2/27/2006

Sluts Of Trust

Sluts of Trust
By Alexander Laurence

This is a brand new band from Scotland. Q Magazine describes their music: "Leaves you feeling violated. In a good way." The Sluts of Trust first unleashed their wildly original brand of sleazy rock music to an unsuspecting audience, and since have become something of a phenomenon in Glasgow. The band is just two guys: John McFarlane (guitar/vocals) and Anthony O'Donnell (drums). They look like they have a permanent hangover. I met them in Hollywood at an IHOP. They claimed to have just run into Paris Hilton and Nick Carter who apparently are regulars there. We went record shopping all over and ended up at Amoeba. Before that, we stopped at a nearby café where I stepped on someone's Chihuahua. We got to see some homeless people yelling in the street. Local color is helpful.

The Sluts of Trust have been a curious band all this year. They played a blistering energetic show at SXSW. Their songs "Piece o' You" and "Leave You Wanting More" are totally unforgettable. They combine indie rock and heavy metal and total original singing and just out of control playing. I saw them on a night they even threw in a song by Talking Heads. They even took a bow at the end. People loved it. We got to drive around Sunset Boulevard and learn more about all things Scottish. They often joke around and repeat themselves in American accent because they are not sure if people understand what they are saying. Their first album that came out in May is called We Are All Sluts of Trust.
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AL: How is the American tour going?
John: It's going rather well. We are going to a lot of new places on the west coast. WE played SXSW a few months ago. That was our first time in the States and our first gig in the States. It was really wild and really good. We are going to a bunch of new places for the very first time that we have never been. We get to play a show in these places. So it's like a double whammy. When you get to work here it gives you a little idea of what it is like to live here. That makes it much more fulfilling.
AL: Do you have a lot of public transportation in Glasgow?
John: The public transportation system there is reasonable. We have a big subway there. There is rather extensive bus network. There are a lot of cabs. It's a good walking city if you have any resilience for walking. Everything is within reach.
AL: How did you meet each other?
Anthony: We both did a course in Scottish theater in 1995. It was when we first met. It was a five-week course over the summer. It was part of a youth organization.
AL: What do your parent do for a living? Do they play music?
John: One parent drives coaches around Europe. My mother is a network specialist. My mum and dad sing. My oldest brother can sing and play bass. Next brother can sing and plays guitar, bass, drums, piano. Another brother plays drums. Only the second oldest is in a band apart from me. There are a lot of good bands in Glasgow.
AL: How do you stand out if you a re a new band in Glasgow?
John: That is not for me to say because I don't stand around with a big mirror beside me. You should ask someone from Glasgow.
AL: We don't see a lot of bands from Scotland here. There's Delgados, Arab Strap, and Altered Images, and so on.
John: There is Shirley Manson of Garbage. There is Franz Ferdinand now.
AL: What is the local scene like there in Glasgow?
Anthony: We still play there a lot. There are a lot of venues there. There are a lot of bands there. Some are good, and some are not so good.
AL: How did you get involved with Chemikal Underground then?
Anthony: Someone from the label came to see us at our third gig. A few more came to the next gig. Then all the Delgados came along to the next gig to see us in Edinburgh. They called us up a few days after that and said, "Let's make some records together." So we said "Yeah."
AL: How does the songwriting happen in the band?
John: Each song is vastly different. Some of the songs that sound nothing like the other ones were written at the same time. I can't say that I go through phases. I will write them and have ideas how they should be arranged.
AL: Do you have a lot of expensive guitars and gear?
John: I play a cheap guitar. It's a Epiphone my friend. I think about Gibson guitar and Marshall stacks but sometimes you have to think about eating and paying the rent. I like that guitar that I have. When I had enough money to buy another guitar I just thought that it wasn't important and I found other things to use my money for.
AL: You have a talent for guitar technique?
John: I studied Classical guitar in high school. I read music for the exams. I learned up to grade eight. I got to a point where I thought it was more beneficial to learn stuff by memory instead of reading music. When you come to write music, all that stuff has been written inside your head, and you don't need to open up a piece of paper. There is a big jump between putting it on paper and letting it pour from the back of your mind. I still study Classical now. But I haven't learned a Classical piece note for note in a long time.
AL: Do you play in weird time signatures?
John: It's not always played in 4/4. But since we worked from the start from a very instinctual basis, that we never had to discuss and acknowledge the things we already knew. We knew what we are doing by virtue of playing and listening to one another. We don't say "Okay, we are going to do this in 7/4" and be vocal about it. We tape all our practices and rehearsals. We found that is really useful. We experiment on tape and listen back. If it worked then we keep that in.
AL: What are your lyrics about generally?
John: If there is a notion of depression or emotions it's all part of a story being told. It's not necessarily the reason the song is being written. I am not talking about myself.
AL: Every song is a story?
John: Perhaps. I feel okay if I have had an experience and I have learned something. Just the fact of everyone being so different and the nature of life being subjective, I feel that there are many things that can be unproblematically applied to every human being. The songs are aspiring to a universal thing that anyone can go through. So by not being particularly relevant to my own life, if someone picks up on the lyrics and identifies with the song in their own way, it allows them to paint a picture for themselves. I don't have to paint a picture for them. Lyrics are less a message from the writer of the lyrics to a person who hears them, and more a message from the listener to themselves.
AL: So the listener is the creator?
John: You do create when you listen. You are constantly creating value judgments when you read or hear a piece of music. How many essays have been written where they disagree about the fundamental principles about a piece of poetry or a book? Life is far to relative to be that conclusive about anything.
AL: How does the theater background influence the music?
Anthony: I think it is less obvious than we make it a big show. We have a moral code where the show must go on. It doesn't matter if there are ten people or a thousand there in the audience, we still give it our all. That is what we have done at every gig even if there was one granny in the audience.
