Rex Haberman is a Minneapolis-based rocker who plays around one hundred shows a year with his band War Poets. In 2014, Rex met young Galway vocalist Aileen Henderson via twitter and the pair started sending song ideas back and forth and ended up recording a fully produced EP without ever actually meeting face to face. They will finally get together in person this August as they embark on an Irish tour. We asked him about this unlikely project.......
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you both down this musical career path?
Both of us have been playing since an early age. I have been in bands since being a teenager and Aileen has been singing with her family as long as she can remember. It seems that once we started to play, in very different situations, we both became seriously attracted to performing and once that gets in your blood, it’s almost impossible to remove. We have different influences. Aileen was influenced by country acts like Dixie Chicks and I more so by songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. This combination is what gives Light Over There its characteristic sound: messages in songs with great vocal performances.
Aileen you come from Galway, Rex you come from Minneapolis. How do you get together for band practice?
The truth is, at the time of this interview, we haven’t practiced together. Mainly because we haven’t met face to face and won’t until August 15th, the day of our first official rehearsal. Don’t think that the band won’t be ready for the tour though. We have an A-list band that will be fully prepared to rock on!
How would you describe your music for people who have not yet heard your songs?
The genre is Americana. Our songs are all about a message or a story played with music that has melodies that stick with you. Aileen has an unmistakable vocal sound and style, so when you hear it you know you’re listening to Light Over There. The songs captivate the listener to follow the story lines and is consistently present, so even though one may be humming along with the melody, the story will become clearer as If a light suddenly is turned on or to say: “oh, that’s what they mean.”
How did your collaboration come about?
My other band War Poets followed Aileen on Twitter then she responded by following back and sending a direct message to me with a link to some of her You Tube videos. I looked and listened then asked if she would be interested in songwriting and collaboration. Aileen said yes so I sent her the lyrics for Solitude Gratitude. After a week or so, Aileen sent me a demo of her singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was a huge success, as we both really liked the demo. Subsequently, we traded ideas on 4 more songs then headed to our studios to record.
Touring in Ireland in August, is there anything you are particularly looking forward to on this tour and are there any UK dates to follow?
We are looking forward to delivering great shows for people. The band includes acclaimed guitarist Cory Wong, Nashville bassist Adam Beard, and former Gin Blossoms drummer John Richardson. The level of playing will be very high so the audience can expect the best performances possible. We are of course looking forward to playing in Aileen’s hometown of Galway. This is the opening night of the tour and should be a lot of fun. We’re also very happy to play the other cities: Cork, Limerick, Connemara, Belfast, Bray, and Dublin. Our opening act, Dave Moore, is from Belfast so we’re looking forward to playing there.
You are working with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland on the tour. What was the inspiration for this?
Our first song on the EP is called Where Memories Live. It is about Alzheimer’s Disease and the toll it takes on families. I decided to write lyrics about Alzheimer’s because my father in law suffers from it and I wanted others to be aware, including younger people that may not think about it much. Aileen wrote the music and delivers a great vocal performance with studio vocal backups by Nashville singer Lizzy Herder. As part of the tour, we didn’t want to lose sight of its importance, so we reached out to the Irish society and we’re glad they’re with us in Galway.
What was the music you both listened to back in School/College days that blew you away and still does today?
Some of the classic rock bands that focused on socially relevant topics were inspirational for me, being heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Aileen always had an ear for country singers like Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift but also liked Ray LaMontagne and others similar.
Light Over There is the polar opposite to War Poets, or is it?
It is different because War Poets is more of a rock band with a definite agenda for writing and playing socially conscious songs, including topics such as American gun violence, income inequality, poverty, and homelessness. Light Over There songs have messages too, but are more about family issues and individual struggles and successes.
Rex, do you ever give Aileen advice on life in the music business and if so, what would you share with new bands starting out today?
Aileen and I talk virtually every day about any topic you can think of. I have given her advice, but she is fiercely independent and far more mature than her age would predict. Having said that, there are certainly aspects of recording and playing music professionally that we’ve discussed at length. My best advice to new bands is to stick with it for the long term if you’re so inclined. There is much more money in cover bands, but if you’re playing original music, you have to develop a fan base that will follow you. That is a significant challenge especially if the band has no label to back it.
How has the response been to your debut EP released on St. Patrick’s Day and are there anymore songs in the pipeline?
The response has been very good, but as with all original projects, you must have a strategy for get the news out to people. We feel confident that once people listen, they’ll love the songs. Our strategy has been to focus on social media with Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve seen success working with CyberPR from New York City. Now we hope the tour will bring an entirely new group of fans to the music. We’ve been approached by some Nashville producers about writing more songs and doing more recordings. It makes sense to keep a good thing going, so we’ll see what happens.
Hi Paddy, How’s life in the music business today?
Been scratching at the gate for years, just got in but am now waiting in the lobby.
You recently played a show in London and have a show in Dublin coming up; what's are the striking differences between a London & Dublin crowd?
There's no actual difference, there are perceived notions about both towns gig goers that are positive and negative, but it all depends on whether you have a good night or not. I've triumphed and blundered in the two so I speak from experience.
Having just released a lovely double A-sided single … when is the album due and do you have many songs written and ready to go?
You better believe there's an album ready, I just need a wealthy Svengali to facilitate it
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you down this musical career path?
Realising I was my father's son, he used to perform as a classical singer you see.
What was the record that blew you away in your schooldays that you still play today?
Alice by Tom Waits, it made me long to mature like English oak and sing with an effortless depth.
If you could tour with any other band or artist, who would it be and why?
Right now it would be Girl Band, love those guys.
Where is the closest record store to where you live?
Freebird in Dublin, they used to sell promo singles left over by radio stations, I'd find myself buying almost three a day and discovering the most random music, I also found some really ropey stuff but that's part of the chase baby.
