August 28, 2008

Interview: Pete Green

Pete Green is an acoustic singer-songwriter operating from Sheffield, who seems to be comfortably at home in the UK indiepop circuit. The love is clearly going both ways. His first single Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Sparkly was released last year on Atomic Beat Records, and his new EP Platform Zero is on the verge of being released on Lostmusic Records. I had the pleasure to ask the enthusiastic singer some questions.

Hello Pete! Very quickly, for those who don't know you yet: can you give us a brief history of Pete Green?

Hello Dennis, hello everyone! Right, well, I was born just as Grimsby Town were about to win the fourth division championship, which makes me dead old, and formed my first band 15 years later when some boys from the year above at school knocked on my door with quiffs and guitars and Smiths T-shirts. I was in a really good band called The Regulars when I lived in Birmingham, where I also ate my first vindaloo, and when we split up in 2002 I started playing a few solo gigs but nobody really noticed. Then I moved to Sheffield in 2004 and my entire life has been chuffing brilliant ever since. I'm enormously grateful to Sam Metcalf for giving me some gigs in Nottingham and to Marianthi, Christos and Andy at Atomic Beat for putting my single out last year - without these beautiful people I might still have just been playing songs to my cat.

You've recently formed a band again, The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut. How and why did you get the band together? Is it 'just' your backing band, or can we expect you to work together creatively as well?

Well, it's much more fun playing popshows with a band than on your own, cos you get to move about and stuff! So I'd always really wanted to play in a band again. But the real reason the Juggernaut formed is that I thought of the name when I was drunk and decided it was brilliant. Ten minutes later I bumped into Dan at a gig and Dan had already offered to play bass if I started a band, so I said: "Yeah, let's do it, cos I've thought of a brilliant name! You're my best mate you are, I bloody love you." Then we poached Rob when Monkey Swallows the Universe split up. I do like to let things just fall into place rather than go chasing around, but you have to move quickly when you want a drummer. It's about the only time I've moved quickly in my whole life. Dan and Rob are a really creative rhythm section - definitely more than just a backing band. The parts they've come up with seem to breathe new life into my old songs. I feel deeply excited to think about the new stuff we're gonna work on together. And I've told them they should feel free to suggest anything at all when we're arranging a song. I hope they're not too shy to take me up on it.

Your new EP Platform Zero is released as Pete Green, without the band. Can you tell us a bit about the recordings on it?

Yeah, this record came along just slightly too soon for the band, sadly. I recorded three of the songs in Stoke back in the spring, with Pete Bowers from the mighty Horowitz doing the twiddly producery thing. Let It Go By was the odd one out, which I recorded myself at home beforehand. I find home recording such a massive hassle though, and studios are so expensive and make me too nervous to sing well, so doing it at Pete's was the perfect solution. I love the sound he's achieved on the EP, especially on my guitar. And it all came very naturally, probably cos it was so relaxed an environment. There was always a cup of tea on the go, and in between takes we nipped downstairs to check the football scores on Ceefax and Pete cooked some pasta. He really is the loveliest man in pop.

In the song Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves you strongly criticise the NME awards. It starts: "I was 21 when I last bought the NME". Do you remember why you lost interest?

I think it was when they started inventing scenes that didn't exist. You know, that whole 'new wave of new wave' thing. And 'romo'. What was that all about? It just seemed to be getting really daft, and cliquey and self-referential. Compared with the crimes of the current NME, that all seems quite trivial, doesn't it? It's ironic really. If they were to suddenly climb back out from up the arse of the Industry and start giving a shit about music again, and just be daft and cliquey and self-referential, then I'd probably start buying it again.

Was there one specific band or artist that made you rethink music when you were younger?

Originally it was The Smiths. Predictable, eh? I didn't know indie existed before The Smiths. The only popmusic I knew in the mid-80s was the top 40, so it didn't mean a lot to me. And then when I heard The Smiths I realised that popmusic didn't have to be so phoney and cynical and impersonal and self-important... everyone has their own version of this story already though, don't they? And mine doesn't add anything new. But I've rethought music again and again since and realised lots of other, equally important things - like you don't need big labels, promoters or media that are driven by profit, and you're better with ones that people have started up for themselves, driven by love. But it wasn't a specific band or artist that made me see this - it was the indiepop underground as a whole. Which is fitting, because the movement as a whole is much more important than any individual band or artist.

