Monday, 22 December 2014

INTERVIEW: Vladimir - The year that was...

As I walk into Gorbals Sound to meet Vladimir, the four piece have just finished their weekend of recording laying down their next single In My Head,  which will be due out in February/March of next year.  The studio complex on Pollockshaw Road has seen the likes of Glasvegas, BMX Bandits, and CHVRCHES through it's door, and boasts one of Scotland's best mix of digital and analogue recording set ups.  For Vladimir, it's been a weekend also spent in the company of former Soup Dragons and Teenage Fanclub drummer Paul Quinn.

"When we first walked in, I kind of went 'woah are we in the right place?'" laughs lead singer Ross Murray as I ask how the weekend's recording has been.  "It's been amazing.  We're kind of having to pinch ourselves and ask how have we ended up in here!" 

Hailing from Dundee, the band have had an eventful 2014; touring with The Twilight Sad, playing with The Fall,  and playing festivals such as T in the Park, Wickerman and Tramlines.  Yet they've only released the one single Smoke Eyes, complete with B-side cover of the club anthem Born Slippy.  That's something the band are looking to put right with the new single.

"It is a massive massive song", says Ross of new single In My Head.  "We are really determined to put out a great single" explains bassist Josh Gray.  "It'll be more poppy, more catchy and have more energy" he goes on.  The band seem confident that their road earned energy and tightness will translate well onto record, with some of the credit for this going to producer Paul Quinn.

"We've learned a lot" explains guitarist Peter Mackenzie.  "We've always wrote songs thinking of them being played live, but Paul's made us think about writing songs to go on record.  He's been really hands on with it."  This bodes well for the band as they look to make 2015 the year that they'll record their debut album.

If 2015 is the year the band record their debut album, then 2014 has been the year they've took their brand of bleak rock on the road.  The band played a headline tour of 8 dates across Scotland, which was a big step up for the band.  I asked Ross how the band have progressed due to this.  "We've been on the road loads, which we've never really done before, and you know staying overnights after gigs as well.  The gigs started off small and have got bigger and bigger."

As well as their own tour the band have hit festivals across Scotland; playing the T-Break Stage at T in the Pack, also GoNorth and Wickerman.  Again, as Ross explains, it was a learning experience.  "Festivals taught us a lot as well, because you don't get your usual sound checks and you've just got to be on it"  Outside of the Scottish festival circuit the band have also played Sheffield's Tramlines Festival and the Artrock New Blood Festival in London.  How was the experience of playing these festivals I ask?

"For our bands it's not really been that much of an issue, because Dundee has never really felt like a musical home town.  So we've always kinda felt wherever we are playing it's like going away" answers Peter.  "We're actually quite familiar with Sheffield anyway" points out drummer Sam Taylor.  Indeed the band have recorded down in Sheffield previously.  "Going down south it's not really a lot different, you just do the same thing.  Every time we've gigged we've took it in our stride."

Perhaps one of the biggest things to happen this year was the invitation to support The Twilight Sad on their run of gigs playing Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters,  which saw the band play Leeds, London, Manchester and Bristol back in April/May.  It was a big jump for the band, but they took it in their stride

"Those guys have been touring for years, so we learned a lot from them.  Things like how they conduct themselves and the day to day managing of the band.  They gave us tips, and it's improved us as a band as well."  I asked the band how touring with The Twilight Sad was, expecting to hear some rock and roll tales of debauchery.  It was the more practical things though that Ross and the rest of the band focused on.  "They were great with us.  I mean we knew them before the tour, but they were fantastic.  Let us use their dressing room, told us if we needed anything just to ask.  And we did go on nights out with them as well!"

Overall the year has seen the band progress a lot.  They have garnered more attention and press, from national outlets such as NME, and have also developed personally too.  "We've grew a bit as well, off stage stuff, and grew up a bit too" explains Ross.  "It's because we've been in each others company doing this [playing and media stuff]" interjects Josh.  "Touring also teaches you to know when people need their own space as well.  We've matured a lot, you know we still go out to have fun but we're learned not to piss people off as much!"

