Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson: “Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration…”

Handmade collage by B.

English duo Sleaford Mods discovered their signature “shouting over beats” style by accident; known for its punk spirit and radical heart of working-class, social commentary and observational themed lyrical content giving a snapshot of the challenges of daily life. Latest album Spare Ribs takes us beyond what we know and gives a deeper personal insight, Williamson getting introspective and reflecting on his early days, partly inspired by time spent in lockdown due to the global pandemic. Gimmie caught up with Jason to chat about the new record.

How did you first discover music?

JASON WILLIAMSON: As a child, through films really, and children’s television and the records my dad would play.

Why is music important to you?

JW: I just connected with it as a person more so than I have with anything else. I find it… not an easy thing to communicate and express myself in, but it’s more of a suitable thing; I just naturally connect to it.

I was listening to the song ‘Fishcakes’ from the new Sleaford record Spare Ribs and reading about it, you mentioned that when you were a younger you had spina bifida and that you went through spine surgery; during that time were you listening to a lot of music? How were you passing the downtime?

JW: No, I wasn’t, I don’t think. I was in hospital for about a month. There was a lot of sleeping. A lot of trying to figure out what I was going through and why. I was too young; I was only thirteen. A lot of it was I just didn’t connect with much really. I was just a young kid doing whatever I was doing.

Can you remember when you first wanted to start making your own music?

JW: When I was about twenty-one. I really got into indie stuff, Stone Roses and The Wonder Stuff I was listening to a lot of, and I joined a few bands in college. I tried singing and I realised that it was something that I could do.

When making things, what are the things that matter to you?

JW: That it satisfies my own needs and whatever those needs are. Generally, it’s got to be good, I’ve got to think that it’s good, I’ve got to feel that it’s good. That is obviously something that is tailored to my own tastes. It’s quite a personal thing. I have to feel that I’m satisfied with it, ya know what I mean?

Totally. When writing Spare Ribs what were you feeling? What were you working through that writing and getting this stuff out was helping with?

JW: I just kept going back to the idea and refining it with each of the songs and studying it, like I do with any album. Just to make sure what has been recorded and submitted is up to scratch. It’s just a fine tooth combing process. It’s quite tormenting and quite intimidating going into the studio, even if you think you have ideas, it can be quite frightening, it’s quite terrifying, ya know what I mean? [laughs] …’cause especially with Sleaford Mods, it could fall on it’s arse at any minute because it is so minimal, there’s not that many components to it. It’s really just that… going back to the personal process again.

I find a lot of Sleaford Mods songs to be observational and more about outward kinds of stuff but I feel lately you’ve been writing more personal songs.

JW: Yeah, that was down to the kind of history with the operation and my back, which I got a back injury over the summer doing too much exercise in the house, I couldn’t go to the gym during lockdown. I went to see a specialist and they brought all the operation up again and I only found out then that I was suffering from spina bifida; that’s what I was born with, a really rare form of it. Things got quite emotional and that turned into inspiration and content to put into songs. A couple of them especially ‘Mork n Mindy’ and ‘Fishcakes’, the last song on the album—they deal with my experiences and memories as a kid.

When I’m listening to those two songs in particular, you can really feel that emotion in your voice. There’s almost like a real sadness in there, it’s really emotive, it was making me teary. I could feel your pain, you guys captured that so well.

JW: That’s really nice to know actually, that it evokes those emotions, I think it certainly did for me… especially ‘Fishcakes’. I tried to give over that experience of what it was like growing up in the early ‘80s. But I didn’t want to make it a self-pity type song; I was quite concerned about that. I think I did eventually pull it off though. It’s really nice to know it evokes those emotions in people.

It gives another layer to Sleaford Mods; it gives us more understanding about you. Everyone goes through stuff in their lives and when you hear someone else being so honest, you can really connect with that.

JW: Thank you.

Were those two songs hard to record?

JW: No, not at all. I just got on with them. I knew what they needed. Once Andrew [Fearn] got the gist of what I was after, it was just a case of pressing record. We did ‘Fishcakes’ in a couple of takes. It was pretty sort of “bom bom bom”.

Was it called ‘Fishcakes’ because that’s what you used to eat a lot growing up?

JW: Yes, well, where I grew up, the housing estate where I grew up on, it always constantly smelt of fish cakes… or occasionally smelt of fish cakes! This really massive scent of it, it would drift down the street and that did remind me of being a child growing up in that period.

Another song on the record ‘All Day Ticket’ is another track I feel is personal with a lot going on there.

JW: ‘All Day Ticket’ talks about karma, about how somebody can find themselves in a great position but all of a sudden that position will just vanish and they will hurtle back towards the old way they used to live, which wasn’t great. It’s about them connecting to the reasons why they’re back in that crappy position, whether they admit that to themselves or they blame other people for it. So, this is what that songs about; its kind of about karma, about taking stock of your responsibilities and being honest with yourself.

Did you find yourself doing that when writing and having a lot of downtime because of the pandemic to reflect?

JW: Yeah, a little bit. Some of it, the pandemic, made me quite angry, in how the government handle it and are still handling it and how we are as a nation in England still ruled by an aristocracy, all of these things were exposed even more I thought during the pandemic. It made me really angry, that went into it. Also, a lot of recollection. A little bit of soul-searching perhaps… ‘cause you’re just stuck in the house all the time. It’s also laced with the usual trademark humour that we do that I still find quite interesting.

When reflecting and soul-searching, have you ever tried mediation?

JW: Oh yeah, I do a lot of meditating, especially at night. On tour I do it a lot as well. It’s definitely something that I have looked into.

What kind of meditation do you do?

JW: Phone apps, where it’s someone talking, you eventually fall asleep, stuff like that. I find it quite useful really.

Before you mentioned karma, that and things like meditation are from Buddhist philosophy; have you looked into that?

JW: It definitely can be… a bit of Yoga Nidra, Pilates, but I generally haven’t dived into any of that. As you get older you kind of pick some of that up anyway, don’t you, naturally if you’re in the position where you’re thinking about yourself as a human being and how you’re moving forwards and how you cope with life. You eventually connect to stuff like that.

Is there a philosophy that you like to live your life by?

JW: I don’t know really. Just to carry on and keep doing and being as alert as I can be and to make the right decisions in a controlled and calm manner. I think learning to incorporate patience into everyday things is the real, real goal. Being calm can attribute much more to a positive experience on a daily basis than not being calm, ya know what I mean… taking stock and stepping back and not panicking is something I am increasingly finding myself wanting to move towards.

It can be a hard thing to cultivate in the climate we find ourselves in with everything that is happening in the world. I walk out my front door and there’s something that can make me angry.

JW: Oh god yeah, don’t get me wrong! There’s a barrage of stuff out there that on daily basis I suffer with really badly, in the sense of frustration, in the sense of being aggressive, but when it comes down to it, when you’re on your own and you’re at the point when you’re going to boil over, that’s where I try and step back now. I find that’s becoming increasingly more possible to do.

When you first started Sleaford Mods, what initially inspired you to do it?

JW: I really like the punk aspect… I accidentally found this formula of shouting over beats and realised very quickly that it could be something bigger than that initial discovery. Also, that it could carry so many approaches because before I was only doing a traditional approach which was guitar and vocals, a traditional band setup, which I found quite restricting. When I stumbled over this formula, this really early form of it, that’s when I started to get other ideas.

I was so excited when I first found Sleaford Mods, it made total sense to me being someone that grew up on both punk and hip-hop, you combine two things that I love and doing so it made you unique. You have so much spirit and I believe what you’re saying.

JW: Thank you very much, that means a lot!

Is there anything that you haven’t talked about in regards to the new album that you’d like to?

JW: The two guest collaborators Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers and Billy Nomates who is an up-and-coming singer in England, those two for me really did transform the advancement we made in production on this album. We really took our time to make the production on this album better than the last one. The inclusion of those two have definitely completely changed it. We’re really happy about that.

Please check out SLEAFORD MODS. Spare Ribs out now via Rough Trade. Watch Sleaford Mods live in Brisbane, Australia. Watch Amyl & the Sniffers do a Sleaford Mods cover live on Gold Coast, Australia.

Sound Carrier Damo Suzuki: “I wish everybody is developing and finding their own way to live and can be a free person”

Handmade mixed-media by B.

Damo Suzuki is a sound carrier that communicates with an assembly of other sound carriers (local musicians from whatever location he happens to be playing, that he meets just before their performance) and the audience to engage in “instant composition”, creating a free space outside of the systems of daily life and restraints of society to experience freedom and truth. He believes that energy and communication is an important part of life and that when there is true communication there is no violence; he uses his music as a weapon against violence and to spread positivity. Gimmie spoke with Damo from his home in Cologne, Germany.

Hi Damo! Thank you for speaking with us.

DAMO SUZUKI: Sorry, I haven’t spoke English for about half a year, I have been talking more German. I haven’t had any concerts; last time I spoke English was when I had concerts in the UK. It takes a bit of time to use the English. It’s ok though, no problems.

I don’t make any concerts right now because organisers don’t like to make anything because they can not make money. Another thing is, I said to organiser, if audience is made to wear a mask then I don’t perform. I don’t like things that people are supposed to do, when it is commanded from somewhere, because the only system that exists is the system from God, not human systems. I don’t need anything… especially now, people are being forced to do this kind of stuff, it’s absolutely not like a human being, everybody can’t live how they like to…

…I have to know myself because I have to know my truth. I have been talking to you about my truth, that’s not your truth, it is important to find your truth; that’s why I make music. We don’t have any kind of concept what we will play, we don’t know what’s coming up and audience doesn’t know what we will play; “what is Damo going to sing?” Audience can make their own story; everything is their own truth. Being at a concert is better than listening to a CD or something like that, being there you meet new people and atmosphere. It’s a totally different thing than if you are listening to music in the studio or at home with headphones.

I use the space to make live music, live music is no system to me and together with audience we are creating new platform—this is my music. My music is not so I create every day the same piece that’s maybe four of five minutes, no, now I create one piece for one or two hours without any stops because I think this is my music and I like to live together with nature, nature never stops. If you have a product there is always a stop, radio stations like to play short singles, they want you to make short pieces, I am against this; I am against any kind of stop [laughs]. I like to only have system from God.

I don’t know the musician I play with; I don’t have any information from them, I don’t know how technical they are; the thing that makes me happy is they like to make music together with me and audience. They are coming and spending their time, this is a very happy moment. I am not making music right now because if they have to wear a mask that is not freedom; if they want to wear a mask then that is OK, though.

What else makes you really happy?

DS:  Speaking with you. Communication is the best part of social life. Everything starts with communication. Music is communication. I can play guitar, I can make music alone but for me music is communication, a social thing much more. That’s why I was so happy this morning to speak with you.

Have you always known that energy was important? When did you become aware of the importance of energy?