If you could go back in time, take one song and bring it back as your own, which one would that be?

Oooh, this changes all the time! At the moment it's Shimmer by The Flatmates, which I've sort of rediscovered lately. I first heard it when I was 16 or something and completely fell in love. The feedback and the buildy-uppy intro, the dirty guitar and scratchy production, the brilliant stark restraint of the snare drum, lifting and releasing the whole thing, and a fantastically catchy melody and most of all the way it's sung, which sounds moonlit and glamorous and forlorn and defiant all at once. I love that kind of girl vocal more than anything. When Debbie sings "so laugh it off and turn away" it still makes me shiver and thrill like it did all those years ago. I guess if I were doing the time machine thing and nicking it, I'd need to change into a girl as well to be able to sing it properly. But, y'know, I think I could cope with that.

You seem to be completely integrated in the indiepop scene, while technically if we would want to put a label on you it would be 'singer-songwriter'. In Happy Being Me you sing: "The scenes can fit around me and I'm happy being me." Do you ever feel like an outsider?

Kind of. I'm not really part of the Sheffield music scene - there's an inner circle I don't belong to. And I'm always the odd one out if I play solo with other acoustic acts, getting looked at like something they've just wiped off their shoe. The indiepop scene makes me feel very happy and relaxed but even at Indietracks I struggled to get into the partying and stuff, for some reason. While the Bubblegum Killers were playing my record I was wandering around the edge of the site looking for a place to sit and think on my own for a bit. So maybe it's partly by choice, cos I need a lot of time on my own. Some of the happiest moments of my whole life - I mean the real, transcendent moments of total heavenly bliss - have been on the dancefloor at Offbeat but some have been when I've just been sitting in a pub on my own or walking along Cleethorpes beach. And Happy Being Me is actually a song about one of the great things that happen when you're growing older - which is no longer being all hamstrung by insecurity and shyness and "am I doing it right, am I saying the right things, am I wearing the right things?" like when you're 16 and you first start going to gigs and stuff. When you mature a bit, and realise who you are and what you're about, you're not bothered whether you're an outsider or not. It's more important that you're you. So I suddenly realised quite recently that I can actually be the one who decides what those 'right things' are now. It was a big revelation, and a liberation.

If you see someone like Kate Perry at number one in the UK charts, does this still trigger some sort of emotion in you, or are you at peace with the fact that most people apparently don't care about music the same way you do?

I'm not bothered any more really. There's no point getting your knickers in a twist about the charts. Industry music is no more relevant to the indiepop movement than Baroque chamber music or horse racing. What we do and where we are now is wonderful and I'm just about completely joyous about the whole thing. I guess it'd be nice if indiepop were a little bit bigger in the UK, so that when I put a gig on I could be sure of paying the bands a decent whack every time, and so I could go and play in faraway places like Exeter and Cardiff and Edinburgh where I've never played before, and be sure of earning enough to cover the train fares. But not too much bigger, because it's just wonderful as it is. And being able to hop on a train and play a popshow to a few people in Derby or London or Stoke, drink some beer, crash on a sofa, and hop on another train the next day - this is my idea of success. It's what I've wanted since I first picked up a guitar 20 years ago. And it makes me outrageously happy, happier than I used to think I'd ever be in my whole life. We've got a beautiful scene with everything we need. So I'm completely at peace with that. Especially if everyone keeps telling me I'm brilliant.

Any chance we'll see you perform outside the UK one day?

I am not much of an international traveller, cos I'm scared of flying - but I'd love to play abroad. Maybe I should start with France, cos then I could go by train! But if somebody asked me to play in Scandinavia or the USA or something, and it was do-able without losing gajillions of pounds, then I would totally overcome my fear. Even if it meant having to drink loads of beer and get drunk so I just sleep through the flight, well, that's a sacrifice I'd be prepared to make.

What's next? Can we expect an album, perhaps?