With personal highlights for the band including The Sad tour, meeting Mark E Smith, and playing to a packed T-Break stage at T in the Park, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they are looking forward to winding down for Christmas.  No such attitude just yet though as the band finished 2014 in style making their bow on the main stage of Glasgow's ABC venue, again in support of The Twilight Sad, on Friday 19th December. 

Before we part ways into the crisp Glasgow night, I ask how they plan to celebrate after the gig.  There's some smiles and laughs as they answer.  "We'll probably have a wee party after the gig" answers Ross.  I suspect the phrase 'wee' might just be underselling the celebrations a tad.  It's been a fantastic year, but you get the feeling that this is only the beginning.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Album Review - John Knox Sex Club - Oh Wow Must Be The Devil

The latest LP release from John Knox Sex Club, Oh Wow Must Be The Devil,  sees a chaotic and charming return to form since Blud Rins Cauld  (2010) and Raise Ravens  (2011).  Always a welcome force in the Scottish live music scene, fans have waited with breath baited and nerves on 'stretched to breaking' tenterhooks for an album based on the five songs which make up Oh Wow Must Be the Devil.

For a band who set out as a 'live thing', they are doing all they unintentionally can to debunk the myth.  With some special recordings from the past and a short time out before a reformation, this collection of folk/punk dictats, some lengthy in their telling and caustic in delivery, does perfecting shambolism in the way which only JKSC know.

Minotaur  sets the mood with a determined marching drum beat laying the foundations for distorting guitar and increasingly frantic violin, each building the mood and crashing against the now familiar chanting, despairing wonderful vocals we have become accustomed to from Sean Cumming.

Hard Days  is an absolute epic of track.  A wall of sound at the start lulls us into a false sense of security, and the familiar trademark from JKSC will prevail.  However as the vocal less sound builds and then drops completely, we are introduced to a mantra of "hard days to come, there’ll be hard days to come…" painting a bleak backdrop which would fit snugly over any Cormac McCarthy tale.  A haunting violin adds to the uneasiness, and a sense of foreboding ensues as a gothic choral chant and call and response vocal has us desperately anticipating the next part of the journey.  A true derelict gem of a song.

A Song in Sleep
  is a melodic interlude, lyrics nonetheless desolate and uplifting at the same time "barbed wire to stop, stop me jumping."  An engaging lead guitar riff and a soft pleading vocal prepare us nicely for a gradual resolve to distortion and a fadeout mantras musings of both lips and kissing.  And all along the stringed chaos builds in the background.

Animals  is where JKSC are most at home.  This is the trademark sound and wonderful it is too.  With most definite acknowledgements to Scottish counterparts The Twilight Sad and The Phantom Band, this is folk/punk at its absolute peak.  Utterly compelling from start to finish.

Ashes  starts as an offbeat drum experiment where guitar sounds appear to be placed randomly and without direction, and in such perfection too.  The almost traditional folk violin jars against loose structure created, and appears as a lotus flower in a blank landscape.  Again Sean’s vocals are haunting and beautiful and stark and engaging.

The five tracks which make up this offering provide us with a perfect representation of where John Knox Sex Club are today, and also confirms their purpose and 'live' band credentials belie an ability to write and record some wonderful landscapes and tunes.  And today, they are in a very good place.

- Bobby Motherwell

John Knox Sex Club - Oh Wow Must Be The Devil  is out now via Instinctive Racoon and can be downloaded via all good online music retailers or purchased on vinyl here.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Single Review - The Amazing Snakeheads - Can't Let You Go

Following the release of their debut album Amphetamine Ballads  in April this year, The Amazing Snakeheads return with a fresh line up with frontman Dale Barclay as the only remaining member from the original band.  However, the change in personnel doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting damage to this band, but perhaps enhanced the erratic phenomena that trickles from their music.

Teasing, jovial guitar strings waltz in unassumingly as we’re introduced to Can’t Let You Go.  The introduction of Dale Barclay’s vocals are met somewhat perfectly with the volatile thrashing of cymbals and rich guitar notes and with that, the invigorating strangeness of The Amazing Snakeheads has fully polluted your mind, wondering what you’ve let yourself in for.