DS: Energy is coming, if you are curious about anybody or any things and you have the possibility to research then, energy is coming. Energy is not always geographically; energy is a place that you create and develop yourself—this power that is pushing you is energy. Also, energy is feedback you can get from other people, this exchange exists and another energy is coming. It is understanding. It is communication. From communication also started energy. This source is a kind of spiritual food. If you have positive energy, you share it with people then they are sharing it with other people and then they share it with other people. Positivity starts with, as you said, happiness, and communication.

I love how it’s important for you to put out positive energy! There’s so much negative energy in the world I feel like it makes sense to counter that with creating and communicating positive energy.

DS: Yeah, this is how I have lived for a long time. The only thing I have a problem with is lies, I care about the truth.

Truth is the most important thing, also creativity, communication and love.

DS: Information is kind of like a good food. Many war and many hate family or friend, it is coming from missing information, not communicating. Full trust is the most important thing in social life, if you don’t have trust, you cannot have communication and be together in this.

I am quite happy making music. Music for me is a process. If you go to studio and make a hit, you make money, you plan, plan, plan; it is not the music that I like to do. Having a plan is not creative for me; creative things for me must start at zero, a place of emptiness, a place of nothing—this is creativity for me. Real creativity is having no information. If you have information you go a particular way. At home I don’t hear any kind of music, I don’t play any musical instrument, I do nothing musical. I cook, I really like cooking. Every night I like to see a movie. I buy so much books too; if I am on tour and at the airport, I will buy books. I generally read them at my desk. Maybe we might have 10,000 books.

Wow! That’s a lot. I love books too! My day job is working in a library.

DS: That’s a good job to have.

Yes, and working in a community service and helping people find information and knowledge rather than trying to sell people things they don’t need.

DS: That is so good you are enjoying your job, it is not something that everybody can do, this kind of life. Many people are doing things they don’t like. Reading books is quite special.

It is important to have your own ideas of life. Now days so many people don’t read books they just go to YouTube for information. After that, if you have questions, you can decide by yourself—this is important. Einstein said something about having questions… if you have questions you can develop. Like, many people are Catholic because their family were Catholic and they don’t prove it to themselves. It’s important to prove things to yourself and educate yourself and to know yourself. If you take everything from information from everyone, you cannot go anywhere because you are stopped… It’s the same with the spiritual or creativity. Many people make mistake because they take in so much information, before they did something, they already had the answer, this way you cannot develop yourself. I wish everybody is developing and finding their own way to live and can be a free person.

Everyone has a mission in their own life but the majority of people don’t find it. If you are developing yourself and are trying you can find it because you are trying something. If you are trying something you are movement. If you take information from everywhere else you can not find yourself.

Everyone should have their own goal, own opinion, own experience and find their own lifestyle, because everybody is unique and everybody has a talent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come automatically, you must find it; if you don’t move nothing is coming. Everybody is individual, you don’t have to compare with anybody, just compare yourself to yourself.

Energy!

Please check out: damosuzuki.com

The Damned’s Captain Sensible: “You make the best album you can on limited resources and try to push the boundaries a bit.”

Original photo: Matt Condon. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Captain Sensible is a co-founding member of UK punk band, The Damned. They were the first British punks to release a single, full-length, tour America and play CBGB. In the ‘80s they evolved beyond their punk roots to become one of the initiators of a new sound that would become known as goth rock.

Along with Damned bandmate bassist Paul Gray, and drummer Martin Parrott, Sensible formed outfit, The Sensible Gray Cells, born of their love of garage psych. The end of 2020 saw the release of new record Get Back Into The World, aptly titled and a positive, pro-active sentiment for getting back into life after most of ours has been somewhat side-lined by the global pandemic, lockdowns and disruption from our normal daily schedules and socialising.

Here’s to a greater year in 2021 for us all! What better way to kick it off than a Gimmie chat with The Captain!

CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: Hello Bianca! It’s Captain ‘ere!

Good morning! Are you a morning person?

CS: No, I’m not! I’m very much an evening person. In fact, that’s probably why I do this bizarre job of twanging a guitar for a living—I come alive in the evening. I’m terrible in the morning, I was always late to work when I had jobs and was always getting in late and getting fined or my wages docked. In the evening I’d go right through to the next day if there’s enough booze [laughs].

Is there anything you do in the morning that helps get your day started?

CS: Oh crikey! I just drink plenty of tea and hope my brain cranks into to gear, I don’t think it’s quite there yet [laughs]. You can probably tell; I’m bumbling a bit and I’ve allegedly been awake for three or four hours already.

From what I know of you, you seem like a pretty positive person.

CS: Yeah, that’s my outlook on life—every day is a holiday. I always look for positives in everything; even what’s going on at the moment, you take each day as it comes. I’m finding it funny the stupidity of it all, laugh rather than cry, that’s my thing.

Have you always had this outlook?

CS: Yeah, pretty much. I remember when I was a kid – my name is Ray, it’s not really Captain [laughs] – my aunty used to say I was their little ray of sunshine. The funny thing is that in The Damned I am the jolly Captain spreading fun and frivolity wherever he goes and Mr Vanian is the Dark Lord, we’re so completely different in every respect. He loves film, I never watch TV and I love audio and sound and playing around with that. I like football, he hates sport. We are absolute opposites, but somehow we don’t tread on each other’s toes and it comes together in the studio and on stage, that’s the dynamic.

That’s really cool to hear that even though you are so different you can get along to make such great art. Often these days people disagree on things with someone else and they can’t be civil to each other so it’s nice to hear that people that are opposites in so many ways can still be in harmony.

CS: Having said that he probably does find me a little bit annoying occasionally [laughs]. Especially going back a few years, I was a bit of a one-man party. I won’t go into it, you can find the stories online of chaos, nakedness and debauchery, blah, blah, blah. Sadly, now I’m too old for that behaviour and I’m more known for making a nice cup of tea.

I look at these new young-fangled bands and I think; where are the stories of mania and chaos and trashing stuff? Where is it? Being in band is a license to behave as bad as possible; they’re not doing it, it’s disgraceful! [laughs].

Who or what inspired you to play guitar in the first place?

CS: I did a few jobs when I left school. I was a typewriter mechanic, which was quite fun because you used to clean the typewriters with methylated spirits and of course you can get quite inebriated just breathing the damp cloth, that was fun.

I did landscape gardening. I’m responsible for a lot of housing estates in London… I can go round if I’m travelling on the train to London and I see all these trees that I planted forty-five years ago; they’re massive now, taller than the high rises on the estate they’re next to, five stories high.

Then I worked for an art centre called the Fairfield Halls. I was only the toilet cleaner, somebody’s got to do it. On Sunday’s they used to let me do the rock shows, they’d give me a little uniform and I had to show people to their seats with a little torch. One day T-Rex and Marc Bolan was on the stage and he had 2,000 screaming girls after him. At the time I couldn’t get a girlfriend and I thought, ‘I want his bloody job!’ Nobody is interested in a toilet cleaner but put a guitar around your neck and suddenly everyone wants to know. I went out the next day and bought a Fender Telecaster.

I sat in my room and practiced for two or three hours a day. I actually took it into work as well. After cleaning the fourteen toilets I had to do each day, I didn’t’ really have much to do for the rest of the day until the audience was let in and they got used. So, I used to take my guitar and sit in the toilets and practice.

Did you enjoy it when you were staring to learn? Was it a challenge?

CS: I would say yeah to anyone wanting to play. There’s a point where the difficulty of contorting your fingers into chord shapes, when it starts to not be an issue, it’s about three or four weeks in; if you can get past that initial period where it’s hurting your fingers, it gets much easier after that. You just have to persevere for a few weeks.

I’m excited to be talking to you about the new Sensible Gray Cells record, Get Back Into The World. I know that both yourself and Paul [Gray], who’s in both The Damned and SGC with you, are both very into garage psych. When you first heard garage psych was there a moment it really clicked for you and you were like, I really love this, this is for me?

CS: Yes, absolutely. When I was a school boy, The Beatles were so big they dominated the whole music scene. I thought they were a bit sugary, until the end when I think they found an edge. I thought all this ‘…Hold My Hand’ stuff and the syrupy melodies were a bit much and then The Troggs came on the scene and The Kinks with ‘You Really Got Me’—it started getting a bit gnarled and grunge-y and riff-y. That pricked my ears up and I really started to listen at that point. Of course, it went into a golden period of garage psych around ’67 – ’68 with the scene from America and bands like The Chocolate Watchband and The Seeds. The Electric Prunes I particularly liked; I was so happy I got to meet them and play with them a couple of times. They’re fantastic people and still on the go. There was a point where I became obsessed with that sound.

In the ‘70s we had glam and heavy rock and punk rock but as much as I dig parts of these scenes, certain bands, the garage psych thing sounds fresher to my ears, it never sounds stale. You have a band in Australia called King Gizzard [and the Lizard Wizard], they do it really well!

Photo: Alison Wonderland.

Totally! We love them. I know for you the origins of punk came from that garage psych scene and bands like The Chocolate Watchband and The Seeds.

CS: Exactly! That’s the thing that unites Mr Vanian and myself, and Paul. We’re all lovers of that scene—that’s where punk came from. It’s very basic, you could call it caveman rock, it’s not sophisticated, highfalutin or pompous like all that prog rock stuff, which was ludicrous with all its ten-minute drum solos.

I used to go to gigs, I used to devour concerts when I was a teenager. Every week I’d go to two or three shows. It was an education. I was learning what to not do as well as what to do. The ten-minute drum solos were definitely on the “no” list [laughs].

You once said that punk is an ongoing discussion about the world we live in and of society and our corrupt political system. I feel like the discussion is still going and I feel like you’re continuing to carry on that conversation in the punk spirit even on your new album.

CS: Yeah, that’s probably why we don’t get played a lot of the radio! Punk is a protest movement; it’s very much needed. What can you say about politicians? To say they’re all corrupt is an obvious statement, they’re all beholden to whoever pays the money that’s donated to their campaign funds; who pays the piper calls the tune really. That’s corruption if you ask me.

I know that you’re a Socialist; how did you get into that?

CS: Yes, I am a lifelong Socialist. I would say that the left-leaning movements don’t bear any relation to socialism that I know, anti-war and ‘ban the bomb’ and supporting unions and terms and conditions for workers against the corporations and all that stuff. Socialism at the moment doesn’t seem to be pushing any of those issues, it’s more concerned with… what? I don’t know. I’m not for any of these… like the Labour Party in Britain, there was this brief moment where I thought [Jeremy] Corbyn was the future but they destroyed him the media, they did a comprehensive job on that poor old git.

Are there any aspects from the early days of punk that have stayed with you?