Who do you consider as direct or indirect influences on your sound?
Probably Van Morrison, funny looking Irish guy trying to be soulful, no brainer really.
How do you go about creating your music, what is your writing process?
I have a catalogue of hooks; whenever lyrical inspiration strikes I pluck a hook and get rolling.
Do you have an old trusty guitar and do you play any new instruments?
I have my 1972 fender acoustic, used it to record my first solo record and I'll be dammed if it doesn't have a soul in itself.
When and how did you learn to play the guitar in the first place?
I knew I had some kind of musical ability but could never express it despite how hard I tried; I flunked out of learning the clarinet, guitar, saxophone, flute and piano. What I didn't realise at the time was that I was dyslexic and couldn't deal with academic situations. One day however my brother bought home a cheap classical guitar and before heading out with his mates gave it to me saying "why not give it a go" within a couple of hours I could play about 20 different notes and that was it, all I had to do was teach myself.
Just what is the feeling when you pick up your guitar, before the first song on stage?
On far too many occasions I've thought "I hope I'm not interrupting their lunch"
Hi Guys, You have just completed your first UK tour, how was it?
It was amazing! I know every band that tours the UK would probably tell you the same, but we are really telling the truth. The kids on the shows had so much fun headbanging to our music, even though a lot of them had never heard of us. The feedback of the crowd was impressively great, so as you can imagine, there couldn’t be a better feeling for a musician to play shows like this far away from home.
What are the main differences you discovered when touring in the UK as against your home country?
We had been told really bad things from other bands about touring the UK. For example, the fact that there is no catering and food is not great, the crowds are hard to please, and there are hooligans all over the streets at night. But from the first show of this tour we knew that this was complete nonsense… well apart from the no catering but everything else was great! The people at the shows are so open minded and went crazy when they met us after the tour. Everyone stood right by the stage and we’re not really used to this in Germany. If a venue isn’t packed, you usually see people standing around all over the place.
How did the band form and with what ambitions?
Annisokay was actually founded back in 2007. We were just a few boys trying to make some cool music together. We had all those Nu Metal idols back then and tried to get, at least, a little close to the great sound they achieved back then. Over the years we changed a few members, to finally find some guys that really want to make music for a living and whether it’s playing for 100 kids in your hometown every two months or bigger tours. We’re still far from making a living from the music, but it’s a dream coming true to be able to visit different countries, play your music to so many people and have fans all around the world. We get messages from people every day who tell us that our music means the world to them, and that makes it worth the energy, work and sacrifices in a band.
Do you write on the road or, is all composing done away from touring? What is usually the spark that drives you to create a new song?
We honestly can’t write music on tour. Touring is stressful and your day is pretty full with all the stuff that needs to be done, so finding a quiet hour or two to write a new song isn’t possible most of the time. When we write songs we start out with the lyrics. This makes us establish the concept behind the song so we can start writing the music. The song should tell a story or have a deep meaning, and the atmosphere of the music should support this.
Your third album 'Enigmatic Smile' was released this year. Did the recording process for this record differ to that of your previous two albums?
It was totally different because we travelled to the US this time to work with our favourite producer Joey Sturgis (Of Mice & Men, Attila, Miss May I) . As I’m a producer myself, we’ve been a DIY band up until then and didn’t have any experience working with someone else. It was initially hard to trust someone else to find the sound we want instead of me, that’s why no one else but Joey came to our mind. He did a sick job in taking those songs to another level. Originally we only wanted to record an EP with him, but that the songs he produced were too good to simply throw them out on an EP. An album tends to get more attention, so we planned a second recording session. As Joey unfortunately was tied up with another project, we asked another favourite producer Will Putney (Northland, Bury Tomorrow, Suicide Silence) and he was totally down to work with us. It was a weird process overall, but it was definitely worth it as the album came out exactly as we wanted it!
Are you all musicians 24/7 or does being in a band these days still require you to have other jobs?
Although we’ve been on the road for nearly 3 month within the first 5 month of this year, we still need other jobs to earn our rents. Music, especially in our genre, simply doesn’t create that much income, which allows you to live from it. We can at least pay our bills, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore! That’s a big thing for us already, because we simply love being on tour. Maybe, if our fan base grows even more, we might be able to get a pool someday...
If the band could choose to be on the cover of a magazine, which magazine would that be and why?
We really want to tour the US someday, and being on the cover of their big name magazines, like Revolver or Alternative Press would be a dream come true! Maybe we should create some kind of scandal, so we get on the cover of the Bild (German Newspaper) or The Sun!
How is the metal scene in Germany in 2015, any other bands we should be paying attention to?
Germany has many metal bands that are huge in Germany, but not somewhere else. We toured with two of them, called Callejon and Emil Bulls. These guys are great and play some sick music. One thing that is also really popular in Germany right now is party electro metal like Eskimo Callboy. These are some really good friends of ours and are huge at the moment. And then there are a few big names everyone knows, like Rammstein or Heaven Shall Burn!
What are your plans for the rest of 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead when it comes to your musical activities?
LOADS! First of all we will shoot a couple more videos for our current album Enigmatic Smile. All the touring kept us away from being able to shoot those, so we really have to catch up on this. We will also play a few German festivals this summer, and then we have out second headline run through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg in October. We will have our UK friends Fearless Vampire Killers as support. After that we already have a few other tour options, but nothing set in stone yet. We’d love to head back to the UK!
The band is on facebook
Can you describe your musical education in Germany, how did you find the sounds on "Conversion”.
I don´t have a real musical education. I had to teach myself in all the things like playing guitar and writing songs. Maybe I have a little talent for that. The sounds on 'Conversion' are a result of the influences of the bands that I love and my way to mix their styles. I hope that 'Conversion' has still a life of it´s own and the band a recognition value in the future.