Maybe! Right now I'm recording five songs with the band and I'm not sure what we're doing with them yet. We're touring in September when Platform Zero comes out, but then I have to stop gigging for a little while towards the end of this year cos me and my girlfriend are having a baby. Eeeeeee! I'll be back in the spring - right now I'm not planning any further ahead than that, but I'd like to do some kind of Juggernaut release next year and an album would be lovely. The little DIY indiepop labels aren't very keen on albums though... so if the big boss man at Rough Trade is reading, do give me a shout!

Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks for giving me the chance to talk about myself, Dennis!

No, thank you Pete, and congratulations on becoming a father! Also: don't forget that you can easily reach The Netherlands by train or car as well.

Visit Pete's website
Buy the Platform Zero EP at Lostmusic Records
Preview the Platform Zero EP at Last.FM
Buy the Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Sparkly single at Atomic Beat Records

Download (Mediafire)
1. Pete Green - Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves

Or get the free MP3 straight from the Lostmusic website.

August 19, 2008

Undercover poplover, part 4

Let's do some more covers. They might not always win a prize for innovation, but you can't say that listening to Colin Clary doing his best Ritchie Valens impersonation, seeing Glo-Worm having a try at The Cure or hearing The Softies make Rick Astley almost acceptable isn't fun.

And fun, isn't that what good pop music is all about?

Download (Mediafire)
1. The Softies - Together forever
2. Glo-Worm - Friday I'm in love
3. Colin Clary - Donna

August 17, 2008


Fishboy are a four-piece from Denton, Texas fronted by singer Eric Michener. They make delightful indiepop that to my ears sounds somewhat like an ecstatic mix of Neutral Milk Hotel and Tullycraft. Or, as the band puts it on their website, a sound that:

"...meshes the band’s lo-fi twee pop roots with a loud, energetic rhythm section topped with the occasional horn, piano, or organ, the result of which is somewhere along the lines of fellow Texans Daniel Johnston and Britt Daniel (Spoon) joining the Danielson Famile to play for Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and Daniel Day Lewis (moustache) as they both drink Jack Daniels on a Sunday afternoon."

Hard to argue with that!

If that desciption confuses you, just filter out the hidden message: they sound great. This is music that will make you feel happy.

Their latest album Albatross: How We Failed To Save The Lone Star State With The Power Of Rock And Roll is available at Happy Happy Birthday To Me.

Download (right click, save as)
Parachute (Using the ghost of Buddy Holly as a)
Taqueria girl
Half time at the proper name spelling bee

August 12, 2008

The fourth estate?

So, interviews then. If you've glanced at this website every now and then you'll have noticed that first there weren't any, and now there are. This is due to a combination of two factors:

1. In researching the bands I'd like to write about, I often find that the information available is close to zero. So if it's not there yet, why not find out for myself?

2. The big fanzine revival of 2008 reminded me how easy and fun it is to just get in touch with our pop heroes and ask them everything you want to know.

I'll never be a brilliant journalist but it feels nice to add some more unique content to this weblog, don't you think? If you can't play music, you write about it, and if you can't write about it you pretend you can.

And here I am. Expect more of it!

August 11, 2008

Interview: The Cuties

...And suddenly to my big surprise there were The Cuties. That surprise had not so much to do with the fact that these four girls were making pretty music; that's quite normal in indiepopland. But they're Dutch! A girlgroup from my own tiny country making the kind of music I've been loving for so long? Sadly, that's completely unique. Luckily it doesn't end with just that silly bit of chauvinistic pride, because it turns out their album Ah-Ah-Aah is a very tasty slice of pop. It's high time we get to know these girls a little bit better.

Hello Cuties! Can you give us a quick introduction of yourselves?

We are The Cuties, an all-girl-indieband from the Netherlands.

Indiepop is as good as nonexistent as a genre in the Netherlands. What inspired you to make this kind of music? Or did this sound come to you naturally?

Wendy and Maaike were already friends when they went to a concert of the All Girl Summer Fun Band and thought: hey, we can do that too! They wanted to make nice songs for their own pleasure. Writing songs about things they liked, the sound developed into the sound you hear now.