AL: Do you like to be confrontational when you play live?
John: Every show doesn't have to be fun. If people are going crazy and cheering it's not necessarily a successful show. Things should be challenging. I like to be upfront. I like to take it to them. I don't have any perverse notions about creating anxiety. If you feel anxious, it's more telling something about yourself. It doesn't have anything to do with Anthony or me.
AL: Are there bands that you like?
John: I had a bunch of other brothers with great record collections. So did their friends. I listened to bands like The Smiths and Otis Redding. I listened to a lot of soul. My brother's friends use to listen to The Doors, The Pixies, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and Dead Kennedys. I feel that I was pretty lucky that I was exposed to different types of music. Most of the stuff that I liked when I was young I wasn't able to see live because they were split up or dead.
AL: Did you ever see any of these bands or what they did afterwards?
John: We had the joy of when we visiting Boston to see some guy wandering around with leather pants and a black cap. We were wondering who he was.
Anthony: We played before with the Delgados. This guy came backstage and was talking about magic tricks. This guy was David Lovering of The Pixies. He's a good drummer. He's a good magician as well.
AL: Did you play in other bands before?
John: I was in a band called Tungsten Crust. The bass player left the band to be a Buddhist monk. Now he is fully ordained. We used to have long conversations about if he invested too much time into the band he would be compromising his spirituality. I argued that they are both inextricably linked. He had this duplicity of thought and that led him towards Buddhism. The Buddhist doctrine is pushing away all the trapping of the physical world.
AL: That has to do with the body and desire.
John: Exactly. He felt that all these cravings were illusions. They caused too much trouble and pain. He was obsessed with idea of striving for something equals pain. Why should you meditate and get wise, how can you help other people? How can you be useful unless you are living day-to-day life? Buddhists claim that the strongest they get at meditation the better they are at leaving their physical body and have an effect on the world. So there is a strong element of magic involved in that. I believe that you can have all that going on without testing it.
AL: Since we are all sluts of trust, we don't know where we came from or where we are going. We just trust that we are indeed alive and try to enjoy ourselves.
Anthony: We have to trust each other as well.
John: Hypocrisy is disgusting. We all shit in the pan. No one is perfect. Some are less perfect. In that way some people can justify murdering of boycotting other people's rights because they don't believe in God for the same reasons that they do. It comes down to economic privileges and that is utterly disgusting. There is so more righteousness and things done in the name of good and justice. If you want to use the allegory of telephones. There are all types of telephones that dial the same number. Who is to say that their telephone is better than the next person?
AL: What do you think about trust?
John: It happens all over. It's got to a stage where everyone thinks that other people are going to rip him or her off. It's do or die. It's rip off or be ripped off. That is a horrible set of circumstances to be in. That causes so much unnecessary stress and compromises the quality of life. You can't be crying about it all your life. If you are not going to be part of the solution then you are definitely not going to be part of the problem.
AL: Do you ever get a reaction just because the name, Sluts of Trust?
John: We had a show in Glasgow. These teenage girls had written "Sexist Bollocks" on the poster. I thought that was weird. If they think that only women can be called sluts, then they are being sexist. They thought that only women are called that. But guys are bigger sluts than women. You know the old adage: it's easier for a girl to get laid, than a guy. Anyone can make a slut of himself or herself.
AL: How did you choose the name?
John: We wrote down somewhere between eighty and a hundred words that we both liked. We wrote them on pieces of individual paper and put them in a tube. Three weeks later we put all the pieces of paper on a card. We came up with five suggestions. We didn't want to force it. We had exhausted ourselves thinking about it. So I got my friend Fiona. I thought that she would be able to pick the best name. I knew it. I said, "Fi, I need your help." She went through the names and said, "Sluts of Trust? That is bizarre." There was a glint in her eye. I knew that was the one. I gave her a hug. I told her that we were going to call the band that.
AL: You played a cover song. It was Talking Heads "Psycho Killer."
Anthony: There is only one reason we have done a cover song. We talked about it but we have never done any before. You know John Peel, the British DJ? We did a session for him around Christmas. You are almost obliged to do a cover version for him. It's the done thing. The Delgados did it. The Pixies did it. We chose to do "Psycho Killer." Occasionally when we are playing a show and it's going well and the audience could take more of us we bring it out.
AL: The set is mostly just the album then?
John: We play every song except "Dominoes" and "Pirate Weekend." We haven't played "Pirate Weekend" live yet. So maybe we will save that for a special show in Glasgow perhaps.
AL: Can you pull it off?
John: Of course we can. All the drums and guitars are recorded live. The vocals were recorded second. There are two guitar overdubs. I am playing the exact same part twice so you can pan both guitars in each speaker. It happens a few times on the album.
AL: Did you work with the Delgados with this record?
Anthony: Yeah. Paul Savage who is the drummer of the Delgados produced it. He also did the first albums by Mogwai, Arab Strap, and Aerogramme. He's a good cunt. It's not necessary that he does every Chemikal Underground record, but they thought it was a good idea for him to work with us.
AL: Are you playing some festivals this summer?
Anthony: We are playing in Belgium in a few weeks.
AL: On some of your songs you have a Black Sabbath/Van Halen vibe. Do you like those records?
John: Sure.
AL: Do you have any cowbells?
Anthony: I have two cowbells. I have no use for them on the first album.
AL: Have you seen any metal bands play?
John: My brother can play all the heavy metal shite with his eyes close. I got to see him up close. He has the technique. It is what it is.
AL: You meet a lot of girls at the shows?
John: I find myself being with girls who haven't seen the show. They came to the club afterwards. Or I met them at a party afterwards. It doesn't work out that I am with a girl who has seen the show, and I like it better that way.
Website: www.slutsoftrust.co.uk
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2/24/2006