When you are writing the music, are you thinking about lyrics, even though it’s an instrumental album? Do you have a theme or story in mind for each track?
Yes,when I'm writing my songs,I always have something in my mind which has influence on the sound. Its a kind of concept I try to follow with the songs. I did not write any lyrics for them,but I often thought about it. Maybe there will be lyrics on at least one song on the next record.
How does the music translate live and do you tour with a band?
Unfortunately I have no live band around me. I think it would be a great experience to perform the songs live. I hope it will happen someday.
What or who are your own musical influences?
I love any kind of atmospherical music,mostly doom and postrock,but also many bands from other genres. The bands which had the most influences on my music are Katatonia,Shape of Despair, Rapture,Opeth,Lycia and maybe Jakob. But these are only the top 6 of many bands.
Is the future a case of more of the same (please) or will the sound evolve?
I think everybody who knows my music will recognize it again, but the sound will evolve. The songs I´m currently working on have a little more modern riffing and seem to become more complex than before. But no worries,It still will be a lot of melody and melancholie in it.
How is the music scene in Germany right now, any bands that we should be paying attention to?
Hmm,I think most of the people of the German metal scene are listening to death - and blackmetal,but I also think that we have a growing doom and postrock scene here. AHAB and Long Distance Calling for example are two great german bands of these genres, which deserve attention.
Try to land a Record Label or the DIY approach for new bands in 2015, what do you think works best?
I think in these days there are a lot of good ways to publish your own music without a Record Label. Bandcamp ,for example,is a great way to sell your music digital or physical all over the planet with very fair conditions. But if you can get a nice deal, you should do it.
Who designed the album cover for ‘Conversion’?
The cover and the rest of the artwork for ´Conversion` are my own work. I really like it to work with photoshop and other editing programms. I think the artwork is an important part of an album and it should already convey you the mood of the music before you listen to it.
What music did you particularly enjoy listening to in 2014 and any albums you are looking forward to this year?
A few favourites of 2014 are 'Earthless' by Doom:VS ,'Sines' by Jakob, 'The Joy of Motion' by Animals as Leaders and 'The Flesh Prevails' by Fallujah. This year I'm mostly looking forward to the new Shape of Despair and Deftones albums.
How far do you plan ahead as a musician and is it a full time job for you?
I don´t know how far I can plan. I set myself a goal and after reaching it I set the next one. Next goal is another album or EP. I would love to make music as a full time job ,but like the most of us, I still have to work in a real job to earn my money.
Seeming Emptiness – Conversion is out now via Fluttery Records
Hello! Firstly, let's address the elephant in the room please, Where did the name of the band come from?
Ray blames Liz and Tom.Tom and Liz are skeptical. Ben blames the guy in the bar in Arizona who has a Frog tattoo on his belly. That would be a Frogbelly. It was coincidental.
Your debut album has both a cryptic title and cover art. Any clues as to the meaning and/or concept you are aiming for?
The cover image was provided by Philipp Schewe. The painting’s original title is “Heavenliest Buddies” which is a surrealist art piece in its own right. It matched the content and density of the lyrical and musical information so we made it our cover.
The title of the album “Blue Bright Ow Sleep” isn’t too cryptic to us. It symbolizes the order of things. If you listen closely, it is in one of our songs. We often have a phonetic approach in our writing that turns words into music and/or music into words.
How did you guys meet?
Liz and Ray met in a musical project called “Ithaca” back in 2009. Tom and Liz met backstage, playing for two different bands unrelated to any of the others (now they are married). Tom and Liz met Ben at a folk session in Sheffield in 2011. Tom met Ally in a warehouse in Rotherham loading up trucks, surrounded by Christmas trees.
The album is wonderfully bonkers! How does the creative process work with so many influences and genres?
The answer is held within your question. Every individual in this band comes from a very different cultural and musical background. Maybe “wonderfully bonkers” is just a happy result of that situation. We appreciate when our audience receives us in that light.
I'm looking forward to seeing you at Sheffield. How is this sound and atmosphere recreated on stage ?
Every show is different. We try and perform the songs with a fresh approach and in a slightly different context every time we play them. There isn’t a lot of “production” in the shows. We plug our instruments in put a comfortable piece of clothing on, and just rely on the straight forward conjuring of the songs via our respective instruments.
Are you guys interested in the current music scene and who do you admire or are listening to?
We are a little part and contribution to the current music scene ourselves, I suppose. The most wonderful pieces of influence and inspiration come from the stages that we share with the many bands we encounter on the road. Such as Laura Moody, Beaming Porn Through Nuns, Megan Wyler and the Nyco Project, to mention the last few.
What does success look like for FB&S?
Frequent Flyer Miles, a good shit and a cosy tour van.
What are you up to following the end of your UK tour?
Some recording of new material, a NYC residency and another US tour this summer.
Collaborative answers given by Liz, Tom, Ben, Ray and Ally of Frogbelly & Symphony
Hi Guys, How was the recent UK tour?
Hey man, the tour has been awesome everything is running smoothly and nothing has really gone wrong. I guess the only surprise has been the amount of new people who have come to the shows and either sang along or have just gone crazy.
Why release an extended addition of your debut album rather that a new album in its own?
DOAA was rushed and never felt liked it was finished to us. It was too early for us to release a fresh new album so, we decided to add a few more songs to the album to complete it even adding a re worked track from our mini album.
The band has undergone some personnel changes, what where they and how has the sound of of the band changed as a result?
Yes we had a change of drummer late last year with Fergus stepping down from the drum throne and Charlie taking his place. It has been great having Charlie on board. He recorded the drums for the extended edition and he has managed to bring a new ideas to the table.
