Journey to the Great Eastern – An Interview with Eastern Lane
Journey to the Great Eastern – An Interview with Eastern Lane
A Domino Birthday – An Interview with Laurence Bell of Domino Records
Domino Records Pavement, Sebadoh, Folk Implosion, Clearlake, Elliott Smith, Four Tet, The Kills, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Clinic, Royal Trux, The Pastels…have I got your attention yet?.
Nirvana first made me want to play guitar. Kurt Cobain I suppose.
"The truth is in the Music. Who turned on the bright lights? – One man’s quest to find Interpol", by Jonathan Dekel.
You know, I’m not that sure if I can be really excited about it because actually the songs are truly terrible.
Our sound has just evolved really, but right from the first rehearsal, we kind of had it in the bag.
” Hangin’ With The Kid – Six Degrees of Separation with Kid Koala
In a weird twist on the idea of six degrees of separation, it turns out that I have a friend who has a friend who used to live in the same dorm as Kid Koala at McGill University in Montreal. She has one lone memory of him, and sadly for the music lovers in the crowd, it’s this: She remembers Kid Koala, or Eric San, as he was known back then, asking her about her period.
On the other hand, if I thought this story would pave my way to a friendly and informative interview, I was to be disappointed. Not only does he not remember this story, he has no clear memory of this person. When I explain that he was apparently collecting this information to find out whether the menstrual cycles of the women in the dorm were synching up, he ponders, then responds. “It sounds like something I’d be interested in, though,” he says. “That definitely sounds like me. I’ve had thorough discussions about menstrual cycles.”
Kid Koala in person is exactly how you’d expect him to be. He’s pretty laid-back, quiet, smiles a lot, and has a tendency towards going off on tangents in the conversation rather than talking about himself. The story above lead to a discussion about hormonal cycles in both women and men, which basically turned into a discussion about completely different things.
At some point, we got around to talking about his latest CD release, “Some of My Best Friends are DJs,” his book “Nufonia must fall,” his non-stop touring, and the obscure origins of his name. I don’t remember any of that stuff, but it’s here in my notes so it must have come up at some point.
A short history of Kid Koala:
Sometime in the early 90s, Eric San was studying early childhood education at McGill University. “I always thought I’d do something like the Muppet Show. Or Sesame Street. They were a big influence on me at the time.”
While pursuing his educational goals, San was making a name for himself as a DJ around town. He gained the nickname when people started noticing how much Koala Drink he was putting away on a nightly basis. Someone used it on a flyer one day, and Kid Koala was born.
“I actually have no special affinity for koalas,” he says, slightly sheepishly. “People tell me things about them all the time, though. Like that koalas sleep 23 hours in a day. and then spend the one hour they’re awake just trying to get it on.”
“No seriously. Apparently, they’re having a real problem with koalas catching syphilis. The koala population is being decimated by syphilis. They need sex ed for koalas or something.”
One day, Koala’s mix tape, “Scratchcratchratchatch,” found its way into the car of Jon More from Ninja Tune, and soon thereafter, Kid Koala became Ninja Tune’s first North American signing. Not long after that, the classic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was released, and Koala went on tour, basically permanently. Not only does he tour by himself, but he also tours as a member of such bands as Bullfrog, Deltron 3030, and Lovage, as well as opening for other bands, most famously Radiohead. When I mention that I caught the show in Toronto, he laughs.
“I remember that show. That was me, Prince Paul and Dan [the Automator].” He pauses, thinking back. “I don’t know if the crowd got it really. But Thom [Yorke] was dancing his ass off backstage. They’re huge hip-hop fans. Basically, when you’re a really huge band like Radiohead, then your label starts giving you advance copies of everything that’s coming out. When I was on tour with them, they were playing me stuff that wasn’t out yet, like the new Outkast. I learned all my hip-hop from the bass player from this band from Oxford.”
Upon reflection, he adds, “Not to my set. Thom wasn’t dancing to my stuff. It was Prince Paul. He’ll probably end up reading this and be like, ‘Fuck you, Eric, I wouldn’t dance to your shit.'”
Looking at Koala’s tour schedule since 1995, it seems as if he really hasn’t spent a lot of time at home in the past few years.
