My name is Robyn, and I write things. That’s really the crux of this blog, as it is with any blog, really — I wanted a self-proclaimed corner of the internet to massage my ego and let everybody know that I had Things To Say, and I wanted them to be heard. I write things professionally, as a junior marketing consultant, and I write them not professionally, as I have been doing since I first discovered Microsoft Publisher and realised that I could create newsletters for the kids in my street. From the crudely created four-page manifestos of a nine-year-old to the self-indulgent personal essays I used to post on my music blog, I have always needed to find a way to make my voice heard, and as my mouth doesn’t always like to connect with my brain, I decided that being a writer was ultimately, the thing I’ve always meant to be.
Whether I’m meant for writing or not has been the topic of the moment for the past few months. In a professional context, drafting web copy for spa hotels and social media posts about motorsport events has become second nature. But finding the same energy and drive to do it at home, in coffee shops, on trains and aeroplanes has been a constant struggle. I wrote a novel when I was 15, attempted NaNoWriMo numerous times throughout my teens, and was a prolific fiction writer throughout my university years, but over the past twelve months, it feels like the magic’s gone, the imagination’s dried up and the fountain of ideas is long since barren. And that terrifies me.
So, I decided that I had to take positive steps to get my writing life back on track. Nobody was going to do it for me, after all. It meant letting go of broken projects, being stricter with my time and giving myself the creative space I needed to breathe. So, blog — ta dah!
I used to have a website called TwoBeatsOff. It was a music blog, which had a revolving team of contributors, and I worked on it for seven solid years (I thought it was six — I was wrong!) before I decided that I needed to cut ties. And it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I agonised over that one more than I agonised over breaking up with my high school boyfriend. It had been my pet project for years, and although I am not afraid for writing to feel like work, I just couldn’t bring myself to review crappy pop-punk EPs for zero money. I’ve never felt that writing as a whole has to earn me anything, but in that context, I wasn’t prepared to work for free any more. I wasn’t prepared to keep the whole thing floating in a vast sea of exactly the same fucking thing. I’ve archived all of the posts on here — if you feel like dipping into them, please do, there’s some great stuff! — but this blog serves a totally different purpose.
I hope to try and chronicle my way back into writing. I’m attempting to write more fiction, finish off a set of personal essays I started and maybe, just maybe, get into a novel. I play D&D on occasion, but I’d like to actually be the dungeon master for a change, so I’m starting to write my own scenarios and campaigns. I know I’ll never be able to stop writing about music in one way or another, but I plan on doing it on my own terms.
This has been a bit of a mission statement, but it’s good to finally get it all out on paper. Or screen. Or something. Here’s to a fresh start — and probably a good time to learn how to use the espresso machine.
I’m sitting in my parent’s house, catching up on The Great British Bake Off, while I wait for my car’s exhaust to be fixed. It doesn’t seem like a particularly gloomy Saturday morning, despite the thinning fog outside, but there’s a certain heaviness weighing on my heart. I’ve been wrestling with this feeling for weeks, months, maybe even a year now. Finally, it seems as if I’m able to accept the inevitable — TwoBeatsOff will be no longer.
I started this blog in 2008, back when I was still in sixth form, because I wanted to hear what girls thought about music, the punk rock scene, and everything in between. Five wonderful ladies that I met over the internet or at pop-punk shows helped me out, and it was great. I knew nobody was really reading it, but we were reading each others’ points of view, flexing our creative muscles and giving a big middle finger to anyone who said we were wasting our time. And, incidentally, I believe it was this blog that scored me a place at the University of Warwick, where I spent three of the best years of my life so far, meeting friends that I’ll keep for life, and getting to do some extra cool shit. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
While I was at uni, I kept this ship sailing, even though a lot of the girls who I was working on TBO with decided to move onto different things. I met the wonderful Kate, one of my favourite people on this planet, and we got a bit more ambitious. Together, we chased after our idols — I got to make a tit of myself in front of Matt Davies-Kreye and Ryan Richards from Funeral for a Friend, Sean Smith from The Blackout, and we helped out various up-and-coming Midlands bands along the way. I discovered some incredible bands, went to see some great shows, and thoroughly threw myself into the scene. Of course, it wouldn’t have been the same without a great team — I had some amazing writers in those years, and we reviewed some brilliant shows, records and everything else. But despite a flourishing relationship with PR agencies and record labels, it still wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. As ever, my ambitions were greater than I could manage. If I was ever going to have time to make TBO pay for itself, or provide a stepping stone to a career in journalism, it would have been then. But I missed the boat — and it was time for the dream to shift.
I’ve never been good at dreams. I’ve always dropped them as soon as they’ve gotten too tough to handle. I’ve always settled for a safer option, retreated into a cosy world. I think I did a little bit of that with TBO. I didn’t take any risks, so it didn’t have any opportunity to grow. I could never afford better equipment, never had time to learn any new skills, and worried about my future far too much.