Internationally you fit in perfectly with great bands like The Smittens, A Smile And A Ribbon, The Besties and many other bands. Are you aware of, and do you feel part of any scene at all?

We never wanted to be part of any particular scene, but it certainly is an inspiration for us. We don't really compare ourselves with other bands, so we don't feel part of the indie scene I guess.

Who are The Cuties when you're not busy being The Cuties?

Anne is a hot schoolteacher and wants to be a journalist in the nearby future.
Maaike is a sexy psychiatrist, but wants to be a schoolteacher.
Wendy is a foxy postgirl and is learning to be an educationist.
Alicia is a fancy chef in a fancy restaurant and is learning to be a movie director.
(This is all true!)

Your album was released by Living Room Records in the Netherlands and distributed by Rough Trade in the UK but as far as I'm aware you haven't been playing any shows yet overseas. Is this going to change soon?

The thing with England is: you don't get payed to play there. We sure want to play there, no doubt about it, but we're not rich you know. How did the Spice Girls do that?

If you had a time machine, where and when would you travel?

Japan. Right now.

I just read that Living Room Records has called it quits. Bad news, or do you think there will be other labels standing in line for you?

Well, to record an album and have it released at a label such as LVR was a very good experience. They really 'discovered' us and without them we couldn't be where we are now. At the moment we're not really searching for a new label. We're still trying to sell our first album and LVR will continue their support in this. We'll just see what the future brings for us.

You deliberately chose a small independent label for your first release. What are your ambitions for the band?

Our ambition in the nearby future is to make a lot of new songs, so we'll have a lot of material to choose from, record them, world domination and eventually world peace.

What has been the biggest highlight for the band this year?

The release of our first album and Maaike's baby getting born. We're all godmothers.

There's been some high profile mainstream press attention in The Netherlands. Are you celebrities now?

No. But we're working on it. We're talking to Playboy and Phil Collins' people.

What can we expect of you next?

Alicia's public 'coming out', a videoclip for the song Ugly Boy and some new hits.

Thank you Cuties, for your time and for the music!

The Cuties website
The Cuties myspace
Living Room Records

Download (right click, save as)
The Cuties - Ugly boy

August 08, 2008

The Tartans

The Tartans are a new band from Los Angeles with two great 7" singles out at almost the same time right now: My baby doesn't care for you on Cloudberry and Cats of Camerford on Yay! Records. The four Tartans play catchy jangle pop in classic indiepop style with boy and girl vocals. Indeed, nothing extremely groundbreaking, but who cares a lot about that? It's summertime and The Tartans are fun!

August 07, 2008

Darkness on the edge of town

I was having lunch but I could have sworn it was nighttime when I looked outside. Complete darkness like the sun didn't exist in our galaxy. Summertime in the Netherlands! Then, lightning everywhere and the loudest thunder ever followed by rain showers of biblical proportions. I didn't bring a coat to work this morning. It seemed nice out...

I shouldn't complain too much: only yesterday I was burning on the beach.

August 06, 2008

Interview: Catwalk

Catwalk might be my favourite musical discovery of this year. They've released two 7 inches so far: one in 2007 and one in 2008, both on the Yay! label. Both singles are fantastic. Information about this Oxnard, California trio was hard to find, so I thought I'd ask frontman Nick Hessler some questions myself.

Nick, you’re the only one who plays on both singles. Is Catwalk intended as a band, or as a sort of solo project with an often changing line-up?

Although Catwalk is my main project, it has always been a band. The reasons behind our frequent line-up changes consist mainly of a lack of interest, communication, etc. It feels like we’ve been through so many line-up changes, but we really haven’t. It just feels that way because there are periods where we’re active as a band, then we take some time off for various reasons and things change. Our current drummer, Robert, has been the second most consistent member besides myself. There was only one point in time when he wasn’t our drummer and that was only for a short while. He’s been with me since the beginning and was in the group once again shortly after our second 7 inch was released.

Can you give us a short history of the band so far?