What are the plans for the rest of 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead?
So far we have plans for most of the year and that is to tour as much as possible not just in the UK but Europe as well. We will also be very busy writing a lot of new music for our next release.
What is your opinion about the state of UK metal in 2015 are we still on the up?
UK metal is definitely on the up there seems to be a lot more bands being played on the radio and with great festivals like Tech Fest and Ghost fest there are a lot of opportunities for bands to showcase their music.
Who is controlling the music played in the tour van and what’s on heavy rotation?
It is Tom (or as we call him, Monty) who is the in van Dj we like to listen to various types of music. Kendrick Lamar and Juicy J get played quite often. After listening to metal all day it's nice to chill out with a bit of hip hop.
If you had to align yourself to any other band, who are the main influences that drive you on?
It is very difficult to say because we try to incorporate a lot of different styles into our music. We take a lot of influences from metalcore music like Memphis May Fire.
Try to land a Record Label or the DIY approach for new bands in 2015, what do you think works best?
A lot of bands these days including us have gone the DIY route and it has worked out well so far. We try to do everything a label would do anyway and until a label can give us a good deal there's no point being under one.
What music did you particularly enjoy listening to in 2014 and any albums you are looking forward to this year?
There's just so much to choose from! I really enjoyed Monuments, Black Crown Initiate, Of Mice and Men and Pvris. Im really looking forward to Shields and Veil of Mayas new material.
Darkness Of An Age (deluxe edition) is now available via Bandcamp
'The Fine Art of Hanging on' is that how you feel?
I do feel like I'm hanging on, in many ways. It's not necessarily just a bad thing. In many ways I probably benefit from a precarious, untenable situation. If I was completely comfortable I fear the songs might dry up.
Wow, time flies, fourth album done and dusted, how does that feel?
Yeah, it's scary how time flies. I do feel like we should be on our fifth or sixth album by now, but it's always such a long process the writing, recording, release and promotion of an album. It feels like a million years has passed since we released the Sleeper... but it also feels like yesterday.
The storylines of the new album are already well documented, but from the recording perspective, what was different this time around?
It was a bit of a hybrid approach to recording. We got the basic rhythm tracks and some guitars and keys recorded in Konk Studios (as we did on Alone Aboard the Ark), but we then took the tracks away and completed the arrangements in my home studio (as with the first two albums). It was a good way to work as it allowed us to experiment with different sounds and production ideas. Recording to tape, using vintage microphones and a great mixing desk is perfect sound-wise, but computer recording allows a lot more freedom and portability. We recorded stuff by a stream in the Sussex countryside and in the Union Chapel for that amazing natural church reverb.
How is the archive of unused songs coming along?
There are a loads of half-baked demos knocking around, I've lost count. We've also got what I think could be the title track to the next album already 75% recorded. I found a CD of songs I recorded in 1999 in the loft yesterday. Most of it is awful, some of it bizarre, but there were two really lovely songs that I think I'll dust off and hone a bit.
The much missed musician and journalist Nick Gravenhurst wrote an article in 2008 'Why I Hate Rock n Roll' which painted a pretty bleak picture of the gig scene and venues in this country. How do you find life on tour has changed since you started touring your first album, 'The Sleeper'?
I'm not sure it's changed a great deal. Our expectations changed for sure. I spent nearly 15 years playing to empty rooms. When the Sleeper came out we gradually built up an audience of our own. It still amazes me, and makes me quite emotional, when we play to a big crowd. That said I can relate to what Nick Gravenhurst was saying - I saw him at a tiny venue in Brighton not long before he died. Sometimes it's a struggle if you arrive at a cold, sticky venue with no dressing room and find a promoter who really doesn't seem to give a fuck.
How do you go about creating new music, do you have to been in a certain space, mentally and physically or is it, when the spark strikes?
I tend to write more when I'm feeling a bit low, happiness definitely writes white for me. There's also a strange trance like state, just daydreaming really, that spawns musical ideas or lyrics. I'll be strumming away on my guitar and suddenly realise something worth pursuing has arrived - a lyric or a chord sequence - but I won't know where it's come from. Once I have a structure and a train of thought to work around I'll just run over it endlessly in my head, until I finally complete the song. Sometimes it'll take days, sometimes years.
Do you give any of the other band member's encouragement to add to the writing process?
I've tried co-writing in the past and I really struggle with it. I find it hard, almost impossible, to write with anyone else in earshot. I think it's because I'm quite self-conscious and if anyone else is present I can't attain that completely relaxed, dream-like state that throws up ideas. There have been a few collaborations with Christian, but it's always been me passing on songs for him to finish (Fighting Chance) or me incorporating part of his song into mine (It Dissolves in the Writing).
Do you ever write music with an eye as to whether it will sell or have a popular appeal?
Never, I wouldn't know how to go about that. In fact the opposite once occurred, I almost ditched Fight for Everyone as I thought it was too commercial sounding. It was a real struggle to finish the lyrics as I was worried about it sounding cheesy. I'm glad I persevered though as I'm really proud of it now, and it's great fun to play live. The catalyst to finishing the lyrics was a night drinking vodka and watching the 2012 Olympics.
What are the prevailing memories of your first and last gigs?
My first gig was at an Art College in Winshill, Burton-on-Trent (that no longer exists). I remember ironically putting my foot on a monitor in full ROCK pose. A load of performing arts students grabbed my leg and tried to pull me into the crowd. I panicked a little, but luckily they relinquished my leg and I retained a small vestige of my pride. The last gig we did was Full Time Hobby's 10th Anniversary at QEH in London. We played the Sleeper from start to finish, it was a really wonderful night.
What was your favourite album of 2014 and why?
