Old music interviews

Rewind: Interview with Mark Bell/LFO in 1996

RIP Mark Bell.

I dug this interview up from my archive, done for 3D World Magazine in Sydney a couple of months before the release of LFO’s Advance LP on Warp way back in 1996. I loved Mark’s “someone falling down the stairs with a drum kit” description of jungle.

So I am standing up the back of The Site just before the Aphex Twin starts DJing, talking to David Thrussel of Snog and Black Lung. “I can always tell when someone’s new to the scene – they come up and ask what’s playing when I’m mixing something from LFO’s Frequencies album”, he tells me matter-of-factly. Back in 1991, LFO stormed the charts in England and a more than a few dancefloors here with Frequencies and its many singles, especially What Is House?. Then all fell silent until a year or so ago when a collaboration with Richie Hawtin surfaced, and in the last two months the long awaited follow-up album, Advance appeared.

Mark Bell has just woken up after a long night at a friend’s party down at the local, and now I understand why every interview with LFO always begins at the pub. Solo work as Speedjack on R&S and G-Man on Swim, a label belonging to Colin Newman from post-punkers Wire, has kept Mark busy between LFO records. “We’ve worked with a lot of people, we did some stuff with Kraftwerk, Radiohead, Bjork, Art Of Noise, Yellow Magic Orchestra . . . . I’ve always listen to all sorts of music really – I do like electronic stuff, but I also really like indie music . . . . you see I live in Leeds and there are lots of clubs catering to students – there’s jazz, funk, 70s, disco, techno, hip hop”.

Advance, explains Mark, is made up of “some stuff from three years ago and some are more recent . . . we recorded literally millions of bits and pieces and picked the one’s that we thought fitted best together as an album so you could listen to it all the way through . . . . when I was last on holidays with my friends I grabbed a whole lot of tapes and listened to them all and most were really boring – just one theme. It’d be really nice if you could have one album with lots of different styles and moods and that’s what we’ve tried to do . . . . the tracks on Advance, I wouldn’t say are the best tracks we’ve done, but they fitted well and reflected a range of moods . . . . some of the others may be released but I’m not sure how”.

Preceded by the industrial S&M nightmare of the first single, Tied Up, Mark enthuses on the making of the video, “David Slade, the director, really liked the music, and ended up doing the video for free after we’d had a bit too much to drink one night. That’s why it turned out the way it did . . . . I haven’t shown my mum – I keep telling her we never got around to making it”. A collage of Gez and Mark tied to chairs with face masks being hurled around a padded cell, the Tied Up clip is not one you’d be likely to see much on the telly, except for perhaps Rage at 3am, “it got screened a lot in Germany but only a few times in England. Interestingly it was the heavy metal shows that played it in Germany, not the techno ones . . . . and a mate, David, who I’ve known since I was fifteen has always been into heavy metal and so I’ve always been listening to that sort of music as well”.

LFO will, with any luck, be touring Australia sometime around May possibly with stablemates Autechre. Things are yet to be fully confirmed but mark seems quite relaxed about it all enjoying his easy life; “neither Gez nor I have to go to work, we can survive off doing the odd live performance, and a spot of DJing. When we play live we done it three main ways, once with real analogue gear – keyboards, synthesisers, the lot – which ended up being a total nightmare to patch together; then we’ve also done it with just samplers which ended up being more of mixdown-type situation; and lastly we’ve also done it off reel-to-reel tape decks . . . as for bouncing around, it depends”.

“There’s a lot of rubbish out at present, simply because people see what is going on and then try to copy it . . . . I don’t really like a lot of jungle and there are only a few tracks that are any good. Everybody uses that same noise that sounds like someone falling down the stairs with a drumkit, and they tend to all have the same feelings in them. Forget what instruments you use and work out what feeling you are creating – sad, or happy, or dancing. A lot of what’s going on now is created by the media – jungle, trip hop, electro – its all the same sort of thing . . . . I think its the music industry as well as the DJs themselves – they don’t play other music, they just play one style, and they think that if they don’t just do that the crowd will think it is rubbish and walk out. So they just end up playing almost the one record label all through the night and its really boring . . . . my favourite club would be one that played the best of hip hop the best of the new techno, the best of old house, not just playing things because they’re new. In Leeds we have this club called the Orbit where they have all the best DJs in all the different styles every Saturday and recently they’ve had Robert Armani, Richie Hawtin and Joey Beltram as guests, and so it comes pretty close I suppose”.

