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Blogathon: Inform – Educate – Excite Us With Tidbits About New Material: Public Service Broadcasting Interview

31 Jan

PSB Interview

If you’ve been wondering where we’ve been for the last hour or so of the Blogathon, don’t worry, we haven’t sacked it off in favour of falling asleep on the sofa with Bargain Hunt on in the background. We’ve actually been chatting away with one of our favourite people and all round good egg, Mr. J. Willgoose, Esq or the wonderful Public Service Broadcasting

Unusually for PSB, Mr. J. was not out and about touring the country or beyond so he vey kindly offered to give up some of his writing time to chat to us about the year he has just had and what he has planned for the future, all in support of Blogathon.

Told you he was a good egg. Here’s the chat we just had.

Alphabet Bands: Mr J. How are you Sir?

J. Willgoose, Esq: Very well thanks

Jolly good, and where in the world are you at the moment?

I am in my kitchen, which is something of a novelty

I expect it is given the amount of touring you did last year. How does it feel to be home?

Very nice, thanks! We’re gearing up for our month in America but it’s been nice to spend a bit of time at home for a change

You’ve been to the States before yes? How was it? Suitably exciting that you are heading back I see.

Yes, we went over for CMJ in October. We played 3 shows, one of which wasn’t much fun, one of which was chaotic but fun, and one of which was good fun and seen by some good people.. so it was a good mix.

So pretty much the Goldilocks experience then? Are you over for SXSW this time or is this a full on PSB tour?

Well, I should say it’s all dependent on getting visas, which with a shady character like Wriggles on board is not going to be plain sailing. I’m not even sure his family know his first name. But yes we’re doing a west coast run, Chicago, Toronto, then east coast and then down to Texas via Georgia.
I am fully expecting SXSW to be full of lots of big time charlies, but hopefully there’ll be some nice people there. I think there’s an attitude amongst certain bands that if you’re playing there, you’re kind of a big deal, which is an attitude we run a million miles from. But it should still be an interesting one

Yes, you do a very nice line is self-depreciation which has been evident in live shows before. I saw that your stage set-up expanded towards the end of last year. Are you tempted to go even bigger for America? They don’t do ‘small’ over there really.

Tempted, yes, but we’re starting from square one over there so on a practical level there just wouldn’t be room for it. And on an even more practical level, we can’t afford to ship it all out there! It’s going to be a bit of a step back in time for us though to early last year when we were on the Signal 30 tour, pre-album, and being provided with fitted (elasticated) bedsheets to use as projector screens. Although I do expect American venues to be run a lot better than some of the ones over here!

Given the number of shows you did last year, you must have seen practically every small to medium sized venue in the UK! Aside from Norwich (of course) were there any particular standouts?

Ha – it’s quite hard to remember them all to be honest! My other half is always telling me I should keep a diary, which I always agree with and then always fail to. Off the very top of my head though we loved the crowds and the venue down in Exeter, the Phoenix… and the Railway in Winchester was a good old-fashioned sweatbox to start the year off.

Oh and the show we did at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal was good fun – a nice local crew there, and it’s where we met our soundman Rob (better known as Bobby Goldenears), so it’s full of fond memories for us all

How about the show with New Order? Was it a surprise to be asked to play with them?

If you’re talking overall highlights.. well, the above, plus our show at The Forum, plus supporting New Order & the Manics… plus Glastonbury… they were all pretty special. And yes, it’s always a surprise being asked to play with a band you have that much respect for. It’s pretty much the best feeling I think you can have, in any profession – peer validation, in a way. If people who you respect for what they do seem to feel the same way about you then it is immensely satisfying. Plus more than a little odd!

Speaking of odd… How did the BBC F1 link come about? It looked amazing and I must confess, I was very pleased and proud to see you guys doing it. How did you feel when you were asked and then when you saw it back?

Ha, thanks.. It just came up as quite a late possibility towards the start of our November tour. I think the guys behind the video had thought about booking deadmaus, but that wasn’t happening, so we were naturally second in the queue! I have to be honest, as nice as everyone on the shoot was and as amazing exposure as it was, it is incredibly boring playing the same minute and a half of a song for 7 hours or so, so by the time we’d finished filming I was ready never to hear it again. Then we were driving back from our show in the Netherlands that Sunday and started to see Twitter going bonkers, and that’s when it kind of hit us. I think it’s very easy to get used to a certain level of exposure and start taking it for granted, or just to get wrapped up in the detail (as per the filming) and forget how ridiculous, and great, the last year has been, on many levels.

Oh and I can’t comment on that F1 video without thanking the guys at Intro and the beeb who actually edited the song – it wasn’t our work to put the samples on it, they did all the hard stuff and we just moaned about standing around in corduroy all day!

Wriggles doesn’t do stairs any more, too – he’s gone a bit Mariah on us

Hahaha. When he starts asking for all the brown M&M’s to be taken out, you know it’s time to get Wriggles III in…

Ha. Yeah, we’re keeping tabs on the situation..

I’m glad you mentioned the Netherlands (as well as your stellar 2013) as you took us all by surprise with the release of the two Elfstedentocht tunes. How much fun was that to do?

It was nice, actually – great to do something on a bit of a tangent. I think most people appreciated that we were keen to explore other areas and broaden the net a bit, which was good. I was slightly worried that people would think we’d gone totally bonkers. It didn’t stop several people missing the point entirely (the Guardian’s review of our Forum show being a prime example) but it was just good to get some new material into the live set.

Hmmm, the Guardian has a habit of missing the point when it comes to you, in my opinion, but they are quite nice with it I suppose…

Yeah, they’ve said some nice things, but quite a few different people write for them so you’re bound to get a bit of a mixed bag of opinions there

Very true. I can only blame myself sadly… Ok, new material.
I know I cannot ask what it is but how is it going? Are you working on a new album?

Ha. I have trained you well sir! And I am going to answer the second question first, and with a question of my own. If I said it was likely to be c.30 minutes long and 7-8 tracks, what would you say that was?
An EP? An album? A mini-album?

EP I would say. Though others may disagree.

