield which is my beard. My beard covers up about eighty per cent of my face now.

You started out your label Lost Map really from a caravan, didn’t you?

Pictish Trail:
I did, yeah. I mean, I ran a label before when I was living in a fishing village called Anstruther on the East Coast and I had a label called Fence there. When I moved to Eigg we rebranded the label as Lost Map in 2013, four years ago. Yeah, but it was working out of a caravan. (Laughs). It was a great caravan. I have built a house since then so I am now in a house. But the caravan was amazing because it was just really relaxing and the views from the caravan were beautiful. Eigg is an amazing place to live.

What made you move there?

Pictish Trail:
My partner, she is a farmer on the island and I went to visit her when we were first going out. As soon as I arrived, I made friends with a lot of people on the island. I couldn’t really figure out a reason for not staying and so I just stayed. I enjoyed the place so much, that I thought, oh, I can just live here. And do what I do. Because I travel quite a lot anyway. It did not matter to me where my home was. Home is just where you leave all your stuff. So it’s there. And I am spending more and more time there now.

So, for the tours you obviously have to travel but music for Pictish Trail you can do there and everything concerning the label Lost Map you can do there as well?

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, I can do everything there. The only thing I cannot do there is…I do a lot of writing and record demos. But I am not a very good producer. I have realised that now (laughs). All my records were self-produced and very low-fi. I love that sound and I will continue to do that stuff. But I suddenly realised, I don’t have any interest in producing. Eigg is good for writing but recording I do elsewhere.

Eigg is self-sufficient but you have to be a bit careful with the electricity. So, probably, when you switch everything on, everyone else is without electricity.

Pictish Trail:
(Laughs). Especially when I go for a tea break which is like once every thirty minutes. Yeah, we are totally off-grid. We generate all our own electricity. Although the equipment I use does not use much electricity.

So noone has to sit on the bike and pedal away?

Pictish Trail:
Nooooo. Although sometimes it is good to have no electricity. We had a few power cuts this year and that’s actually been really good for writing because it forces you to play with your guitar.

Let’s talk about your lovely new album “Future Echoes” (nicely produced!).

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, let’s talk about my new album! It was produced by my friend Adam. My friend Rob co-produced some of it, Rob Jones. I am really proud of it. It is the first time as Pictish Trail to kind of work on ten songs and really focus on the songs. Before, what I would do, I would have just a pile of songs and I would jigsaw them together like a compilation of my favourite ones.

With this one you had an album in mind?

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, and I had a few things that I wanted to try out. Within those ten songs, if something didn’t work, I just had to go back and work on it until it fitted. And it makes for a more cohesive album, I think. This would be something, I’d do again. It took a long time though. The writing and recording session took over a year and a half. So I would write and do demos on Eigg and travel down to London to record for three days with my friend and travel back home. A few months later I would go back down again. So it was a lot of back and forward. But it was really good and I enjoyed that, so I think the next album will be like that.

What did you have in mind with this album? Maybe an overall story or atmosphere?

Pictish Trail:
In terms of sound, I wanted to have something that was a bit more full-sounding, my vocals right to the front and something that sounded a bit better produced really. In terms of theme: My previous record had been primarily about the passing of my mother and coming to terms with that. This one was sort of my own mortality. I’ve just had a son. So that definitely played a role in the shaping of the album. It is basically an album about death (smiles). Also, my partner and I miscarried while making the record. So that was definitely on my mind and I was worrying about the next pregnancy. But it went well. It is something that we really don’t talk about that much and I thought, well, I may write some songs about it.

Yeah, been there as well and you keep thinking of it and it is good to deal with it. And you wonder what kind of person that could have become.

Pictish Trail:
And also I wondered, my son who now exists would not have existed if the previous one existed.

Yes, and where do they go?

Pictish Trail:
Yes, this is it! It is all kind of a weird alternate reality. And you think about how someone’s personality can completely affect your life and how it can completely change your own perception on things. But the chance of that person existing is really (clicks fingers). My Mum miscarried before she had me – sorry, this is too dark….but so often I thought, maybe what would have happened if I had not been. If he had made it. That makes me think about my own mortality in that respect. So I got quite metaphysical. There is a lot of questioning about existence on the album. There is one song about being in a car crash. Me and two friends were in a car crash. We should not have lived following this car crash. The crash was horrific, we definitely should have died. Afterwards I was having a recurring dream where I had died and I was looking at the world without me in it – sounds very self-centred but you can’t control dreams. So that kind of thing came up quite a bit.
But also there is a thing with the record – there’s song called “Half Life” about how something decays forever and even if something breaks up, there is always something that will eternally divide leaving some sort of semblance to the original thing. That song has specifically to do with a relationship. It exists and it plays a big role.