Catwalk is a story of highs, lows and line-up changes. I started the group during the summer of 2005. I had received a four-track cassette recorder the previous Christmas and began writing/recording my own songs after I purchased a guitar for $20. At first it never occurred to me to start my own band to help flesh out the songs, as writing and recording was just something I sunk deeper and deeper into doing. Once I realized I wanted to start a band and take things more seriously, I began to consider who could help me along this journey.

Robert was the first person who came to mind to play drums, as I’d been acquainted with him for some time. There used to be quite a few shows in the area and that’s where I got to know him. Usually the bands were bad and when they were, we’d go outside and talk about starting a band. After he said he’d play, he told me about a girl he went to school with named Diana who played guitar. I figured if she can play guitar, she wouldn’t have too much trouble learning bass. I met her, she learned some songs I had at the time and that was the beginning of Catwalk.

After playing together as a three-piece for about a year, things weren’t working out and we decided we needed to find a new bass player. During this time, I had also been playing drums and bass in another band called WNDRKND, and that’s where I met John Knestaut. Not only did he play well, but he was one of the only people I knew that played bass, guitar and keyboards, so I asked if he had any interest in joining the group. He joined and things worked out well for about a year and a half and within that time, we released our first 7 inch off Yay! Records.

For a few months, the band wasn’t very active and I considered a whole new line-up to compensate for my loss of direction. I felt things were falling apart and I had to pick up the pieces before the band was almost non-existent. During this period, I thought perhaps a new drummer would help things fall into place. Cris is Eric Bello’s (founder of Yay! Records) brother and was Maria’s drummer for a few years. Since he hadn’t been in a band for some time, he joined Catwalk and was around during the recording of our second 7 inch. In respect, we let John go not too long after Cris joined, as he wanted to pursue school and other things... Once again, we found ourselves looking for a bassist a third time. I met Kristina Maples my freshman year of high school in an art class and later found out she was dating a friend of my brother’s. I got to know her and found out she could play guitar/bass. When the opportunity arose, I asked her about playing with us and she was very enthusiastic. At this point, my spirits were high and I felt the best thing to do would be to get Robert back.

With this current line-up, I’m beginning to feel more and more like we can accomplish anything we want, in terms of music. We’ve been taking our time with achieving a good foundation and I’m really confident with what is to come in the near future. We’re currently working with my brother K.C. as a second guitarist to fill in the blanks and help with our live sound. Very excited!
Hope this suits a “short” bio!

Are you spending a lot of time being Catwalk? Do you play shows often?

I spend about 75% of my time on writing and recording material for Catwalk. We haven’t been playing shows lately because we’re working on new material and rehearsing with a new guitarist. When it comes to performing, we like to take our time with things as we’ve had a handful of shows that didn’t quite go as planned. Unfortunately, our absence leads people to believe we’re no longer a band. Not the case! We should be out conquering the world within the next few months.

How do you come up with new songs? Is it a team effort or do you write alone?

All the material so far I’ve written the parts for myself. It was never a set rule, that’s just how it’s been so far. We have so many unfinished songs that I’d like to get those out of the way as best as we can before working on newer material as a group. Certainly if ideas arise, we’ll work as a group.

Primarily, I write songs the same way most songwriters do. Although it’s different almost every time, an idea will initially be played on a single instrument, usually guitar or organ. Depending on how many parts I’ve come up with and how complete the song is, I’ll program a drum beat and record a rough demo to have some sort of reference and foundation. This way I can hear the song as a whole and then begin the shaping from there. At this point, melodies develop (but not always), changes are made with the bass and drums lines, etc. With the way I write, the music and lyrics are two different processes I work from. I usually have lyrics written that I bring to the completed song and see what does and doesn’t work, although there have been times when the lyrics have been written on the spot to suit the melody I have in mind. But as I said, it’s different every time!

What would you call your biggest musical influences, and what are current bands you like?

So many things play a role in influence. I wouldn’t say they’re the biggest, but musically I have a lot of respect for The Cure because they’ve achieved a position in which they can play any kind of music that pleases them and it’s been successful. Currently, I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic/dance music and “High Ball Me!” by Moose.

"Bringing the fun back in pop!", is what the YAY! label aims for according to their website.
Is it fun being an indiepop band in this time?