I’d say mini-album. It’s not going to fit on a 10″, which instantly means it’s not an EP in my eyes
Although The War Room was a 12″.. so it’s hard to say

Yeah, I could be persuaded actually. 8 tracks too. Bit long for an EP

Maybe 7
Possibly 9
Actually no
It’s 7 or 8

So, some tracks then…

Yes. That much we know.
And I have demo’d about 4 of them now to a reasonable level, and started on the 5th today. It is a tough process as you’re continually battling against self-doubt, procrastination, self-loathing and other melodramatic emotions.. but I think I’m doing alright so far.

Aside from the inner demons, how has the process been? Have you found it easier to get samples? The BBC reduced their rate after the F1 appearance?

I’ve actually been working on this already for over a year – I think the first email I sent was just as I was finishing the album last January, and the BFI have again come up with the goods on a quite spectacular scale. I’ve also got some other sources on the go, so I’ve definitely got enough material, and it covers what I hoped it would. Now the challenge is to meld the material to the ideas I’ve been carrying in my head for the past year or so and tie the whole thing together so that it makes sense. I would say that the most likely first single is a bit of a departure. I played it to the Mrs the other day and she didn’t like it as she said it was too cheesy. She’s been wrong before though!

Hahahahaha. You’re not going all Euro Pop Guetta on us are you Sir? Pitbull on guest vocals?

Definitely not. It’s just quite.. er.. different, in terms of instrumentation. I think. I mean it might end up getting binned anyway, so I shouldn’t say too much. I think it’s good though.

What I will say is that it’s very incongruous.. deliberately so. It doesn’t match the subject matter in the way that you’d think it would. But that is the point, for me. I think we need to be brave in the way we develop things from here.

Sounds intriguing and quite exciting. Bravery is a good thing in music and should be applauded. Will there be other surprises? Any more foreign language tracks like Elfstedentocht?

There will be foreign language on some of it, but it’ll be interspersed with translations and other English commentary, I think. Unless I find something really good between now and later in the year!

Oooh, so multiple languages on one song then? Is that what you mean?

If by multiple you mean two, then yes!

Hahaha. I think that counts, maths was never my strong point…
So, any news on release times? Or is it far too early to be talking about that?

It’s not if you ask my management! We’re already well into 2015 in their eyes. I try to be a bit more realistic… but I hope there will at least be a single before the end of the year, if not the full thing proper.

Ahhh, so after a storming and prolific 2013, this year could be relatively quiet. Just a thousand gigs…

Ha, yes. We’ve still got a very full calendar – I’ve had to fight to reclaim some of it for writing too. Most of the focus for the first half of the year is on the US & Europe, with festivals and a small UK tour for later in the year.

Yes, I imagine writing on tour must be extremely difficult. Will we see you in Norwich before the year is out perhaps?

I’m not sure, sir. I can’t say for definite. When I say a small tour, I mean 5 or 6 dates, so the odds aren’t great. We’ll see though. I’ll always be up for a gig in Norwich personally, if it makes sense with the rest of our schedule.

Ahh right, that is small – especially by your standards. Ok, I don’t want to keep you from valuable writing time. Before we go, one last question on behalf of my Brother in Blogathon arms Breaking More Waves…

Do you ever get mistaken for the ‘other’ PSB, the Pet Shop Boys?

Ha! Not in person, no. On Twitter it’s more of an issue because our name is too long for Twitter, so we had to abbreviate it to PSB_HQ. But I don’t think anyone’s ever come to one of our gigs expecting to see the Pet Shop Boys. I hope not, anyway – on production values alone they’d be sorely disappointed!

The lack of silly hats… and Wriggles looks like he’s having far too much fun to pull off Moody & Aloof. I’m sure they’d still have a great time though.

I’ve never seen them myself, actually – I’d love to. Some classics in there!

Absolutely, I think it would be fantastic show. Well, you’ve played with New Order, perhaps they could be next. Tell your management to get on it, The PSB Squared Tour.

Ha. Consider that done, sir. Consider it done.

Can’t wait. Mr. J. Willgoose, Esq, thank you for your time today, I look forward to hearing the new material later this year, maybe next.

Thanks sir! Fingers crossed eh. Good luck with the blogathon too, a noble cause.

This post was written as part of a 24 Hour Sponsored Blogathon for Cancer Research. If you liked this post or just want to help support an important charity, please sponsor us. Just £1 can help make a difference. You can sponsor us here or by clicking the big button below. Thank you for your support.

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Blogathon: Breaking Bread with Breaking More Waves

31 Jan

As we nip away from the computer for a few moments to give our eyes a break and to grab something to eat (that’s totally allowed btw) we didn’t want to leave you without anything to read. So we had a bit of a chat with the founder of this madcap feast of blogging, the brains behind Blogathon and all round good egg, Robin Seamer.

Breaking More Waves2

For those of you who aren’t aware, Robin is editor of Breaking More Waves, a fully independent and unfunded new music blog from south-central UK and a purveyor of A.M.A.Z.I.N.G new music. He is also the man who came up with the idea to bog for 24 hours in the name of charity.

We spoke to him, digitally, about his site, his love of pop music, his reasons for blogging all night long, sexy songs and whether or not he is a robot (he’s not sure). Have a read, get to know Robin a little better, go sponsor him and we’ll see you after lunch.

Let’s start at the beginning. Breaking More Waves used to be a paper fanzine so for those of us who weren’t around at the start; can you tell us a bit about that? How long have you been writing, when you decided to move online and why?

The paper fanzine was called Breaking Waves and was first published way back in 1997 (showing my age here – I really am the oldest blogger in town / on the internet). The very first issue was 38 pages long and contained an 18 page review of Glastonbury Festival written in a diary style. Here’s some extracts from that review:

23.00 When Daft Punk take to the stage I am very glad that we have a small amount of water left in one of our bottles to drink as it has become incredibly packed and hot. Things I love about their set….the funky boys and girls in the audience, the mad woman climbing the scaffolding column at the end, my “I’m sorted for E’s stare even though the strongest thing I’ve had is a little bottle of beer.”

