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Review + Q&A: Sweet Williams- Sweet Williams (2023, Wrong Speed Records)

My first encounter withThomas House aka Sweet Williams, was his singing on the last Haress record Ghosts. It was one of the highlights of last year, and so I was excited to hear what music he made with his own band. This self-titled album (the latest in a string of many, check out his bandcamp) does not disappoint.

The album moves on a slow plod, sometimes hesitant, sometimes grumpy growling, but always idiosyncratic and impossible to fully pinpoint as anything else but itself. There is a great guitar tone all around, reminding of Sonic Youth at their crunchiest, but also of the gentleness of a band like Low. Sweet Williams owns a certain melancholic darkness too, and a feeling it might erupt into violence at any moment, but it never does, and the album ends in silence in stead.

As to which audience this album might appeal, I’d say definitely to the 90s kids with the Slint shirts. I could also just have said people with good taste, but you catch the drift. Once again Wrong Speed Records hits it out of the ball park, and it is an exciting outlook to see what else they will have in store for us this year…

I found Thomas House at his home in Zaragoza, Spain, where he resides and makes music with the locals or just by himself. I asked him about his day, making all kinds of music, and of course his current affair with Sweet Williams.

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Sweet Williams?

Heartbreaking. Productive too.

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet?

The band is me and whoever else is around to do whatever’s being done at the time. At the moment Pablo (drums) is a pretty regular fixture, and my neighbour Sergio (who engineered the latest LP) is learning the bass parts. Cristian might be joining us on guitar. We’ve only got one gig coming up anyway. Anything outside of Zaragoza at the moment is just me playing solo.

I met Pablo in 2007 when his band (Picore) invited my band (Charlottefield) to play some gigs in Spain. We struck up a friendship and collaboration that continues in various forms. I’ve been living out here for four years now.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

I grew up listening to the top forty and my dad’s records, Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, New Order, stuff like that. I learned the piano and my teacher got me into Erik Satie. I was the right age for grunge to sort of define everything when it hit, and then that and John Peel and a few older and more knowledgeable friends opened up all these different worlds of music for me. I started playing guitar when I was twelve and I started writing songs when I was thirteen, when I realised my dad had bought a four track he had intended to use to make relaxation tapes but wasn’t using, and that I could use my Amiga 500 as a drum machine. Since then it’s been a case of either trying to get people in to play my songs, or joining other bands and trying to learn what I can from their music and composers (Joeyfat, most notably).

What does a regular day in your lives look like?

Wake up fully clothed. Make a cup of tea. Teach English online for a couple of hours. Go back to bed, watch documentaries, fall asleep. Wake up, eat, teach English for another couple of hours, either online or at the academy. On Fridays we have band practice (I currently play in Les Conches Velasques, with Pablo and Sergio) and I might go out for a while after that.

Some days are more productive. This week I’ve made a gig poster, got some printing done, and had a pretty disappointing appointment with the psychiatrist. He told me that the solution to my problems was, like the song says, “if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, marry an ugly woman.” He had two female students in the room at the time. I wonder what they thought of that.

What is the best thing about the new album?

That it’s the best thing we’ve done. That it exists.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

I live in Zaragoza. The environment’s weird. I/we don’t exactly fit in the punk/DIY scene but there are cool people around to play to and with. And then every once in a while to local government will pay you a decent sum to open for Godspeed You Black Emperor in the beautiful winter garden of the big park.

Thomas House

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?

Jay Dormon of the aforementioned Joeyfat has been a huge influence and mentor since I was fifteen years old. Jon Richards, who was also in Joeyfat and Unhome with Jay, and was later in Hey Colossus round the Black And Gold era, taught me a lot of what I know. As far as the more untouchable heroes, the ones you’ll probably never meet: Kim Deal, Kristin Hersh, Brian McMahon. Although I have actually met those last two, if only very briefly.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

I get an idea and I let it dictate itself. Then we work it up, put microphones in front of things and try and get it down.

What can you tell me about your collaboration with Wrong Speed Records label mates Haress?

Ah good question. I couldn’t get to the UK to record with them at the time, so I did my parts at home in Zaragoza. I think we’re all proud of the Haress LP. I’m certainly proud to be on it. Those are some beautiful folks, they make beautiful music and singing with them is a magical and rewarding thing to do. I hope I’ll get other opportunities to collaborate with people in the future, and I hope I can rise to whatever occasion presents itself. It’s difficult but ultimately satisfying to put words to other people’s music. You gotta try.

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

Tidy the flat, get a cat, move to the country.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Tell someone you love them.

Review + Q&A: Bruxa Maria-Build Yourself A Shrine And Pray (2023, Riot Season Records)

Build Yourself A Shrine And Pray. A blog with this name could not agree more. Times like these of planetary turmoil and climate stress also call for bands like Bruxa Maria. Harsh, overwhelming crusty noise core, as subtle as a container ship. Catapulting the listener back to times of grimy squatter shacks and bands like Tragedy, Today Is The Day, and Union Of Uranus, while also waving the banner of industrialisation of bands like Godflesh and The Body.

Build Yourself A Shrine And Pray is heavy, and ugly, but not crude. There is a subtle melancholy oozing through its denseness, a black despair rooted in gentrification, police brutality, and the debilitating corruption of global capitalism. At the same time there are parts on the album where the violence and aggression is so all consuming and pummelling it pounds the listener into a trance like state. Singer Gill Dread calls it “overwhelming, a euphoric feeling, like steering yourself away from a bad trip”.

In that sense Bruxa Maria have taken something extremely drab and bleak, and created a thing of beauty from it. Like Leonard Cohen said; “There’s crack in everything, that’s how light gets in”. So build yourself a shrine people, and pray for light.

I spoke to singer Gill Dread, from her home in London. She was happy to introduce her band, and to explain what Bruxa Maria is all about…

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Bruxa Maria?
We had just played our album launch show for our 2nd album, ‘The Maddening’ and were about to do a tour when the pandemic hit. So with no tour to do, I started writing the next album. And as soon as the lock down lifted we started rehearsing, and we recorded, the end of that year and the beginning of the next. (all social distanced, with minimal people around etc). It took a while to come out coz the pandemic slowed down a lot of businesses. So everything like pressing vinyl and stuff had long wait times for everyone. So I’m really happy it’s finally out for people to hear. 

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet?
Paul Antony is on drums. I met him through his band Ghold. A wicked band, that I also drove on tour a bunch of times. Dave Cochrane plays bass, who I met when he briefly played bass for Art of Burning Water who I drove. And met him again when driving Terminal Cheesecake. Robbie Judkins plays synth noise, and I met him when driving his band Casual Sect on tour. They’re all amazing musicians and my favourite line up of the band. They are great. They’re good humoured people to have on tour, and very reliable and dedicated at what they do. So I feel very lucky to have found such talented, good people to work with. 

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
Paul – drummer is in Ghold , Test dept, Deadpop. Him and Robbie are in their early/mid 30s with an art background as well as heavy music. Robbie can play lots of instruments but mostly does synth noise stuff presently in Left hand cuts off the right. Dave is a bit older than me and was in bands I liked like Head of David, God, Terminal Cheesecake. I think he’s been in multiple bands his whole life. I was in a couple of punk bands before this one. Then I started driving bands on tour, met lots of people and started my own band, Bruxa Maria

What does a regular day in your lives look like?
Usual London bollocks for Paul and Robbie, long hours of work, in a very expensive city. But they do it well and get the best out of it I think. Dave lives in Birmingham, which is a much more sensible place to live, Lol. And I live way out in West London in the suburbs now. Which is a much nicer pace and surroundings. 

