Babe on new album Kiss & Tell

babe

This interview originally featured in The Skinny

We meet up with Gerard Black at Glasgow’s Art School, to talk about the evolution of Babe and to find out more about latest LP, Kiss & Tell

On the surface Babe seem standard fare – four lads on vocals, synths, drums, guitar and bass. But the masses of collective musical experience, tastes and influence that filter through the quartet have seen the pieces fall properly into place on their forthcoming second album, with Babe having refocused and refined their sound. Kiss & Tell proves the four-piece are more united as a group than ever, with a clearer musical aesthetic.

While the unequivocally talented Gerard Black remains front and centre in both songwriting and performing terms, the original line-up has been altered and the live set-up bolstered with the addition of John Baillie Jnr, ex-Dananananaykroyd and now of Bossy Love, on drums. Completing the line-up are London-based Thomas Ogden on guitar and Frenchman Amaury Ranger of François & the Atlas Mountains on bass.

Difficult to categorise but easy to be energised by, the band’s sophomore effort is an addictive mix of electro-pop, synths, offbeat R’n’B and Eurodisco awash with the impeccable falsetto-tinged melodies of Black, a singer and songwriter with an effortless star quality that few possess. Where their 2014 debut Volery Flighty flitted between styles and genres like an overexcited puppy, Kiss & Tell retains the group’s eclecticism but in a more measured manner.

The first album was pieced together over a few years, combining countless instruments and guests, including CHVRCHES‘ Lauren Mayberry. “All the songs were different from one another, but these ones we demoed as a band in the same room with the same set-up [which] made it sound more cohesive,” Black begins. “[Kiss & Tell] was all written in the same six months and all recorded in the same three weeks, and then produced and mixed in about a month.”

Self-produced by Black and Baillie Jnr, the record goes some of the way to recreating Babe’s thrilling full-band incarnation, despite its lack of live drums. Baillie Jnr’s input is a massive part of the energy of the live performance, and his production abilities steered the sound of the new record. This and his percussive skills were largely the reasons he was invited to properly join the band.

“I had a new tune that was more R’n’B,” Black begins. “[I asked John to] do a remix and he sent it back and it was like, ‘This is how it should sound.’ [We] had a three-day session and did every single song and we were like, ‘This is amazing’. We listened back and it was a bit too hyped up, we’d lost our little soft outer edge, so we went back in and eased up the compressors and turned everything down.” Then the band’s drummer at the time couldn’t make a gig – Baillie Jnr stepped in, and stayed. “I always knew he was a good drummer. He’s a total beast!” exclaims Black.

Black had stints living in France and Belgium, moving to London at the start of 2015 and returning to Glasgow a year later. The band is now split between London, Brussels and Glasgow but despite this they feel polished and united. “Sometimes we get together and write together. We do that more than we rehearse,” says Black. “Everyone is quite on it in our band, everyone has kind of written their own parts too which I think helps so they remember it and turn up. They’re the sort of guys that can improvise too.”

Lyrics don’t seem to take centre stage for Black. “I often feel lyrics get in the way of a good melody,” he suggests. “I hate it when you hear someone whining about something or being emotional about something. Who the fuck wants to listen to me? I try to make it as weird as possible but I also try to keep it poppy as well.

“Sometimes when I do songs I do it in the [Cocteau Twins vocalist] Elizabeth Fraser style, I sort of go for it and make up words and stuff and then I’m like, ‘I really like the way those vowel sounds go with that melody’, so I try to shoehorn words into it,” Black continues. “I do spend enough time on them to be proud of them, but it never starts with the lyrics. If I really want to get an idea into a song it’s more about the music first and the feeling of the song, and the words come last in terms of the structure.”

Babe reflects Glasgow’s diversity and acceptance of space for all styles in the music community. “It’s always been the way in Glasgow,” suggests Black, positive about the collective feel of the city’s music scene. “I’ve always felt like I haven’t really been part of a scene or anything but then I feel like the scene is more about everyone chipping in and sharing resources and ideas, inviting other people onto bills and so on.”