So I ended up going back to university to do a masters degree, because I didn’t know where else to go. I had the experience and the relationships to embark on a career in music journalism, but I didn’t want to move to London. The Midlands had always been my home, in little provincial towns where there were more fields than people. So I retreated into my safe haven, tapped away at my keyboard and stuck to doing reviews of records I wasn’t hugely into. Inevitably, the real world took over — I got a full-time job in marketing that I adore, but leaves me with no creative energy after-hours. My fiction writing has taken a backseat, I’ve been freaking out about how to get things ready on time, and generally, my team of writers has shrunk to being just me and my boyfriend Charlie (and for any Synth News fans out there, Charlie’s keytar hero for this month is himself, because he’s just bought a Roland AX Synth). It’s all just been a bit too much to handle, and I’m not giving this the time and attention it deserves any more. I always said that when it started to feel like a chore, I’d call it a day. And sadly, that day has come.
But I’m proud of what I’ve managed to achieve in TBO’s twilight years. Throughout the time this blog’s been running, I’ve featured a fair few bands before anyone else, who are now going on to be featured in all the big magazines. I managed to interview Andrew freaking McMahon, one of my absolute heroes, and got through the phone call without crying — a true achievement in itself. I like to think that I’ve always given new music a chance, and although I might not have had the authority to tackle issues in the scene head on, I hope that the comment I’ve given has meant something to someone.
There are a lot of people I have to thank for supporting this project throughout the years. Without their help, this blog wouldn’t have lasted a year, let alone six.
To all the PR agencies, record labels and distributors who have given us their time and patience, thank you. Thanks for taking a chance on us when we probably didn’t deserve it. I hope that we’ve done enough to get the word out about your bands and that you’ve taken our criticism and our adoration in the right way. In particular, huge thanks to Specialist Subject Records, Carry The 4, Paper + Plastick, Wall of Sound PR and Beartrap PR.
To all the bands that have ever emailed me, I wish that I’d been able to give you the coverage you deserve. If it was up to me, we’d have written about every single thing you put out, but I just didn’t have the resources. Again, I hope that you took our criticism in a constructive way — like Mary Berry does on Bake Off, I have always tried to find the positives in anything we’ve been given, even if it’s not quite to my taste.
To all the writers that have ever contributed to TBO in one way or another, I am indebted to you. This wouldn’t have kept going as long as it did without you. I hope that this provided a valuable platform for you to practice your writing, sharpen your criticism and get your work out there for the first time.
And to everyone who has ever read this — thank you so much. While TBO has never had the biggest or most vocal readership, it has been highly consistent. Thank you for letting us take chances on weird columns, giving new bands a chance and generally being great. Without you, there wouldn’t even be a point to this at all.
So what happens next? I’m going to find a way to archive all of the articles we’ve ever created, and then this will become a personal blog. I’m still mulling over a new domain name, so I’ll get back to you on that. I don’t want to ever stop writing, and I want to keep putting that writing out there, but I need to kick-start my creativity again and I don’t think it’s by giving myself review deadlines and making it feel like work. I hope that one day, this project will live on as a physical zine, but for now, it’s farewell from TwoBeatsOff. Thanks for the memories.
This is a new column I’m working on because I’m getting bored of doing nothing but reviews, but I still want to recommend loads of new music! If you’ve got any bands to recommend to us, or know of any shows we should be at, drop an email to Robyn via firstname.lastname@example.org and you could get featured!
I’ll be honest, I’ve not really checked out a hell of a lot of new music recently. A lot of my in-car listening has darted back and forth between things I listened to a lot in my teen years and angry, shouty hardcore. One album that has continued to impress me over the past couple of months is the new record from Refused.Freedom is not The Shape Of Punk To Come 2.0, nor did it need to be. Instead, it’s got some real groove, a more subtle and nuanced passion and some of the catchiest choruses to come out of Sweden this century. So far, it’s my record of the year, but I’m excited to see what might come and claim its throne.
Speaking of Sweden, if you’re into your great skate-punk heroes (I know I am), then Millencolin’s True Brew is also a contender for this year’s top 10 records so far. It’s definitely more of the same, but that is never a bad thing when it comes to Millencolin. Particular track highlights include opening banger ‘Egocentric Man’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, and the piano-led beauty that is ‘Wall of Doubt’. I saw Millencolin take on Slam Dunk festival earlier this year and they were the best thing about it (which wasn’t hard because operationally, it was largely fucking terrible). And it’s great to see them back with a collection of fantastic new songs.
I first discovered Millencolin because they were on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 — that bastion of teenage discovery. But it doesn’t look like I’m going to be getting nostalgic for those days any time soon, because the soundtrack to THPS5 looks totally wank. Here’s the photo that the Birdman himself posted on Instagram:
Bit disappointing, isn’t it? There are tons of great technical skate-punk tunes out there — maybe Tony needs to take a trip over here and check out fellas like Darko, or the new project from the now defunct Stillbust (RIP xoxo) guys, Rail Means Rail. Those bands might be a little heavier than Bad Religion or Goldfinger, but that’s what the kids like these days. And you want to be down with the kids, don’t you Tony?
