New EP: Peter Cat – The Magus

Cover art for The Magus. Peter Cat stands at a table adorned with leather-bound books, an ornate perfume bottle, and a Venetian mask, gazing off to the side as he holds a candle over the flame of another.

Peter Cat arrived on my radar in 2020 with the release of The Saccharine Underground, a fine debut LP falling somewhere in the gap between what I guess you’d call art-rock and art-pop. What I liked most about that record (aside from the sheer quality of the tunes – many of which are inexorably burnt into my temporal lobe) was the sense that songs could go off in a variety of directions from any one minute to the next. In Graham Neil Gillespie, here was an artist with the technical skill and knack for writing great pop melodies, but also one always acutely aware of how ridiculous it all is. And so it was a real delight to download new EP The Magus last week and discover that the ludicrousness has been turned all the way up. Indeed, anybody exposed to Melon Dating Simulator!! in January who found themselves beguiled by its resolutely peculiar charms will no doubt find a lot to love across the other three tracks here. Gone are the more straightforward guitar-centric arrangements of the debut – although I must say that I’m using the term ‘straightforward’ incredibly loosely here – and in their place are spindly, jazz-infused guitar lines, diseased ‘80s synths, crisp drum machines, unhinged vocals, and all manner of strange goodies. It is, of course, all rather brilliant too. 

Opening track Blue Raspberry is a wonderful mess of wonky synth hooks, skeletal Coxonesque guitar, and silky vocals at times almost tripping over themselves in a rush to deliver the next knockout line. It’s a nostalgic thing, capturing the terribly human trait of chasing something, someone, or some ideal that never existed in the first place – in this case the mythical blue raspberry. As is customary with Gillespie’s best tunes, just when you think you have it sussed out it sidesteps before launching into a falsetto-soaked final act. The Magus follows, and is probably the most experimental of the bunch. An odd beast to say the least too; an intriguing juxtaposition of electronic spoken word verses, pitch-shifted menace, and a pounding juggernaut of a chorus that – and I can’t believe I’m going to write this for the first time in my life – absolutely slaps. Obviously it’s one of the pieces most explicitly referencing the source material too – John Fowles’ 1965 novel of the same name – with Gillespie channeling the diabolical titular character with unhinged panache.

Melon Dating Simulator!! (don’t forget those exclamation marks) is basically the perfect pop song. Yes, its chorus of ‘I think that I’m in love with a melon‘ and post-apocalyptic setting places it firmly in the niche section of the pop classic aisle, but fuck, what a package it is, and I challenge anybody to listen to it once and not have the chorus stuck in their mind for days. In the same way that Neil Hannon’s My Imaginary Friend must be one of the only songs in the history of Western music to use the word ‘peripatetically’ – and I think pretty much exists solely to use it – I can confidently count on, well, zero fingers the number of times I’ve heard ‘cucurbitaceous’ in a pop song. Or life. Of course, in the Peter Cat universe it’s entirely to be expected, and delivered with such gleeful knowingness that it barely registers as it slips into your subconscious. Then you find yourself frantically Googling it at 3am on a school night, and writing about it on a blog that far fewer people than you’d like will ever read. Anyway, it’s a great song and feels like the perfect mix of all the things that made the debut LP great combined with the new, postmodern oddball pop chops that make up this release. I really love the almost-modular feel to how the pieces are bolted together, particularly as the song reaches its coda of ‘the stars are out tonight / because they’re rationing the light…‘ – which also serves as another reminder of Gillespie’s formidable lyrical wit and knack for wordplay.

That Melon… doesn’t have the privilege of being the best song on the EP is itself the surest sign of just how good the quality of what’s on offer here is. Indeed that particular accolade in my opinion goes to the closing number, Disappearing Act, which is the EP’s real lyrical and musical tour de force. Opening with a sparse arrangement of just piano and guitar, backed in places by some subtle synth strings, it puts Gillespie’s ornate baritone to excellent use as it winds its way through a series of surprising melodic twists across its hefty six-minute runtime. There’s not really a huge amount to say here that listening to the song once won’t tell you, if I’m honest. As the song moves into its final phase, the electronic backing and other flourishes from the preceding three tracks begin to swell, rising up as the veil lifts and Gillespie repeats the mantra ‘it’s not enough‘ over and over (think Hail to the Thief-era Thom Yorke piano ballads). It’s truly beautiful, almost overwhelmingly so, and much like that elusive blue raspberry, leaves you yearning for more.

So there you have it. It’s not likely to be to everyone’s taste, but if you like your pop music veering on the theatrical side, with weapons-grade hooks, and a big old dose of weird thrown in the mix for good measure, then this could be just what you need. With The Magus, Peter Cat has managed to raise an admittedly high bar even higher, and I’m sure I won’t be the only person eagerly awaiting whatever comes next.


A brief Q+A with Peter Cat

📸 @audreybizouernephoto

As you may have guessed, I’m very much a fan of the music of Peter Cat. I’m also an absolute glutton for hoovering up as much information as possible about music – well, art in general – that intrigues me, so naturally there was little chance I’d write about something like The Magus without putting a few questions forward. Fortunately I get the sense that Graham enjoys answering them almost as much as I like posing them, so do read on for some interesting musings on creativity, writing, recording, analogue gear, and the paralells between the protagonist of a 1965 postmodern literature classic and the softboi. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s also kindly sent over an illuminating track-by-track guide to the EP. So grab those headphones, open that malbec, and dive in.


• Obviously this is a set of songs that has a whole new sound and feel to the stuff on the first album. It’s exactly not like that record was full of straightforward stuff anyway, but The Magus is unashamedly odd for the most part, and very hard to pin down. Does that mean you approach writing in a different way now? Thinking about something like the title track in particular…

I’ve definitely felt a shift in how I’m approaching composition, compared to where I was at on The Saccharine Underground. It was initially borne out of necessity, in that the whole EP was written and recorded at the tail end of 2020, in my flat, during the winter lockdown. By that point it had been close to a year since I’d been in the same room as my (human) band; or indeed, as any band. So it didn’t seem to make much sense to write music with a view to performing it live, since at that historical juncture, the possibility of doing so seemed so remote.

So, I sat down at a desk with the particular bricolage of musical equipment I’d amassed at home – primarily drum machines, a few fizzy old synthesisers, and a 125-year-old upright piano – and asked: can I use this junk to chisel out a different version of Peter Cat? One that’s immediately a departure from The Saccharine Underground, but which is ultimately still recognisable as being the same project? And that’s where the more aspirational side came in, because the more music I wrote like that – all synthesised equipment, running straight into a computer – the more that I let the music lead me where it wanted to go, rather than me trying to force it into the verse-chorus, three-and-a-half-minute box. And it did feel quite liberating!

As you’ve picked up on, this is particularly the case on the title track. I got thinking about the Dadaist cut-up technique for that keyboard intro: I must have recorded around thirty little 4 or 5 second keyboard passages, all disconnected from one other, one night, then returned to it a week later to stitch the best of them together into a longer, more coherent passage. The parts weren’t initially linked to each other at all, but through the assembly process, they started to make some degree of sense. So in using this cut-up technique, I felt less immediately restricted by basic concepts like meter or key: restrictions I might have felt more was I writing in a more linear way, like just sitting with a guitar.


• Also, I’m really interested in the gear you’re using. I really love the kinda diseased quality to the synths (is that a DX7?), whatever drum machines you’re using, and the tone of your guitar… I mean, genuinely, how do I make my guitar sound like that?

Ah, one for the gear nerds! Yes, for my sins I am inextricably wedded to analog circuitry: it’s a fetish I picked up a long time ago and haven’t been able to shake since. There’s an argument that the sonic benefits are somewhat outweighed by the financial drawbacks, but that’s a discussion for another time. And you’re very close with the DX7! It’s actually a Yamaha TX81Z, which is the rackmount cousin of the DX7. It dates from 1987, and has developed quite the cult reputation, particularly because of its cracking bass presets. On ‘Blue Raspberry’ and ‘The Magus’ you hear the most famous one, called ‘Lately Bass’, which you can also find on Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’, Orbital’s ‘Chime’ and (disputably) on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme tune! My trusty Roland Juno-60 synthesiser and Roland TR-08 drum machine make up the bulk of the remaining sounds.

On the ‘diseased’ quality of the synths: part of it is that ineffable degradation and saturation of analog circuitry that people can spend their whole lives chasing! Although much of the credit in this case must go to the stupendously talented mix engineer who worked on the The Magus, Chris McCrory. The things that man can do with a simple chorus plugin are beyond me. He has this incredible ability to use saturation and modulation to wash things out just enough, creating a real atmosphere without ever crossing the line into gimmicky.

Guitar-wise, it’s really nothing too fancy – the same battered old Gibson SG I’ve had for fifteen years, running through my Dynacord ‘Twen’ valve amp (a mid-60’s German-made copy of a Fender Princeton: not too pricey and very slept on in my opinion) and mic’d up inside my walk-in wardrobe. That makes it sound like I was recording the EP in Kardashian-esque luxury, but my walk-in wardrobe is basically just a cupboard with a few coat hangers. But fortunately, it makes for an excellent recording room – even though there’s barely enough room to stand upright!


• How did the EP come about? Must admit, I’d never heard of the book but it’s now on its way to me. I think what’s really interesting is that musically you seem to be picking out hooks, riffs, and sounds from any point in the last 60-odd years, and it feels completely timeless because of it. For some reason I can’t get the work of Martin Kippenberger out of my head since listening through the whole thing for the first time, and it’s only occurred to me while aimlessly writing this question that basically it’s the same thing you’re doing. Albeit with songs about dating melons in the virtual realm…

Well, as the title might suggest, the whole thematic outlay of the thing was inspired by John Fowles’ novel, The Magus. I appreciate it’s a little on the nose to call the EP after the book, but the novel – which I tore through shortly before writing the record – was looming so large in the back of my mind that it only seemed fair to acknowledge its influence clearly.

