Public Service Broadcasting Interview, Yuca, Cologne, Nov 26th

After two albums and an EP (“Inform-Educate-Entertain”, “The Race For Space” and “The War Room”), all of which were setting audio footage (and visuals on stage) from public information films to driven synth music plus guitars, banjo and drums, resulting in a feast for the ears with an optimistic, sometimes of course ironic undertone, Public Service Broadcasting released “Every Valley” (PIAS). Now, I for my part, liked the other albums but their third oeuvre I love to bits. “Every Valley” is a change of direction in so many ways: It is not about a big global subject, not something from the past, not only celebratory, not with media commentary only – the album is about the demise of the coal mining industry in Wales, that and the still ongoing repercussions for the local communities, mostly told by members of the community of Ebbw Vale in South Wales themselves.

Now, some (albeit very few) regarded the work not as a step forward but claimed it was nostalgic and irrelevant (sic!) and even patronising. If you have listened to the album carefully (and I do recommend this so very much), you know these allegations could not be further from the truth. We are talking present here and relevance for many communities all over world and the fact that Public Service Broadcasting downsized on the footage and interviewed local people for quite a long time while staying in the village/town of Ebbw Vale, should do away with any of those comments for good. But as I said, those are very few and far between.

Public Service Broadcasting Interview, Yuca, Cologne, Nov 26th

Read about “Every Valley” and more in J. Willgoose Esq.’s own words below. The Esquire, Wrigglesworth and J.F. Abraham descended on Cologne’s Yuca venue on November 26th to dish up a very fine show. I had not had the fortune to see them live so far, but my word, this was excellent as so many fans had already pointed out to me earlier this year.

There was dancing, there was big emotion, there was laughing, there was gentle swaying, there was shouting and clapping and whistling in the sold-out venue. And that was only the audience responding to a band, that despite it’s non-traditional band outfit delivered truly perfect entertainment. They rocked,  they communicated, they overwhelmed with an audio-visual onslaught and magnificent drums, bass, flugelhorn and many beautiful roaring guitars and a banjo on top of a minutely timed synthesiser arrangement.

One not to be missed!

Public Service Broadcasting Interview, Yuca, Cologne, Nov 26th

And here comes the interview with Public Service Broadcasting’s very own J. Willgoose Esq.!

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you, J. Willgoose Esq., for taking the time before your gig here in Cologne with Public Service Broadcasting!

J. Willgoose Esq.: Of course!

OMB: Let’s start at the beginning. When you first started out to make music, did you plan it to be this very specific way, not in the traditional sense, or did that just fall into place along the way?

JWE: It very much fell into place. It was a very happy accident really. I was just making electronic music and didn’t really know what I was doing or why. Heard about some archive material on the internet and thought maybe I can use some of that just to kind of spruce up my music, I suppose. From there it just grew as a concept and an idea. I suddenly thought maybe I could do an album where each song was based on a different public information film. Despite thinking that sounded really, really pretentious, I carried on doing it and we’ve made three albums now, so there you go (laughs).

OMB: You tour a lot. For instance you also did SXSW festival. How is Public Service Broadcasting received among more traditional bands or among more traditional audiences in a rock environment?

JWE: I think it’s because there are a lot of different aspects to it – there is a lot of stuff going on even just with the music, let alone when you add the visuals to it, if we can – it seems to go down well across a very wide range of people which has been the case from the very start and it’s been very surprising from the very start but it has been consistent. I don’t know why. Maybe it is unusual, because it is conceptually strong or maybe because there are so many different genres and styles wrapped up in it, it is easy to find something that you like maybe. It is difficult to say. But we have never really had an absolute clanger of a show where it was just obvious that everybody hated us. I am sure people hate us in amongst every crowd but it never seemed to have lost an entire crowd if that makes sense. But I don’t know why that is. I think it is just luck.

OMB: I wouldn’t put it down to luck only. How do you manage to transport your albums onto stage?You love touring (mostly anyway, not the downsides of it) and when you have to transport your albums to a stage, it is not a matter of taking the drums, the bass and the guitar and off we go.

JWE: Hm, yeah, there is a lot of preproduction and planning and considering how to best play the songs and whose going to play which part and how you could it layer it and how could loop and what you are going to need to rely on coming off track, I suppose, just to make it as musically engaging as possible. So we all do a variety of things on stage. Even Wrigglesworth – he is not just drumming, he is playing a lot of electronics. He is playing a lot of tuned percussion parts. J.F. Abraham has got a whole lot of instruments and I have got a few myself, so, yeah: It is a lot of planning and work before we get on stage to try and make it as engaging as possible rather than just turning up either with instruments or just a laptop and pressing buttons because I find that quite boring. I guess, yeah, the boring answer is: Hard work ahead of time.

OMB: Do you stay very true to the albums on stage?