“Yeah… I tour a lot.” He says, looking slightly tired. “But I love it. The only thing that sucks is that there’s a lot of waiting around, in airports, for interviews, that kind of thing.”
On the other hand, this need to kill time in airports lead him to his new graphic novel, “Nufonia Must Fall,” a tragi-comic tale of a love affair between an unemployed robot and an office worker who can’t find the time to take a vacation. “Nufonia Must Fall” was published in 2003 by ECW Press, more or less concurrently with “Some of my Best Friends are DJs”. We talked about it in between me flipping through the book for the first time and him somewhat self-consciously admiring my pen (FYI: Koala uses a Micron pen to draw with, but “I’m not a pen nerd or anything.”)
“Nufonia is kind of an anagram of ‘no fun,'” he explains.
With an ‘ia’ at the end?
The book has no dialogue, but contains a CD soundtrack of piano music, made to match certain pages of the book where the robot listens to records with such unlikely titles as “Music for Delis,” “Music for After Work,” and “Music to Console Yourself”. “The CD has a bunch of piano etudes on it,” he explains.
Almost as an aside to the main action, “Nufonia Must Fall” is peppered with instantly recognizable everyday scenes which are almost in-jokes. In one, a character is unable to get their candy out of the machine; in another, the robot is forced to go through the security check several times, and eventually ends up going through the x-ray machine with the luggage. In the best example, a group of people get stuck in an elevator and go mad before the heroine comes to the rescue. The oddly spontaneous art only adds to the humour.
“Some of my Best Friends are DJs” is the flipside of “Nufonia Must Fall,” a CD accompanied by a short comic. The aesthetics are the same, with two stories which match different sections of the album. In one, a lovestruck guy runs around the city looking for a light for his girl’s cigarette, and in the other a ninja granny knits a hat for a four-eyed monster.
The music on “Some of my Best Friends are DJs” ranges from the jazzy to the theatrical, where samples, beats and scratches turn into dialogue, to ska to dirgelike, always retaining the same playful joy in experimentation. It may not be your first choice on a dance floor, but it’s definitely fun to listen to.
If you’ve missed him live, Koala’s tour schedule will probably bring him round your way again. In the meantime, check out his website for info.
Check out the video for ‘Basin Street Blues’ by clicking Here
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You can’t force it. You never write a song thinking ‘this is going to be a great popsong’.
Taking a Stance – An Interview with The Stands
Liverpool and Manchester have always been breeding grounds for great music and at the moment, it looks like Liverpool is the place to be, what with the Coral, The Zutons, the re-emergence of the magnificent Shack and, the band with the current Noel Gallagher seal of approval, The Stands all producing great music. We caught up with Steve (drums) and Luke (guitar) backstage at the Paradiso during the London Calling showcase to find out what makes the Stands tick.
Incendiary(IN): Let’s start off shall we, how would you best describe The Stands as a band to some ignorant music hack like myself?
Steve: Ok. You’re all listening to The Stands in the shower in Amsterdam. The Stands consist of four males, we all play our own instruments.
IN: Fair enough.
Steve: And we all come from Liverpool.
Luke: The northwest of England.
Steve: We all come from the north, at the side of the ocean.
Luke: Two of us are from Merseyside, well, we’re all from Merseyside but two of us are from the Wirral, which is across the Mersey from Liverpool. So we’re all from around Liverpool. You know there’s the song (starts singing): ‘Ferry, across the Mersey, there’s the place I love, there I’ll stay…’ You must know that song. Anyway, we’re from there. (laughing)
IN: So that’s why you’re automatically described as influenced by the Beatles?
Luke: Of course, yes!
IN: And are you?
Steve: Definitely, because we love The Beatles. They’re our favourite band, I probably can speak for everyone on that. It’s a compliment definitely. It’s like, they’re our heroes.
Luke: At the same time, I can’t remember the last time we all sat down and listened to a Beatles album.
Steve: We’re supposedly all from Liverpool. That’s what the connection would be.
Luke: So, obvious?
Steve: But our influences range from any sort of music as long as it is sort of intelligent, as long as there is a kind of…
Luke: as long as there is some thinking behind it. Or a good voice, or a good style, or anything that is good.