Blast from the PAST 2000: SUPERGRASS

Supergrass came into the British scene about five years ago with their first album I Should Coco. They were from Oxford and added some light to Radiohead's dark. Gaz Coombes, David Goffey, and Mick Quinn became a success in the high year of Britpop, 1995.

After five years, many of those bands are no longer with us due to drugs and record company mergers. But Supergrass, with their new third album seem ready for some American notice. We always take a few years to get into something, and it takes a few albums for us to consider it a serious relationship. Supergrass has recently broken into some serious Britney Spears time on MTV, with their video "Pumping On Your Stereo." Their tour this spring has been nearly sold out, including three sold out nights in Los Angeles, where I saw them, at The Roxy, in Hollywood. Their show was strong and they stuck to the hits and most people were up for it. They played with a keyboardist, Rob Coombes. Next fall we will be hearing more from Supergrass when they tour with Pearl Jam. I talked to bassist Mick Quinn right before the tour started in New York City, at The Bowery Ballroom.

***

Interview with Bassist Mick Quinn

AL: I was over in London a few months ago and saw the "Pumping On Your Stereo" video. I thought it was brilliant. How did that come about?

Mick: It's pretty straightforward really. We couldn't use our regular directors because they were too busy doing another video. We looked around for some other directors, and we came up with Gus Jennings, who had worked with other people like Bentley Rhythm Aces. The puppets was his idea. It looked like the most interesting thing to do. Our other video for "Mary" was just us playing in the basement of a house with the family upstairs.

AL: You came out with this record pretty fast.

Mick: We spent a year touring the album before. We had a month holiday. Then we spent three months writing songs for the new album. So it was a fast turnaround really. We spend a lot of time on tour at soundchecks writing new stuff or coming up with new ideas. This is just one album in a long line of them.

AL: You are all from Oxford?

Mick: Pretty much. I'm seven years older than Gaz Coombes. Ten years ago I was probably kicking his head in at the playground. He was a little kid. We used to see each other around. I knew Gaz's brother, Rob, who plays keyboards in the band. We all have the same sense of humor, so it does make life easier. What Rob does in the band is quite comfortable. I don't think he's interested in having his face in magazines or doing interviews. He's never been forced into it.

AL: Danny Goffey is also the silent member in another band, Lodger. What do you think of Lodger and doing things outside of the band?

Mick: They do some quite interesting music. I get enough from Supergrass that I don't need to do any side projects. It's fair enough if Danny wants to do that because he's an energetic person. He needs things like that to inspire him.

AL: What are your expectations for this American tour? You've done tours here before, but it seems that people are ready to see Supergrass this time around.