But let’s take a trip back to deepest, darkest Sweden for a moment, because this past month has also seen the release of the brand new Ghost album, and it is a delicious slice of sin. If you’ve never seen Ghost before, or heard any of their songs, all you need to do is think Satanic doom metal meets Kiss and you’re pretty much there. Meliora is an absolute triumph — equal parts theatre and good ol’ Scandinavian darkness. If Satanism isn’t your thing, don’t worry too much — it’s all fairly tongue-in-cheek, and you’re missing out on some excellent keytar if you skip by this one. Personally, I’ll be drawing a pentagram in red crayon on some kitchen roll and lighting some scented candles to try and make the time before their UK tour pass faster.
If you’re a regular TBO reader, you’ll know that two of my favourite things in this world are two-piece bands and badass synthesiser-driven music. In my opinion, the limitations of a duo seem to swell the creative juices of such units; without the safety net of a larger band, it takes a lot of thought, energy and downright determination to present a wall of sound greater than the sum of its parts. So for this special feature I’ve decided to round up a list of my favourite synth and drum duos who push the boundaries of musical style and technology to make a big noise that will still fit in the back of a Smart Car after the gig. Crossing a range of genres from electronica to indie rock, each band’s approach is distinct from the others and demonstrates the huge potential of this deceptively unrestrictive line-up. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top ten synth-drum duos…
The original keytar and drumkit duo of frontman Pete Cafarella and tub-thumper Nate Smith, New York’s Shy Child emerged from the new rave scene that also gave birth to the likes of Klaxons and New Young Pony Club. In the mid-noughties this pair cracked out indie rock songs over pounding dance beats and distorted synth hooks, whilst managing the seemingly impossible task of making the keytar cool. Releasing two full-length albums before breaking the mainstream with 2007’s Noise Won’t Stop, which featured singles ‘Drop The Phone’ and ‘Summer’ as well as the title track, the two-piece were equally at home on rock festival stages and indie-disco clubs.
Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim are the ultimate boy-girl band for a myriad of reasons. Not only are they a legit couple, they make cutesy pop songs that are utterly irresistible whether you are five or thirty-five. Matt plays keys, Kim plays drums, and between them they create a two-piece symphony of singable choruses and danceable beats. A quick scout of YouTube reveals them to also be contenders to the throne of ‘most fun live band ever’, as this video for recent single ‘Get It’ demonstrates…
Taking their name from the cult arcade game, Galaxians make music as retro as their moniker suggests. The Leeds two-piece create party-starting live disco inspired by classic New York boogie and funk. Delivered live with authentic analogue keyboards and raw drum grooves, you’d be foolish to resist a Galaxians disco invasion.
Another duo proving that the keytar didn’t die with prog rock, Woodhands exist to merge the rigidness of electronica with the organic realness of indie rock. Taking a full arsenal of gear onstage including classic synthesisers and Dan Werb’s trademark Roland keytar the duo’s 2008 album ‘Heart Attack’ mixed garage rock sensibilities with dirty synths and a delicious smattering of vocoder.
Whereas the majority of bands in this list are indebted to technology to be able to recreate their layered recordings in a live setting, Soccer96 leave the laptops and sequencers at home, instead relying on Danalogue’s keyboards played through Marshall stacks and looped in realtime alongside Betamax’s jazzy drumbeats. Ditching the sync button lends an impressive authenticity and sense of ‘shit could actually go wrong’ to the duo’s live shows, with psychedelic soundscapes and complex drum rhythms bouncing off every wall.
I Was A Cub Scout
Ok, so I’m kind of breaking the rules with this one as keyboard-totting frontman Todd Marriott also played guitar, but no list of synthtasic duos would be complete without emotronica twosome I Was A Cub Scout. With the perfect blend of charming synth melodies, intricate drumming, and lyrics about girls, they were every indie kid’s wet dream back in 2008. Their one and only album was called I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope, which says it all really. Drummer William Bowerman now splits his time between playing complex instrumental prog rock with Brontide and backing synth popster La Roux, which makes a surprising amount of sense when listening back to the likes of ‘Pink Squares’ and ‘Echoes’.
Australian duo The Presets are the most traditionally electronic group on this list, with their hard-hitting electro-house soundtracking dancefloors since 2003. Singles such as ‘Talk Like That’ and ‘This Boy’s In Love’ place Julian Hamilton’s 80’s new wave drawl and electroclash bass riffs over drummer Kim Moye’s club beats, whilst live the duo take on a whole new energy as cymbals are smashed and synth filters are tweaked up to breaking point. They’re also fond of salt and vinegar crisps and freestyle dancing for inevitable extra bonus points.
Mates Of State
As Mates Of State, the husband-and-wife pairing of keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel create classic indie-americana, singing love songs to each other with gorgeous harmonies dispersed over distorted organ chords. Unashamedly pop, latest EP You’re Going To Make It is basically the Taylor Swift you’re allowed to like.