CS: I’d go back tomorrow, as rough and ready as it was. I was sleeping on people’s floors for two years. I’d go back given the chance now, it was such good fun. I didn’t have any money. Even when we were on Stiff Records, I was on something like nine pounds a week, that wasn’t even enough to pay my train fair; I was always getting chased by ticket collectors. I was quite good at running. You go to the pub and when someone turned their back, you’d steal their beer! [laughs]. It was such good fun! You just had a feeling it was you against the world. I never thought it would become popular to be quite honest. All the big bands at the time were Genesis and Yes and Electric Light Orchestra, they were huge, playing stadiums and we’d get ten or fifteen people in the pub watching us. All of sudden punk rock became popular. I suppose there were other people, not just us, that were getting bored with the stadium rock. So, it was a real surprise when it took off.

What’s the significance of the title of your new record Get Back Into The World to you?

CS: People, especially youngsters, spend a vast amount of time online, much as I like a bit of retro gaming, the idea of sitting in front of a screen for more than thirty or forty minutes drives me nuts! People do that all day, it’s not just going to kill their eyes, they’ll need high strength glasses by the time they’re twenty-five or thirty. It can’t be doing much for our brains. We’re doing everything online, the shopping… It’s just “get back into the world”! Get on your bicycle. Despite the government’s rules right now, go out and socialise.

What do you like to do to get back into the world? I heard you bought a kayak.

CS: I did. I do like to go kayaking and out on my bicycle. I have a bit of an if-y back but if I’m careful I can slosh around for an hour or so. It’s really good fun. I kayak if we’re on the road. I kayaked in Perth near a cricket ground; is it called the WACA?

Yeah, it is.

CS: There’s a place next to that and you can get a kayak there.  I did one in San Diego too, this bloomin’ great big sea lion suddenly appeared next to me as I was sloshing around. It was absolutely massive. It was quite a shocker how massive these things are. It swam next to me for a minute and then disappeared beneath the surface. Good fun kayaking [laughs].

There’s a song called ‘Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn Ya’ on the new album and it talks a bit to the theme of health; what else helps keep you healthy?

CS: Well, ‘Don’t say I didn’t warm you” was the words of one’s parents coming back to haunt us now. My and Paul’s ears are just so damaged. If I go to a pub, just the sound of people jibber jabbering and clinking glasses and cutlery it drives my ears nuts and I can’t concentrate on the conversation so I have to shove napkins in my ears. It’s really sad actually, what forty years of loud music can do to your ears. Would I change anything? Yeah, if I could go back, I might turn the amp down a little bit. It’s just such fun standing there with the amp cranked to the max with your guitar! What can you do? You can deafen yourself with headphones.

You’re a vegetarian, aren’t you?

CS: Yeah, I’ve been a veggie for a fair old while. The idea of eating meat doesn’t appeal.

Didn’t you spend a weekend living, and recording with Crass and that helped inspire that change in diet?

CS: It was a very interesting week that. They put me up in their squat, it was very nice of them and they’d have discussions around the dinner table every day. I was a bit of a football hooligan in a punk group and after a week with them I was a vegetarian and anarcho-socialist—they reprogrammed my mind! [laughs]. I have to thank them for that. I found some sort of sense of the world in that week.

It sounds like it had a big impact on you.

CS: It did! There was a lot of laughing as well. We made a record together, me and the Crass guys called This Is Your Captain Speaking. We were shrieking with laughter when writing the lyrics. I think you can get a message over quite well with sarcasm… this is what I said to them because their music is very angsty and rough. I said, you can do the same message with humour and melody, and that’s what we tried to do. So, it’s basically Crass with melody. I think it worked.

Totally! I know the criteria for what songs you wanted to include on the new album, partly it has to have a strong memorable melody; where’s your love of melody come from?

CS: It’s from the record I bought as a kid. We had Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and songs like ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘God Only Knows’ which were incredible tunes. I used to like the songs that were really epic like ‘Eloise’ which The Damned funnily enough did a cover of when I wasn’t in the band, I thought that was a terrific idea. I like the idea of three-minute song that’s absolutely epic and goes through a bunch of moods. There’s another one by The Hollies called ‘King Midas In Reverse’ that’s absolutely epic. I’m not saying our material is anything close to that but I just love melody. Secretly I’ve been trying to get as close as possible to writing the perfect pop song as I can with my limited talent. The song I feel that gets closest to that on the new Sensible Gray Cells album is ‘Black Spider Memo Man’, it’s a real tuneful piece. It’s actually about… funnily enough, there’s two songs on the album about the British Royal Family. ‘Black Spider Memo Man’ is about Prince Charles because he writes these Black Spider memos to members of parliament, which he shouldn’t do; the Royal Family should keep out of politics.

The other song is Paul Gray’s tune about Prince Andrew… how can I say this? Hmmm… let’s just call him the nonce! [laughs]. The song is called ‘What’s The Point Of Andrew?’

What are the things that are important to you when you record?

CS: Just making the best record you can even with limited resources. Both Sensible Gray Cells records were recorded in people’s garages in back gardens. The first [A Postcard From Britain] was in a doctor’s garage in Wales and this one was down in a back yard in Reigate in Surrey. You make the best album you can on limited resources and try to push the boundaries a bit, try to do things that you have not done before. I find it really boring to make the same album over and over again. Some bands manage to do that really well but it would drive me to distraction.

There’s a lot of instrumental passages on the new Sensible Gray Cells record that are really quite melancholy and do stuff I’ve never done before. I was listening to a lot of Peter Green’s [Fleetwood Mac] guitar playing, he had such a beautiful tone and economy in his playing. Instead of a flurry of notes and twiddle-y diddley I was trying to pedal back and play something more thoughtful.

I feel like the guitar on this record has a really bright feel to it.

CS: Yeah. I was doing some tunings as well and using some kind of an Arabic Middle Eastern scales rather than your standard rock stuff, just trying to do something interesting.

Do you research that stuff when you’re wanting to incorporate something new?

CS: I do, yeah. It’s difficult to say what bit is the defining aspect of one’s record collection but, for me it’s anything that’s interesting and melodic, there has to be melody in it. I listen to a bit of Bollywood, I like that. I like Eastern music, a bit of Japanese. It’s a good fun. The only music I don’t really dig is country and western because it tends to never do anything that will surprise you, it’s pretty one-dimensional.

How great is the cover of the new record?

CS: When the photographer showed us that picture it just tied everything together, from the lyrics, the album and the crazy time we’re living through in 2020. He took that photograph last year; he was on a holiday in the Mediterranean. He came across this scene with all these tables laid out and it looks like the image of the virus. It was a really great coincidence that it was so perfect. His name is Antony and he lives across the road from the house with the garage we recorded in. We used to go down the pub with him and he showed us the picture and we were so shocked at how brilliant it was. He actually went down with the Coronavirus and they shoved him on a ventilator. He’s been telling us about that ghastly experience. Being on a ventilator wasn’t good for Antony, he only just survived.

Is there creativity in any other parts of your life beyond music?

CS: [Laughs] No, I’m pretty stupid actually. I didn’t do much at school. I’m obsessed with going out on my bicycle and I really like old retro computer games, Pac Man and Donkey Kong stuff and the old Mario games, Ridge Racer… I don’t know why but I just play them over and over. It’s really fun! Now I’m actually finishing some of them, but when I was younger, I’d get bored of them and go from one game to the next. Now I actually try to finish them. I’m on one at the moment on the Gameboy Advance, it’s called Advance GT 3, I got 4/5th’s of the way through it but now it’s starting to get hard [laughs].

Please check out: The Sensible Gray Cells on Facebook; The Captain on Instagram; TSGC on Instagram. Get Back Into The World out now on Damaged Goods.

Miss Pussycat: Secret Projects, Capers and (most importantly) Having Fun!

Original photo: Doug Hill. Handmade collage by B.

We adore NOLA-based musician, artist, puppeteer, zine creator and all-round creative Miss Pussycat! She’s a true original, one of the most individual, loveliest and happiest people you’ll ever meet. She creates her own world full of colour and magic and brings a whole lot of that, as well as joy, to ours. Along with her equally amazing creative partner Quintron (read our conversation with Q here) they’ve released a banger of a new record Goblin Alert. Gimmie got an insight into her wonderful world.

MISS PUSSYCAT: Hi Bianca! How’s it going?

Really great! It’s wonderful to speak with you again, we first chatted in 2012!

MISS P: Yeah, it’s been a little while! [Laughs].

I’m excited there’s a new Quintron and Miss P record! How have you been?

MISS P: I’ve been good, all things considered. I’ve had a lot of projects to work on through the whole pandemic, I’m pretty good at entertaining myself. I guess Quintron told you we’re in Mississippi, it’s so beautiful here now. We’re on a little trip.

What did you do today?

MISS P: Today we just walked around, it’s soooo beautiful! As you know, everyone’s been cramped up in their houses, us too. We met our friends Julie and Bruce Webb from Waxahachie, Texas. We’re just getting out of town.

Lovely. Why do you love to make things?

MISS P: I like making all kinds of things! Lately I’ve been doing a lot of painting, oil paintings of my puppets doing things like camping or playing in the snow. I’ve been making a lot of ceramic statues of my puppets too, it’s really fun to do. I can’t do live puppet shows right now.

I saw that you had some art shows happening.

MISS P: Yeaaaaaahhhhh!! One of them is at the Webb Gallery, that’s why we’re meeting our friends Bruce and Julie, so we can give them the art for the show, it’s their gallery. I just had another one open in Pensacola, Florida at the Pensacola Museum of Art. They’re different shows.

The one in Pensacola, I made maracas—I’ve always wanted to do that! I made maracas I shaped them out of brown paper and wood glue, it was very intense glue it turned my hands yellow! It looked kind of gross for a while. It was worth it! My favourite maracas I made are Mr & Mrs Circus Peanut. There’s one that’s a witch. I made nine maracas; I call them ‘maraculas’. I put aquarium rocks inside of them to make the rattling sound, I think they’re going to work really good but right now they’re in the museum for the art show. I made them all little satin pillows ‘cause they’re resting because they can’t do a rock show right now, they’re doing performance art, laying down on a little stage in a museum [laughs].

That’s so cool! I remember last time we spoke you were just making the covers for them, the little outfits. Now you’re actually making the maracas.

MISS P: Yeah, that’s new, I did that in the summer for the first time. I’ve made the covers, the little outfits for my maracas for years and years and years and I always thought it would be so fun to make the maracas, so I did it!

Where did you get the idea to use aquarium rocks for the insides?

MISS P: I was just like; I wonder what would sound good? I’d taken some of my maracas and cut them open last year to see what was inside and the best ones had little seeds inside, it looked like gravel, like an irregular shape. I looked around our house and I had these speckled aquarium rocks and they sounded good. I had to try things out.

You mentioned you’ve been doing a lot of painting; have you always painted?