What is the best thing about Build Yourself A Shrine And Pray?
Well I was hoping it might help some people practice switching from a sense overwhelm to a sense of euphoria, and maybe help them control away from meltdown. Anxiety and excitement are quite similar in feeling. Both can give butterflies in the stomach and make you nervous. In a way they are just different view points. One is panicked about the unknown and the other eager and excited for the unknown. So it should be easier to convince yourself to be excited not anxious in many situations, a lot easier than just being able to ‘calm down’ from anxiety anyway. So if that’s possible, maybe one can switch overwhelm to a kind of euphoric feeling, like steering yourself away from a bad trip. Embrace it and switch it up. Blind side is the track that pushes this idea the most for me. 

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
London has a lot of diverse choice of people and amazing musicians to work with. But it is expensive, so life can get in the way of having time and money to do much more than survive. It can be hard work for underground scenes for this reason. But it always finds a way.

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?
Part Chimp, MoE, Arabrot, Hey Colossus, Art of Burning Water, Ghold, 
Gum Takes Tooth

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
I write the songs, vocals and guitar parts, and play them to the others and we work it out in rehearsals. We’re into a lot of the same stuff so they get what I’m going for and do even better usually. Recording we put down drums first with a guide bass and guitar. And then we overdub actual bass and guitars and synth noise after. They’re all very pro so it doesn’t take many goes. I don’t like recording live, coz it feels like too much pressure for everyone to get it perfect, that it fucks me up more. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?
My immediate and long term plans are chilling the fuck out. Lol

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
Listen to the album and start building yourself a shrine, coz your gonna need it.

Review + Q&A: Falling Floors- S/T (2022, Riot Season Records/Echodelick Records)

For a psychedelic rock band Falling Floors are pretty hard to pinpoint. I found out that talking to them helped a great deal to place them better in my head. These guys are fans of Butthole Surfers and Jefferson Airplane, the weird and offshoot bands in a genre full of followers, and while they don’t sound like those oldschool heroes at all, it is clear what their aim was here. For contemporary reference I would say that Falling Floors would not be out of place inside the cult following around Hey Colossus and their modern mixture of post punk, noise rock, and psych.

This self-titled album sounds raw and heavy, and was recorded without too many overdubs I am sure, to capture a certain ferociousness and live energy. This is something you might want to plow through a little bit the first listen, but when it “clicks”, like about half way through the eight minute barn burner Infinite Switch, you are hooked.

Between every long(er) form song like the catchy Ridiculous Man, and Flawed Theme, there is a weird interlude, building up from half a minute to two minutes, before all hell breaks loose in the eighteen minute noise jam extravaganza of Elusive And Unstable Nature Of Truth. It is where Falling Floors let’s go of all restraints and just sets the controls for the heart of the sun, in their own noisy botched up psych head way.

A very interesting and mind expanding experience then, this first encounter with these UK psych mongers. Fans of the afore mentioned bands, Wrong Speed Records, GNOD, and genuinely being surprised while taking your overdose of reverb drenched rock, this is your cup of tea.

So let’s have a chat then! As hard as it was to fully grasp what Falling Floors were doing sonically, as easy is it to connect with them. In the following interview they kindly and honestly explain what they are all about and where they come from. Drummer Colin Greenwood gave us the tour…

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Falling Floors?

We’re all grand thank you for asking. The pandemic was, in the scheme of things, pretty OK for Falling Floors. We all lived in a wild and beautiful corner of the UK where we could hunker down, hope for the best and wait for it all to pass. And without the pandemic and desire to see people and make a big, messy load of noise, the band would probably never have come to pass.

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet?

So we are Rob on guitars and vocals, Harry on bass, and me, Colin, on drums. Rob and I know each other from the London psych / prog / rock / 60s music scene. We have almost certainly exchanged sweat on a crowded dance floor. I’m originally from around here, so once everyone had moved up north we all became friends. Harry and me started jamming and then Rob joined and brought some much-needed discipline to our freeform mucking about.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

So Harry has spent a lot of time getting lost in free-noise jams and found himself hankering after a tune. Rob’s actually had some moderate success, first with Elks and then with Early Mammal, who found kinship with the London stoner / avant garde rock scene based around the Baba Yaga’s Hut nights. I’ve noodled in bands for years without achieving much of note. We all like a tune and we all like taking said tune and bashing it to a bloody pulp.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

First off we’ve all got day jobs 🤘so let’s be real here and accept there’s fair bit of selling our life, one day at a time, to suck on Mammon’s teat. And then we’re all pretty different. Harry makes films, Rob’s an academic (handy if you find yourself in a tight spot and needing a bit of emergency jurisprudence) and I’m a designer, with two kids and all that comes with that.

What is the story behind the album? It has a strong “live” feel to it, could you explain that?

Well first off we’re not session ninjas, so there’s gonna be rough edges. And then we’ve all played in bands which have recorded and mixed and EQ’d and noodled themselves to a standstill. We didn’t want to make perfect product. We’d got some songs, we were quite excited, and we wanted to capture that. We wanted to make something righteous and true in a world drowning in almost unbearable bullshit. A mini, futile, defiant stand. 

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

Ace, basically. Harry and me live in the Calder Valley, which is one of a few valleys which cut through the hills that run down the spine of England. It’s all rain and mud and moorland and wet stone and scudding clouds. Beautiful. And inspiring. The rehearsal rooms are cheap, there’s a joyous DIY spirit, and a great music scene based around a couple of fearless, supportive venues. Rob moved down south to Devon just after recording the album. He’s still in the countryside, but it’s a softer, fatter vibe down there. He claims not to miss the north, but I think he’s lying.

What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))

Make something true and honest. I can’t speak for Rob and Harry but I’d love to get wilder and weirder. It’s so easy for ideas to get censored and trimmed and sanitized. I’ve always been inspired by bands like the Butthole Surfers who made genuinely weird things, the likes of which the world had never heard before. Doing things that haven’t got a name yet, to quote Jefferson Airplane. If we could make something that was pure unfettered expression, but still had a killer tune, I’d die a happy man.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

There isn’t really a pattern yet. Rob brought one song pretty much fully formed. Harry brought some bass lines which were the spine of another couple. And one was jammed into existence starting with a drum pattern. I hope we’ll all keep writing and contributing and it’s doesn’t become one person’s project. As for recording, we get in a room, we point microphones at things, we play the song a few times, few overdubs and we call it done. Old school.

What is “the dream” when it comes to being an artist?

Crikey. Making the charidee album with Eric, Keef and Bono obviously. No, not that. Playing something which you’re proud of, which adds something new to the world, to people who appreciate the effort. I’m sure we’d all like our Falling Floors jet, but I think them days are over.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Walk to the top of the highest hill you can find, strip to the waist and whilst wearing headphones listen to our tune ‘Infinite Switch’, square off into the wind and rain and scream your fury at all the see-you-next-tuesdays of the world. Then go home, have a nice cup of tea and kiss your kids / dogs / loved ones on the head. 

Review + Q&A: Anona- Anona EP (2022, Sound Effect Records)

Welcome to another episode of music-book pairing. In this chapter I will try to link Anona’s free thinking Canterbury indie rock with the bestselling young adult novel series Mrs Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. The novel is full of mystery, (time) travels, children with weird powers, and an altogether idea that it is ok to be strange. I can’t shake of the feeling that Anona has embraced that same idea as well.

This self-titled EP by Anona is all kinds of strange, but beautiful as well. There is a mysterious edge to it, but a childlike naivete and lightless as well. There is some time traveling going on, past 60s Canterbury folk for example (the flute plays an important role), and dark smokey jazz combos from the 30s. And then there is the band that consists of all kinds of weird kids with special powers of their own, nine of them in total.

Both the novelist Ransom Riggs and the singer songwriter Ella Russel are story tellers. They take you, the spectator, by the hand and lead you just around the corner to a place that you would have never imagined on your own. Whether it is the story of The Boy And The Lion, or the story of Jacob Portman finding out his secret heritage, you will be sucked in and hanging on to every word…

So I had to dive into this Anona phenomenon. Who are they? Or who is she? Let’s find out. Bristol, UK resident Ella Russel takes us by the hand while she leads us on a tour through here life…

How are you? How has the pandemic period and its aftermath been for you as a musician?