JWE: I think it sounds different. It is deliberately different. It often has a slightly harder edge. It is more kind of visceral first and foremost because it is louder and it is hitting you harder unless people listen to the music at 100 dB at home but I doubt it (laughs). So it packs more of a punch in that respect and you can show the visuals at the same time so you have a more emotional impact as well. Sometimes music makes more sense if you put it into live mode. I think we are on of those bands if you don’t understand it on the record, it is more likely to make sense live. It definitely changes live and we allow it to evolve and have some improvisational elements as well and not be same every night because that’s boring.

OMB: You probably have a stage setup particularly for one album and the records do definitely fall into the category concept albums. Can gig goers als expect older songs?

JWE: Yes, unless it is a specific event, we never play through an album in its entirety, partly because it is impractical a lot of the time. Partly because I don’t want to be sucked into being a mostly visuals band. I want it to be clear, it is a band playing songs from across our three albums and a bit. Just like any band really. You play two or three of this album, two or three of that album. There is obviously an emphasis on the new one because that’s what we are touring. So we are trying to play more of it. Yeah, I think the emphasis with the live show is that we are the common element, so we bind it all together. Even if there are jumps between narratives and eras and subjects and sometimes it doesn’t make sense but we are still the glue that’s holding it all together. That’s the idea behind it.

OMB: With the first two albums you were very close to the field your archive material, the often enthusiastic and glorifying material on big worldwide events (even though you probably used it in an ironical way). But with “Every Valley” you toned down to one region and one industry and to interviews with the people themselves. And yet “Every Valley”, I think, can be transferred to something globally as well. The subject seemed to downsize and yet it applies to a lot of places all over the world.

JWE: Yeah, that was the intention. I wanted to make an album about coal mining partly because of the availability of the material with the British Film Institute and partly because it seemed like an interesting change not to carry on in this optimistic, grand, large-scale sort of trajectory we had been on, to change things and try something new and a bit braver. And the more I researched, the more I started to think about setting it in one particularly area. For that reason, I think, in making it specific, centred in one region, it helps to let it travel. If you are able to use your imagination or use empathy and draw parallels between what’s happening in your country and what’s happening in Wales where we focussed on. It is a more political album in a quietish way. We are not making any grand, hectoring statements but we are allowing people to find their way through it a bit by telling the story of what happened in the words of the people who went through it for the absolute lion share of the album. That’s what we’ve done. Yeah, it’s weird, if you zoom in on something and make it so specific, actually, that helping to make it more universal. It seems paradoxical but I don’t think it is. But maybe I am wrong…

OMB: No, it certainly came across to me like that. It came at a time where there were elections all over the world (well the US one had already been and done). I found personally in the region where I live where there used to be mining in Germany, in the Netherlands and in Belgium, that there is no more working-class anymore nor is there the working-class spirit. Maybe because people do not feel represented by a political party anymore, maybe because they are not working class anymore but also because they have been caught by the most likely fake promises of the right-wing parties and this happened all over place. Did you encounter that phenomenon in Wales?

JWE: We spoke to a lot of people and we spent a lot of time there making the record. A lot of what you said rings true there certainly in terms of a neglected area, ignored by politicians in London for the most part. Once they (the politicians) had broken the union and wound the industry down…they did it in a very unsympathetic way without a real long-term vision for the area. The aim first and foremost was to break the power of unions, to break that kind of power of collectivism and then let the free market run riot basically. So it is not surprising that you find a slight breakdown in community and a slight breakdown in that sort of collective feeling or collective consciousness because you don’t have that collectivism that arises mostly from working in one industry together. One of the miners we spoke to said that one of the saddest and most profound changes was that young and old people in those villages and towns there don’t really speak to each other anymore because they don’t interact. Why would they? They used to finish a shift and you’d have young lads working their way up and the older hands and they’d all go to the pub together. You talk to people and it is such an easy way of bridging divides and understanding where different generations are coming from. If you lose the industry, you lose what’s at the heart of that community, the “mother of the village” as it were on the album, you lose that too. It is easy to see then how, especially with the political backdrop, these communities can become disenfranchised and disillusioned and more ready to be taken advantage of by sort of more populist ideologies like right wing or…I don’t even know if you’d call UKIP in the UK right wing, you might call them proto-fascist or something. It is very unsavoury and it is just further hurts those communities as well which is like the further ironic twist really.

OMB: Certainly having a working-class background myself and having grown up in such a region, I sometimes get told off by people for commenting, because they assume I am too far away from it now and not going through the same thing. How was that for you as a Londoner, an artist, coming to Ebbw Vale? Did you feel apprehensive?

