The Queens Hall staged the opening night of The Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) Tour to promote the collaborative album ‘The Marble Downs’. The opener “I Made A Date (With An Open Vein)” builds to a crescendo of drums, guitar and vocal harmonies that leads to a set comprising originals and covers including a wonderful version of Scott Walker’s “Duchess” which drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson dedicates to his mother for her 60th birthday.
Lavinia Blackwall’s commanding voice acts as a perfect foil to Bonnie Prince Billy’s gentler tones and as with all great male/female duets there is a sensual tension to their duelling. The humorous bawdy traditional song “My Husbands Got No Courage In Him” is one of the highlights of the set as is the Gram Parsons inspired Every Time I Close My Eyes (We’re Back There).
There was a rawness about the performance and none of the songs felt over-rehearsed which made the show loose and enjoyable. The band also were able, perhaps because of the collaborative aspect of the performance, to branch out into areas probably not associated with the traditional folk reflection of The Tremblimg Bells such as country and western, psych-rock and murder balladry…..
Mark McClelland, ex bassist of Snow Patrol speaks to Feast about `Rock, Riot, Soul´ the debut album of his new band Little Doses.
When you listen to Little Doses for the first time you could feel your soul touched. The band was formed in Edinburgh two years ago by Mark McClelland songwriter, ex bassist of Snow Patrol. Mark is joined by Kristen Ross (vocals); Chris Alderson, Mike Skinner (guitar) and Michael Branagh (Drums, percussion and vocals). The band has been compared by the critics to a diverse range of bands including Arcade Fire, The Raconteurs, The Eagles, Blondie, of Fleetwood Mac, among others. Feast Records caught up with Mark McClelland to talk about his band, the debut Album and their music.
Why did you decide to start Little Doses?
M. M : I love making music, playing live and recording. I had a set of songs written and demoed in my flat which I was proud of and wanted to take further so I started looking for members for a new band.
How would you describe your new album, Rock Riot Soul?
M.M: The record is very varied; many of the band’s influences are touched upon. Definitely based in heavy rock territory tempered with alt country influences, Kirsten’s awesome soulful voice throws another curveball at the mix, no one has been able to summarise what we sound like and I think that is a good thing!
Was it difficult for you to find the right musicians for this band?
M.M: I had just moved to Edinburgh from Glasgow so I didn’t know that many people here, especially the local scene and bands, so yes it was hard to find the right people. I ended up just asking the guys I did know to recommend some good musicians and started there.
When can people see Little Doses playing live in Edinburgh next?
M.M: We just launched our new album in Edinburgh at the start of March and we are back in the Voodoo Rooms on the 21st April headlining the We Luv Musik night.
Are Little Doses planning a tour for this Summer?
M.M: We are hoping to play bigger gigs and farther afield this year and are currently looking for great gigs to play.
Could you speak about the recording process of Rock Riot Rock?
M.M: The decision to self-record Rock Riot Soul came about through organic channels, I hadn’t enjoyed two recording sessions even though they were in great local studios. They felt too rushed, too disjointed, all over the place, there was too much time pressure and too little exploration.
I felt a lot of the charm and interest from my home demos had been lost. I have always loved the production role in recording and was heavily involved in every album I played on, but had never been solely responsible for all aspects of recording before, I had a lot to learn.
So as an experiment, I went to the DIY store and made some acoustic treatment for my walls and windows and bought some secondhand recording equipment from America and created a tiny version of a studio in my flat.
Recording just felt so much more enjoyable there, there was little time pressure (which was good as I had so much to learn) and the first tracks we produced felt a lot more Little Doses, whatever that means. So we decided to stick with this approach.
Before the release of Rock Riot Soul, Little Doses recorded in Jewel and Esk college three acoustic versions of your album track. Why do you decided to record these tracks there? How was the experience recording there?
M.M: Our singer’s brother is doing an audio engineering course at Jewel & Esk and he wanted us to come in and record something to give him more experience. At the same time we realised we needed some video to accompany the album release so a cunning plan began to form.
Originally we planned just to be in the studio and take video of the process and the band playing live, but Ross (Kirsten’s brother) arranged the auditorium for us which looked great with the black background and stage and is still linked to a recording studio in the complex, so we could get great sounding audio and a good looking video too.
It was slightly difficult recording like that as we couldn’t have any headphones and so had difficulty hearing each other, but the end result was great. The songs sounded awesome, modern albums don’t get recorded like this that often, instruments are normally isolated as much as possible. So the sound of everything happening together, it sounded retro, really warm and with an awesome vibe.
I think the college should do this more, it’s a great opportunity for all involved, the audio and video students and the band who can get a great video at the end of it. You learn so much more by actually doing what you’ve been taught instead of reading about it.
What is your opinion of learning music at a college?