Their DIY approach is largely out of financial necessity, and technological availability. “I would love to go and work with a big hotshot producer but who’s going to pay for that? Not me, I don’t have any money!” Black admits. “I can’t really complain because I am getting by… but I don’t know how anyone else would do it. I certainly don’t know how anyone from Shettleston or whatever would be able to start up a band and think they might be able to take it seriously.”

With album three already written, Black hints at further reinvention of Babe. It will be self-produced again and hopefully with more of a live feel including live drums rather than programmed beats. “I think if anything it’s going to get smoother, if the demos are anything to go by it’s going to sound more like Sade,” he grins. But for now they’re ready to let Kiss & Tell into the world, and it’s bound to win hearts.

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Shake It Off: The Little Kicks interview

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This interview originally featured in The Skinny.

We catch up with The Little Kicks’ frontman Steven Milne to chat about their brand new album Shake Off Your Troubles and their ambitions for the future

Since 2013’s Put Your Love In Front of Me, The Little Kicks have been letting go of the anxieties of their younger years. That continues with fourth LP Shake Off Your Troubles and its carefully crafted indie-pop songs of acceptance, swollen with strings, synths and a quietly garnered ambitious self-assurance.

The band is older, wiser and clearly aiming higher. Unsigned but reemerging with the confidence of a slickly managed group with the backing of a major label, The Little Kicks’ newfound belief is largely attributable to the quartet’s driving force – main songwriter and frontman, Steven Milne. His wealth of industry nous, gained largely as booker for Aberdeen venue The Lemon Tree, has been invaluable for the band, but there’s also a divvying up of day-to-day duties between all four members, who sensibly treat being in a group like a small business.

“There’s no reason why we can’t make our artwork nice, and get vinyl, and just act professionally and confidently. That hopefully reflects in the music too,” suggests Milne. “We obviously would love to win a SAY Award or get a tour support with a big band, and why not? A few years ago we would have been like, ‘that’s not going to happen for a band like us,’ but there’s no reason why you can’t try. You’re only going to get it if you push yourself for it.”

Feeling slightly removed in Aberdeen from Scotland’s musical heart in the central belt, the band has perhaps had to push themselves that bit harder, and it’s paid off. “I sometimes see us doing similar shows to bands with management and labels and a lot more help than we have, and I think we’re obviously doing something right if we’re still there on the same bill,” he reflects. “We’re quite pally with a lot of big bands in Scotland and kind of see them as contemporaries in a way, although they’re doing much better than us and don’t have jobs full-time… that kind of thing does encourage you to try harder.

“You do see bands kind of leapfrog us in a way because we’ve been around for such a long time that you do think, ‘how come some bands are getting such and such and you’re not?’ But then we just quietly do what we do with the time and the budget and the resources that we have.”

Mastered at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in London, Shake Off Your Troubles was met with a different approach than previous records, with the band holing up in a lochside lodge in the Highlands to record it. Working 24/7 to get just the right aural aesthetic, Milne sometimes spent hours on solitary synth parts until they were exactly as he’d envisaged. After initial trepidation, the setup on the banks of Loch Ness afforded them the space and time to gain the confidence to experiment with new sounds and technical approaches.

“You’re quite exposed being in a band together, singing about things that are quite personal to you,” Milne admits. “There needs to be the ability to just try stuff without feeling judged, or that someone’s going to laugh at you for making a mistake. We definitely achieved that in the lodge, everyone was very relaxed and just trying things.”

Adding to the experimentation was the inclusion of the Cairn String Quartet on several tracks.“We’ve never had strings on a record before,” says Milne. “We would never have done that a few years ago; we would have just thought, ‘we can’t do that, we don’t know how to do that,’ but now there’s a bit more of a feeling of ‘let’s try’.”

