Like everyone else I know who woke up Monday morning with that gut punch of the news of David Bowie’s passing it caused me to reflect. Immediately my phone blew up. First from my friends in the UK and Scotland specifically Leeds and Stonehaven and then my friends here Huntington Woods et al. and the devastation this news caused. These are some of my closest friends and fiercest musical comrades and even though we have had lengthy discussions and disagreements over the Bowie catalog I still had no idea just how much he meant to them. It then dawned on me how much he meant to me but I realized I was nowhere near the fan these friends are. Why is that?
I recall a poll of David Bowie’s top ten albums about 10 years ago and Station To Station topped the list. So many people name check that album and I just don’t like it. After a spirited email exchange I decided to try it again. I walked into a record shop and looked at it and not one of the songs interest me. Sorry.
Even weirder is the fact I rate Young Americans so highly. YA just seems ..well.. more organic. It is just as soulful. Probably more so. What other album has Luther Vandross and John Lennon on it? The title of this blog pays homage to one of my favorite David Bowie songs ever, Somebody Up There Likes Me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoXX5XX32xY
I am also one of the only people who rates Scary Monsters as their favorite David Bowie album. The guitars on that record are incendiary at points. It’s No Game, Teenage Wildlife, Because You’re Young, Kingdom Come. Just nailing it. Add Tom Verlaine to the list of musicians David Bowie championed.
Also Heroes. All of it. Yes that includes side 2.
Herein lies the beauty of an artist like David Bowie. There is, or should be, something for everyone in his catalog. I carved my own weird path. Others their own. No one is wrong. It is all the more fitting. David Bowie made it OK for you to follow your own path. I would argue he started that path.
This leads you into just what a monumental figure he is. Who else influenced Music, Art, Fashion, Sexuality so much? He was a true trailblazer. Constantly changing. From the guy who appeared on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World in drag to Ziggy to Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke and the Berlin years to the soul/funk era. Always pushing boundaries. Especially in the fashion world. Think about it. No David Bowie means no Glam. No Punk. I cant imagine what the musical landscape would look like had he never existed.
What really sets him apart in my eyes is how had his finger on the pulse when it came to groundbreaking music. He championed the Velvet Underground before anyone else. Ditto Iggy & the Stooges. He saved Mott The Hoople by giving them All The Young Dudes to record. They were about to throw in the towel as a band and along come David Bowie with a song that becomes a massive hit. There are probably more stories like this. People like this don’t change. Once a mensch always a mensch.
I particularly love the way some Detroiter’s paid tribute with various billboards. Glad it was Detroiter’s that thought of it. Another reason to be proud to be from here. No Panic In Detroit. Just love and admiration.
There have been some amazing things said about what a gentleman he was from those who knew him. Those who interviewed him. There is this from Pegi Young. https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pegiyoung/videos/1128420060516557/?fref=nf
It is a strange feeling when you know you are a music obsessive or a music snob and it takes 40 years to realize just how much you do love an artist. You are just as big a fan. You just didn’t know it. Glad I bought all those Bowie records years ago. After 5 days of stories, videos, posts and tributes I have let it all sink in and I am in awe of the career of David Bowie. Specifically how he was able to keep his illness private and was able to say goodbye to his fans with one last gift. We could all learn a lesson from him.
May his star shine brightly forever!
Today I attended the funeral of one of my father’s best friends. This group of guys met in elementary school in Detroit in the 1930’s and became best friends for life. In my father’s case 60+ years with best friends he never fought with. In the case of these two gentlemen 70+ years of best friendship. http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/2-michigan-men-share-70-years-of-golf-and-friendship/26764550
These friends had a weekly golf foursome that carried on for over 60 years. They also had a 5 man pinochle game that lasted the same number of years. Sure they had disagreements but they never fought. As a kid growing up in my parents house this was taken for granted. I just thought everyone had friends like this. Was I wrong.
It became pretty evident as I got older the depth of this friendship my Dad had with these friends. It also taught me over the years you cant make new “old” friends so be careful when you draw that line in the sand when it comes to your friendships. You have to treasure those you have become close friends with. I certainly know who I can lean on. I have friends close by and far away that I lean on. Some of whom I have never fought with and some I have but I knew these were not friendships to throw away.
What happened yesterday had such a profound effect on me. The last remaining member of my father’s best friends came over to speak to my sister and I and he was visibly emotional. His eyes red and wet, voice breaking he said this to us. ” I am so lucky, so blessed, that by chance I was seated at a table with those guys in elementary school. It was the beginning of a life long friendship that I am so grateful for”.
What he didn’t say but we knew was the extraordinary depth of this friendship and in this moment of saying goodbye to one of his best friends he had the grace to be so eternally grateful for that random meeting of his two future best friends. Friends who have been through all of life’s happy moments and sad moments and everything in between. It was a conversation I will never forget.
It also taught me a valuable lesson. I am going to call my friends today. You should too.
A break from the music related posts.
I had an unfortunate customer service experience that was totally avoidable yet it happened anyway.
I consigned quite a few clothing items to a mens consignment shop recently. I walked in and had just come from work moving a senior into their new home. I was dressed in jeans, a t shirt and jacket. I was quickly judged by the two men running the shop just by what I was wearing. These two guys acted like bitches. No other way to explain it. That should have been my first clue to walk out. I persisted anyway when I told them I had Armani, Zegna, Calvin Klein sportscoats, dress shirts, outerwear etc. They printed the contract and it said 90 days and on the 91st day the items, if not picked up, become the property of the shop. That should have been my second clue to not go ahead and sign this. Stubbornly I persisted.
I went in a few weeks ago and a new employee helped me out. Were were looking for my unsold items and one could not be found. She mentioned the owner would have to handle this. I said fine. I will stop back when he is in. I did this. The owner, one of the two aforementioned bitches, took down all the info and said he would call in a day or two. I waited a week with no phone call so I went back in and his reply was “we will just have to mark that item as donated”. I said that is not acceptable. I trusted you with my items and you are just telling me I am out of luck. The item was $315 in their shop. He then mentioned no one forced me to sign the contract which “clearly states we are not responsible for lost or stolen items”. It appeared to me he uses that line often and just dug his heels in and stuck to it. My fault again.
My problem at this point is I had just consigned a lot of clothing the week before. A lot of clothing. I then said I want all the items I consigned last week. I do not trust you nor do I trust the way you handle your business. He had no idea just how much I consigned the week before. He hid behind the fact it was still being processed.
Today I went in and took all my items back. I didn’t get nasty. I didn’t get loud. I calmly went thru and found my items and let them pull them out of inventory. This time I know the owner was remorseful because he lost a lot of nice items for his shop. Unfortunately for him I called his bluff.
In a weird bit of irony they could not find one of the sports coats I consigned a few weeks ago. I was thinking to myself I will just cut my losses and leave when he said “I cant do this to you twice. It isn’t right. I am going to pay you for your item we cant find”. If he had only handled the first situation this way we wouldn’t be where we are now.
When someone handles a situation as he did last week it made start thinking all sorts of things like are they just taking nice items, selling them and claiming they are lost or stolen and keeping all the money? The owner kept going on and on about the alarming amount of theft in his shop. Really? I have had two retail businesses in the same area and never encountered that much theft.
I suppose the moral of this story is this:
#1. Read the contract and ask questions.
#2. When confronted with this situation you have two choices. You can dig your heels in and be a dick. For the $120 he may have had to pay out think of the long term goodwill he would have gotten from me. It is pretty easy these days to get your pound of flesh with social media outlets: Yelp, Facebook, Twitter etc. Which incidentally I opted not to.
#3. Dont try and read a book by its cover by pre-judging people. It is so easy to detect and feels really shitty.
I purposely didn’t name the offending shop/owner but if you know me and the area it isn’t that hard to work it out.
I will hasten to add I signed up on Yelp to heap praise on a local UPS store who helped me out big time. Most of my Yelp reviews are positive.
On the heels of this amazing Verve- A Storm In Heaven triple “Japanese” LP it is time for a look back and or celebration of just what an amazing band Verve were.
From the first single- All In The Mind I was hooked. The second single She’s A Superstar just absolutely floored me.
What it was about these two singles was the band just let the music go wherever it took them. Both really long songs but well worth the the time spent listening. Not a great thing for those with short attention spans but a huge payoff for those who just let the songs play out. They bucked a trend.
