Things That I Love Today #17


The Kays Get Lovely Mention Over At The Popcop

When the Popcop asked me if he could use ‘Aftermath’ for the music alliance pact I was totally humbled.  Even more so by his kind words today. Massive thank you and lovely way to finish 2009.  Hopefully help raise awareness about the record.  Please have a wee look here and enjoy his wonderful blog.

Trampoline All Day Event, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh College of Art, Saturday 12th December 2009

I had written a massive paragraph at the beginning of this post having a good old rant about this and that.  I read it back.  It is how I feel.  However, I’m sick fed up moaning about the same thing at the end of every year.  As a wise man once told me; focus on the people who do care because they are the ones that matter most.  How true that is and it resonates with me greatly after Saturday.

Regardless of turn out, I can safely say that musically Saturday’s show was special.  Probably the best show I’ve ever run.  Every single act was amazing.  But I have to reserve special praise for Conquering Animal Sound and The Scottish Enlightenment.  Conquering Animal Sound are quite simply a cut above most artists out there at the moment.  They are creative, imaginative, unbelievably talented and they captured everyone’s attention from the word go.  The whole set was simply stunning to watch.  And I think ultimately that is what takes them to a level above their peers.  The creativity involved and the quality of song writing is incredibly high but it’s watching them create the songs on stage which adds an extra dimension to their live show.  Jamie Scott is just a joy to watch creating his art.  He seems to be doing a million things at once.  Lost amongst a sea of wires, pedals and toys he stalked from guitar to keyboard, to sampler, to loop pedal building the songs as he goes.  Anneke Kampman is the perfect front woman.  Blessed with a stunning voice and completely captivating to watch she also busied herself with vocal loops, pedals, harp and samplers.  At times I was amazed that the pair of them were not getting in each others way.   Ultimately, what they created on Saturday was the best live performance of the year that I’ve seen, bar perhaps Andrew Bird at Oran Mor.  It was simply stunning.  Such was the brilliance of the performance that when Jamie announced before the last song that they had tapes for free over on the merch stall people didn’t wait until the end of the set to rush and grab one.  The whole audience just rushed across and cleaned them out.  If that’s not a sign of how good a band has been then I don’t know what is.  Definitely my tips for 2010.  A wonderful band with a wonderful future. 

The Scottish Enlightenment (main picture) do not sound anything like they do on their myspace page! FACT. What is on that page has a more punky, early Idlewild feel to it.  What they produced live on Saturday could not be further from this sound if they tried.  Their set was also stunning.  Evoking thoughts of a Scottish cross between Low and the National, this band are simply brilliant.  Like I said, I’d been trying to get them to Trampoline for a number of years but I think they were on a sabbatical from music or something like that.  Perhaps they were reinventing themselves?  Whatever they were doing, they are sounding absolutely brilliant now.  I said to David on Saturday night, and I meant no offence by it whatsoever, that the songs they played live were so much better than what is on their myspace page.  This makes things difficult, because I want you to hear these guys but I want you to also know that their myspace page is not a true reflection of their sound, or their brilliance.  If you can you must catch these guys live in 2010.  I do love it when you watch a band for the first time and they blow you away with their performance.  These guys did this to me on Saturday night.  And I love their attitude as well.  They’re making music for all the right reasons, and it shows.  Bring on their album in the early part of 2010 I say.

The rest of the day was also special.  The Last Battle were first up and produced a delightful set to open the day of music.  I’ve become internet friends with Scott and I am a big fan of his songs.  He’s a really great songwriter producing moments of sheer beauty in songs when you least expect it.  I don’t know the name of the song, but when he sings the words “ignore me then” on repeat the goose bumps never fail to appear.  The drums were missing from the set, but I do think this performance was stronger than when they played in November.  Not saying that it’s because of the lack of drums!  Just that this seemed like a more assured and confident set.   A wonderful band and definite ones to watch in 2010.