Shake Off Your Troubles is far less crestfallen than previous work, with Milne admitting Put Your Love… was written at a vulnerable time. “I felt a little bit uncertain in the period of that last record but prior to the finishing stages of this one I was in a really good place,” he offers. “You get a little bit older and you realise you’re actually very fortunate, especially with all the stuff going on in the world at the moment, people have got a lot less than me. For me to be singing about being heartbroken didn’t really feel right. It was more about being a bit more grateful for what you’ve got and, I don’t know, just relax a little bit.”

He continues: “We had a bit of a turbulent time at the end of the last album. The band lost a close friend, which is reflected in one of the tracks pretty obviously; that’s our way of paying tribute. But other than that song we wanted to make something that was a pretty straight upbeat album.”

Doing things their own way has so far worked, with strong support from a variety of national radio, and anticipation around the new record’s release. While The Little Kicks wouldn’t rule out getting help if it was “the right deal”, they’re happy having full creative control, and they’re doing just fine.

“The music is the most important thing for us,” states Milne. “It’s not really our desire to become famous and all that bullshit, we just love playing live, we love playing gigs, and as long as it’s music that we believe in and enjoy playing we’ll continue to do that. Hopefully there’s people that come to see it and support it, and they have for the last three records or so, so that keeps us going.”

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Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

jescahoop

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

Jesca Hoop returns with her fourth solo album, following last year’s incredible Sub Pop-released Love Letter for Fire with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam. Signing to the label to release her latest material, Hoop’s new offering is as unique as it is universally empowering, ploughing the depths of fragility, defiance and everything in between.

Title track Memories Are Now is a strong, seize-the-day call to arms for the bereft. Uncluttered bass notes and a delicate beat strike under Hoop’s unbelievably versatile vocal, like Dolly Parton singing something Beyoncé might have penned after a particularly painful break-up.

The Lost Sky is similarly stark yet bleakly tender. Gentle strumming and simple string picks run through circular, repetitive verse, signaling a hurt without end. By the third track, Hoop’s voice takes another turn – flitting from smoky low notes to the top of her register in the same breath, as she explores the state of modern life and technology’s frantic influence over it.

Hoop’s lyrical phrasing and ability to bend her instrument to any style, from the country tick of Simon Says to the brilliant folk-pop of Unsaid, are astounding. The tribal thump and rallying cry of Cut Connection injects an angry energy to the record’s mid-point before the pure hymnal elegance of Songs of Old paints a vivid, string-plucked picture of the past, proving Hoop’s voice to be part opera, part gospel and capable of just about anything.

Pegasi is acoustic, country-lilted, breathy beauty. The production is honest and stripped back, letting her vocal gift and stunning songwriting shine. Album closer The Coming conjures a dusty desert outpost with lonely, distant guitar licks as the singer comes to terms with the loss of faith and an acceptance of the shedding of it.

Memories Are Now is a gorgeously delivered elegy to heartbreak and loss; powerful, perfectly executed songs to bring comfort and strength to the weary, broken and scorned.

 

 

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HQFU / Fair Mothers @ The Hug and Pint, Glasgow

fairmothers

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

It might appear odd to pair lo-fi Scots alt-country with melodic electro dance-pop, but Celtic Connections’ programming of recent years has been pleasingly eclectic. Perhaps raising an eyebrow from the trad-folk and roots purists, tonight showcases some of the finest new music to originate from the country’s north east.

A reasonably scant crowd gathers at The Hug and Pint, one of Glasgow’s best small venues. The 100-odd capacity room can be cramped and sweaty when stuffed full, but this evening there’s breathing space to comfortably appreciate the sounds. It’s fairly quiet – this is one of many evenings over the packed Celtic Connections period which feature multiple excellent gigs at the same time in venues across the city – but those in attendance are well rewarded with a night of diverse beauty.

Fair Mothers is essentially the solo moniker of Aberdeen’s Kevin Allan, who seems at times a tentative performer. But with the backup of Pete McConville on electric guitar, and gorgeous vocal contributions from Kathryn Joseph for a chunk of songs from Marcus Mackay-produced debut Through Them Fingers Yours and Mine, Allan’s vulnerability sits more comfortably.