Mick: My expectations are to sell more records and to have a higher profile in America. I don't really have any more expectations for our gigs in America. We've played live before and we've gone down really well. I'm not too worried about playing the gigs. It's the other end of it that I'm worried about, like what the record company are going to do to promote us, and can we catch the imagination of the media, as well with the live audience. It's apparent that we're bigger in Europe and Britain, than we are in America. You shouldn't think that you'll be able to crack the States anymore than anywhere else. I can't think of any British band that has cracked wholeheartedly in the States in the last ten years. If it takes ten or fifteen years to make it big in America, I don't really care. I'm not in a big hurry.

AL: How do you go about creating the songs? Does Gaz come up with some ideas and the band responds?

Mick: Not really. We all write pretty equally. We all come up with original ideas. Danny came up with the original idea for "I Should Coco." Gaz wrote most of "Moving." Or I came up with "Mary" on the new album. It's all very equal. No one is the main songwriter or lyricist or anything. It's a three-way split in every sense of the word.

AL: The new record seems upbeat and positive. Does that reflect a feeling of the last few years?

Mick: I don't know if it's upbeat or the last one was downbeat. We wanted to create a lot more space and air in the songs. It's more of a relaxed album I think. I don't know if it has anything to do with our psyche. I don't know if we're generally more happy now than in the past. I think that we're generally more relaxed about things if anything.

AL: Was Glam music and David Bowie always an influence?

Mick: Yeah, well on "Pumping." There's two elements of we are into Glam music and I'm a Bowie fan. It also comes from the production on the record, and the fact that we're basically producing it ourselves. We don't know how to do a professional job, so we just throw it together and it ends up sounding like a Glam track. There were certain instances where Danny didn't hit the snare loud enough so we all had to clap over the snare. In the end it sounds like Bowie. We like to produce things ourselves because it's cheaper.

AL: Are you doing some Festivals this summer?

Mick: Yeah. We're doing V2000 and T in The Park. One in Greece. We played most of the major festivals in 1995. It's going to be a busy year.



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2/14/2006

The Go! Team



The debut album by The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, has made an impact on British music in a very short time. It was all started by leader Ian Parton five years ago. He had an old sampler and a four-track recording machine. Their sound, a combination of samples and live musicians, has been described as "Sonic Youth meets the Jackson 5." Better than that: various songs sound like Cop Shows, Blaxploitation movies, Charlie Brown cartoons, and Wild Kingdom reruns.

The Go! Team started in Brighton. Ian Parton was working as documentary filmmaker. When he started making the album there was a filmic soundtrack influence. Soon that side project became The Go! Team's original sound. Tracks like "Ladyflash" and "The Power Is On" became theme songs for the summer. There is a lot of cheerleading, rap music, and northern soul influences too. The more the merrier.

What was the beginning of an album that was finished some time in early 2004. At that time there was no real band. When they were offered to support Franz Ferdinand in Sweden they started getting a proper band together. The band consists of Ian Parton (guitar/drums/harmonica), and Sam Dook (guitar), and Jamie Bell (bass guitar). But most of the members play several other instruments, and change things around. Soon there were three girls in the band too, with Fukami Taylor (guitar) and Silke (drums), and Ninja (vocals).

The album was released in the UK in September 2004 and was really popular. It even almost won the Mercury Prize. They have played a lot of festivals and have become popular in America beforehand. Their album was sample heavy so it took a while for all the samples to be cleared. There is an illegal version of the album with all the original samples. They have blown away audiences worldwide with their electrifying stage show. I got to speak to Ninja right before they came back to California to play some shows with Smoosh, another recent favorite.

AL: When did the band come together?
Ninja: The band came together actually last May 2004. Ian Parton was bringing in people one by one. He wanted to bring the music to life. He wanted to make a live show. I was the last person to join in May. We did our first gig literally two weeks later in Sweden in front of three thousand people. We were thrown in together. We have been together about a year and half now. So we are really still a new band.

AL: Was that the tour with Franz Ferdinand?
Ninja: Um. We did play with Franz Ferdinand. I didn't know who they were at that time. We never got to meet them. We played some of the same festivals. The festival in Sweden was really good.

AL: By the time you joined the band was most of the album written?
Ninja: Ian actually made the whole album himself. He wrote all the music himself. He started writing in 2000 or 2001. It was an ongoing process and he kept on doing it. The album came together over many years. At that point he managed to get other people into it. He wrote everything and got us together to play onstage. We all bring our different elements to the band. We all bring something different to the live shows.

AL: Are you doing all the rapping on the record?
Ninja: There are two versions of the album that were released. The first version came out in the UK in September 2004. It is actually an illegal version of the album because none of the samples had been cleared. Ian didn't have any aspirations to make any money from the album. He didn't think anyone would be interested. It was like "We are not going to make any money, so there is no need to clear these samples." But when it came out there was quite a demand. People kept on asking us for it. This summer we got signed to Sony BMG. We were on a smaller label before, Memphis Industries. If people want to buy it, and so we can make a living out of it, all the samples had to be cleared. That took a few months to sort out.