Seb Chan, 1996.

Old music interviews

Rewind: DJ Gemma & Seymour Butz interview from 1996

This is an interview I conducted with DJ Gemma and Seynmour Butz for UNSW’s Tharunka student newspaper back in 1996. I was one of the editors in 1995 with Dale and Dale kept on taking over as Media Director in 1996 with some of the old crew. In 1995 I had a section called Sashimi which was an excuse to cover leftfield music and generally provoke people.

I interviewed DJ Gemma last week for Cyclic Defrost Issue 16 which will be out in two weeks time. Interestingly not much has changed. This was written back in 1996 when Club Kooky was one year old. Frigid had just started at Kinselas.

Club Kooky was evicted from Club77 two weeks ago and is in search of a new home.

“When you are not going to be supporting any children it does give you a good dancefloor life” – an interview with Seymour Butz and DJ Gemma

Last year a music editor told me that the Pet Shop Boys were “obviously gay music”. I disagreed. Surely it would be playing into the hands of the record executives, not to mention the Moral Minority, to classify music on grounds of sexuality? But a quick survey of attitudes reveals, not surprisingly, that the music editor was not alone, associating high energy souped up disco numbers and a steady diet of saccharine sweet chart pap with men who make love with other men, and ‘reality’ folk music with women who make love with other women. Represented by intelligent track names like “Just Lick It” and “His Dick Is So Good” filling up big selling titles like “Gay Anthems”, the state of play at the more sedate end of the record shelves, “classic oldies” from the Seventies’ disco era coupled with ‘obvious’ Pet Shop Boys and Kylie on the latest Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras ceedee is little different. This makes for a incredibly conservative musical agenda. An agenda reinforced by people, gay, lesbian and otherwise, who continue to buy such products or associate them with a monocultural homosexuality. Diversity is lost in a culture that, one would think, has the most to benefit from it. Out on the edge since the 1980s, accompanied by a host of like minds, are Sydney deejays, radio personalities and promoters, Gemma and Seymour Butz, are dedicated to expanding musical horizons beyond the narrow confines of sexuality-based marketing scams.

Music historically has been closely linked with liberation. Dancing has been consistently suppressed and regulated first by the Church and later the State, especially in the West. American academic Walter Hughes has argued that in the 1970s disco allowed gay men the opportunity to explode the rigid identities of mainstream straight, White culture through a submission to the mechanised beat overlaid with Black female vocals. But maybe in the 1990s, the legacy of disco has been distorted and poorly reproduced, its close links with Black soul music and funk cleansed and stripped away.

Gemma : “Soul music is very important but it’s been really turned into screaming ugly vocals and really fast non-funky music – a sped up cliché . . . . musically what I’ve witnessed is that there is a lot of fear of connecting [with anyone who isn’t gay or lesbian] so the mainstream music can become very insidious. When you start playing music in mainstream gay places which does force a connection, music from around the world, and you get slammed for it, that’s where the racism starts creeping in . . . a lot of people in the community, just like any other community have been completely sucked in by the mass media and there is the particular idea of what it is like to be gay . . . . I don’t find that very healthy for me and musically, I like music from all over the planet and that automatically opens me up to all sorts of people . . . . there’s a definite mainstream gay community which gives me the impression that it wants to become a part of mainstream middle Australia. Its something I find very scary and I don’t think they realise just how much of a product they have become . . . .who wants to fit into the society the way it has been presented? I think that you have to question everything, and I often feel that the mainstream gay community doesn’t question things that are close to it”. This has had other effects including a creeping class bias, a hatred of poverty, and, as Gemma says, “a desire to be clean”.