Ah the big questions. Well, the cold has finally arrived here which brings mixed feelings. I love the winter storms and island weather, the winter skies are really crazy over the sea here, but the damp and darkness affects me after a while. The pandemic brought an end to some projects and a beginning to new ones. It definitely felt like life bookmarked a new era when it began, there was no choice. We finished recording the bulk of Anona two weeks before the first lockdown and then I worked on it throughout, so the EP kind of feels like a time capsule now. The pandemic of course has been a challenge, but I can also be a bit of a hermit and having so much time to work on my own things was kind of incredible. I only got back into playing shows this year, with my other band The New Eves. It has felt really powerful and we don’t take anything for granted. I love them. 

Can you introduce yourself, is it just you or are there more people in Anona?

I’m Ella Russell, a musician and a painter living in Brighton, UK. Anona is my first solo project, but it features 9 of my friends & incredible musicians. Their names are Lau Zanin, Toma Sapir, Adam Campbell, George Lloyd-Owen, Todd Cowell, Freddie Willat, Isobel Jones and Hugo Ellis. Anona’s lineup will be constantly evolving around the music I write, but I’m hoping lot’s of these guys stick around. 

What can you tell me about your musical background(s)?

I’ve always been very affected by music, and if you had asked me what I wanted to do when I was a child I would have said “an artist and a singer”, which is pretty much what I do now, except I have learnt some instruments along the way. I play the flute, guitar, drums and a little piano, all a bit unconventionally. I recently had my trombone debut! It was funny, I had painted myself green for halloween and looked like this tiny goblin playing the trombone.

I’m completely self taught and started playing in bands when I was about 19, learning everything as I went along. I started composing this EP when I was 21 and it was my first time writing music in full, doing everything myself. It began as a challenge to myself to see what I was capable of and ended up opening a whole inner world. 

The most recent projects I have been involved with are The New Eves, Wax Machine and I did some recording with The Ancient Infinity Orchestra this summer, who are about to drop an incredible album.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

At the moment it’s different everyday! Which is how I like it, I strangely find lack of routine very inspiring. Like today I was sewing someone’s curtains and last week I was recording poetry for the BBC – though it’s definitely not always as exciting as that. Often I will be rehearsing and playing music with people in the evenings and when I have spare time I will be painting in my little studio. It’s quite a turbulent way to live, to be patching things together week by week, but I’m only 24 and just about have the energy to deal with the uncertainty my lifestyle brings. For now the adventures outweigh it all, I get to travel around a lot.

What is the best thing about your new EP?

That’s a hard question. Everything? That it’s finally being released? That it was so fun to make? That someone took the time to turn it into vinyl?

For me it was especially a pleasure to meet cellist George Lloyd-Owen. They were the only person that I didn’t know before making Anona, and we had such an instant creative connection. I can’t read music so I would just sing to them and they would translate it and make it a thousand times better. They blow my mind everytime we play together. I have long had the ambition to make music for strings and meeting them has made it feel possible.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

I live in Brighton UK, which is where I was born and also where some of my ancestors are from. It’s by the sea which I love and is only a 45 minute train ride to London. It’s a small city but it’s got a big music scene and is ideal for meeting musicians, they are literally everywhere… though I have been spectacularly shit at going to shows recently. I’m lucky to have a life full of musicians, artists and like minded people, it feels abundant in that way and our community is strong, we are always collaborating and everyone helps each other out. A downside to Brighton is you don’t really get paid much for shows, or anything creative. Rents are going up and soon it will be too expensive to live here.

I have actually been waiting for the time to leave Brighton and city life for a while now, but things keep happening. The times i’ve felt most alive have always been outside of cities, probably on a mountain somewhere. But my family are still nearby and it will always be a home for me.

What are your favorite contemporary bands and albums right now?

Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year were by Abel Selaocoe, Modern Woman, Junior Brother, Bingo Fury and Broadside Hacks. Last year I saw Johnny Greenwood perform some of his soundtracks at a festival and it was probably one of the best hours of my life. My friend Ozzy is secretly a genius composer and his group Ancient Infinity Orchestra are going to be releasing an incredible album with Gondwana next year. I have a lot of friends releasing beautiful things at the moment; Daisy Rickman, Wax Machine and Platypus Complex are definitely ones to watch. 

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

For me it’s a very private process, it can take a long time and often feels like I’m unveiling something, like helping a flower to bloom. The music really has it’s own spirit. When I was writing this EP I was living in a garden cabin and would lock myself in there for hours at a time experimenting with different instruments and building a relationship with the sounds that wanted to come through. I had to muster a lot of faith to actually show it to people and conduct them, it was a great learning process. This whole project was created in gardens, for recording I found another garden cabin that had a piano and Lau (producer) and I built a little studio in there. Everyone learnt the material whilst we were recording, so what you hear on the record was incredibly fresh, it has a youthful spirit to it. It was really fun 

What is “the dream” when it comes to being an artist?

I think having enough to eat, a roof over your head and time to create. The pleasures are very simple really, but quite hard to sustain in this world.  

Tell me something nobody would have guessed about you?

Hmm… I’m really into Star Wars? And I’m terrible at reading clocks.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Go outside and look at the sky, then listen to Anona.

The single ‘Ruby Mountain’ is out on Thursday 24th and the vinyl is being released the next day on the 25th. The only way for people to listen to the full EP is by getting the vinyl, until the whole thing is released online in January. A bit unusual, but it’s the way it’s happened 🙂

Review + Q&A: Ivan The Tolerable- Black Water/Brown Earth + The Aleph (2022, Up In Her Room Records, Echodelick Records)

No less than three albums will UK solo artist Oli Heffernan AKA Ivan The Tolerable have released this year. One of them, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (Library Of The Occult Records) flew under Weirdo Shrine’s radar, but the other two have boldly found their way to the editor’s desk. Last year of course I talked about his incredible album The Long Year (ft. his Elastic Band) and interviewed the incredible American poet Karen Schoemer who featured on the album. This year I felt like the musician behind that album and many many more deserved a little extra attention, and therefore I hit him up for a chat, which he generously indulged in. Vinyl pressing issues might mean that the albums talked about below haven’t quite reached their target audiences yet, but they will, and you need to know about them and about Ivan The Tolerable.

Black Water/Brown Earth (2022, Up In Her Room Records)

Before jumping completely within the skin of his alter ego Ivan The Tolerable, Oli Heff was in King Champion Sounds, with members of The Ex, and collaborating with illustrious rock icons like Mike Watts of the Minutemen, and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. This is just to say that he is a veteran musician, a skillful sound maker, and you know, he’s been around the block a few times (just check out the incredible musical library he is building with Ivan The Tolerable alone!).

On Black Water/Brown Earth, his second of three albums in 2022, Heff called in the help of his Dutch friends Mees and Elsa in King Champion Sounds again, and wrote the album in a long distance session. The album feels like an excursion in nature, featuring bird song, flowing water, pots and pans percussion, and a genuine feel of wandering about and experiencing the outside world with eyes and ears wide open. It is a band effort too, with organic sounding drums, the characteristic saxophone, and droning synths. Out of the two albums on display here it is probably the most likely to return on a live stage somewhere as a vibrant jam session.

The Aleph (2022, Echodelick Records)

The Aleph is a rather different beast than its predecessor. Much more than painting a certain atmosphere in nature it feels like an immersion into a different world. It is an ancient Mesopotamian world, guided by tribal drums, Morphine-like saxophones, droning synths, and an allround stifling atmosphere. Is it free jazz? It is definitely free…and the rhythmical excursions are definitely quite out there at times. But there is a strong repetitive element to The Aleph as well, a drone, a pulling power that takes the listener into a spin and sucks it into this “other” world. It is unlike anything I have heard before, really. An adventurous experience, both for musicians and listeners.

