Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phil King - Exclusive Interview

In celebration of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s return to live performing this year – and in particular a much anticipated September US tour – longtime band bassist Phil King agreed to answer some questions that relate specifically to his time with this most influential group.  Regular readers of this blog are all too aware of my passion for the music this band has produced.  Links at the end of the interview will provide more than adequate testament to that fact. 

Here then, the DaveCromwellWrites exclusive interview with Phil King

It’s been pointed out from time to time that you first began playing as a member of The Jesus and Mary Chain during end of their initial period together in 1998. Was this only as a touring member or did you play on any of the band’s final recording - the album called “Munki?” The reason I specifically ask this is there have been published reports stating that you did play on the record.

PhilYes, I've seen it written that I played on “Munki” – but this is not true as by the time I started playing with them the album had been long finished. I was brought in to play on the live shows as Lincoln Fong couldn't do it. The only recordings I am on from that period are a Radio 1 session in April 1988 and a show we played at The Electric Ballroom in Camden, London in the same month. These are both on the bonus disc of “Munki”. I am also in the video for ”I Love Rock 'N' Roll” . I remember having to borrow a pair of sunglasses for that as I forgot they were de riguer.

The original JAMC bassists were (first) Douglas Hart, then Ben Lurie replaced him. Do you have any kind of relationship with either of these men? Have you discussed playing styles or anything related to playing those particular songs with either of them?

Phil: Actually Ben never played bass with The Jesus And Mary Chain. I did get an audition for them around the time of “Automatic.” This was to play guitar. Ben got the job. They tossed a coin and I lost according to Jim. My shoes were too pointy according to William. I got my audition through my friendship with Douglas Hart. We shared an apartment with a friend of his from East Kilbride called Stephen Sands who was in a group called See See Rider that I played guitar with prior to be in Lush. Douglas played guitar on one of their songs called See See. There is actually meant to be a See See rider compilation coming out sometime soon. We lived at the time in Maida Vale but ended up moving to a squat in Kilburn that was nicknamed 'Disgracelands'. On my first day of rehearsing with The Jesus And Mary Chain all they said to me was that I knew the songs better than they did – and let's go to the pub.

Head On – live at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012– shot by Rob Dobbs from the stage:

Since you are also an accomplished guitarist (and from what I gather was your first instrument), wasn’t there a point in the mid-2000’s (possibly around 2005/6) when Jim Reid was putting together a post-Freeheat solo project, and asked you to play guitar in it? How did that project come about? Wasn’t Mark Crozer enlisted to play bass in that Jim solo project as well?

Phil: This came about because Freeheat came to an end and Ben went back to Australia. First of all we went out as a two piece with a drum machine and Mark was actually our agent and guitar tech towards the end of that period. Then when we thought of putting a group together Mark offered to play bass and said that he thought he might be able to get Loz Colbert to play drums.
When the Jesus and Mary Chain finally decided to reform again in 2007, you and Mark switched roles and you moved back to bass and Mark played second guitar in the band. Was this role switching at the request of anyone in the band or did you, Mark and the principal bandmembers - William and Jim - discuss it and decide this is the way it should be? Do you feel more comfortable on the bass in the live environment?

Phil: I was offered the role of the second guitarist when the group originally reformed – and also when we started playing again this year – but although I started off playing guitar I have been playing bass live now for 32 years so feel more comfortable in that role.
Talk about the differences between playing live shows with the band in 1998, 2007/8 and now. Is there any difference to how you approach a show? What happens on stage? How you interact with your bandmembers?
Phil: There's been no difference at all really apart from when I started playing with them we seemed to spend more time in the pub opposite The Drugstore recording studio they owned rather than rehearsing.

(Some of the earlier bands Phil played in)

Let’s talk tech a bit. What bass and amp do you use? Is this your preferred setup or would you go with something else if you had no limits? What about effects pedals? Do you try to recreate what was recorded on the JAMC records or are you allowed some creative musicianship there?

Phil: I used the Mary Chain's Fender Jazz bass and hire an Ampeg SVT amp and speakers. I play through that without any effects apart from a bass fuzz pedal that I use on Sidewalking, Teenage Lust and Reverence. When we toured in 2007/8 I used a Wooly Mammoth pedal that belonged to our guitar tech at the time. This time round I had a clone made of it which I have used although recently I have been using a pedal supplied by our guitar tech John Kassner.
“Reverence” - live at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012.  Shot by Rob Dobbs

In addition to being a musician, it is often reported that you work as a picture researcher for major print (and now I’m assuming online) publications. A recent feature on you has you revealing you first did this sort of thing as early as 1988. Can you explain a bit about what a picture researcher actually does? I only have a vague notion of what this entails.