The confessional Burns is subtle and unguarded in its simplicity, whilst the stripped-back folk of Glitterball is bleak but beautiful, with Joseph’s instinctive harmonies injecting an uplifting warmth. Blind is superb, proving just how well the two singers voices complement each other. Similarly, set closer What Have I Done is a fitting finale – a lovely, delicate waltz full of heart and heartbreak.

Sarah J Stanley’s HQFU project combines mesmeric visuals, intelligent electronica and stunning vocals akin to Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn. Despite dark lyrics, it’s music to move to and the crowd responds accordingly. The blips and beats of highlights Dust & Dirt and Poison pulse through the veins like the elation that follows a cleansing cry.

Fair Mothers and HQFU demonstrate the strength and difference of the new sounds of Scotland. At either end of the musical scale, both acts deserve a wider audience, and with any justice they’ll soon see that reward.

 

 

 

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Lost In France @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

lostfrance

This review originally featured in The Skinny

In 2015 a group of scene-defining Scottish musicians escaped from the present to travel almost two decades back to their past. With the space and distance to reflect on their collective youth, revisiting the French town of Mauron where they played a small festival in 1997, they uncover the scale of the impact their exuberance and self-belief has had on the story of independent music.

Lost In France is director Niall McCann’s intimate, innovative portrayal of the mid-90s Glasgow music scene and the rise and significance of seminal Scottish record label Chemikal Underground. It is poignant, inspiring and sincere, and despite missing two crucial characters on the recent trip (Aidan Moffat and Alun Woodward) due to schedule clashes and personal circumstances (though the pair are omnipresent in the film), it’s the story of the interwoven lives of a core group; Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, who along with the inimitable RM Hubbert once booked bands for the 13th Note in Glasgow, Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite and three quarters of The Delgados and founders of the influential Chemikal.

Each character’s tale intertwines, awash with both humour and a sorrowful reflectiveness, every central figure given due focus and reverence. From Hubby baring his soul on a ferry, to tender moments between former Delgados, industry lynchpin and successful solo artist Emma Pollock and producer extraordinaire and drummer Paul Savage; to Kapranos’ slight sheepishness surrounding his band’s phenomenal rise in the face of others’ apparent lack of success, McCann shows his subjects truthfully and sympathetically.

But perhaps the film’s most touching moments – amidst the swelling sense of pride for the central belt’s impressive DIY ethos and creative output, and the enveloping, era-defining soundtrack – come from the emotions shown by Braithwaite and Chemikal/The Delgados’ Stewart Henderson. Henderson’s passion for music, his anger and dismay that the likes of The Phantom Band never stood a chance, and his fear for the records that might never be are all candidly revealed, the bittersweet aftertaste of devotion and commitment to a cause ravaged by a rapidly changing industry landscape.

The event is tonight simulcast throughout cinemas in the UK and Ireland, and this evening most of the main protagonists reunite as supergroup The Maurons following the screening, with Pollock and Hubbert initially the central focus for their co-written Monster in the Pack, all the more beautifully bolstered by tonight’s superb backing band.

Then it’s a tribute to 80s inspiration, with Braithwaite taking the lead to cover The Jesus and Mary Chain and Kapranos and Pollock joining the guitarist for shared vocal duties for a brilliant version of The Pastels‘ Nothing To Be Done. The Franz Ferdinand hit Jacqueline is almost as frenetic and punchy as its early noughties incarnation and it’s a treat to witness Savage on stage behind the kit again. Kapranos returns to the frontman role for the punk romp frivolity of Owl in the Tree from lost favourites Trout before the band departs too soon after just a handful of songs.

DJ sets from the likes of Miaoux Miaoux follow at the aftershow, as does an ear-bleeding, hair flipping, riff-shredding cacophony from more recent Chemikal signings Holy Mountain. But it’s the film that leaves an indelible mark, with its stories that needed to be shared, and its celebration of a musical history that must be preserved, cherished and lauded.

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Kid Canaveral’s Lumber Party II @ Stereo, Glasgow

kc

This review originally featured in The Skinny.