Jonnie Common.  I don’t have the words to explain what an amazing performer this man is.  From the word go his banter has the crowd in stitches.  And the music had them totally hooked as well.  It’s good time beats.  It always has been with Jonnie, from his Down The Tiny Steps days until now, the flavour is upbeat and the lyrics are always humorous and interesting.  I miss the flowery set up that often accompanied DTTS sets, though I think the lack of flair may have had more to do with the amount of time he had to set up than anything else.  He’s always great value.  Full of energy, full of chat and full of brilliant tunes.  The live drums definitely added something extra to the performance this time.  A memorable performance for all the right reasons.

Debutant was sublime as ever.  Not much more I can say about Phil which I haven’t already said!  It’s sad for me to think that Phil is intending on cutting back on live shows.  I never tire of watching him play his songs.  The way he builds his songs is fascinating to watch and I love the sounds he creates.  I find myself drifting away with the dreamy atmospheres and soundscapes that he generates.  It was the perfect foil to Jonnie’s upbeat electronic madness.

Esperi is another who is a joy to watch.  Chris has so many toys and instruments on stage with him at any given time.  He creates songs from nothing using his loop pedal, but he is also a seriously gifted guitar player and his quiet folk songs continued where Debutant left off.  A lovely quiet mood is created and his set closer was brilliant as ever.  Stand out track was a new one called ‘Lone Wolf’ for sure.  Somehow he manages to turn a 40 minute set allocation into a 50 minute performance, but then Chris is not one for keeping time.  Not that it matters, cause it’s a great 50 minutes of music which pass by in an instant.

Lyons for me are the surprise of the day.  I loved their stuff when I heard it on myspace and was keen to get them along to play but live they just blow me away with their energy, attitude and songs.  There’s no messing about.  They are a 2-piece but sound nothing like other 2 pieces or what you might expect of this set up.  There’s no White Stripes or Black Keys imitating going on here.  The music is very much their own.  The drums were incredible.  The intensity fantastic.  The set blistering.  Over all too soon.  There was a ferocity to their music, which you wouldn’t expect to see from the 2 quiet, friendly lads who turn up to play.  A total winner.  Brilliant harmonies.  Brilliant band.  Do keep an eye out for them.

And finally headliners Mitchell Museum.  I think it’s fair to say that they are a little bit nuts!  What a fun way to finish the day.  They just blasted their way through a set of synth driven power pop tunes.  Manic chat between, as entertaining as Jonnie Common earlier in the day.  A highlight of the day must be when the band as a whole dropped their instruments picked up their drummer and dumped him at the front of the stage, where he proceeded to play silent night on acoustic guitar. It’s a fantastic moment.  It reminded me of the Green Day video for ‘Basket Case’ where the loonies get wheeled out to play a song.  I was getting really tired at this point of the day so that moment of light relief at the end of a stressful day was most welcome.  Their set was a brilliant energetic way to finish what was a wonderful day of music.
All the while the bands are playing the wonderful pictures of We Sink Ships and Heidi Kuisma are displayed on the screen behind.  A wonderful backdfrop to a wonderful day of music.

And a massive thanks to Sean and Halina of Glasgow Podcart for coming along, recording the show and interviewing the bands.  It added a lovely little extra flavour to proceeding and I hope it’s something they’ll come back and do again in the future.  Especially if we have another all day event this time next year, which is a distinct possibility.

All pictures by Heidi Kuisma

Interview #4: Adam Stafford

Adam Stafford is probably best known among music fans as frontman for Falkirk noisemongers Y’all Is Fantasy Island.  Having established himself as a highly talented songwriter he then decided to take a step away for a little while and focus on other projects.  Amongst these are his record label Wiseblood Industries, through which The Kays Lavelle’s debut record will be released next year.  Then there’s his solo music adventures under the guise of Size of Kansas, as well as his recent solo outing entitled ‘Awnings’.  On top of all this he found the time to direct a short film written by Scottish author Alan Bissett entitled ‘The Shutdown’.  This has gained worldwide critical acclaim and propelled Adam forward as an upcoming Scottish director.  He also recently directed the new Twilight Sad video.  He’s a top bloke and big support to the Kays, and has taken the time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the Steinberg Principle.  Enjoy.