Phil: I get in the images for articles in the music magazine Uncut. To do this I use the archive of prints and transparencies we have in the files that we share with the NME. There are also the images from the Melody Maker collection in there as well. I also use images from various picture agencies such as Getty and Rex. I can download these from their sites. Also, I contact photographers to get their images. Luckily because I am a freelancer I can easily take time off to go on tour.

What about writing? Besides songwriting (which I assume you still do) do you also write stories or articles for publications? I am aware that you contributed significantly to a recently released book titled ‘Wired Up! Glam, Proto-Punk & Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970-76.’ What did you provide for this book?

Phil: I only write when it is something of interest really. I did a short piece on The Jesus And Mary Chain's trip to China recently for Uncut, there were some recollections on Felt for a book/fanzine on them a couple of years ago, I wrote about David Bowie and New Order for The First Time I Heard series of books and more recently some interviews I did with Jesse Hector, Brett Smiley, Sal Maida from Milk 'N' Cookies and Chris Townson from The Jook - that I did about five years ago for Shindig and Bucketfull Of Brains magazine - are being collected in the Wired Up book. I also supplied them with record sleeves, ads from the music press of the day and photos.

Anything else in the publishing pipeline?

Phil: To be honest I am busy enough with The Jesus And Mary Chain, working at Uncut and spending time with my family in Portugal to even think about doing much writing at the moment. Saying that, I am writing something on Sal Maida's career as a bassist (Roxy Music, Milk 'N' Cookies, Sparks, Kim Fowley and The Runaways – he ghosted bass parts on their album Waiting For The Night) for a future Shindig magazine.
You were best know in the US during the 1990’s as the bassist for influential female-fronted dreampop band Lush. Much like JAMC, the influence of Lush on emerging bands today is quite noticeable. Yet it appears that both Miki and Emma are truly done with the music business. There doesn’t seem to be anything capable of enticing either of them back - even for a one-off show. Is this noble or selfish (to the fans who would love to see Lush perform one more time)?

Phil: I guess that is really a question you would need to ask Miki & Emma but I would say noble of course. The problem is that we have had offers to play but because we have families and day jobs they really need to be financially worthwhile as we would need to rehearse and take time off from work and none off the offers we have had so far have really made it worthwhile enough to do it. If we did get back playing I certainly can't see us ever doing just a one-off show.

You recently told a story about how back in the early days (I believe in the mid-to-late 1980’s) you attempted casual friendly banter with both Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth (at separate times) and they both summarily dismissed you as unworthy of an answer. In hindsight can you attribute this to the brashness of youth? Did you ever meet either of them later on in your career and have a different experience with them?

Phil: I did meet them later on when I was in Lush and they were much nicer than in 1986. This would have been in 1994 when we were promoting our "Split" album. We were doing an interview at a radio station in New York and they had just been interviewed before us.
You also mentioned that you wondered if Glen Branca would have been so rude. Who knows? Are you a fan of the particular twisted orchestral guitar compositions that Mr. Branca has engaged in for lo these many years? What about Rhys Chatham (who was a contemporary of Mr. Branca, and in recent times has mounted similarly ambitious sound exhibitions)?

Phil: I remember reading about Glen Branca back in the day but I can't say I have ever heard him or Rhys Chatham. I for the most part like to listen to music that soothes me these days and I can't imagine they would ever do this.
Moving back to the present, in June you completed a series of shows with The Jesus & Mary Chain in California, followed by a few August dates in Canada and Buffalo. This leads up to a much bigger tour of the east coast of America in September. The reviews have been for the most part, positive. However, there have been reports of some live show snafu’s as well. Anyone who has been a fan of the band over the years is well aware of these occurrences. Even Jim makes references to these occasional false starts (or even mid-song restarts) as "Ooops, it's a MaryChain moment" - in your live performance of "Halfway To Crazy" at Hollywood Park (Racetrack) in LA this past June. Then, the song further breaks down to the point where he stops it entirely - and asks the audience - "does anyone know our songs out there? We don't." Ultimately you all complete the song to much satisfaction and Jim concludes with "we got there in the end."