Steve: There’s a lot of bands…
Luke: Name a few. Let’s just name a few.
Steve: Okay, all right. Van Morrison.
Luke: The Doors.
Steve: The Byrds.
Luke: The Stands.
Steve: We should’ve said Beatles first.(laughing) Let’s try to think of…
Steve: Everybody buy a Shack album. They’re from Liverpool also, and they’re fucking amazing. We did a tour with them. They are… they are the ones. They are fucking brilliant.
Luke: John Coltrane and the rest.. erhm…. Come on!
Steve: I try to think of something good. I don’t know…
Luke: Oh! Nick Drake.
Steve: I’m finished, I haven’t really got one.That’s it?
Luke: No. BellX1.
Steve: There you go.
IN: You mentioned Nick Drake. Do you think you have the same melancholy aspect to your music as he did?
Luke: I think there’s definitely a melancholy in what we’re doing.
Steve: But there’s certainly a positive tone.
Luke: I suppose it’s quite reflective, the music. You get a lot of that in England, because of the weather. It’s always miserable, and… you see what I mean? It’s not like, say, a Finland where they all come out with this really really dark, depressive, really dark stuff. It’s just more kind of… it’s a little sadder, and always a hope that spring is just around the corner, and then eventually summer as well, so as well as winter there is a bit of spring and summer in the music that we make, I think.
Steve: Definitely. When the summer comes, I guess, is when we write more songs.
Luke: Yeah, it’s a bad spring now, so… come to one of the festival gigs and you’ll see more sunshine.
IN: How are you finding the tour? Are you just having a blast or are you feeling under pressure?
Luke: I think it is difficult for us at the moment, because we’re still growing as a band in our status. For us, everything we do is slightly bigger than the last thing we did. So, there’s more of an expectation on what we do than the last time. There is definite a pressure for us to keep our face and to really give to the audience an offer so they want to get back to us, and I suppose that until we reach a point where we’ve won everyone over, then touring is going to continue to be difficult.
Steve: But it feels good that it is difficult and I guess we all do. You miss it if it wasn’t difficult. The thing is, winning the audience over is where it’s all about. Definitely. If people come to the show, then the best thing is that we fucking change someone’s mind. That’s the big thrill of the shows I guess.
Luke: Yeah, definitely.
IN: You’ve had Eastern Lane touring with you, right? How was that?
Steve: Yeah, that was great.
Luke: I would say, what we play is totally different from what they do. So it was weird. I don’t think for the fans, because they came to see us. I think when Eastern Lane came on, it was a bit like a so-called shock, but…
Steve: I’ll tell you what. We just come away from our tour, our own tour in England and we were playing with a band called The Blueskins.
Luke: They’re fucking great.
Steve: The Blueskins they are…
Luke: They are going to turn into a beautiful flower. They’re like a blues-garage band from Leeds, and they’re great, great musicians.
Steve: We have a good time. We’re in Amsterdam with The Zutons, we’re gonna be opening with The Coral as well. And together with The Zutons and The Coral we’ll do one show in Paris, like all after each other. Which is going to be cool, but still… not the Blueskins.
IN: In order not to be forgotten tomorrow, do you feel you have to balance aiming for commercial success with your own ideas and aspirations?
Luke: I don’t think… You can’t force it. You never write a song thinking ‘this is going to be a great popsong’.
Steve: That becomes a realisation after you’ve recorded all these songs, after you’ve recorded the album. You always record more than you want, you have got the B-sides, and you have 24 or something, and you pick 10 or 12 for your album.
Luke: I want the best. No, what I was going to say is, what’s good becomes commercial, so even if something appears to not be commercial, if it’s good, then people are going to come out and buy it anyway. I think like commercial music, or music that appears to be going commercially, or whatever, gets a really bad way, because it doesn’t make any fucking difference, because if you’re all pumped up with advertisements, or if a song is produced in such a way that it is going to fit on the radio, or if it is a shit song, or a shit band, then tomorrow it doesn’t make any difference. So, you just got to look for great quality, because the audience at the end of the day, no matter what economic system they’re under, are gonna come out and buy what they want to buy, or the music that’s good to them or means something to them. And like the whole system, however fucked up, and internal politics there is within the system, like.. that doesn’t matter, you just have got to play something that is valuable to you, and hope it’s valuable to someone else too.