It’s one of those books that hit me in a really deep place, because the narrator is a despicable character, but behaves in such a way that some people – and I mean heterosexual men, specifically – will recognise and uncomfortably identify with aspects of his personality. The narrator goes through life using his existential angst and emotional turmoil as a means of eliciting pity from the women he meets, and after initiating relationships with them, promptly breaks them off because he claims he’s too broken or unloveable to do them any justice. And of course, after dumping one, he’ll go through the same dance with the next. He creates this warped, misogynistic justification for his behaviour: because in his own eyes, he’s the victim (of the world, of institutions, of his father), he feels no qualms about using the women he meets for nothing more than his own gratification. He’s deceiving them, but he’s deceiving himself, too. Of course, he gets his comeuppance in the end, but I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

The book was written in 1965, but it quite quickly struck me how many parallels can be drawn between the narrator and our supposedly very modern figure of the ‘softboi’, whose “master plan…is to appear gentle, cute, pure and slightly alt in order to get in your pants” (that’s according to Urban Dictionary). That men still try to deceive themselves and others in this way, whether consciously or subconsciously, in the same way as we did 60 years ago. With Peter Cat, for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to writing from specious subject positions like this: people convinced they want one thing when they really want another, or convinced they’re doing something right when they’re really not.

I must admit, I am currently unfamiliar with Martin Kippenberger – so while you plough through Fowles’ book, I’ll get myself to a retrospective somewhere! I believe that’s what they call cultural exchange.



Peter Cat’s track-by-track guide to The Magus

Blue Raspberry

Inspired by the temperate, suburban summers of my youth, spent chowing down on blue raspberry flavour ice poles and wondering: where does one find these mythical blue raspberries? Where do they grow? Of course, the song is not about ice poles: they’re just a jumping-off point for exploring the idea of chasing something that doesn’t exist, and the amount of energy one can so wastefully expend in doing so.

The music began as a complete joke – trying to write the most TikTok-ky riff I possibly could, with a trap-rap 808 beat and a naff Mac DeMarco guitar tone. Completely to my own detriment, I ended up really liking it, and turned it into a song! I still don’t have a TikTok account though.

The Magus

I had the most fun writing this one. The only thing that happens twice is the chorus, but everything else is a one-off, and doesn’t repeat. Which on paper shouldn’t work, or at least, shouldn’t work as a pop song. But – and not to blow my own trumpet (or FM synthesised trumpet emulation) – I think it does. It’s my first baby step on the long road to writing something as good as ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison – the best pop song ever written without a single repeating section.

Most of the song is drum machine and synthesiser based, but there’s a brief segment in the middle where I’ve used washed-out guitars, bass, drums and organ to recreate the sound of a lost Greek psychedelic rock record from the mid-60s. The words being sung in Greek are ελευθερία, or variations of – meaning ‘freedom’, the illusion of which is the theme of the song, really.

Melon Dating Simulator!!

This song is the black sheep of the EP, really, in that it doesn’t have the same kind of obvious connection to the themes I’ve been talking about as the rest of the songs do. But its role in this collection is to work as a positive counterpoint, without which the message of the EP might be too overwhelmingly negative. I imagine it as a idealistic vision of what a relationship can be, if you’re open and honest, and if you don’t engage in deceptive practises: one in which you and the other both acknowledge that you aren’t perfect and that you’ve done wrong in the past, but use that as a foundation to really see and know one another, and build on that, rather than just use that openness as a means of eliciting pity or sympathy.

Of course, it’s also a very daft song about being in love with a melon – and you can take it either way! Big shout-out to creator A. Hagen, whose Steam romance sim Superstorm Melon Date both inspired the imagery of the song and got me through a long few days recovering from Covid last year.

Disappearing Act

Unlike the other tracks, this one was written in a more conventional manner: sitting at a piano. Specifically, a 125-year-old Berlin-made upright I have in my third floor flat, that took six people a whole hour and a lot of sweat to lug up three flights of stairs! There’s a bit of a vaudevillian or cabaret feel to this one, I think; and a few theatrical asides littered throughout (“one more last deception until I deceive again,” for example). I really wanted the listener to feel that nudge-nudge-wink-wink quality of the narrator’s supposed contrition, and to hate them for it.

It ends with the pitch-shifted ‘Magus’ voice returning, and his furious, impotent realisation that the facade has been stripped away; his magic is gone, and he’s nothing more than a subject for study, with the object of his desire and lust wearing the lab coat.


You can find Peter Cat on Bandcamp, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Sunflower Thieves – Lichtenberg Figures

You were struck by lightning, walking in the rain to your car / and when you awoke, the lightning left a beautiful scar

So begins the immaculate Lichtenberg Figures: Sunflower Thieves’ second single of 2022, arriving hot on the heels of January’s I Don’t Know Why, and November’s Sirens. As well as being a great opening couplet, it also neatly summarises what may just be the duo’s finest song to date: no matter what you go through, and however damaging it may be, there’s beauty at the end of it. Of course, in my words I’ve no doubt the sentiment looks trite, but when wrapped up in a melody and soaring harmonies as gorgeous as these it’s anything but. Just wait until the first chorus rushes in and you’ll know what I mean.

The track opens with the rumble of thunder and some hushed, crystalline fingerpicked arpeggios, which soon give way to the warm vocals and a subtle, almost ethereal electronic drum track. As with all of their work, it’s a delicately poised yet confident affair, and keeps on stealthily adding clever little production touches as its four minutes unfold. In particular, the drums gradually evolve from something hovering just out of sight in the background into a big, sparse pattern that imbues the song with a sense of power. Alongside this, delicate acoustic guitar and distant strings bubble up and break through the surface. It’s almost overwhelming in its beauty, but then again that’s just what anybody familiar with Sunflower Thieves’ music has come to expect. Much like the strange phenomena that gives the song its title, Lichtenberg Figures is likely to stick with you for a while.

A conversation with Amy from Sunflower Thieves

As is standard for me now, it’s taken a hell of a lot longer than I’d originally hoped to cover Sunflower Thieves on here, so I was really pleased that Amy took the time to answer a few questions on their latest work, songwriting and recording in general, as well as their plans for the future.

Photo: Sophie Jouvenaar

Firstly, I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you! I’m wary of asking you the same things you’ve probably been asked about loads of times before too, so I wanted to focus more specifically on your writing and how your creative process works. I’d seen your name pop up quite a bit when I was writing with a bit more regularity a couple of years back, but it was only when Sirens came out a few months back when I finally heard what you were doing. Needless to say that I loved it, and I was blown away by the harmonies and how the two of you compliment each other so well. How does a song develop for you? Do you write in a room together in bursts of energy, or are you back and forth over a longer period of time?

Glad you love Sirens! This EP, for which Sirens was the first single, is the product of the last year of co-writing, and most of the songs had complete lyrics, melody and guitar within a session. All but one were written over Zoom, which feels weird to think about now! Lily produces all of our music, so once we have the bare bones in a post-session demo, she works her magic.


What brought you both to songwriting and performing?

We grew up in a very creative, artsy community in Derbyshire, and were encouraged to attend and get involved in live music from a young age. We both went to a local choir, had music tuition, and were taken to lots of folk gigs, day festivals etc – there was always music.

We began performing cover versions of songs we loved, at a local monthly open mic, but never really considered writing our own songs to perform until we started being booked for local charity events and festivals. We wrote a couple songs each, added harmonies, and performed as ‘Amy&Lily’. We’re actually super grateful for all of this performance experience, no matter how small or early on, because it’s definitely made us more confident, competent and creative with our performance and overall project now. The encouragement was invaluable in getting us to where we are now.


Lichtenberg Figures is great, and I really like the production too. Those lovely spindly string lines and the big, sparse drums. It’s a nice contrast to the feel of I Don’t Know Why too. An interesting title, and some interesting lyrics too… I was wondering where the song came from?

We wrote the song in our first session with our pal Sam Griffiths [The Howl & The Hum]. His band have a lovely studio space near York, and we drove over and spent a couple of days writing as a three. The session was super fun and Lichtenberg Figures was the second song we wrote during that time. Sam just had ‘Lichtenberg Figures’ written in his phone notes, and we got chatting about it, as we didn’t know what this was. We started writing, and didn’t really think too much about the concept until we’d written two verses. I think it probably began in quite a literal lyrical direction; ‘you were struck by lightning, walking in the rain to your car’, wasn’t intended to be a metaphor. We tend to exist in the sad realm of songwriting, so Lichtenberg Figures felt good to include in the EP – it feels hopeful and powerful.


On the subject of lyrics, I like that you have them on your website. Also, with the sparse nature of your music, there’s nowhere to hide them. I’m guessing that lyrics are super-important to you, and it got me wondering whether you start with them or if they tend to evolve with the music?

Lyrics are definitely the part of a song we notice first in most cases. When we hear a song we like, it’s most likely because we get something from the lyrics, the story. That’s what it’s all about right, connection? The artists we’ve loved throughout our lifetimes have been artists we’ve felt represented us, related to us, spoken for us. Mostly – at the moment anyway – we begin songs separately, because one of us needs to say something. This will evolve into a verse idea, maybe two, and then we’ll come together and kind of break down what the narrative is. This often manifests in a sort of therapy session. The songs we love the most – and the ones that made it onto the Someone To Be There For record – are the songs we needed the most, the songs that mean the most to us. Often just talking through the feeling or story we’re telling, throws up a lyric idea in conversation, and away we go.


How do you tend to record? Your music sounds so pristine in how it’s put together and, to be honest, I’m quite in awe of it… do you self-record or do you have some trusted collaborators?

Lily produces our music. We’ve always stuck with the classic bedroom recording, and for the EP songs, this meant we were in separate houses, sending bits over to each other. All the cello, bass, drums and guitars in these songs were recorded remotely by some of our wonderful friends. We generally start with whatever instrument the song was written on – most likely guitar – and add main vocals, extra vocals, and then Lily plays around with the song from there. There’s a lot of back and forth, which gives the song room to develop over time, and you can hear it in different contexts, moods, spaces etc during this. It would definitely be cool to do a period of time in a studio and see how this alters our process at some point.


I’m sure I mentioned your artwork in an earlier email. Just thought it would be good to throw it out there again that it’s really great, and I think that it really fits the feel and sound of your recent stuff. Who’s responsible for that, and are you big believers in the music and visuals being as important as eachother?

Our artwork is all created by Amy’s brother, Adam. His Instagram handle is @ajc_wip. He’s obviously close to the project, and to ourselves, and he’s been there from the start, so it’s a natural collaboration. The visuals are hugely important, from press shots, to video, to cover art, and we’re so so pleased with each of the single artworks and the EP artwork. It was so fun having a full project to conceptualise artworks for. We generally give Adam an idea of what we want the visuals to reflect, and he listens to the songs, and then we trust him.