On The Aleph Heff did work together with Thomas House (Haress, Sweet Williams) who mixed the album and added some guitars, but it is mostly a solo album, and sounds like less of a joint effort too. In a way that makes it a more exciting listen because you feel that the music could go any direction its maker pleases, and yet it remains a coherent story that somehow resonates its background story and its artwork (check out the interview below).

So let’s meet the mastermind behind the sounds: Here is Oli Heff(ernan), Ivan The Tolerable himself! What drives him, where does he live? And how the heck does he make so many beautiful records each year…read on to find out.

How are you, and how have you struggled through the pandemic period?
Aside from the impending collapse of it all, I’m good thanks! How are you? The pandemic was a total shitshow – so many unnecessary deaths caused by an appalling governments colossal mishandling of the situation. I found the whole ‘stay at home’ aspect of it quite a blessing! I got 8 months off work and I’m not very sociable anyway so I got loads of music recorded and watched an awful lot of TV – there was a point where I thought I’d completed Netflix! It was the longest time I’ve had away from work and touring since I was a teenager, so it was a welcome break really. I think i made about 8-9 LPs in 2020-21 during covid, so yeah… PRODUCTIVE! I lost my day job at the end of it mind, but it’s all good now! Haha

Can you tell me about your musical background?
I guess it’s the same as most peoples – I started playing guitar when I was a kid, probs around 1994, just teaching myself as I went along by figuring out songs I liked, then formed a band with my mates at school, then more and more bands followed until we get to today! I’ve never stopped really, not for more than a month here and there anyway…I’m kind of the odd one out in my family as no one else is into music or plays an instrument which was kind of nice growing up cos I could just find my own way without being made to take lessons or listen to things that were forced on me. I liked that way. I’m a firm believer in just finding your own way to do things

Can you tell about Ivan The Tolerable, when is it just you and when do you have a band
recording with you?

Ivan The Tolerable started by accident in 2013 when I recorded a bunch of songs for my band at the time (Year Of Birds) but they were a bit left-field for a speedy garage band so we didn’t end up doing them and I just put the tape out myself to get rid of it ( I hate having stuff hanging around) and then I kinda just never stopped doing them – for the first 4-5 years it was just me playing everything but for the last 4 or so years I’ve got a lot more people involved – it’s kind of like a very loose collective pool these days, which is great for me as I can work on stuff a lot faster! IDEAL! I have three albums on the go at any one time (with three different sets of musicians) so while I’m waiting for people to do their parts on one album, I can crack on with my parts for the next one – it works well if you are as impatient as me ha-ha. I still do stuff on my own quite often, but i prefer the ones with other folks more as I’m lucky that I get to work with some of the very best people! I think I’m up to about 25-30 albums? I’ve lost count!

You music is like entering a completely different world! How do you go about creating it,
especially all by yourself? Is there for instance a narrative you have in your head?

Not really, I never have a plan really, other than to make an album and I just start recording and keep going until its finished – occasionally if I’m working to a set of lyrics, I’ll have more of a plan but mostly it’s just instrumental stuff so I can just do whatever, which is the best way to do it! No constraints and nothing to overthink! I guess that’s the key for me – I can just do whatever I like! I never spend a great amount of time recording an album – that’s not fun for me – I see it more like audio photographs of a moment, rather than some overproduced, overblown “artistic statement” – life’s too short for that kind of thing, i just love recording and like to do it fast! If once I finish an album I feel like I never want to hear it again, then I know I’ve overcooked it! ha-ha the thing I do notice is that I can make two different albums a few years apart with totally different people and totally different gear and it always still sounds like me – that’s a pretty cool thing I guess. Like some sort of intangible quality that is there but also isn’t…Dunno how it works, but it’s true! I can also hear anything I’ve done and tell you exactly what I was doing, where I was and how I was feeling when it was recorded – which goes back to the audio photo theory!

Where do you live and how does it affect your music?
I live with my girlfriend and a cat in Middlesbrough, England (Between Leeds and Newcastle, right up in the North East) and it has zero impact on my music other than I find it hard to find the right people to play with in my town. There are lots of bands and musicians but it’s all very indie/rock/acoustic/covers-bands kinda stuff round here so I have to look further afield for people who are into the more left-of-centre stuff, which is why I record a lot and play live very little! A lot of the folks who play on my records live in Netherlands, USA and Spain so practicing is a bit of a pain! Hahah! but I do have a UK live band finally so we can play shows if something good comes up – we played Astral Festival in Bristol earlier this year which was the first time we’ve done it and it was lots of fun – I’d deffo be up for doing more so we shall see…But anyway – Middlesbrough has no effect on what I do – its where I live and where all my friends are, plus it’s a relatively cheap place to live (not that anywhere is truly cheap anymore) but I could make these albums anywhere I reckon, and they’d
sound the same. I could spout a load of bullshit about how I’m influenced by the hills and the industrial heritage and all that, but it would be a lie! It’s all just rattling around in my head trying to punch its way out, and my head can go anywhere!

The first album I am reviewing is Black Water/Brown Earth, what can you tell me about its
conception and its background story?

I had a mental block between November and April this year where I couldn’t seem to get anything done – my head was just not in it (It felt like the end of the world at the time, it always does – but in hindsight I think I just needed a break) I had started a couple of sets of songs but I was making no progress on them and just annoying myself – so I shelved them for a bit and started a new thing that I wanted to be very simple, just me and two other people (Mees and Elsa, who play on lots of my stuff) we were in King Champion Sounds together for almost a decade so we are very used to playing together, so even doing it via email it still sounds pretty organic) so I sent them sketches for a bunch of songs and then when I got their stuff back I added some more stuff and then mixed it very quickly and it all just came together really fast – it was such a relief to finally finish something after 6 months
of frustration! The week I finished mixing it I got an email off the folks at Up In Her Room asking if I wanted to do an album with them (They had seen us play at Astral Festival) so I sent them it and they liked it so that’s how it all came about! think it’s a nice sounding record – I cycle down a river every morning when I go to work and I made some field recordings on my phone over a couple of weeks of the birds and the water and they are mixed into the tracks too…aside from those bits it’s just the three of us playing on it – the trio thing is always fun, working with a smaller palette is nice sometimes!

The second album, quite quickly following the previous is The Aleph, what can you tell me about that one?
The Aleph was one of the ones I started in Autumn last year, but I hit a wall with it and shelved it for a while. After I finished Black Water/Brown Earth I returned to this one and it all came together quite fast now I was back on the proverbial horse – I added few more synths and doubled some bass tracks up and then sent it to my pal Thomas House (he plays in Sweet Williams and Haress, and used to run Endless Records out of Brighton, who put out a couple of Ivan tapes and records over the years) and he added a bunch of guitars and then mixed the album for me – he’s very good at stuff so it was very painless- again! Mostly 1st mixes of everything are what you hear on the album – he’s got the good ears for stuff – I’m really pleased with this record – I’m normally guilty of the “throwing everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach whereas Tom is all about space and minimal layers – but I wanted a different sound and he’s totally nailed it – he’s a genius. I was reading a book
of Jorge Luis Borges stories while we were making the record and there is one story called The Aleph which is all about the idea of there being a point in space that contains all other points, from where you can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping, or confusion – which I really liked and it felt kind of apt, so I named the album after it.