Seymour Butz : “sexuality and dancing have been put together by the record companies and the powers-that-be quite successfully because it revolves on marketing an ‘underground’ sound which makes it attractive but what is so offensive about it is that the music is completely manufactured and there is no funk or soul in it . . . . disco has its roots in gay culture in the Seventies and if you look at a seminal track like Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby you find that there are a lot of different movements in that one track but some people just focus in on the high energy piano part of it and have since turned it into a whole musical style. Whereas I can find some really dubby elements and slow funky bits in the exact same song which are almost forgotten about. There has always been a wide mixture of sounds in gay culture but once people could put a name to it, market it and sell it, it would always be limited and now you get these one-dimensional tracks coming out of Italy with the record companies calling it ‘gay music’ and the consumer, unfortunately, being sucked in . . . Personally as a gay man, that kind of music doesn’t arouse me sexually, and I’m not alone in that but because of the conservatism of venues your average gay punter who has been weaned on Oxford St sounds has not had a lot of opportunity to hear anything else. Similarly the Mardi Gras parties of the last ten years have remained extremely conservative playing only the sounds that they deem appropriate to a gay audience”.

Musically the gay community went quiet around 1990. HIV ravaged the community, and elsewhere heterosexual youngsters colonised the dance party scene with the early raves introducing newer, fresher music.

Seymour : “Around 1990 there was a real crisis in the form of HIV that was almost like a genocide of a whole generation of party-goers, especially in New South Wales, with a concentrated gay community. Venues got closed down, venues that once had packed dancefloors seven nights a week were lucky to have it go off one night a week, and a lot of people stopped going out because they had lost all inspiration . . . losing a lot of people to the virus, and sadly, a lot of the really creative people behind the events, there was a lull. Now, finally, people seem ready to go back out and experience new sounds”. Gemma agrees; “There’s a lot of new attitudes coming out and it feels a bit like the best of the energy that was around ten years ago . . . so many different elements are coming together and barriers are breaking down. We’ve gone through a period of separatism and now all types of people are meeting up and coming together.”

Seymour : “The beauty of 1996 is the slow deterioration of that bangin’ high-energy aerobic vibe that was really strong in the late Eighties. It was totally linked to the consumerism of the time – go to the gym, consume, spend all your money on yourself – and that ended up being reflected in a lot of people’s musical tastes. Those aerobic beats became like a soundtrack for their lives and I saw gym culture become synonymous with club culture and everyone was going out in $100 lycra dancing outfits and listening to monotonous 4/4 sped up vocals. Fortunately people have tired of that and it has allowed a greater exploration of sounds on dancefloors . . . With anything fresh and dynamic you will get a host of people with open minds who will want to learn, share and experience, and at these times I don’t think sexuality even comes into it because when you get a group of people who are sharing a collective spirit that’s what’s important. When you’ve got a group of people dancing to really wild rhythms, not chart hits, you have this tremendous energy which isn’t a sexual thing at all . . . . my main concern is to make people happy and with my music I want to take people on some sort of journey. You can transport someone along with beats hopefully to a better place than the song they heard on 2Day-FM in the traffic jam on their way to work that morning”.

Sebastian Chan 1996 (as Yellow Peril)

Old music interviews

Rewind: Plaid interview from 1996

Part of a series of long lost interviews I wrote for 3D World Magazine back in the mid 1990s.

Over the underground?

It was a disaster. Plaid, all the way from the UK and former members of Warp label stalwarts – The Black Dog, turn up to 2SER expecting a proper radio interview. The studio was in chaos, the microphones were playing up, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing, and Lex Luthor was left to roll out the questions whilst I tried to control the havoc. Fortunately another chance came which saw me lunching with Ed and Andy at a cafe in the supposedly “cleaned-up” Kings Cross. In the background, a British trip hop album warbles away – and one can’t help thinking we still are just one of the colonies – suckers for any imported hip culture.