What’s next for you? Do you have any concrete plans or aspirations for the next year or two?

We’ve got some shows in April that we’re mega excited about – watch this space! Definitely looking forward to getting back out and playing new places. The full EP is out in a few weeks and then we’ll be working on following that up. We’ve written some songs that we love over the past six months that no one has heard yet, and are already quietly working on them. 

We’ve loved releasing so much over the past few months, so after we’ve taken a little time to soak this project in and to feel proud of ‘Someone To Be There For’, we’ll be back with new music. 


You can find Sunflower Thieves on Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and Youtube.

BLAB – Eton Mess

I deleted my blog a couple of months ago. It felt futile keeping it going – and still kind of does to be honest, as nobody reads these things. Anyway; as is normal for me, I regretted doing so immediately and predictably ended up changing my mind and grovelling to WordPress. The reason why I’m saying all this is because this piece is about a song that came out back in June. I found it languishing in my drafts folder and felt it deserved to see the light of day for a few reasons: Firstly, because it’s still a tune. Secondly, because it clearly struck a chord at the time, and last but not least, just because a song is over two days old it shouldn’t necessarily mean we can no longer talk about it.

36% of UK Prime Ministers were educated at Eton College. 76% of them attended either Oxford or Cambridge. A disproportionate number of MPs also spent their formative years at Eton. In 2020 Boris Johnson spent £200,000 on renovating his apartment. In 2019, before he became PM, the Conservatives granted a government loan of £100,000 to a firm run by a US businesswoman named Jennifer Arcuri who happened to be (a) Boris Johnson’s lover, and (b) ineligible for such a grant. According to Statistica, in 2020/21 over 421,000 people used three days’ worth of emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in London. That’s in London alone. Across the whole of the United Kingdom approximately 2.5 million people used a foodbank during the same period. In 2009/10 the number for the entirety of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales was 40,898. Of course, that’s 40,898 too many… but look, I’m not saying that Boris Johnson, Theresa May, and David Cameron are directly, personally responsible for such an exponential explosion of poverty and division… but, you know, they kind of are. But hey, it’s easy to get carried away with this kind of thing – especially when you work in a chronically underfunded education sector, are married to somebody who works for a housing and homelessness charity, and have a beautiful son with a range of brain abnormalities and physical obstacles to overcome that are only exacerbated by the fundamental unfairness of a society devised and meticulously molded by these compassionless fuckers for personal gain above all else. I don’t know though; maybe it’s too much to ask for somebody who was educated at a private school that cost their parents £48,501 per year to consider that nurses need to be able to afford a place to live and to feed their children. Anyway…

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself compelled to yammer on about Southend-on-Sea’s BLAB – also known as Frances Murray, and undoubtedly one of the most exciting acts in Essex anywhere right now. Signed to Cool Thing Records (naturally) and championed by the likes of 6 Music and John Kennedy, it was the brilliant R.I.P that first jumped out at me back in August. Since then she’s released the even-better Casual Sex, and – most recently – the feral psych-punk-pop gem, Eton Mess.

If you’ve stuck around this far then I’m sure you have a good idea of what the latter song is about. In lesser hands this type of subject can be either really clunky or preachy, but Murray is great at keeping things simple and direct – and that’s exactly what this is. In a good way. Like its two predecessors, Eton Mess is hook upon hook upon hook, and it’s kind of impossible to resist. I particularly love the ragged guitar and its four-chord turnaround in the verses, the urgency of the drums, her general couldn’t-give-less-of-a-fuck-what-you-think vibe, and the backing vocals that have more than a hint of Modern Life is Rubbish Blur about them. Is there anybody doing this kind of thing better than BLAB right now? I don’t think so.

Oh, and while you’re there, check out its follow-up, Insurance, too.


You can find BLAB on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

The Crayon Set – Downer Disco

It is a fact to say that most people haven’t heard of Dublin’s The Crayon Set. It’s also a fact to say that it’s a real shame, as they’re the kind of band that specialise in smart, hook-laden, melancholic pop reminiscent of the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, and the Cardigans. Basically they’re very, very good and their new LP, Downer Disco, is a pretty flawless half-hour of warm, comforting, intelligent, tasteful indie pop with the odd surprise thrown in for good measure. Check it out below, as well as a Q&A with Rob from the band about writing, recording, and – refreshingly – why not everybody has to reinvent the wheel all the time. It’s worth noting that our exchange took place before the release of the album, around the time that the band put out the (excellent) double A-side single of Rock Star/Dream Girl and Summer Song.


A conversation with Rob Baker of The Crayon Set

• Hi Rob. I really like the kind of ’90s almost-Cardigans vibe of Rock Star/Dream Girl, and think the contrast with the more slick production of Summer Song really works well. Why those songs to launch the new record, and why both together?

Thank you – great that you like them. Funny you mention The Cardigans, I hadn’t really picked up on that until recently when Finn our guitarist mentioned it re. a few songs. I love their album ‘Life’ so clearly that influence must have crept in. In terms of releasing them together it was just an idea to give DJs or bloggers the option to play whatever they liked, kind of tying in with the idea of the band being about different colours and variety etc. It’s as easy to include two songs as one song when sending a press release out!


For the uninitiated, how would you describe the kind of music you make?

To us it sounds like pop – with some minor detours here and there – but I guess pop means different things to different people. We try to write songs that have memorable hooks and to make something that sounds fresh and interesting to us at the same time. Ideally there need to be an emotional quality to them too. But we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or to massively challenge the listener or anything – pop isn’t a dirty word for us.


• You’ve been releasing music for the best part of a decade. How do you think your music has changed in that time, but also what keeps you together? From my own personal experience as part of a band for a good fifteen years or so, we’ve seen a lot of people that were in bands around us kind of taper off and fizzle out with mortgages etc. whereas we’ve just kept on working alongside life stuff… I know why we do it but I’m always interested in why others do!

Would be the same here – and lots of really talented bands as well have unfortunately gone by the wayside. I guess the writing and playing is something I enjoy so I have always tried to keep the show on the road. From relatively early on band members came and went, so although that was disruptive, it also meant early on we got used to the idea that it didn’t mean the end of the band when someone moved on. It could be a positive – if someone was no longer enjoying it or got weighed down with the kids or the mortgage or whatever – we could find someone else who’d bring some fresh energy and ideas into the band. This also helped the music to evolve.

From a songwriting point of view I’d also have tried different techniques to keep things fresh. There was definitely a naivety to the earlier songs and we’d pile hooks on to hooks and overload the harmonies and pile on the layers, so a lot of the new album has been about trying to strip things back to the essence of the songs. Not every song needs a pre-chorus and a post-chorus and an intro and an outro.


📸 Killian Broderick

• What does success look like to you?

I think writing songs that will hold up and releasing music that we’re proud of is the main thing. But we are ambitious too and would like to tour abroad. We are proud of the music – we put a lot of work into it – and would like more people to hear it.


• How do you tend to write?

I write most of the songs but other members do bring songs in and there’s the odd co-write. I’ll usually bring in a fairly complete song and we’ll jam it basically until we’re happy with an arrangement. In terms of writing, I’m writing most of the time – writing down possible song titles, nice turns-of-phrase that I hear, progressions on the guitar or working over a drum loop. My new thing is starting with the chorus and then working backwards essentially. It’s so annoying when you have a good verse but can’t find a good chorus to go with it, so you’re better off just starting with the chorus!


• I’m interested in who your influences are. There are a few names that jumped out at me (Cardigans, Belle and Sebastian to name a couple) but I wonder what stuff you listen to. Also, do you think about other artists consciously when you’re writing?

Cool that you picked up on those – I love both those bands. I think any music that you love and listen to a lot will creep into the writing and the production – hopefully they’ll mix together and your own style will emerge and evolve. I listen to everything. If I was to list who I’ve listened to most over the years it would include lots of the usual suspects: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Dylan, The Doors, The Band, Bowie, Pavement, Teenage Fanclub, New Order, Phoenix, R.E.M, lots of 80s synth pop, 60s soul and lots of Brazilian artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. 

I wouldn’t consciously think too much about other artists when writing – in the past I have tried a couple of times writing songs ‘in the style of … ‘ other artists and it’s never worked. I think usually the less you think when writing the better actually – get out of your own way kind of thing. I might go “what would Prince or Paul Simon do in this section?” or something like that, just brain-storming to myself. But definitely when arranging and producing it can be helpful to reference other artists: “I think the vibe should be a bit Lou Reed” or whatever. 


You can find out more about The Crayon Set via their WebsiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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Dunebug – Lie to Me

About two months ago I exchanged a few emails with the rather brilliant Chi Limpiroj, otherwise known as the London-based songwriter/purveyor of exquisite dreampop: Dunebug. I’d discovered her music sometime last year and had contacted her regarding the possibility of anything new being on the horizon. As luck would have it, yes, she was finishing up the mix (and the video) for what would be her new single; a typically laid-back, woozy gem called Lie to Me.

To cut a long and tedious story short, I never got round to publishing the piece because of life stuff. My wife, son, and I moved for the second time in five months – this time all the way back down from a small coastal town near Glasgow to beautiful Leigh on Sea – and I began lecturing again full-time after the best part of eighteen months changing nappies and listening, non-stop, to Super Simple Songs. So here we are now, and I finally have my shit together enough to hit publish on a piece that should have been up, I don’t know, eight weeks ago. Oh, and the song’s still great. Effortlessly assured and effortlessly cool. Check out the gorgeous video by Sophie Davies below, as well as an embarrassingly belated Q+A with Dunebug on all things music.

A conversation with Dunebug

• I absolutely love your music. I know that – as someone that spends time writing about new music – I’m supposed to be adept at accurately labelling stuff, but I struggle to put your sound into a neat little box. It’s kind of dreamy, woozy, slightly wonky (in the best possible way!) indie pop with a bit of jazz and soul thrown in.. but also nothing like any of that. Ha. See what I mean? Anyway, this is a really convoluted way of asking you how you’d describe the stuff you make?

Thanks Adam! Some very kind words there. It’s a tricky one as I take influence from a mix of genres, for example, some of the woozy, wonky stuff from lofi bedroom pop artists, elements of surf, dreamy female-fronted indie bands, and I’ve had the soul/R&B comment about my voice before, then I sort of mash it altogether and I guess that’s what Dunebug sounds like.


