28 September 2016


Laura Gibson discusses the making of Empire Builder, her MFA, New York vs Oregon and some of her side projects

Photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Laura Gibson is gentle and soft-spoken, yet articulate and clever, just like her folk music tales. We meet up at the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch where she is about to play her second London show this year. Her fourth record, Empire Builder came out last April and is undoubtedly her best as yet, in spite of also being the most difficult to make.

 Mainly written in New York City, where Gibson moved from native Oregon in 2014 to attend grad school, it reflects the struggles she has being going through over the last couple of years. Not long after moving she broke her foot, and a few months later her East Village’s apartment got destroyed during a gas explosion that killed two people. Gibson escaped unharmed, but she lost everything, including her notebooks filled with lyrics and song ideas, and all her musical instruments. The result is a record which is still decidedly folky and tuneful, but also has a rough quality that cuts through the unique musical arrangements.

How is the tour going?

Very good, I think. This is our fifth show of the second UK leg, including a couple of festivals over the last weekend, which was really fun, though festivals are always a little chaotic. I took a break in August, but before then I was touring in the States and I also did a short run over here. The record came out in April, when I was still in grad school for the first six weeks, so I was bouncing back and forth between school and touring. Now that I finished school I can tour longer.

John Askew co-produced Empire Builder. How did the collaboration come along?
I first met John quite a few years back when I sang on a record with the Dodos, Visiter, which John engineered. Then I kept seeing him around and as I liked his manners and the things he had made, I asked him to co-produce the new album. Initially I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be making another record any time soon because I was going back to school, so I just booked two days with him, thinking I was only going to wrap my head around it, but it was really productive as we got seven basic chords for songs, and almost everything we did during those two days made it on the record. John was very smart as he pushed me while also giving me the reins. It was a very good balance between sharing his own ideas together with interesting ideas I came in with.

Your New York apartment was destroyed during an explosion in March last year. At what stage of the new record’s production were you when it happened, and did you lose any material you were working on?
I was almost done. The songs were at various stages of completion, but we had done all the basic tracks by then and I was just going back to sing the vocals. All the sounds were saved in a hard-drive in Portland, but I lost my notebook with the lyrics in the explosion. A few days after the fire I woke up and started writing down as much as I could remember, and though I had days booked in the studio, after the fire I was going to cancel, but John was so encouraging yet gentle that I decided to go anyway. I sang half of the vocals on those days, and when I listen to them now I can hear how exhausted I was, because I had lost everything. My voice was almost unable to perform anything, it sounded so raw and honest in a way, and it would have definitely sounded different had I not gone back and sung those lyrics just after the fire.

Did you also write some completely new lyrics after the fire or it was mainly rewriting what you had already done?
I remembered maybe half of the songs and the other songs were at various stages of completion. It is difficult to say how they would have been had I not gone back and rewritten them, but I think part of the songs were rewritten from memory of what had been written before, part were written beginning again just after the fire.

You recently got a MFA in Fiction Writing. What was the thesis about? 
It was a combination of short stories and a longer piece. All the short stories take place in Oregon and/or around Oregon in different time periods. The longer piece is about several characters in their late thirties including some jazz musicians and women working in shipyards. They are all quite lyrical, as I came in my strength being lyricism, rhythm and words, and I am still learning how to tell a story.

How much is your music autobiography and how much is  fiction?
I think both. It is kind of autobiographical laid on top of fiction, laid on top of autobiography. Even for me who I wrote all that, it is quite hard to tell, as it is all different things I pull from different parts of life, from different things I have read, from different things I have learnt. My songwriting is about what I am trying to express in that particular moment, but there are moments of fiction, moments of details added or taken away in order to both portrait that well artistically, and also to get across what I want to get across in an honest way.

“Not Harmless” is probably my favourite song of the new record. The lyrics are different from what you usually sing about.
There were frustrations at the time, and I wanted to write a song where I was declaring my own agency for both good and bad in the world, a song where I was perhaps the villain. I often play the part of someone wise that oversees things, so I was trying to write a song in which I was both flawed and powerful at the same time, and I am really proud of what came out.