Part-techno, part-hip hop, and probably what Atomic HiFi’s selector Sir Robbo would wince at hearing called “funky”, Plaid are here in Australia with Bjork and quite markedly different from their earlier incarnation as two-thirds of the Black Dog. Roped in as extremely last minute replacements for her keyboard player, they are on the final leg of an Asian tour which has seen them also visit Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand. “Bjork called us a week before we had to leave and we had to take our studio on the road with us . . . . into five-star hotels where we’ve been writing tracks and putting everything together . . . . . fortunately we’ve only had one noise complaint . . . . the best atmosphere was at the show in Thailand, but we did this one in Beijing in China where the crowd almost rioted. You see they don’t really have support acts in China and so when we’d finished everyone thought we were Bjork without the singer. We were twenty metres away from the audience on the stage with a row of security police kicking out everyone who got up out of their seats and dancing was forbidden – it was really weird”. Their Hordern Pavillion appearances as a solo act before Bjork saw them squeeze out moody atmospheres over geometric and mechanical beats veering from slow messed-up breakbeats to an almost junglistic number – 4/4 techno or trance was nowhere to be heard. As part of Bjork’s accompaniment their presence was marked, rearranging the programming and the live performance of the recently available B-side Charlene, a fitting testament to their collaboration. Squelches, clanks, and abstractions slowly metamorphosed over the set into a brilliant imitation of Fluke on the rendition of the penultimate Violently Happy with the biggest snare-roll since Josh Wink.

An EP for Clear, work with Jonah Sharp and his Reflective label in San Franscisco culminating in a mini-American tour,, and a plethora of remixes has been the bulk of Plaid’s output in the last year or so since the split from Black Dog, now reduced to a one man act. “When the tour’s finished, we’re going to settle down and write the next album as Plaid [the first one being over five years ago as part of Black Dog Productions] which will probably be preceded by an EP. There are four tracks on the new Nicollette album, and remixes for Red Snapper, Ruby and Lady Miss Kier from Dee-Lite which will all be out soon but are at the whim of their record companies . . . . the Lady Miss Kier mixes have also been done by 4Hero and A Guy Called Gerald and her American record company is getting very confused . . . and some more tracks for Bjork which may or may not see the light of day”. Explaining the attraction, Ed and Andy agree, “remixes are good because they give us a chance to get some other influences which hopelfully flow through into our own work, for example, on the new tracks of our own there’ll be vocals but used as textures rather than straight-up lyrics”. Andy adds “I’d love to do some remixes with Kate Bush just for that voice”.

Since acid house, lyrics seem to have been taking a bit of a back seat and now with jungle and “trip hop” times have certainly changed for the better and things seem to have shifted more the way of the avant-garde. Ed, a longtime hip hop listener and afficiaonado, agrees “even in hip hop the delivery of the lyrics often is heard more than the lyrics themselves . . . . and it’ll never go back to the old days of rock’n’roll because there’s simply too much technology around which is used in the studio nowadays”. Andy is slightly more skeptical, “but you’ve got those [handbag] house tunes with phrases like ‘everything is beautiful’ repeated over and over which still set the crowd wild”. Ed continues, “hip hop in Britain has been largely ignored by the press partly because it has always been regarded as merely imitating the style of American hip hop and in many cases it was and the rhymes were really wack, but now there are a whole new range of crews feeding off the [space] jungle and trip hop, especially the dub-influenced stuff, have opened up but trip hop will always be a slack imitation of hip hop . . . I think people in Britain really got turned off hip hop in the late Eighties when it got particularly focussed upon American politics and a lot of White kids just went straight over into the house scene which you could say was to escape from the politics . . . . and now they’re getting back into it thru the [bastardized] trip hop genre . . . . which the real hip hop purists, perhaps rightly, hate . . . . but maybe its now working the other way too with Prince Paul and Wu-Tang’s RZA for example completely changing around hip hop production styles . . . . adding a more soundtrack-like feel”. Andy jumps in, “there are purists everywhere – trainspotters – and you have to ignore them sometimes . . . our work with Bjork, our remixes, could all draw flak from the purists but we’ve reached a point where we can at last live off our music without sacrificing ourselves to a major label by releasing substandard product every few months . . . we could re-release all the very first Black Dog Productions stuff if we wanted I suppose but, in all honesty, we’d prefer to get on writing new material, and it would really just be a money spinner”.

Sebastian Chan 1996

Old music interviews

Rewind: The Wolfgang Press interview from 1995

Part of a series of long lost interviews I wrote for 3D World Magazine back in the mid 1990s.

Going South With Tom Jones

On par with Nick Cave in the longevity stakes, the Wolfgang Press have been around for a quite some time, eleven years, in fact. Like Nick Cave they have made the transition from gloomy post-punk gothicism to discover their far less ‘dark’ soul. For the Wolfgangs the change came about when they “rediscovered that music could indeed be fun” through the delights of De La Soul’s rather important Three Feet High And Rising debut album. This discovery pushed the Wolfgang Press forward into releasing their pop masterpiece, Queer, a collection of funky beats, melodies, dry humour, and soul. With the singles A Girl Like You, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Sucker and (Question of) Time, they were, to many, a new band. That was 1992.