The Aleph especially has some incredible artwork! Who made it, and what is the relationship with the music?
I did the sleeve for this one (PLUG ALERT! I have a side-hustle doing sleeve art for bands, check out @ackackackdesign on Instagram for recent work – I’m cheap if I like you! PLUG OVER!) The image is a close-up scan of the endpaper from a Victorian encyclopaedia which I really liked the colours on, so I matched everything else up to it and all the lettering is hand done, one letter at a time with Letraset from my personal collection! ha-ha. Old school cut and paste! I think it suits the music nicely though, which is always the main goal. I do most of my own sleeves but in the last couple of years I’ve had too many records out so got a few other people whose work I liked to do some here and there, so I wasn’t swamped – Limited Output (my old pal Chappy from Newcastle) did the sleeve for The Long Year, Jordan Warren did the sleeve for White Tears and Nathaniel Winter-Herbert did the one for The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe – check them all out, they are fine folks!

Now you have released two albums in one year, what is the next step? More recordings?
Playing live?

I think its three albums this year actually! The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe LP on Library of The Occult was earlier this year wasn’t it?! ha-ha – so yeah – 3! it’s not my personal best (I managed 5 in 2020) but it’s a strong effort! After The Aleph and Black Water/Brown Earth are released, I have another album which is already at the pressing plant which is due out in April (it’s not announced yet so I can’t say any more, but I’m
REALLY pleased with this one cos it’s the first time I’ll have an entire ITT album I am actual able to play live so watch this space…) but I have plans to record a new album for Library of The Occult during November and December as I have some good chunks of time off work, and then after that I’ve got a couple of live things coming up that I need to work on…that’s as far as I’ve planned! I love watching TV too much to commit any further than that! I’m still getting used to not really touring anymore – Brexit and Covid and everything getting so expensive has really made it impossible for the small acts to make it balance anymore, sadly! I toured Europe for a month out of the year every year for the last decade, so it feels weird not to have any stuff on the calendar but I’m sure I’ll get used to the idea eventually. It’s probably why I’ve made so many records over the last two years – I’m overcompensating!

What is your ultimate dream goal as an artist?
I don’t think I have any! I just enjoy doing what I do! I’ve never wanted to be a musician as a job, I like having a normal job (I work in a print room) and doing music around it – stops it getting boring – I reckon it would suck if you HAD to do music every day, especially these days with all the bullshit social media you have to do constantly – i couldn’t do all that, which is probably why I’m not much further on than I am! I like it the way it is though. But yeah, my only goals are to keep making records until I peg it – keeps me sane! It’s a good release for an overactive imagination. But BIG goals nah, don’t have any! I wish I’d got to do a Peel Session, but I never did, does that count? Probably not seeing as it’s no longer possible! I’ve kind of done everything i ever set out to do and more! I’ve made loads of records, toured in loads of countries and met lots of the very best people. JOB DONE! I would secretly love to make a record in Studio 2 at Abbey Road though, but shhh don’t tell anyone.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
Well, I’m going to go outside for a smoke, listen to the new Szun Waves album AGAIN and have a beer and then watch some TV. So you could do that if you want, but I’m not yr fuckin boss! DO SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVE! Eat a cake! Knit a jumper! Paint a room! Go for a bike ride! Have a sleep! If you are happy then, so am I.


Review + Q&A: James Johnston & Steve Gullick- Everybody’s Sunset (2022, God Unknown Records)

In February 2021 We Travel Time by James Johnston and Steve Gullick was the perfect soundtrack to melting snow and hopes of a new day after a very long and depressing pandemic winter. I also had the pleasure to reach out to James and talk about this project and his time in Gallon Drunk, PJ Harvey, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He is a full time painter now though, and Steve Gullick an amazing pop photographer who shot many great artists. Everybody’s Sunset is a their sophomore effort as a duo, and once again it displays the symbiotic relationship the two men have with imagery and music.

Like his canvasses, James Johnston paints his music on the verge of abstract and figurative, sometimes writing songs, mostly writing soundscapes. Like in photography, Steve Gullick captures moments at exactly the right time, creating musical mental images that reflect song titles like A Greater Silence, Shimmer, A Fear Of Everything and such. The title track made think for a moment; isn’t every sunset everybody’s sunset? Or is the sunset you experience a unique experience for any individual?

There is plenty of time for musings of this kind on Everybody’s Sunset, as more often than before the music is void of lyrics, painting an image of stillness with sparse sound collage, a small dash of violin, a lonely guitar wail, a shimmer of percussion…music to reflect, to sort your thoughts to, perhaps to paint to? In any case, it’s another fine piece of avantgarde music for use to wonder about and cherish.

I was lucky enough to talk to James Johnston again, after our lovely chat last year. We caught up about the time in between, and also talked about the present and the future…

Hi James, good to talk to you again, can you tell me a little bit about how you spend your time since the release of We Travel Time in February 2021?

Well, it feels like a long time to us as we recorded the first album quite some time ago, and the situation was so different as to almost seem unreal now. Global lockdowns etc. Since then I’ve been in the studio painting 5 days a week, and Steve’s been back into photo and video work again. We’ve been working on the new album since March 2021, a very gradual process of building up a body of work, so the music has been a constant throughout.

I can imagine that the writing and recording sessions for Everybody’s Sunset were quite different from last time! Can you tell me about it?

It was more that the music was different. We basically went about it in the same way, although we were able to work together recording a bit more this time, especially when it came to the crucial part of mixing and making snap decisions to cut things down, take things apart. As ever, it’s loose and live, but the work after the initial recording is what we took a lot more time over. It’s a process we both love, and both work as instinctively as possible while doing it, trying not to get lost on details, but to go with feel about the overall atmosphere of the music. Get some surprises in there, turn things inside out. For example, we’d take a violin section I’d done, and then got totally bored of, and refeed it into the music through guitar pedals so that it becomes something totally new, then rethink the whole piece around that.

What do you think is the biggest difference between the two albums? 

The first one’s maybe a bit rawer, fragments of music that make up the whole, whereas this record has a very different and more immersive feel in general. It’s more out there.

Is there a link between your development as a painter and your music? It felt to me for instance like there is a similarity between the borders of abstraction in both your painting and your music, how do you see that?

It’s totally fed into it, as has Steve’s landscape photography for him. The mysterious edges of things, where the more conscious and planned ideas blend into something that feels more unknown.

Aside from your work with Steve, have you gotten any offers to work with other artists after covid, you have worked with a lot of big artists, will that continue in the future?

I’ll be working with Polly Harvey again next year, but until that happens I’ve decided to focus totally on the painting. Ive got a solo show in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been building up a lot of work for that.

Looking back at the pandemic, what changed mostly for you personally and professionally?

Thankfully family and those most close came through it ok, so as a result the experience was ok. I loved living in the empty version of London for a while, it had a real beauty to it.

Can you elaborate on the album title? It got me thinking; isn’t every sunset everybody’s sunset? And then again; does a specific way you experience a sunset make it unique to you? Am I close here…?

Well, it’s universal, a daily recurring sense of finality that’s paired with total beauty, something shared. Like a lot of the titles, it came from  a painting title. At the time I did the painting, it felt like it had a lot darker resonance to it as well. It hopefully reflects the ambiguity and embracing feel of the music.

What is the last book you read? Can you recommend any books you read recently?

The last book that I just finished was ‘Waterworld’ by Graham Swift. A real favourite is Madman’s Drum by Lynd Ward, a novel in woodcuts from the 1930s. A book my mother had that totally blew me away as a child, and still does.

What are you looking forward to most at this moment?

Getting into the studio.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do after reading this interview?

Go outside.

Steve and James

Review+ Q&A: Moon Goose- La Nuit (2022, Fruits De Mer Records/Inflatable Tarmac Records)

Sometimes it’s best not to overthink or over analyze things. Reading back my questions and the answers for the interview with UK’s space rock quintet Moon Goose I realized that what they expressed in words exactly covered what they are about; five guys creating music in the moment, taking it the way it comes in the moment. Not taking themselves too seriously, but definitely giving room for the free creative process. Anything they might think or say more about it is pretty moot, really. That does not mean it is less valuable or interesting as an art form though.