You moved from Portland to New York mainly for your MFA. Now that you are done with your studies, are you planning to move back in the near future?
I have my apartment in New York, so I think I will stay there for now, but eventually I will move back to Portland. It is just that I want to wait till the end of the tour, and also I have moved so much over the last few years, and a couple of those moves took such an emotional toll on me that I am not quite ready to move from the little home I made in New York.

You were born in Coquille, a small town in the Oregon South Coast. How much do you think where people are from can influence the art they make?
Coquille and New York couldn’t be more opposite. I am from a very quiet place at the edge of town, surrounded by forests, where there is so much space and so much silence. I think that has affected how I have made music over the years and the way I think about things, because when you have that sort of space you can be imaginative and thoughtful in a longer way. As for New York, there is so much going on, and almost to match the architecture you stuck thoughts, words and ideas on top of each other in a way that is quite different from where I grew up. But I don’t know if all that comes across on the record. I have always been interested in places, and that is why touring is always so rich for me and definitely affects my music.

What is your favourite part of the writing and/or recording process?
I really love all of it. I love writing songs and putting lyrics together. I think lyrics are probably the thing I spend the most time on.

Do you find more rewarding the initial impetus or the final stages of the process?
It is a different enjoyment. I enjoy just having an idea, but initial ideas don’t involve a lot of work, whereas finishing involves the most work, but it is so difficult yet the most satisfying, because that is when you take the initial idea and make it better. Now I am very pleased that I took the extra time to make this record and very thankful, but that wasn’t necessarily enjoyable at the time, it was actually quite painful. Though the end can seem very far from being an artist, it is part of being an artist too.

You have composed music for a lot of commercials. Many indie musicians are actually against the idea of having their music used for commercial purposes. What is your opinion on that?
I would never want my voice to sell a product which could cause harm to people, I would turn that down. Mostly, it is things that I have composed specifically for a commercial rather than my music being used, so it feels like a job separate from the job of me opening my heart, because I have never had something quite personal and decided whether or not I wanted the money for that.

Last year you wrote the music and lyrics for Up the Fall, a musical production created for performers with developmental disabilities, for the Portland-based Non-Profit PHAME Academy. How was the whole experience?
My goal for the project was to actually write towards strengths and not towards limitations. There were musical pieces just involving people on stage doing movements and not verbal, and some repetitive lyrics for certain songs, because for some members of that community it’s hard to memorize longer lyrics, but if it’s something beautiful it becomes something really profound in the repetition. That was a hard project, mostly because there were a lot of people involved and it was non-profit, which made it more complicated, but also very good. My favourite part was just the interacting with the performers, getting to know them and their voices, and try to write things that would suit their voices.

And would you also consider working on a movie soundtrack in the future?
Oh I would love to, that is a goal and dream of mine.

What is next?
I am collecting ideas right now. I have a few ideas for side projects outside of music, I want to get back to writing and also want to make another record just after touring.

“Empire Builder” is out now via City Slang 

Originally published on London in Stereo

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14 September 2016


Photos of I Like Trains at Bush Hall, London on 12th September

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7 September 2016


A couple of photos I took at Teenage Fanclub's gig at Islington Assembly Hall 2 nights ago.

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3 September 2016


Photos of Thee Oh Sees at the Coronet, London last night

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22 August 2016


Deap Vally talks about new record Femejism, working with Nick Zinner, Desert Daze Festival and the weirdest thing they have in their house

All photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Before meeting Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards, a.k.a. blues-rock queens Deap Vally, based on their music and stage presence I had pictured them as two L.A. eccentric, rebel girls, a contemporary version of The Runaways. Instead, I found myself hanging out with two charming, polite and extremely professional musicians. No sight of alcohol backstage, just Troy on vocal rest, sipping a herbal tea with honey, Edwards with her gorgeous baby Mira, and a friend helping her out with her new-mum duties. 

Their debut record, the gritty garage-blues masterpiece Sistrionix (which came out on Island Record in 2013), took the rock music world by storm and saw them climbing to celebrity heights almost overnight. With their powerful, visceral feminist anthems about career, sex and beauty, Deap Vally conquered the press, played massive festivals like Coachella and Reading, and gained a huge, loyal fanbase. 