00.16 Tent. Cappuccinos. You know the score.

It’s fair to say that even back in 1997 I wasn’t your typical drug taking, get off your face festival goer and I’m still not now.

Anyway I pressed 100 copies of that first fanzine, sold them all and then went on to do a number of further issues. Issue 3 had a 16 page review of a compilation album called Snakebite City, which consisted of me and a friend reviewing every single song on the album whilst also reviewing alcopops at the same time. 1 song = 1 bottle of alcopop, My review of the last track (after a lot of drink simply read as follows: “What a crap name for a band – Spud. Sorry Spud if I was sober I’d give you a better mark for your song. 3/10.”

I moved on line for very simple reasons – it was easier and cheaper to produce (no printing) and you could reach more people. I also like the idea of being able to write something short and quick daily and then publish, whereas a 16 page review of a compilation album whilst drinking alcopops, whilst being a lot of fun, was very time consuming and having become a father as anyone with kids and a full time job knows, time is precious.

I am king of the procrastinators and can make one 300 word post last all night. You on the other hand often write a week worth of posts in one afternoon and I am extremely jealous of your ability to write so well, so quickly. What’s your secret?

I really don’t think I write well and there’s no secret. I just bash out the first thing that comes into my head. Bosh bosh bosh, done. I’m not a journalist so I don’t need to spend time perfecting my craft; a lot of my posts are more about trying to have a conversation with the reader. I guess because I spend a lot of my spare time thinking about music (I’m full of ever evolving and changing theories about pop) and talking to friends about music, when it comes to writing I already have lots of ideas in my head and they just spill out onto the screen. Not all of my posts are reviews as such, much of what I churn out is more the inner workings of my brain rather than critical appraisal or quality writing. There are also often within the text in jokes for friends and occasionally coded messages for certain readers who I know are reading, but nobody else will realise that. For example this post about one of those ‘mystery’ bands gave a very subtle clue as to the real identity of the mystery band. So subtle probably only the band themselves realised.

What I really like about your writing is how immediate it is; you can feel the strand going from the song, into your brain and out onto the page and it is always very positive. Have you ever been tempted to just tear into a song you didn’t like?

Not these days no. I’ve re-appraised criticism and have decided that as I have very little spare time I’d rather spend that spare time positively rather than wading in negativity. A lot of my day job is spent dealing with complaints and unbelievable levels of bureaucracy plus colleagues that I work with moaning and that can very easily bring you down. So in my spare time (not just the blog, but other aspects of my life away from work) I like to fill the air with positivity. Having said all that there are occasions when I’ll get a bit sarcastic on twitter about a terrible song, but it’s rare.

Have you always written in this conversational style or did you go through what’d I call a ‘Petridis Phase’ where reviews are practically dissertations with reference upon reference?

It’s mainly been conversational I think.

Where do you stand on the state of music criticism these days? Does such a thing even exist anymore?

For people who aren’t free time rich or don’t listen to music all day long it can be useful to read a few reviews by writers you trust to get an idea about an album you might be considering buying (that is if you buy albums of course rather than stream them). Also it can be useful to a band – a few good quotes can be nice for their promotional campaign for a record. However, there’s no doubt over the last 10 years music criticism has become of lesser value and to a certain extent I think its quality has deteriorated. Many reviews seem to be written in a homogenised house style these days and you get no sense of the person behind the review, therefore it makes it difficult to determine if the reviewer shares similar taste to you. Yes and I mean taste, I don’t think it’s truly possible to give an ‘objective review’. They’re dull. I’d rather read a review of someone with opinions and bias. Even if I don’t agree with the review I’ll have probably got some entertainment out of reading it and that means it wasn’t a waste of my time.

What tips would you give to anyone starting a new blog? Is there a code of etiquette we should be following?

If you want people to read your blog regularly you need to do something a little bit different as there’s already loads of them out there. So just posting a song up and writing ‘Cool jam’ won’t keep people coming back, no matter how good that jam is because one day you’ll post a jam that isn’t cool – even if you think it is.

Also do it regularly, make it a habit, even if it’s once a week or once a month – because it’s easy to get started but so many blogs don’t even make it past the first year. Oh and don’t worry about the hits. They’ll come with time.

Etiquette? Hmmm – well don’t post dodgy MP3’s for free download that you don’t have consent to post. Make sure you use a band’s official Soundcloud / Bandcamp or the like.

What other blogs do you read?

I’ve just recently reduced my RSS feed to just a few blogs, because I had so many that I couldn’t read them properly. So now I only subscribe to yours, Von Pip Musical Express and Just Music That I Like. However I’ll regularly dip into Crack In the Road, The Blue Walrus, Disco Naivete, Brighton Music Blog, The Metaphoric Boat, Daisy Digital, Sounds Good To Me Too, A New Band A Day and also Strong Island which isn’t a music blog as such but a brilliant and well respected culture blog for the city I live in (Portsmouth). Apart from Disco Naivete (which is from Belgium) they are all UK ones. Recently I’ve also started looking at Pigeons & Planes, Hilly Dilly and Oblivious Pop in the US a bit as I’ve noticed through Hype Machine that they post quite a lot of similar tracks to me.

Can you tell us about the Blog Sound Poll? Bands on the longlist this year seem to have been genuinely pleased and appreciative of the whole thing; where did the idea come from and how pleased are you with how it has grown over the years?

Basically the idea came from a conversation that myself, Andy Von Pip (Von Pip Musical Express) and Simon (Sweeping The Nation) had a few years ago about the BBC Sound Of List. Whilst I have a lot of respect for the BBC list in terms of promoting new music (I was asked to vote on it once myself) we felt that it didn’t necessarily represent the taste of music bloggers, so we thought we’d try an experiment to find out and created our own alternative Sound of poll which only asked music bloggers to vote. The first year the results were very different from the Sound Of list, the next year there was some similarity (Haim won both polls) and this year there was a lot of difference again, although some BBC nominated acts still made the Blog Sound list and this year one of the joint winners (Banks) came in the top 5 shortlist on the BBC poll.