TSP:  You are possibly the busiest man that i know in the world of Scottish art.  You play in Y’all Is Fantasy Island, run a record label, have a blossoming film career and have all your little solo music projects on the go as well. Do you have this inner need to be constantly creative?

AS:  Totally! It comes back to the old Woody Allen quote – “Like a shark I have to keep moving forward or I’ll die”. For me it’s some sort of unfettered crazy obsession, I guess at the end of the day I just want to leave as much of my expressions behind before I die, which I hope isn’t soon, like a body of work so I can give my life some meaning.
TSP:  Wiseblood Industries, your record label seems to cater for a diverse collection of artists. Do you intentionally seek out acts who don’t seem to sit comfortably in the mainstream or are these just bands you stumbled across and fell in love with?

AS: I originally started the label because nobody would release any of Y’all is Fantasy Island’s records (except Winning Sperm Party, who I completely stole the label template from!). There’s only so long you can keep hammering on a door before you realise that nobody is going to answer! Which I’ve come to understand was a very good move; we can retain the mechanical and writing copyrights of the songs and recordings for when they will be inevitably used in the future  while the heaving old rusty ship that is the music industry sinks further into the myriad. But as I’ve went along, I’ve invited musicians who I’m a big fan of – Jocky Venkataraman, Michael John McCarthy, Jamie Sturrock, Kays Lavelle, Radiation Line – who perhaps needed an outlet to host their music onto the label. All of these acts are excellent in their own right and simply craved a proper forum for distribution of their music. And what’s more important is they’re all friends of mine who understand that they will always retain all the rights to their music and I won’t make any profit from hosting them on the site. As far as mainstream goes, who would ever want that? Unless you’re in a band for the all the wrong reasons, which sadly a lot of kids are these days. That’s the problem with the majority of Scottish music listeners, they’d rather bask in the blandness of Snow Patrol or The View than take a chance on say, Jocky or Eagleowl.  
TSP: There seems to be an ethos that the label is all about getting the artists as much attention as possible with a lot of the music being offered for free on the website.  What are your opinions on the fine balance that exists between Exposure and Income in music these days?

AS: My advice to young musicians would be: do what your parents did – get a job! No, in all seriousness, I think unless you are willing to tour your arse off and build up an international fan base organically or are just very lucky, there’s little chance you are going to sustain a decent living from being a musician, unless you are of the wedding variety. I see my music as something much greater than any “career”, it’s something that’s deeply entwined in my blood! Sure, I’d like to get paid for doing it, but if I can’t I’m not going to hide it away from the world, I want to share my creativity and I’d encourage others to do the same. Always remember, hype bands don’t come about purely by chance, they are part of intense marketing strategies and relentless media carpet-bombing campaigns orchestrated by faceless A&R’s at labels and PR firms who have a hand-in with the press. All that stuff in NME and Pitchfork, Observer Music Monthly etc, 90% is that. Real talent doesn’t count for anything these days. The DIY Underground is fucked! It’s all PR baby!
TSP: Turning to film making, The Shutdown written by Alan Bissett, and your debut film as director, has received worldwide critical acclaim.  Has the reaction to the film surprised you?

AS: It’s left Alan and I in utter shock, more so me than Alan, but yeah the reception has been completely unexpected.
TSP:  What’s been the highlight of all the attention so far?

AS: I guess just being taken seriously for once and showing it to so many audiences, who appreciate it and ask questions after they’ve seen it. Meeting other filmmakers who are on the same wave length, pitching new ideas to them and getting honest feedback and travelling about promoting it. I think the big highpoint was winning the two Jim Poole awards in November. Alan and I were stunned and really in awe of the other films in the competition. 
TSP: You’ve also turned your hand to making music videos, directing the new video for the Twilight Sad.  How did that compare to the work you did on The Shutdown and would you consider working on a music video again?