• The Lie to Me video is a gorgeous thing. I love how it echoes the sound and feel of the track by just sprawling out with those lovely long camera shots too. It’s very easy when making a video especially to throw in loads of shots and edits just because you can, but there’s a lot to be said for having the confidence to stick to one idea and see it through. Where did the idea for the video come from, and do you tend to think a lot about visuals when you write stuff?

Thank you so much! I was lucky to have a great team around me for my video, Sophie Davies, the director and editor was the master mind behind the video premise, I was approached with “80’s French picnic” being the vibe and I think with her mind and the super talented cinematographer Michael Hobdell’s vision, we were able to do a pretty good job of achieving that. Sophie takes inspiration from French cinema and cites directors Eric Rohmer and Luca Guadagnino as her influences, and that combined with shooting on 16mm film definitely gives it a more retro feel, which is what I feel some of my music gives off. My good friend Niru Fekri-Arnold plays my onscreen love interest, I couldn’t have chosen a better person for it, and Paige Fisher did a great job assisting Michael. Megan Lee, the colourist, then finished it off by adding the magic touch and bringing the film to life through colours. I never tend to write with music videos in mind actually, but often these music videos tend to reflect my writing so well anyway as it feels like the team understands my music well enough to portray it visually.


• You’ve been making stuff for quite a while under the Dunebug name. When did you start making music, and have you always worked on your own?

I started off in an all girl punk band back in high-school, but then eventually started up a folk band, where I wrote the backbone of the songs and my band mates would flesh it out. I struggle to write songs with others as I’m far too self-conscious to show anyone my ideas or my writing process, possibly because I have imposter syndrome and I’m actually quite musically illiterate, a lot of it is trial and error. Also, my songs are so personal that I’d feel it would be difficult to share how vulnerable I can be when writing with someone else.


• I’m really interested in how you work. Your stuff seems to have all these lovely textures floating around, and you have that rare thing where the instrumentation seems to be saying just as much as the vocals. I’m presuming you’re a guitar player first and foremost, but wondered whether you tend to write in the same way all the time?

I’m really glad you think that, I’m self taught at guitar and I always worry my guitar playing/writing is quite limited. In my folk band there was a lot of acoustic finger-picking, so Dunebug is the first time I am experimenting with writing guitar riffs and solos and exploring effects, it’s all quite new to me, and very fun. My writing process usually starts off with me coming up with a chord structure, humming a melody over the top, then any emotions those sounds evoke I will then revolve my lyrics around. Sometimes I come up with a melody when I’m out and about, so I make a voice recording of it on the go, my phone is absolutely full of them, I just hope I dont lose my phone or die or anything too soon because there are hundreds of weird recordings and ideas on there and it’d be pretty embarrassing for anyone to stumble across those.


• Can you talk a little about your recording process? I mentioned previously that your songs kind of sound like they’re living, breathing things, and I’m wondering where you think that comes from. Also, you record everything yourself, right?

I’m very DIY when it comes to all that, mostly because I’m skint but also because I have a background in sound and it makes sense to give it a good go myself, not to mention I know exactly what I want when it comes to production. I use a pretty basic set up really, I use Logic and record into an audio interface alongside some cool plugins, and I’m pretty happy with the results, it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg to produce something semi-decent, though eventually it would be nice to do it properly in a studio. I reckon the fact that my songs aren’t 100% perfect and precise may contribute to it sounding like they’re alive? Either way, that’s such a nice thing to say and thank you.


• Music Blogging 101 dictates that I should also ask you about the kind of stuff you listen to. Are there any particular artists that you think have had, or still have, a huge effect on the music you make?

Some of my biggest and earliest influences include Cat Power, Feist and Elliott Smith when I first started writing, but as years went on I started listening to the likes of Big Thief, Julia Jacklin, Soccer Mommy and Phoebe Bridgers, as well as taking influence from the Beach Boys for the beachy vibes. Then some lofi indie such as Boyo, Hether, Paul Cherry, and Michael Seyer. I also really love slightly heavier stuff like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Crack Cloud, Warmduscher, Ty Segall and Osees (I think that’s their current spelling? I can’t keep up).


• As life is sort of coming back to some form of normality, what kind of things are you looking forward to over the next few months?

Gigs! I miss being on stage, me and my live band managed to squeeze a couple of gigs in over covid times, but it’s not the same with social distancing rules etc. I’m also hoping to finally get my album out, it’s been delayed for a while due to going back to work after the first lockdown but it’s on its way!


Find Dunebug on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Snag tickets for their O2 Islington show on 27th November here.


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New album: Gozer Goodspeed – Ghosts of the Future & Past

Often I’ll find myself thinking about the point of having a music blog in 2021. After all, in an age where the vast majority of commercially available music (in the history of commercially available music) can be in your hands, metaphorically, or at the very least dispatched by some faceless automated entity in order to make its way direct to your actual flesh-and-blood hands at the click of a button, what exactly is the point of reviewing music now?

For me at least, writing about new music is all about making a connection. It’s about opening a dialogue in the vague hope that somebody, anybody, will pick it up and run with it. Of course, this is very much the aspiration, whereas the reality is that all too often you’re just spending hours writing words that nobody will read. However; on the very, very rare occasions that someone does pick up on a piece you’ve put out into the world, well, it’s a wonderful thing. But I must stress: it really doesn’t happen often.

I came across the excellent Ghosts of the Future & Past by Plymouth-based Gozer Goodspeed because of exactly that though: a chance encounter whereby the man at the helm of Brighton’s Lights and Lines – the label behind the release – contacted me in response to a piece I’d published last year about Musosoup, SubmitHub, and the widespread practice of pay-to-play reviews. In short: it was nice to know that there are still people out there that do read blogs, and that it’s possible that if you keep tap, tap, tapping away into the abyss you might just reach them. But anyway, I’m sure that’s enough of a convoluted introduction…

The seventeen-track Ghosts of the Future & Past is an expansive collection that pulls together highlights from Goodspeed’s previous releases, alongside the odd live track, some previously unreleased material, acoustic demos, and remixes. In some respects it’s a strange beast that is difficult to neatly sum up, but then that’s the whole point. This is a collection designed to serve as an introduction to a restless talent, with highlights ranging from the hypnotic modern blues of the opening (and closing) Gambler’s Last Day, the evocative storytelling of King Point Marina and The Key Broke Off Clean in the Lock, through to the rousing live performance of Killjoy Bulletin. Running straight through the middle of the whole set is the consistency of Goodspeed’s writing, which when paired with his commanding guitar-work and willingness to go wherever a song takes him, proves somewhat impossible to resist. To go right back to the beginning of this piece: in an age where everybody is making music, and much of that music is secondary to the notions of image and product, Goodspeed is a songwriter in the true sense of the word. Sure, he may lack the streaming numbers and won’t be soundtracking Love Island anytime soon, but these are well-crafted songs born from lived experience and artistry. In short: as a first-time listener I came away from Ghosts… intrigued and wanting to hear more, and I’m not sure you can ask for much more than that.


A conversation with Gozer Goodspeed

Hi Gozer. Cheers for getting involved with the blog. I’ve been delving through the album over the last few days in fits and starts and it’s a really interesting listen. For people who don’t know the story around the release, could you give a brief synopsis of what Ghosts of the Future & Past is? I mean, the press release is very clear that it’s not a ‘best of’ so to speak…

Well, it’s hard to do a ‘Greatest Hits’ when you haven’t actually had any hits, haha! But seriously, the idea is that’s it’s a hand-picked selection of songs, in vaguely chronologically order, that give you a vivid picture of my work to date. But rather than just a straightforward ‘here’s a bunch of what we think are the strongest songs’ kind of deal, this goes much further – there are songs that have never been released, songs from my past, a live recording, a remix, even a demo from a record I’ve yet to put out! It’s a deep dive into my back catalogue, coupled with a selection of rare songs nobody has ever heard before. I think the idea, from the label’s point of view, was that my back catalogue is already quite extensive, and this record is designed to serve as a comprehensive introduction to what I do, and how I do it. But the concept from the start was to bring elements into the collection that added extra dimensions to my story. Because this record is, in a way, the story of my musical life. 


Who were your main influences growing up? I’m always interested in how people got into writing songs… can you remember the first record you bought, or the first time you thought ‘I can do that‘?

I was a late starter to playing music. I wrote a lot of lyrics, I’d always been a writer of all sorts of things, but I never thought I could sing. The lyrics I wrote were always for someone else. And then, aged 15, it just popped into my head that if I wanted to, I could play guitar. I don’t know where that came from, exactly, but I was suddenly confident that, if I put my mind to it, I could do it. So I got one for my birthday, and then spent a very, very long time teaching myself to play, and mainly being very rubbish for ages! I got there eventually though… In terms of influences, well, how much time have you got? I’m tempted to say that I’ve always been most attracted to guitar bands and songwriters. I mean, aged 15 and 16 I was listening to a lot of Nirvana and The Lemonheads, and then my sort of desire for heavy guitars became all-encompassing for a while, and I was deeply into Metallica and Pantera and all of that, though it didn’t last. But then at the same time I was also listening to Hendrix and John Lee Hooker, and a whole lot of funk. If you want to know the first record I ever bought with my own money, it was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” 7 inch live version. I’m an absolute sponge for music. If you go right back to my childhood, my parents played a lot of Queen, Abba, Tina Turner, Def Leppard, and the Beach Boys in our car. So those were probably some of my earliest ever influences!


As a prolific writer and live performer, what’s most important to you: the writing and recording, or the act of getting something across to a live audience?

Well, I know it’s a pat answer to say that I love both, but I do. When you get into the studio and can laser focus on the finer details, and begin to craft something and layer up a track and really get into the zone, it’s a tremendously fulfilling and exciting process. When everything comes together, it’s beautiful. On the other hand, hardly anything in life feels as good as being onstage in front of an enthusiastic live audience. The energy it generates, in me and in them and in the air… it’s immensely special. That’s why we do it. The connection, the energy transfer. Don’t make me choose between these things!


What is ‘success’ to you?