What kind of bands would you be interested in taking onto your label?

Pictish Trail:
I don’t really know to be honest. Most of the people who are on the label are people who I am friends with. I tend to like music of my friends, thank God (laughs). We have put out a lot of music this year by bands we’ve only just met. But they are all people who I get on really well with. I am quite open-minded. The deal that we have as a label is quite different to a lot of other record labels. So I operate more as a distributor as opposed to an actual label. The band is self-releasing but with our assistance. I had a policy of saying yes to everything and see what happens. Not that the quality has gone down but if it is something that I really like, I go: Well, okay, this is what we can do for you. Let the people know about the record and get out to shops and we can help you get gigs and all this sort of stuff. Let’s just see if it works out. With every record that has come along which I have enjoyed and I have met the person and they have not been an arsehole, then I am: Okay, let’s do it.
I think that might probably come to an end at some point. I might go: Oh my God, I am taking on too much. I think that people understand the limitations that we have as label. We can’t give tour support and we can’t pay them for the recordings. We can make sure that they get copies. We do a product split. Say, a thousand copies of an album will be made and the band pay half and we pay half and they get to keep half the copies and we keep half. Whatever they sell, they keep and what we sell, we keep. If one party runs out of copies before the other, then they can buy back at cost price. It just means that everybody can get the copies for a cheap amount of money. I’ve got friends who are on labels who pay like really crazy money to buy their copies back from their label. For me, particularly nowadays, with touring, CD and vinyl sales are a massive part of my income. Like I normally tour with a five-piece band and before I can’t afford to pay each of them as players. I rely heavily on CD and vinyl sales to make it work. So that is my attitude with the label as well. Like Factory Records we don’t own anyone’s music. All the rights belong to them. So if a band gets picked up by a bigger label, which has happened a few times, it means that they own their entire back catalogue. At the end of the day, I just like to help people out. And it’s worthwhile. To be honest, these days, not a lot of people make enough money out of selling music anyway. So as long as it doesn’t cost us, as long as we are not losing anything, that is the main thing. The area where we manage to make ourselves sustainable, is events. Those are used to showcase the bands on the label.

You have done that in London too?

Pictish Trail:
We do a few shows in London. We do a festival on Eigg, a few events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I’d love to do something further afield but I am not that organised (laughs).

Well, you can’t be everywhere at the same time.

Pictish Trail:
No, unfortunately not. Even though, touring with British Sea Power helps, definitely.

And is that good?

Pictish Trail:
Oh yeah, it is amazing. They are incredible. I have been a fan since they started so it’s a bit surreal as well. But they are all so nice, so friendly. Also such an incredible band, so many great songs, really great albums. Quite a singular band as well – there is really no act out there like them. They’ve always really impressed me. They have their own sound and they developed within that sound, done soundtracks, something that’s quite epic, something that is quite intimate but retained their quality to it. It also existed outwith any kind of trends. They don’t fit in with whatever the hot trendy new thing is.

I would not know what the hot trendy new thing is…

Pictish Trail:
I definitely wouldn’t know, not on Eigg (laughs). Yeah, but just great songs at the end of the day, amazing playing. I have been watching their shows every single night and just loving it.

Thank you very much, Johnny!

Pictish Trail:
Thank you!

Pictish Trail - an interview in May 2017

Pictish Trail © Kevin Burns

British Sea Power – Interview May 2017

Just as often as we despair about the music industry, especially in this day and age, shaping the tastes of people who in turn then support those artists that would not really be in need of support (yes, I am oversimplifying here) – just as often there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope. The bands that lately have given interviews to Offbeat Music Blog have defied the trends, the labelling and the media hype by continuing what they do and do it well. Here is another one that shines in all areas: British Sea Power! Before their gig at Cologne’s Gebäude 9 (wonderful support by Pictish Trail) and recovering from their stay in and trip from Munich, they kindly took some time for: British Sea Power – Interview May 2017.