M.M: There are so many people wanting to work in the music industry and yet so few jobs that people can’t get apprenticed as a tape op or tea boy at studios anymore. So college can supply those basic skills, the studios in the college are great, much more advanced than my home set up, I was jealous of this cracking opportunity to learn on great gear. The students should grab this opportunity and record as much as possible.
However, you also need to be making contacts for jobs and start working with bands from your first day in college, there is so much competition for jobs you need to be first in the queue, have met every soundman in the city and get your foot in any door.
No soundman I have worked with professionally went to audio college, they are just talented, hard working and driven and knew / met the right person at the right time.
Do you think that the traditional ways of music distribution are dying? From your own point of view how is the music industry going to change in the next 10 years?
M.M: It’s up to consumers, you decide how every pound in your pocket gets spent. If you want to save your local record store, then buy your records from there. It’s the same with these Xfactor Xmas number ones, everyone hates them but someone keeps buying them and so our music business sees that as a carte blanche to manufacture more inane aural chewing gum. If you buy independant music, more independant music will be commissioned.
I don’t have a problem with downloads, from my point of view, having set up a record company Black Ditto Recordings to release the Little Doses record, we can now provide our music worldwide for very little cost. There are no variable costs per extra download and we can even supply cd quality instead of mp3 from our own site www.littledoses.com
The main issue is, everyone can do that, so there is a glut of music to choose from and only the major labels have the financial muscle to advertise their acts effectively, because of this the media and radio (who only want to back winners) choose to deal with the major labels, closing off the only free advertising available. That’s why having people share your music or videos on places like facebook is so important, it’s a level playing field, its a great way to spread the news about a small band you’ve found that push your buttons.
I think the future of music is the middle men. We need cool radio websites, magazines, blogs who stray from the beaten track and introduce new music, have a strong editorial policy so you can trust their recommendations and keep going back to discover your new music.
Another worrying trend is that despite this well advertised increase in people going to see live music, resulting in massive ticket prices for the Murrayfield stadium gigs and of course T in the Park, less people are interested in seeing live music at the grass roots level. More money for the big companies and once again a tougher enviroment for the outsiders. You could probably see 3 local gigs every month for a year for the same price as entry to a festival will cost you, that´s 100 possible awesome new bands out there!
What do you think about piracy?
M.M: Piracy is a real issue, small bands need every penny they can to pay for rehearsals, travel to gigs, recording, maybe advertising. Buying a cd from them at a gig is probably the biggest help you can give them, especially if you play it to your friends.
On a bigger scale, the recording industry needs reinvestment to find and nurture the bands of the future, to advertise them. That approach seems old fashioned now, most acts aren’t given the chance, because of piracy, money is tight so the mantra is, make money or be dropped. And the acts that guaranteed make you the money is the Xfactor, so that’s what we get. They’ve been on TV for 3 months already, do most people question how many millions (billions?) of pounds three months of primetime TV advertising would cost for a band. These guys have a huge advantage, no wonder they go straight to number one and sell more than the Beatles! And instead of paying for it they actually get you to phone in at a pound a time every week, more profit. It’s an incredible business model, I wish I had thought of it, but its a slow death for the music industry!
How could you describe the musical landscape in Scotland?
M.M: Edinburgh has a good scene but for some reason hiring venues is really expensive here (perhaps because of the festival?). Some of the really good ones are now closing or moving their focus as it feels like less people go out to local gigs to get their kicks these days. When the venue is expensive, you can make big losses on gigs when starting off and there is hardly any profit to share amongst the bands and promoter, even when you’ve had a busy night. So less money to pay for rehearsals and to plan gigs further afield, it puts Edinburgh bands at a disadvantage from the off.
The Glasgow scene attracts bands from all over Scotland so it is always strong, has great gigs on pretty much every night and has a strong base of gig goers. However it feels like things are getting a bit too big over there, too many venues, too many gigs happening and the scene is getting diluted. But I definetely feel there is a big advantage starting a band over there, I just don’t like the rain!
Outside of the cities there is still a lot of music, however I don’t have enough experience of it to talk it up. It’s common for emerging bands to tour smaller towns and can have really great gigs there. I’m up for it, if you want to book us get in touch!
From your own experience as bassist of Snow Patrol what is the best and the worst of being part of a successful band?
M.M: The best thing is playing awesome shows round the world and the sheer buzz you get from people loving your music. The first time you hear your track on a big radio station is a big buzz too! A career in music is a rollercoaster ride, an amazing sold out gig in one town, then an empty one the night after, its nice not to have those disappointments once you are becoming successful.
The worst part of being successful is all the people trying to advise you and pull you in the direction they want you to go. Suddenly you have tons of conflicting advice, brand new temporary friends, people wanting you to do them favours and it’s cuthroat at the top.