After touring endlessly, parting ways with their label, taking some deserved time off, going through personal changes and switching hair colour about a dozen times, the Californian duo finally started working on a new record. Femejism (yet another word pun created by Edwards) is probably a little heavier and catchier, a bit more ‘70s rather than ‘60s, but still very Deap Vally at its core.

Writing the sophomore record might be a tricky task for most bands, especially when the debut album was as critically acclaimed as Sistrionix was, but Deap Vally didn’t feel any pressure at all and after leaving a major label, they were actually excited to finally make music the way they wanted to. “We wrote Femejism when we were between labels so we financed it ourselves, therefore there was really no pressure because we did it on our own time schedule, being able to listen to each track and get perspective, while carrying on living our lives”, Edwards explains. 

Aside from a couple of tracks produced by Deap Vally themselves, Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zinner, whom Troy and Edwards first met while opening for the NY band at a couple of American shows back in 2013, was in charge of the production. After keeping running into each other at festivals, it was actually Zinner who offered his help should the girls want to make another record, something the L.A. duo was honoured to accept when the right time came.

While the first album was written completely outside of the studio, all the songs’ structure and lyrics of Femejism were discovered whilst recording in the studio. “Nick would sit in and make us do several spontaneous live jams in a row to try to accidentally find some awesome stuff “, Edwards recalls. “He was really brave to sit there while we free-jammed because that could be a scary musical experience! Then we would just email each other those IPhone recordings back and forth, debate which ones to incorporate in a song, then go back to the studio and start jamming those ideas into songs.”

Deap Vally have planned a visual accompaniment to every track of the new record. “The music definitely stands alone, but visuals are such a fun, awesome addition to it”, Troy says. “Creatively, I think our videos really opened up this album cycle”, Edwards continues. “For the first record the videos were very cool lifestyle, gritty downtown Los Angeles, whereas the videos that are going to come out for Femejism are a bit more fun and less cool, and a bit more surreal.”So far, for the raw , abrasive ‘Royal Jelly’, they teamed up with director Jess Holzworth to make a dream-like video starring Georgia May Jagger dancing as a mime, whereas Bosnian-born Canadian filmmaker and musician Nina Ljeti directed the more laid-back DIY-aesthetic video for "Smile More".

Together with visuals, the duo has always given a lot of importance to their look too, going as far as to design their own stage costumes with the help of stylist Michelle Rose. “We are not a jeans and T-shirt type of band. We love the idea of putting on a show and wearing on stage something over-the-top that you can’t find anywhere else”, Edwards points out. 

Deap Vally is also known for performing shoeless, something that adds drama and coolness to their
shows. “It is nice to be connected to the ground as it gives you firm footing. There is no heel getting in the way or shoe constricting your foot. It just feels the most raw and vulnerable, which is important for us as performers”, Edwards explains.

Troy also occasionally knits hats on the road to sell at the merchandise table the same night. She actually learnt crochet from Edwards, when the latter was running workshops at her L.A. knitting shop. It is how the two met in the first place. “Unfortunately when we started touring a lot I had to sell the shop, but it is still there, which is nice as I can just go there and visit”. Edwards tells me. “Nowadays I barely do any crochet anymore, as saying that I have no time is an understatement…”

Edwards has been very busy indeed. Along with being a mum, she has been playing bass in her husband’s band JJUUJJUU, and the couple are also the organisers of the Desert Daze Festival. Initially conceived as a side party of Coachella five years ago, the first edition became an eleven-day festival at a dive bar in the Colorado Desert. Reducing the number of days, the following year they decided to carry on independently from Coachella and kept going from there. This year the festival will be run in Joshua Tree from the 14th till 16th October, featuring a lineup bigger than ever with the likes of Primus, Television, Suicide and The Black Angels. “It has been really blood, sweat and tears”, Edwards comments. “My husband is the real curator. Everybody around him is piping him with ideas, but he is the one busting his butt getting the lineup together and figuring out things. Festivals are so much fun. We love the challenge to win the audience over, and also you keep running into the same people so you make friends. It is like a summer camp!”