I’m a massive statistics geek and so as the person who counts the votes I get a kick out of seeing how all the votes add up. I’m pleased it’s got a bit of recognition; just because it makes the time doing it seem worthwhile. I certainly had more music industry people contacting me after the longlist was announced to ask questions about it this year and the artists nominated seemed genuinely pleased which was nice. It was also nice to see some unsigned and independent bands get nominations on the list, rather than it just being full of major label plugged acts. The list isn’t about ‘what will be big in 2014’ it’s about ‘who do the most bloggers like’.

You include a good mix of the pretty much brand new or unknown as well as some quite buzzy acts. How do you choose what gets posted and what doesn’t?

Simple – just what I like the most that day and / or acts that I’m a fan of and want to support. I’d never post something just because it was buzzy and likewise I’d never post something just because it was obscure and nobody had written about it. I just post music I like.

Have you ever posted and effused about something that you’ve then gone back to and thought; this is just rubbish?

Yes. Loads! But pop music is all about relationships isn’t it and you can’t get it right every time. In fact that’s part of the fun. Like the boy or girl that you meet, fall instantly head over heels with, but a year later after countless arguments you wonder” what did I see in you in the first place.” It’s like that.

You don’t just write about music, you’re also a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition which requires you to listen to what, 100 new artists? How do you find the time?

I think it was 200 artists last year. A combination of good time management and lack of sleep. I’m doing it again this year.

On a similar note, you go to more gigs and festivals than practically anyone I know, often travelling quite far for them, how do you find the time?

Same answer as above. Lack of sleep. Also I’m lucky in that my day job has flexible working hours so if I’m going to a gig a distance away I can finish work early, come in a bit later the next day and catch up on my hours on quieter days. But generally lack of sleep. I’m hoping that will work to my advantage in this blogathon, I’m always constantly tired anyway, so a few more hours should make much difference should it?

What’s the furthest you’ve travelled for a gig and what was the most expensive?

For a single gig? Probably last year to see Girls Aloud in Glasgow (I live at the other end of the country in Portsmouth). But I do have friends there, so the trip was also to see them.

People talking at gigs are a nightmare as is the constant filming of shows on phones and tablets. What would you do to improve the gig going experience?

We gave some suggestions about talking at gigs here.

Phones and tablets are difficult to control. I don’t mind people taking a few snaps at the start of the show (I often do myself) is fine but it does get annoying when someone films the whole gig. I think it needs to be a combination of the venue, artist and audience themselves taking the responsibility to reduce the behaviour, but it’s hard – what is the right / acceptable level – and how do you actually enforce?

You’ve also offered large and long lasting support to a number of new acts, I can think of a couple in particular who no one but you was writing about to start with but who now have quite a following. Is there anyone out there you are particularly proud of discovering?

Alice Jemima. A completely random discovery who I started writing about before any other music blog and kept writing about until other people started to take notice – not just bloggers either. One of my favourite days of last year was when Alice got invited to record a BBC Radio 1 Session at Maida Vale which came about directly because of my blog. Alice was kind enough to invite me to attend the session with her and going to Maida Vale, which is so steeped in music history, was a huge thing for me. Then watching Alice absolutely nail one of her songs (When You Dance) pretty much first time at the session was an incredibly moving moment – I have to admit I shed a little tear and couldn’t speak (most unlike me) for a few minutes – the whole thing actually became quite overwhelming. Yeah I know I’m a lightweight, but it really was powerful stuff – which is the beauty of music isn’t it?

As a follow up to that, you don’t appear to rush to be first yet still manage to write about a lot of people before many of us have even heard of them. Where do you stand on the race to be first and is it actually important?

Yes and no. Here’s something else I wrote about that.

It’s probably fair to say that you favour female fronted synth/electro pop acts. Has that always been the case or have other genres had their moment in the sun? Have you ever had a death metal phase for example?

I do seem to the last few years don’t I? Well I’ve always liked electronic music (but then I like other instruments as well – I’m not a purist) and recently I just seem to find more female vocals move me than male ones. Can’t really explain why, that’s just the way it is. If you rummaged through my CD collection you’d be surprised though. I’m a music fan which means I love lots of music. From Aphex Twin to Abba. From My Bloody Valentine to Madonna. Not a huge metal fan though – that is one area that I’ve never really got anything from.

You talk about how sexy a song is quite a lot, more than me even, is that something you particularly look for in a tune or is that just one way music excites you?

It’s more than just if it’s sexy – for me there’s a huge comparison between human relationships and your relationship with music. Some music might be a one night stand shag against the wall, other music will be the stuff of marriage.

What’s the sexiest song you’ve ever heard?

Aaaarrrgggghhhh I don’t know. Ok off the top of my head here’s a few….

Slow by Kylie Minogue
Babies by Pulp (sort of sordid sexy – like many Pulp songs – I like that)
Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb (I find the woman’s voice on it quite sexy)
Pretty much anything by Giorgio Moroder

Of all the music bloggers I know, you are the most open about your love of pop music, I don’t think anyone else ever included Girls Aloud in an albums of the year countdown for example. Why do you think so many other writers shy away from it as a genre and why do you love it so much?

I guess they just don’t like pop music, or if they do don’t think its worthy enough to dedicate their words to. Actually I take that back – I’d argue that there’s been loads of writing about pop music with people expressing their love for it over the last few years. Lana Del Rey, Chvrches, Haim and Lorde are all artist producing pop music that I enjoy and have had plenty of column inches of praise.

Have you always been a music lover? What was the first record you bought?


Single – Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter Paul and Mary

Album – The Muppet Show album or The Smurfs album. (Can’t remember which came first)

I was very little when I bought these.

My first ‘proper’ purchase was XTC Senses Working Overtime

Ok, let’s talk favourites. What’s your favourite ever song?

I don’t have one. I’m a polygamist when it comes to music.

If you could be in one music video, which one would it be?

One with Nicola Roberts in it (just so I could be a fan boy and meet her. I know it’s wrong….but there you are.)

What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?

I’ve seen over 3000 bands live so again I’m a polygamist. I can’t choose 1 over all others.

Ok, a few sillies now. How do you know you’re not a robot?