The debut LP A Storm In Heaven is a stone cold classic. Of any genre. Every song is fantastic. The Brian Cannon cover is stunning. Every attention to detail regarding this band was spot on. The music, artwork, the band persona, everything.
We, my shop, were lucky enough to meet them on their first tour of the US. Wide eyed guys really into their music(and weed). Very energetic and happy to come into shops who championed them. They loaded up on Can & Funkadelic CDs. Smart guys.
I saw two shows on this tour. Detroit and Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids show at the Reptile House remains the best show I have ever seen by any band ever. It was on Halloween. I actually felt like I was levitating at various points. The way Nick McCabe’s guitar sound flowed off the stage like a rolling ball of lava engulfing the entire crowd is something I will never forget. This was a band in every sense of the word. Even Richard Ashcroft seemed to get swept up in the sound these guys were making. Less a front man and more just a cog in one helluva wheel.
See for yourself.
Then, out of the blue, my shop was offered this Verve Voyager 1 live LP. Turns out is was a promotional tool made to look like a bootleg. We were told there were 1000 pressed up. First I ordered 25 copies. Sold out immediately. Then another 25 copies. Same thing. We sold 100 copies in about 4 months and then they were gone. About six months later I got a call from someone at Caroline Records letting me know 173 copies were found in a warehouse in LA. I know some were ruined by heat. I asked if I took them all could they give me a better deal. They did and I scooped up the remaining stock. We eventually sold them all meaning out of whatever the original pressing on blue vinyl that were not destroyed we sold nearly 275 of them. Easily the best selling record ever at my shop. There are a lot of these in the Detroit area.
We were also the record shop for Lollapalooza’s 4 day run here and saw them every day. I do recall them playing what were two new songs that I think finally made it on to Urban Hymns. Rolling People and Mover. They stopped by the shop to sign for fans as well.
A Northern Soul was less immediate but over time is right up there with ASIH. Just a beautiful record. See Stormy Clouds/Reprise for what is the high point of this LP and also in the live shows on this tour. Once again the live shows were simply amazing.
I must admit I thought Bittersweet Symphony was a great single. In fact I still do. While there some great songs on Urban Hymns it saw Verve head into a direction I didn’t really like. I saw one of the early shows in Chicago on this tour and they were still great live but then saw them later in the summer and the magic was gone. Completely.
I am not going to comment on anything after this point because my Mom always told me if I dont have anything nice to say dont say anything at all.
Still, one of the most underrated bands of the era and those first two alums and the singles surrounding them have stood the test of time and really need the proper, legit, deluxe reissue treatment there is more than enough material.
Those early live shows are burned into my memory. That is a good thing. Trust me.
I used to be a massive Simple Minds fan. I saw them everywhere. Detroit, Toronto, New York City, Edinburgh hell even Poughkeepsie. After a while I kept it quiet because lets face it, they just weren’t cool anymore or so I thought. I owned a record shop that kept up to date with all things Indie. US & UK. My staff kept me on my toes. They seemed destined to be one of my guilty pleasures.
Having said that I cant tell you how happy I am at the resurgence of interest in Simple Minds. In the UK I know the Manics cite them as a major influence. Primal Scream as well. The Cocteau Twins got their name from a Simple Minds song.
The first time I heard them was walking into a record shop and hearing Promised You A Miracle. I bought the 12″ immediately. Then Glittering Prize came out and that was it. I was hooked. The next step- New Gold Dream came out. I read a review in NME and found a UK import at a local record shop and was at first underwhelmed. Then track by track the LP started creeping into my subconcious thus becoming my favorite record ever. I loved every song on that record.
The next logical step was working my way back thru their catalog. This is what I found.
Life In A Day is a synth fueled poppy punk record. I was amazed to find out it was actually released in the US. There are some great songs on this record. The title track Life In A Day, Chelsea Girl among others. The stunner here is Pleasantly Disturbed. This was a glimpse of things to come for Simple Minds. It is worth owning this album for this song alone and it really doesn’t seem to fit. It is 8 minutes long. It builds and builds. It sounds like a prog track on this record.
Reel To Real Cacophony is where things start to take shape. This starts the post punk discordant iciness this period of Simple Minds were known for. A new European influence appears here also. While this is an intense listen Simple Minds show a sense of humor in Carnival(Shelter In A Suitcase). Other standout tracks from this album are the singles: Premonition and Changeling. Digging deeper the title track(again) Reel To Real, Cacophony and Calling Your Name all in their own way stand out.
Empires And Dance continues this direction with more immediate results. This album blasts off right from the start with I Travel. A monster of a song. Celebrate is a funky stunner. This Fear Of Gods and Capital City seem like travelogues. This album finishes with what may well be my favorite 4 1/2 minutes of Simple Minds entire catalog. Kant-Kino & Room. Influenced by either some of the German krautrock scene or maybe Eno. I wish Room was 15 minutes long. It has been reintroduced in the live set. I would love to see that live.
Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call was my next purchase after New Gold Dream. Something I was ill prepared for post NGD. This is now my favorite album by Simple Minds. Where do I start? Sons And Fascination I guess. Definitely inspired once again by European travel or maybe just travel in general. On S&F Simple Minds seem a bit more up front and aggressive. I cant think of many bands who’s songs allow so many band members step in and drive songs. Whether it is Derek Forbe’s bass, Brian McGee’s drums, Mick MacNeil’s keyboards or Charlie Burchill’s guitar. Track by track it changes. If I had pick songs it would go something like this: In Trance As Mission, 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall, Love Song is a monster finishing with the sublime Seeing Out The Angel.
Sister Feelings Call is simply part two of this set. The amazing tracks continue. SFC starts out with the incredible instrumental Themes For Great Cities and is followed by one of the all time Simple Minds singles The American. My favorite track on this album is Wonderful In Young Life. Punchier than a lot of the other tacks on these albums it is Charlie Burchill’s searing guitar that makes Wonderful In Young Life so unforgettable.
New Gold Dream is Simple Minds magnum opus. The edges are smoothed out. It is a lush and dreamy album. It produced two major singles in Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize. It is the other tracks that hooked me and turned me in to the massive fan I am. The title track New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84 is another one of my favorite all time Simple Minds tracks add Someone Somewhere In Summertime, Big Sleep, Somebody Up There Likes You and you have on amazing album. Worth seeking out is the amazing instrumental b-side called Soundtrack For Every Heaven which is beautiful.
The reason I chose to stop after the first five albums is because the band feels strongly enough about this part of their career they put out the 5 X 5 box set which contains all these albums with a lot of b-sides, live tracks and uber rare tracks. They also did a 5 X 5 tour where they played 5 tracks from each of these albums. Who am I to argue?
I am very happy to still be a fan of Simple Minds. I still listen to these records. They have done something very difficult. They have made several albums that have withstood the test of time. Not an easy thing to do. Make timeless music.
Now please tour North America again.
For many fans of Spacemen 3 and the various side projects linked with the band Soul Kiss is the key post Spacemen 3 album. It has stood the test of time with ease and after over 20 years it dawned on me that a comprehensive piece on the album has never been written. After a little discussion with Pete Kember in late 2013 we arranged to spend some time chatting about the record, the musicians and many other things that were important at the time Soul Kiss was written and recorded. So on a bright December afternoon we sat down in Rugby and went through some of the finer points of the record, a discussion and interview that proved both rewarding and fascinating. Pete’s memory for that time is remarkable. The detail he was able to produce on so many aspects of the recording process and the music itself was astonishing. Our conversation begins with some talk about how the first 2 Spacemen 3 albums sound as they approach their 30th anniversaries. Read on for an absorbing view on how the Soul Kiss album came to be.
Would you rework Sound Of Confusion somewhat? In terms of the way it was engineered? The sound isn’t as it should be.
Mmmmm… It was what it was what it was…
It’s documented that the wrong person may have been in charge there.
Ye-ah, hmmm… It’s possibly true. Bob Lamb was cool and everything but people just didn’t figure it out. The guys there, they were like ‘really? Someone is paying money for these mutts to fucking come and get stoned in my studio? They even brought some fucking idiot with them from Northampton – the Jazz Butcher – rolling joints!’ They would say ‘Seriously? Seriously? We’re actually making a record here?!’ He wouldn’t let us touch the desk was one of the odd things, which on some levels I understand but there’s 2 ways it works in a studio – people who don’t let you touch the shit and people who do. For me at that point I was only prepared to work in ones where we could. But you know it was our first album and we felt lucky to be able to record it in a proper studio with any kind of producer. He was on no list of ours for production although I do think he did good work on ‘Signing Off’ by UB40. I think that’s great and the dub stuff from that period as well. I actually really liked it.