I <3 MCHN DRM
Sweden’s I Love Machine Drum, styled I <3 MCHN DRM, are another band who pack in a formidable amount of gear for two people, as demonstrated by their live YouTube videos, with kaoss pads, laptops and synths all rigged up and controlled by the impressively mustachioed Trygve Stakkeland, whilst Geir Strandenæs Larsen brings his tight drumbeats to the fray.
The ultimate boy-girl emo duo Slingshot Dakota create a glorious noise for only two people. From the early beginnings on Their Dreams are Dead, but Ours is the Golden Ghost to 2012’s Dark Hearts, the pairing of Carly Comando and Tom Patterson make songs that pull at your heartstrings one minute and then make you want to dance the next. With distorted keyboards and power-pop drums they create anthems from the simplest of set-ups, which is surely what this whole two-piece band thing is all about.
About two months ago, I sat down with Jamie Downes, the creative lead behind the brilliant A Lonely Ghost Burning series, to talk about the compilations he’s been putting together and what the project is all about. You can read the first part of the interview here, or carry on to read the second half now!
If a band were to submit their single or track to you, what would it take to impress you and to get them on the compilation?
Well for a start, I don’t accept one-track singles. The idea of the compilations themselves is to give people a flavour of the full record, so it needs to be at least two tracks. It’s hard to put into words what my taste in music is, but the music I tend to fall for has very strong melody. If you take each collection by name, then the Alt-Melodies collection all has a lot of melody in it, and each Beautiful Songwriting entry has an essence of beauty to it. With the Oneiric Escapism, I guess that was more up in the air. I’ve only put out one volume of that so far, but it features quite a lot of different styles.
Something that has always grabbed my attention has been vocal tone, and I’ve always had a love of singers that have sounded distinctive. So while that’s not the only thing, that’s the most common thread that someone might notice in the music I feature.
Listening through the last Alt-Melodies compilation, that’s definitely something I picked up on. I’m very much like you, I tend to look for a really strong voice in the things I listen to, so it was great to pick up on that.
Oh really? That’s pretty cool to hear you say that!
Well I was looking back through some of the old ones, and I noticed bands like Creeper and Bad Ideas, and they’re bands that I’ve always thought have a really strong voice, both vocally and lyrically.
Definitely, and taking Creeper for example, their singer Will is amazing. I used to love Our Time Down Here, so that was how I found them. There’s just something about his voice really stands out, and I think I probably said something along the lines of ‘he’s got one of the most interesting voices in the British punk scene’ in the write-up, which is probably hyperbole, right?
No, I totally think that’s true! I mean, I’m a really big AFI fan, as is Will incidentally, so when I went to go and see Creeper, I noticed that Davey Havok has a big influence on the way he performs, even the way he holds his mic. However, even though there is that influence, his voice is still very distinct, and the live set is just incredible.
I haven’t seen them live yet, but I really want to. They’ve really exploded recently, and I’m keen to see what they do next.
Well, actually, in your compilations, there are quite a few bands who are getting to be quite big in their scenes now, which is not necessarily bizarre, because it shows you’ve got an eye from the future! Who do you think in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 will be the next ‘big band’?
It’s hard to say, because I don’t necessarily look at things that way, but there are certain bands that I have an inkling about, and I reckon they’ll be pretty popular with the listeners. However, by no means is that a prerequisite for me to feature them.
I would suggest that Varsity have been very popular with people. And once you start listening to the album, it’s one of those that you just want to stick on repeat as soon as it’s done, it’s a really strong record. I don’t really like picking out names, it feels mean, but personally, the two records I’ve listened to the most are Varsity and Leggy. They just have something — I can’t really put my finger on what, but the songs are just destined to be hits. It’s quite intangible to describe, but I suppose it’s a mix of the songwriting, the voice, the instrumentation and yeah, those two are the ones for me. I’ve not really answered the question though!
That’s alright — it’s a pretty tough question!
Haha, well last year, there was a band that I really wanted to feature and they had to change their name, they’re now called Hinds? I unfortunately didn’t manage to get in touch with them, but at the time, they had about 200 Facebook followers, and they now have a hell of a lot more and they’ve played sold-out shows in London. And they were one of the bands I thought would do very well when I contacted them. I suppose you could say that there are a fair few similarities between them and The Daddyo’s, who feature on Alt-Melodies Vol. 4. Some people may disagree, but yeah, I think there’s a similar sort of sound there and I think The Daddyo’s will do very well over here in the UK.
Do you try and pick a mix of artists from different countries and different areas?
That would be the ideal scenario, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4, every band is from North America, and that’s just how it happened this time. Ideally, there’d be an international mix, and there’d be male vocals, female vocals, but I’m not going to alter what I’m doing to fit in with that. If it turns out that way, then great, but if not, I’ll hope for the best next time.
Ultimately, you just want to put out a good record, it doesn’t really matter where it’s come from.