The hysteria contained within Can’t Let You Go  builds steadily as the four piece produce lazy but merrily teasing tones before all erupts and you’re firmly in the depths of hazy, punk-garage eccentricity.  Barclay’s beautifully husky vocals contain howls of conviction, authenticity and plenty of I-couldn’t-give-a-fuck-attitude.

The exceedingly infectious and aggressive guitar and cymbals produce a storm of grunge ecstasy and unadulterated nonsense.

- Melanie McKinlay 

The Amazing Snakeheads - Can't Let You Go  is out now via Domino Records on 7" vinyl or download and can be purchased here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Good Pack Glasgow Edition

hristmas eh?  Seems like at this time of year there's a clutter of artists doing covers of Christmas classics, or putting out their own festive tinged numbers (both of which we heartly endorse here at Scottish Fiction).  In a kind-of Charlie Brown moment though, six Scottish artists have banded together with The Good Pack to remind us all what this time of year should be about.

My home city of Glasgow has a great music heritage, but sadly suffers from intense poverty in some areas, and the rise in foodbank use and numbers is a symptom of this.  The Good Pack is an organisation that bundles up 'packs' of music and offers them out at a fair price with proceeds going to a chosen charity.  The Glasgow Edition sees six artists make their albums/EPs available for a minimum of $6 (approximately £3.81) with 40% of proceeds going to Glasgow Northwest and Southeast Foodbanks to support Glasgow's hungry over Christmas.

The albums/EPs are:

Three Blind Wolves - Sing Hallelujah For The Old Machine
Algernon Doll - Omphalic
Pronto Mama - Niche Market
Poor Things - Poor Things
Carson Wells - Wonder Kid
BAD LUCK - Between Dog & Wolf

If you don't own these collections already then you're in for some great music with your donation.  Even if you already own all or some of the albums/EPs, hopefully worthy cause will prompt you to pick them up again.

Head along to The Good Pack website to donate and download.

We're Only Here For The Banter - Kinbrae

The latest music act to join the micro label Common Records, Kinbrae are twin brothers Andrew and Michael Truscott who play a variety of brass, guitar and percussion to create a unique blend of accessible ambient and classical music.  The pair have just released their album Coastal Erosion  via Common Records so I caught up with them to find out more.

Hello!  How the devil are you?

Very well!  Enjoying unseasonably warm weather up here on the Isle of Coll.  Although this weekend the weather has started to turn – ferries being cancelled etc.

It's the question everyone hates, but could illuminate our readers with a little bit about your music and your influences?

Our music is probably best described as melancholic instrumental music primarily made up of simple piano melodies with accompanying brass scores.  We also incorporate subtle use of percussion, strings, synths, found sounds and field recordings.

What's your song-writing / creative process like?

We usually build material around simple ideas, usually a repeating piano/brass melody.

What could we expect to see from a live show?

The live show is pretty different from the material on record.  For one, we use electric guitar, something that doesn’t feature on the album as well as the usual piano and brass focal point.  You can expect more drones, loops and each member changing instrumentation quite a bit throughout the live show.  We try to change the line up of musicians from time to time as well.  Hopefully we’ll be incorporating visuals into our live show soon as well.

Tell us about your album Coastal Erosion.

The album I guess has quite a nostalgic feel to it, as it is about our childhood growing up in the small village of Wormit in North East Fife.  The record was mostly recorded in my flat in Glasgow and my grandparents' old, empty house in Newport on Tay.  Field recordings are the sounds from the area we grew up – River Tay, trains crossing the Tay Rail Bridge, wind, and wildlife.

What else have you got planned for the rest of 2014 and into 2015?

Playing at Ambient Festival in Cologne, Germany in January

What are you listening to at the moment?

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Atomos
Kiasmos – Kiasmos
Grouper – Ruins
Brian Eno & Harold Budd – Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror
Alvvays – Alvvays
Jon Hopkins – Asleep Versions

Thanks for speaking with us, would you care to share a joke with us?