AL: People don't do sample heavy albums anymore because it's too hard to clear all that stuff. What were some of the harder samples to get cleared? What was the most expensive samples on the record?
Ninja: I don't know anything off the top of my head. I know "Ladyflash" has been given away. We don't have any of that song. It has been given away 100% to the singer. Half of "Bottle Rocket" has been given away as well. I think that Ian cares more about the music than making money. He has always been fighting to keep the songs as close to the original version of the album. There have been a couple of changes. You wouldn't have noticed really unless you were a diehard fan of the first original version.

AL: What was your background? Were you in bands before The Go! Team?
Ninja: I wasn't in bands before. I was still in university. I just graduated a few weeks ago. I was studying finals exams at university and traveling around the world with The Go! Team at the same time. That was difficult for me. I have always been writing lyrics. I was doing that way back when I was 12 or 13 years old. I come from a hiphop background. Coming into the Go! Team like I did was quite a challenge for me. It's a different atmosphere and music. When we play at festivals we are playing with a lot of bands that I would not normally listen to. The rock and indie music scene is not really the scene that I come from. It's quite exciting to be involved in it.

AL: What kind of music did you listen to?
Ninja: I listened to everything. I was into classic music and jazz. I am mainly into hiphop. I like the real hiphop with loads of swearing. I like those CDs with stickers that say "Parental Advisory" and "Explicit Lyrics." The proper hiphop is all about people getting shot in the neighborhood. It is all violence. I like that kind of hiphop. Because It was real and they were rapping about what they know. It's gone all bling with girls in bikinis and flash cars. It's not real anymore. It's putting me off. I have been listening to older hiphop. I like Ghostface Killa and DMX. I like artists who laugh at themselves and have a good energy onstage.

AL: Do you like NWA?
Ninja: I used to love NWA and Dr. Dre's early stuff. I also like Gravediggaz and Cypress Hill. I like the raw hiphop. I don't like that stuff that is like R&B.

AL: Have your been to some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Los Angeles were a lot of hiphop comes from?
Ninja: I would really love to check out the neighborhoods and check out the scene but I haven't had any time on these tours. I am not inspired by any rappers in the charts at the moment. There is nothing really original at the moment. I think the British hiphop scene is coming out at the moment. There is a little bit more punch to it. It's not about cars and the money.

AL: What do you think of people like Dizzee Rascal and Lady Sovereign?
Ninja: I am proud of them. They are young. They are doing their own thing. They have attitude. They are doing really well at the moment. But personally, it's not my kind of music. I am glad that Dizzee did things his way. He paid for records to get done. He did it on his own. They call that Grime and Garage. I am more into hiphop, which is different. Some people get those two mixed up.

AL: How did you meet Ian?
Ninja: I was just surfing the net. I was looking for singing and acting auditions. I saw an advert for "Old school hiphop rapper wanted." I sent him an email. He sent me a CD. I listened it for two weeks. It took me a while to get my head around it. It was so unique that I didn't say, "Hey, I want to play." It was dizzy, different, chaotic, rocking, happy. It was so much. I was figuring what I was going to do. Ian wanted me to write lyrics for the live show. I was wondering how I was going to fit in. People think of rapping as being a certain way. The Go! Team really pushes the boundaries. There can be rapping, singing, and shouting. There is so many possibilities. It is not as restrictive as modern rap is at the moment.

AL: How has the live show evolved over the past year and how is it different from the record?
Ninja: It's two different entities. To know what The Go! Team is about you need to see the live show and hear the album. The live show is so hectic. So much is happening onstage. People are running around and changing instruments. Sometimes it is two people and sometimes it's all six of us. People can expect the unexpected. It might be a rocking fast tune followed by a slow tune. We have a lot of visuals going on as well now. The visuals encompass the spirit of the Go! Team. We make very visual music. It's like a party on stage. We have a lot of fun. When someone smiles you want to smile back. If we are having a good time onstage we hope that the audience is having a good time as well.

AL: What is the song "Ladyflash" about?
Ninja: That song has so many influences. It has a 1960s girl group feel, a soul feel, some flutes and strings. It's all wrapped up together in one song. It's a laid-back sunshine type of song. It has so many genres. It is one of our favorites to play.

AL: "The Power Is On" is very popular.
Ninja: It's quite different from the album to the live show. On the album it is quite cheerleader-y, and thrash, and in your face. In the live show it is different. It is more aggressive and political. It's more angry and powerful. It sounds quite different. It has a military theme about it as well. I love that song.

AL: "We Won't Be Defeated" is another cheerleader type song.
Ninja: Yeah. We do a few songs with dancers. They are like 18 year old. They sing and do freestyle dancing. They have a girl gang vibe. They will be at most of the shows. It's a powerful hiphop songs. We have three or four dancers with us for the bigger shows and the TV shows. We were nominated for the Mercury Prize. We had all the girl dancers there. That was a big deal for us.