Because I just Googled “Is Robin Seamer a robot” and it didn’t say I was. Mind you it didn’t say I wasn’t either. Oh, help!!! (Neither is Marina and the Diamonds by the way)

Do you like cooking or baking best?

Cooking. My two kids love baking so I leave that to them. Baking you have to be so precise with weights and measurements of everything, cooking’s a bit more flexible and that suits me

Who would win in a fight between Lion-o and He-man?

He-Man Lion-O

I actually have no idea what you’re talking about – is it a TV show (I watch very little TV) I just googled the question (because Google knows the answer to everything except if I’m a robot) and it comes up with this “He-man would win. Lion-O is just a boy in a man/lion body who needs his snarf. He-man has superior strength compared to Lion-o, better hand-to-hand combat experience, endurance, and speed” So there you are. Google has spoken.

What’s your favourite cheese?

I’m kind of a cheese polygamist as well – and it depends on the context of use (if I’m going to get a bit highbrow about cheese). But for the sake of giving an answer I do like a nice bit of really mature cheddar and also I’m a bit of a feta fan.

Before we go, let’s talk Blogathon. Where did the idea come from and what did your family say when you told them?

It originally came from the fact that my dad died a few years ago from cancer and I haven’t really done anything related to it. One day I was talking to my girlfriend about the fact that I’d really love to do something of real positive intent with the blog and the two ideas just gelled in my brain. My family just said “you’ll be tired”. Which was kind of obvious really wasn’t it?

How are you planning on staying awake for the duration?

By not shutting my eyes and slapping myself around the face a bit. Also I believe that its harder to sleep if you’re cold so I’ll be doing the whole thing stark naked with the freezer door open. Maybe.

Are you going to go straight to bed when you finish or do you have plans? Are you out gigging on Saturday?

I’ll let you know on Saturday at 10.00am.

Finally, what are your hopes and aims for the Blogathon?

Simple – to raise some cash for Cancer Research (I’ve already hit my target – I doubted if anyone would be interested in sponsoring me for something that really isn’t that much of a challenge – but if anyone else wants to sponsor me I’d love to raise a bit more). It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done with the blog.

This post was written as part of a 24 Hour Sponsored Blogathon for Cancer Research.

Cancer is an illness that effects so many of us and can destroy the lives of more than just those unlucky enough to contract it. If you liked this post or just want to help support an important charity, please sponsor us. Just £1 can help make a difference. You can sponsor us here or by clicking the big button below. Thank you for your support.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Walking in a freebie wonderland – Strangers interview.

4 Nov

Strangers London Lights

As 2013 gently drifts towards its close and Christmas looms ever more large, the distant jingling of bells that the high street has been desperate for us to hear since August is beginning to get louder and louder. Children’s eyes are widening as tales of watchful little elves fill them with wonder, excitement and (momentarily at least) a willingness to behave. Lists are being made, money is being counted and left over wrapping paper is being fished out from the back of a cupboard. But thanks to London’s electro-pop-stars in waiting, Strangers, it’s been a little bit like Christmas for the last few months or at least since July, when they started giving away a free download on the first of every month.

Their latest is “London Lights” (which you can stream below) a melodious love letter to our capitol city brimming with pulsing synthy string sounds, an emotive 90’s piano and scalpel sharp electronic beats. The vocals rise up like the ever-increasing number of sky-scrapers, like watching a symphony of people and cars unfold through rain covered windows. Less urgent than previous offerings, it is no less vibrant and infectious; the hook catches you from atop the Shard and reels you into a vast boardroom of R&B and dance infused synth-pop.

They are clearly on a roll and hours before they will play a storming set at the Norwich Sound and Vision Festival for us, we take a seat outside the Arts Centre with two-thirds of the trio, David Maddox-Jones and Piers Sherwood-Roberts, with questions to ask. The pair is in good spirits, despite the almost rain that threatens above and will soon begin to fall, and with beer in hand they laugh as they explain the concept, finishing each other’s sentences and talking over one another like a married couple.

The plan had been, they explain, to use their not insubstantial library of unreleased tracks, re-work and re-tool a few of them and then release them one at a time each month. Four old songs and two new ones in six months they thought; it shouldn’t be too onerous a task to complete. That’s not what actually happened of course; “every month there’s been a new one”, explains David. They’ve got in the zone, used it as an exercise in good discipline and ”it’s making [them] a lot more creative”. They’ve not yet had any writers block and even if they did, they explain, with three of them in the band there is always one who can spark the others if the process were to slow down.

The creativity and order they have instilled has been a by-product of what was a very simple thought process suggests Piers, ”we just wanted to get our music out there, instead of just having it sitting around…” as his sentence runs into David’s ”keep the momentum going… Keep people talking about us”, and back again ”it keeps us inspired well, when we get good feedback, obviously it keeps us happy, and we have had good feedback off the singles”.

And it has been good, each and every month. We’ve featured each of the singles and been positive in our usual hyperbolic manner, but we’re not the only ones. Each month a small army of sites have been posting and eulogising about their latest offering and radio plays have been on the increase as well. Not bad when you consider, as they explain, they’ve had no press or radio team. Their success thus far has been built on the back of quality tracks and their own hard work.

It’s helped in other ways David says when talking about the likelihood of an album release in 2014. ”We all felt like we were ready six months ago, now we have done these songs and it’s like actually, we weren’t ready”. It’s helped them learn more about themselves and their own capabilities, ”there’s better stuff to come”, he says enthusiastically.

While an album may still be some time away, videos are not and their latest offering, for “No Longer Lost” had some heavyweight directorial/cinematography and production talent behind it. Leo Neelands, Jim Parsons and Mark Curl have collectively worked on mega-movies including 28 Days Later, Harry Potter and Zero Dark Thirty and on hearing the song, decided they wanted to make their first ever music video. ”That’s the best video we’ve got”, smiles Piers, and it came about completely by chance. “We met them at the pub,” laughs David. ”We realised we lived opposite them and they are really talented and that was an amazing experience just to work with them, you know they are huge”. “And now we really want to do another video!” exclaims Piers. Though the next one will be very different, DIY they say.