A troupe of nuns adorned with eye patches and smears of lipstick, a raffle, electro and indie-pop, drink-fueled dancing, and a SAY Award winner at a tiny piano; what more could you want from a Saturday night? Lost Map’s foray into events continues with the second installment of Lumber Party – a loosely Valentine’s Day-themed celebration of diverse, energetic entertainment.

Lumber Party II, put on by Lost Map lynchpins Kid Canaveral, is seven hours of eclectic enjoyment, kicking off with the beguiling Kathryn Joseph. Standing behind a small plinking piano and hand-pumped harmonium, the songs become new entities. The high-pitched clink of the toy keys gives a sinister edge to the likes of The Worm and new song Tell My Lover, but allows Joseph’s bewitching, distinct vocal to be the central focus. Despite tracks that sit deep in the heart of darkness, between songs she’s as engaging and funny as ever. Rounding off the set with These Three Desire Lines, written last year with The Twilight Sad‘s James Graham but tonight sung alone, it’s entrancing even in its stripped-back, solo state.

London-based trio The Drink inject some 90s nostalgic guitar riffs into the basement space, ramping the sound up loud. Lead singer Dearbhla Minogue’s vocal is deceptively sweet whilst packing a punch as they power through some straight up pop-rock. Next up are Kid Canaveral, tight through tracks from their latest album Faulty Inner Dialogue and previous two records, despite some technical glitches. Pale White Flower and Her Hair Hangs Down are highlights, as is bass player Rose McConnachie’s deadpan disapproval for You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night. The Canaverals are in fine form, as hosts and performers, with most of the band later resurrected in another guise – the prodigious cover choir, Rides of Christ.

From Bowie and Talking Heads to TLC, the fully decked-out Rides spill over the stage in eye patches and eye shadow, doing an amazing job of covering all manner of artists. There’s sing-a-longs aplenty and Kate Canaveral is outstanding during Cher’s Believe – serious stuff with the added aid of vocoder for ultimate authenticity.

Artist Sarah J Stanley in her HQFU incarnation is perfectly pitched for the post-1am crowd. With a sharp visual setup enhancing the club feel, the enduring revelers are rewarded with an excellent set of instinctive beats and stunning pop vocals.

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Meursault – I Will Kill Again

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This review originally featured in The Skinny.

When main protagonist Neil Pennycook called time on Meursault in 2014 after three albums proper, fans hoped it wouldn’t be the last they’d hear from him. Transforming into Supermoon, Pennycook carried on, but the unexpected resurrection of his former guise has yielded beautiful results.

The reclamation of Meursault with I Will Kill Again feels like a glimpse of hope amidst heartbreak, or rather a story of sufferance coupled with an emerging determination to carry on. The Mill is delicate keys and drifting guitars that cradle an acceptance of the everyday. ‘We’ve seen it all before / I know now what must be done,’ proclaims Pennycook with his distinct anguish.

With the humdrum comes realisation and resignation, and another dip into disappointment. Ode to Gremlin is a gorgeous ode to the futility of figuring out heartbreak as he sings, ‘The last thing the world needs now / Is another song about the fucking sea.’ Written originally as a rock album, the dissolution of Mersault’s former live line-up led to the arrangements of the tracks changing over time, and there’s a gentle elegance to the songs.

Oh, Sarah is a succinct sea shanty-esque dedication to a fictional ghost, with Pennycook’s vocal taking on a distant quality, singing far from the mic with wild intent, whilst Belle Amie slows the pace before his trademark wail is unable to be contained as the track builds. I Will Kill Again has a soaring, filmic quality as its narrator recounts how time changed and dulled affection, while closer A Walk in the Park is a glimmer of tainted, restrained optimism.

I Will Kill Again is a strong first release of the year for Song, By Toad records, from the artist that properly launched the label back in 2008. Filled with majestic, sorrowful beauty and touches of light, it’s a welcome return for one of Edinburgh’s most treasured acts.

 

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