Saturday, 13 March 2021

Jim McCulloch - Interview

Jim McCulloch is one of the best kept secrets of UK Songwriting. He has been involved with a number of superb acts including The Soup Dragons, Snowgoose and Green Peppers. His style of songwriting is wonderfully folky. Snowgoose - The Making of You was one of my favourite albums of last year.

On 21 May this year, he will be releasing his first ever solo album - When I Mean What I Say. It will be released on the superb Violette records, which was of course the home of Michael Head. I catch up with Jim and we talk about the new record and everything music related!

Q. Hi Jim, you are soon to release your long awaited solo album. How would you describe it?

A. Hi Julie - well - it's a very personal album - extremely autobiographical. But I hope that there's enough there of the Universal experience for everyone to identify with. It's definitely an internal journey of sorts.

Q. What can we expect to hear?

A. Sonically it's very stripped down. Some of the tracks are just me performing live acoustic guitar and singing. In saying that there's also bass and drums and classical harp on a few! I like to record very quickly and capture a specific performance rather than fine tuning and polishing off any rough edges. So there's that.

Q. Its wonderful to hear you are releasing the album on Mick Head's old label - Violette. How did you become involved with the label?

A. I've known Matt at Violette for a few years. I'm a total fanboy when it comes to Mick Head and always have been, and so any label that puts out Mick Head music is one that I'm going to take an interest in. Matt and I used to exchange mixtapes back when audio cassettes were still common currency, and that sense of a shared love of good music was always at the back of my mind when I was considering who to send the finished album to. In the end they were the only company I reached out to.

Q. You have been involved with a number of artists over the years. From The Soup Dragons (who had chart success in the early 90s) to Folk band Snowgoose with Anna Sheard. Have there been any particular highlights or favourites to work with?

A. That's a difficult question as we are covering a lot of ground here!! Every bunch of musicians I've worked with hold certain special memories… playing the Splash One club in Glasgow in the Soup Dragons when we supported Primal Scream… it was our first ever gig. I still treasure that with great affection. Most recently and just before lockdown 12 months ago performing as Snowgoose, Anna Sheard and I played a live BBC Television show called The Quay Sessions. That was intense and felt very special.

Q. How did you feel about The Soup Dragons change in style/sound from indie to the more commercial indie/dance crossover?

A. At the time in 1988, the band had reached a bit of a crossroads. We had been dropped by Sire Records and our drummer Ross Sinclair had decided to leave the band and go back to Art School to finish his degree. So we were drummer-less and needed to get on with things. So we demoed material using a new-fangled drum machine and Akai samplers… the technology just gradually became a part of our sound. Plus we were managed by a company called Big Life who had deep roots in Dance/DJ culture and so we had access to people like Coldcut who had mind-blowing record collections.. a real eye opener for young blokes from Glasgow. We were only 21/22 at the time.

Q. Did you get into music at a young age? What started your love of music?

A. Yeah - I started teaching myself to play guitar at around 13/14. I had been given an old battered family guitar and I saved up to buy a book of Beatles songs. I never really looked back from there. There was always music in the house. My mum was a Primary school teacher. We had a piano in the house and she was the go-to person in the area we lived to play Church organ at Weddings and Funerals. Plus of course we watched Top Of The Pops religiously every week…

Q. Is there a song you have written, or a project you are most proud of?

A. I wouldn't want to pick just one, but ok I will. I wrote this tune for Isobel Campbell when she was collaborating with Mark Lanegan called “We Die And See Beauty Reign”. It was on an album called Hawk... we used to open our live sets with it when we toured America and Europe. It's very simple but very intense!

Q. After many years of collaborations, playing in bands e.t.c. this is your first ever solo album. How come it took so long to come about?

A. Well - long story short… I went back to school! When I joined the Soup Dragons back in the day I had dropped out of College to become the buccaneering sonic adventurer I am now (!) . We kind of hit the ground running and I never looked back. But as years went by I wished I had finished my education and so 4 years ago decided to apply to Uni and ended up getting a couple of Music degrees. The album is the result of this as it was my Songwriting Masters dissertation/creative project.