I didn't actually listen to a huge amount of new music in 2014, which is strange for me, maybe I was too wrapped up in getting our record finished. I did hammer the War on Drugs for a few weeks over the summer. I love the production on that record, the layers of guitars and synths and the drum sounds make a real treat for the ears. Oh, and the Owen Pallett record is one that I'm still enjoying.
Do you have any downtime away from music and if so, how do you like to spend your free time?
I'm pretty one dimensional in that my life seems to always be wrapped up in writing or recording music. I do like to cook and I like to surf whenever I get chance to head over to the South West or Wales.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone staring out on a music career in 2015?
I'm not sure I qualify to give anyone advice! Just try to do your own thing, don't copy other people, find your own voice and write from the heart.
The Fine Art Of Hanging On is realeased via Full Time Hobby on 13th April 2015
How have the gigs gone this month, any other dates planned soon?
Superb, thanks. We have just completed a headline tour throughout the UK and Europe. There has been a notable step up in the crowds in the build-up to the new album. Special mentions for the shows at Manchester, Carlisle, Paris, Vienna and Liege. All top drawer.
So far we have 'one-offs' booked in, and that will be the case for the rest of the year I would say. We play Indouro Festival in Portugal in May, alongside Clinic, The Liminanas, British Sea Power, Lorelle Meets The Obselete and more. Unbelievable line up.
We also play Eindhoven Psych Lab in June, headlined by Moon Duo. So, the one-off shows are more than worth it. We have a few supports to announce in the UK soon too, and more festivals.
How does it feel now that your second album is completed and you have road-tested the songs?
We managed to road-test it at 4/5 shows prior to recording, which certainly benefited the recording. It's weird as the songs are probably more fully formed now, but I think that's probably always the case when a band extensively tours an album. We have purposefully left out material from the 3rd album live, as we are already gathering that people are only just absorbing the new material.
What was different in the studio this time around compared to recording your debut album, 'Songs of Lies and Deceit'?
With this album we went in and did it as an album in one go. The debut album was recorded over 3 years, whilst this one was recorded and mixed over around 4 months. The first album was more a collection of our material over several years, whilst this album was recorded and sequenced as an album. I think it shows, and is without doubt notably superior to the debut. We recorded it so quickly as well, Wayne and I nailed our guitar parts within a day each. I definitely think that the 3rd album should be recorded in the same manner. Spending too much time on a record sickens it both from a production and personal level.
How far do you plan ahead as a band and is it a full time job for you all?
We still have day jobs, such is the nature of the music industry at present. If it had of been 20 years ago, in the times where Creation etc were splashing out crazy money left, right and centre, then we would be doing this full time now. It would be ideal to do that, but perhaps normality and day jobs help keep you creative, grounded and have perspective for when something isn't working.
We tend to plan around 6 months m advance for tours etc. The new record was finished September 2014, but we needed to ensure it had ample promotion time, hence the March 2015. When you put so much into a record you need to give it the respect and push it deserves.
How did the band come together in 2008 and with what aim?
Me, Luke and Wayne have been in bands together from a very young age, so around 15 years. Our old band split in 2006, I spent the majority of 2007 writing new material, and we decided to give a new band a shot. Mike (bass) joined when our original bass player left. Mike was already a fan, the ideal replacement, the rest is history!
Our aims were genuinely just to make great music. We sensed when we started rehearsals for the band that it would only be a matter of time before people clicked how great the material was sounding. We also had other aims like to receive a play on BBC 6 Music (we've had around 30 plays and 2 sessions on the station, so we've achieved that!), tour Europe (which we have done 5 times), and support our idols (so far we've played with Clinic, Spectrum, Death In Vegas and many more). The only things we haven't achieved are to tour USA and have a Maida Vale session.
How do the ideas of a song first spark? Do you have to be in a particular place physically or mentally?
It's crazy, I never write under the influence, but I struggle to recollect writing a lot of our songs! I guess that's kind of the impact of the process. I wrote most the 2nd album in a very productive week. Then, when you take the songs to the lads it all just fits perfectly. Each of them gets it 100% every time, and lays their own stamp on it. If this line-up changed then the band wouldn't exist, simple as that.
What would be your own description of the music you make be for people yet to hear your band?
A melting pot of everything - psych, garage, krautrock, dub, 60s pop, noise. It doesn't rest easy with me being 'labelled'. We get the 'psych' thing most of the time, and I can see why, but that doesn't tell a fraction of the story.
What was your favourite Album of 2014?
A tie between Morning Phase (Beck) or Atlas (Real Estate).
How important do you think it is for new artists in 2015 to find a label?
Not at all. We hit a brick wall so to speak in 2010. We had no label anymore, and took it upon ourselves to finance our own 7"s, backed with press campaigns. It wasn't cheap, but we reaped the rewards in the long run, and as a result we gave behind able to work with brilliant labels from then on.
How is the music scene in Cumbria today, any artists emerging that we should investigating more?
Cumbria isn't an area so much for the stuff we are doing, but special mentions to Fading Face, Kontiki Suite, My Little Brother and Colt 45, who are bossing it in their respective areas. Cumbria is a huge county, but sparse too. It is criminally ignored. People only seem to pick up on bands 'originally' from South Cumbria (British Sea Power, Wild Beasts, Woman's Hour), which is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Lucid Dream is out 30th March 2015
How are plans progressing for this year's festival and is the planning any different this year to previous years?
The planning is going very well and we seem to be ahead of where we are normally. We have strengthened the core team and increased the numbers of staff but that has to be done gradually and to budget. The planning is always different as we learn, plus this is the second year at our site, Catton Park.
We have never had such a helpful and supportive landlord, he is behind us all the way. He has installed full site drainage and maintains the site very well.
To be in the 8th edition of the festival and with so many other events falling away, what has been the key to your success?