Success is a dish best served cold. Oh wait, that’s revenge. Um… success is an ever-changing concept, constantly shifting in and out of focus, hidden out of full view somewhere just over the next hill, hovering blurrily near the horizon. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that what constitutes ‘success’ to me isn’t a fixed idea. Writing a song that comes across really well to a live audience that have never heard it before, is success of a kind. Recording a song well and feeling that it’s effective – that’s success too. Having someone tell you how much they love a song, is definitely success. Putting an album out is success. Getting paid to play music you love is success. I guess if I felt I could travel almost anywhere in the UK and people would come to see my shows, that would make me feel very successful. But honestly, some days just getting out of bed is success. Just picking the guitar up. Just getting through the day. I apologise for my rambling answer, haha!


If you had to pick out three tracks from Ghosts… as a good introduction to what you’re about, which would you choose and why?

I would say that “Running with the Outliers” would probably be a good indication of what I like to do lyrically. “King Point Marina” would be a decent demonstration of the rawer, more emotional side of my songwriting. And “The Killjoy Bulletin (Live Version)” will enable you to hear the kinds of things I like to do when I play live.


As an artist that’s been performing for a while and written/recorded/played an awful lot; what’s your ultimate ‘bucket list’ dream as a musician? I mean, to give context, in terms of my own band, I still live in hope that one day somebody will give us a shitload of money so we can record with Dave Fridmann…

Good question. A lot of the people I would have loved to have jammed with are dead, which is horrible. I would love to write a song with Neil Young. I would love to play onstage with the Stones. I’d love to have a coffee, a chat and a jam with Dylan. I’d like to duet with Alice Russell. I’d like to play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. I’d like to cut a song with Beck. And I’d love to play a concert in the Grand Canyon, and arrive by helicopter. If you can make that all happen, that’d be great!


A conversation with Mike @ Lights and Lines

• How did the project with Gozer come about?

I came across Gozer in 2019 when he released Running With The Outliers and was immediately hooked. I bought his discography almost immediately and found that I kept coming back to it. Gozer’s husky but soulful voice set over a variety of folk and bluesy tunes was fascinating to me, and the hints of psychedelia that start to show in his later work were really exciting. When the label finally came to light at the beginning of this year Gozer was one of the first people approached about putting something out. Like many independent artists Gozer has created some wonderful music that has grown and developed. Existing fans will have joined his musical journey at different points and new ones may not know him at all – I think it’s fun to dig into these grey areas and think about recontextualising an artists back catalogue for different audiences. The idea was to bring some of the best bits from Gozer’s impressive back catalogue out into the open, this time remastered and regenerated as a result, whilst mixing these with some rare unreleased and unheard tracks and something that looks ahead to the future. At first I don’t think he was keen to be honest he’s not someone that tends to look back. But as soon as started talking about bootlegs, rare songs, live tracks etc. he could see what I was trying to do and jumped on board.


• I’m interested in why you started the label. I mean, reading through the ‘About’ section of your website, I think the vast majority of people into new music would agree 100% with your ethos… but not many people actually get out there and make something happen. How did it start for you?

I’ve been talking about doing it for about 20 years! Since I was about 15 I’ve been fascinated by the independent music scene. I’m a guitarist first and foremost but I’ve also put on gigs for many years, we run a festival every year now, in the past I had written reviews, helped bands with video editing / artwork / PR etc, and put out a few releases for myself and others too. I also co-host the popular New Music Saturday podcast which is amazing fun – so music is everywhere! So for 20 years I had been doing all this stuff and always talked about starting a label. In 2020 really thought I was going to do it but covid put a strain on things so I thought it was sensible to wait. Instead I spent the year talking to other labels, bands, and others in the industry. I wanted to sense check my thinking, learn from others, and figure out how I could tie in what thought I wanted to do with adding real value to the artists and fans.

I should say at this point that it’s not just me, it’s a collective effort with lots of people involved in different areas – I’m just the guy who put a logo on it, and the only consistent member for 20 years. Really it’s just about amplifying voices and creating great experiences for listeners. We don’t care too much about genre necessarily, but I do believe that this is a curation project where I get to share some of my favourite music with the world.


You can find out more about Gozer Goodspeed here, and anything Lights and Lines here.


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New track: Pushpin – Garden Cities of Tomorrow

What a band.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last year of covering new music it’s that there’s a staggering amount of great music out there just mooching along under the radar. Even so, every once in a while you still find yourself taken aback by the sheer brilliance of something that lands in your inbox with absolutely no fanfare. Take, for example, South-Londoners Pushpin and their new single: Garden Cities of Tomorrow. I have said things like this all the time on here but, genuinely, I haven’t heard another song this year that’s left me buzzing in the way that this has.

Where to begin? Well, even with only a handful of tracks floating around the internet it’s incredibly difficult to nail down Pushpin’s sound. Their previous two singles – the awesome Folds and Apples – each have shades of the likes of Alt-J, Foals, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Loose Fur, Talking Heads, Grizzly Bear, and Wild Beasts (just for starters), yet with Garden Cities… well, if you can imagine post-In Rainbows Radiohead making OK Computer-era B-sides I guess you’d be somewhere within the same galaxy. Throw in what sounds like a moderately diseased Yamaha DX7 and you’re getting even closer. It’s an absolute Frankenstein’s monster of a song; somehow bringing together harsh, almost industrial, razor-sharp digital samples, fuzz bass, huge cascading fuck-off drums, and delicate fingerpicked arpeggios and making it sound like the most natural fit in the world. I must have listened at least twelve times at the time of writing and I’m still marvelling at it.

Much like on the two previous singles, the lyrics are intriguing. I’d be lying if I said that I can decipher every word, but it doesn’t matter at all to me. As the title suggests, it really reminds me of the utopian ideals of the so-called new towns of the 1950s and 60s that promised a very different future to the one we’re left with. Lines such as ‘Now it’s all boarded up / Your utopia is us, all of us‘ hit with a blunt sardonicism that is entirely in keeping with the apocalyptic times we find ourselves in. I know I’ve already milked the Radiohead stuff, but it’s a point well and truly driven home by the oblique chorus of ‘Where I was born concentric circles filled my heart / ’til the time it fell apart‘.

The short of all of this is that Pushpin are a great, great band and your life can only improve by giving Garden Cities of Tomorrow a spin. As I said right at the beginning of this piece: there’s an inconceivable amount of music being made now (I’m sure I read something earlier this week about Distrokid processing over a million new tracks every week – far more than can ever realistically be listened to) and the frustrating thing is that a lot of shit seems to rise to the surface. Every once in a while though something bursting with ideas and vitality comes along and maybe, just maybe finds its way through all the noise. Pushpin are 100% one of those, and I hope they get the attention their talents deserve. Majestic.


A conversation with Pushpin

• Hi guys. Thanks for getting involved with the blog. First up, I’ve genuinely been listening to Folds, Apples, and Garden Cities… a lot over the last few days and I’m very much a fan of what you’re doing. To start with, perhaps it’s a good idea for you to introduce yourselves. Whenever I’ve mentioned that I’m in a band I’ve always dreaded the inevitable question ‘What kind of stuff do you make?’… but if you had to explain it somewhat succinctly, what would you say?

Laurence: Colourful DIY alternative music. Synthy, poppy, experimental, heavy, silly, serious… it’s all of these things and also none of them.

Arthur: We like to say we make pop music, even though that’s probably not true. But we’re always making the songs as short as we can for all the ideas we have, which is quite a poppy thing to do I think.. We record most of the song in one take and one room, so that excitement and overlap between us is part of it.

Adam: Our music has been described as ‘Filthy bunker-funk to shake your junk’ which is the best thing in the world, and I would agree with that.


• In terms of influences on what you do, I can certainly pick out some bands that I’m reminded of in places (Wild Beasts, Vampire Weekend, Alt-J, Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, Foals… to name a few)… Who, or what, are influences that you kinda return to? One thing that’s definitely evident is that you’ve got these clear ‘art rock’ elements going on – particularly with the production (more on this later) but also a real knack for pop hooks. Yeah, so it’s a long rambling question, but where does your sound come from?

Laurence: We got together as a four just before covid hit, so we didn’t have much time to form a coherent sound… so our sound on these tracks is a collision of four people’s very different influences at one point in time. Garden Cities I think drew on a mixture of Deerhoof, Tune-Yards, and probably Fiona Apple too. But then it changes from song to song.

Adam: We all listen to quite different stuff – we all bring very different interpretations and ideas to the table which can be really cool when it mashes together, or, occasionally, really cursed when it doesn’t – but it’s all part of the fun.

Ed: We do have really quite varied tastes as a group. I sometimes get typecast as the “soul guy” of the group and I guess it’s pretty true – I listen to a lot of proper 70s stuff but also absolutely love stuff that’s going on at the moment in LA and so on with Brainfeeder – Thundercat (a bass hero), Flying Lotus, the list goes on. In terms of Art Rock stuff though, Arthur and I have both had a long-term musical love affair with Grizzly Bear. I love how their stuff is so ‘art rock’ but always has such great melodies and hooks.


• The stuff you’re putting out sounds very well constructed, like every part of an arrangement has been really poured over – and not in an overwrought way. The arrangements are rich with detail, and I’m wondering how you get to that point. When you’re writing, how do songs develop, and what are the steps that take you from the moment of inspiration to the final mix?

Arthur: These songs were written over lockdown and not in a room together, which is really strange. We would send little ideas back and forth and layer them on our laptops and really think through each decision and little detail, and then see how that would come together in a room with some quick changes to make things click. In a way it’s fun because we’ve now been learning how to play them properly and they’ve been changing again.

Adam: I guess writing stuff together in a room has an element of trial and error that comes from quick decisions in the heat of the moment or the feel of the room or whatever. Well, writing music virtually, over the internet, is the opposite of that. The arrangement decisions come together bit by bit over months, with each little new riff or preset or section being demo’d as an mp3 or a phone recording to the rest of the band. It really exposes you in a way, it forces you to be really self critical, which has advantages and disadvantages. Anyway I think that’s had a big impact on how the songs sound.

Ed: I’ve learnt to love writing on Cubase or Pro Tools or whatever – I feel like you get loads of space to just throw idea after idea after idea at a song. Our last single Apples started as a bass and guitar riff over a looping backbeat on a drum machine, but since then it’s had so much added to it and taken away that it’s completely unrecognisable from the first draft.


• I’m interested to find out about your recording process too. For example, in Garden Cities… you’ve got these really kinda almost industrial digital sounds coexisting with the lovely arpeggios. Where do you record, and how do you tend to build your tracks in the studio?