MISS P: I haven’t painted much in the last few years but I used to paint a whole lot! My grandmother taught me how to paint, she didn’t start painting until she was a grandmother. She was a nice country lady; she liked to sew and cook and play piano. She took a painting class and started to paint pictures of barns, flower bouquets and meadows. When I was growing up, I’d go hang out with her and she’d show me how to paint. I think anybody can paint really, you just do it and then you’re doing it. But she showed me her tricks.

This year being home so much and having all this time I thought I’d paint, it’s really fun. I thought, ok, I’m going to paint pictures of my puppets doing all these funny things like having a campfire in the woods and roasting marshmallows or going to the beach. It got really hot in New Orleans this summer and we don’t have very good air-conditioning in our house so I thought I’d paint puppets in the woods and it’s snowed [laughs] they’re having snowball fights; it was a way to pretend that I had air-conditioning. It’s like a fantasy, I want to think of something that will make me really happy and paint that.

What’s one of the best tricks that your learned from your grandma about painting?

MISS P: That the sky changes colour the closer it gets to the horizon; you can make it go from light to dark or dark to light. Another one is that you can take a sponge and put a little paint on that and dab it on the canvas, that can make really good tree foliage or bushes [laughs].

Do you have any favourite colours that you like to work in?

MISS P: Well, one of the fun things about painting is that you can make any colour you want and colour combinations are really fun. In general, I like a combination of warm and cool colours. I have a whole thing about colours, I like pink and red together and I like pink and orange together but I don’t like orange and red together. Cambrian yellow is a good colour, straight out of the tube it’s an intense yellow.

Art by Miss P.

You’ve been making things for so long and have lots of experience making all kinds of things; what’s one of the best things that you could tell someone about creativity?

MISS P: First of all, go have fun of course! The more fun you have the harder you’ll work. Always when I have something that I am working on I say: this is my secret project. I keep it a secret and that makes me feel like I’m getting away with something, like it’s a caper, that makes it a fun secret. I don’t talk about it much until kind of the end, I think that’s good advice.

I love your new record Goblin Alert, it’s super fun.

MISS P: Thank you! It was really fun to record with our friends and do the record in Florida. I always wanted to record in Florida.

Why is that?

MISS P: I just like Florida, it’s one of my favourite states. Different parts of Florida are different but I just thought it would be fun to record in Florida.

Like I told Quintron, one of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Block The Comet’.

MISS P: We were in Oklahoma – that’s where I’m from – in the summer and there was this big meteor shower called the Perseids meteor shower, we were laying in the backyard at one in the morning watching the shower. The song is inspired by that, it’s literally about comets/meteor shower [laughs].

All the songs on the new record are pretty fun and upbeat for the most part. You think about how people might react to it and I always want people to dance and have fun—I just want to make party music!

What was the inspiration for the album cover idea?

MISS P: In the picture Quintron is a chef and I’m a crawfish… [coughs] wait a moment let me have a drink…

No problem.

MISS P: I’m outside and I think there must be a lot of pollen here. [Clears throat] We took that cover picture, our friend Tony Campbell did it, he’s also took the picture for the Organ Solo record cover. We took the photo on Easter Sunday in his backyard.

Before that on Madi Gras, Quintron and I had a show in the French Quarter and we pretended it was a crawfish boil. We dressed up like on the cover. A bunch of my friends played maracas with me and we had backup dancers and everyone dressed like crawfish or the ingredients that go in a crawfish boil like potatoes and celery; my friend was an ear of corn and her outfit was sooooo good! Quintron dressed as the chef. We made these pots out of aluminium foil and carboard and they had fake flames on the side, so it was like we were being boiled alive while we played the show!

We made a video, someone taped that show, we never have people tape our shows. You look at the footage now and it’s so great, people all close together at a show and they’re dancing and sweating and that’s something that can’t happen right now. The video is for the song ‘Goblin Alert’

Are there any ways that ideas come to you most often for your creative projects?

MISS P: I always carry around a notebook and some pens and pencils. I feel like I’m just waiting for the ideas. Sometimes they come to me in the middle of the night and sometimes in the morning, I feel like I’m there and I have a net, that’s my notebook, and I’m ready to catch them. I feel with really good ideas, you don’t have them, they have you. It’s like they’re a ghost that’s haunting you and you have to do what it says. I try to just make myself available [laughs].

I asked Quintron this next question too when I spoke to him because you have a song on the album called ‘Teenagers Don’t Know Shit’; what were you like as a teenager?

MISS P: I grew up in a really small town, in Antlers, Oklahoma. I was a pretty angry teenager because I was so weird and living in a small town, you had to act tough because you were different from everybody else. I was a real loner. I was a typical teenager in the angry-rebellious-teenager-type way.

What was the first creative things you started making?

MISS P: As a kid I painted with my grandma but I didn’t take it too seriously it was just something really fun we did. I liked to write, I always liked to write stories and plays. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t study art or go to shows because none of that was available. I was in marching band and played tuba [laughs], that’s how I learnt about music. I sewed because my grandma would sew some of my clothes, probably the best clothes I ever had was sewn by her and homemade. That’s how I learned to sew and crochet, that’s just what you did. So, I had a very dorky approach to the Arts [laughs], I guess it wasn’t very cool. I still sew, I still crochet, I still paint and I still play music!  

I started doing puppet shows when I was a kid ‘cause I was in the Christian Puppet Youth Ministry through the church [laughs]. We told Bible stories with puppets. We’d go to other churches to do this too. I’m still doing puppet shows; I’m doing all the things I used to do.

I noticed you’re doing a zine called Camelot about puppeteers.

MISS P: Yeah, I’ve done one, I want to do another one! It was a kind of secret project [laughs], a caper, so I could interview and talk to some of my favourite puppeteers. I thought if I had a zine, I could interview them, and it worked! One of my favourites is Peter Allen, he lives in Missouri now in a small town and there’s not a whole lot written about him; his puppet shows are mostly in libraries and places like that. He’s such a good puppeteer! I thought if I interviewed him, I could ask him all of these questions and find out what his secrets are! [laughs]. That interview ended up being over 9,000 words long.

I also interviewed Nancy Smith. She has a puppet theatre in Arizona. I’ve known her a long time but more like, oh, she’s this great puppeteer, one I really, really respect but because of this project I got to sit down and ask her lots of questions. It was so great. A zine can really open doors! [laughs].

Totally! That’s why I’ve made zine for over two decades. I know that feeling of seeing people make really cool stuff and it gets you curious like; how did they even do that? How does that exist? They’re doing something you think is so cool and awesome and you just wanna know everything about it.

MISS P: Yeaaaaah! You totally get it. Transcribing interviews can be very hard work though.

It can be, but I’m one of those weird people that actually enjoy it. It’s part of the process and you learn lots while doing it, things that can’t be taught in a classroom or from a book. It can roughly take around three hours to transcribe and edit a one-hour interview. I like transcribing interviews and putting them out there in that format because I love to encourage people to read, I think reading is important.

MISS P: Oh my god! [laughs]. I bet you’re really good at it now and faster than most.

Yeah, this year alone I’ve interviewed over 100 people already and like I said I’ve been doing it for over two decades, since I was a teenager.

MISS P: Who’s the craziest person you’ve interviewed this year?

I would have to say maybe Damo Suzuki from Can.

MISS P: Oh whoa! Cool!

I did the interview without any pre-planned questions and we spoke for a couple of hours about creativity, freedom and of discovering yourself through doing all these creative things and the importance of not taking on other people’s information and of tapping into your own and the things that spring from within yourself.

MISS P: That sounds like such a great interview to do.

Out of all the people you’ve interviewed for your zine, was there anything cool or interesting that you learned?

MISS P: There was! I don’t know much about Punch and Judy. Peter Allen is this Punch professor, that’s what they call it when you’re good at doing Punch and Judy shows. Do you know what a swazzle is?

No.

MISS P: A swazzle is like this little reed that you put into your mouth and that’s the voice of the puppet Punch. It sounds crazy! It’s amazing. You have to learn how to do that and he showed me how to make a swazzle. You put it in the back of your throat and you have to learn how to talk through it, and not swallow it [laughs]. The joke is, if you swallow two then you’re a professor [laughs]. You’re supposed to tie a piece of dental floss to the swazzle and tie it to a button on your shirt, so that if you’re choking or swallowing it you can pull it back out. I’ve never swallowed one but I can see how you could, they make such a crazy sound that just makes me laugh, then it would be very easy to swallow it.

How did you get into making ceramics?

MISS P: Ceramics is soooo fun! When I was in college, I did a lot of ceramics, then you get out of college and you don’t have a kiln or all of the space to do it. Two years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and I was like, I have to do ceramics again—an idea had me! I thought I want ceramic piggy banks that are shaped like my puppets, it would be so funny. I found a community ceramic studio and have been making ceramics of my puppets, I haven’t figured out the piggy bank thing yet though. I will though. I made one and it wasn’t very good. It’s such an intuitive and earthy thing to do, I think it’s really healthy.

I love the mugs you made with the lion on it.

MISS P: Oh, you saw Mr Lion! They’re fun. Mr Lion is a stuffed toy that was Quintron’s mother’s and now we have it. It’s this big stuffed lion that’s at the foot of our bed.

What are the things that make you really, really happy?

MISS P: A whole lot of things make me happy. Things like working on a secret project and the feeling of working on that project, of it being so fun, that’s one of my favourite things, just being inspired.

My cat Coco Puff makes me really happy. She’s a Siamese and loves to wear hats.

Quintron makes me happy, he makes the best things like The Bath Buddy. He’s just so funny and so good! Seeing what he does makes me very happy.

Live shows are really fun but it’s the building up to the live shows too that’s really fun for me.

What is it about the build up?

MISS P: It’s exciting! It’s terrifying! It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s like an adventure movie and things come up and you have to overcome those things.

That’s a fun way of looking at it. You seem like such a happy, positive person; do you have days when you’re feeling down too?

MISS P: Sure. I’ve had times when I was really sad. I try to avoid being sad because I can get soooo sad, so depressed. I try to ward that off by always having bright colours, like every room in our house is painted a pretty colour. I try to be really careful not to go down that dark road [laughs] because it’s a looong dark road that just never ends. The best way is to just always be happy… of course though, I’ve been sad.

Is there anything in particular that helped you in those times?

MISS P: Getting busy. I think I’m the saddest when I’m not busy or not working on a project. Having secret projects to work on makes me not sad.

I won’t ask you about your secret projects your currently working on then because if you told me they wouldn’t be secret anymore but, is there anything you’re really excited about right now?

MISS P: A lot! The things that I feel like I’m at the harvest fest point of, all these secret projects all at once. The art show in Texas, I’m excited to show things to people. It’s a weird time though because people aren’t really going out. When my friends have come over, I shut the door to where I’m working so they can’t see it, so I haven’t showed anybody yet.

Anything else to tell me?

MISS P: I’m really excited to do puppet shows again, for the longest time ever I haven’t really been working on one. I have some idea for one I want to work on for sometime next year.