Careful budgeting and letting the festival grow organically.
I have met other festival organisers whose ego is bigger than the event and it can cause problems, as they do it for themselves and forget about their customers.
How big is the team of people running the festival? It is reported that all or most are unsalaried, so this is a real labour of love?
All un-salaried and around 10 people in the core team day to day.We are lucky to have some of the best people in the industry, as our awards prove.
Which other UK festival would you most closely align yourself to?
Beautiful Days. I think it would be fair and proud to say. Mark Chadwick has been very good to us with help and support. He really is a top bloke and his advice has been great.
With a Whitsun weekend date on the calendar, how have you fared with the Great British weather over the years?
Last year we got sunburnt and a little wet. We have just booked in loads of metal track way so we will be ok anyway.
What is the capacity of the festival in 2015?
Around 9500 hopefully. I think by the looks of it we will sell out early. We have a very good line up this year which is why my business partner won Promoter of the year at the UK festival awards.
What do you think is the key attraction for people coming to Bearded Theory and what lasting memory would you like people to take away from the site this year?
The ticket price is still £87 for 4 days including camping. Food and beer prices are reasonable and we pride ourselves on value for money.
I think the lasting memory will be the people who you meet are all very nice and it’s like a big family. We have never had a violent incident ever and the atmosphere is great. I also think the line-up and what we have planned and the woodland stage will blow them away.Freddie Mercury hoovering the field might also be memorable…...
How do you fare with band riders? Without naming names, any memorable ones?
We don’t do too bad to be honest, Fresh herbs and spices at 10pm being demanded springs to mind….
Any one piece of advice for anyone thinking of entering the UK festival market over the next 2-3 years?
We are at 8 years and still building slowly, it won’t happen overnight so if you are a bit lazy don’t bother……
2015 is set to be an iconic year for Bearded Theory. As well as the eclectic range of music on show there is, amongst other things; a teen area run by the Drop Inn, the amazing Children’s Village, more site art by the wonderful Labyrinth Arts and finally Groovie Movie Solar Cinema will be making an appearance.
These changes along with bringing back the old favourites such as the real ale bars operated by award winning brewery Thornbridge, allowing own drinks into the arena, the magical Woodland Stage, Disco Shed, Open Mic Tea Tent, Magical Sounds, Victorian Circus, Healing & Earth Area, wandering weirdness all mean 2015 is on course to be our best festival yet.
Bearded Theory Festival, 21-24 May @ Catton Park, South Derbyshire
2015 Line up in full:
THE PALLET STAGE
Friday - The Mission, Alabama 3, Gun, Itch, Dizraeli & The Small Dogs, The Wakes
Saturday - New Model Army, Afro Celt Sound System, British Sea Power, The Mahones, Skinny Lister, Neck, Three Minute Heist,
Sunday - James, Buzzcocks, Misty In Roots, The Beat, Mad Professor + The Robotiks, Pronghorn, Back To The Planet, New Town Kings
MAGICAL SOUNDS STAGE
Friday - LAB4, Jah Scoop/ Geezer, Zion Train, Clumsy, Halcyon, Andy Haze, Chigs and Techip, Data 3, Drum Machine
Saturday - East Static, Green Nuns of the Revolution (DJ set), Cosmosis, Ed Tangent, Zetan Spore, Kristian, The Pressure Technique, Charlie H, Drum Machine
Sunday - Banco De Gaia, Merv Pepler (DJ set), Transglobal Underground, Black Star Liner (DJ set), Dr Trippy, Templehead, Grousebeater Soundsystem, Rev Phil Dread, Ushti Baba
THE WOODLAND STAGE
Friday - Jaya The Cat, The Talks, Pigbag, Kilnaboy, Tree House Fire, Captain Knives,
Saturday - Cara Dillon, Bill Smarme, The Jack Ratts, Louise Distras, The Leylines, Joe Zeffa, Mark Harrison, Troubadour
Sunday - Paprika Corps, JB Conspiracy, P.A.I.N, Baba Jack, Mistys Big Adventure, Keiths Big Uke Jam, Superfast Girly Show, Please Y Self Skiffle Band, Mr Motivator
SOMETHING ELSE BIG TOP STAGE
Thursday - 3 Daft Monkeys, Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs, Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, Zombie Met Girl
Friday - Radical Dance Faction, John Player Specials, Gaz Brookfield, Muff Said, Sweetchunks Band, Ash Victim, Ukulele Dave,
Saturday - Inner Terrestrials, Tarantism, Who Killed The Bear, Pure Evil, Demob, Muddy Summers & Gails Whores, Efa Supertramp
Sunday - AOS3, Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth, Society, Abdoujaparov, Skewwiff, Quercus Burlesque, Penny Orchids, Tez & The Suicidal Fish
How's London life today?
Hi life is good! We are playing tonight in Islington, at the Old Queens Head and looking forward to playing the new tunes from our new album!
Your debut album, 'Lucky Bag' was released last March and your new LP 'The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly' is out on 30th March this year. What was the main differences recording album no.1 vs album no.2?
The main differences were that with Lucky bag we had many of the tunes recorded over quite a long period of time, songs hanging around that were not on an album, so in fact it almost turned into a ‘greatest hits compilation’ but without the hits. Were as the new album, 'The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly’ was written over around 6 months and recorded straight away as we were writing, and turned into a bit of a story with the songs joining together to tell that story..
How did the band come together and how would you describe you music for first time listeners?
I have known Pete the drummer in Playmaker for around 10 years and we had hung out in other bands before Playmaker. Stacy the bass player was one of the group who used to come along and watch us play, help out with the gear etc, and it was a natural progression for him to end up with us making the music! Matt was the last to join, again a mate of a mate and we started jamming and it just clicked.