What advice would you like to give to a person who is thinking of devoting his/her life to music?
M.M: Be awesome, follow your heart, work hard, work harder it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and make sure you enjoy every minute.
“Here’s a song about enduring love. It’s called Will” Just one of many examples of Will Oldham’s humour which we experience tonight. When he comments that earlier at dinner he became frustrated with himself for not noticing wine dripping from his moustache onto his $80 shirt, a female from the audience offers to ‘suck’ it clean whereupon Oldham drops to his knees begging “please, please”.
Oldham’s songs are often poetic, playful, sometimes violent and filthy but all seem tinged with a sense of the wonder of life. It’s been five years since Oldham’s alter ego Bonnie Prince Billy last played in Glasgow and such is his prolific songwriting, producing an album every year since then that he performs for nearly an hour before he plays any songs from his latest album, Wolfroy Goes to Town.
There is no rhythm section present tonight and this allows the harmonies of the group to soar and wrap you up in the heartfelt emotion that Oldham is consistently able to convey with his songs. Indeed songs such as I See a Darkness and That’s What Our Love Is are like hymns, they become gospels.
Oldham relishes collaboration such as his 2005 Superwolf project with Matt Sweeney, which was the last time I saw him play in one of his other guises. He will be collaboraitng again soon with Trembling Bells their opening night at The Queens Hall in Edinburgh in April. More songs about enduring love then.
Loud, melodic and a driving beat makes The War on Drugs good road music. I buy their debut album Wagonwheel Blues after the show and play it on my drive back to Edinburgh. The show kicks off and ends with two tracks from this album. Buenos Aires Beach with it’s psych-rock organ, distorted guitar and military drumming and A Needle in Your Eye which shows of their big sound like Dylan being put through the noise of early Sonic Youth.
They play all the tracks from their recent brilliant Slave Ambient album including the Springsteen-esque Baby Missiles which first appeared on their Future Weather ep. The band throughout their set create dense waves of sound and bring a real edge to The Waterboys cover A Pagan Place which makes me want to listen to their early stuff even though I disliked The Whole of the Moon or their earthy roots music of Fishermans Blues.
The layers of sound and intensity that The War on Drugs create lifts you up – just close your eyes and be a slave to their ambience.
Philadelphian Kurt Vile and his three-strong band, The Violators with their slightly melancholic, guitar-led psyche-folk drone do an end of Summer show in Glasgow to promote his fourth album – ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’.
Vile drifts on stage to open with a haunting solo version of Blackberry Song with echoing vocal reverence and guitar fingerpicking. Immediately afterwards he’s joined by the rest of the band who present a live wall of sound as one of the guitarist works a multitude of pedals and switches to complement his strumming, whilst the other switched between guitar, saxophone (for the gloriously cacophonous “Freak Train”).
The band when they hit on the effect-laden guitar swirls of Baby’s Arms reminded me of Dinosaur Jr and they end a great show with a near psychedelic breakdown cover of New Wave Hippies by Pschedelic Horseshit.
From the ashes of the great lamented Glasgow band Bricolage, guitarist Graham Wann has put together the equally vibrant and dynamic new outfit POST. The band have been keeping things low-key playing their own sporadic club nights so it’s a surprise when I see they are due to appear at the CCA hosted by the brilliant We Can Still Picnic collective who are tonight kicking off a series of events to promote their compilation album Mao Disney.
So low-key are the band that this is only the second time in a year that I’ve been able to catch them, however I suspect that’s about to change with their second single Monument to a Lost Cause getting regular airplay on both Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley’s 6music shows. Indeed they showcase this great track tonight. It’s too easy to pigeonhole the band with the usual Glasgow/post punk influences but their dream-pop-boogie is infectious and from what I can gather they’re just about to start recording their debut album – a monument to a great cause.
It’s great that Henry’s Cellar Bar is just down the road from me as this venue is putting on some brilliant bands such as So Many Wizards. This night is promoted by Song By Toad who as well as being a blog and record label are actually helping to keep Edinburgh on the map as a city for bands to play in. Too often these days I have to venture through to Glasgow to see bands so it’s really heartening to see someone actually getting up and doing something. Song by Toad put on regular nights so go out and support them and discover great new music http://www.songbytoad.com/
So Many Wizards are a four piece outfit based in Long beach, Los Angeles who describe themselves as ‘bedroom pop’. Their pop is very dreamy in a weird way and frontman Nima mentions later that he is a big David Lynch fan and I can hear that influence within their sounds. He adopts a sort of high falsetto voice for a number of the songs which fits perfectly with the stirring high tempo pop the band play. I hope to see them over here again soon as I hear the band have finished off their debut album with the working title Hot ‘n’ Ready. Check for details on their cool website http://www.somanywizards.com/
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!