I never thought of you as a UB40 fan!
I’m not a UB40 fan but the first stuff – Food For Thought – it’s cool, it’s my era, when I was 14 and part of all the different new wave and punk that was around at the time. I have to say it was head and shoulders above the other stuff that was around.
Sound of Confusion is still a great record but it would be a good one to remaster.
It was a weird vibe. We recorded Walkin’ With Jesus and scrapped it from that. There must be recordings of it somewhere. But it was ditched – I don’t think we even recorded a vocal for it it was so bad. We didn’t hit it on that one. My memory tells me we recorded that album in 2 days… I think we had 5 days in the studio. That’s insane. I wouldn’t even want to make a fucking single in 5 days! I wouldn’t want to mix a single in 5 days!
Spacemen 3 – 2.35 (from Sound of Confusion)
What about Perfect Prescription? The notes on Forged Prescriptions say those versions didn’t come out on Perfect Prescription because it would have been too ambitious to recreate live.
Yes. You know what though…. If that was the case, when I went back to do the mixes for Forged Prescriptions there was less excess stuff than I remembered. That means we may have wiped it and used the tracks for something else, which on 15 track and 1 sync for the MIDI (a digital control language for synthesisers and effects) is possible… I’m pretty sure there are mixes which will have been done because we’d take away cassettes every day practically with the work we’d done that day, so we could check it out.
Spacemen 3 – Walkin’ With Jesus (Forged Prescriptions version)
There’s no master tapes now?
Actually I have those tapes. Those are the only ones I do have – Transparent Radiation and Perfect Prescription. I also have all the notes for it. When I went back to do the Forged Prescriptions I went to the same studio – it had moved as the guy was in a smaller space but he had exactly the same equipment. He’d not bought one thing new or even sold one thing. And when I opened the tape box there were all the settings for the desk, for all the EQs for each track, all the effects… because we used to do it at the end! I would write and Jason would read or vice versa. We’d split half an hour and take the settings because the desk would be all fucked up by another session in between so I’d read across from the top either in ‘o’clock speak’ or, if it was accurate enough, ‘9 ½, 7 ½, 6 ¼, 4, 0, 0, 0’, and then you’d go down row after row after row. It doesn’t take as long as you think to do it if there’s 2 of you and you’re organised, one reads, one notes. So I have the settings and was able to pull up the effects, everything. We had the settings for everything which is kind of unheard of, because studios never have the same stuff!
Do you think Forged Prescriptions sounds better?
Oh yeah, sure enough! Well, no surprises as that was done 10 years or so ago versus 25 years ago! I can mix better!
Could you not polish Perfect Prescription? Maybe even remaster it?
Yeah, it could be done. I wasn’t doing mastering back then but if I mastered it with what I know now and the skills I now have from the dozens of things I’ve been doing… Possibly. And technically I could put out a CD like Forged Prescriptions (which is all different versions of the stuff from Perfect Prescription) of the Soul Kiss material. I don’t think they’d be subject to the same sort of copyright laws. It’s weird – you can release different versions of the same song! It’s weird the way that works…
How did you first meet Richard Formby?
I don’t know how we started working together but Richard plays on some of the tracks on Recurring so I obviously knew him in the Spacemen 3 days. I think I got hooked up with him through Pat Fish, the Jazz Butcher. Richard had been in The Jazz Butcher group – he appeared on the Condition Blue album I think.
Was Richard in the Pale Saints before that?
No I don’t think he was ever actually in The Pale Saints, but I think he might have done some studio stuff like their first single maybe, but I’m not sure. I know he did a lot of Telescopes stuff too.
As in playing with The Telescopes?
No – he did a lot of studio production for them.
So the Soul Kiss sessions was when the band Spectrum was actually formed?
Yes. There was no band ‘Spectrum’ before that.
What about the song writing process? When did the songs date from?
When Spacemen 3 split up I don’t think I had any of those Soul Kiss songs at that point. Normally I would do the music first and the lyrics later. I would have lyric ideas but I wouldn’t actually write the lyrics then. Most people – if they are writing in the studio – tend to write the lyrics later in my experience. You get into this cycle where you are trying to release an album every two years and promo it and tour, and then maybe have some sort of life in between it, so you end up having to write in the studio. Most bands don’t for their first album – surprise, surprise – as they actually have time to do it, but it changes.
So that material for Soul Kiss was written during the recording process?
Oh absolutely. God yeah! (laughs) Written? It didn’t exist before! Richard definitely brought Drunk Suite with him, as well as Sweet Running Water and Capo Waltz. So initially we had Richard’s songs, and then I probably brought How You Satisfy Me and Waves Wash Over Me. Those were the initial songs we had. I had Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name fairly early as well.
Richard took the lead with his tracks?
He brought those songs. He didn’t write the lyrics for them but he had demos of those fully formed pretty much. We might have expanded on The Drunk Suite thing in a bunch of ways but he basically had that track already.
Spectrum – The Drunk Suite (version 2 from Soul Kiss)
The clack sticks sound on Sweet Running Water can be heard on Sun Arise!
Do you know, I don’t remember knowing Sun Arise back then – I mean I must have heard it as I was a kid when it was popular. I remember Two Little Boys and Jake The Peg and all his other hits. Sun Arise? Hmmm, less so. It’s an Aboriginal traditional folk thing that was rewritten.
Rolf Harris – Sun Arise
How did you first hear Sun Arise?
I pretty sure it was my buddy Tim Morris played it to me. He was the first drummer in Spacemen 3 but he’s not on any of the recordings. It may even have been Pete Bain who played it to me, I’m not sure, but I think it was Tim. I seem to remember him having the album it was on – and the rest of it is shit! Tim was into car boots and records and he used to buy loads of stuff really cheap just to see what was going on. Sometimes he’d just luck out. I think that’s where I heard it and that’s definitely later on.
What about the other guys in the band?
Geoff Donkin – he was drummer from that band from Leamington, Beautiful Happiness. Mike Stout of course, who used to live with Richard.
That was a short-lived line-up.
Yes it was. Richard didn’t stay that long.
I saw a gig with My Bloody Valentine where Spectrum – featuring those musicians – supported. Do you remember that?
Yup, I do. In fact that’s the only tour Richard did. He didn’t want to do any touring, I’ll be honest. And after that tour he said ‘I won’t do any touring’.
It’s a shame though isn’t it? The gig I saw with that line-up was tremendous.
Yeah. You know, it wasn’t a big surprise. Didn’t surprise me at all that he didn’t want to tour. I mean if he wanted to tour he’d still be in The Jazz Butcher group. He did an American tour with them. But then sitting in a van for six hours every day… waiting around for six hours every day… You know…
What about the other musicians on the album? Sean Cook is on it at some point.
Sean Cook’s there, usually on the harmonica.
But then you’ve got strings and all kinds of bits going on.
Yeah those were some random dudes from I think the Musician’s Union. That was fun actually. I do remember one of them was the Musician’s Union rep for Leamington (laughs). He brought along some kid with him with a Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ t-shirt on, and he was good actually. The old guy is classic old-school strings and those guys can’t play to a beat. They can NOT play to timing – it goes against everything they’ve ever done! Whereas the kid, who obviously had two perspectives, one which is the very blurred orchestral timing, and also the other Michael Jackson thing which has got modern timing – super-locked stuff which most stuff is these days. So they came along and I did my usual thing where I wouldn’t let them listen to the music until they’d played on it, and then I didn’t even tell them! I’d tell them the sort of thing I was looking for – some vibe, you know. This is usually my style, and I’d go ‘OK, can you play for a little bit, get us some level’ and we’d record that, but without it being played to the music. They would always want to get it set up their way, so I’d say ‘OK, we’ll do one run through so we can check it out and then we’ll start’, and that first take – nearly always there are gems in it. Yet you might not use that take, but you can refer back to it and say ‘this bit here, this bit’s fucking horrible, this bit’s great’ and then they are like ‘Oh, OK – I get what you want’ and they’ll go in and they can’t get the same vibe again!