British Sea Power have consistently delivered great albums from the start and stuck to their own specific brand of indie infused rock. In this field they have diversified their trademark sound to upbeat songs, tender tracks, sad and dark melodies as well as real rockers. Topped off with a sheer cornucopia full of lyrics that sidetrack you to new areas of interest and not a platitude in sight. And then we have the live shows: Unusual locations, unusual decorations and sheer craftsmanship from start to end.

By the way, you don’t get constant change of band members with British Sea Power. And all who were travelling with them were involved in the show and having a great time. Why is that important? Because this is my blog:-) I love that kind of thing. Kind of restores your hope in humanity, yes, on a small scale, but it is there.

Not following any trends, British Sea Power convince with their high-quality albums and intense live shows and have thus earned (and well-earned) a following that will follow them for times to come. Some follow even to all gigs and it is a joy to witness the mutual appreciation of bands and fans alike at tonight’s gig in Cologne. Yes, the bears were there, too, dancing and hugging and so welcomed. (Even though especially the polar bear must have been dissolving in that heat).  And as much as they were distracting from the stage, who can resist them?

Before the gig Offbeat Music Blog spoke to Yan Scott Wilkinson and Martin Noble. A big Thank you to Jack Bradford from Caroline Records and David Taylor, Management.

British Sea Power - Interview May 2017

British Sea Power – Interview May 2017

Offbeat Music Blog: Everyone waited desperately for your new album. Inbetween you did “Sea Of Brass” and re-issues. How did the album-making process go? Did you have setbacks?

British Sea Power:
Yan: The actual album was reasonably fast really. We just did as you said a lot of other things in the meantime, “Sea Of Brass” and a re-release or a celebration of our first album, a really big box. We did…
Martin: “From The Sea To The Land Beyond”.
Yan: A computer game, a couple of weird documentaries. Then we got bored of experimenting and thought, let’s make a pop album.
Martin: Yeah, it felt like drifting away and you were wondering, when we are we going to get down and do the album. The more that goes on, you sort of feel a bit anxious that you need to do an album.
We went into a local studio called Brighton Electric and kept on going in there for little periods just to do a few demos, a few tracks. During that time – I can’t quite remember the timeline – we had our mind on it.

You nowadays are not all located in Brighton and work via modern technology. How does that feel compared to the traditional way?

Yan: Yeah, it’s okay really. I think for when you send music up to the Isle Of Skye, it just means Abi has got more time to do her string parts. In a studio it is a finite amount of time. So it is quite good really and it is exciting to hear it. When it comes down, you load it up into your computer and see what the hell is happening.

You probably take in more influences from all over the place as well rather than when being confined to a neutral space like a studio where you don’t know what’s going on outside.

Martin: Yeah.
Yan: Neil has his weird instruments, hasn’t he? What’s it called? A bonga.
Martin: A bonga. Yeah, it is like a giant bath tub with springs.
Yan: There is no way he could get that down to Brighton.

You left your label a while ago. Are you still happy doing everything yourself?

Martin: We haven’t done everything ourselves. We have licensed the record to a record label, so that takes care of a lot of work.
Yan: We made it ourselves, funded all that but once it was finished…you don’t want to be spending your life doing…you are in a band to sort of not sit at a computer and do lots of paperwork and deals and work out all sorts of fact and figures. That’s what we found out. Because we did “Sea Of Brass” and the re-issue. You think this is going to be so much fun (laughs). It is nice originally when you think what it should be like and all that. And then it comes down to getting it out into the world and then it becomes…

A grind?

Yan: A grind is the perfect word.

Just last week I was interviewing two bands who are very different but they both face this situation that their music cannot really be placed. They are between genres, one has a distinct gap between music and lyrics or so it seems. Once people come to see them play live, it is fine. But the industry and the media have a problem with that. You also have got really really famous through word of mouth and playing live. Is that labelling thing a problem for you?

Martin: I think it is a lot easier if a band is fairly simple in terms of the aesthetic, the sound and repeating the same things so that it is easy to cotton on to. They have less of a problem getting known. We are a bit more difficult, I think.

You are famous for your live shows, lots of drama, lots of extraordinary ideas?

Martin: It is easy for people to be confused and think we are just that.
Yan: I think for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to put obstacles in (laughs). We have been trying to remove them ever since.
Martin: We still do have a problem there but I think, gradually, people come round. They realise it is not that difficult after all. It’s taken fifteen years for people to come round.

To my ears there is a lot of eighties’ influence in your music. The good times, when nobody cared whether it was indie or rock as long as it sounded fine to them whereas today that has changed. Influence from bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs.