I would say the music is primarily guitar driven, but the tunes are most important, we arrange the songs that way, so the tunes can float to the top! It’s hard to say what or who we sound like, people see different things ..all I would say is have a listen to our single/ title track from the album The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly,I think it’s a Bond theme with guitars!
How do you approach getting your music heard and making an income. What are your feelings about Social networking as a means to musical recognition?
We very much approach everything we do from a creative and enjoyment point of view. If we enjoy it we do it! We don’t worry too much about making a living, its a sign of the times these days that a small percentage of musicians make real money from their music, its a fact that you need something else to pay the rent..
Social networking is amazing, you can announce a gig, stick it on the events page of FB and you instantly have reached out to a few hundred people. The old way was printing flyers handing them out at gigs, so much hassle..and without crowd funding site Kickstarter we wouldn’t have got our first album made so..
What are your hopes and ambitions for the new record?
We really want people to just enjoy it for what it is. If we can get it played on the radio..even better! If it gets our name out there its done its job..then on to the next recording sessions!
Was there any music that you listened to through your School / College days that you still get a kick out of today?
I listen to lots of stuff from back then, I went on a Youtube journey the other day..where one song leads to another ..and ended up hearing Bluetones, Suede, Strokes , Clash some brilliant tracks that made me want to play guitar!
Your debut LP was made via funds raised on Kickstarter. How did you find that experience and would you recommend using that platform to other new artists?
I would recommend any artist to do the crowd funding thing. We made a lot of new fans through posting a funny little video, and it’s fun to reach out you know.
If you could tour with any current band or musician, who would that beand why?
Black Keys, I love their sound and energy. They look like a great Rock and Roll band.
What was your favourite album of 2014?
Turn Blue; Black Keys
Any tour plans for this year?
More London shows then a launch for the album in April.
Third album done and dusted, how does it feel being in a band in 2015?
D: To us, it feels good. We make the music we want to make, the music that feels true to us. We respect one another and are always excited to hear what we are able to write. I can't speak for any other bands though!
'Caul' was recorded in your own studio, how was that experience and what drove the decision to create your own recording space.
D: The studio is owned by James who plays viola, synth and guitar in Last Harbour. He has a pathological addiction to acquiring old gear and had outgrown his home studio, so we all pitched in to build a new space. It felt pretty surreal to be recording music that is personal to us in a space that had been a building site only months before, but also pretty special, like building an ideal home to live in. It allowed us the time to perfect the songs and arrangements, to experiment and test out ideas and for reflection too - you can't analyse what you're doing necessarily at the moment of creation, so a little luxury of time was invaluable. Of course, the record still needed to be finished and that's where I come in, waving around billboards with deadlines and lists, shouting the odds. Every band needs a benevolent dictator.
K: Building the studio was part of building the record. We were writing and rehearsing in the shell of it, as walls were added and equipment was brought in. The luxury of time, of having a base we could walk into, was something we’d never really had before. It was a D.I.Y aesthetic - in every sense. It gave us somewhere to retreat to, to separate us from everything and lock ourselves away. I think we thrive on that separation. We’re not fashion followers. We’re not scenesters. We’re privately flamboyant.
What was the spark for the ideas of the themes on the record and how would you describe your music to new listeners?
K: Firstly, for this album- no love songs, songs about love or songs about the loss, absence, power, joy or arrival of love. Nothing. That was my intention from before the writing even began. I had absolutely no interest in writing something like that. Once that decision was made, it was a relief. It can be a lazy subject for songs. The whole world of themes opens once that is gone. So the themes developed from there. The songs are, on the whole, based on true events. ‘Guitar Neck’ is pretty much fact. ‘The Pressure’ is fact. ‘Before The Ritual’ is fact. Thematically, there is a plan- it all fits together, from start to finish. I’ve got the map. But I’m not showing you.
As for describing the music, I think we’re a little too close to it to be able to do that accurately. People have said ‘Cinematic’. So I’ll just repeat that. ‘Cinematic’.
D: Our former drummer Huw has a failsafe way to describe bands: "It's like the Velvet Underground, only a bit more/less..." Everyone knows the Velvets so you just add a little twist and, hey presto, awkward conversation over.
Who designed and what was the inspiration for the cover of the album?
K: I designed it. I wanted it to reflect some of the themes and arrangements of the album. So there are bits of modernism in there (David’s photographs of Preston Bus Station). Then there are photographs of the Holloway Wall, a fairly forgotten 1968 Modernist structure in Manchester, designed as an acoustic shield. So that Modern Utopian idea, hidden away and a little disregarded. Then a piece Baroque sculpture. All collaged together in the same way that those influences and sounds are collaged on the record.
Was there any new instrumentation or recording techniques tired on 'Caul' that were new this time around?
D: We used a lot more analogue synths - the Juno 6 and the Roland SH09 are all over the record. A drum machine appears on 'Guitar Neck', the same type used by Suicide. Probably more guitar FX - I finally found a way to use an ancient Autowah without destroying the songs. Less in the way of acoustic strings though our old violinist Sarah did join us for one session and added some great parts in super-fast time. And the backing vocals from Claire Brentnall (of labelmates Shield Patterns) and Anna & Tammy were a new experiment too. We're especially happy with their doo-wop parts on 'The Promise', which is by far and away our most ambitious song. We think it worked.
K: We had Michael’s bass in a cupboard, a microphone in a mug for drummer Howard and Gina played a loaned piano which was worth more than my life. We spent some time experimenting with touches of distortion and effects on the vocals. Various 80’s delay units and spring reverbs. We have a six and a half foot piece metal air conditioning unit- ‘the ductaphone’, through which we forced the vocals. I cannot hide my love of reverb and delay. Without guidance I would have reverbed the delayed reverb, through a delay pedal. Then added a further swamp of reverb. I was advised on subtlety.