AS: It was more stressful than The Shutdown because we were shooting child actors in gale force wind and rain and shooting on film, which is expensive and takes time to get right. Everybody was amazing on that shoot though, especially the kids and the band who were both very patient. With The Shutdown, myself, Leo Bruges the cinematographer and a production assistant took a camera and made the film in 13 hours during one night. We were blessed with a clear sky; the rolling smoke in some of the shots wouldn’t have look so good otherwise. In terms of doing other music videos, if the song and concept is something I’m interested in, I’d have no problem doing more. I have a couple of music related videos lined up for next year which will hopefully come to fruition.
Film or Music?  Where does your real passion lie?

AS: I’m intensely passionate about both really. I think music comes more naturally, I almost don’t have to think about it, it just pours through me, whereas the process of making a film is concentrated, long and precise. That’s not to say there’s no room for improvisation or experimentation, just if your idea is not refined enough you will end up with a bad film. As long as there is integrity and honesty in your vision, in most cases any artistic risks you take will pay off.
TSP: Most people will know you best for your band Y’all Is Fantasy Island.  For a while, not so long ago, you seemed to be churning out YIFI records at will.  Was there a conscious decision on your part to take a break from recording with the band to focus on your film making and solo stuff or was this more enforced upon you?

AS: At the start of 2009 we were having a great time, playing to packed, attentive audiences, going down to London to perform for Vic Galloway and Huw Stephens, then the audiences started dwindling back home and we realised that we’d just worn them out. A break was needed. We really killed ourselves trying to get the LP No Ceremony right and by April we were burnt out after 2008, recording and releasing and performing music constantly over the year. My vocal muscles, are, as the throat doctor told me, like a little cardboard box and every time I sing it’s like I’m “booting it against a wall”. I don’t think I could handle belting out Punk Rock Disco every night for three months.
TSP:  Turning to the solo stuff.  There’s a real change in direction from YIFI stuff.  What influenced you to make music in such stark contrast to your band, and should we expect to see such influences coming through in new YIFI records?

AS: I just want to constantly progress my art and move forward trying new things, I can’t comprehend bands and artists that stay within their comfort zone, I mean why would you want to stay in that same place philosophically? The whole idea with Awnings was that I was going to set myself a challenge to try and record a techno album by only using my voice. Well, I don’t know if I succeeded, but the basic idea was to try and push my vocal ability to it’s limits, to try beatboxing and layering rhythms, taking a starting point and following it without knowing where it was going end. I’ve always loved experimental music, but i’m not sure if Yifi have ever represented that because the music is so song-based. Awnings was about getting as far away from “songs” as possible and guitars. I’ll probably go back to that but they seem boring as fuck to me at the moment. Songs, with their confinements of verses and choruses are a prison, but it takes a lot of dedication to ease yourself into the prison system once you’re there.

In terms of musical influence I have Michael John McCarthy to thank for turning me onto the chants of Meredith Monk and the Steve Riech album Music for 18 Musicians. The moment I realised that creating a cappella music was feasible was when I saw the awesome Wounded Knee perform in Glasgow. My jaw was on the floor, he was so inspiring. At first I thought I was just ripping the shit out of him, ha ha, but I think his a cappella music is more abstract than mine and hopefully we can both bring new and totally different things to the table. Ariel Pink, Panda Bear, Daniel Johnson, I could go on forever….
Are there any artists in Scotland that you truly believe people should be keeping an eye out for in 2010 or that excite you personally?

AS: My favourite album this year is by an experimental collective headed-up by a musician called Daniel Padden called The One Ensemble Orchestra and the LP is called Other Thunders. I think they’re Glasgow-based and the album is astonishing, very cinematic and discordant but with bursts of thumping choir and Keltzma gypsy hoe-downs and weird improv vocal noises. I can’t believe it didn’t get more attention on it’s release for a Scottish band, but then again it’s like what I said about PR! I’ve seen them live too and they are flabbergasting.