Adam: We don’t really have a studio actually, it’s more like, bits and pieces of kit (mics mostly) that we’ve built up over time through monitoring ebay, studio sales etc. It’s cheaper that way, and it means the whole recording setup is a lot more portable, so we can record wherever we can make time and space. 

Arthur: I lamely spend most nights looking up recording and mixing techniques. Garden Cities started with that opening loop and the drum beat. I think I was trying to do a Tune Yards song but only with guitar noises so it ended up heavier and more aggressive.

Adam (again): The DIY stuff is a big part of it for me – the billions of instruments and effects you can have immediate access to on your laptop are really tempting, but it’ll never be as fun as recording yourself banging a colander 15 different ways and using it as percussion.

Ed: I think a big part of getting Garden Cities to sound the way it does is all the layered percussion we have there. We played around for AGES with all kinds of different things to get a unique sounding beat… we do that with almost every song. The next single has some microwave stuff going on.

Laurence: lots of the drum stuff could only really be worked out in the room. I often make beats on Logic but there’s no replacement for the magic of a beat clicking in the room. When it works, you all know.


• I haven’t been able to find out too much about you, beyond a few reviews and features. How recently did you get together, and what brought the four of you together? The stuff sounds so assured and distinctive that I would’ve assumed you’d actually been writing and recording together for a good 5+ years…

Ed: Thank you so much for the compliment. Arthur, Adam and I have actually known each other through friends for a few years, and we did the odd musical thing together, but Pushpin really became a thing when we met Laurence last year. I guess as well, we’ve all been writing our own music individually since we were teenagers. I used to make dubstep beats as a way to learn how to use a DAW back in the day. One of them had Nigella Lawson sampled over it talking about ‘Chocolate Bass’. I’m pretty sure it’s still on YouTube somewhere.

Adam: I continue to make similarly dumb stuff, some of which they’ve let me put on the Pushpin youtube channel.

Arthur: That’s really nice of you to say! I think it helps being big nerds with this sorta stuff because it means it’s always drifting around our heads.


• What’s the plan going forward? I sense you might be the kind of band with an eye on making albums as opposed to singles/EPs. Are you thinking about that kinda thing, and also what does success look like to you guys?

Adam: The main thing is gigging, we really want to test these songs out in real life. We’re really proud of the songs we’ve released so far but none of it will really feel real until we’ve actually physically played them with our own hands to real people in a room. So in the short term we’re all desperate to make that live set bang. After we’ve got that to a good place, we’ve got around 200,000 other new song ideas we wanna work on and play at gigs. Who knows what will come from that, might be more EPs, might be a triple concept album – I guess we’ll see where it takes us. We do this whole thing ourselves so it’s really up to us.

Arthur: Yea getting to decide what we do ourselves is really nice, basically, we have lots of songs and no real plan, which is kinda great.

Ed: I would absolutely LOVE to do an album as soon as possible, but I think for the time being we are focusing on honing what we do, getting the music out to people with releases and gigs, and just enjoying being where we are for the moment. We’re planning an EP release this year (physical release fingers crossed!) and maybe more will come. We’ll see.

Laurence: Gigs, gigs, gigs. We’d love to get to the stage where people are coming to see us play. That would be nuts.


• Finally, one of the things that can put me off a band straight away is the artwork. I used to have an extended diatribe on my ‘About’ page that went on about it for way longer than was necessary. For better or worse I place a lot of emphasis on the cover, which I know is totally wrong but I can’t help it. Same with books – I literally judge them by the cover. I got really annoyed recently because I ordered a particular one from Amazon Marketplace and they sent one with a different jacket. I did read it, and it was a good book, but I hated looking at it. Anyway, my point is that I like your cover art for the three singles. Can you elaborate a little on it?

Ed: Ellie, (@SketchesFromMyBedroom), is a friend of mine from a few years back. I saw she had been getting into making art over the lockdown as a kind of response to the whole situation and just really vibed with a lot of it – think it has that same kooky vibe as we do in some way. We wanted to have these sort of anthropomorphic animals on the covers not only as a unifying theme, but I think it’s something that weirdly appeals to a lot of people. I think BoJack Horseman is an amazing TV series and there’s something oddly poignant about so many of the characters being represented as animals. Not to say we’re ripping that off!

Adam: We knew immediately that we wanted Garden Cities to be represented by a fox, I’m not 100% sure why, but it just sort of made sense. I guess it’s because they’re this mascot for urban life. They’re beautiful creatures too and we need to protect them.


Find Pushpin on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


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New track: Genevieve Miles – Storm Before

It’s been a few months since I (and many others) fell hook, line, and sinker for Genevieve Miles’ last release – the brilliant Magic Man / Sad Song – and so it was a pleasant surprise to find a new track tucked away in my inbox this week. Nicer still to find that it’s another absolute gem from the Birmingham artist christened the “sunny indie queen” by BBC Introducing.

That said, Storm Before is quite a different beast to the more indie-pop sound that Miles has dabbled in (with great results) previously. Although it retains all of the interesting quirks that mark her out as a writer and performer of interest, this time out it’s a slower, more luxurious soul-pop vibe that feels utterly impossible to resist. Taking inspiration from acts such as BADBADNOTGOOD and Crumb, it’s a more refined and elegant sound that’s in keeping with the mature outlook of the lyrics.

“…it’s a love song, but looking back at it now I’m also talking about the long cyclical process of healing. “This rain could not compare to the storm that came before last summer”: healing and growth never end and when pain randomly comes up again, even though it’s hard each time, maybe it’s a little different, a little better than the time before, ’cause you’ve learnt so much since then.”

Miles on Storm Before

Produced by Carlos de los Santos (Neon Islands, Simple Fiction), Storm Before represents a new high watermark for Miles; with her ever-growing skill and confidence as a writer reflected in an arrangement which, although slick, still feels playful and airy. I particularly love her trademark jazzy Jaguar subtly underpinning the track, and the sax that sprawls out like a jar of honey that’s been kicked over. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention Miles’ vocals – which carry the track with such nonchalant conviction – and that the chorus is highly likely to be lodged in your brain for days. You have been warned.

Last time around I wrote that Miles was making “smart, fun, and inventive pop music that doesn’t take itself too seriously”. Not much has changed, apart from the fact she’s getting even better at it.



A conversation with Genevieve Miles

• Hi Genevieve. Thanks so much for agreeing to this. It was only yesterday I heard the song for the first time, and I must have heard it at least eight times now and it’s still sounding fresh. I was interested when I read you saying that it ‘sounds like your soul’. It gives the impression you think it’s a step up from where you were before. If so, what do you think is different, and what made it happen?

Yeah, I definitely do feel it’s a step up. I started releasing music when I was really young (too young haha). All I ever wanted to do was to make music – I grew up in the middle of nowhere so there wasn’t much of a music scene and I thought that putting my music out there was the way to do that. But it meant I often rushed releases and didn’t really know what I was doing and it was kind of just stabs in the dark; I had all this ambition and creativity but looking back I’m not sure I was using it in the right way, I was just super young and didn’t know anything. But I try not to regret (or cringe at) all that because it was all part of the journey. Like, it led me to now and this is my first release with a label so that’s pretty exciting. Life looks so different for me now than it did before I moved to Birmingham, I think that’s the main change – I’m now surrounded by creative people who are so amazing at what they do and work so hard and it’s so inspiring and motivating. I felt so lost in myself and what I was creating for so long but this song was kind of a pivotal moment with that – shifting the stagnancy. As soon as I jammed this song with a load of my friends and we slowed it down and made it jazzy, I think I cried haha, it was a relief, like “oh, this is what I’ve been trying to get at all this time, this is what I’ve been trying to make!”


• The press release mentioned a couple of artists that have influenced the track – Crumb and BADBADNOTGOOD. I have to admit that I’m not familiar with either, but it did get me wondering what it was about those artists in particular that resonate with you, but also who your main influences are in general?

BADBADNOTGOOD are so cool – they were one of my lockdown 1.0 favourites, their sounds are always so raw, the bass tones and the drums… oh they’re just amazing. Their track ‘Time Moves Slow’ is just so beautiful: so much emotion. The more psychedelic edge of Storm Before is definitely inspired by Crumb, I think just encouraging me to take that step forward in allowing my music to mature. I think my answer to the biggest influences question would vary every week, depending on what I’m obsessed with at that moment. I’m still loving Bicep’s new album and I’ve had Pixies’ Doolittle album on repeat lately. Connan Mockasin is definitely a massive inspiration at the moment too, I don’t know anyone else making music like him, he’s so cool.


• I love the artwork too…

The artwork is by James Evans – he’s so cool! I sent over a load of pictures I’ve taken in the last year and he came up with that. All the pictures used have meaning to me – nice memories of comfort and happiness. Those sunflowers on the artwork are pictures of ones I grew myself in lockdown 1.0 – they were my babies. Me and my friend Felix (DnB producer Kippo – he actually mastered this track and I’ve done a couple of features with him) had this amazing day in between lockdowns last year where we spent an entire day in Spun Out, a record shop in Northampton, where he grew up, and when we’d found the perfect records we took them back and played them on his dad’s sound system: that’s the one in the artwork. That was a special day for me in letting go and moving forward, I remember when I first heard one of the records I bought I breathed this sigh of relief, and felt an amazing feeling of finally being able to let go and just enjoy a moment. I think that’s quite relevant to Storm Before’s lyrics.


• The arrangement feels more expansive, and slicker in general. I saw that Carlos de los Santos is credited… is this the first time you’ve worked together, and how did it come about? (Oh, and that saxophone is insanely good…)

That’s Benjamin Dady on the sax, he’s a very clever man! He started joining me and the band for gigs last year and man it’s so fun playing with him. I met Carlos probably two years ago now! We met up in Birmingham and we just chatted about Julia Jacklin’s album that had just come out, and we’ve worked together ever since. He’s always been a massive support and has always been so wonderful giving me time and advice. This time last year we started making music together remotely and whenever it’s legal (lol) I travel to London and he has a little studio in his flat where we work together. I’m excited to get back there to him. He’s a super talented producer.


• Last year was obviously a write-off in pretty much all respects… but, ideally, where would you like to be come 2022?

I’m hoping to move to a new city this year to start a new adventure so that’s definitely a main goal. I have a load of stuff I’m hoping to release and hopefully people will enjoy that music! And just to get back on gigs – I’m so excited to play new stuff live and we have a couple of new band members too and we’re having a lot of fun with it. This year, I’m really keen to try to organise and promote my gigs myself ’cause I want to make my gigs creative, safe spaces and I have loads of ideas to put on really special events.