But with Christmas just around the corner there is only one more track to go, so what’s next? Another bright idea while they work on an album? “Let’s put three out a week!” they both laugh. We’re pretty sure they’re joking, but with Strangers you can never be completely sure.

“London Lights” is available as a free download from

Stalk Strangers: Website / Facebook / Twitter / SoundCloud

Bright Pop, Dark Emotions – MS MR Interview

22 Mar

MS MR Norwich Waterfront

It’s odd to think that almost a year ago MS MR was as mysterious to us as Stonehenge. When they burst onto the scene with the amazing “Hurricane”, everyone was talking about them, but no-one knew anything. No names, no faces, just a sound and a video that could induce seizures. Now though that is all different and the naturally charming Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have been happy to talk about their beginnings, their influences, well pretty much anything that gets asked really.

When we sit down with them in a side room at the Norwich Waterfront, just hours before their utterly fantastic set and while others soundcheck on the stage nearby, it is clear that these are two people as gregarious, warm and relaxed as you could hope to meet. Despite having arrived at the venue just moments before and still in their coats (a wise move as the sleet falls outside and the heating appears largely absent inside) they are in great spirits. They are even enthusiastic about recent experiences with motorway service station food which just goes to show how positive they are.

Their origin is no longer a secret, instead it is a well trodden story of a guy who wanted some input on his music from an acquaintance who had set up a record label, and a record label running girl who took the plunge and shared her lyrics with him. Without really knowing each other that well and without wanting the record label connection to prejudice anything they might produce, they wrote and recorded in secret, not even telling their friends, and released their music anonymously.

While they were both living almost superhero-esque double lives, they found that with great anonymity came great creative freedom. ”There was no sort of outside pressure on any of it”, explains Lizzy. ”It was really just sort of free, creative space for the both of us. It meant that you sort of went to work in your day clothes, and secretly shrugged them off for a night writing session or in the morning before work”. Work for Lizzy at the time was setting up Neon Gold Records and for Max it was a job in a restaurant while also attending dance school.

This arrangement worked particularly well because it helped focus them, ”we would get together and we would have a purpose and we ended up working really efficiently” says Lizzy. That wasn’t all, the secrecy in particular gave them time, to get to know one another and to find out what they were actually about. Max explains, ”It gave us time to establish our musical identity in the, sort of, womb of my spare bedroom before allowing it to be influenced by any outside pressure. Even playing it for friends and getting feedback, that didn’t happen for a long time. I think that was a really important part of the process of creating a unique sound”.

That this MR and MS didn’t really know each other before they agreed to start working together is hard to believe now. They are so at ease with one another and so relaxed, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing and joking, it’s like they have been best friends forever. That rings especially true when it comes to the story of how they came to write “Hurricane”. ”It was a really special song for both of us”, says Lizzy. ”It was the fastest we ever wrote something and came out of really emotional, and just real experiences for the two of us separately and then became a sort of, I don’t know… shared experience through writing a song, so we loved it”.

They are not the only ones, to this day our post on “Hurricane” remains comfortably our most read on the site and proves, as Lizzy notes, that it still has legs. Even now, every week people are still searching and finding it. “That’s really awesome to hear”, smiles Lizzy. ”I think that song has a lot of accessibility I think. It really touches people…” Max agrees, ”It’s really great that people respond to it. I think a lot of our songs are maybe a little less literal in creating their message, “Hurricane” has a very clear theme, I guess it’s instantly readable”.

The plan is, they say, to re-release it as the lead single from their debut album, Second Hand Rapture (to be released in May), and there will soon be a new video as well, a fact that you feel excites and slightly saddens them both. The ‘popilepsy’ video for “Hurricane” was synonymous with the band for so long as it was all we had to go on, it was MS MR.

” It’s funny,” laughs Lizzy, ”that that became the video because it came out of the label having a need to show something in a meeting room, and they wanted to do something cheesy with it and we were like “no no no!” We are precious over this project and we have control over everything, so we had this idea for the video and we were like “we can get this to you like, really fast”. We put that video together in two days or something. It was all our idea, we already had the footage collected, it took no time to put together and then it’s sort of taken on this other role in life because people were so drawn to it”.

“We assumed that we could never play it out because of copyright”, adds Max. “There’s no way we could ever get clearance for that so, it can never be the official official video but it was great that we could put it out”.

Now though they are producing much more polished and grander videos, like the one for their latest single, “Fantasy”, which sounds like it was a blast to make, what with glitter vomiting cheerleaders and Golden Girls lookalikes. ”They were amazing”, says Lizzy, laughing at the memory. ”They were so funny, on set being just typical grandmothers talking about getting iPhones and kids these days” The video itself is more cinematic than one might expect, depicting, as Lizzy notes, ”fantasies gone wrong, that’s what we think of it”. Max expands the idea, ”There is this, like, sheen over the top and there is this really, really, sort of, dirty mess underneath”. Kind of exactly like their music then; beautifully produced with this dark, almost macabre, undercurrent to it. It’s not for nothing we’ve called them the Addams Family of glitch-pop before.

The laughter is coming easily to both Max and Lizzy and this sense of ease they have with each other is clear on stage as well. They grin and boogie together throughout the set, Max behind the keys, Lizzy the mic. The undeniable quality of their live performance, as with their dedication to living double lives and keeping secrets while starting out is due in no small part to their strong work ethic and desire to be as good as they can. When they first revealed themselves to the world they looked shy, nervous and unsure. Since then they have worked and sacrificed to become the confident and amazing performers they are now. It still exists in their writing now, the pair of them working separately in Max’s apartment or studio but convening every 45 minutes or so to share ideas and discuss them. In such an arrangement, explains Max, complete honesty with one another is crucial.