The songs on your new record are each like little stories; do you have a favourite story?

MISS P: One of them is ‘Weaver Wear’ and it’s the theme song for a puppet show that I’ve been working on for years but I really haven’t done the show or not in the way that I thought I would, I thought it would be a puppet movie. I made all these little shows for it; it’s about puppets that are fashion designers.

Amazing!

MISS P: They are multi-generational fashion house, they’re The Weavers. They’ve been fashion designers since the middle ages, they started out during the plague and made these capes that could either be a cape or if there was a dead body you could through it over that so you don’t have to look at it [laughs]. They had their own sheep that they grew and they made wool from the sheep called ‘Weaver Wool’ which is patented. In the ‘60s they come up with these really high fashion designer jeans. There’s a grandfather names William and the grandmother Betsy was a model but now she’s really elderly, she only models for charity events [laughs]. Their grandchildren live with them but are in their twenties and there’s one being groomed to take over. Mindy is the youngest child but doesn’t look anything else like anyone else, she might be illegitimate, she does all the work and she’s going to go blind because she sews all the time. The grandfather goes missing but they find his finger in a letter and they think he’s been kidnapped by their rivals, who make everything in China and they want to get Home Economics out of school so nobody knows how to sew… Betsy and Mindy and the family need to come up with a new Fall line, so they come up with shoes ‘The Weaver Walker’. Shoes for dancing. For some reason I haven’t made the movie yet though; Hollywood didn’t come knocking at my door yet for that one! [laughs].

I did the live puppet show just about Mindy. It’s about Mindy and a moth, the moth wants to eat all of her clothes she’s making. They make a deal that the moth will help her sew and then she’ll give it all the wool scraps after the fashion show. I wrote a theme song, that’s ‘Weaver Wear’! That’s on the album. There’s a lot behind that song [laughs].

I really love how you completely create your own world! It’s amazing.

MISS P: It’s all just so fun! That’s the most important thing.

Please check out: QUINTRON & MISS PUSSYCAT; find Goblin Alert here out on Goner Records; find Miss P’s projects here.

Brisbane goth trio It’s Magnetic: “There’s usually a pretty emotive story or feel driving the songs.”

Handmade mixed-media by B.

Conjuring a heady mix of primal rhythms, atmospheric guitar and moody vocals Brisbane’s It’s Magnetic are spellbinding. This year manifested their debut self-titled release. Gimmie caught up with bassist Ben Ely, vocalist Mia Goodwin, guitarist Jamie Trevaskis and drummer Black Prizm.

How did you first discover music? 

BEN: Through my older brother listening to his Midnight Oil tapes. His excitement about the band and the first time I saw them blew me away.

JAMIE: I grew up in a tiny country town and would listen to the radio to fall asleep every night- the music was strange to me, it was mysterious.

MIA: Video Hits for me. I used to just love watching it all morning as a young girl. 

What was the first concert you went to?

BEN: Haha, Midnight Oil at Boondall Entertainment Centre. I rode there on the back of a friends motor bike. He rode like a total psycho so my adrenaline was already up when I got there. The show absolutely blew me away…

JAMIE: The Cure at The Entertainment Centre. 

MIA: It was the musical Phantom Of The Opera. Quite gothic really. 

How did It’s Magnetic get together? 

BEN: Jim put together the track ‘Leaving Is Neon‘ [it’s on the album] with Mia and he invited me up to play bass on the track… then we decided to do some more tracks and it led onto the band taking it seriously. 

Where did your band name come from? 

BEN: Jamie came up with the name and it was in context to everything just being – magnetic. 

The It’s Magnetic sound has a real 80’s goth vibe to it; is that something you’ve consciously worked to curate? Or is it just a natural progression of your interests and influences? 

BEN: I feel we are all fans of that kind of music and general vibe. I feel naturally drawn to darker sounds when I’m writing…I personally consume really a really downer style of music when I’m at home… I’m a massive Joy division, New order, Peter Hook fan, Jamie found The Cure at the age of 15, and Mia sang on the recent Twin Peaks tour so… I guess it all happened naturally…

You recorded your debut album at Jamie’s Wild Mountain Sound Studio (a tape-based studio), Mt Nebo set in a natural subtropical eucalypt forest setting; did the environment inspire your creativity/music? What was it like recording away from distractions?

BEN: Yes, it does have an alienated feel when you’re up there. We rehearse up there also. When I hit the forest-y part of the road heading up the mountain it does feel as though you are travelling through a portal of some kind. It is another world. Having that peaceful place to create is really great.

I understand that the record was recorded in a night; tell me about it. What was the first song you created? How did you feel when writing it?

BEN: The first song we wrote together as a band was ‘Heatwave‘. It all flowed very naturally. I feel all our best songs just fall out. Most of the album was done live in a few hours one Monday night. We went in with the intention of just recording ‘Heatwave‘… the second take was great… we kept it… then just kept going until most of the album was finished. We did do a couple of overdubs and mix it later. It surprised us all. 

One of our favourite tracks on the record is ‘Heatwave’; what inspired it?

BEN: I feel our band works well when there is a lot of space in the sound. If we create a sound that’s minimal then there is a lot of room to hear all the parts. I like that.

MIA: I wrote the lyrics coming into summer. That kind of oppressive Brisbane heat- you can feel it coming. And I was thinking about late nights when you can’t sleep, and the city, and small apartments, and lovers in those small apartments, hot together, uneasy together, anxious together.

Can you tell us a bit about making album closer ‘Disallowed The Past’?

MIA: It was a instrumental drum and noise guitar piece that Jamie recorded. Ben came up and put his bass part on and it just sounded like the closer for an album so that’s where it went. 

Mia, your vocals are very emotive; is there anything that you tap into to give that kind of vocal performance?

MIA: I just love to sing- and I love to sing strong- and I feed off the guys and all the emotion that is coming out of them and their instruments, and I think of the emotion behind the lyrics. There’s usually a pretty emotive story or feel driving the songs.

We saw you play live a couple of weeks ago at your album launch with Adele & the Chandeliers; how did it feel to finally get to play your album live?

BEN: Oh man… we practiced a lot for the launch and put a lot of work into setting up the stage… planned costumes etc.. so when it finally happened it was very exciting and felt really special to us. It did feel as though time flew by very quickly though.

It’s Magnetic use a drum machine, was that out of necessity or did you want that kind of sound? 

BEN: I feel it allows a lot of space for the guitars and vocals to stand out. We also love the cold hard evening hand our drummer provides. We did name our drummer to give him a human quality. His name is BLACK PRIZM.

JAMIE: It was always intentional for me for sonic reasons and I don’t really like cymbals.

What do you feel was the value of working to tape?

BEN: Tape does have a lot of character with tape hiss etc, though I feel it is very forgiving when it comes to vocal performances. Any slightly weird note doesn’t sound as obvious on tape. It’s some kind of witch craft I think…

JAMIE: I always record to tape for everybody else’s projects so it’s my most natural way to capture music and I love what it does to the sound. It does something whether you like it or not, and we like it.

There seems to be a witchy-occult-ish kind of theme to, It’s Magnetic; where does that come from?

BEN: We are all very superstitious people and have varying beliefs. Also I think Jim performs some kind of rituals before he plays. his guitar sound is not of this world, it’s from another realm… No one makes a sound like that…

Why do you feel that you work so well together?

BEN: I think we are all sensitive people who are conscious of the parts each of us play in the group. We allow space for each other. I think that’s the reason I love playing in the band so much.

What have you been listening to lately?

BEN: Danzig Sings Elvis. [its actually an amazing record], Trees Speak, Lost Animal, Gong, Spaceman 3, Crack Cloud.

JAMIE: Steve Von Till, Danzig sings Elvis, SWANS, Wet Taxis.

MIA: Chelsea Wolfe, Brendan Perry’s Songs Of Disenchantment:Music From The Greek Underground. The Blue Nile- Hats.

What’s next for It’s Magnetic?

BEN: We are about to go back into the studio on the Mountain and record a follow up album. We probably won’t do this one in one evening. We plan to take a lot more time and create a broader range of sounds. It’s very exciting…

It’s Magnetic’s debut LP is out now through Valve Records.

San Francisco Jazz Maverick Idris Ackamoor: “Community Is Everything”

Handmade collage by B.

Idris Ackamoor is an inspiration. He has created and played music since the ‘70s, a veteran of pioneering free jazz musician Cecil Taylor’s Black Music Ensemble and founder of Afro-jazz outfit The Pyramids. Idris was one of the first musicians of his generation to travel to, and live and study in Africa in the early ‘70s.

Today he is still playing music and doing more than ever under the umbrella of Cultural Odyssey, a not-for-profit that believes in art as social activism and creating original work that builds artistic, cultural and political bridges across continents, fostering community and change.

Gimmie interviewed Idris from his home in San Francisco and chatted about his latest album Shaman!  as well as his journey and what he learned during his life changing time in Africa. His positivity, enthusiasm and zest for creation, community and life is infectious.

IDRIS ACKAMOOR: I’m doing good today, the sun is shining, it’s a sunny day so that’s good!

Good to hear, Idris. Where did your name Idris Ackamoor come from?

IA: I was born with the name Bruce Baker, but my family’s true name, our ancestral name, is Ackamoor. It goes back in to the 18th century but was changed to Baker in inter-marriage. I was the first to reclaim my great-great-grandfather’s name; his name was Dick Ackamoor. Our family reunions are now called Baker-Ackamoor reunions.

The name Idris, I was in high school in the last part of the ‘60s, from ’64 to ’68. ’68 was of course around the time of Black Power and the return to the understandings of our ancestors in Africa, Black Pride, afro haircuts and dashikis—it was a back to Africa vibe happening for a lot of African-Americans. That was around the time a lot of young people were changing at least a part of their name to more reflect what they were feeling. So, I choose the name Idris.

The meaning of the name Idris means interpreter, righteous and to learn.

IA: Yes. There are several different meanings in different languages, sometimes a name goes across ethnicities and groups. It’s even known in Egypt and there’s a derivative of it in Ireland. When I choose it from where I selected it, Idris was ‘messenger of the moon’.

Why is music important to you?

IA: Music is life. I’ve been playing music since I was seven years old. I consider myself an artistic being, meaning if there was a planet out in space for artist types, I’d be on that planet and I’d be an artistic being because I am surrounded by art. I love art and I have been surrounded by and known music for most of my life. Music is everything to me, it’s also very much a part of my spiritual beliefs. It occupies a lot of my life, even in how I celebrate, how I worship; I worship with music. I conduct rituals on stage with my band, with community, with audience members. Music is about my life.

Through listening to your music, seeing live performance videos and knowing the work you do through Cultural Odyssey, things like spirituality and community seem like they are very important to you.

IA: Absolutely. They are the motivation. The foundation of my work is community, family and healing.