A man walks into a bar with a sausage roll under his arm:  “A pint of Guiness for me and the sausage roll,” he says to the barman.  “I’m sorry sir,” replies the barman, “we don’t serve food in here.”

Check out more from Kinbrae

Facebook         Twitter          Bandcamp

Monday, 15 December 2014

Scottish Fiction Podcast - 15th December 2014

Scottish Fiction gets Christmassy on this week's show as some Christmas tunes both old and new slip into the playlist along side new music from Errors, Collapsible Mountains, Turtle and Vasquez.  T'is the season and all that. 

Keeping things festive are my session guests Campfires In Winter, who joined me in the studio for a stripped back session ahead of their Christmas gig at Sloans on Wednesday 17th December.  The band played three tracks, including a never before heard exclusive, and chatted about their plans for an album next year.

Belle and Sebastian - The Party Line
The Son(s) - Christmas Song
Broken Records - My Beer Drunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees In The World
Campfires In Winter - We'll Exist - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studios
Collapsible Mountains - Hope
COVER LOVER - Randolph's Leap - One More Sleep 'til Christmas
Now Wakes The Sea - Bear
Errors - Lease Of Life
Campfires In Winter - Janus - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studios
Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers - Believe In Yourself - As chosen by Campfires In Winter
Lady North - Monster Wants A Kiss
Vasquez - Thumbmusic
RE-MIXING IT UP - The Phantom Band - Women of Ghent (Miaoux Miaoux Remix)
Turtle - Lavender
Campfires In Winter - White Lights - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studios
Deathcats - Sprint
Ballboy - Merry Christmas To The Drunks, Merry Christmas To The Lovers
Das McManus - Not My Words
Honeyblood - Biro
CLASSIC TRACK - Travis - Driftwood
Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop

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Scottish Fiction - 14th December 2014 by Scottish Fiction on Mixcloud

EP Review - Machines In Heaven - Hindu Milk

Dynamic Glaswegian trio Machines In Heaven produce the kind of music that my experimental electro-dance loving self finds incredibly satisfying.  Their new EP Hindu Milk  is a cacophony of beautiful sounds, created courtesy of Davey Gwynne (production, guitar, synth, vocals), Greg Hurst (production, synths) and Connor Reid (production, guitar, synths).

The record gets down to business immediately with opener Edge Of The Middle.  Random ambient bleeps make way for surging guitar and intense melody, always with that killer beat.  This has already got me nodding my head and wanting to get the lights out and up dancing on my bedroom floor.

The light, glistening intro to the next track, the eponymous Hindu Milk,  is built up gently and magically.  I’m shaking my head in wonder now, as crunchy beats and electronically angelic vocals transcend the song to another level.  These guys know what they’re doing.  This is what electronic music should be: transformative, infectious and full of surprises.

You know you’re onto something good when you feel like you don’t even want to listen to the next song – I was inclined to save it up for later as a treat.  Voodoo Mechanics  doesn’t disappoint.  Packed with sassy guitar and sprinkled with kooky bloops, the strength of the synth carries it through to when the beat drops, releasing a whole world of chaotically organised sounds.  Another inducer of the head-shake, this one has the power to possess.

Feel Slow  is one of the band’ most popular tracks, and with a melody as captivating and beats as atmospheric as this, I can see why.  Just like in the way that composers of classical music tell a story with their music, so do the best makers of electro.  The drama created by the music alone is amazing, and it’s heightened by emotive vocals on top.

Sweetly picked strings are the foundation of the last song Holy Particles.  An altogether more chilled out vibe is offered here, and I must give the band kudos for apt song titles, as little chunks of heaven is what this track conjures.  This ambling sound gives way to a euphoric amalgam that escalates angelically.  A stream of sound that becomes almost mind-achingly reminiscent of infinity and space and the unknown.

The trio have hit the nail on the head with their own name too; these are the kinds of sounds I would be happy to hear in paradise.  Once you’ve heard their music there is no going back…

- Maura Keane

Machines In Heaven - Hindu Milk  is out now via Hot Gem Records and available to download via all good online music retailers.

Catch them live at Broadcast in Glasgow on the 17th December.