What is going through your mind when this is happening? Are you amused? Annoyed? Half expect it to happen at some point during the set?
Phil: It's always a bit chaotic live with the group and invariably songs fall apart sometimes. You could never say that the group is over rehearsed but then again I think that gives us an edge, because we are always on edge, so it is never boring. For us or for the audience. I guess part of the problem is that shows have been so sporadic this years, just a few here and there and then a gap, so we are just warming up and it ends. I'm sure this three week tour in the US in September will sort things out.
Never Understandlive at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012– shot by Rob Dobbs:

Are there any plans to change up the set list at all? Add some different songs?

Phil: I can't imagine so as once the order of songs are sorted out they are pretty much set in stone. Saying that in 2007/8 we did add some songs to the set.

(I had the good fortune of meeting and chatting a bit with Phil when they came to New York in 2007.  Photo by Rob Dobbs)


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

EULA - Live and on the Record

Alyse Lamb and her band EULA exhibit the drive and ambition that is essential for success in today’s ever growing crowded field of hopeful musicians.  On stage the band presents itself in the classic power trio format.  Bassist Jeff Maleri and drummer Nate (“BootyBeats”) Rose provide a perfectly matched rhythm section for Alyse’s particular coiled-to-explosion hyperactivity. 

On stage Alyse paces back and forth like a cat in a kitchen - who has previously spotted a mouse under the refrigerator.  Her petite but athletic frame reflects the years of ballet dance training, while her aggressive demeanor leans more towards her baseball years at Cromwell high (and a sweet high that is).  With sweat glistening off of her face and bare arms, a form-fitting leotard provides just enough sex appeal balance against manic vocals and forceful guitar movements.

Meeting up with Alyse on a sunny summer afternoon at a coffee shop in the heart of Williamsburg , Brooklyn (which has been the epicenter of New York ’s alternative rock music scene for a while now) we discussed EULA ’s 2011 album Maurice Narcisse as well as the events and influences that has led her to this point in time.

Growing up as the youngest of three children in the Connecticut suburbs to parents of Scottish and Italian ancestry, Alyse’s musical journey began when she started playing piano at age 8.  Moving on to other instruments as part of her overall development, both clarinet and saxophone were attempted, before she ultimately settled on guitar.  Alyse explained that “seeing PJ Harvey perform” was a transformative moment for her.  Afterwards she knew that guitar was the instrument for her.  Other artists credited as influences (or simply bands she admires) are The Pixies, Smiths, Cure, Fugazi, Wire and My Bloody Valentine.

Alyse also credits her mother as a significant factor in her performance evolution as well.  As a costume designer for theaters, Alyse would often accompany her mother to many of the events she was working.  There she got an inside view of what performers go through.  As for what was often playing in the house, mom favored artists like Laura Nyro , Joni Mitchell and Karen Carpenter , while dad kept the 70’s rock flowing.  It’s not hard to see how these two streams of sonic influences (along with her own personal preferences listed above) might procreate and mutate into the sound that EULA is today.

"Maurice Narcisse" album track opener "Dirty Hands" chugs along via thumping drums, rumbling bass and twangy guitar. The vocals are purposefully filtered and positioned in unconventional ways. Alyse sheds light on this process here:

The title track follows, with its distorted bass-heavy groove and alternating percussion enhancements (high-hat cymbals, clicking sticks, shakers). Of note is how Alyse will sing a quick melody line and play that same part on guitar in tandem. This adds an urgency to the track as well as an air of unpredictability.

"Oh Lord" sets the mood with beat-box percussion and overall spacious ambience, while the vocals are delivered in a sensual, babydoll manner. The two word, title chorus conveys a universal message of lust fulfilled.

Unafraid to take on controversial subject matter, “Honor Killer” takes less than two minutes to make its point. With the singer putting themselves in the position of an oppressed individual subjected to ancient cultural customs, “shoot me, hang me – come and get me” is the defiant plea.

“Awake” displays a somewhat bigger studio production, with layered vocals coming from multiple directions across the stereo field.  Speedy tempo changes suddenly drop out in favor of calmer Sonic Youth-like plateaus.

“Bone Density” presents delightfully playful percussion elements.  Hollow sounding “talking drums” share space with rim-shot clacks, the sound of ripping paper and the shaking of a tic-tac box.  The subject matter references our confrontation of and ultimate dealing with the illness of a loved one.

“Texas Stampede” is the records (and live shows) balls-out rave-up.  A frenzied vocal delivery has Alyse caterwauling “where were you!?!,” with additional unique lyrical imagery referencing a “quadriplegic falling to my knees” and the universal plea of “let me fall in love with something.”