And it does not mean the listener cannot have their own thoughts. On the contrary, their new album La Nuit is filled to the brim with all kinds of crazy ideas and side paths that will make your brain do loopings and somersaults trying to stay on track of what is happening. Because with Moon Goose anything goes, within the domain of their -mostly- instrumental space rock psycho debauchery, that is.

Whether it is the soundtrack to understanding the inner feelings of future sex robots, being cursed by a lemon, or “a vicar’s brain being fried by the light”, Moon Goose will take you through it on this weird psychedelic journey. And when the final notes of Great Halls Of Broken Tools have sounded…you will hit the repeat button and take the ride again.

Moon Goose Dave handled the answering duties today, and as it appears these space rock Britons are just as as wacky in their daily lives as in their music businesses….

Hey Moon Goose! How is everything on your side of the globe?

Hello Weirdo Shrine! Literally everything is perfect on our side of the globe. No surprise really, once you know about the underlying geology in this part of the world. (It’s mostly Devonian-era Old Red Sandstone.)

Can you kindly introduce your band to the Weirdo Shrine audience?

We are five humans who use electricity, food and some other inputs to create noises which have the capacity to make people dance. 

What are your musical backgrounds?

Our musical backgrounds represent a clashing and infinite mix of styles ranging from Ennio Morricone to Jah Wobble via the sound of urban frogs in a storm drain on a humid Nairobi evening. 

Where do you live, and how would you say that influences your music?

Well the sandstone obviously influences everything else, including the heavy clay soil which supports a quixotic range of crops that can tolerate the waterlogged soil here in the in-between-space where England meets Wales. Overlay that biological reality with the tribal back-and-forth that characterizes life here as well as in the borderlands in every part of Earth and you will have a good understanding of the shifting identity, ruined castles, and potatoes that underpin our music. 

What does an average day look like for a Moon Goose cult member?

If we’re not riding the mile-high circular monorail that sketches the boundary of the entire bioregion, we are often to be found using our heads to roll gym balls up scree. 

What does it look like when you are writing music?

It looks like the feeling you get when you rediscover a half-eaten bag of crisps lying on precisely the windowsill you would have imagined it to be lying on, had you taken the proper time to think about it. 

Where do you gather your inspiration?

Inspiration-gathering is too active a description. Inspiration emerges when we play together in our barn. We inspire each other and the place we play adds its extra quality. Someone starts playing nothing in particular, someone else joins in, there’s a vibe or not, we remember it or not. Most if not all of our best stuff we’ve only ever played once when inspiration has crept up on us, and then we have failed to recapture it. If that sounds too fragile, don’t worry. 

What is “the dream” for Moon Goose as a band?

The dream is probably the ability to get somewhere close, on a record, to how we sound in the barn where we rehearse, on a night when the moon is shining and we are in flow. This would probably require spending several days and nights in the recording studio with our sound engineer Ryan and our producer Leon, maybe along with a pile of cheap garish cakes, and the more exhausted and delirious things became, the closer we would get to that precious barn vibe. 

What are you most looking forward to in the immediate future?

Realising our dream.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after reading this interview?

Feel loved. 

Review+ Q&A: Holy Springs- E.A.T. (2022, Up In Her Room Records)

Holy Springs must have gotten hold of a time machine somehow. I don’t see how else they picked up that perfect 90s dream tone of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, and Spacemen 3. Yet upon their return to the present they added even more fuzzy wool to the mix, making E.A.T. into a mega hazy experience that will make you feel like the walls are made out of cotton candy and your chair has come alive to swallow you whole…

The voices whisper sweet and nasty things in your ear while the songs leech their way into your subconscious. Get ready to hum along to Surprise, Believe It, and I Want You, whether you like it or not. Sure, you know this sound, you know the good old shoegaze adagium, but this performance is so spot on, so damn well executed that if you had any apprehension meeting yet another ‘gaze band you will let it go immediately after that guitar hits your cranium.

You will swallow those horse size pills and that chair will swallow you, and you will like it that way. Holy Springs will EAT you, and you will savor every bite.

So let’s meet the band! Here’s Neil Atkinson Jr, Maria Bellucci, and Suzanne Sims introducing themselves and explaining how E.A.T. got so freaking awesome…

Hi Holy Springs! How are you doing these days?

Neil: We’re good thanks. Excited about the album being out and playing live. Also relieved it has had a positive response!

Can you please introduce the band; where are you from, how did you meet?

Neil: I’m the guitarist and somewhat singer! Maria plays bass and keyboards and Suzanne plays drums. I was born in Hampshire but have moved around quite a bit. I’ve known Suzanne for a long time playing music and going to see bands. Me and Maria met in Italy at a music festival (Beaches Brew).

Maria: I’m from South Italy. 

Suzanne: Neil and I have been playing music together about ten years or so. 

What are your musical backgrounds?

Neil: I started playing guitar in my late teens. I grew up listening to punk and garage bands as well as the classic rock bands. Then as I grew up I discovered bands like the Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3 etc and they really influenced how I play guitar and write music now. 

Maria: I used to play the keyboard when I was a child. I’ve only recently started playing the bass (a few years ago).

Suzanne: Bit of a late starter, I didn’t begin playing the drums until my mid/late 20s. I play in Dead Rabbits and have been in a couple of friends’ musical projects. Before drumming, I played clarinet at school and guitar at college. It’s better for everyone that I don’t sing.

Where do you live, and how would you say that influences your sound?

Neil: Me and Maria live in South London. It’s hard to say if it influences the music. I think a band’s sound usually comes from their musical tastes. 

Suzanne: I live in Southampton. I don’t think the location influences my sound, but there’s a really good community of musicians, all various styles, and it’s nice to hang out and support each other.

What does a typical day in your lives look like?

Neil: We all have day jobs. I work from home mostly and a typical day is sitting in front of a laptop. 

Maria: I’m an NHS nurse so my day can be quite hectic! I try to relax with yoga and some sports.

Suzanne: Oversleep, intense workout session, arrive slightly late to my office job, work overtime, drink too many beers, doomscroll, repeat.

What can you tell me about the writing and recording process of E.A.T.?

Neil: We made demos for most of the songs on an old multi track. We start with recording some guitars then add a bassline. After that the hard part is lyric writing and finding some kind of melody or hook. When the demo is nearly done me and Maria will work on it at home before taking it to the rehearsal room with Suze. We recorded E.A.T over 2 weekends at Press Play Studio and Hackney Road Studios in London. I enjoy the studio and that whole process. Working with James Aparicio was great. It’s cool hearing the songs gradually build through loudspeakers. Those 3 instrumental tracks on the album were recorded at home afterwards feeding a synth through my guitar pedals. That was fun to do.

Maria: We also love hanging out in between takes and going for a drink at the end of the sessions.

Suzanne: I usually panic as soon as the click track starts and that red light goes on. There’s a lot of sitting around waiting when you’re in a band, but it’s worth it to capture a track.

How do your lyrics usually come into being?

Neil: They’re usually the last thing I do. I try to find a melody and will usually mumble nonsense into a mic until the right words come. Sometimes lyrics can form while playing a guitar unplugged and watching TV. I remember watching quite a lot of Abel Ferrara films and reading David Foster Wallace at the time. Maybe that seeped in?! Who knows. 

Can you tell me what music’s on the daily band playlist?

Neil: I’m currently listening to Hotline TNT, Toner, Bloody Head, Spiritualized, Bowery Electric. 

Maria: Minami Deutsch, Horsegirl, Tamaryn, WEED, Mo Dotti, The Gories.

Suzanne: Kikagaku Moyo, Tess Parks, Beach House, Genn, looking forward to checking out the new Goat when I can.

What is “the dream” for your band? And what are your immediate future plans?

Neil: I guess the dream is to record more albums and play shows in as many places as we can.