AL: Getting back to the Mercury Prize, did you get depressed that they gave it to some American guy this year?
Ninja: You can say that because you are American. But if I say something like that I sound bitter. I wasn't sad at all. We were glad that we didn't win because there is a Mercury Prize curse. People win it and then you don't hear about them anymore. If we won there would have been so much pressure on us. We would have had to tour for six months straight. We are used to maybe four weeks of touring and then going back to our regular lives. I think we should have won because we are so different. All those people in England watched this guy win the award and then go back to America. They are not going to know what the new bands are in England.

By alexander laurence

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2/05/2006

The Handsome Family



The Handsome Family
Interview by Alexander Laurence

Husband and wife duo the Handsome Family has been making music for almost a decade that is somewhere between alt-country and traditionalist music. Brett Sparks is from Texas where he studied music. He moved to Chicago with his wife Rennie Sparks, a fiction writer originally from Long Island. Their music deals with dark themes and dark humor.

The Handsome Family's debut album, Odessa, was released in January 1995. This folk record was a home recording with a punk influence. Their second record, Milk and Scissors (1996), led to tours with Wilco, and more shows in Europe. Years later Brett was hospitalized with depression. Through the Trees (1998), The Handsome Family's third album was written and recorded in the aftermath of his depression. It was their most successful record to date.

Soon after Through the Trees, they quit their day jobs and worked on their music full time. The result was In the Air (2000), which was another great record. In the last part of this past year they released Singing Bones (2003). This record returned to early sounds and expanded their audience. It was voted as one of the best records of 2003 by Free Williamsburg. I got to talk to them right before a long American tour in January 2004. As you can tell from this interview, they were funny, contrary, and engaging.

****

AL: When did you record Singing Bones?

Brett: Before it came out. I am not sure.

AL: How long did it take you to do it?

Brett: I spend a lot more time on records than most people do because I record at home. I am retarded and slow. It was four months. I mixed it myself so that takes longer. It is time consuming.

AL: Do you have to have time off from tours so you can think about writing new material?

Brett: Yeah. We don't really write on the road. It's hard to do. We divide everything up into the school year and summer.

AL: You had a bunch of other people play on this record. How does that work out?

Brett: That stretches out the time too. We have to accommodate their schedules. There are a lot of Albuquerque people on the record. I have a lot of friends who are musicians. I wanted to have a bunch of different people doing different things so it just didn't sound like Rennie and me. I thought that certain songs would sound good with a pedal steel or mandolin. Most of these people play specific instruments. The person dictated what they would do. Rather that thinking that this song needs a good kick ass Van Halen style guitar solo. I could go down to the local metal music store and find someone who could do that. What the hell am I talking about?

AL: When you bring other people in you will have already recorded most of the song?

Brett: Yeah. Things will be close to being finished. It's not mixed. I have people come in and do overdubs.

AL: How do the songs get written?

Brett: It's almost always lyrics first and then music. Rennie will give me the lyrics and then I will read them.

AL: The song "If The World Should End In Fire" should like you used a choir in a bigger studio.

Brett: That was one of the easier ones because it was a simple vocal multi-track. Getting a good snare sound was more difficult than doing that song was. If you record your voice six or seven times and put a lot of reverb on it, it will sound like that.

AL: It sounds like thirty people.

Rennie: It's only one person.

Brett: It's nine distinct parts. Three basses, three melodies, and three tenors. That's it.

AL: It reminds me of that Langley School record.

Rennie: We don't know any kids. Or people who would leave their kids with us.

AL: Are you going to have some kids on the next record?

Rennie: Only if we find them on the doorstep. We have some traps laid.

Brett: We have this ice cream van.

AL: No children then.

Rennie: Only old people like us. Maybe a chorus of old ladies. I like the way Chet Baker used to sound after he got his face beat in.

Brett: Who whistle through their teeth. That is a good sound.

AL: Are there any records that you liked recently?

Brett: I like Alistair Roberts. It's really good. He's on Drag City. It's like Scottish folk music. It's just a guy and a guitar. It's really stripped down. It's very archaic sounding. The old talk. The old language.

Rennie: I listen to a lot of talk radio.

AL: That's good.

Brett: Rennie is not interested in music all that much. It just seems to get in the way.

AL: You tour with a lot of bands. You like any of those?

Rennie: Sure. We like lots of bands. I am not sure if they inspire me. I mostly inspired by books and talk radio. I like to eavesdrop on people in the aisle at Walgreen's. I met this blind girl in the parking lot of Walgreen's. That was pretty much the inspiration for the whole record. We helped this lost dog in the parking lot. We talked about dogs and beauty.

AL: How are you getting ready for this tour?

Rennie: I am doing calisthenics. I am bending spoons with my mind. That helps me focus. I smash light bulbs with the power of my thought rays.