Now in 1995, the Wolfgang Press release their latest creation, Funky Little Demons, still through their initial label, 4AD. Preceded by work on the recent Tom Jones album, which includes Tom’s cover of A Girl Like You, and another track, Show Me (Some Devotion) written at the request of Tom himself, Funky Little Demons sees the Wolfgang Press move even further from their gloomy roots, embracing the guitar twang of American road music, and the subtle bleeps and beats of well crafted electro pop. Their links with Tom Jones have continued, with him joining them on-stage at the All Virgos Are Mad, 4AD anniversary gig, in Los Angeles.

Singer, Michael Allen, explains; “It was a complete accident really. 4AD were approached by Tom Jones’ record label for some samples of material for Tom to cover and so they sent him a compilation pointing him in the direction of a particular Love And Rockets track and the next thing we find that Tom wanted to do A Girl Like You. After recording that they came back and asked us to write another track for him, he came down, recorded it and that was it. It was all very surreal, when we first heard about it we all burst out laughing but I think it is really good that Tom is out there looking for new material and it will certainly be an experience we’ll never forget . . . Live he just said ‘yeah I’m up for that’ and on he went. We were a bit worried at first that the 4AD crowd would be a bit snooty about Tom Jones, the big star that he is, and turn their noses up at him but they just went wild”.

Possibly the Wolfgang Press have been hampered, in the past, if not still now, by their ill-deserved reputation as ‘Goth’. ‘Goth’ as in prone to black over styled yet unkempt hair, black clothes, and a penchant for candles and all ornaments silver and preferably cross-like. “I’ll never understand that label ‘Goth’ myself. Birdwood Cage (their second last album with the superb bass grooves of Kansas) was dark in its content but I would never call it Goth. I feel its just a label that people put on it because they don’t quite understand. Is Nick Cave Goth? I can understand the Sisters Of Mercy and Siouxsie as Goth but Nick Cave, no? People aren’t still doing that black hair, black clothing stuff are they?”. I’m sorry Mick, but yes they are. Maybe we still haven’t grown up.

On Funky Little Demons there is a track that stands out from the traditional lyrical themes of the Wolfgang Press (“I hear the music and then words come to me . . . and I try and fit words around what the music is doing . . . a lot of what I write about is very simple – relationships and how they affect one another, the people in them”, Michael confers) – titled Christianity, it is highly critical of the “lie that is Christianity” – the blind faith, the exclusion of all other modes of thought, the history of oppression. Aptly timed these criticisms may be with the enormous resurgence in dogmatic ideologies as the fin de siecle approaches, and as the song explains, people are wandering around looking for meaning and certainty. “I think religious education can really fuck you up when you’re at an impressionable age . . . and often the Christians are the most un-Christian of all . . . maybe its the end of the millennium things and people are trying to get a grip on it all and save their souls and that kind of thing”. Or maybe a powerful few are seeing it as an opportunity to line the coffers and fill their pews with new suckers?

Where Queer was lined with electronics, from synthesisers to smooth production techniques, Funky Little Demons is more stripped back and raw. Mick Allen explains the change; “For this album we decided to spend more time on song writing than before, but the main thing that has changed is that it is far more mellow and far more structured . . . From start to finish its taken about two years . . . but the main reason it took so long was because we bought our own studio and then found that we were going over and over the same tracks trying to perfect them. When you are paying for time in a studio you can’t do that so you make do and I think we’ve learnt the lesson that that is often the best way . . . After Queer we were looking for more organic, more natural sounds, on this one. Maybe I’m going back to the more traditional ideas of songwriting, ore maybe I’m just growing old”. Remix-wise they have chosen a star-studded line-up for the first single Going South including Jah Wobble, Barry Adamson, Adrian Sherwood and Andy Weatherall’s Sabres Of Paradise – “We specifically chose the people who did the remixes on Going South because they knew what they were about and we knew the quality of work we’d get from them. In the past we’ve handed work out to the ‘people of the moment’ and have been very disappointed so this time decided to hand them over to the people who are really our contemporaries, including Andy Weatherall. I thought that Eleven Years was a curious track for him to choose, but it has really grown on us and has been pretty big in the specialist clubs here”.