You can find Genevieve Miles on Instagram, Facebook, Bandcamp, and Twitter.


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Album review: MG Boulter – Clifftown

I’m sure I’ve said it before on this blog; words to the effect of great art being able to conjure up a tangible atmosphere and a distinct sense of time and place. Often it is, as Thomas Merton put it, something that “enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. Living with this record over the last couple of months, I found myself thinking a lot about this dichotomy, and how true it rings. It’s what great writers are able to do; capture something of the world around them, some universal structure, something familiar, and inhabit the space with new life. And so, with Clifftown, MG Boulter delivers a superb set of songs that chronicle the inevitable, inexorable cycle of suburban life in all its mundane, magnificent glory.

Based on his (and my own) native Southend on Sea – an archetypal faded seaside town that resides on the Thames Estuary on England’s South-East coast, the fictional setting of Clifftown is captured in a set of vignettes populated by old ladies feeding coins into out-of-season seafront slot machines, teenagers shuffling around late-night Co-ops as ‘zombies, waiting for their lives to start’, distant silos looming on the horizon, and girls who grew up dreaming of becoming actresses only to end up endlessly calling out ‘Do you want to party?’ to ten-year-olds in a theme park.

What I admire most about Boulter’s lyric writing is the subtle poignancy with which he manages to capture deceptively simple lives. The characters that populate his songs rarely appear anything other than ordinary, and yet through mundane, everyday acts – such as the protagonist in Nights at the Aquarium marveling at the ‘colourful and innocent’ fishes behind the glass and wondering ‘maybe I can be colourful and innocent too?’ – he manages to reveal complex lives. As a songwriter, I’ve long felt that his principle strength lies in his ability to leave a listener with the impression that the people that inhabit his songbook – from the narrators through to the fleeting mentions – carry on living their lives long after the needle reaches the runout groove.

Musically, it feels very much the most playful of his records to date. Arrangements (particularly on tracks such as the aforementioned Nights at the Aquarium, and Fan of the Band, both of which – somewhat unexpectedly – have shades of Paul Simon) seem to be edging towards new pathways. Two clear highlights of the LP are the almost glacial Icy Paw, and Pilate – both of which benefit from Andy Bell’s excellent, deft production touches. Repeated listens on headphones are rewarded with layer upon layer of subtle detail in the mix. As ever, long-term collaborators such as Paul Ambrose, Lucy Farrell, and Pete Flood are integral to the community spirit that courses through these songs too. There’s a palpable camaraderie that jumps out of the speakers and manifests as genuine warmth – and this is never more evident than on the extraordinary closing track, Pilate, which actually dates back to a session in 2016 that essentially served as the genesis of the Hudson label.

In short: Clifftown is another fine LP from one of the finest songwriters (that I know of) in the UK. Boulter’s music has often looked to the colourful history of the Estuary for inspiration, but never before has he documented this particularly English suburbia in such a rich and evocative manner. It also helps that – in tracks such as The Slow Decline, Simon of Sudbury, and Remnants – the record contains some of his most impressive, and gently-experimental, songs to date. Now, I could keep writing, delivering hyperbolic sentence after hyperbolic sentence, but it’s probably best to let you scroll down, listen to three tracks, and form your own opinion. In terms of my one though; I wholly recommend. It’s a richly observed, life-affirming work, and – like its predecessor – sure to be cropping up on more than a few end-of-year lists.

Clifftown is released on April 23 through Hudson Records. You can pre-order the LP here.


A track by track guide to Clifftown, with MG Boulter

Photo credit: Jinnwoo

Originally I’d wanted to publish a piece on the album alongside an interview with Matthew regarding its themes and the recording process. However, if you saw my short piece on Midnight Movies back in early March you may well be aware that he’s produced a podcast series that ties in with the record. So far there have been three episodes released – all of which I’ve found immensely enjoyable – which are available wherever you get your podcasts from. Anyway, between this and the in-depth interview I published last year to launch this blog, I felt that it would risk treading old ground. With this in mind, I asked Matthew whether he’d consider writing a short track-by-track guide to the LP instead. Ever the professional, he already had one written and ready to go.


Midnight Movies

I walk around the streets of Southend-on-Sea and its suburbs at night. In the summer the seafront is alive with people and in the 1990s boys used to descend with their souped up cars and slowly crawl around the loop of the esplanade. It used to feel so dangerous driving down there with my dad when we were kids to drop relatives off on the other side of town. It was like living in a movie scene with all the neon lights and fairground sounds.


Soft White Belly

The old lady referred to at the beginning of this song was someone I had once observed standing in an empty arcade in the off season and with a small plastic tub of pennies she was methodically feeding the one armed bandits. It looked like an Edward Hopper painting, the last bit of life before the void. On the opposite shore to Southend is the Hoo Peninsula and the Isle of Grain in Kent. It is dotted with vast silos and chimneys which have been a constant backdrop to my living here.


Clifftown

Southend is a place where kids grow up and then ninety percent of them flee for London after working the menial jobs at the co-ops and curry houses. They then return to raise their own kids here. It’s the natural cycle like salmon swimming upstream.


Nights at the Aquarium

All seaside towns have an aquarium. Southend’s aquarium sits at the east end of the seafront. It emits salty mudflat smells and is usually full of excited and noisy kids. The cafe has porthole windows and it’s nice to sit there at weekends and pretend you’re out at sea. This song is about losing your troubles in the quiet subterranean world of water. 


The Author of All Things, She Speaks

This is an esoteric song written about the patterns beneath the plough, the layers of life that have gone before us which accumulates whether we are aware of it or not. 


Icy Paw

Kids jump off the quays and jetties in Old Leigh during the summer. It’s a dangerous pastime as many harbour stumps and fishing detritus lie just beneath the water.  I was thinking of the jetty on Canvey Island when writing this song. It’s a huge finger pointing out to sea and was used for pumping oil into the nearby Shellhaven. Local heroes Dr Feelgood named their debut album after it and sang about the oil refinery, its flames burning in the night.


The Slow Decline

This song starts in Peter Pan’s Playground theme park (now known as Adventure Island) where there is a small stage under the rollercoaster. Presenters take to this stage in the summer and over blaring music they pump the children up into fairground ecstasy. Southend has a superb homeless charity and sadly in the summer months, some years back, homeless people were setting up makeshift camps on ‘the cliffs’. I reference them here standing under the Arches, which is a nod to the row of beachside cafes which are housed in the arches under the road that leads up the cliff.


Simon of Sudbury

If you live in Clifftown you go on holiday elsewhere. Simon of Sudbury was the Archbishop of Canterbury during what was commonly known as the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381. He was beheaded by the rebels on Tower Hill in London. Someone retrieved his head from a spike and took it back to a church in Sudbury, Suffolk where it remains on display to this day. This song is about my quest to visit it.


Fan of the Band

This song is a homage to the pub rock gigs I used to play on Saturday nights in my younger days when the pubs were full of characters. These people, who had seen the first great era of local bands like Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hotrods, would always be offering you drunken advice as they propped up the bar.


Night Worker

When I first began gigging in London I often found myself running down Fenchurch Street for the last train home. The cabbies would always be there having a smoke and waiting for those who missed it so they could get a fare for the way home. The City is gloriously empty at night and in the foyers of the huge glass towers of insurance companies and banks you will often see lonesome security guards whiling away the night. It seems very romantic to me. 


Remnants

A song about those times you find a camera full to the brim of a past life.


Pilate

What if Pontius Pilate had been sent to Southend-on-Sea instead of Judea? I wonder sometimes if Southend is just a provincial identity forgotten by the louder noise of London. 


For more information on the project, including loads of interesting bits on the podcasts, you can check out Matt’s blog.


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Girl From Winter Jargon – Song for the Waves / Matilda

Photo credit: Mark Blizard

Since starting this blog I’ve yet to encounter another piece that has kicked, screamed and fought as much against being compiled as this one has. Thwarted by a comedy of errors ranging from unseen emails languishing in junk folders – with both parties wary of sending potentially irritating follow-ups – to delays caused by two house moves (one each), it’s a piece that originally was intended to coincide with the release Girl From Winter Jargon’s recent double A side 7″ back in February: the brilliant Song for the Waves / Matilda. Naturally all of the limited edition lathe-cut physical versions (released through the North East’s Butterfly Effect label) are long gone now, but the good news is that you can obtain both – as well as her debut single from 2019, Without Apology – as downloads via Bandcamp.

Before hearing either of the songs that make up the double A side, the first thing I did was was check out a live performance of Without Apology. I’ve embedded the YouTube clip somewhere below in the second half of this piece, and given that you’ve read this far, I guess it would go without saying that I thought it was great. It’s the perfect introduction to what she does too; kind of like what you might get if you dropped The Cure, Journal for Plague Lovers Manics, Pixies, Shakespeare’s Sister, Thom Yorke, The Anchoress, and Tori Amos into the large hadron collider. Or nothing like that. Essentially Girl From Winter Jargon is making precise, literate alternative post-punk with a hint of a pop edge and it’s not difficult to see why plaudits have come from the likes of BBC Introducing and 6 Music.

With its layers of intricate squealing guitar, slap bass, shattering glass, and spectral harmonies, Song for the Waves is an inventive and muscular beast with a healthy dark streak of self-referential humour running through the lyrics that confidently walk a line between earnestness and everyday vernacular. A couple of favourites include ‘You said you would never hear a happy song from me / I maintain that you were never listening properly‘ and ‘Judges judge you, counselors counsel, teachers teach / Come and do the job that you signed up for / Make your mind up please’. It’s bold and impressive stuff, and for a song with a fairly dark sting in its tail, remarkably light.

If Song for the Waves represents an oncoming twilight, then its companion piece, Matilda, is very much the daylight that balances it out; specifically that golden hour where the light falls just right and everything looks glorious. A more laid-back affair with a much slower tempo, it’s a gorgeous song (I don’t really want to use the term ‘ballad’) that calls to mind, among other things, The Bends-era Radiohead. Its gentle atmospherics and shimmering arpeggios gradually build in the manner of something like Fake Plastic Trees, with the dialled-back arrangement carving out acres of space for the vocal to take centre stage. Again it’s an interesting lyric – based on the Roald Dahl story – and the delivery is exquisite, in equal parts vulnerable and searingly powerful. As with Song for the Waves, the arrangement and production are such that I’d advise you plug in a semi-decent pair of headphones, close your eyes, and let these songs carry you off somewhere.