Q. Was it different writing songs for yourself rather than for someone else to sing? Was there more freedom e.t.c.?

A. Yeah - it was a bit unnerving at first but the realisation eventually sinks in that all these creative decisions are yours and yours alone to make and you have no-one else to blame if things don't go as you intend!

Q. Who are you most inspired by? Do you have any favourite artists/songwriters?

A. Laura Nyro/ Carole King/Jacques Brel/A C Jobim/ Love/ Brian Wilson. The list could go on and is probably endless.

Q. Do you have any plans for new projects, gigs e.t.c. after the lockdown is over?

A. Absolutely - Anna and I want to put together some shows for Snowgoose as we didn't manage to play when our last album The Making Of You came out last year. I also want to play shows to promote this new solo album of mine whether by live stream or whatever. I'll just have to wait and see which way the wind blows.

Preorder (available soon) the new album When I Mean What I Say, here on Violette 
Release date: 21 May, 2021
Opening photo taken by Brian Sweeney. 

Friday, 12 March 2021

The Lodger - Cul-De-Sac of Love

Released: 12 Mar 2021
Label: Philophobia Music
Listen and Buy Here

The Lodger, from West Yorkshire UK, are a new discovery for me. They had a few albums in the 00s but somehow they passed me by. Judging from their new album, its hard to see why. 

Their sound is reminiscent of late 80s/90s indie pop with hints of The Lightning Seeds, Teenage Fanclub e.t.c. It opens with 'Black and White' a gorgeous love song, with superb harmonies and strong hooks. 'Dual Lives' has hints of electronic and again the hooks and melodies are memorable. There are also hints of New Order. It sounds like it could have been a radio hit any time 80s onwards.

My favourite here is 'Wasting My Time With You' a beautiful ballad. The harmonies are wonderful and it will have you listening to it on repeat. 

Other highlights here include 'Stop That Girl!' which also sounds like an indie disco classic. Again, it is very catchy. 'No, No, No' is more melodic jangle of the highest standard. 

It ends on 'My Poor Mind' which has more country vibes and melancholic lyrics - 'I feel I'm going backwards like a car that's in reverse. And I try so hard but I always make things worse.' 

A superb album and one of my favourites of the year so far. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Luca Nieri - Etrurian Shades

Released: 26 Feb 2021
Label: Wonderfulsound
Listen and Buy Here

Luca Nieri returns with his 5th album and this one is entirely made up of instrumentals. It is unusual for the type of music I typically review here but I strongly urge people to check it out. 

His previous album 'Always You' was my favourite album of 2020. I have known of Luca's music since 2018 and on hearing RW Hedges album 'The Hunters in the Snow' (which he co-wrote and produced) I was immediately hooked. It is still one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard. 

Luca Nieri has his own unique sound and is also a great producer, this is evident on the new album. It opens with a delicate piano/strings instrumental which has an eerie magic to it which would not sound out of place on a fantasy film soundtrack.

'Milo's Song' is very different and more Folk sounding, it is a lovely, relaxing listen. None of the songs here are too alike so it doesn't become repetitive like some instrumental music can.

My favourite here is 'A Soldier's Return' which vaguely has Western vibes and you can hear the Ennio Morricone influence. Title track 'Etrurian Shades' has an Autumnal feel to it, like much of Nieri's earlier work. 'Dead Tree Blues' reminded me more of Luca's old band The Monks Kitchen. It is quite folky and some of the guitar work brought to mind Bert Jansch. 

A beautiful album and perfect if you are looking for something a bit different to listen to. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Umbrella Puzzles - A Slowly Dawning Realization

Released: 26 Feb 2021
Label: Subjangle
Listen and Buy Here

The Umbrella Puzzles, is the work of Ryan Marquez of California, and this is their debut album after an EP in 2019. The sound is very lo-fi with hints of the Velvet Underground. 

I was a bit late in 'getting' this artist, but on hearing the opening track - 'Slip Through The Cracks', I was immediately hooked. It has that 60s chiming guitar sound and there are hints of The Byrds here too. It is super melodic with memorable hooks.