Exactly, and it’s good in terms of the publicity of the record if it does have artists from different countries, because then there’s a possibility for coverage in those countries, but if it doesn’t work out that way, it doesn’t and I’ve just got to get on with it.
One thing that I noticed listening through was that all of the compilations I listened to had a really nice flow to them. How do you pick that ordering?
Well, you’ve actually made my day completely there, because I do put a lot of effort into that! I’m often sat there for so, so long tweaking the ordering and thinking ‘well that should go there, this needs to go there’ and so on. Some have been really easy, and some tracks are really easy to place, but others take more thought. For example, the first volume of Oneiric Escapism is quite a quiet and thoughtful record, but there are some tracks that are a lot louder and a lot more full. I could have put those tracks near the start, but I didn’t want people to think that’s what the whole record was about. So that was the hardest one to order, and both of those tracks ended up much nearer the end. However, it’s absolutely fantastic to hear someone say what you’ve just said and to notice the ordering because I haven’t had that sort of feedback before!
Oh, well when it comes to mixtapes, I get really into getting the ordering right. I agonise for an hour, at least.
Same, and it really makes a difference to the feel of the whole record — I think, anyway.
I think it depends on the kind of music as well, as to what the best ordering is. For example, if you’ve got a good punk rock album, you want a banger at the front and a banger at the end, but not necessarily if you’re listening to a post-rock record.
Yeah, and with the Alt-Melodies, I always tried to make the first song something that’ll stick with you, and for me, it was important to make the last track something more mellow, but that’ll leave you with a good feeling, or that you’ll want to go back and listen to it all over again. Volume 1 ended with a song by a band called Summerhill, and that one perfectly sums that kind of idea up. Much of the vocal work is at the start of the song, but it finishes on an instrumental, and it really makes me want to go back and listen to the song all over again. And that’s what I’ve tried to do for all the compilations really — finish them with a track that really embodies that feeling.
I didn’t actually listen to that volume, but in all of the compilations I have listened to, I noticed that really came across. So I’ll ask you one of those bullshit questions now — at the time of this interview, Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 has just come out, but what will be coming up next in the series?
The general ordering has flitted between Alt-Melodies and Beautiful Songwriting, and then in February, I introduced Oneiric Escapism. So the next one will be Beautiful Songwriting, which I’m working on at the moment. What I’d like to do is increase the output, as I think a detriment to the project as a whole is that there can be too long between releases. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the music that I find, and if I haven’t got enough stuff, I haven’t got enough stuff. I’ve always said I’d rather delay a release than put something out that I didn’t truly believe in, so sometimes that means waiting. It might seem unprofessional from the outside, but I’m doing it for the right reasons and at the end of it all, I know I’ll have a much stronger release and I’ll be promoting the bands I really love at the time.
A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk
A Lonely Ghost Burning is a really exciting project. Headed up by Jamie Downes, it’s a great series of compilations, featuring some of the best new bands around, both from here and overseas. Split into three different genres — Alt-Melodies, for rock, punk and everything inbetween; Beautiful Songwriting, featuring folky, acoustic singer/songwriters and bands; and Oneiric Escapism, which features a diverse range of ambient, electronic and all-out dreamy soundscapes — the A Lonely Ghost Burning compilations are the breath of fresh air we need in this scene.
I sat down to chat to Jamie about it all a couple of months back, and I feel extraordinarily guilty for just posting the results up now. It was fantastic to speak to someone who loves music, and championing new music, just as much as I do, and we must have rambled on for about an hour and a half about the scene today, who our favourite bands are at the moment and what the hell we’re doing trying to get people to read our stuff on the internet. I also learned a lot about A Lonely Ghost Burning and what’s coming up next, and that part, you can read below.
This interview is split up into two parts because it’s pretty huge. Read the second part next week!
TBO: What is A Lonely Ghost Burning and where did the idea come from?
ALGB: Well, the whole purpose of it really is to share new music. It really is as simple as that. I couldn’t really say how the idea came about — it just came to me. I was looking for something creative to do, and I’d spend about half an hour working on it before thinking ‘nah, this is crap’. However, I thought this one had some legs, so I stuck with it, and yeah, I think it’s turned out really well.
So what were some of those other projects?
Nothing substantial, really. I’d become quite disenchanted — I was writing reviews prior to this and it wasn’t really leading to where I wanted it to go. I wanted to be involved with music — finding it, sharing it, talking about it — but for me, reviews weren’t really the best avenue for doing that. I thought about live sessions and stuff like that, but like I said, none of that really stuck.
Are you the only person that works on A Lonely Ghost Burning, or is there anyone else that helps out by recommending bands, putting lists together or sourcing people?
At the moment, it is just me! The only other people working on the projects are those working on the cover art. I think it’s very important for records to have great cover art. I search for most of my music via Bandcamp, going through all the new releases on a daily basis, and while I obviously don’t listen to all of them, cover art is very important in helping records catch my eye. There are many that I won’t listen to because either the art, or the band name, or the title of whatever record it is is just gross! And likewise, if there’s anything that reeks of unprofessionalism, or where you can tell that a band is just not all that bothered and treats whatever they’re doing as a joke, then I’m just not interested.