Finally, we ended up discussing weird objects kept in our house and Troy tells me that she still has all her wisdom teeth in their little case, while Edwards has kept the dead mouse that her cat caught preserved eternally in formaldehyde. Maybe, after all, they are the eccentric girls I pictured them to be……

Femejism is out on 16th September via Cooking Vinyl

Originally published on London in Stereo

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12 July 2016


A couple of months ago I spent a week in Buenos Aires... here are some photos

More photos here

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11 July 2016


Lera Lynn discusses Resistor, her creative process, life in Nashville and her Bachelor in Anthropology.

Photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Most people will probably recognise Lera Lynn for playing the role of a melancholic barroom singer in the second season of HBO crime drama True Detective and for setting the tone for a number of scenes of that show with her original songs, but the Nashville-based musician has also made her name in the surf-noir music circuit, releasing three full-lengths and one EP in only five years.

For new album Resistor, which came out on her own label at the end of April, Lynn abandoned the languid country-tinged songs that populated her earlier material in favour of a darker, more textured sound. The new emphasis on percussion and the reverbed guitars create an atmosphere that recalls the American hinterland pictured in some David Lynch movies: neon lit motels, dark highways and ghosts on the highway.

I caught up with her to discuss her creative process, life in Nashville and her Bachelor in Anthropology.

How do you think your character on True Detective influenced the writing of Resistor?
I think it liberated me to explore some new places in my writing, as it revealed to me a whole audience that I didn't know existed.

Joshua Grande co-produced the new album as well as working with you on all but your first record. How did you meet?
I first met Josh on tour when I was opening for k.d. lang for a month in the US, and Josh was playing pedal steel and baritone guitar in her band and I was enamored with his musicality. Working together has been like second nature, as he’s got such a keen ear and understanding of my voice, both as a singer and songwriter. He's my favorite!

You and Joshua played nearly all instruments on Resistor. What instrument, including vocals, do you feel the most confident playing?
I love playing drums! I played a great deal of drums on the record. So fun! Voice is my strongest instrument though, no doubt.

This is your third full-length. How has your songwriting evolved over the years?
I'm becoming more comfortable exploring my own avenue. That's one of the most difficult things to do as an artist, find your voice and then conviction in that, but I feel ok with taking more risks lately.

You have defined your music “creepy and lovely”. Could you elaborate that?
There's a kind of Mullholland Drive meets Patsy Cline's twisted sister in the music. There's a delicateness to it at times, with an underlying strength and dark side.

How does your writing process affect your life? Do you shut down completely?
I have to write whenever inspiration strikes and since I'm on the road a good bit, I have to take advantage of those precious moments. Also I think shutting down is the exact opposite thing one should do when creating, because it is living that gives you all the ideas.

What is most rewarding for you: writing, recording or performing live?
I love them all for different reasons. They're all challenging and fun and stressful in their own way. Different parts of the brain.

Is there a sense of community in the Nashville music scene you feel you belong in?
Very much so. That's why I wanted to live in Nashville. There's less of a competitive vibe and more a "scratch each others backs" vibe there than in most music scenes.

You have a Bachelor in Anthropology. What impact did that have on your songwriting?
One of the most basic and important things you learn when studying anthropology is to be aware of and try to lose your bias when learning about other people. That greatly widens your perspective, which is of course a crucial asset for songwriting.

If things hadn’t worked out for your music would you have pursued a career in anthropology?
Most likely, yes!

What record does remind you the most of your childhood?
Probably Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, or Blue by Joni Mitchell...

Resistor is out now via Resistor Music

Originally published on London In Stereo

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5 July 2016


Steve Mason discusses Meet the Humans, success and the current state of the music industry 

Photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Steve Mason is a musician of many reincarnations, and one that hates categorisations of any kind.“I hate nationalisms. I don’t like any crying about being from a town or a country. To me that is just part of the indoctrination of our society and that is ridiculous.” He tells me while talking about being born and raised in Scotland from English parents. We are backstage at London’s Field Day Festival. It’s a relatively early and definitely wet start of an almost-summer Sunday morning. We are both soaked, waterproof poncho and willies on, struggling to hear each other between the sound of the pouring rain and the music DJ’ed on one of the stages nearby. 

Although best known as the lead singer and founding member of folktronica champions The Beta Band, after their break up in 2004 Mason concentrated on his solo career, first as King Biscuit Time, then under the Black Affair’s moniker, and since 2009 finally as himself. 