To be honest, I’ve never seen Catwalk as an indiepop/twee band. But I think that because we’re on a label that primarily releases that kind of music and maintains the concept, it’s hard for us not be associated with the whole thing. Essentially what makes us a “pop” band is that our music isn’t targeted at any specific group and is intended to appeal to a wide audience. What kind of band we’re aspiring to be, I’m not sure but I’m okay with that.
I’ll answer the question regarding our current status. It’s been very fun and generally we get lots of support. When we want to take time off, we can. When we want to play a show, Eric will set one up. Eric has been so faithful and supportive to us, it’s almost easy being a band no one’s really heard of! Our music never would’ve been heard outside Ventura County if hadn’t been for him. So being a band on an independent label gives us the freedom of doing whatever pleases us.

What level of ambition does the band have? Are you secretly dreaming of bigger success, or are you happy with the relatively small scale things are happening on right now?

Of course we dream of bigger success! I’m hoping that somehow being on an indie label will help us climb to being recognized by a major record label of some sort. I think that’s why some bands release their music through indie labels, to become successful by developing a large, devoted fan base and then attracting the attention of a major label. An indie label gives you more opportunities to get yourself heard than if you were a band financing your own way. I am however happy with the support we’ve got from around the world, just as long as people are listening!

Can you describe the Oxnard music scene?

I’d say Ventura, which is the next city over, has more of a scene than Oxnard. I wouldn’t say there aren’t bands because there certainly are, but there just isn’t much happening it seems because there really aren’t many places to play around here. Besides a few cafes and record shops, there’s only one music venue for the “bigger” acts, but unfortunately we locals can’t all be Snoop Dogg. There is only a small handful of places to play in Oxnard, and most of the bands that play are either from Ventura or are out-of-state bands on tour. They all come and go, but Oxnard has never been short of punk and metal bands and the same with Ventura. There has been some “60’s revival” psychedelic music coming from the surrounding areas this past year or so, as well as singer-songwriter type musicians. I’m also aware that there is a large underground hip-hop scene here, but I’m not too familiar with that.

2007 and 2008 have been pretty good years for indiepop, with lots of small labels popping up worldwide, giving many bands the chance for a release. Do you feel part of a bigger pop scene outside the local Oxnard scene? Are you aware of what’s happening in Europe for example?

I do feel we’re more known elsewhere. There aren’t too many ways for people to find out about us around here because there’s nowhere to play really. Eric has told me a lot about what’s been happening in other parts of the world, so I do have some knowledge of it. He’s told me more people mostly buy Yay! records everywhere else but here. I know he has struggled to get things in gear here in southern California because it’s been so much easier everywhere else. I really wish I knew why it’s so difficult here, besides the fact that a new venue here never survives longer than a few months. I’m not even sure how much promotion in record stores would help. But I’m really not that hopeless. I know of a few groups here that are changing the pace of things, and one is actually fronted by a good friend of mine with whom I often collaborate (LSD), Love’s Secret Domain and ZealBound.

What was the first record you bought as a child and what was the first concert you attended?

I can’t remember the first record I bought, but I remember listening to some Tom Petty and Iron Butterfly records my mom had. When I was very young, I was often around 50’s and 60’s pop and country music from my mom. The first concert I attended was some large orchestral benefit concert, I believe.

Do you have a preference for vinyl personally as well, or is it just the label that chose to release vinyl only?

I’d like for Catwalk to release CD’s because not everyone has a record player. I do like vinyl, but not my preference.

So far you've released two singles on the YAY! label. What can we expect from Catwalk in the future?

Possibly another 7 inch record or two, and then hopefully a full-length album. We have well over 100 unfinished and unheard songs so there’s plenty to expect! We have plenty of material for a few albums, but we want to take our time piecing it together. It’s also possible a west coast tour will follow our next release, and then the full-length. Chances are once we’ve tightened up with our new guitarist and start playing live again, we’ll start recording the next single. So keep your ears open because we haven’t even started this journey!

Thank you Nick, I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more from Catwalk!

Catwalk website
Catwalk myspace
Yay! label