So now, I’m trying to bring that sense of care across into what I’m working on. The cover art on the older releases were just old photos and they weren’t very good, but they were functional. And now, the two women that I’m working with are just so talented and it’s nice to be able to give them a bit of publicity and give them an opportunity to showcase their work.
Well yeah, I thought the cover for the last release was phenomenal, and I would never have guessed that the artist was so young! How old was she, about seventeen?
Nope, fifteen! When she sent through that picture, I literally just stood there and stared at it for a couple of minutes. I just couldn’t believe how much talent and vision she had at just fifteen.
Well, I can only just about draw stick figures, so I won’t be contributing to your compilation covers any time soon! Anyway, A Lonely Ghost Burning is three different series, isn’t it? You have the Alt-Melodies series, the more esoteric kind of stuff and then the Beautiful Songwriting, which is more acoustic. What’s it like putting out records that are so different in tone and style?
It’s been quite surprising as to how many people have taken an interest right across the board. I thought that there would be very distinct fanbases for each one. I’m sure there is, but there are people taking an interest in all of them which is great. It is quite difficult to flit between them when you’re putting them together though. I’m doing my daily scouting, and I’m going across all the different genres and saving all of the artists that I might be interested in featuring, but I get really into one series, and then all of a sudden, I have to switch to the next and the transition can be a bit tricky. It doesn’t take too long to get used to it, but it can be a bit jarring to start focusing on a totally different style.
That also means it’s quite hard to publicise it all. It’s difficult to publicise the project as a whole, as some people might look at one side of it and really like it, but won’t be into the other releases.
I suppose that there are more outlets out there that might cover the Alt-Melodies collection than the collections that are a bit more out there?
You know what, I thought the electronic one (Oneiric Escapism) might be the one that might boost the project but it didn’t necessarily turn out that way! I guess I felt that the poppier artists and the electronic ones would bring in certain people that might be beneficial to the project, and you know, I didn’t do that in a kind of cynical way, but I did feel that it might provide a kind of boost.
Out of all of them, I think that actually, the Beautiful Songwriting compilations are really popular and that’s a little surprising because it’s all quite folky.
That said, folk’s kind of gone through a bit of a revival hasn’t it, so it’s not that surprising after all?
Yeah, I guess so, and that might be why they’ve done so well. As far as the Alt-Melodies collections go, I have changed those slightly recently — they used to be titled Alt-Punk and they used to be a little punkier, but I decided to tweak it slightly because of the wider range of music I wanted to cover. People are still coming back and downloading them, so I guess I’ve done something right.
The kind of demographic I’m going for are people that are quite open-minded — and although the compilations get a lot of downloads, I wish more people were!
Well, when you have such varied tastes yourself, hence why you’ve put out all of these different kinds of compilations, then it might be difficult to find someone else who will be into all three.
Oh yeah, definitely. And I think that as well as that, I’m just a nobody. I’m just saying ‘hey, this is my music taste, listen to it!’. I haven’t really got a background in the music industry, so I just need people to trust in what I’m doing — and I know I need to earn that trust. But hopefully, people feel that the stuff I’m putting on these compilations, even if they don’t necessarily connect with a certain style or artist, that they can understand that the artists I’ve chosen are talented, and even if they don’t like them, they can see why someone would.
I suppose that forms the ethos behind the whole project. I really love your mission statement, “discovery, community, honesty, pleasantness” — and have you found that these releases have helped you build a sense of community, or at least have a greater part in one?
While the project doesn’t have the biggest following as yet, its following is pretty loyal. There are more people coming along that are getting involved on a more regular basis via social media and channels like that, which is really important to me because even just liking a post shows that people care about it and are interested in what I’m doing.
I think that people have responded well to that ethos and what the project represents, and the people that have taken an interest appreciate those values, which is great to see. It’s important to me to make sure I’m showing those four values in every release — discovery, community, honesty and pleasantness — and hopefully, that will keep people interested into the future.
It’s not just the compilations that you do either. You do in-depth interviews with a few of the artists on the compilations. Is it important to get under the skin of what they create and to be able to highlight that to people?
Yeah, absolutely — that’s what I’m most interested in. I love how music can take you out of the present and just to some other time, or it can connect you to another event, even something you’ve invented in your head. Any music you like can get you out of the present, and I’m interested in the person behind all the artistry — how they manage to do that, and whether it’s deliberate. I’m fascinated by all the things that could contribute to an artist making an album or a song and I’m really keen to keep working on that kind of the site. It’s been quite sporadic so far, but there are several interviews I’ve got lined up over the next few months and I’m hoping that it’ll become more of a regular thing.
When I go into these interviews, I’m not necessarily interested in what the artist is doing, where they’re touring and so on, but I want to know how their mind works. I sometimes worry that the questions I write up are more of a psych evaluation, but so far, the response has been really good, and I think the artists have really appreciated having the chance to talk about their music in a way they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do.