The music of this talented British songwriter has always been a tricky one to pigeonhole. Only considering his recent career as Steve Mason, he has gone from the low-tempo, electro-pop meditations of his debut Boys Outside, to the sprawling psyched-out sonorities of the sophomore concept album Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time, to then return to the poignant, visceral catchiness of his late ‘90s material with his new full length Meet the Humans.

Usually, before starting to write a new record Mason has an idea for an overall sound he wants to achieve, but things were different this time, as he deliberately wanted to work in a more spontaneous way.“It was a lot of work going into Monkey Minds, and after that I needed to do something almost frivolous, just a simple collections of songs, each with its own identity, and not necessarily related to one another”, he explains. “So Meet the Humans ended up sounding almost like a collage album, with songs very different from each other.”

Producer Craig Potter certainly helped influence the sound. “I knew what I wanted and I knew he would be the guy helping catch that, so I trusted him completely”, Mason says. The pair didn’t even know each other before starting working on the record, and despite having lots of conversations on the phone, they only met face to face for the first time when they went into the studio. “That might seem a bit crazy, but it is usually the way I do”, the British musician admits. “There always has to be a certain amount of fear for me, as it just helps me increase the challenge and makes me feel more focused and stronger in terms of sticking to what I want to achieve.” 

Mason's lyrics have always been very confessional, sometimes to the point that you wonder whether he has ever regretted singing about something so private publically. “I am aware that I sometimes say things others wouldn’t say or would say through a metaphor, but honesty is probably one of my favourite things.” He is just in love with the idea of opening up his mind and heart about a subject without being afraid to say the most out-ranching things. “I love it when there is no filter and nobody is trying to dilute what you are saying. All my favourite records are the ones with emotional honesty. I love frivolous pop songs as well, but that wouldn’t work for what I am doing. “

With the new album, he has probably got the most attention since the Beta Band. Now, older, wiser and completely recovered from the manic depression and anxiety he was struggling with back then, he is finally able to appreciate success. “I was a total mess”, he confesses. “Not that I wasn’t confident about what I was doing musically, but when it came to dealing with media or record labels or anyone involved in the industry, I just didn’t trust anyone and thought they were trying to destroy what I was doing. Now that I finally put lots of my demons to bed, I can really appreciate all this and realise it doesn’t have to be a battle, because you can actually get on with the people in the industry and not everyone is an asshole and vacuous. “

But Mason isn't all smiles with the current situation of the music industry. "The days of the big bands like Led Zeppelin are over and maybe in five, ten years the record labels will cease to exist.” With almost no record sales, today the only way to make money is from gigs, which is very challenging especially for young bands trying to break through. “Nowadays musicians have to make the best possible live shows they can, because that costs money and that takes away from their profit”, Mason continues. “Trying to get a gig locally is very difficult, because on Friday and Saturday nights the only bands that venues put on are tribute bands, so bands have to play on Monday and Wednesday nights, when nobody is there as nobody wants to go see new bands anymore.” 

According to him, the music world is like a little club now where the only artists who succeed are the ones coming from a rich family and whose friends are running the labels. “They have hijacked the industry. If you are not part of that club and if you come from a council estate or a little town somewhere, the odds are much more against you than even what they were when I started.“ What also worries Mason is the nostalgia phenomenon, which seems to have invaded the country. “Everybody is constantly nostalgic for the ‘70s, the ‘60s, whatever. It is so boring when music is always looking back. Where is the forward movement?”

Despite all this, Mason is convinced that great music will always prevail if you have belief and confidence in what you are doing, especially with the help of British radio. “I think for instance BBC6Music is great for people like me and for younger bands coming up. It is definitely playing a vital role for British music, which can’t be underestimated. Now I am getting a little bit of Radio 2 play as well and that is where you start making a jump up.”

I conclude my chat with Mason talking about what is in his rider. “Water, Nurofen, honey, lemon, a kettle, nice red wine and maybe some cigarettes. And that hasn’t changed much over the years.” For him it is has always just been about the gig and making people have an experience they won’t forget.

Meet the Humans is out now via Double Six Records

Originally published on London In Stereo

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15 June 2016


Pj Harvey performing at Field Day Festival on Sunday the 12th June


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