JWE: Oh yeah, very. I am not only a Londoner. I grew up in relative middle-class comfort. I’ve never known that kind of physical toil and strife, neither that nor the feeling of growing up in those communities after the main industry has left. Very apprehensive and nervous that people might put up a wall and just refuse to talk or question the validity of the whole thing or say, what idea have you to be talking about this at all? I genuinely did not encounter that in Wales once. There wasn’t one person who took a slightly sniffy view. The choir we worked with, the miners we interviewed, the people from the National Union of Mineworkers, people in the community, people who were in Ebbw Vale who we worked with recording. The whole feeling was very much of encouragement and support and being pleased that a lens was being kind of trained on them. I think it helps that we weren’t coming in…obviously we structured the album and we made it flow in a certain way and decided which subjects we want to talk about but I don’t think we imposed our own narrative on it. We just filtered it through our creative filter of sorts. It is still their words and their story, just kind of interpreted through our music. I don’t know. I was worried about it and I expected us to get more flak than we’ve had. We have had some because it is inevitable but it didn’t deter me from wanting to do it. I’ve been reading recently about LCD Soundsystem coming back. James Murphy remembered from a conversation with Bowie that Bowie said: If it makes you uncomfortable, you should do it. That’s when you produce good stuff. I think it is definitely an element of making myself uncomfortable with this album to try and push on and do something different, do something more ambitious and challenge yourself really. Whether I succeed is only half the battle really, it is actually doing it in the first place. Being brave enough to take that risk is a big part of it.

OMB: Yeah, and not sitting at home or in a studio and sifting through the material but going out there and living there.

JWE: Yes, engaging in a more direct way. I think it is an interesting part of the evolution of the band from where it started which is much more sitting in a room at home in a much more clinical way. I think there is more emotion on this album. It is just a more interesting story told in a more interesting way. And it is interesting to see how the band has changed from its early days till now.

Public Service Broadcasting Interview, Yuca, Cologne, Nov 26th

OMB: Besides Wrigglesworth, you have in J.F. Abraham a third member now as well?

JWE: Yeah, we just want to grow musically as well, represent the records as well as we can on stage while not going bankrupt in the process (laughs) which we haven’t always been that successful with. Hopefully going to a level where, you know…if you are lucky enough to have an audience and if you are lucky enough to have people who have been sticking with you for a while and trust you creatively, I think your obligation to them is to take creative risks and not to just see them as money in the bank kind of thing. “We need to put an album out every two years because we have got mortgages”. That’s not the point of it. If you are lucky enough to have established yourself and found an audience, you need to try and take them to new and interesting places. Maybe you lose some on the way but that’s part of the risk really.

OMB: Are you still in contact with the people in Ebbw Vale – I am probably pronouncing it so wrong…

JWE: If you say it more quickly, you are less likely to get it wrong (laughs). Yeah, when we played in Cardiff, we had the choir along. So they performed the last song and closed the night, so that was a very emotional moment. Hannah (Benkwitz) who did the artwork came along to that show so it was lovely to meet her. Ben Curtis who is a doctor at Cardiff University who was very helpful in the making came along with the people of the South Wales Miners Library. Trying to kind of make it so we didn’t just swoop in, take their story and then run off with it. Stay engaged and try and do some things to actually help the community, whether it is something as simple as going there to record it or going back there to launch the album which we did. Trying to bring some money to the area, some sort of artistic and economic activity that maybe they don’t see that often. That was really a rewarding side of it and a really satisfying part of it, regardless of the artistic or creative success/failure of the record: From a social point of view or a responsibility kind of view, it has been a good thing to do, unquestionably. That’s a good feeling to have.

OMB: You put Ebbw Vale back on the map?

JWE: I wouldn’t be as arrogant as to say that! We have given something back. We have done it with a sense of social responsibility. We did not use their story and ran off to the charts with it. We’ve tried to stay engaged and given some equipment to the local area and get young bands involved, had the local bands supporting us at the shows. Those kind of things that are just good things to do if you are of that kind of nature rather than being more individualistic.

OMB: More like an exchange then really?

JWE: They were so supportive and have allowed us to use their lives and their story and their community for our own purposes. That’s undeniable. But at the same time, it is a mutually beneficial arrangement hopefully and not an exploitative one.

OMB: Listening to the album, are the songs arranged in a particular order?

JWE: Definitely, and it is written that way too. So it is written start to finish in that order. I seem to find it works that way, I don’t know why.

OMB: Starting with Richard Burton’s quote about the proud miners?

JWE: Yeah, although that sample dropped in relatively late, getting the permission for that was late. Yeah, but starting with a more golden age. With a dissonance to it. There is this grandiosity but also this dissonance. As in something is not quite right. Almost lurking beneath the surface, I suppose. So it is not only about doom and gloom but casting back to when mining was a dangerous but valuable part of the community. And then the slow dive off the cliff really. But even then moment like “They gave me a lamp” shining some kind of positive light on telling a sad story.