Brett: I drink a lot of beer so I can get myself up to speed.

AL: How many shows?

Rennie: I hate to count. It goes on most of my fingers and then starts over again. I start counting with a foot. I try to count visually like a crow. They can look at seven objects without having words.

Brett: It's like looking at a pair of dice. You don't have to count.

AL: Crows? I thought you said Eskimos.

Rennie: There is a tribe in the rain forest that counts up to five. After that they go to "many." (There is a big noise) Hey! Get out of there! Motherfucker! Out!

Brett: All hell has broken loose here.

AL: What is going on?

Brett: It's the cat. He pushed an iron from a really high shelf last night. It was a huge bang and shattering glass. We go in the bathroom and it's all destroyed. The cat seemed proud of what he did.

AL: Are there only two of you who live there?

Brett: We try to throw our voices.

Rennie: I spent a whole summer trying to throw my voice and I got nowhere.

AL: Do either of you come from a musical family?

Brett: Neither one of us do. My family is mostly horse thieves.

Rennie: I come from a thousand years of tailors and accountants.

AL: No one in your family played an instrument?

Brett: My mother played piano. She was a schoolteacher all her life.

AL: How did you get involved in American roots music and Americana?

Brett: It was an accident really. After the indie rock explosion everything started to suck. It got boring. Punk rock got watered down and old. When I heard Hank Williams and Bob Dylan and a lot of early folk music it freaked me out how good it was. It was better than the garbage that I was listening to. As a songwriter it was good to model yourself on those old folk songs. It's not autobiographical and confessional. It doesn't have this "look at me" quality that most pop music has. It's beautiful. It's heavy stuff. It's not about some twenty year old complaining about unrequited love.

AL: It is more about storytelling.

Rennie: There were songs about ancient ritual murders of babies in the Middle East. People were throwing their babies into the fire and worshipping their god. There are also songs that we sing to children that are gruesome. Putting a baby in a tree and seeing if it will fall. "Ring Around The Rosy" is about the plague.

AL: What do you think about when Bob Dylan went electric?

Rennie: Many Americans don't like change. It's hard to shock people now like that, by picking up an electric guitar.

Brett: He got bored. Dylan has always been a contrarian. He pissed off a lot of people.

AL: Are these people conformists?

Brett: We met a lot of these purists. These people think that if you bring a harmonica onstage that it is not purist. When I brought an electric guitar onstage at the Harry Smith tribute at the Getty Center there were audible gasps. People freaked out.

AL: What about when you bring computers and drum machines onstage?

Brett: That scares me actually.

Rennie: The abomination. For a lot of our songs there was never a real drummer. It wasn't as if we left the drummer at home. Sometimes we bring a drummer with us on tour.

AL: Many people think that you killed the drummer.

Brett: Yeah, we ate him.

Rennie: But we didn't kill him.

AL: Are there any good books that you read recently that you care to mention?

Brett: I don't read. Rennie does. I don't read and Rennie doesn't listen to music.

Rennie: I like to read Barry Lopez. I was reading this book about a serial killer. It's about Herman Mudget. He was in Chicago during the World's Fair. All these people were going to the World's Fair and disappearing. This guy was luring young girls to his nearby hideout. It had trap doors. He had a crematorium in his basement. He had a good plan.

AL: Have you seen any movies?

Brett: We watched The Pianist last night. I thought it was really funny.

Rennie: I thought the movie implied that since he was an artist it was good he survived. Shouldn't the lives of bricklayers be just as important? Just because you are an artist it doesn't mean you are better than other people. I like the old version of Solaris. I like Touched By An Angel.

AL: That is still on TV?

Brett: I don't like other worldly shit.

Rennie: I like that the guy who plays Death is named Die. That fascinates me.

AL: Do you believe in higher intelligence?

Both: I hope so.

AL: Why is that?

Rennie: I know for a fact that two-thirds of the universe is made up of dark energy and dark matter. We can't perceive it at all. We only perceive one-third of reality. There is a lot more out there.

AL: Is there an afterlife or we do not just perceive everything?

Rennie: I don't know. I can only speak of the part that I perceive and so far it's pretty creepy. I am hoping the other two-thirds will make sense of everything. It's interesting that I don't understand everything about the universe.

Brett: It's safe to say that we don't have traditional Christian beliefs.

AL: Do you have any political leanings or personal philosophy?

Rennie: Kill Bush! Destroy him!

Brett: Don't say that.

AL: That was a joke.

Brett: We are very anti-war and anti-Bush. We feel that we were cheated out of the last election.

Rennie: I want my country back.

AL: You have to tour in Europe and people probably give you a hard time because you are American?

Brett: We travel around the world and play music for people. It's a real pain in the ass to explain yourself and your foreign policy to people every night. It sucks that you have to be embarrassed about your leaders and about what you are doing in the world.