Maria: Have fun playing and hanging out together.

Suzanne: I prefer playing live to recording, so as long as I get to travel about meeting people, exploring places and making a racket I’m quite happy.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Neil: Start a band!

Maria: If you haven’t already heard our album please check it out!

Suzanne: maybe re-read and look for secret messages, I mean there aren’t any but you can put off everyday life for at least 10 mins.

Review + Q&A: Thought Bubble- Nowhere (2022, Echodelick Records)

Although UK duo Thought Bubble opted for a cartoonish moniker, their musical output is nothing to laugh at. Rather than a soundtrack for comic book communication methods, the music on Nowhere will transport you to into your own thought bubble; the confines of your own head. Being very electronic through synths, loops, and beats, the music at times feels “bubbly” as well, in a sense that you are experiencing your own thought bubble while being wrapped in bubble wrap wobbling away through the colorful artwork on display.

There are shards of spoken word and lyrics popping up through Nowhere, presenting the eerie modern day feeling of being rushed, as well as some claustrophobic reflections on the covid period, which was not a walk in the park for these guys as you will read in the interview below. While the moods and atmospheres on Nowhere are very varied, the listener cannot escape this sense of isolated gloom that stretches over the music, an obvious result of the state of mind of the makers.

Not to say that Thought Bubble have created an allover gloomy affair. There’s even some room for a dance (Cloudbursting), and on the Can-inspired more repetitive parts you have to be dead if you do not at least wiggle your right toe to it. It is electronic music for people who do not like electronic music. And some very good music at that.

I talked to Thought Bubble‘s duo Nick Raybould (percussion) and Chris Cordwell (keys) about the making of Nowhere, there pretty dense covid experience, and of course their love of music…

Hi guys! How are you these days?

Chris: Well thanks, recovering from a bout of covid but good.

Nick: Considering the bizarre times we are now living through, surprisingly well. As Chris says, we’ve both just recovered from bouts of Covid, but are feeling proud of our new album and are already back making new music.

The writing and recording process of “Nowhere” was all during covid, right? And I heard they were some stressful times for you as well! Can you tell me what happened and whether you think it can be heard in the music?

Chris: Yeah, Nowhere was made during covid lockdowns, but also Nick was diagnosed with a heart condition and needed urgent surgery which, unfortunately, due to the stresses on the NHS turned out to be a lengthy process. So Nowhere turned into a welcome diversion for Nick. 

Nick: That period will probably be remembered by most of us all as the lockdown years, or something like that. For me personally, of course, it was also a pretty bleak and terrifying time. Having spent much of 2020 strangely exhausted, with sharp back pains, in February 2021 I was eventually diagnosed as suffering from chronic heart disease, which would require urgent multiple bypass surgery. I’m guessing I’d have been especially vulnerable to Covid with my heart issues and that catching it could have delayed my operation, should a surgery slot have actually come available. So that was that – my wife and I became hermits.

Everyone around me set about helping to distract me from dwelling on it too much, as I waited, in various ways. Not least my Thought Bubble partner Chris. He’d hit a particularly prolific and creative seam, so started sending me lots of new Thought Bubble tracks to work on. One of which assumed the apt name ‘Distraction Engine’. 

Despite being a generally quite bouyant person, there was still a darker corner in my mental makeup telling me there was a chance things could go very wrong indeed. Either on the operating table – or even before I managed to get there. Another new track we’d started creating started of as a snappy drum work out, which I sent over to Chris. What he sent back was another pretty much finished sounding track. It was now a lovely trippy funk groover. His original parts included a sampled voice, from some royalty-free archive, as a percussive effect. While I felt it sat right, I considered that voice a bit anonymous and something of a missed opportunity to say something for ourselves. So I quickly wrote a short poem. And, while I usually hate the sound of my own voice, set up a mic and recorded myself reading it. I was facing this big heart operation and had already reconciled that these recordings might be our ‘Black Star’. So yeah, for once I actually used my own voice. Yeah, proper heavy shit was going on in my head by this stage. 

Can you tell me about your musical backgrounds? How did you find each other to form Thought Bubble?

Nick: Chris and I met when we formed a ‘dads’ band through mutual friends. Nobody could play particularly well. It was really more of a boozy social thing really, but over a few years and line-up changes we improved. I eventually broke away and played with different muzos and bands, before reuniting with Chris in Glowpeople a sort of funky prog fusion band. That band released several CD albums and played lots of crazy gigs and psychedelic rock festivals. Inevitably being a band that burned bright  – we inevitably burned out! Chris and I then played for a year in another festival band; the more rocking Delphini. All this time, at rehearsal sessions, awaiting the arrival of our bandmates, Chris and I were jamming together, sometimes recording our improvised grooves, unaware that we were already forming Thought Bubble!

Chris: Most of my friends during my formative years were musicians and I used to mess around with sine wave generators and ring modulators, even owning an original ARP Odessy at one stage, but certainly never considered myself a musician as such, but music has been one of the mainstays of my life.

Nick and I were both brought up in Redditch in the West Midlands but didn’t meet up until much later when we both moved to the Shropshire Hills. We first played together with band of friends who just got together for a bit of light entertainment during those long winter nights, nothing too serious and that didn’t last too long. Nick and I kept in touch however as we seemed to have similar curiosity when it came to the sort of music we listened to. Some time later Nick got in touch with me as he was playing with a bass player and guitarist and thought I’d fit in. That turned out into the band Glowpeople which went through a couple of incarnations. We played a lot together, mainly improvising mad jams taking them in many weird and wonderful directions. We played at small festivals and were well received but as is the way of bands after a number of years we drifted apart.

Nick and I went onto to play with the short lived Delphini before covid threw everyone’s lives into abeyance. We’d always swapped musical ideas over the years and when covid and lockdowns came along it only seemed natural to keep ourselves busy.

How do the two of you write music? Is there for instance any jamming involved?

Chris: Sometimes Nick will send a drum track to me to work to, but generally I’ll send Nick something I’ve been working on. Nick has a great ear, so I’m always comfortable sending tracks across to him for mixing and editing before they come back to me for mastering. Unfortunately there has been very little of us being able to jam together lately but a number of tracks have stemmed from lengthy jams that I’ve done which have then been edited down and refined. Neon Garden and Superficial being cases in point. We also enjoy having other people play on tracks if we think it needs another voice and are truly grateful for their willingness to engage and bring never fail to enhance the tracks.

Nick: Yeah, before the pandemic messed everything up – and my subsequent heath issues necessitated my isolation, we did actually jam together. So several tracks on the previous two albums were live jams. However, while ‘Nowhere’ was taking shape we only met outdoors, socially distanced, to discuss ideas.

Tracks, these days, are created remotely. We’ve fallen into a routine that works. It’s usually me who mixes and edits the whole thing into shape. We seem to have fallen into roles and routines, but these aren’t written in stone.

What can you tell me about the spoken word part in Superficial?

Chris: I’ll leave Nick that one, but just say that we’ve probably all been on both sides of that story, and beautifully delivered by Pablo.

Nick: I keep a notebook In which I’m continually scratching away at lyrics and silly rhymes. But, this poem was a bit different. This one was done in response to some miserable arsehole who was draining the joy out of my day. I’m sure we’re all acquainted with at least someone who seems to find pleasure in bringing the whole vibe down. Well, this was me venting myself, without having to resort to sticking pins in a voodoo doll. They’re usually narcissists who aren’t quite getting the attention they crave so resort to less constructive means.

My brother Pablo Raybould is an actor. He does stage, film and television work – and he also has that gift of a versatile voice and can perform in all manner of styles. And, thankfully, once again he was happy to help us on this Thought Bubble track. You may remember him from Möbius Trip on our first album, maybe?

As you’ll hear, once the words have finished, the track changes gear and goes off into rather different territory. We do this a lot and will do again, later on this album.