In what way healing?

IA: Music is one of my influences. Albert Ayler, the great tenor saxophone player, he coined the phrase: ‘music is a healing force of the universe’. I think it can be seen; it’s even been documented, music goes back as far as humankind. The music of the breeze going through the trees, the music of different animals and birds. It’s been used in many ancient cultures as a healing, it’s been used in many ceremonies to help with things like childbirth or to help console when a family member has died—music is played a lot like that in Africa and in many different ancient cultures. I know Africa, so I’m speaking from Africa. I’m speaking also here in America with the Indigenous Peoples; they use music for healing and ceremony. Even if you take it to the present day with yourself and myself, a good song can make you feel so much better during the day, it can soothe you, bring back memories. Music is an art form that is really magical. It has many, many different uses. For me it’s one of the most influential artistic disciplines.

Agreed.

IA: Music is also something that is intangible. Music is invisible, we hear it… you can see it written on paper but it’s an invisible medium in a sense, it’s in the air. I have vinyl records that I play over and over and over again like John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things and every time you play it, it means something to you but if you look at film… maybe there’s some real filmheads that could see a movie over and over, for me it’s hard to even see a movie two times let alone ten or twenty or thirty… music though is infinite, you can listen to your favourite album or a piece of music you like over and over and you can’t even count the times you’ve listened to it, and you don’t get tired of it.

I do that all the time. I just get obsessed with pieces of music and play them over and over and over and often each time I hear something new. Or they’ll be a little part that I love and I just keep rewinding and listen to it over and over.

IA: [Laughs] You do what I do sometimes. Music affects each of us so differently. That’s the funny thing about music, something that can be your favourite song might not be someone else’s; what determines what is your most loving piece of music? It’s so individual.

In the early ‘70s you went to Africa. I understand that this really changed you; in what way?

IA: Sometimes something happens in life and it can affect your whole life—my trip to Africa was one of those. It still influences me to this day. It was one of those magical trips because I was there close to nine months. I studied music. I experienced community and how African culture worships with music. I learnt how they combine the different art forms, music is combined with dance which is combined with ritual, theatre, masquerade; it’s very rare in Africa that there is only one art form that is displayed for an audience. If a musician is playing then he is probably also reciting poetry or singing or conducting somewhat of a theatre piece. I was just loving the depth of the culture in Africa, the colours of the costumes, the innumerable amount of instruments that I could see and sometimes brought back and collected.

I also underwent ceremonies, healing ceremonies, with traditional African priests or Medicine Men, they call them Juju men or shaman. Shaman!  is the name of my new album. Shamans in Africa are very, very essential. They might be called a traditional healer—they are a religious being.

What type of ceremonies were they?

IA: I didn’t know a lot about Africa before I went, I had a very elemental knowledge from when I was in college; I was a college student when I travelled. I knew a little from my reading, I knew the word Juju. Juju is a religion in some parts of Africa. I knew that I wanted to undergo a ceremony by a Juju priest. When I was in northern Ghana, in Bolgatanga I asked a resident, I told them that I wanted to undergo a ceremony. The resident guided me way out into the bush and that’s where I met my Juju man who put me through a ceremony. The ceremony was called ‘The Washing of the Legs’. He sung and played instruments, he washed my legs in Juju, in the magic, which would then allow me to walk anywhere in the world unmolested, no one would mess with me and I wouldn’t have any problems. He was giving me a spiritual shield to my body. It sounds pretty far out [laughs] but I experienced it!

What is the significance of Shaman! for your new record title?

IA: It’s basically a lot to do with what I just mentioned. ‘Shaman!’ is a title track. It set up my musical theatre piece. The album was composed as a four-act music suite. ‘Shaman!’ begins act one. I put a very contemporary spin on it because… it was basically about a love affair that was broken up, this was a girlfriend I had many years ago. When we were about to break up, I wrote a poem to her. The idea was that… a lot of times men are the ones that do a lot of the heartbreaking but in reality, it goes both ways—basically I got my heart broke. I wrote a poem:

If I was a Shaman I’d run my hands together and I’d reach down into your soul

If I was a Shaman, if I was magical, I’d clap three times, spit in the air

I’d create a whole new world

I’d reach down into your heart and find that buried spark

I’d massage it until it started back up again

I used the concept of a ceremony to reclaim our love we had as a couple.

That’s really beautiful.

IA: I think so too. The poem was inspired by this South African historian who wrote a book about Zulu mythology of the Zulu people. In his book he talks about the ‘fire rites’, the fire rites of penance. A part of my poem talks about how I’m telling you the truth that I really love you.

I’ll grab a white-hot axe and grab onto that axe and burn my flesh to tell you that I love you, I won’t let go.

[Laughs] So, it got pretty deep!

I love that there are so many layers to your music. It always gives me chills.

IA: I’m glad. I really want it to mean something different to each person, I want everyone to take away something that is unique to them. I don’t believe in shoving anything down anyone’s throat, into someone’s ears, I want them to interpret it almost like when you’re looking at an abstract painting; everyone will have a different description of what they’re looking at.

One of the songs on the record that really resonated with me was ‘When Will I See You Again?’ I think partly for me, both my parents have passed away now and when I heard the line from the tracks title it made me think of that. It brought me some comfort and reminded me that I will see them again.

IA: Well, you really picked up on the song exactly as… it’s very interesting that you say that because when I was thinking of composing the song, I was visiting my sister. We were having a conversation of; do I believe in the afterlife? Do I believe in Heaven? She’s quite religious herself, more from the Christian element. She said, “Idris, don’t you want to believe in Heaven? Don’t you want to believe that we will see Mommy again?” There was no argument, of course. Just the way she said it… even though I might not believe in “Heaven” but I do believe in the spirit. I do believe that you meet your parents again in some form or fashion, some spiritual fashion. She was of the same idea that you just mentioned, the idea that we would see some of our loved ones again.

I know there’s no way we can know until we do transition into whatever is next for us from here but it’s nice to think there is something.

IA: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s for sure! Absolutely! It can relate on a lot of different levels because ‘When Will I See You Again?’ I composed it actually before the pandemic… it was almost like forecasting this terrible pandemic. So far, here in America, we have lost close to 200,000 people, they’ve died. There’s particularly resonance to that song now with that’s what we’re facing right now.

The song starts with me talking about mass shootings. I was naming certain cities where mass shootings took place, where they were in schools… a parent can think their child is just leaving the house to go to school… I say in the song: and too soon a loved one parts, sometimes it’s just a blink of an eye. I know when my girlfriend heard it, she had tears in her eyes. Once she listened to it over and over again, she also understood it was about like you said, very positive with the idea that we see loved ones again or that you want to be more appreciative of your loved ones now. It’s a pretty heavy piece.

The whole album goes through so many emotions and moods, everything is really in there. Soul-searching, self-healing, mortality, salvation, love, loss and so much more. It’s very powerful.

IA: Thank you. I’ve spent a lot of years in the theatre. I’ve done a lot of plays and a lot of musical theatre so I brought a lot of that experience, that inspiration and put it into the album. That’s why when you look at it and you look at the album cover it all becomes a piece of art.

Are there ways that songs come to you most often?

IA: It’s another one of those things that are so magical. Obviously, a lot of the music just comes from living my daily life, what I’m experiencing. I’ve been writing, I’ve written enough compositions for my next album. It’s very exciting! A lot of it is coloured by what we are experiencing now, not just the bad parts but also the good. There’s a song that I’m really excited about called ‘Heroes (or Heroines)’, it’s all about the heroes that have played a part in this pandemic. It’s a homage to the nurses and the doctors and the farm workers, everyone that’s put their life at risk helping other people. I find that very, very amazing. I am so appreciative that people would put their life at risk to help other people—that is the height of humanity. It’s a very uplifting piece, it’s almost like angels singing.

There’s another song called ‘Police Dem’. I sit here in my apartment, I’m sheltering in place like a lot of people are, we’re all watching a lot of news, what’s been happening with the police and George Floyd and what just happened in Wisconsin where police shoot a Black man seven times in the back… I have a very afrobeat piece that’s inspired by Fela Ransome-Kuti’s song ‘Zombie’. It’s about soldiers and how they’re automated, you tell ‘em what to do and they do. My song is basically about dealing with the police.

What’s kept you positive this year through everything?

IA: Music. Music and family go hand-in-hand because you can’t move forward without the support of your loved ones, it’s very hard, it’s very difficult, because that’s what you’re living for in some ways. My father is going to be ninety-nine years old in May… obviously this is a time when we’re not able to be with family much so, music is one thing I don’t have to worry about the virus touching [laughs]. Music is keeping me moving forward; composing new music, playing every day—it’s hard to know what I would do without it.

Is there anything that you like to do to challenge yourself creatively?

IA: Yeah, I go back to the beginning when I was just starting out. What I’m doing right now is that I’m going back to a time… I had a teacher that used to play with Charlie Parker, he’s dead now because I know he was old back then… he told me one thing long ago that I’m rediscovering right now, I’m going way back when I began to learn and prove myself now. I found it very interesting because someone can tell you something thirty, forty or fifty years ago and that one thing can be with you your whole life. I’m going back to things that were revealed to me over fifty years ago and getting new meaning out of it. It’s so exciting for me that feeling of beginning all over again. [Laughs] It can be hard but mostly it’s exciting.

You’re a band leader; how do you get such great performances out of everyone?

IA: I think it’s mostly because I am a great band leader. I am a great judge of character. I have a really good understanding; I can hear someone immediately… I think a lot of it transcends music, it goes beyond music, because you can find exceptional, technical musicians, musicians that have studied all of their life but they may be lousy band members. I’ve gone through that a lot, very talented musicians but terrible band members; they’re not good on the road, they’re not good travelling, they don’t know how to support you. I’m much more interested in getting the best performance out of their unique character, sometimes they are incredibly technical and great human beings! I’m not interested in someone who is great technically but not a great human being.

Same! I like having good people around me, it’s important.

IA: Yeah, I think that’s almost the most important thing. This album I am so happy because quite frankly, I love having two women in my band, they are incredible improvisers and great performers but more than anything they’re so supportive, supportive in ways that most men could never be. Women have that motherly instinct in some ways or another kind of instinct that is soft. Sandy and Margaux have made a huge difference. We were on the road for two months before we did the album, being on the road can be very difficult, you’ve got to have a good group of people to live on the road.

We talked about how your trip to Africa changed your life; have you had other life changing moments you could share with us?

IA: In many ways travelling through Europe and performing and this new rebirth of The Pyramids. We were initially only together for 1972 to 1977 and then we broke up and didn’t get back together again for over thirty years. What’s been life changing for me is to be able to play my music all over the world, every place. I was scheduled to come to Australia!

What?! Really?