Isn’t that a little like recording the Neil Young way? Where the band would do a quick run through and then say they were ready but Neil Young would say ‘no, that was the take’
I think there are a lot of people who use that as a technique. Quite often when people think they are being recorded they rarely give the best performances. Also if you play someone something and they are just playing to it and you don’t record it… you regret it, because you can never get back to that moment when they haven’t heard it and they are just trying to figure it out and find stuff. You can go through it and work out parts and take all the time in the world you want for that, and you can do it over and over again, but you can’t ever go back to that moment where they don’t really know it. It’s the er… (pauses)…
Yeah! And it’s the ideas that they come up with at that point. Once people figure stuff out they think they know it. Often what they think they know is right isn’t necessarily right but their initial instincts were right but then they somehow filter and override it and they say ‘I need to go and work out these parts’. It’s ‘demo syndrome’ really – when people are relaxed the quality might not be there but the performance is nearly always there on demos because people are coming at it from a really fresh angle. They are really fresh on it. It never sounds the same. You might get better clarity, quality, timing and all the rest of it, but rarely do you get the vibe. Also in those days you were doing it all on tape – you didn’t have the luxuries of modern recording with editing, copying and pasting… Dropping in and out was even a big deal. Dropping in you had to hope you didn’t get a ‘click’ on it. You’d play along with what you were trying to swap over with – they’d swap you in and you’d hope. Then it’s impossible to do a drop out – even if you were playing along with what was underneath it when you drop out – it always clicks so you can’t do it. You have to drop in and go as far as you can and then you have to drop in again. You will end up with a click from stopping recording when the tape is moving basically. And that was using a high end 24-track system. You had to work in a really different way.
What about the idea of Soul Kiss being a concept album?
I think it is. I think it always was – right from the start we wanted to make a ‘song cycle’ record. Richard’s very influenced by Brian Wilson – as am I – as well as Van Dyke Park’s stuff and the Smile stuff. Now it’s released and people know it, but at that point of course Smile was still unreleased although I have to say I had 3 or 4 different versions of it on CD.
There were a lot of CD bootlegs floating about back then. I have a Japanese one.
Yeah, there were a lot of bootlegs, a lot of variations. Richard probably had some different ones again, but we were both massive fans of that album. I think you can hear the influence of it on Playing With Fire right the way through. That was when I started listening to that stuff particularly. But I guess some of the stuff that’s on Smile turned out not to be from Smile – the bootlegs had stuff from elsewhere of course.
Some of the material on Soul Kiss has more leanings towards Playing With Fire than Recurring. It has more of that vibe.
Well what vibe does Recurring have? It’s a weird record in many ways.
I think it’s a great record.
It’s a very… well, it’s not even schiz-ophrenic…. It’s like quad-rophrenic or something. And then there’s two different versions of the record too. It’s kind of a confused record all round that one.
I love a lot of the songs on that album – on both sides of it.
I don’t think there’s anything that wouldn’t have been gained by doing at as one album rather than two sides…
Whose idea was it to do it like that?
Well that’s debatable, but I suggested it, as in ‘tell you what, this is that ridiculous we might as well do one side of the record each’, so very sarcastic. And Jason was like ‘yup – brilliant, great. That’s what I want to do’ and I was like – ‘really? This kind of bears out my whole point…’ I think I’d rather be in the Partridge fucking Family by this point. It was almost Spinal Tap and kind of made me cringe (laughs).
Soul Kiss came out the same year as Lazer Guided Melodies. There are inevitable comparisons.
They were recorded partly at the same studio!
VHF in Rugby?
Yeah. One day I called Paul, the guy who ran it and who I spoke to every day. Because I wanted to touch base. I’d been working with him the day before and I said ‘is 6 o’clock good tonight?’ and he goes ‘oh no, I can’t – I sold the studio’. So I’m like ‘what? This is a little sudden since last night isn’t it?!’ And I guess that the reality was that he was caught in the middle of… …bullshit basically and he had booked out the studio to Spiritualized but hadn’t told us that. We had initially only booked a 6 week period or something, and then I said to him ‘we’ll have the next month as well because you haven’t got anything in, right?’ and he said ‘no I haven’t got anything’. But he did. He had Spiritualized in and he knew it, but it was all like ‘sshh – don’t tell Pete – top secret’ sort of shit. That was before the album really got going and we were working on ‘How You Satisfy Me’ and maybe one other track at that time. It was mostly ‘How You Satisfy Me’ as we spent a lot of time working on that. Then I phoned him on that one day and found out what was going on, and thought ‘this is weird, I’ve got nothing else to do, so I guess I’ll just rock up to the studio’ just to see how fucking ‘sold’ it is, and of course I turn up and there’s Spiritualized loading their gear in! That was before Anyway That You Want Me Came Out. In fact I think it was before Recurring came out.
Really? That’s back to 1990?
Yeah. It’s possible, it’s possible.
The solo LP was before that of course.
Jason plays on that. We weren’t particularly on bad terms then. When did Spiritualized release Anyway That You Want Me?
It would have those sessions then. My memory tells me a lot of working on How You Satisfy Me happened at Planet Studios too. We did some at Planet in Coventry and then another place in Birmingham – Earth Studios, which was a reggae studio.
Did you hear any of the Spiritualized stuff around then – when it was being recorded?
I didn’t hear it til it came out on record.
There were no tapes doing the rounds?
Hey – you forget dude! Jason hasn’t spoken to me since then! He also made it pretty clear – ‘you’re friends with Pete or you’re friends with me’ – in no uncertain terms. And I certainly got to know who my real friends were, that’s for sure!
What about the idea that Soul Kiss is the last gasp of Sonic Boom’s Spacemen 3 vision?
I don’t agree with that, I don’t see that really. That’s just reading too much into it and has nothing to do with it. To The Moon and Back is a follow on from Just To See You Smile and Honey. There are other songs like that.
How about the artwork? It was pretty outrageous.
Well, with both of those Silvertone records they just said ‘you can do whatever you fucking want’. They said it to the wrong person basically!
Oil pack CD
Original packaging of Soul Kiss LP in oil-filled sleeve (after over 20 years the fact it is still intact is a miracle in itself!)
Detail of oil sleeve
My oil pack is still intact!
Yeah, some of them are! I don’t think I even have one of those. No one thought it through. The people who really should have thought it through were the people packing the fucking records in with all the other records.
The Manic Street Preachers tale is a good one from then!
(oil packs of Soul Kiss were allegedly transported in the same boxes as the Manic Street Preachers new single Motorcycle Emptiness and as many were dropped and ended up an oily mess the resultant lack of Manics 12″s available is said to be responsible for their failure to get to number 1 in the charts)
Whose artwork was it? Yours?
I put it together but some of the stuff – the geometric patterns – is copyright-free stuff.
I’ve seen other sleeves using similar images.
Yeah. … This guy – Hagi Mayoishi (looks through various books). It was from a book Richard had, much like this one (shows A4 book filled with Soul Kiss type graphic images). You’ll probably find some of the bits from the sleeve in this book. This guy does loads of these things. Some of them are regurgitated in different ones to these.
Well, yeah. Op-art! (picks up another book) This one might have some of them in as well. They’re basically copyright-free and I just took different layers of them and then did different layers in different colours. To make the ‘stained glass’ sleeve for True Love Will Find You In The End we just took loads of these different patterns overlaid in different colours. If you put filters on it you could break it down into the layers again. It’s all this sort of shit and Richard had a book of it and I really liked it. (finds pattern in book) Look – that’s really similar to the back of one of the sleeves. I’ve got a few books like this – it’s good stuff!
It must have cost Silvertone a fortune!
It cost me a fortune! What they call a ‘packaging deduction’, which means that if the record company so grant the power to do this fucking sleeve that you’d really love to do you basically pay for that out of your royalties! So I gave away my royalties on all those records. That’s why I technically still have a debt with those labels! I mean they are non-recoupable from me but need to be fully recoupable before I would ever earn a penny from them.
Did you ever consider making it a double album? It’s a long record.
I’m sure we must have done. It’s an hour long give or take a minute I think.
It’s a lot to squeeze on to one disc.