What are your musical influences? Do you listen to a lot of contemporary music?

Chris: I’ve got an extremely wide range of musical influences in all genres of music and am always searching for things that whet my curiosity. I love music that takes you somewhere unexpected, the thrill of Can, Sun Ra, the melding of different genres of the new generation of British jazz musicians. I recently had the privilege of seeing Matmos perform at the Sonic Lab in Belfast an amazing evening at an amazing venue. It was a real ear opener and truly inspiring. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Telefis, the collaboration between the sadly recently passed genius Cathal Coughlan and Jacknife Lee. Cathal’s band Fatima Mansions were one of my favourite ever live bands, truly awesome.

Nick: When Chris and I were playing in Glowpeople and Delphini, we’d usually give each other a lift over to the rehearsal studios. In our cars is where we’d share our latest discoveries, as we drove. As I remember it, it was probably more Chris turning me onto some amazing new producer than vice versa. I like fusion bands like Snorkel, Taupe and Red Snapper, also more danceable electro outfits like Lamb. I spent the late 80s in a band called The Libertines (not them), who toured as support band to Stourbridge groovies The Wonder Stuff and watched in awe as their lovely and grifted drummer showed me how it’s done.

I think we’re both very open and catholic in our musical tastes. Despite being of senior years, we have pretty much always explored new music. My record buying started with T.REX in 1971 and one of my latest purchases were King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and one of Chris’s recommendations Hania Rani

How do you translate the music on Nowhere to a live setting? What does that look like?

Chris: That’s a tricky one which hopefully we’ll resolve over the coming months. I think for sure it will be the same but completely different if you see what I mean.

Nick: Live? I’ve really no idea yet. Only, our very early recordings were done we played live, in a studio. We’ve yet to actually play a gig, as Thought Bubble. All of this album was done in our two separate studios, recording our responses to each other’s initial tracks. However, I must mention that we do have plans to perform live. I doubt we’ll strive to replicate any actual released track, though. All of ‘Nowhere’ is a series composite production pieces, built up in layers. Lots of performed pieces with overdubs, which have then been edited. And remember we’ve used guest artistes some of whom I doubt we’ll ever meet on a stage.

What is “the dream” for Thought Bubble as musicians?

Chris: To get better.

Nick: I think I’d like to play live with Thought Bubble, which we’re yet to actually achieve – and it would be nice to invite some of the guest collaborators along, too. I’d also like there to be more of a buzz around our releases and enough sales to allow us to buy better gear. I’m happy to continue doing what we do, at the level we’re currently doing it though, too. Maybe a manager could help with getting us into soundtrack work? Also for badgering labels and publishers for future releases.

What are your immediate future plans?

Chris: Looking forward to getting together more often, in order to see what comes out when we’re in the same room.

Nick: As this album took so long to be manufactured – and because we were so locked into that prolific seam, we carried on recording lots more tracks, so we probably have at least one album already done. In fact, we are already in discussion for a release early in 2023.

I might also add that before even that we are planning to release a download only EP, through our Bandcamp site. Online acquaintances Unio & Petitio, a particularly quirky electronic duo offered to remix some of our tracks! So, that will be our next thing. We are reciprocating, by the way – so, I guess their next release will be our remixes of them!

I had a quadruple bypass operation in January 2022, which seems to have been an enormous success, so I feel rebooted and ready to get back out there playing live.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do after reading this interview?

Chris: Obviously get a copy of Nowhere, if they don’t already have it. Then go out and see some live music. It’s good for the soul.

Nick: To get get themselves into an appropriately receptive frame of mind and before their motor skills abandon them, to get over to our Bandcamp portal, crank up the amp and immerse themselves into our explorations and sonic adventures. Several times, maybe. And yes, as Chris says, get Nowhere.

Review + Q&A: Korb- III (2022, Dreamlord Recordings)

Sometimes the less you know about a subject, the more interesting fantasizing about it becomes. Take space travel for instance In the 1970s and 1980s. Even before space telescopes started mapping our milky way (animated) movies about space travel showed us wild and foreign habitats like Le Planete Sauvage (1973). Korb knows about this, and plays with this notion when they vibe on space with their instruments. The video for Ritual For The Gods for instance consists of images from the French series Maitre du Temps from 1982. Korb take this naive and free flowing fantasy about space travel and go with it, weaving their 70s oriented electronics in the finest tradition of oldschool kraut rockers Can, Neu! and Cluster while maintaining a fresh outlook. Welcome to the third chapter of Korb, in which nostalgia and modern creativity fight for the upper hand creating an exciting modern carpet of instrumental psychedelic music.

It’s music to clear your mind to, letting everything go and just flow with it. You might encounter strange planets and exotic civilizations, you might not leave the confines of your home or even your head. It does not matter, Korb has got your soundtrack for spacing out covered. For the third time around, let’s take a trip…

I talked to Jonathan Parkes and Alec Wood about being in Korb and maintaining their record label Dreamlord Recordings. Here’s what the duo came up with….

How have you been guys? Can you tell me about the period between the previous record and the new one?

We’ve been busy. Since Korb II we’ve had various releases – a split 10″ with Kombynat Robotron on Weird Beard, a 7″ on Woodford Halse, Korb and Arboria tracks on Undulating Waters 6 & 7 on Woodford Halse, Arboria II on Dreamlord Recordings and Up In Her Room and most recently our album From the Mountains to the Oceans a collaborative project with El Hombre El Agua, another joint release between Dreamlord Recordings and Up In Her Room.

Can you tell me about the start of Korb? How did you find each other and decide on the sound?

We’ve been working together for over 20 years. We started out in a jazz quartet and having bonded over our love of Krautrock we started work on what would later become Korb.

Krautrock is very important to you guys, right? What could you recommend as the best (classic) albums to start with the “genre”? 

Some of our favorite Krautrock bands are Can, Faust, Neu!, Amon Duul II, Ash Ra Temple, Kraftwerk.

How do Korb songs come into existence generally? Is there a lot of spontaneous jamming or is everything more composed?

The tracks start spontaneously and are developed over a period of time.

Where do you guys live and would you say your environment plays a role in the music that you make?

We live in the UK but we don’t think that Korb has a ‘ British ‘ sound, We’re part of an international psych scene, our other project Arboria probably has a more distinctly rural British sound.

Korb’s music is -mostly- instrumental right? Did you ever experiment with vocals? Would there be a vocalist you’d make an exception for if he/she was available to work with?

All of Korb’s releases have been instrumental so far, but that doesn’t mean wouldn’t be up for working with a vocalist in the future. We worked with vocalist/songwriter Shane Horgan on the Wolfen album.

Do you listen to a lot of contemporary music? What are some names you’d recommend diving into at the moment?

We listen to a lot of releases on contemporary independent British labels such as Weird Beard, Up In Her Room, Woodford Halse, Library of the Occult, Drone Rock Records, Buried Treasure Records, Fruits de Mer Records and Feral Child Records.

The artwork is pretty amazing! Who made it and how does it relate to the music?

The artwork for Korb III was created by Russ Brown [ ] and coloured by Dom Keen of Studio Kosmische. We asked Russ and this is what he said – ” Essentially it’s how I visually picture the music you create, I get myself into the zone by listening to your previous work and inspiration comes from ancient civilizations and 70s sci fi book covers “

What are your immediate future goals, and what is “the dream”?

For Dreamlord Recordings‘ tenth release we have a special double album with 24 tracks featuring rare and unreleased tracks that will particularly interest Korb fans, which we’re co – releasing with Fruits de Mer. The first Dreamlord Recordings release ‘ Mutante ‘ DR-01 is getting it’s first vinyl release on Up In Her Room Records soon. We are always working on new material. Currently we are working on various projects including Arboria III, Mutante III, Korb IV and The Hologram People.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?

Go and check out the Dreamlord Recordings bandcamp page –