IA: I was supposed to play a big festival in Melbourne. It was pretty obvious then though that things were getting very bad and they ended up cancelling it. I was so looking forward to coming to Australia. I’ve traveled all my life, as we talked abut going to Africa when I was twenty-one, all the travelling I’ve done particularly the last ten years has been amazingly profound in my life. The audiences that I’ve met and performed for, the people that have booked me have become my friends, it’s been extraordinary for me and mind-blowing epiphany in my life that at this age I can be so regarded and celebrated around the world with my music for what I’m doing.

That connection!

IA: Yeah, it’s hard to think when we were finishing up… we recorded Shaman!  in early November 2019, maybe the 4th to the 10th, we were playing a lot of those songs on tour right before the virus hit Italy. We were in Italy, one of the places where the virus impacted people hard, we were there in July and August, then in Spain. I got back to America around November 21st and a couple months later that’s when all hell broke loose. The tour was magical where we were playing though, the people we’d meet. We played in Turkey; I went to Istanbul for the first time! I’m looking forward to coming to Australia, I love playing the didgeridoo, it’s one of my favourite instruments. I have a portable one that’s about six and a half feet long but it folds down to maybe a foot and a half. For several years that’s been one of the signatures of the band, I come on playing this huge long didgeridoo.

Why do you like to start with that?

IA: Firstly, it’s the visual, because a lot of people in Europe don’t know what a digeridoo is. Secondly, it’s got this deep, deep sound [makes noise] baaaarooooooo! Wooooo! Whooooo! We walk in through the audience. It’s also consistent with the whole idea of community; we start the concert in the audience amongst the people! It’s rare that we begin onstage.

I can’t wait to see you play live.

IA: We sometimes leave through the audience too. We like creating a real community feel.

I know with your organization Cultural Odyssey you have a philosophy of art as social activism; can you please tell us about this? You also spearhead the African American Theatre Alliance For Independence.

IA: When The Pyramids broke up in 1977 I kept playing my own music and growing and in 1979 I founded a non-profit performing arts company – in America there’s a big non-profit community where we have philanthropy, foundations and government funding for the Arts… I founded Cultural Odyssey and it’s sustained me for over forty years as an artist. During that time, I’ve never had a day job. I have a salary, healthcare, a retirement fund, all the things you often think you can only have if you work for a corporation. We’re like a mini opera or a theatre. It’s my myself and my partner, Rhodessa Jones. Our model is: art as social activism.

Her main project is called The Medea Project which is theatre for incarcerated women. For thirty years underneath Cultural Odyssey she’s gone into prisons all over the world, particularly here in San Francisco, she works with incarcerated inmates and ex-inmates to create theatre based on their lives. It’s all original theatre that they write themselves and then they perform it in a major theatre around the world. We even took it to South Africa. We’ve taken it to Italy, performing in Italian prisons.

Another of the projects we do is my Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, which is the resurrected band. We’ve been touring again for the last ten years.

It’s wonderful that you can do work that you love and help other people doing it.

IA: Community is everything. We had an orchestra out here that was made up of closet musicians, people that weren’t really performers but maybe practiced in their closest or they just like to play. I combined amateur musicians with professional musicians and created the Music Is A Healing Force Community Orchestra. We got funding from a foundation that wanted to have art in non-traditional places, places that don’t usually have live music. We played in United Nations Plaza.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

IA: I’m always thinking of what’s next! I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I’m always thinking of continuing to make music and art and collaborations. I want to make every album I release to be something special and it’s something to bring forth the transforming and the healing that brings meaning to people. For me it’s about quality not quantity. Looking forward!

Please check out: IDRIS ACKAMOOR & THE PYRAMIDS on bandcamp and Cultural Odyssey.

French post-punk-rrriot band Radical Kitten: “Silence Is Violence”

Original album art by: Anne Careil. Handmade collage by B.

Radical Kitten are a rrriot post-punk, queer feminist band from Toulouse, France. We caught up with RK’s Marin (bass-vocals), Marion (drums) and Iso (guitar-vocals. Très bien!

ALL: Hi! We’re Radical Kitten, a post-punk-rrriot band from Toulouse! We formed two and a half years ago and we just released our first album Silence is Violence.

How did you first discover music?

MARIN: I was very young, my uncle played guitar really well and even sang with his dog (and it also sang!), I think it marked me.

ISO: very young too, I come from a family of classical musicians and started playing an instrument at an early age.

MARION: As a child, I was surrounded by my father and his sisters who played folk songs and sang together at family gatherings. We had instruments at home: violin, piano, drums, banjo, auto-harp…

What did finding the underground Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement mean to you?

MARIN: It was really nice to discover a scene with people I could identify with. I think the Riot Grrrl movement showed me that women could also play music on their own, to have this kind of insurgent energy, these powerful personalities at a time when the pressure of the codes imposed on women was very important, it opened the field of possibilities and it was an important discovery for the teenager I was, even if musically I always remained much closer to hip hop.

ISO: As a teenager, I listened a lot to Nirvana, and that brought me to the Riot Grrrls (and to many other excellent bands by the way!). I always liked raw and/or energetic music, most of the time with women singing, and hated rock bands of old macho guys! Even if I didn’t identify myself directly with the Riot Grrrls musicians because I didn’t consider myself as a girl (without putting then the word trans on my identity) I was, obviously, very touched and concerned by their words and their rage (which are still completely up to date!)

MARION:  I actually don’t identify too much with the Riot Grrrl movement as I never really listened to it. But I admire those women who, at one point, even in underground music circles, had to shout out loud that they were able to make music as well, put their rage on the table and took the space they deserved and needed. It surely inspired other women until now to make music the way they want, not necessarily with a sensual aesthetic or whatever, just to be musicians.

What inspired Radical Kitten to get together?

ALL: We don’t pretend to do more than just enjoy making music together, we are lucky to have this musical and friendly/human connection, it’s hard to find!

You’re from Toulouse, France; what’s it like where you live? Is your song ‘I’m Bored’ about where you live?

MARIN: In fact, this song wasn’t about Toulouse but about the city where I come from even if to tell the truth in France at the moment with the confinement, I imagine that we’re really starting to get bored everywhere!

Recently you released your album Silence is Violence; where did the album title come from?

MARIN: The title refers to the silence that invisibilizes social problems. It’s also a nod to the album that is anything but silent!

ISO: The title of the album can be understood in many different ways, that’s also what we liked. When we chose it, last February, we didn’t yet know that it was starting to be one of the slogans of the Black Lives Matter movement…!

There is their silence, as Marin speaks, but also ours, which we must fight as well, as evoked by Audre Lorde, “a black (lesbian) woman warrior poet doing (her) work” in this beautiful text: “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” that you can read here.

What kinds of things did you find yourself writing about for the new album? Do you have a process for writing your lyrics?

MARIN: The lyrics come spontaneously after the instrumental part. I compose them like a musical instrument, my approach is more rhythmic than literary.

For the subjects I am very often inspired by personal stories, dramas. It has often been a good way to move on. We also deal with political subjects: coming out (‘Blind’), fed up with work (‘Say Shit’), transphobia (‘Shitty Questions’) of which Iso also wrote the lyrics etc…

Songs ‘Say Shit (to your boss)’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Full Circle’ were originally on your demo Contre nature han that came out last year; how do you think the songs changed from being on your demo to being on the full-length album?

MARIN: Clearly…. the tempo!

MARION: Those songs were released just a few months after we started to play together. That was the very beginning, so since then, we improved in lots of ways. For the full album, we knew better what sound we wanted, and had a much better look at the whole thing.

Can you tell us about recording Silence Is Violence? You recorded at La Grange Cavale with Manuel Duval, right? What was one of your favourite memories from making it?

MARIN: Recording in socks next to the wood stove that was heating with the view at the field and of course spending time with the kittens and our great hosts!

MARION: When we recorded the voices at the end, it was funny (and a bit sadic, I admit) to hear Marin singing with her raw (nude?) voice, without any effect and no music. It was a bit like a little kitty trying with all his strength to be a tiger. I also loved to watch how the whole recording was driven by Manuel, see how to use the software, and all the technical parts.

ISO: I very much appreciated those moments when we prepared the meals all together with our adorable hosts, and enjoyed them together (the French side!). The emotion on the last day to hear for the first time our compositions with such a sound, and also a huge laugh when that same evening we listened again to our very first rehearsals with notably the song ‘I’m Bored’ in an embryonic state and at a ridiculously slow tempo!!!

Who did the cover art for your album? It’s really beautiful! What can you tell us about it?

MARION: Thank you! Anne Careil did the cover art for the album. We actually recorded the album at her house and we got along well. We learned that she was a great graphist and drawer, she made the cover arts for Rien Virgule (her band with Manuel) for instance and it’s very cool. Her website can be found here. We asked her to make ours, she was very thrilled at this idea, and paid close attention to our “expectations” while keeping her own style.

What have you been listening to lately? Is there any other cool bands in your area we should know about?

ISO: I’m currently looking back at the Raincoats’ discography, which I really love! For more recent stuff: Sweeping Promises, Cheap Meat, Special Interest, Immigranti, Lithics, Romain de Ferron.

Cool bands from Toulouse: Docks – a great shoegaze slow-core instrumental duo, in which plays Manon, from Hidden Bay Records, super cassette label.

Petit Bureau – a post-punk duo that has just released a great first album.

The Guilty Pleasures – a very cool surf post punk band which has also just released its first album, and in which Emily plays, from the very cool label Dushtu records (and who had recorded the demo for us too!).

BooM – super power-violence noise band, in which some friends from the Pavilions play, the place where we rehearse.

For the Riot Grrrl style, there is Trholz from Toulouse, and from Bordeaux, Judith Judah and LKill.

To finish, it is not a Riot Grrrl band but we recommend you very strongly to listen to La Chasse de Marseille!

What’s something that is important to Radical Kitten?

ISO: Having fun playing together.

MARION: Getting famous!

MARIN: [Laughs at Marion’s answer]!

ALL: What is really important for us is… cats!!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or tell us?

ISO: We dream of doing a tour in Australia, I’m just saying!

MARIN: As Iso said.

MARION: Here is a very nice recipe I’d like to share with you, it’s a Turkish soup or “mercimek corbasi” very easy. In a big saucepan, you sear with olive oil, a big onion, a big potato, 2 regular carrots, tomato pulp, some garlic. Add some spices: cumin, curcuma, paprika, chilli. Then, you put 500 grams of coral lentils and water. If you find dry mint to add, it’s perfect. Mix it and eat it. Bon appétit bien sûr!

Please check out: RADICAL KITTEN on bandcamp; on Facebook.

Berkeley post-punks Naked Roommate: “Knowing when to stay minimal and when to get maximal.”

Original photo: Polaroid by Katie Beata Bryan. Mixed-media collage by B.