Are there any bands past or present that you draw inspiration from and what was your favourite album of 2014?
K: There was a fair amount of discussion early on about what we were listening to. Roxy Music’s 1976 live album ‘Viva!’ was major for me. Like so much early Roxy it has a real drive and power and elegance to it, but with a fraught, harder edge. Late 70’s Bowie was discussed a lot. There’s a breadth of bands which inspire us individually. Within that there is some crossover. Keeps us on our toes. Record of the year is easy. Scott Walker + Sunn O))).
If the band could choose to be on the cover of a magazine which magazine would that be and why?
D: With our faces?
K: The Fortean Times or The New Scientist. Preferably both within the same month. It’s the real news.
Just how difficult is it to earn a living wage from being a musician these days and where would you say are the bands strongest fan base are domiciled at the moment?
D: Extremely hard but I'm not sure the fact that it's hard is any different from decades past, more that it's 'how' it's hard is different. We don't earn a living from this nor do we expect to. I think Steve Albini might be right when he says that very few people should expect to earn a living from their artistic endeavour, but then I'm guilty of usually thinking Albini is right. You might earn a bit and of course it depends on definitions of what 'a living' is. The corny answer is: Do it because you have to. It's also true.
K: I don’t know about fanbase, but we have some really nice European supporters. That’s quite a wonderful thing.
'Caul' is being released as a digital download, a CD and on vinyl. What is your preference?
D: To be able to let others hear the music is enough in itself.
K: Vinyl. I cannot resist its physical dimensions.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out on a music career in 2015?
D: Practice tolerance.
K: Tolerate practice.
Second album done and dusted, what was different in the studio this time around?
This is the first time I've ever written the songs in advance. I wrote quite a few - almost 50. Then recorded and arranged them on my laptop and chose the best 11 to work on in the studio with Leo. It took an awful lot of pressure off not to be writing songs during sessions or on the night before. It meant that the proper recording sessions were a lot of fun.
There seems to be a whole host of people on the record, how do you choose who to work with when creating a new record
I try to be flexible and open to changing my plan if good collaborative possibilities arise. It ends up being a combination of people I've worked with before and me asking people I admire if they might be up for getting involved. I contacted lots of producers with the help of my label (Full Time Hobby) and was very lucky that Leo was interested in working with me.
How are you enjoying life in Sheffield and did the 'Steel City' provide any ideas for the record.
If I'm honest I moved to Sheffield because it's so much cheaper than London and it's not too far away from family. However it turns out I really love it here. Both my wife and I feel there's a very friendly way about people - it's a bit like living in a giant village sometimes. It's lovely being near family and in some ways being here has allowed me to be myself a little bit more.
I think both that atmosphere and a general increase in my own well-being have influenced the album. Plus I can afford to have a room dedicated to songwriting and that makes a massive difference to my creative output. The only song that directly name checks the area is Gentle Morning Song (A dog barks somewhere in Gleadless) but being here has certainly influenced the record.
Do you have much material lying around waiting that may see the light of day?
I wouldn't say that exactly but I do have loads of ideas. I'm hoping to win the lottery so I can build a little studio and get cracking on them!
The band plays The Lexington in London on 21st January are there any other dates or musical adventures planned for 2015?
There are a few European dates not long after The Lexington and then I'm open to seeing what offers come in. It would be great to have some adventures!
Are there any particular stories you would like to share behind the songs on the new album?
Gentle Morning Song is all about getting to the age where you find yourself lying in bed on a Saturday night instead of being out on the town and you listen to people coming home from the pubs and clubs in the early hours. You're in that twilight state between sleeping and waking and you're also in a place where you can relate to both being young and growing old. There's great comfort in the safety and security of home and family and yet there's also a small part of you that would quite like to be in the pub.
What was the idea behind the art on the album cover of Chromatics and who designed it?
The artist is the wonderful Chrissie Abbott - She's done all the Diagrams artwork to date. When we discussed the album we talked a lot about the mind and how it's the main filter through which we interpret the world and our experience of it. This led to Chrissie's idea of the mind as a magical box that we pull our existence out of and the artwork came from that.
How do you step away from music and is the spark of a new song more likely to occur on or, off the road?
I'm not someone who lives music all the time really. I love to read (popular science / psychology / good fiction / poetry) and I find exercise to be brilliant in keeping my head above water - I tend to find I drift towards and into anxiety and mild depression without it. Seeing friends and family is the best thing really. When writing I do get idea on the road and everywhere else but I prefer to sit down quietly and focus on them at home.
Do you think it is important for new artists to find a label in 2015 or should they take the DIY approach?
I think it makes a lot of sense for any artist to begin with a DIY approach. There are of course a few artists that get picked up by major labels and developed but in my experience smaller labels don't really have the budget to try lots of things until they get it right with a new artist. If you've got lots of ideas yourself then try and put together something that you think is release ready and then perhaps a label might be interested in helping you cross those final hurdles to get it out in the world. I certainly think that a good label and all the contacts, experience and assistance that they bring can do wonders for an artist just starting out. For many artists similar to myself it's a gradual process of moving from self-release to small label to medium label over a period of several years.
What music did you particularly enjoy listening to in 2014
I loved the Sweet Baboo album - especially the wonderful song Wild Swimming.
11th Feb - France, Paris, Le Point Ephemere
12th Feb - France, Lille, La Paniche
13th Feb - Germany, Berlin, Comet Club
14th Feb - Germany, Hamburg, Molotow Club
25th Feb - UK, Manchester, The Ruby Lounge
26th Feb - UK, Bristol, The Lantern
4th Mar - UK, Leeds, Brudenell Social Club