I totally agree, and I do find these days that a lot of interviews with bands focus more on the basic questions — where are you touring, where do you want to be in a year, and so on — so I really like that you get to the real heart of why they do what they do.
Well yeah, I think that in the interviews that are all very similar, that they’re there just to provide content, rather than something more substantial. So I’m trying not to let that happen to the interviews that I do.
So what interviews have you got coming up next then?
I can’t truly confirm whether or not they’re going to happen, but one that I’ve done recently is with an artist called Moth Rah, and she makes quite gothic tunes. She released a two-track single and I compared that to Bat For Lashes, so hopefully that gives you an idea of what she sounds like, and that interview came out really well. But keep an eye on the website to see what else is coming up — I try and get a couple of interviews a month up on there.
A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk
It’s summer and the sun is out for everyone to enjoy… except for Rome’s A Space Love Adventure it seems who must’ve locked himself away in a dark studio for some time to come up with his latest loveletter to the 80’s. Synth Punk EP might not contain any ‘punk’ as such but you certainly get a whole lot of synth, in a gloriously retro Vangelis does ‘Top Gun’ kind of way! Comprising four tracks of authentic analogue synthesisers, guitars straight off a Def Leppard record, and infectious melodies. It’s irresistible stuff if you’re a fan of the likes of Kavinsky or M83… or if you have a soft spot for bad action movies, leather jackets and aviators. ‘Red Blaze’ kicks off the EP with the sort of guitar tone that hasn’t been let out of the 1980’s since Van Halen overused it, whilst ‘Avalanche 29’ would be at home soundtracking ‘Blade Runner’, and the synth-pop of ‘Thunderchrome’ just makes me want to bust out some ‘Wipeout’ on the old PS1.
The recordings are beautifully produced throughout giving you the sense that A Space Love Adventure seriously loves this stuff and puts a lot of effort into faithfully recreating it all the way down to the type of reverb on the snares; the gear nerd in me would love to see a kit list used to make this record! The EP is out now on Sunlover Records (https://sunloverrecords.bandcamp.com) for the price of a VHS rental in 1983. And whilst you’re there be sure to check out his Soundcloud for a black-metal-synthwave (seriously) rendition of Darkthrone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, which is way better than the ludicrous concept would have you believe. There’s even a cheesy key change at the end. With this as well The Soft Pink Truth providing excellent electronic renditions of the dark stuff, maybe black-metal-synthwave will be a new genre… needs a better name though, answers on a postcard pls.
Here at TBO there are many things we love, such as coffee and pizza, but what really makes us tick is damn good pop-punk and chiptune. Normally guitar-wielding brat punks stay away from the clunky 8-bit videogame soundtrack that reminds us of when Gameboys were yellow and had to be held in both hands but Boston’s Future Crooks have answered my prayers by releasing a stonkingly original general MIDI version of their latest album ‘Future Crooks In Paradise’. Entitled MIDI In Paradise, the album lovingly recreates every drumbeat, guitar riff and vocal in general MIDI stock keyboard sounds. The guys usually specialise in the kind of emotional rowdy punk rock sported by Real Friends, Knuckle Puck et al. and it is testament to the quality of songwriting that it translates so well over to a chiptune context, with catchy melodies and quirky sounds galore. The computer voice that starts ‘Briton’ is worth the admission price alone. You can download the pay-what-you-want record from Bad Timing Records’ Bandcamp (badtimingrecords.bandcamp.com) and while you’re there, be sure to pick up the original version as well as the label’s new Summer 2015 Sampler, which is packed full of great tunes.
Everyone’s favourite Scottish synthpop trio CHVRCHES have announced the follow-up to 2013’s mega album The Bones Of What You Believe. Sophomore LP Every Open Eye is to be released on the 25th September with gorgeous cover art and a set of brand-new songs. Said to take a ‘less is more approach’, the band decided to forego the big budgets in favour of utilising the same setup they recorded their stunning debut with. In-between single ‘Get Away’ was a real grower, but seeing the three-piece unleash a whole new batch of songs instead of recycling this and ‘Dead Air’ from the ‘Hunger Games’ soundtrack is a great move to avoid the lazy repackaging of existing material that can otherwise leave the listener feeling short-changed. Lead single ‘Leave a Trace’ is a fantastic return to the anthemic singalong status of ‘Recover’ and ‘The Mother We Share’, with emotional lyrics juxtaposed against lifting synth pads and a real ear-worm of a chorus. Judging from the other new tracks they’ve been playing out live lately, Every Open Eye already looks set to be a contender for one of 2015’s records of the year!