Creatives Amber Sermeńo and Andy Jordan (from beloved Oakland band, The World) are behind Naked Roommate—a project with punk spirit, a dance heart and progressive post-punk thought. The band also features Michael Zamora (from Bad Bad) and Alejandra Alcala (Blues Lawyer and Preening). Their record Do The Duvet is on our list of most played releases at Gimmie HQ for 2020. We interviewed Amber and Andy.

Naked Roommate are from Berkley, California; what’s it like where you live? Can you tell us a bit about your neighbourhood?

AMBER SERMEŃO: We got a high walk score of 91, 8th highest houseless population in the country and great sandwiches.

ANDY JORDAN: We live right on the border of Oakland/Berkeley, so we have both NIMBYs and regular people.

How did you first find music?

AJ: Or how did music first find me, right? I’ll say that the first music I was into was The Wild Tchoupotoulas, an LP of medieval Andalusian music and Mekons, or so my parents report. That’s when I was three, in 1983.

AS: For me, it would have to be cruising in L.A. with my ma. There’d always be C&C Music Factory, Ace of Base or Prince on the radio.

What excites you the most about making music?

AS: When something that could’ve just been a fart in the wind gets caught and turned into something that makes people dance. Seeing that is incredibly gratifying

You both started the band; how did you first meet?

AJ: On a deserted dance floor in San Francisco, surrounded by unsavoury types.

AS: Haha, oh god… Yeah that was back in 2007. Anyway, that was silly. Years later we bumped into each other at a bookstore his dad worked at. I guess he was a little more charming in that setting. That’s when we really started hanging out.

What’s the best thing about making stuff together?

AJ: I guess the question answers itself, or I’d rephrase it to say: the best part about making music is doing it together.

AS: I’m not gonna lie and say it’s a wonderful experience. It’s pretty hard sometimes. We’re both hard headed so it’s a process. When barriers break and he sees what I see or vice versa it feels well worth it. A more permanent manifestation of our struggles and growth. I think it’s special to have somewhat of a record of that.

I know you had band The World; how was Naked Roommate born?

AJ: I had been working on a bunch of recordings at home and rather than contaminate them with my confused vocal approach, I had Amber sing over them.

What’s the story behind the band name, Naked Roommate?

AJ: No story. It was as simple as might be expected: we were the naked roommates one day, and upon referring to ourselves as such, we paused and said, “ha ha”!

Can you tell us about the recording of your album Do the Duvet? You recorded over few months, right?

AJ: We took our time. We recorded where we practice, in the studio behind Michael’s house. Our bunker-clubhouse. Although now we practice outside the bunker, in the bricoláge garden. To record, we used analogue tape plus digital. The initial performances were done in a few takes, ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’ was just an improvised thing we did while the tape was rolling. We liked it so it ended up on the record, with a few overdubs and some editing here and there. The recording and overdubbing process helped us form the songs. We experimented with everything, figured out what worked and went with it.

AS: Clubhouse is a good word for it. It got filled with books and various objects to prompt ideas and we got into our habits. That being everyone forming songs while I hung out outside with Michael’s partner Katie smoking cigarettes. Once they had something I’d hop in there, riff some gibberish, and sometimes even words. Then we’d have a song.

What were some things that you tried doing on this album while recording that you think worked really well?

AJ: Knowing when to stay minimal and when to get maximal.

Amber, can you tell us about writing the lyrics for the LP; what’s your writing process?

AS: I just “bleee blahhh blooo” until words start forming over the song. What comes out is sometimes surprising but often not. I know my brain fairly well by now. Interesting though, how gibberish and non-sequiturs can form a solid theme and you’re like, “oh so this narrative has just been waiting to come out of me from somewhere in there. Had no idea.” Sometimes it works out well. But my favourite lyrics have happened when the rest of the band helped form them too, like in ‘We are the Babies’. And you know Andy wrote the lyrics to a couple of songs on there. ‘Repeat’ and ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’. I think he has the opposite approach to mine but it all works.

How did you approach the vocals on the record? Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound before you started?

AS: I’m better at knowing what I don’t want to sound like and avoiding it. Whatever else comes out I’m open to. I guess what I admire more is honesty, at least in a vocal delivery. You know, embracing idiosyncrasies rather than striving for technicality. So yeah, I’m not scared to show my weaknesses as a vocalist. What would be more terrifying is sounding bluesy.

What feeling do you get from playing live? Do you miss it (since everything’s been locked down with the pandemic happening)?

AJ: When things go well, it feels great. I just saw a YouTube video of us performing in February, it feels like much longer ago. That made me miss playing very much indeed.

AS: I’m actually a pretty anxious person when it comes to public speaking. But I must like the torture or else I wouldn’t find myself fronting bands so often. So, I’d say the tension and relief. Having the endorphins and calming them outside with a smoke. Am I turning this interview into a Marlboro commercial? Well now I have. But really the best is seeing a crowd move. That’s elating. So, when shows become a thing again y’all better get movin’. It’s about the only payment we get besides a couple of drink tickets.

What bands/albums/songs have you been obsessing over lately?

AS: Chronophage is one of my favourites right now and Chano Pozo’s percussions are timeless

AJ: I’m 40 now, so I only listen to Jazz, Dylan, and the Velvet Underground. As far as new stuff goes, I haven’t been paying enough attention but Natalie from Nots has a new band called Optic Sink, and I dig that. 

Do you have any other creative outlets? When not making stuff what would we find you doing?

AJ: I’ve been known to do some origami. I have four different dragons and three dinosaurs memorized. I also draw and design the records I make. When not making stuff, I’m reading stuff. Or biting the Big R, which is beatnik slang for working.

AS: Yes, the house is FILLED with origami. I for one do everything, half completed in my corner. So yeah, I really need the discipline of collective projects to make things happen. You’ll actually find some clay sculptures I did for First World Record in the insert and on the cover. That’s one thing I completed besides music.

Please check out: NAKED ROOMMATE; on Instagram. Do The Duvet via Trouble In Mind Records.

Punk from Mexico! Huraña: “We talk mostly about being a girl, a punk girl, a tough girl, a sad girl sometimes but always fighting against the people who want to hurt us.”

Original photo: courtesy of Huraña. Handmade collage by B.

When Gimmie’s editor came across Huraña from Mexico this year she was super excited, falling in love with their lo-fi scrappy, punchy punk with hints of ‘80s hardcore, layered guitar and reverbed drench delay-laden vocals sung in Spanish. Gimmie interviewed bassist Daniela to learn more about where they live, their community and release Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DANIELA: I play the bass in Huraña. I love cats, big black clothes, tattoos and hair dye. I’ve been playing with Huraña since the beginning, which was like two years ago. I love music, I love playing music with friends, going to concerts and everything that has to do with music. I’ve played the bass for like seven years now and I would say that what I enjoy the most is making a lot, a lot of noise.

Huraña are from Chiapas, Mexico; what’s it like where you live?

D: We live in a small city called Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is the capital of Chiapas. You can find all kinds of people. The weather is mostly hot, we actually have a song called “Odio el calor” which means “I hate hot weather” because we do hate it a lot. I personally like the city, but sadly there is a lot of insecurity everywhere, police brutality, murders and assaults all the time, that has turned Tuxtla into a dangerous city, but still, not as dangerous as other cities in Chiapas.

How did you first discover punk?

D: I always liked rock and metal music, so that lead me to punk. I got into it when I was invited to a punk band, I was insecure at first because I thought I wouldn’t be as good as they expected, but it came out naturally and it was a lot of fun playing, because before that I only had been in metal bands, cover bands and experimental rock.

How did Huraña get together?

D: We all come from different bands that no longer exist, and we all have played together at some point. We used to have two vocalists but one of them just wasn’t into it, so she left, also we recently got a new drummer, so we are in the process of getting all together again, but it has been very fun and exciting to create new stuff, and also we all enjoy extreme and noisy music so that definitely helps when it comes to understanding each other when we play.

Where did your band name came from?

D: Huraña comes from “huraño” which is a term used mostly when a cat is shy or grumpy or doesn’t like being with people, being petted or any contact at all, it’s also used in people or dogs, but cats are like that almost all the time. We are all cat lovers so we kept the name as a way to express our lyrics, our type of music and our love for cats.

What is the punk scene like where you are? What are some bands we should know about?

D: There aren’t many punk bands here, maybe like three including us, so there is not much to say about that. My favourite local punk band is Cabronas, their songs, lyrics and the attitude of the lead singer are great and contagious, they have just released their material on Bandcamp so you should definitely check them out. I also really like Zoque Caníbal which is more a ska punk band, but the drummer is awesome and a lot of the guitar riffs are very punk-ish.

This year you released 7-inch EP Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas on Iron Lung Records; what was inspiring you when writing songs for it?

D: Our lyrics talk about what we do, what we think, what we stand for. We talk about feminism, women empowerment, harassment in the streets, fake friends and allies, our generation and similar stuff. Sometimes we do funny themes like “Odio el calor” saying how much we hate hot weather and sweat. The lyrics are written by Chax, the guitarist, and Tania, the lead singer. In “Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas” we talk mostly about being a girl, a punk girl, a tough girl, a sad girl sometimes but always fighting against the people who want to hurt us, the fake friends and the danger that’s out there in the streets for us.

Can you tell us about recording it?

D: The recording was very fast, we did it all in a few hours, except for the collaboration with the saxophone which had to be done the next day, but we got it all together pretty quickly. A friend of ours came from CDMX to record us, so it was all chill, fun and natural. I enjoyed a lot.

We really love the reverb on your vocals and the delay on the guitar; what influenced your sound?

D: We have different influences and we take inspiration from what we listen to and what we like. I guess we have always looked for a deep, dark sound, something that is not like the other punk bands in our city. We wanted to sound like a hardcore band but also like a goth, post punk band. I personally take my inspiration from goth bands, post punk, death rock, and similars.

Why did you choose to cover a Vulpes song “Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra”?

D: Tania, the lead singer, and I studied together in college, and back in those days we used to love that song and sing it all the time because we felt so related to it. We wanted to form a punk band and play that song, so when we finally got the chance of playing together, we suggested the cover to the band and they agreed. Also is an awesome classic punk tune that we all enjoy, and the only cover we have done.

What’s something that’s important to Huraña ?

D: I think that the most important thing for us as a band is staying true to ourselves. We can’t sing about one thing and do the opposite in our daily lives. Also having each other’s back, and always enjoy what we do. We think that punk should be supportive to us and our community, that it should be honest and straightforward, so that’s what we try to stick to at all times.

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us or share with us?

D: I could just say that I’m very happy that our music is being played in places that are so far from us, and that we received so many different comments and critiques from different sources. We are very grateful to Iron Lung Records for helping us reach a great audience that are enjoying what we do. We will keep working on new songs and doing what we like to do. Thanks a lot for this interview and for taking the time to listen to our music.

Please check out: Huraña on Instagram. Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas out on Iron Lung and if you’re in Australia get it at Lulu’s in Melbourne.