It’s the most you can get on to a record without totally sacrificing volume and fidelity. It depends very much on what’s on there. If you’ve got a lot of pumping bass and bass pedal rolls or something, that are really loud, it eats all the vinyl. It needs more space to cut it apparently. Luckily a lot of the Soul Kiss material is really light and whooshy. There are one minute sections, two minute sections and four minute sections which are just whooshy. There’s not bass even on some of the tracks! We didn’t have a full-time bass player. Some of Highs, Lows too. Forever Alien doesn’t have any bass on it either – in terms of it doesn’t have traditional bass as it has piano doing it or just some bass tone.
You talked about lengthening the tracks by using ‘mind wind’ in an earlier discussion.
Oh yeah. Basically the reason why I worked at these two studios is that people thought that we were a little odd and retarded back then, especially people we had to work with… There were very few people I could actually work with because if people questioned what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it I felt I shouldn’t be paying someone to question me. I was paying them to fucking do it. Do you know what I mean? There were a couple of guys who I’d asked to do stuff and they’d scratch their heads and look at me but they’d go ahead and do it. And importantly they wouldn’t go ‘you can’t do that – that’s not the way that is meant to be used’. As far as I am concerned the thing that defines the way something can be used is that you can do anything with it unless it breaks it. If it does something to sound and that process isn’t breaking it then it is meant to be used like that and I don’t give a fuck, do you know what I mean? (laughs) So luckily this one dude at Earth, whose name was Spears, had a reggae and dub background and he understood it. He got sacked half way through the sessions and I stopped working there because he was the only dude that I could actually work with there. He was young and of West Indian heritage. He liked it that I had plenty of weed the whole time! He was like ‘Ok – I’ll work with you!’ but also he wouldn’t question stuff although he would look a little ‘gone out’. For the mind wind I asked him to get three of four of the effects units and then bring them up on the desk where they had their stereo channel for each effect, and then also use the ‘send’ auxiliaries where you can send the signal from those as well as them coming out. I could also send them to the other effects which I could also send back to the other effects. So basically I created this like feedback hook-up where things would go from one effect to another to another and then back into itself and then I could control it with the faders so you could ride the feedback and ride the way that the effects were working. I don’t believe there’s any signal being sent to them at all – it’s just them all freaking out with each other… I think I actually did that more than once, in a couple of different studios with different equipment and stuff, and got quite a different result.
Was that easy to set up?
Yeah it was pretty easy. I could do it again now as it’s not a complex thing. But some people would go (affects dumb voice) ‘you can’t DO that! This equipment wasn’t MEANT for that!’
Has anyone else used that technique?
Um….. There’s few things that haven’t been done somewhere by someone sometime… And with the internet now – obviously you can find out about it. But I don’t know – I suspect they have. You’d often have all your effects up on send anyway, and when once you’ve got your effects coming up through the desk there’s a chance anyway that some of those are on the auxiliary buses. On a good desk you might have 4 or 6 knobs where you could say OK, I have reverb on this one, echo on this one, so you have a vocal that wants some echo, just as simple as that. So if you brought your effects back on the same style channels. I’d be amazed if it hasn’t been used a bunch of times by a bunch of people but I don’t know anyone. It’s no great leap for anyone I don’t think.
Which tracks did you use that technique on?
Phase Me Out Gently has it throughout. It has it all the way through the album on and off – every time it whooshes (makes whoosh-sh-sh-sh sound) and takes off.
Some of it sounds like rain sticks – did you use those at any point?
I don’t remember if we used a rain stick on that record… I doubt those noises are rain sticks actually but I can’t say for sure! It’s more whooshes of sound I’m talking about. It sounds like what effects sound like, or what delays and reverbs can sound like when they’re fed back judiciously. It has to be controlled because it starts to just go crazy otherwise. We probably recorded at least an hour of it and then just took all the best bits out of it.
A lot of those tracks are kind of collages. Various bits are carefully assembled to create an effect.
They refer back to each other, the songs. There are things that are specifically in more than one song. Drunk Suite recurs for instance.
On tracks like Neon Sigh there are bits where it breaks down and almost ceases to be music and turns into ambience…
That’s that stuff – that whooosshh…
There are all those tiny bits of string and cello, fragmented moments. Did you just record all those sounds and then just pluck a certain recording and place it carefully in line with everything else on those more ambient tracks?
I don’t remember exactly but I would tell them something like ‘I want it to sound like police sirens or air raid sirens’, and that ‘you can’t play notes that haven’t slid from somewhere else’… The pizzicato thing, almost certainly would have come from the first time they were going through the thing. The cello player was probably doing that to hear how it sounded.
The ‘pizzicato thing’?
Yeah – the little ‘ping’ sound on the strings – which is probably a cello, or a viola which I think is what the other guy played. But the dude has whacked it so he can hear above what is in his headphones – his sound and to hear if he’s in tune. He didn’t mean to play that, he did that when he was just checking he was in tune you see, so I’d keep all those bits and then fly them in where we wanted them. We had DAT by then so often we could either take stuff and put it onto DAT and then fly it in somewhere else which is a real drag – it’s real ‘suck it and see’ and ‘it fits where it touches’ territory, but at least it was available to be done. And then all that whooosshh stuff would have been recorded to DAT because it’s way, way cheaper than recording onto tape. To record an hour on tape is three reels so you’re probably talking like… well, if you’re using multi-track it’d probably be like £300 for an hour whereas you could probably get 3 hours on DAT for £15 or something. I still have all the DATs and make up stuff for all that. I don’t have the master tapes because… well, I bet they’re lost to be honest. That’s usually what record companies do with them.
That’s happened to lots of master tapes from the Spacemen catalogue I think.
Yeah, I have very few master tapes, very few.
You use a lot of backward echo on the vocals on Soul Kiss.
It’s very prominent, and it’s very effective. Is that a favourite technique?
Yeah. It is, it is. It’s even harder to do now than it was then as well which is even better as people don’t figure it out! If you think about it and you know what you’re doing it isn’t so hard to do but there’s a little bit of art in it. You get luckier at some times with that than others. I love that effect though. There’s a Rolling Stones track – I think it’s on Tattoo You or Emotional Rescue that has that effect, and I really like it. And of course ‘Feel Flows’ by The Beach Boys from Surf’s Up has that on it. It wouldn’t surprise me if it appears on Smile somewhere as well. People sometimes use that effect where you might not expect to find it – like 10cc would use it just on a couple of lines on something…
Onto the album itself. It starts with How You Satisfy Me which came from that Evie Sands track ‘Can’t Let Go’.
Right. I used to drive Richard and myself over to the studio in Birmingham or Coventry every day, and we’d listen to stuff – Lee Perry stuff, other stuff… Can’t Let Go was something we were listening to as well. I seem to remember having a loose tape recorder in the car. I didn’t have my own car back then and Silvertone rented me one for month after month after month. It’s the way it was with record companies back then – the money they would spend on poxy little projects was unbelievable really.
Evie Sands – Can’t Let Go
So that was one of the songs effectively written during the making of the album?
Yes. It’s credited to Kember/Formby because Richard did a lot of work in figuring out that part. We were playing the record and I loved it and I want to take this middle 8 part and basically make it like the whole song. So basically keep using this middle 8… All those parts are sort of technically on the record Can’t Let Go which was written by Chip Taylor and sung by Evie Sands.
It’s an amazing way to open a record but in somewhat stark contrast to the rest of the album don’t you think?
Yeah, it is. We didn’t come up with anything else like that. Sometimes it’s the way, you know – we just lucked out!
There’s a good throb here – and that satisfying rush of the chorus.
We spent a lot of time on that. It accelerates during the choruses! We actually had it so the BPM takes off during every chorus, and then when it goes back down to the verses it drops down but not as far back as it was. So that record gets faster and faster as it goes all the way. We spent ages actually mapping it out. Technically that’s how a band would do it. On those bits you naturally pick up a bit. It’s only a couple of BPM but when you put the brake on to come back… I hear it from drummers all the time. It’s the natural way that music’s meant to be. And as we were doing it all totally sequenced and using MIDI for all the keyboard stuff most of it was fired live. The whole time we were working we never actually recorded the MIDI keyboard sounds and used an Atari computer that was synced to the tape and then that would play all the keyboard parts. I mean, we’d play it and record the MIDI, and edit it and get it all right and everything and the computer would play it every time.
How You Satisfy Me collection – 12″, 7″, CD, 7″ test pressing and rare promotional sheet
You made a video for it.
We made a video for it indeed!