OMB: If you think of the unbelievable working conditions those people worked in, the danger, the heat, the noise, the confined space, the air they breathed and what they contributed to their nation.

JWE: And then being thanked by just being left on the scrapheap. It’s disgusting really. It was one of the reasons for doing this album, was trying to get that message across how these people have been used up in that way. Again that idea of collective social responsibility which is not at the forefront of the album but it is lurking behind everything on it, hopefully. That we have to look after people in troubled times and less fortunate than those who are doing better. It is about society as whole rather than “there is no such thing as society” which is one of Thatcher’s most famous political announcements.

OMB: Wow, did she say that?

JWE: I think it was kind of taken slightly out of context but still…

OMB: I wouldn’t put it past her.

JWE: If you ask people to name things she said, it is that and “If you are over 30 years old and you are on a bus, you are a failure”. It is all about this individualistic view of life. What’s in it for me rather than for the greater good. It has been quite a poisonous mindset to have developed over the last thirty odd years back home.

OMB: It is really saddening. (Sensing, time is up). Right, so what can we expect tonight?

JWE: (Laughs). Well, you know, after all this heavy talk: It is a pop show. Lights and smoke and larking around. We will play about six or seven songs off the new album and intersperse it with older stuff. We change the setlist every night, so we don’t play the exact same set every night which is good, hopefully, for the fans and for us. We are gamely plugging away to play the music as best as possible. There’s live visuals as well running in the background in sync with the music.
It is hopefully an engaging and moving and occasionally mildly humorous show. It is different to a lot of stuff out there. It can be in the right setting quite overwhelming but in a good way. That’s the idea but whether or not we are able to get that across…

OMB: Well, I’ve been known to cry under my headphones listening to “Mother of The Village”…

JWE: Oh, blimey!

OMB: But I am just like that way.

JWE: If music gets you like that, music gets you like that! For two of us in the band it’s the same.

OMB: I think, it’s a good thing.

JWE: I think so too.

OMB: And on this note, thank you very much!

JWE: Thank you!

Public Service Broadcasting Interview, Yuca, Cologne, Nov 26th

 

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

The Chills: Gig review, Cologne 2016

Martin Phillipps kindly gave me an interview ahead of The Chills‘ only gig in Germany, May 30th, Gebäude 9 in Cologne. Read all about it here. So what was the gig like? It was everything you would expect and then some more!

Arriving fairly early, as the The Chills were billed for 8pm with no support act and a virtual apocalyptic downpour making driving a bit, true to form, “Underwater Wasteland”, it was all quiet in the yard outside the venue. Hey people, did you not hear The Chills calling or the grapevine?

Eventually it turned out the rather large venue was almost sold out, and old and new fans in unison celebrated the return of The Chills. The Chills have actually never been away, only out of sight for us being far away from New Zealand. Those who wondered that the “new” Chills sounded such a matured band must be aware that this particular line-up has been in place for a long time – we were just not aware of it.

The Chills
© photo credit – Kevin Burns

Fire Records made it possible for us to hear and see The Chills again by supporting an album and a tour. Nothing like a label that loves music and for who that music is top priority beyond other criteria such as sales, image, market research…(and many major labels go so wrong there as do radio stations and indeed tv stations: They assume the worst taste in the consumer or a lack of intelligence in the consumer and then that is what the consumer gets, who meanwhile thinks that this is what is out there and nothing else…wrong way round then).

In the end, the quality of Martin Phillipps songwriting, both musically and lyrically and the sheer brilliance of his bandmates could never fail to last. This way you had old fans being enthralled by new songs and new fans getting to know older songs. Songs of all ages sat comfortably next to each other but the stakes had been raised: The new songs were not made to sound retro. Instead the old songs are sometimes being looked at for what they are – fine pieces of music. Picked were those songs that have aged very well.

We got a tight set, no holds barred, with a hard-working band who was clearly enjoying the performance. I was particularly impressed by multi-instrumentalist Erica Scally and the wildest drummer I have seen in a while, Todd Knudsen.

The Chills
© photo credit – Kevin Burns

Old favourites were rendered generously and fabulously – the new songs from the “Silver Bullets” album could have been from a Best Of collection. Martin sang intensely and oh wow, the sound of that Gretsch had me transfixed.

After a show of maybe one and a half hours and some encores, all the band did not take their deserved rest but were right out to meet the fans and sign endless copies of albums and merchandise.

What can I say but DO take the opportunity to see them at their remaining concerts in Paris, Barcelona, London and Liverpool for this is a rare opportunity and the experience you will have is due to a band being experienced to pull your heartstrings, not strategically but because they are real through and through.

Thank you to The Chills, thank you to Alice Gros of Fire Records, one of the truly dedicated people, also of course Scott Muir (The Chills management) and enjoy the rest of the tour.