Steve: What I was talking about before is like, we recorded these songs and that was a stand-out track as a single, and we played in rehearsal rooms, and all we heard was loads of fucking (makes some weird noises), bad noise, and we took it to the studio and were like, wow, that’s good, that song fucking stands out, we might bring that out on single. So it’s kind of like you have got your ideas, and they’re all floating around and you put it down somewhere, and you go, okay, now we can make a few decisions, and then it works.
Luke: I think there’s a certain proportion of the audience overwhelmed that can be influenced commercially. Do you know what I mean, like Radiohead, I don’t think they have a sound to be commercial, but they are commercially successful. It doesn’t matter what they say, or what they do, whatever they do, they still sell records in the same record shops that S Club 7 or whatever, sell records. They’re still part of the same system. It doesn’t make any fucking difference, if you know what I mean. I think what’s good… people buy what’s good and some people will be influenced by what they’re told to buy, but that’s the way the world… that’s what capitalism is, or whatever.
Steve: Hopefully we’ll see an alternative and nice fucking…
Luke: A nice picture.
Steve: I was about to say: an alternative and nice fucking happy ending, where it all comes back to an old place again, like the sixties. There’s so much shadow, you know. There’s a different world now, and we’ll see what happens after such and such.
IN: Do you always strive for perfection when writing your songs?
Luke: Yeah, I guess so.
Steve: Every song you write you want it to be perfect, to be the best. You want it to be the best song you’ve ever written. That’s what you strive for, every day.
IN: Isn’t it difficult to always strive for perfection? Do you feel you ever reach it?
Steve: No, I don’t think so. Well, if you ever figure that you’ve reached that position, then you’d have to back down on people.
Luke: No. That’s a definite no here. Because that’s what drives you to make something good in the first place: it’s that what you’ve done before is not good enough, so the second album will be better, the third album will be better. That’s why every band wants their next album to be better. There have been a lot of bands recently where their first album is really ‘wow!”, and every paper, ever critic is like ‘wow!’, like The Strokes, and with the second album you go like ‘ow, that’s rubbish’. So forget about that one, here’s the next thing, you know. Like, you strive to make a better album next time and the next time and the next time. Like all the best bands in the old days.
Steve: It’s not just about the albums. It’s about the performances, it’s about the singles, it’s about the B-sides, it’s about…
Luke: It’s about everything, and you’ve got to keep on going on, because otherwise you could very easily be forgotten tomorrow, because everyone is looking for a drop-out, looking for what you’re doing, for whatever reason. Yeah, you’ve got to continue focusing on the next album, or the next single, or whatever it is, or the next minute, or the next split-second in the song that you’re playing. You’ve got to be looking for that, because otherwise, you could be forgotten in a moment. Which we all will be, eventually, by lots of people, anyway. Fuck it, that’s the way it is. Everyone is outrun by everyone else(…)
Steve: I don’t know where the quote is from, but quote on, quote on: No-one ever racked a statue for a critic. So, fuck critics, you know what I mean, just keep on doing what you’re doing, that’s all that matters.
IN: Ok, now is there one question you always wanted to answer to but you’ve never been asked?(silence).
Steve: That’s a good question…(more silence).
Luke: I want somebody to ask me a question that I would struggle to answer, so you have achieved that. My one question I would like to be asked is the one question that you would like to be asked but no one has ever asked you. Is that okay? (laughing).
IN: And finally, you’ve described the future of the Blueskins as a beautiful flower, how do you foresee our own future?
Luke: Like a beautiful beast.
Steve: With teeth. Because we’re… slightly dangerous.
Luke: Yeah, we’re growing slowly. We started really small, and…
Steve: We’re a flower.
Luke: Yeah, yeah, we’re not a flower anymore, definitely not. More like a bear. Would you say a bear?
Steve: A flower with teeth.
IN: And how would you explain that to somebody?(They both start laughing.)
Luke: Come to the shows.
Steve: Try and see it your own way and if you see it the same way as we do, then I guess it makes sense.
Words: Marlies Oostland
Edited and Arranged: Damian Leslie