”It’s been a really fluid back and forth at all stages of every song and we really do share the rawest version with each other at the very, very beginning and build it together from there. We started off being brutally honest with each other and just being like ‘I don’t really like that’, ‘I like that’ or ‘I don’t like that, is there something we could do differently?’ and sort of building from there. I think there is not really an ego involved from either of our parts and I think we have both interest in what will service the song and we will write the best song possible”

Lizzy nods in agreement and expands on how this fluid process can have unexpected effects on where they end up, compared with where they began. ”I think honestly, “Ash Tree Lane” is the best example of that. “Ash Tree Lane” started as a completely other song called “Wondering” which I had a tiny scrap of a vocal demo for. We started the track [and] it sort of started taking on sudden life; we had such a fun time on the production of that song. We got really carried away and then eventually when we tried to put the vocal melody on top of it, it didn’t work with the song anymore and I think at that point we had fallen in love with the track so much that it was okay; but that song sort of fell by the wayside because it had informed the process of creating this other new thing and then actually became an experiment in itself. Because it had started from nothing and became this whole other entity and it was a chance to sort of break free and I think, for us, it was a really experimental song and still has that sort of sound on the album. I like the idea that we are not withholding, we are always pushing through, if something gets too tough that’s okay because it can take on another life and just, that is what it is supposed to be”

It’s about choices notes Max, ”you can push through or you give it up” he says. ”Decide it is not right and scrap it, or re-work it, and either of those choices is hard. But I think that we are constantly learning which of those choices to make, when it is worth pushing through, when it is worth scrapping or when it is worth just sort of taking a step back and approaching it with a different eye. Those are the fullest moments and that’s when you get the weirdest combinations of things and the most interesting songs”.

“Ash Tree Lane”

With all these weird combinations, dark undercurrents to their lyrics, videos and visual aesthetic; gothic and often ghoulish sensibilities emanating from them and their online interactions with fans; you’d be forgiven for thinking that growing up they were actually like Wednesday and Pugsley. Were they the kids all dressed in black that the other kids shied away from? Is this why they have cheerleaders vomiting glitter in the “Fantasy” video?

“No” they respond together, completely deadpan before bursting into laughter and Lizzy explains further.

”I don’t think we were those kids. Max and I first came to this process not knowing each other very well and Max and I are quite different people. On a very personal, deep down level we are very similar people and I think we are both really bubbly and empathetic and excitable people but I think we both carry a very deep darkness with us. I think everyone probably does but I think we are worse at showing it to people on a regular basis. The music in some way became this, this space to just, break free, and have sort of conversations with that”.

It’s not all doom and gloom she says and we agree. They make pop music, yes there is indeed shadowiness to it, but it is still pop music and there is also brightness and polish. ”I think it is the marriage of this upbeat pop identity with the weight of what we are really feeling. Sort of an embodiment of our characters and personalities as well, and we are always interested in how light and dark combine forces and sort of create opposite identities and oxymoron’s. We always work in extremes, that is sort of our identity”.

It’s honesty again, it’s authenticity and sincerity; ”it is not about putting on a face” says Lizzy, ”other than what we are and what we are about, and that is both musical style and genre but also lyrical content”. Is this an insight to what the album holds then?

“It’s hard to talk about themes throughout the album”, she continues. “Specifically lyrically because for so long we were writing just on a song by song basis, it took a while for us to see it as a whole body of work. Ultimately the way we picked the songs for the album was much more about the production and the sonic environment. It’s not just a break up album all about me and one boy or whatever, it’s not as simple as that, and I think it pulls from everything into, you know, self introspection. There are breakup songs but also finding new love and questioning our situation and self and… I don’t know, I think people will be hard pressed to find one thing in a theme. I think in general we find one or two things having a greater force on us which is one, our environment.

“I mean most of the material we have written, we have written during a storm or some environmental uprising or the weekend that the rapture was supposed to happen and I think that we really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense and in between moments where something feels really not right and that just becomes our most fertile moment, that is definitely reflected in the music”.

A fragile state of both mind and situation then is key for their productivity, ”like when you are hung over” laughs Max.


That is not all though, explains Lizzy. ”I think the other half of that is media. Obviously we are kids of the Internet age, we chose to release our music in interesting ways”; each track on the Candy Bar Creep Show EP was released on consecutive weeks via their Tumblr, ”and that is the social media aspect, it really is a piece of who we are but on a greater level than that, we like to theorise and philosophise about what that means and how mediated relationships are and the music transcends all those barriers like that. [The] media and environment in general have shaped our identity and relationship to the music and definitely [our] relationship to each other.

“It’s a very long winded answer! It’s not a political album, it’s neither religious either!”

Long winded is fine by us, such depth and detail is extremely welcome, especially as it was only 10 months ago that we were scrambling around just trying to find out their bloody names! A lot has changed in that time but the music they are producing just keeps getting better and better. There must have been a lot of storms in New York recently for them to be creating such consistently high quality tracks. Either that or the hangovers have been legendary.

“Fantasy” is out now and available digitally. Their debut album, Second Hand Rapture, will be released on 13 May.

All pictures courtesy of Andi Sapey Photography

Read More about MS MR

Telling Stories – Valerie June Interview

1 Mar


It is fair to say that the music we are surrounded by as children, that we are exposed to growing up, will have a profound influence on our tastes in adult life. For artists, it will likely have a significant bearing on the kind of music they want to make or that can be heard within their own sound. Valerie June describes her sound as ‘organic moonshine roots music’, so it should be no surprise to learn that she grew up in Tennessee, just one hour from Memphis and two hours from Nashville. She was surrounded by blues, soul, roots and gospel and as she performs, it is clear that each one is in her soul.

She is currently on tour supporting Jake Bugg (not for the first time, he’s a big fan) and will play a sold out headline show at London’s 100 Club on 5 March. This follows an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland last year and time spent in the studio with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys to work on her album.

Her rise to prominence has been gradual though and the result of some damn hard work on her part. Her soon to be released ‘debut’ album Pushin’ Against The Stone (out in May on Rob da Bank’s Sunday Best label) is preceded by three bootleg recordings she self-released and a number of grinding jobs. Jobs which she has said gave her a real sense of how the old blues artists she loved must have felt, coming home after a long and arduous day’s work, to sit out on the porch and play until bed.