Yeah. It’s super low budget video though!
Very effective, the constant cutting and imagery.
It looks maybe a little better with age for its kitsch curiosity. It didn’t look particularly good at the time and looked a little low budget! All our videos were super low budget! And actually even when they weren’t low budget the people who made them did low budget jobs on them! Not the How You Satisfy Me dude though! The fucking Hypnotized one is cut up from Revolution footage!
That’s right – there are bits that appear in both!
We were away when that came out. Gerald (Palmer) juggled and created all that. Mirrors, bike chains and smoke…
Next comes Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name
It’s an ‘I Believe It’ sort of thing.
Very much harking back to the classic Sonic Boom structure.
It’s kind of the real opener to Soul Kiss…
I think How You Satisfy Me is a cool opener.
But Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name is more in keeping with the rest of the album though.
Yeah – but I think the record’s pretty good for tag teaming. Each song is pretty well tag-teamed with the next one. I feel the relay between them is good. There’s wind pipe on that track too.
‘Wind pipe’? You’re talking about those corrugated tubes you used to get in the 70’s?
Yeah! I’ve still got one upstairs, a pink one! The organ sound on Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name is one of those. It’s a sample of one going ‘wooo-ooo-oooo’ and I then I play it polyphonically, play the chords.
Ha! It’s got a fluty sort of sound in it. It might appear on another one as well but the sample is definitely on Lord I Don’t… It’s played as a keyboard sound. It sounds like a Hammond organ through a Leslie when it’s an octave higher and played in chords. We were trying to get airy, breathy sounds. It sounds pretty sick.
It sounds exactly like a Hammond organ!
Well it’s one of those tube things! We had what I think was an Akai S850 or might have been 900 or 950 and it did lo res – I think it was 12 bit – sampling. It wouldn’t spit back at you exactly what you put in it so it wasn’t very good for using to patch up vocals – which we did do, like sometimes I’d use a line I’d got really good and fly it in from the sample. You can hear – well I can anyway – that I might sing something 4 times and the 3rd one sounds crunchy and it’s actually the 1st one being thrown in again. You probably don’t notice it unless you’re being tweaky…
Spectrum – Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name (live at Hospice Havre, May 2011)
Song sequences have always been important, and that can be said for the Spacemen 3 records too.
I do think it’s really important. I’ve always thought about sequencing. If it needs saying I’ll say it to people when I’m mastering stuff as well and raise the point by saying ‘do you really think this track should be opening the album?’ etc.
Particularly on this album when you think how many songs bleed into one another and therefore become vital components for each other. Each of those songs will have something which connects it to something in the following track.
Yes there’s usually something in common between the two of them. And that’s often because of some dumb luck like we’d record tracks next to each other on the tape and you didn’t want to waste tape – God forbid, it’s expensive – so you might have left a minute at the end, and then the first person who records goes over by 10 seconds and then next person who records isn’t quite sure and so they go over a little bit and then before you know it you’re up to the next track. And sometimes things go up to the next track and usually the engineer, or whoever is doing the recording, will look at it. We used to make strips for each of the tracks where we’d stick some tape on the desk and divide all the channels and write them in so we knew exactly what was where, and then we’d also have them stuck up on the door or the wall so you could refer to that too. So if you were recording on say channel 4 a good engineer back then would make sure than on the next track it didn’t come in on channel 4. He’s like ‘yeah, there’s some backing vocals that come in on the end of the song’ so there was no danger of recording into it. People understandably get very pissed off if you record over their stuff they just spent 2 years recording and which they’ve sweated over! I have to say Alf Hardy was very good at keeping things lined up. He might sit rolling joints on the desk all day long but he’s very good at keeping things straight in his head on that sort of stuff. Sometimes things would go into the next track or sometimes we’d do stuff like we’d have all the MIDI playing different keyboards and the sampler and different stuff. So that was all the settings – we’d have little floppy discs for everything. We’d have a cluster of discs that were this song, a cluster were that song… So when we’d do the next song we’d load up all the discs so when the MIDI came from the computer that we’d recorded it would play all the right sounds. But sometimes we’d just run it anyway with the sounds of what we’d been working on previously just to see what the fuck it did and it would take all the wrong sounds and play them in all the wrong places and sometimes it was magical. And because it had come from the previous song… that one element that it was doing… well, you couldn’t have written it better.
Almost like the chaos theory?
Well, sort of Syncrondipity. It’s somewhere between luck and recognising when it’s worth keeping I think.
Did you tend to just leave the tape running? Or was it not economically viable to do that.
No. You can run DAT like that, but no, we didn’t run background recording of anything. It’s only really big sessions where you bother to do shit like that.
Following Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name we’ve got The Drunk Suite which appears a couple of times on the album. There are other versions of that as well… The first version here is like an intro.
There was always going to be a bit of a theme to the record.
Even during the short first version of The Drunk Suite there is a fairly tripped out feel. That short breathless vocal – ‘aaaaah’ towards the end.
(sings in the same way as on the track) ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh’
It’s all really influenced by The Beach Boys. There’s a track by them on Smile called Mrs O’Leary’s Cow which was definitely influential.
Is that the one that goes round in circles with the whistles?
Yeah yeah! I can’t figure out which Spectrum song it was, but I’m sure it was a Beach Boys vibe to do that sort of singing. Wordless vocals. Often in some ways stuff without words is more psychedelic than stuff with, as it can be trippier.
The Beach Boys – Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow
There was an earlier b-side – My Life Spins Round Your Every Smile – which has elements of Neon Sigh.
Yes. Yes it does. Neon Sigh is more of that improvised stuff. Actually Neon Sigh wasn’t called that originally. I’m pretty sure that that came from someone at the record company mis-transcribing when they sent a copy back to me. I think it was called Neon Sign originally and they mis-read it. I thought that was a way better title! So someone inadvertently came up with that. I like malapropism – it’s useful.
Spectrum – My Life Spins Round Your Every Smile (b-side to How You Satisfy Me)
There’s a lovely focusing cello motif in Neon Sigh that appears elsewhere too.
Yup. With tracks like that where nothing is synced and it’s all just free-flowing we probably have taken bits and used them again – the same cello bits for instance do appear in different songs. Things like glides, noises… we probably threw them onto DAT and I would have just flow it into other songs. We knew right from the start that we wanted to link the song cycle.
The long ambient track, one from the end – Quicksilver Glide Divine – is one of the first drone tracks of its type.
That’s one with lots of whooshing in it!
It focuses particularly on one drone. Was that the beginnings of E.A.R.?
Yeah – well, it was the start of E.A.R. I mean Phase Me Out Gently, the long track at the end with all the sax, has Kevin Martin playing on it. I was so into what we were doing then. Phase Me Out Gently originally was recorded as an E.A.R. track and I was really into it. Again it uses that effects matrix shit as its main body and then it’s Kevin improvising to the ‘mind wind’. It was for his label as well and I said to him ‘I know you’re not going to be into this but I’d like to use this on my new Spectrum record’. And he was like ‘yeah, that’s cool, it’s OK, but you should really do a whole album of this stuff and put it out’. This LP is the one with the clarinet-type sound except it’s a saxophone. I tried to get Pat Fish to play – and he’ll curse me to this day for it – the sax like a clarinet! He was warming up on it and messing around and then he played it like a clarinet and I said ‘that’s the way you should play it for the whole thing – it sounds really cool!’ and he was like ‘oh my God, that’s gonna be really quite hard!’ He said ‘that’s kind of like a fault in it and you’re trying to make me do the fault consistently’.
Kevin Martin suggested the E.A.R. LP?
Yeah, it was him who commissioned the first E.A.R. album, and it was him who hooked me up with Eddie Prevost… Actually the first E.A.R. album that came out was Mesmerised but that wasn’t the first album to be commissioned – that was ‘Beyond The Pale’.
Experimental Audio Research – D.M.T. Symphony (Overture To An Inhabited Zone) (from the Mesmerised LP/CD)
Mesmerised is pretty different though. Far less edgy than Beyond The Pale. And even Phase Me Out Gently is quite sinister at times!
Yeah, it’s funny but different people hear different things in it! For some people you can play exactly the same piece – Phase Me Out Gently is a very good example – and people will say ‘oh that’s like being in the womb’ and someone else will go ‘oh that’s my idea of hell!’
Was Neon Sigh recorded in the way a conventional piece of music might be recorded?