Other highlights here include 'Sinking Ground'  which has more 80s jangle vibes and brought to mind The Go-Betweens.  'Everyone Knows It' is more heartfelt indie pop goodness. 'A Stone's Throw Away' has more lovely melodies, it reminded me a bit of 80s band The Vaselines too with its simplicity.

It ends on 'A Slowly Dawning Realization' which is more laid back with vivid lyrics and again the hooks are strong.

A wonderful debut and a hugely enjoyable listen. Sadly cds sold out very quickly (its easy to see why!) but its still available to download. It is well worth keeping an eye on the Subjangle label too.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Tamar Berk - The Restless Dreams of Youth

Released: 26 Feb 2021
Label: _
Listen and Buy Here

Tamar Berk, from California, makes her solo debut and it is a wonderful listen, full of guitar pop gems.

Her sound is reminiscent of the  early 90s and brought to mind artists such as Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair.

It opens with 'Skipping the Cracks' which is brilliantly upbeat with great pop hooks. The theme is looking on the bright side of a breakup.

'Shadow Clues' is a lot darker and heavy sounding, with suspense running throughout. There aren't many lyrics so it is kind of hypnotic, and about barriers in a relationship. 'A New Case' is a beautiful, piano driven ballad with some heartbreaking lyrics - "There's nothing I hate more than you seeing me this way. I'm nothing more than a lump of clay."

My favourite here is 'Better Off Meditating' which is more energetic guitar pop. It has a slight punk edge to it and a chorus you will be singing along to.

Other highlights include 'Heavy & Abusive' - a sad song about fear of saying the 'wrong thing' to a short tempered partner. 'Til I've Won', is a heartfelt love song with some beautiful melodies and superb vocals. 'In The Wild' is more hook filled, Summery pop. It ends on 'Suitcase & Gun', a slow song about trying to escape from somewhere, with vivid lyrics.

A fantastic debut and a hugely enjoyable listen. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Electric Stars - Velvet Elvis The Only Lover Left Alive

Released: 1 Feb 2021
Label: _
Listen Here
Buy Here

The Electric Stars are a Psych/Power Pop band from Manchester UK. I was first aware of them a couple of years ago. Their new album has plenty of variety and some very quirky lyrics, making for an interesting and enjoyable listen.

It opens with 'Velvet Elvis', a 9 minute epic. The sound has the 90s vibes of Primal Scream, and a psych/dance groove to it. There are some superb guitar solos. Lyrically it is about finding solace in music, away from the horrors of Politics e.t.c. 

'Electric Stardust' is more jangly and upbeat with 60s vibes. Lyrically it is reminiscing about growing up, being young and finding who you are. The chorus is wonderfully melodic and catchy.  

My favourite here is 'Sunshine', which has Psych vibes of The Rolling Stones. It is instantly memorable and very Summery as you would expect!

Other highlights include 'Suicide' which is a lot darker with intense and thought provoking lyrics. 'Loaded With Regrets' is an emotional listen - a heartfelt, vivid account of a breakup. 'We Love You' has a more 70s Punk edge to it, and great energy. 

A brilliant album, recommended to all fans of the guitar pop genre. 

Friday, 19 February 2021

The Gold Needles - Whats Tomorrow Ever Done For You?

Released: 19 Feb 2021
Label: Jem Records
Listen and Buy Here

Power Pop band - The Gold Needles, from Hull UK, have been on my radar a while. Their song 'Here She Goes Again' from the last album was one of my favourites of 2019.

The new album opens with 'What's Tomorrow Ever Done For You?' which brought to mind the jangly guitar pop of The Bluebells. The hooks are superb and it is instantly memorable.

'I Get The Pressure' has more 80s vibes and is upbeat and anthemic. There are a few covers on the album too, the first being 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody', by The Hollies. It is a great version and they add their own unique style to it.

Other highlights include 'Billy Liar' which is wonderfully catchy with a child-like charm. The band pay homage to The Beatles with a cover of 'If I Needed Someone'. It fits in with the album perfectly. 'The Story of My Life' sounds like a lost 80s radio hit. 

The album ends on a beautiful ballad 'Drown This Sorrow' which is heartfelt and melancholic. It shows there is more to the band than just upbeat anthemic pop. 

A brilliant album full of well-written guitar pop gems. Highly recommended.