She began performing at age 19 with her now ex-husband as the duo Bella Sun. When the band (and her marriage) ended she was left with an aching to write and sing but she didn’t know how to play an instrument. ”I didn’t ever want to experience not being able to perform cause I didn’t know how to play an instrument” she laughs as we speak in the cold backstage area after her fantastic set at Norwich’s UEA, ”and I didn’t feel like going about finding another band, because that wasn’t going to solve the problem. So I just started to teach myself how to play”.


She is a captivating character, both to look at and to listen to. Her fabled dreadlocks don’t look as wild as they do on stage as she sits opposite, it’s been a long day (that began in Belgium) but she is still charming, funny and happy to talk. She speaks candidly and thoughtfully and tells tales of her past, present and future that we’d happily listen to for hours on end as they are recounted in that beautiful southern-belle accent. She even manages to make the various intricacies and philosophies of yoga sound like something magical.

She tells us about growing up and that, while she may have started performing at 19, she had been singing ever since she was a little girl. As a regular church-goer with her family, not singing wasn’t really an option. ”Everybody had to sing in church!” She smiles as she remembers, ”It’s like 500 people and you are commanded by the law of God to lift your voice in praise, so everybody had to sing together. It was a lot of fun to go to church just for the songs, you know? There were the messages too, but the songs were the best part, hearing all those voices. Everybody singing”.

That background and sense of fun has served her well so far. Valerie is blessed with a unique voice, she calls it unusual, and with the gospel of her church and the Memphis blues inside her, she soon found people falling in love with it and having a good time as she sang. Out on the road as a solo performer, she was teaching herself how to play as she went and found her audiences to be extremely supportive.

”The Memphis crowd is really nurturing, they are awesome,” she explains. ”So that was a good birthplace, not just for my music, it’s the birthplace of rock and roll and blues, you know? It’s the birthplace of a lot of music that we listen to in this world so I think it’s in the water to be nurturing if you are a Memphis music lover”.

Memphis music seeps from the pores of The Black Keys music so hooking up with Dan Auerbach to work on the album seems like a natural fit, and his (well Memphis) influence can be heard. Especially so in her latest single, “You Can’t Be Told”, which is a fantastic, earthy piece of blues rock.

Surprisingly, this was the first time Valerie had worked with producers and while the experience was fun, she admits it was hard work and was quite a learning curve for her. There was one element mind you that she did particularly enjoy about the experience; her smile grows and her eyes widen as she tells us. ”Dan’s studio is pimped out. It is awesome. He has got like a candy store of instruments, it’s better than a music shop. So it was neat to be around all those instruments, you are like ‘can I play this one? Can I play this one?’”

At the moment she is all about the strings, ukulele, banjo, guitar etc, but there is the faint possibility that her range will be expanded upon. ”My husband bought me a keyboard for when I signed my publishing deal with BMG Because he was like “you’re official now, you been writing songs for ever but now you got this stamp, like the certificate of a songwriter” So he bought me a keyboard, because every songwriter needs a keyboard!” Not that she has touched it yet of course, being out on tour all over Europe to promote her record plays havoc with that sort of thing.

As we compare finger length to see who would make the best piano player should either of us ever take time to learn (it would be Valerie, no question, her fingers are long and elegant, ours, not so much), we talk about how it feels now that, after seven long years and a lot of hard work, she stands on the cusp of her debut release on a label. Does she feel official now?

”I have played music my whole life in one way or the other”, she says. ”It’s something that I have done whilst I was doing other things, now it just so happens to be that this is all I do, but there is a lot to it”. Her strong work ethic is standing her in good stead she explains as it is not as simple as many people presume it to be. ”Everybody thinks that being on stage and being the centre of attention for the night or whatever is like easy or something. [But] you think of it as a job and you’ve got to be on your game and you have got to be like, about your business. I’m just really mindful of what kind of energy I am trying to put out into the world”.


It’s an energy that she says can be a shock to some. She tells a story about buying a belt in London (and a rather lovely belt it is too) and how the woman selling it was taken aback when Valerie spoke, her southern twang was not the accent she anticipated hearing. It happens with her music as well. Looking the way she does, people expect her to play reggae rather than blues, but they soon come around.

It is also an energy that was present in her previous recordings and while Pushin’ Against The Stone may be billed as her debut, she is not about to forget or dismiss her past. Those bootleg recordings are part of her, they are like her children she explains and they will always be with her and always be something she is proud of.

But what of the future? She has worked so hard to get to this point that surely there must be a part of her that is ready to relax, or is this just the beginning? She has spoken in the past of how she expected to be doing this long into her dotage, noting that is how it is for people who make roots music, nothing happens for them until they get really old. So is that the likely scenario then? An older Valerie out on her porch late at night, mosquitos and fireflies buzzing above while an audience of friends, family and grandkids listen to the songs from her latest album? Her answer is remarkably honest and draws parallels to an unlikely source.

”A person that I recently read about, Beatrix Potter, what she did was when she was a child, she started writing and painting and she carried it over into her adult life and she began to just share it with the world. [She shared] her world with the world and people fell in love with the rabbits. And one day she married her second husband and at that time she stopped writing. Everybody was like ‘what’s going on you’ve stopped writing’. And she was like ‘I had to stop, the stories weren’t coming any more’.

“So I think music will be like that for me. When the songs and the stories stop coming, then I will stop playing music but until then, this is my life. She was, in the meantime, performing with her husband and doing a lot of other things and I kind of see my lifestyle like that. Where I have all of these other interests and I play music. I happen to be very gifted and I want to share that gift with the world, and I invite people to have a little piece of my world. Not too much! So that is kind of how I look at it. All the records are important, all of it matters, it is a journey for me”.

It is a journey that has taken her across the globe and back again; a journey that is about to see her release her highly anticipated debut studio album. It is a journey on which she has taken a bit of her world, a bit of her past, a bit of Memphis and she has shared it all with us. It is a journey that we hope will continue for some time and that the songs keep coming.

“You Can’t Be Told” will be released on 4 March and will be available on download and 7” heavyweight vinyl. Valerie June’s debut album, Pushin’ Against The Stone, is out on 6 May. She is playing the 100 Club on 5 March and has just announced some new UK and European tour dates for May.

Stalk Valerie June: Website / Facebook / Twitter / SoundCloud