So a band couldn’t just perform it?
Oh yes, it would be very easy to do it live. Once you’ve got your system set up and with feedback there are usually semi-critical sweet points where the way its feeding back on itself starts to inter-modulate the sound in a cool way and there are usually these semi-magical spots. And once you figure out where those are and the more effects you have in the matrix – delay, feedback, echo, delay, feedback… you have to suck it and see and sometimes it’ll make things light up and distort and sometimes it won’t. We’d usually record way more than we needed and then just wipe all the shit stuff and then see where we were.
A chap called Peter Atack played cello.
I think he was just 18 or something. All the tracks those guys played on were all done I think in the same day, or maybe it was over 2 afternoons.
Did you stand there like a conductor with those kind of musicians?
Sometimes. It depends what the track is. On those tracks I think no, I wouldn’t conduct. I will bob in time to shit if it’s appropriate. I think having people in the studio actually being into it and appearing to be really into it is beneficial when people are doing takes. If people just sit there talking to each other and you can see them through the window of course it’s not a great atmosphere. The vibe that you are around when you record is important. I spent a lot of time on the vocals on that album. Sometimes I’m singing through my hands like this (cups hands in front of his mouth) or whatever it would take to get the right sort of presence.
Waves Wash Over Me comes next – you mentioned some unusual vocal technique for that song.
Yes, there’s a whisper track all the way through so (whispers) if you whisper a lyric and then put it with the final one (talks normally) it exaggerates that part of the theme.
You put the whisper on top of the vocal track?
You double-track the vocal but you whisper it on one of the tracks. You get really nice sibilance if you do that. It was for a mood on a track where I wanted it to sound as if someone was actually whispering in your ear.
Waves Wash Over Me a very dreamy song.
Yeah I’m pretty into that one.
Spectrum – Waves Wash Over Me
In the vibe of Just To See You Smile. You took that mood onto the next album too.
Actually Just To See You Smile is much more complex in the way it’s written.
Spacemen 3 – Just To See You Smile
But it’s harking back to that feel isn’t it?
Yes. I was impressed at how simple a riff I came up with on that. If you play that riff forwards it’s just like a 12 bar. I think it’s like… (picks up guitar and plays the riff from Just To See You Smile) instead of (plays riff from Waves Wash Over Me). It’s my Fleetwood Mac moment!
I love that song… (keeps playing the Waves Wash Over me riff) That’s all it does. I don’t think it sounds like a 2 chord riff on the song though. I was impressed with how I got away with that! Immediately I found that, I realised that it was a really sick riff and thought ‘let’s see where it goes…’ And then once other people starting playing on it I saw that once it has other parts on it that do change it sounds really nice. Waves Wash Over Me is one of my favourite songs from Soul Kiss.
You carry the vibe onto I Love You To The Moon and Back.
All the backwards effects are pretty psychedelic there.
Yeah, and it has a good intro that one. I like a good intro!
There was a gig freebie 7” of that song.
Yeah, like an instrumental demo version.
With Capo Waltz on the b-side.
Gig freebie 7″ – with rare sleeve given away with issue 1 of Spacemen 3 fanzine The Outer Limits
Acetate for rejected pressing of gig freebie
The way I Love You moves into My Love Never Died… That particular sound that links the 2 tracks is something of a signature of yours.
It’s called a ‘repeat percussion’. Back then there weren’t that many different effects basically. Nowadays there’s hundreds of different cool effects that people have come up with, both software and hardware versions. There are also hundreds of people making them. Back then just to find a half-decent fuzz was a fucking labour of love! Ditto wah-wah, ditto anything else. So when I found a guitar that had all those effects built into it and all the effects sounded super-sick….
(points at the legendary Teardrop guitar which sits in a corner) You mean that one?
Vox Starstreamer – the ‘Teardrop’ guitar
That’s a thing of beauty, and also something of a signature of yours.
Yeah. Luckily no one was famous for playing that model so I sort of lucked out with that. And with the Fender Jaguar I was fairly lucky too. I mean Elvis Costello used one but how many people in recent history are known for using Jaguars…?
What about the model you’ve been using recently. (points at guitar) Is that it?
That’s the bass version of it actually. That’s an Airline. Canadian.
Sonic Boom plays an Airline guitar
It’s quite modern looking for you.
No, no, it’s from the fifties! The Flying V is from something like 1959! Did you know that?
Yeah, it’s insane! The original dudes who used those were blues guys. (picks up a Gibson guitar) This is Gibson’s version of the Jaguar and Fender considered this similar enough to the Jaguar to sue them! Gibson made a lot of really whacked-out designs that just didn’t really catch on. I mean the Flying V didn’t catch on for years! Lightning Hopkins used to play it, people like that. Bo Diddley would have maybe rocked it.
It’s not a guitar design I’m that fond of. It looks a bit too glammy.
The Flying V? You know what? When I bought the Teardrop the guitar I was going to buy…(pauses dramatically)
Surely not a Flying V?
Yeah! One of the original fifties ones! One of the wooden ones, and you can sit down with them because they have strip of serrated rubber so it doesn’t slide off your knee, or it’s not meant to anyway. But then I thought ‘no, I don’t think I can do it’ because they were known for being a metal band guitar. I’m not a big fan of Gibsons anyway – they don’t suit my style. When the dudes who had the Teardrop found it they didn’t really want to sell it – they said ‘we don’t know if it’s for sale – we rent it out for videos a lot’.
Videos? But the sound is lovely!
(hesitates) Ye-ah… The effects they put on it serve as to fix it because it doesn’t sound that nice when it doesn’t have effects on it… but once you put effects on it it rips!
Isn’t that same with most guitars?
Yeah but that guitar is particularly bad with no effects, and is particularly good with effects. If you want that really ‘rubber band’ 60s sound you can definitely get that out of it. It will deliver that all day long. It has a wah built into it as well. ‘Repeater’ is literally just playing 3 of the same note through the fuzz, the repeat percussion and slowly going through the wah, and then slowly back again of course. That song is pretty much written by that. The other thing is that, although no one had trademarked it visually, no one had found much use for that sound. I’ve hardly found it on any records.
Spacemen 3 – Repeater (How Does It Feel) (live)
That ‘Repeater’ sound?
Yeah. Organs have it on quite often. It makes the organ go ‘tchang-tchang-tchang-tchang-tchang’! It’s meant to sound like mandolin, you know ‘ticka- ticka- ticka- ticka‘… It’s reiteration.
So you just slowed it down?
Yeah. It goes so slow it’s like ‘ZOINK! ZOINK!’ and Vox were the only company who were whacky enough to think that anyone was ever going to use this. And I guess I was the only person! I haven’t found an example of anyone using it like that. And then of course I use it backwards a lot, where it goes ‘zip zip zip zip zip zip zip!’. It is a trademark sound and I’m pretty stoked to be hanging five with it. (laughs) It’s a good one!
Back to Soul Kiss. The next track is ‘My Love For You Never Died Away…’
It’s another sister song to ‘My Life Spins Round Your Every Smile’. I think it was done by holding down one key on the Casio and then flicking through the setting that makes it be keyboard, bass keyboard, organ, chord, and then it’s just me going ‘zing zing zing zing’ through that. It’s one of those ones which doesn’t have any lyrics but the title kind of says it all. A pretty intense title! Hee-hee!
Where did the title come from?
Hee hee! I don’t know! My soul gave out and withered! Everyone just liked it. Like Soul Kiss – the album’s title… There is actually a guitar pedal called a Soul Kiss, which I didn’t realise. There’s several Spectrum synths and pedals and God knows what, but there is a Soul Kiss pedal that Electro Harmonics made that I didn’t know about. But I read some graffiti in Germany that said ‘I’ve been smoking spider webs, kiss my soul’. And I thought ‘that’s good – soul kiss… brilliant, perfect!’ And the ‘Glide Divine’ bit was because it was already meant to be this thematically linked thing, and that matrix whooshing stuff is the ‘Glide Divine’ basically. A sort of mood encapsulating sound.
Then comes Richard’s lovely ‘Sweet Running Water’. What’s that noise at the very start? That clicking buzz that sets it off?
Does it go like ‘cgcgcgcghhhh’ (makes clicking buzzing noise!)
It’s an ass’s jaw bone.