Leo Bruges the Edinburgh filmmaker made a film called Fist Full of Roses last year that is among one of the best mid-length documentaries I’ve ever seen. It got snubbed by quite a few festivals because of its length, I think mainly, but I would fervently recommend it. It follows a complex but troubled figure around the streets of Edinburgh at night, there’s a horrible brooding malevolence in the film that finally explodes. Hopefully Leo will get the opportunity to screen it more regularly in the future.

On the subject of films and filmmaking in Scotland, I would also like to praise Peter Gerrard, not only for being a great producer of some of the best work that’s coming out of Edinburgh at the moment, but also for being a great director. Hi short film Motion/Static, that just ran in competition at International Documentary Festival Amsterdam is a staggering work from a future visionary and I would also recommend anybody that gets a chance to see it does. Edinburgh at the moment seems to be the hub for great music and filmmaking, and people are starting to sit up and take notice

TSP: What keeps you wanting to make music?

AS: I don’t know why! Probably like I said before, this insatiable desire to keep creating art so I have a body of work that I can leave behind when I’m gone. People don’t pick up real guitars these days and start a band, they buy plastic ones that they can plug into their Xboxs. Creativity in some quarters is getting more and more stifled by the gentrification of rock`n’roll. It’s so sad.
What does 2010 hold in store for Adam Stafford the:

a) musician;

More albums! I’ve written three albums worth of material this year. I hope I can release at least one next year.

b) film maker;

I’m developing a short re-imagining of a mining disaster that occurred in Falkirk in the 1920s with Alan Bissett that goes into pre-production in February. I’ve also started writing a feature film about a night-shift train driver who tries to infiltrate a Black Metal cult in a ghost town in the North of Scotland while investigating the disappearance of his daughter. It’s a psychological horror and it will be the most beautifully shot film to come out of Scotland. Trains, Black Metal and infanticide – my three favourite things in that order! Hopefully I’ll finish that by the end of the year.

c) boss of a record label?

Lots of exciting new releases from great artists: a new Jocky EP, The Kays Lavelle album, new stuff from Jamie Sturrock, hopefully putting out the single by Burnt Island who are fronted by the author Rodge Glass and… new mini from Michael John McCarthy, aka Radio Trees. He’s a busy man, but I’ve heard 80% of the new one and it’s class!

Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre

If I hadn’t already heard this before and didn’t know better, on first listen to opening track ‘Demon Host’ I’d have guessed that this record was by M. Ward.  It’s like when I first heard Stephen Fretwell and had to check that he wasn’t the lead singer of Sunhouse, such were the similarities in their voices.  It’s really the fact that the voices were so distinctive that made me do a double check.  And it’s the same here.  M. Ward really does have a distinctive vocal style and Timber Timbre is as close to this as anyone I’ve ever heard.  This record makes me think of the Transfiguration of Vincent, which is no bad thing because it’s one of M Ward’s finest moments in my opinion. 

However, this record is a lot darker in tone and, essentially, the reason I’ve fallen for this record is that it’s the perfect late night soundtrack.   Lying on my bed, reading or writing, with a glass of red wine, martini or port and listening to this on the ipod is about as perfect as any week night can get.  Whilst generally sparse it does, at times,  have a real bluesy growl to it.  An undercurrent of darkness to what is essentially a beautifully restrained and sumptuous piece of music.  Maybe it’s just me but I hear a lovely chunk of Nick Cave mixed into this record as well.  The organ on ‘Lay Down In The Tall Grass’ springs to mind here.  I could imagine Cave’s growl telling a tale of death and persecution over the top of this piece of music.  However, for me, it’s the voice of Taylor Kirk that controls and contains the darker side of this record.  I think this is actually essential, as without that control this could become a very bleak record indeed.  However, it’s not.  It’s quite splendid.  The vocal controls the tone and takes the record to another place.  It feels old.  It feels edgy and it feels just right for this time of year.  Remember the previous post about music I listen to at Christmas time?  Well I can see this record becoming one of those in the future.  You can check out Timber Timbre here.  Enjoy.

TSP Grade = B+