A conversation with Girl From Winter Jargon

Photo credit: Rob Irish

Despite calling these things ‘conversations’, usually when I put them together they’re the result of me sending several questions across to an artist and then awaiting their response. It’s something I always look forward to – reading their answers – and I hope that it interests other people too. Anyway it’s a misleading yet aesthetically pleasing term for what I often fear might be seen by some as a glorified questionnaire, but I’ve yet to find a better alternative. The reason why I’m talking about this is because this time I thought it would be interesting to send questions across piecemeal, wait to see where the responses went, and allow them to dictate where the so-called conversation would go next. In an ideal world I’d have the time, energy, and windows of opportunity to do interviews over Zoom etc. like everybody else, but alas our son is very erratic in his sleeping patterns – well, he’s pretty erratic in everything he does (but hey, that’s neurodiversity for you!).

So you probably wouldn’t know any different from reading through this, but what follows is an interview conducted over several weeks via email and Instagram. Thanks to Rachel for sticking it out and providing some really great insight into her work.


• I’m intrigued by your name, which is quite unusual to say the least…

Winter Jargon was formerly a band, but it’s also a made-up phrase that I used to write everywhere (and say to myself) from being young. The complete sentence was always, “O’ for the winter jargon.” Most people assume I’m Girl From Winter Jargon. They’re not wrong, but I don’t quite think of it that way, because I’ve always thought of Winter Jargon as a place. (Or possibly a state of mind?? I’m not sure). It was born out of childhood imagination. Am I making any sense here??? 


• Ha, I think so. Now that you mention the idea of a place, it kinda does. I think it’s a great name anyway; at first I was drawn by how jarring it is, and how I just couldn’t process it… and even now, having a clearer idea of where it’s coming from, it still feels pretty odd. Also, I can’t help but wonder what kind of place Winter Jargon is?

I always imagined it as a wide open wintry landscape; the kind of space where there’s very little concealing your view, so it’s virtually impossible to gauge distance, because distance is infinite. White. Cold. Sensory. Peaceful. Solitary. Powerful. But there’s also hidden forests and sheltered areas to live in, with bonfires and cosy, whimsical elements. The laws of physics can be bended and reshaped there. (If you want them to be!) 

I was drawn to the word ‘Jargon,’ because I liked the idea of hidden meaning within language. It’s that whole idea that there are certain things which can be concealed from others that are beyond their comprehension and understanding. I like to imagine that a younger version of myself actually found that place and now inhabits it, hence, “Girl From Winter Jargon!”


• Who would you say are your main influences? Matilda really reminds me of Radiohead around the time they made The Bends. To my ears it doesn’t sound a million miles away from something like Fake Plastic Trees. I love the melody, and the way your vocal just goes everywhere… high, low, almost raspy in places. And your guitar playing is quite something (particularly on Song for the Waves). I can definitely hear early Manics in there too – glimmers of Gold Against the Soul or The Holy Bible in places. Then there’s those kind of spectral backing vocals…

That’s funny, (and interesting), because you’ve actually pinpointed some of my biggest influences… but I wouldn’t necessarily have made those specific connections to the actual songs. If anything, I’d say there was probably a conscious influence with Radiohead for Song For The Waves (the erratic-ness of the guitars in Paranoid Android shall we say) – but now you’ve mentioned the Manics, that makes absolute sense too. I love James Dean Bradfield’s spiky, angular guitar solos especially in mid-90s era. And yeah, I can actually see what you mean with the ghost vocals too, though I don’t think I would’ve spotted it! Matilda definitely has a 90s vibe I think, so the Bends comparison is pleasing. 

I think that compositionally, I like to pick and choose from a variety of genres and influences. I like a lot of 90s alternative guitar aesthetics; grunge and indie… I like a lot of 50s & 60s music, though I’m not sure to what extent (if any) those influences creep into my music. Classical music. Jazz music. I was a big Tori Amos fan growing up, so there’s more than likely the occasional Tori note in my vocals. There’s also a band called the Dresden Dolls who had their own unique brand of “punk cabaret” or dark cabaret. They’re a piano/drums combo and I really love the quirky, theatrical elements in their music. When I was younger, my ears always honed in on melody and harmony. In recent times, I seem to be more drawn to music that is challenging and mentally stimulating; rhythmic, complicated stuff, like Primus for example. As time goes on, I suspect I might become increasingly interested in odd time signatures, but I’m not quite there yet.


• How does a song typically come together for you? Are you a journal-keeper? Are you building everything up from loops? I think there’s something really interesting about how your songs seem to be built over these unwinding figures and odd, disjointed melodies rather than bog standard chords – which everybody does…

Initial ideas for songs usually happen very quickly and unexpectedly. I could be out on a walk or watching television etc. My phone is full of voice memo song sketches, often recorded during inconvenient moments, for example, I was once watching a film at the cinema, didn’t want to miss any dialogue and resorted to humming gently into my phone! Other times it’ll happen in moments of procrastination. Rehearsing for gigs etc… 

In more recent times, I’ve written new songs based on accidental short loops that I’ve found within other songs I’m working on. I’ll end up duplicating and renaming the project so that I can build something on the accidental loop. If any of those songs surface, I imagine they’ll be quite strange! 

Ideas themselves are driven by distraction and never in short supply, but it takes me a long time to actually complete my recordings. I’m indecisive and don’t always choose the easiest or obvious route. I’m fortunate to have found Rob Irish, who is able to make sense of what I want within a mix! 


• You play quite a range of instruments on your stuff. I was particularly drawn to the clarinet weaving around the guitar on Without Apology. I was wondering how you started out, and how you ended up playing so many instruments to such a high standard?

With ‘Without Apology’ being my solo debut, the clarinet parts were important! I began lessons when I was 8 years old. Presumably due to a lack of school funding, the entire class were made to take some sort of audio music test and four of us were then deemed ‘worthy’ to learn a woodwind instrument of our choosing. I couldn’t read music, but nevertheless continued with the clarinet lessons throughout school. I even joined the school woodwind band (which was pretty much mandatory) and wasted everyone’s time staring blankly at sheet music while playing the notes I thought sounded right! I think having ‘official lessons’ served as justification with certain teachers to ‘grant access’ to the music rooms during break and lunch times. The doors were usually locked but I would always find ways to sneak in. The head of music didn’t like me and was always kicking me out. I think there was a huge amount of snobbery that existed toward self-taught musicians. Playing by ear was discouraged, never nurtured. All I cared about was getting access to those pianos. I was obsessed! Shutting me out only made me more defiant. With pianos, you’ve a very clear visual of all the notes laid out before you, which I think helps you make better sense of how they relate to one another. From there, I suppose it’s a case of adapting the same rules to other instruments? I think I was about 14 when my older brother bought himself an acoustic guitar beginners’ bundle. He didn’t take to it. I did. I still have the guitar. She’s called Lucy.


The production is amazing. I love the clarity and precise nature of your arrangements… again, the intricacy of the different parts all complimenting eachother. Could you talk about your recording process? Also you mentioned your collaborator Rob Irish earlier, and I was curious as to what he brings to the mixing and mastering process…

Thank you. I record all the parts myself at home; it’s quite a slow, painstaking process. I like to take my time and try different things before making any final decisions. My arrangements will often evolve naturally over time; I’m always in favour of trying to capture accidental, ‘of-the-moment’ weirdness where possible, but at the same time, everything is carefully considered and deliberate, so maybe there’s a blend of both extremes? Home recording is a relatively new thing to me and I’m still finding my way with it. Moving forward, I’d ideally like the execution to become quicker; more primal, less obsessive.

When it comes to mixing/mastering, I know how I want my music to sound but I can’t quite get it there myself, hence the need for assistance. Rob Irish is a very good match for me in that respect because his qualities are helpfully counteractive to mine; he is patient, orderly, unassuming and reassuring. There always reaches a point with my music where I’ll completely lose perspective. I overthink. I get indecisive and overwhelmed and will start to doubt myself. Having an outsider perspective is therefore important. I’d never want to work with someone who was opinionated or forceful with their views, and I definitely don’t want to be told what to do. Rob doesn’t do that. He is respectful and objective, but is also happy to step in and make decisions when asked. With the latest releases, [Song For The Waves & Matilda] I recorded around 100 individual tracks a piece, and sent them through to Rob, along with an initial rough mix and many, many notes. We’ve yet to work together in the same room. Quite literally, hundreds of messages and (hilarious) audio clips will be sent back and forth between ourselves, revising and revising, until we’re both happy with the final result. Somehow, Rob is able to make sense of the chaos. His own original work with The Black Sheep Frederick Dickens is very grand-sounding, cinematic and experimental; that’s actually the reason I wanted to work with him. Listening to a person’s own work, (as opposed to the work they do for other artists) gives you a better sense of who they really are, and what they might be able to bring to the table. In production, “bigger” does not necessarily equate “better,” but it’s good to have options. I sensed he would know what to do with multiple layers and would not be fazed by my weirdness!


• One of the things that jumped out at me was that the double single came out on limited edition 7″ vinyl, with the hand-printed sleeves. I was interested in what draws you to the physical format, and also in the print that forms the cover…

Honestly, as a listener and fan, I get a bit annoyed when something isn’t available on a physical format, so naturally, I want to apply that same basic principle to my own releases. Having something that is tangible and visual to accompany the music is important; more of the senses are involved and it’s a lot more personal. The record was released with Butterfly Effect from Darlington. Every month, they release a small run of limited edition, lathe-cut 7” vinyl featuring music made by Artists from the North East of England. The idea is to create something that is highly unique and collectible. With my own release, I included a card with an envelope, three hand-made lino prints, lyrics, download codes and a hand-written ‘thank you’ on a small piece of paper. The cover artwork itself features a character I made up called Daniel; he’s a visual representation of Song For The Waves. A lot of the song’s lyrics feature in the design itself: elephants, knives, radio waves, breathing in ions etc. He has a bass clef for an ear and I’d say around 90% of Song For The Waves’ bass line is slapped, so it sort of fits?


You can find more information on Girl From Winter Jargon on her website and on Bandcamp.


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