Citing their “most important records of the last ten years” they include “De La Soul’s Three Feet High And Rising, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, anything from Nick Cave and The Fall. Maybe the record that started it all for me was Public Image Ltd’s Metal Box, and Portishead’s Dummy is certainly one of my favourites at present”. So where’s it all going? Will we catch their newly found funky grooves and sarcastic lyrics in the flesh? “The indie thing has become the mainstream. You’ve got your Nirvanas and your Nine Inch Nails – dance is still happening in a big way – but personally I’m getting more interested in the more traditional song based ways of making music. I think as long we are keeping the sounds fresh we’ll plod on . . . with any luck and finances, we’d love to come to Australia and Japan”.

Sebastian Chan 1995

Old music interviews

Rewind: Meriel Barham/Pale Saints interview from Sept 1994

Part of a series of long lost interviews I wrote for 3D World Magazine back in the mid 1990s.

Heavenly Halos Of Sound

In these days of hyperspeed where everything is measured by speed and measured for speed it is strange to find one’s attention held for more than a few moments by any one object or image. With regards to music we see a million stars rise and fall propelled by a industry-driven music press every year. One moment one band is your sole listening, only to be replaced within a week or two in your Walkman, car stereo, or bedroom hi-fi by another. Thus it is truly strange to find one’s attention being consistently drawn to a group over a period stretching five years. Indeed I can only think of three bands that I have enjoyed consistently for such a long period of time – Public Enemy, The Orb, and the Pale Saints.

The Pale Saints are a four piece band hailing from Leeds. Originally signed to the cult British label 4AD after a support spot for Lush their guitar pop has slowly, over the years, metamorphosed into a sound resembling timeless romantic aesthetics rather than the throwaway nature of much other “indie” muzak. Having released two albums, The Comforts Of Madness in 1990 and In Ribbons in 1992, together with a string of impressive EPs, the Pale Saints lost bass player and vocalist Ian Masters in a tumultuous American tour in 1993. Just what happens when you lose a central band member?

I spoke to Meriel Barham, now principal vocalist and guitarist, direct from England about the Pale Saints’ new album, Slow Buildings, their recently released EP Fine Friend and the goings on in the band of late.

First, a little history. The Pale Saints began as a three piece, Chris Cooper, Ian Masters and Graeme Naysmith releasing the Barging into The Presence Of God EP in September of 1989. This EP featured the wonderfully emotive Sight Of You track and became critically acclaimed in the fickle British music press. This was followed early in 1990 by their debut album The Comforts Of Madness. Again critically acclaimed, it shot the band into the gaze of many British “indie” guitar enthusiasts. Late in 1990 the Half Life EP was released, featuring for the first time, Meriel Barham on supporting vocals and guitar. Still darlings of the music press, this EP had a softer, more atmospheric sound to the brash pop of their earlier releases. All fell silent – until mid 1991 when the Flesh Balloon EP was released. This release marked the introduction of the production talents of Hugh Jones who replaced John Fryer as the band’s producer. As such, Flesh Balloon saw the Pale Saints leave their “indie” guitar past well and truly behind with a beautiful cover of Nancy Sinatra’s Kinky Love featuring Meriel on vocals. Again all fell silent until the release of the superb In Ribbons LP in March of 1992. Highly acclaimed in Britain, America and even here in Australia, it firmly placed the Pale Saints in a league of their own merging the cello-based sound of Shell with the shimmering pop of A Thousand Stars Burst Open. Accompanying the album was a single featuring a marvellous cover of Mazzy Star’s Blue Flower.