A new release I missed from last month’s edition of ‘Notes from the Keybed’ was the second album from electronic rock crossover crew Modestep. London Road is out now and has all the dirty basslines, fist-pumping choruses and headbanging guitar moments we enjoyed on their debut, now joined by a whole host of guest talent including dubstep producers Funtcase and Trolley Snatcher, grime artist Big Narstie, and even Welsh reggae-rockers Skindred! As a result it is a far more eclectic affair, with big beats and layers of sub bass pulsating throughout a range of EDM styles from skittering garage to heavy brostep, all via the band’s trademark rock ’n’ bass. ‘Circle’ featuring Skindred is a strong highlight with Benji Webbe bringing his Newport swagger to a moombahton banger, and although the lyrics of ‘a circle goes round’ might not be poetry (a point carried throughout the record) you can’t argue with the pit-starting beatdown at the song’s climax. When I informed this site’s editor that Modestep had a new album out she told me how when she saw them they were ‘so loud they made her ears hurt’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon with this new set of face-melters in their arsenal!
This month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (and Hot Leg, who were alright, and British Whale but yeah…) who returned this year with another hard-rocking, liqueur-swigging, ball-busting collection of songs. Not satisfied with simply swinging into gigs straddling a pair of giant tits, Hawkins is also known to crack out one of his Moog or Roland keytars for a shredding solo in ‘Girlfriend’, which remains an absolute banger, occasionally whilst wearing a pirate hat. Full marks.
So top Southern punx Bangers have gotten round to doing yet another full-length record. This is generally good news for the entire nation, and in this time of great strife and political unrest that means I spend most of my evenings screaming very bad words at the television every time George Osbourne says anything at all, the prospect of new Bangers managed to put a smile on my face.
It seems that Roo is feeling just as grumpy as I am from the off as the album launches into ‘No!’, and a clear dissatisfaction with life in general seems to be the order of the day. But even as he shouts “No! I don’t think it’s getting better!”, I’ve got one substantial grin and the urge to fist pump the shit out of everything Judd Nelson-style. Typical, chunky Bangers riffs dominate this and the following track ‘Mannequin’, with those fantastic bass licks you’ve come to expect from Andrew rumbling on in the background.
From the start, Bird demonstrates a tremendous amount of energy and purpose — something that’s never been lacking from a Bangers record, but seems to be even more urgent and ever present than ever before. There’s also a huge level of control, which may seem a little out of kilter for a punk record, but it never feels too polished. Instead, there’s a Jawbreaker-esque level of bluntness and honesty, even in slightly more metaphoric tracks like ‘The Trousers of Time’. However, if there’s any track that really grabbed my attention, it’s ‘Fleshlings’, with its jangly, guitar-led fury, relentless rhythm and the repeated mantra that “everything will fall into place”.
You might think that Mysterious Ways was the weirdest thing Bangers ever wrote — and indeed, the 48-hour recording haze that led to its creation meant some fantastically bizarre songs came out on top, including the mind-bendingly fantastic ‘Mosquito’ — but Bird is pretty weird at times, despite the greater level of polish. ‘Asimov’ is really haunting in places, mostly thanks to the oddly deep backing vocals. It leads into the intricate and puzzling ‘Vibrate’, which builds up slowly thanks to some of the tightest drumming I’ve ever heard on a Bangers record. And it’s not all bad news — ‘Partial Eclipse’ ends the record on a pretty chilled out note, with a much more upbeat feel and a reminder that it’s not all so bad after all.
It’s hard to believe that this is only Bangers’ third LP, given their fairly prolific discography over the past few years, but all of those EPs and splits, plus the non-stop touring, has meant that they’ve learned a thing or two about writing a great song. There’s something weirdly English about it — perhaps that’s the grumbling — but it offers a certain level of catharsis that I’ve been sorely needing. It’s a virtual guarantee that I’ll always like a Bangers record, but I loveBird, because even though it’s full of vitriol and existential doubt, it’s dead clever with it, relentlessly loud and a whole lot of fun. Necessary listening, no matter what you’re into.
So it’s been a bit quiet on the Western front here. I’ve been conceptualising though, and when that happens, there’s a potential for danger. Or badly formed ideas.
So anyway, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been working on a massive motorsport event with actual work, and I’ve realised that actually, real life is busy. And hard. And it leaves little time for writing — especially when your job is writing. So I’ve gotta shake things up a little with this thing, and it means that the kind of stuff you’ll be reading might be a little different. So here’s what’s going on:
LESS REVIEWS — Yep, sorry. you’ll see less reviews. I wish we had time to do them, I really do. But I must get about ten promos a day in my inbox and we can’t cover them all. At the end of the day, if I’ve got limited time to write about stuff, I’d rather write about bands I really like, and music that’s really captured me, rather than yet another crappy pop-punk EP.
MORE INTERVIEWS — on the topic of writing about more bands I really like, interviews are definitely the way to go. I want to dig deep into what makes great music, or at least, what keeps my favourite bands on the road.
MORE LONG-FORM FEATURES — that might even involve series! Gosh! There’s a lot of stuff in this scene that I’d like to discuss, dissect and get my teeth into. So hopefully you’ll see a lot more of that.
And that’s about the long and short of it! It might mean less frequent updates — well, probably more frequent than at the moment — but I hope it’ll be features that you’ll enjoy reading more. So thanks for keeping with us, new stuff soon!