Rennie: It would suck worse living in Iraq.

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2/02/2006

The Soundtrack of Our Lives



The Soundtrack of Our Lives
An interview with Ebbot Lundberg
by Alexander Laurence

AL: What is Gothenberg like compared to Stockholm?
Ebbot: Gothenberg is a paradise. I actually live in Stockholm now which is like living in a poodle city. It has a poodle mentality. It's very posh and hung up. The whole vibe is cold and stiff upper lip. It's very boring.


AL: In Sweden you would never talk to someone on the street.
Ebbot: Absolutely. Here in New York City, everyone talks to you. That's not the case in Stockholm. Not even in Gothenberg. I guess it has to do with temperature. It's very cynical. When it's summer, it's a paradise.

AL: How is Soundtrack of Our Lives different from Union Carbide Productions?
Ebbot: It's just an extension I guess really. It's something bigger and wider. Soundtrack can be whatever. Union Carbide was more an underground thing. It was part of the late-1980s movement in music, which was itself, an echo of the original hardcore punk explosion. Our band died when Grunge died.

AL: How did you put together that band? Did you choose who was in the new band in 1996?
Ebbot: Yeah, basically it was me and the guitar players from Union Carbide. I knew some guys who were in a band called Different Builders that I had produced. I thought that we should put a band together. It made sense. We started actually because we were doing music for ski movies. That was the case. We didn't initially have plans to form another group. It turned out to be a good thing, so we gave it a shot. It worked well.

AL: Have you spent time producing other bands?
Ebbot: Yeah, when I have time. Now I just end up producing this band. I like to work with other people.

AL: Most of us in the United States are more familiar with the "Behind The Music" CD. All three were released here about the same time. Is "Behind The Music" representative of the three CDs?
Ebbot: They are all great, I think. I can't really say which one is the best. The first one came out in 1996. That's a while ago. It's called "Welcome To The Infant Freebase." People should get into it. It's a fantastic album. It's on Parasol and people should be able to find it.

AL: When I got "Behind The Music" I listened to it, and then I found out that it was one of many albums.
Ebbot: The idea was when we started was to release a box set. We wanted to start out by releasing four albums. That is happening now in America almost. It's like digging up something in the past. "Behind The Music" was done after the Millennium shift. It came out about a year ago.

AL: Do you have a home studio?
Ebbot: Yeah. Some songs are home demos. We add some things. We have our own studio and production and we do everything.

AL: Do you all write songs in the band?
Ebbot: Everyone in the band has song ideas. I have to pick them up and write lyrics and melodies. Everyone in the band adds something in the songwriting process.

AL: You are known to be a great live band. Are some of the recordings just live takes?
Ebbot: I guess. Sometimes we just screw up on a song. Okay come back next week try it again. Let's try something else. The studio is this small bunker. We can barely fit in there. We like it like that. We can smell each other. We end up getting the right feel and the right emotion to it. We feel like we are in a rehearsal room. We try and make it as easy as possible.

AL: You have been touring this record for a while?
Ebbot: We have toured Europe so much. We enjoy being somewhere else like America. We enjoy just being here. We are going to China next.

AL: Has there been a larger fanbase in the past year since there is so much focus on Swedish music?
Ebbot: It is a slow growing process. I think that we want to maintain a following. We want to keep on doing good albums. We want to create a good vibe. That is what is missing in the world today. We don't have much choice.

AL: Do you have a group of new songs? When will you start recording them?
Ebbot: Yeah. I think that once we finish this tour in America, we will start on the next record. We will have time in December and early 2003.

AL: What will the new record sound like?
Ebbot: I hope to put out some good music before the shit breaks down. But the world is already breaking down. We want to create our own little parallel universe.

AL: What music did you grow up listening to?
Ebbot: Everything. I used to listen to stuff like Hoagy Carmichael and stuff like that. When I started to play in a band I used to listen to UK Subs, Black Flag, and a lot of American punk bands. Minor Threat and all that stuff. At the same time I was into The Beatles.

AL: You got all of that punk aggression out of your system?
Ebbot: Live, it's still there. When you are on stage, you are in the audience as well. Somebody is watching you that is you. So you don't want to disappoint yourself. I get that feeling. I don't want to be bored. I want to be thrilled. So we want to thrill the audience as well as ourselves when we play live, which can be hard. It used to be that you were in a bubble and here's the band and here are the people. People say "You suck" from a distance. If you are in a band you can't go on doing that for a long time.

AL: What excites you about music?
Ebbot: Everything. I hate to wait in the dressing room before you go on. You have to wait all the time. I am very excited by music. I wouldn't do it if I wasn't.

AL: Are you playing songs from all three albums on this tour?
Ebbot: Hopefully. Mostly from the latest one. We will come back for another American tour as soon as we can. We were going to tour with Oasis but I am not sure if that is going to happen. They want us to.

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