Yeah! You take the jaw bone of an ass which looks a little bit like a wishbone but with teeth in it. The teeth, when an ass dies, don’t fall out. The gums and everything go but the teeth remain in but loose, and if you hold one side of the wishbone that is the ass’s jaw and smack the other side it makes all the teeth rattle – ‘cgcgcgcghhhh’ (makes clicking buzzing noise again!).
And you are not actually kidding here?
(laughs) NO! It’s not a proper ass’s jawbone, this one, but it’s used in South America where they use it a lot in maybe… samba, salsa or something.
Does it appear elsewhere on the album? I didn’t see anyone credited for ‘ass’s jawbone’!
It’s a sort of Güiro type thing… I don’t remember exactly without listening to it.
So you just found it in the studio?
Um… No, and I don’t believe that one was a proper ass’s jawbone but that’s what that instrument is called – it has some crazy South American name.
And you can buy those?
You can actually but those! There’s a very, very good percussion store in Chicago which sells them for sure, but they also make things that make that sound which are made out of mock mosaic or something. There’s a lot of flavours of percussion…
Sweet Running Water has a very Spacemen 3 feel to it, guitar-wise. Many people are surprised that didn’t come from you.
Yeah, Sweet Running Water is in that style. I guess because Richard was on some of the Spacemen 3 songs he knew about a bunch of droney stuff. He’s a few years older than me – maybe 5 years… He had a different load of sounds I didn’t know. Rolf Harris’ Sun Arise for example – I didn’t know that but he probably bought that when it came out!
There’s a glorious bit where the guitars and feedback all seem to align together.
You mean the solo?! (laughs) There’s a windpipe solo in that as well going ‘woooooooooooooooo’. I play that solo on windpipe! It’s really a motherfucker to get those high notes because you have to whirl it so it’s like ‘wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’
Spectrum – Sweet Running Water
Touch The Stars is another ‘jump forward’ to Highs, Lows again…
I wrote that and played it before I recorded it at my sister’s wedding. On a real poxy old church organ… It was fucking hard work!
Did you write it for your sister?
No, I don’t think I did but she asked me if I’d play something and I decided that that would be the one to play. And since then one of my best friends, my buddy Nick Kramer, when he got married and I played that song as they walked to the altar.
Spectrum – Touch The Stars
That’s nice. It joins beautifully with Quicksilver Glide Divine.
Yup. Again – there’s that whoosh stuff again. It keeps coming down to the whoosh – I still use something similar to that when I play live. I have like a whoosh going that I bring up and it’s there between a lot of the tracks.
You achieve a perfect drone on that track – real clarity, almost like a mantra.
Yes, that’s right.
Spectrum – Quicksilver Glide Divine
Then we have the ‘proper’ Drunk Suite which goes into something like a waltz by the end.
Yeah. A little rond at the end.
Might that track have influenced Panda Bear? I can hear his style in this.
You’d have to ask him! He seems to like the Sonic Boom ‘Spectrum’ album but I guess he’s heard Soul Kiss!
This is also a track that shows similarities to some of Jason’s work at that time, particularly slower building songs like ‘Feel So Sad’.
Hmmm, interesting. It always had that feel from the drunk/stoned/slurring vibe from the guitar part. It’s played where there’s no attack in the guitar so he’s playing early and then fading it up. That was a fun one and was meant to be non-serious and silly. People always think I’m very po-faced and serious and because some of the stuff is intense and depressing I understand that. (laughs) I got booed a couple of times playing with Kurt Vile! The reviews said I was sandwiched between these 2 sunny jingly-jangly pop bands.
The album closes with your long ambient piece, Phase Me Out Gently. It goes on for a long time.
Yes. I guess it needs it. It makes a statement. It takes a little while to get in the mood really, to get deep in it. I’m not sure now but it seems easy in retrospect to have shortened that by a few minutes to make the vinyl cut better. We cut it on direct metal mastering which was a luxury not easily granted. It tended to make things sound a little brittle and tinny, but I knew we were going to lose some of this from it being coloured vinyl and it being an hour long. With normal mastering they really don’t want to do an hour on vinyl as they think 45 minutes is the absolute goal, which it isn’t as you can get more, but with direct metal mastering, because of the precision of the cutting into copper discs instead of acetate you can cut an hour easily. It’s a shame but nearly all those machines have gone now – we used them on the last Panda Bear album but it’s hard to find somewhere to do it.
Are they just out of date?
Well they’re not really out of date but no one pressed vinyl for 15 years so people stopped cutting records which meant all the fucking cutting rooms went and all the machines too. And often you’d have one lathe for your regular cuts and you have to have a special lathe for direct metal mastering – or there always seemed to be a separate lathe anyway. So it was the first thing to go and then you’d have some sort of little digital editing suite instead. In that time period computers were coming in to mastering as well so music wasn’t being mastered from tape anymore. It was all being thrown straight into a computer – initially they used to charge more for a session using Sonic Solutions but then they realised that the sessions took half as long.
Who were Sonic Solutions?
They were an early software company who made audio/editing software. So you take your tracks, you throw them in, you cut out your gaps… you know? You cut silence off the end of the track… Mastering is making sure everything like the gaps are right, the cross fades are right and the sound is locked down so it sounds good on as many systems as possible is the best way I can put it.
Direct Metal Mastering sounds worthwhile if you can do it?
It is. It’s just, as I say, that the systems are all fucking gone, and then if you can find one – there’s one at Abbey Road – they say ‘yeah but we can’t get copper discs at the moment’. I said ‘why don’t you keep them in stock?’ and they said ‘we can’t because it corrodes and oxidises and with the price of copper at the moment…’ So it’s pffffffffffffffff…..
There are some other tracks hanging over from the sessions that appeared elsewhere like the Sympathy For The Record Industry double 7”. Taste The Ozone?
Ha! I don’t remember that one!
There’s a version of Don’t Go – wasn’t that originally by The Crying Shames?
I think it’s older than that. I don’t know who wrote that but it might have been The Drifters who had the first hit with Please Stay. Actually I was trying to record a Nick Lowe song called Endless Sleep, and it was a really sick song that I played to a few people. I played it to David J and he was like ‘I want to record this song’ and I told him I was already planning to…
The Drifters – Please Stay
David J from Bauhaus..?
Yeah! I was working with him for a while in the early 90s. I eventually said it would probably take me ages to get round to it, so he did actually record it. It was on the Bowi EP Nick Lowe did – where he does the spoof of ‘Low’ by Bowie. So it’s ‘Bowi by Low’ and he spells Bowi without an ‘e’ because Bowie spelled ‘Low’ without an ‘e’! Ha ha – I thought that was really humorous! Anyway it’s on that EP and it’s a really pretty track, and I tried recording it and that’s the music of ‘Don’t Go’. I couldn’t hit some of the notes in the song to do it justice so I was like ‘fuck it’, and then I was just riffing on it and ended up singing that Crying Shames stuff on it. So ‘Don’t Go’ kind of came out of that and it just happened to fit. So the music technically is meant to be Endless Sleep by Nick Lowe! It’s a nice song.
Nick Lowe – Endless Sleep
Spectrum – Don’t Go
Do you like Soul Kiss less than Highs, Lows?
You know, I never listen to them but if I do hear bits of them I usually really enjoy it. So I can’t really say.
Do you rate those albums?
Yeah I like all my records I have to say. That sounds like ‘well, of course you would wouldn’t you’, but after recording them the more distance you get the less the faults, mistakes and problems… you basically forget all that – it’s human nature you know? Goldfish syndrome kicks in and you just remember the good stuff!
The afternoon has turned to early evening and our interview is over. It’s been an intriguing discussion and Pete’s enthusiasm for the music he made back then is obvious. Afterwards we listen to Soul Kiss all the way through and remark on many of the things we’ve been talking about – mind wind, wind pipes, and even ass’s jawbones. The album sounds fantastic, but the atmosphere is certainly heightened by the idea that I am listening to it with the man largely responsible for making it.
The next morning he’s on a tight schedule working on Panda Bear’s latest music, and I leave Rugby feeling very pleased with the information Pete has given me. Inevitably I play Soul Kiss on the car stereo at top volume on the drive back to Leeds. That might be the best it’s ever sounded…
Endless thanks to Pete and Sam Kember for their generous hospitality and allowing me to take up a good half day of their busy lives and occupy their sofa for several hours.
Mark, April 2014