Listening to Slow Buildings it is very difficult to tell that anything has changed since In Ribbons except for the solely female vocals. The glistening sound of Gesture Of A Fear, Fine Friend and other tracks would not be out of place on earlier releases. I was very surprised, then, to find, when I read their record company bio, that Ian Masters had left the band. The bio mysteriously stated that he left because “his arms became too short”. I didn’t buy that excuse. Meriel explains; “When we were touring the States for about five or six weeks, it became obvious that Ian became really fed up with the whole touring process. To him it became repetition and he didn’t get off on any of the excitement of playing live. He was going off in a different direction from the rest of the band. His creative ideas were also going in a different direction”. Canadian Colleen Browne, ex-Parachute Men, was drafted in to replace Ian. Since Ian’s departure, Meriel has found herself as the principal vocalist and songwriter – a position, which, despite her lack of songwriting experience, she views as a challenge rather than a burden. “I used to only do a couple of songs when we played but it is quite nice sometimes to be put under pressure to see how you will react . . . I’ve really got into it now”. The sound of the new lineup differs little from that of the original, something Meriel puts down to the way the band worked with Ian. “I think it would have affected the band more if Ian had been the principal songwriter but it was always a four way thing, we were all responsible. It was never Ian and a backing band. I think that’s why we’ve maintained a lot of the identity of the former band”.

The sound of the Pale Saints has always existed on the fringe of British “indie” guitar scene. The washes of strings and the lilting vocals owing more to the pseudo-classical style of other 4AD acts such as This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins. Interesting then it was to find that Meriel’s current tastes lie well outside the classical realm with her citing names such as San Franscisco act, Grotus, Sebadoh, and the Young Gods. The only classical work mentioned was a piece by Henryk Gorecki which lends name and musical inspiration to Henry, an eleven minute epic on Slow Buildings.

Listening to Henry, the album’s centre piece, one finds the Pale Saints toying with their past with a little intro of Kinky Love playing on the radio, a phone ringing in the distance followed by footsteps and a slamming door. Out of curiosity I asked Meriel the story behind this bit of studio trickery. Unfortunately Meriel confirmed that indeed that was all it was, a bit of tom foolery in the studio that ended up as a linking point between tracks, nothing more, nothing less. Incidentally, she added “those are Hugh Jones’ footsteps you hear. He wears cowboy boots”.

The last three Pale Saints singles have included exquisite cover versions of Kinky Love, Blue Flower and now Fine Friend, adapted from the Persian Rugs’ “Poison On The Airwaves”. Meriel speaks of the future; “We are rehearsing a new cover, the Buzzcocks’ “Mad Mad Genius” and maybe it will be on the next single. Its a really manic song and somehow we’ve made it much more laid back and mellow . . . I don’t know why we’ve got into this trend – perhaps we’ll be known as a cover band”. This sent shivers down my spine, images of nights spent trying to convince people not to see Cure, Doors, Cold Chisel cover bands flashed before my eyes. Surprised she was to hear of our current spate of cover bands amongst the suburban pubs. A reflection on the poor state of our own music industry perhaps?

The Pale Saints have been fortunate to have survived the brunt of the fickle British music press. “I guess we’ve been lucky with the recent “new wave of new wave” trend. It has really focussed the press back on local British bands and meant that a lot of new bands have gotten exposure . . . the local scene became really hidden behind the wall of American grunge that was in the papers each week . . . For us, too, it has been hard because the papers consider that one album and you’re old news so its good to get the chance to go to America and Europe where they seem to respect their bands a little more”. Meriel remarked too on the difficulty posed by CDs with the demise of vinyl for new bands wanting some exposure – “The price of CDs over here is really quite expensive. When you used to be able to buy vinyl you could be a lot more adventurous – if you liked the cover or had heard the name. Now with CDs you tend to be a lot more cautious”. Certainly without the sort of underground culture that has built up around much dance music, “rock” appears to have suffered at the hands of its own marketing ploys.

Interviewing a British non-dance band these days inevitably brings mention of remixes. Saint Etienne, Primal Scream getting the treatment from Kris Needs, Autechre and Andy Weatherall, Pop Will Eat Itself being treated by Fun-Da-Mental, this list, of late, is as long as the Yellow Brick Road. Meriel has become a fan of Trans Global Underground and the band was considering at one stage a Trans Global Underground remix of King Fade (the instrumental track from Slow Buildings) for the flip side of first single. “It would have worked pretty well but because of money reasons and time we never really got around to it . . . The idea of giving one of your songs to someone to do whatever they like with it is quite exciting. We would be quite curious to see what they would do with it”.

Sebastian Chan September 1994