Martin: We like lots of music and there is a lot of music from the eighties that we like. From The Fall and The Smiths and lots of really good bands.

Then we have the lyrics…I sometimes wonder, did you really all know that, did you not have to look that up? You have all that in your head, all these references and make us all feel stupid because we have to look it up?

Yan: it used to be more like that. There used to be more book references and things like that. I liked that kind of a thing at the time but in a way it became sort of: Oh no, not again. Also you think, if you are doing the same thing over and over, it is getting boring. So I tried to get rid of that a bit. It is more in the background, not a in-your-face kind of thing anymore. I am trying to get the emotion of things across and a personal element really. That’s what I enjoy these days. The new album is more like that. (Loud fan goes on). Ah, that’s just another obstacle (laughs). I think the new album is easier. You can go below the surface if you want to.
Martin: I think it is more of a present day album. It does not reference a lot of older things. There might be a few bits and bobs in there.

In your songs you find up to now a lot of, kind of, British nostalgia. Lots of historical, literary and even natural references. Do you sometimes get employed, you know, by the wrong people?

Yan: It is sort of true. But at the same time we probably have more songs about other countries than most British bands. Poland, Czech Republic…
Martin: Russian writers…
Yan: But then, if you call yourself British Sea Power, you ask for being pigeonholed in that kind of way. It is one of those names. In one sense it is a lovely name. It is possibly too clever for its own good.

Then again you are envied by Guy Garvey for the name. He only has “Elbow”.

Martin: It is two opposites. Sometimes you think, oh maybe we should have gone for “Shoulder” to make it easy.

British Sea Power to some reeks of “Make Britain great again.” I think it is a lovely name.

Yan: Especially in the way the world has changed since we started. It seemed we were headed for quite happy times in those days. Progress…but it has kind of gone a bit wobbly. We thought we maybe could have a bit of fun with these things and recycle them and make them into something cheeky and fun instead of horrendous politics.
Martin: We thought with the name of the first record “The decline of British Seapower” it would have been obvious from the start. But then for people who came round to us and did not know the first record, it is completely different.

You said somewhere in an interview before making the new album that you could not write about Europe so much as there was not much happening…sort of pre-Brexit timewise.

Yan: It may have been a flippant comment…Well, I am sort of fed up with it now, I can’t be bothered. You are probably better off without us (laughs).

British Sea Power - Interview May 2017

You moved to Brighton initially because of the music scene. How is it now? Can you still be a part of that?

Yan: Not really. It is not like in Manchester or Glasgow where you have a certain sound. It is not like that in Brighton. You have got quite a lot of artistic people and there’s lots of small venues, not many medium ones. It is quite good for people starting out or people who are…never going anywhere (grins). It is by the sea. It was probably going to be either that or London. I did not really want to do London.
Martin: It is good to be more outside the music industry. When we first moved to Brighton, we were trying to get started and playing all the venues and meeting all the different bands. So we were more in a scene then.

You did your music nights as well?

We did another one, the “Krankenhaus” night. We did have a few Brighton bands on there. GAPS for instance who are really good. But now as we are not gigging every week in Brighton, we do not know that many.

Is there anything about the new album that you would really liked to be asked? Sort of, if you imagine an interview, you’d go, wow, I’d really make my point on that. Or say, to state what British Sea Power is right now, at the moment?

Yan:We probably spend more time talking about vegetables at the moment because Martin started doing it first – we got into allotments..We spend a lot of time talking about digging and getting our first crops through. So I just learned a couple of tips from him how to keep the blackfly away.
Martin: Ah, it is a big problem this time of year. I have a cherry tree covered in blackflies and you have to hose them down.

You have to get the ladybirds in..

Martin: Yeah, but they come when they want to come.

But are you happy with the result of “Let The Dancers Inherit The Party”?

Yan: Yeah, very happy. It is nice to play live. It is probably the album we played more tracks of ever really. When we started touring in the UK, I think, we did every track of the album. We curbed it back a little bit because we haven’t been to Europe for a while and people want to hear the older songs too.

You brought Pictish Trail with you? Love what they are doing, all from the Isle of Eigg! If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere!

Oh yeah, it is his last gig with us tonight, the band are off to Edinburgh and we are going to Amsterdam. He’s a good lad!

Thank you very much for your time!

Yan and Martin: Cheers!

British Sea Power - Interview May 2017