“Wake Up” clocks in as the longest song on the record (a whopping 3:40) and finds the vocal melody line locked in closer tandem to the overall rhythm.  The curious, repeated lyric “I’d rather leave than try to” precludes a more easily recognized “I will break your heart” statement.

An unexpected surprise (so deep into the album) is the electronic pulsed “Canyon.”  With brass-wave synth throbs that one might justifiably accuse Goldfrapp of having previously borrowed from David Bowie and Iggy Pop (circa “The Idiot”) Alyse measures her vocal output with appropriate pace.

Hollow Cave closes the record out with a solo acoustic guitar driven performance from Alyse.  The song title references pain one feels when looking into the eyes of a loved one who is suffering. An added layer of electric guitar and glockenspiel provides just enough texture to underscore the emotion conveyed.

To find out about and hear more of EULA, follow these links:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Thlyds-Thalidomidas Touch - Album Review

Fresh from Britain comes a new punk band dubbed The Thlyds, and their debut album "Thalidomidas Touch." Presenting their "art" with the same sneer and bile as fellow Brit innovator Johnny Rotten before them, The Thlyds take their "class warfare" even further with a no punches held attitude.

The thing about The Thlyds is - they actually DO rock. "Clever Stuff Is Stupid" is chanty but synth buzzing with a clap-trappy backbeat. "The True Price Of Kent" rides along bright tambourine and arena-rock guitar stylings as those annoying (but sometimes neccessary) "journalists" are called out for the bloated, pompous good-for-nothing waste-of-spaces they are. "Bored" comes on even more guitar crunchy, with organ accompaniment filling out the melody line. It's quite the toe-tapper as lead vocalist (and mastermind) Thorton Halfwit sings about "stealin', drinkin' and tearing posters down" in a town that simply fails to stimulate. The fact that he's "probably got depression as well" can't take away from what will clearly be a communal sing-along song!

"Burn England" weaves synths and sirens together with the classically lyrical "travelogue" song (think legendary tunes like "Route 66") as Thorton and his band (featuring Bog Standarrd on drum machine) take you on a tour of English cities. "Song About When Lewis Met His Real Dad" (band guitarist Lewis Drebb) combines chugging guitar with an infectious (nay, make that infected) dance beat that's sure to have your booty shaking. The fact that the lyrics are so sad - Lewis's dad doesn't want anything to do with him, you see - still can't bring down this party raver. "I don't love you, I don't need you - I never wanted to bathe or feed you" is how the gentle refrain goes.

Following that comes without a doubt the tenderest love song on the album. Featuring the guest vocals of none other than the celebrated Karen Condom on "I Fingered You." Among her many contributions to this lovely duet, the explaination that " you said you was in a band, and you held my hand," provides more than enough reason for this act. Any subsequent references to "rage and pain" can only come from the fact that "heyyyy baby - it didn't mean a thing." "I put a heart round your name on my pencil case" is how the love begins "but then I took it away and put a knife in it's place" is sadly, how so often relationships sour in these modern times.

Songs referencing the British Queen and reasons for not seeking "traditional" employment are covered as well. Chugging, crunchy guitars are particularly tasty on the "Queen" track, while calypso rhythms and synth twiddles permeate the "bentest" grooves of "If I Wanted A Job."

The timely and oh so topical "Let's Have a Riot At the Olympics" present it's on-point message, while smoking hot lead guitar riffs burn throughout.

Check out that track and it's accompanying video here:

"Filler Track" takes the blues format to new soaring heights, as a scathing lyrical rebuttal to record company demands. Insisting on an album that was "longer" ("make this right, not wrong-er") Thornton looped-and free associated a "lyrical flow" that (as he so accurately declares) is "shit hot - it don't stop - till I reach the top" and that "it don't get no ill'er."

The album closes with a 7 minute epic "This Town (Song for Karen)," which presents the sobering realiztion that "love is for losers" and "nobody loves us" so why not "lie in the gutter and look at each other?" Despite what some might perceive as "negative" lyrcial content, the uplifting melody and triumpant rally-cry chorus is sweepingly grand. After all, who can deny the reckless abandon of young lovers who declare "let's go driving - let's get arrested. Let's give each other chlamydia and never bother to get tested!" This kind of "go for it" spirit gives hope to every hard luck kid that ever had to "burn down" their town to feel alive!

Find more about this breakthrough band and how to order the album at these links: