Tuesday, 11 February 2014

PAWS

Channeling Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr  and Archers of Loaf into an impassioned cacophony of noise, melody and lyrical sincerity; Phil, Ryan and Josh of PAWS left behind their various backwater hometowns of rural Scotland to thrash it out in Glasgow before signing to Transatlantic indie uber-label Fat Cat. Having just returned from their latest US tour - a trip that also saw them record their second album in upstate New York - I spoke to singer Phil, bassist Ryan and drummer Josh about musical epiphanies, snobbery in skateboarding, posers, existentialism and death.

Ryan, Phil and Josh. San Francisco, 2013.

You've just flown back from LA. How was America?
Phil: It was great. We flew out on the first of November to New York, so we were in this place called Highland Mills about an hour outside Manhattan, where our label boss Adam has a house out in the woods, and he has a log cabin thing in his garden that has a recording studio in it. We were there for the first two weeks recording our new album. We'd been talking about going over there to record our record for a couple of months now so it was cool to actually get it done and know that we had a tour to go straight into after we'd finished it. It was a headline tour, and we started in Philadelphia and did a run of east coast shows, then we made our way over to the west coast. We'd never been to the west coast before.

You'd been to the east coast before?

P: We'd done two other tours this year, that was our third tour of the US this year. Two east coast tours. One in March, then we went to South By South West at the same time, then in June we went back and did another east coast run. The plan was to get us out to the west coast before the end of the year, there was a bunch of people out there who hadn't seen us before that wanted to see us play. We did like 5,500 miles in three weeks. Our tour manager Brendan was like a superhero, he was just pedal to the metal every day. One day he had to drive from Seattle to San Fransisco, and that's a sixteen hour drive...


Fat Cat have got offices in Brighton and in New York. Seems like they're quite keen to push you to America. Are you more appreciated there?
Josh: Probably because America's so vast. You just have to hammer it. We've done so much in the UK that we just want to do America now.
P: Being on a label with presence in America definitely helps. I can't even think how many shows we've played in the UK in the last couple of years. Hundreds. First time we went to London there were 30 people there, but then you go back, and you build it. It was surreal, in March we went to New York and there were 80 or 90 people at our first show there. I think because we did well on our first trip there, they wanted to keep getting us back. We're getting loads of good press over there, which could be because we've played with a lot of bands from America when they've come over here. Our first ever show was opening for Sub Pop band Dum Dum Girls. Then every show we got offered seemed to be with American bands. 

You sound like an American band, but in a good way. You sound like lots of good American stuff.
P: Sometimes my voice comes out a bit American, but I think that's just from hanging about with a lot of them. And I guess it's just the music we've grown up listening to.
J: Even going back to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, they were trying to sound like American bands.

Phil skates.

You were on Gerry Loves Records weren't you? That's not actually Gerry Love's (from Teenage Fanclub) record label, is it?
J: They love Gerry Love.
P: The guys who run Gerry Loves Records, I think they became best pals in Aberdeen, listening to Teenage Fanclub, and I think the first gig they went to together was Teenage Fanclub. They're obsessed with Teenage Fanclub. They're the best guys.
J: They're like our spirit guides.
P: They came to see us one night in Edinburgh, and bought us loads of beers afterwards. They're the best dudes because they just love music and care about music and don't care about any kind of label bullshit. They just release music from their friends' bands and they really care about it. Our goal with the band at that point was to get one of our songs on a 7", then we'd have done everything we wanted to do. They offered to do that so we were just totally beyond stoked. I don't think anybody would have thought anything would have gone as far as it's gone. At that point we were content with what had gone on, but when they gave us that 7" we had something to push, and tour with. They really fueled the band in a big way. There wasn't loads of press and it wasn't on a big label, but just in giving us this thing that was ours to play shows with and tell people about. It was cool to be able to pass it on to other musicians. What's the guy from the Buzzcocks called, I always forget his name... 

Pete Shelley?
P: Yeah, I gave a copy to Pete Shelley.
Ryan: I remember that!
P: Yeah, you were there but you weren't in the band yet.
R: Just lurking around, ever hopeful.
P: That was the cool thing about that 7", they gave us a thing so that we could let people know that we were a band. They're a really great label. 

How did you go from there to Fat Cat, this big Transatlantic label?
P: With Gerry Love's we were never really 'on the label' as such. I guess we were just writing and gigging so much, we had enough stuff that could potentially be an album, and we were just like "Fuck it, let's keep going and see what happens". We never really shopped around for a label, or looked for it, we just wanted to do little releases with labels. We played a showcase festival in Inverness called Go North, and Alex who runs the British side of Fat Cat, he saw us at this venue that was this terrible old man pub, called 'Flames' or something like that...
R: 'Phoenix'. I think it's now called 'Deeno's'. With two 'E's...
P: Yeah. We played in there and it was the most rowdy Inverness show we'd ever had. We'd either played in places where it was really quiet, and we'd played in our friend's skate shop, called Creative Skate Store, when it got shut down after ten minutes. We had to lock half the people out. They're the best guys up here man, they're doing shit and keeping it real. Not only have they started a skate shop, they've started a place for youths in Inverness to go and hang out and have an identity. Inverness has been notorious for kids having nothing to do, but now there's a place where they can go and annoy the staff and play pool and drink tea and get to know the other kids, and they're all starting to skate. I used to work in a skate shop called North 57; I did my work experience there from school and I stayed on. When that shut down the whole skate scene in the Highlands just stopped. All these kids stopped skating and started drinking and smoking instead. The guys that run Creative have just made a go of it, they've revitalised it a million percent. They've got a skatepark coming next year.



You're all from small towns, and your music seems to be very influenced by that background. How much did small town life inform the music you make now?
P: A hundred million percent.
J: Boringness always breeds creativity.
R: I was joking about that the other day, because when we were on tour I got really excited about driving through a couple of these small towns that we knew people were from. The one I always talk about is Dayton, Ohio, where Guided By Voices and The Breeders are from. And also Dave Chappelle. I was so excited about driving through there, then we were there like "This is a total fucking shit hole", but of course it's a shit hole because that's the reason those guys did those bands. I think when you're in a small place you do feel compelled to do more.
P: I can't generalise, but I think if you live in a big city, and there's a lot of people who are like you... Say I'm a goth in Glasgow, then there's going to be other goths at school that I can relate to. If you're a goth in Tain you're getting burned at the stake. They hate you. You're more compelled to do something about it rather than just being all "Oh well, I've got my group".
R: People in cool cities still do great stuff but I think people from shit holes are more driven to do it.
P: In Tain there was literally three or four of us that were total freaks and liked that sort of thing, and we couldn't go to Inverness because there was nothing happening and we weren't old enough to go into places, so we would rent a Brownie hall or a Scout hall and put on a show that three of our friends would go to, and maybe their parents would stand at the back. And we'd be angry at them for supporting us because we were trying to do a punk thing. Haha! I think you're more compelled to do stuff if everything around you is shit. Especially if you get bullied and you're a bit different. One thing we were talking about the whole time we were away - if you're a skateboarder in America, you're cool. If you're a skateboarder here, you're scum. A lot of the reason I got into doing music was through the people I met through skateboarding. 

The music in skate videos?
P: Probably seventy five percent of my music tastes come from the first time I saw Sorry. Or the first time I got given the old Zero videos.


You released an EP called Misled Youth...
P: It's just a nod, but it has nothing to do with anything in that video. It's just my favourite title for a skate video, because that's exactly what it is. It always appealed to me. In the Highlands, if you're into that sort of thing, people look at you as if you are misled, a fuck up. Like if you want to roll around on a plank of wood and talk about music with your buddies, you're misled. It's not really what most people's grandparents or parents would see as normal. It was more about that. About being a freak. 

Ryan, you're the new guy. How did you come to be here?
R: I'm from Orkney, but it was through a bunch of people that I know from Inverness that I ended up meeting Phil. It was about six years ago and we were in different bands. 

And what were the names of these bands?
J: Kaiser Chiefs.
R: Yeah, Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi. Haha!
P: I was actually managing Chas n' Dave at that time.
R: These were the first bands we were in. Phil was about 15 and I was 19 or 20, and we were the only people there that took a smoke, so we went and hung out in the carpark. We didn't know each other but we knew everybody else from each other's band. Phil was like "I like Sonic Youth!" and I was like "Fuck! I like Sonic Youth! Do you like Dinosaur Jr?" "Yeah! I like Dinosaur Jr!" and it just kept going like this for ages and ages and he was weirded out that I knew all these bands and I was weirded out that he knew all these bands because the bands that we were playing for sounded nothing like these fucking bands. So we pretty much bonded there and then over a mutual love for all these weird bands. Eventually a few years later I bumped into Phil in Glasgow and it turned out he was starting another band, and I saw PAWS' first show at Stereo...
J: Were you at that?!
P: Were you at the first show?! That conversation I had with Ryan was the incentive for me to leave the band I was in. There was one dude in that band that liked the stuff I liked, but we were playing music like the Faint and stuff, kind of like electronic stuff.
R: Same with us.
P: It was either go to school or drop out and play in this band that I didn't really feel, but it was a bit more of an experience rather than sitting around in school. My mum was like "Fuck school, go and be in a band". So I did that but I wasn't happy, then I had that conversation with him and I realised there were more people - outwith this little group I was in - that were actually into the things I was into. So that was enough incentive to think "Well, fuck this", and move to Glasgow.
R: It was weird because I saw PAWS, and I ended up loving it, I thought it was great, and I actually ended up writing about it for a few different magazines, just local ones like The List and The Skinny. The first time I ever got a 'thank you' on the back of a CD was with these guys.
P: He even sang guest vocals with us a couple of times when he was drunk.


Phil ponders.

So you're like the Henry Rollins of the band, the fan who ends up joining.
R: That's the best thing anyone's ever said to me! 

Henry Rollins ruined Black Flag!
R: OK, that's the worst thing anyone's ever said to me! I hope I'm not going to completely ruin the band! Thanks Neil. Although Henry Rollins is a bit of a hero of mine. Although I know he can be a dick. So anyway they were playing a show at the GU, and for a laugh they said I should come up for the last song and basically just scream. I thought "I can do that!" We were always friends and we would see each other here and there while we were each doing other things. About six months ago I was walking home from work and I bumped into Josh's flatmate, who at the time had said about two sentences to me the whole time I knew him, and he said out of the blue "You might want to speak to Phil and Josh", and I hadn't seen those guys in a few months. He said "Matt's just left the band, I think they want you to join PAWS". So I walked in, and they had no idea I was there, and they started freaking out.
P: Matt had left the band, and it was a pretty stressful time; we were touring non-stop. We'd just come back from a European tour and a festival in Dublin that I think had destroyed Matt.
J: Because he was driving.
P: Yeah. He left and we had this American tour booked, and all this other amazing stuff, and we didn't know what we were going to do. We'd never thought about who we would want to play with because we had no idea he was going to leave. In my head the only guy that would make any sense at all would be Ryan, but we hadn't even finished discussing it by the time he came in. Because Josh's roommate had blabbed. 

Because you'd told him?
P: Not really, we were sitting there getting drunk having a conversation about who our favourite bass players were, and we said Ryan, and then he was there about two hours later.
R: It was really good for me, because for the first half of that year I was trying really hard to do freelance writing and stuff, and I was fuckin' dying on my ass. I was struggling to pay rent. I'd just got a job in a restaurant and I'd resigned myself to spending the whole summer, and probably beyond, working in this shitty job. And then two weeks later this happened, and they're like"Do you want to come to America with us?" Three weeks after that we're in America.
P: Our first American tour with Ryan was really great. We got to play with some of our favourite bands. It seemed to make more sense with this new format, where everybody was just ready to go into it and absolutely slam it when we were playing with bands like Fucked Up and stuff.


What was the story about Ian MacKaye inviting you round?
P: That was so surreal. When we met Ryan he'd been interviewing people, but more so for himself, and one of those people was Ian.
R: When we were over in America and these guys were telling me all where we were going, and I was like "Holy shit, we're playing DC!" I'd interviewed Ian before... My good friend 'Ian'... 

Mine too.
R: Have you interviewed him too? Gnarly! 

He's not an easy person to get to agree to an interview, so props.
R: That was the thing. I had done a few interviews before, and I was like "I wonder if I can an interview with someone I actually really like", because I got in trouble for trying to sort out my own interviews before, for other magazines because they said if I use their name and it doesn't go through it makes them look bad. 

Not The Skinny?
R: (nods) 

Sophie who runs it is just brilliant, but that magazine is so terrible.
R: I'm glad you said that man. I once got £20 for doing a 1,200 word piece. If I did the same thing for a newspaper I would have got a couple of hundred quid. 

Every album they review gets either three or four out of five. It's like they don't want to commit to anything.
P: Nothing's great, and nothing's shit.
J: That's basically a stupid system in the first place. You can't 'rate' something like that.
P: Why did Pitchfork give us 7.1? It's a good score, but what earned us that extra point-one?! What was the lyric that nudged it over? 

At least the Wire describe the music. Rather than trying to mark it out of something.
P: Pitchfork try to do that all the time, but they fuck it up. We were laughing about Pitchfork the other day because when Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie first came out the slated it, then when the reissue came out they bumped it up three points. How the fuck do you say something's shit then say it's great because it's aged? 

Sorry Ryan, go on.
R:After I got into trouble I thought about just doing it for myself, so I sent an email to Dischord asking how I would get in touch with Ian.
J: Ian at Dischord dot com?
R: Haha! Yeah. I got a reply back saying "Hi Ryan, this is Ian. When do you want to talk?" My mind was blown. If you've spoken to him you'll know, he's such a cool guy but he's very challenging to speak to. He's really accommodating but he's quite aggressive. 

He doesn't take a breathe, he doesn't pause or hesitate...
R: That was the coolest thing he said to me, he said "Just make sure you have a recorder because I talk lots and I talk fast". So when I knew we were playing DC, I - for a laugh - sent him an email, just to say we were playing. You never know, if he's around he might want to come to the show or something. He said he was going to be busy that night, but he might be able to get out later, but he was on the other side of town. Then he said "Failing that, let me know the next day and you can come over and I'll show you round Dischord". I was like "Fuuuuuuck!" Then we got the opportunity to come back here and play pretty much one of the biggest shows we could have played, which was playing with The Breeders when they did 'Last Splash'. They're one of our biggest influences, so we had to do that. We managed to fly back a a day early and play the show, which was amazing, but it meant we couldn't do the DC show. I emailed him back and thanked him for the offer, and said that hopefully we'd be back sometime soon and he said just to let him know.
P: It was weird emailing Ian MacKaye to say "Sorry we can't come to Dischord, we're playing with The Breeders". I was a bit gutted about not going to Dischord because I became obsessed with that kind of stuff because of Gray Matter...


In the Flip video?
P: That's exactly the reason I became infatuated with that label. It's really hard to find anything by that band online, or to buy their original releases. Dischord don't really press it any more because nobody really wants it. I was really excited about going to Dischord so I could ask Ian everything I wanted to know about Gray Matter. That was the first punk rock band I got into that wasn't from my older brother telling me about British punk, or Nirvana and stuff like that. I just watched that video over and over. To this day I think the soundtrack on that video is just ridiculous. A year after that I played my first gig, as a twelve year old at school, and we covered 'Burn No Bridges', the song in Boulala's part.
R: That's the thing. I'm a huge Minor Threat and Fugazi fan, but it's more the stuff he did around those bands that fascinates me. 

When I first heard Fugazi they were still active, and I was able to go and see them, but you must have heard so much stuff you'd have missed otherwise through skate videos.
P: I always find it intensely hilarious what the general public's consensus of what skateboarders listen to is. In reality, I wouldn't know who the Delgados were, or who Belle and Sebastian were, or Gray Matter and I wouldn't have listened to David Bowie if it wasn't for skateboard videos. And that's ridiculous! But as a young teenager, nobody in my family told me to listen to David Bowie. Skate videos are some of my favourite mixtapes.
R: I remember, another interview I did, with RM Hubbert. And he used to be really into skating. He's a huge Minutemen fan, and a Mike Watt fan, and he said that the reason he got into that was a Santa Cruz video. Streets On Fire. He said the soundtrack was pretty much all SST, so I went back and watched it and it was all Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, fIREHOSE...


Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai used to always bang on about how he was a skateboarder. Posing in NME or whatever. He's also the worst person I've ever interviewed.
P: Our friend Ben's in that band Fuck Buttons, and they were playing in Glasgow recently and we went down. Stuart's a big Fuck Buttons fan. I'd been skating all day and I had my board with me, and we're backstage drinking with Ben and Stuart's there, and he had these brand new fuckin' Rowleys on, and a Thrasher t-shirt and shit. He goes "Oh, do you skate? I skate." All this shit. I was just thinking "No you don't". After everybody cleared out I was skating there for about two hours while they were all drinking. It was in SWG3 and it's really smooth, and I was just doing stuff over the barrier from the stage - it's the perfect height to just fuck around in there. Stuart was just standing around watching and you could tell straight off the bat he doesn't have a fucking clue, it's all just an image thing for him. Maybe he can drop in or whatever, but you can instantly tell that if he skates he doesn't skate for the reason that he wants to be a skateboarder. He just wants to fulfill an image or something. It's quite sad. I'm not hating on Mogwai or Staurt Braithwaite but when it comes to bands attaching themselves to the whole skate thing it really pisses me off. I don't understand why anybody would want to adopt 'being a skateboarder' as a fashion thing.
R: You're instantly fake if you don't do it. 

It's like basing your image on what toothpaste you use.
J: Yeah! It's like if I went around dressed as a footballer. "Oh, do you play?" "Nah, I just like the stuff". Big socks with shinpads, sliding around the street in football boots.
P: Maybe Stuart does fucking skate, but I highly doubt it. 

I think he used to. As much as everybody used to. When Back To The Future came out or whatever.
R: Haha! He's maybe got a hoverboard. He can probably afford one.
P: You can tell. All the people I skate with, when they're walking around you wouldn't know they were skateboarders. Whereas all these people who don't skate, are definitely trying to look like they must be skateboarders. You can tell there are real people in music who do skate, because they're not hyping the fact that they do it. Like Odd Future, they're a prime fuckin' example of that. Some of those dudes in that crew are really good. Have you seen their Berrics edit thing?
R: It's maybe not quite the same because it's punk so maybe it's kind of expected, but Cerebral Ballzy and Trash Talk and stuff like that all skate. 

And Municipal Waste and all that. I think that comes from the whole Suicidal Tendencies thing.
R: Yeah. Those are a few bands who write songs about skateboarding, but it's because they skate.
P: There are so many bands right now that make me feel nauseous with the "We smoke weed, we surf, we do all that" stuff. It's like "No you don't, you live in Paisley. You've never seen a wave and you've probably only smoked council brown in your life". Everybody's banging on and writing songs about how their stoned, and skating all the time. Shut the fuck up. There's been an influx of bands like that, maybe because of Wavves. None of them skate. They don't say they do, but they've totally pushed this whole wave of bullshit. There are so many bands in Glasgow that just piss me off because they're so desperate to fulfill this stereotype. This surf-y, skate-y, smoking weed thing. When that becomes something you're aspiring to be, then you're fucked. It's not 'cool', it's a thing that you do. 


Didn't you get noised up outside the pub when you were wearing a Thrasher top?
P: Here's the thing. The whole Glasgow skate community is fucking bizarre to me. I'm not from here, and moving from Tain to here, I was thinking "shit, there's going to be so many more skateboarders here. I am stoked". And I moved into a flat that was across the road from Kelvingrove so I was going there every day when I moved there. And the fucking static that was involved with going to that park if you're not part of that crew or from one of the areas those guys grew up in is really sickening. I thought that if you were a skateboarder, and somebody else is a skateboarder, then you instantly have something in common. Like Andy White, he is the fucking dude. That guy rips so much harder than all of those guys and if he sees you trying something that you're not getting he'll come over and take your board and show you how to do it. He's such an inspiration for the skate thing in Glasgow, but he obviously wouldn't think that. He's so rad, but all the rest of those dudes are so caught up in this almost gang mentality. And that sucks. But one night i was in Sleazy's, and we had just came back from SXSW where Thrasher had asked us to play. We were playing with Wavves, Bleached, Trash Talk, all this shit, at the mini ramp watching Ben Raybourn slay the ramp. He was just destroying that mini ramp when we were playing. And then I come back here and I'm wearing this hoody that I got from Phelps - he was just giving out shit to all the bands - and after we got a write-up in Thrasher, and these guys were all "What the fuck you wearing that hoody for? Fucking poser." I had my board, and I'd been skating all day, and those guys were all "Come on then, tre flip". I'm not going to fucking jump for them. I just assumed that as long as you're rolling you're of a similar mentality. 

It wouldn't have been Tom Shimmin that said that.
P: Nah, Shimmin's cool. I don't know him, but I've seen him rip.



You've got a label.
P: It's me and Josh, with some other friends. It basically started by accident. As long as I've been making music with friends I've always made shitty CDs and tapes of said music to give away at gigs. I hate how the majority of bands in the UK will record demos and demos and they'll never release anything until they have a proper studio recording released. We didn't have money to go to a studio or anything like that, so anything we recorded, we saw as a good representation of what we were doing at the time. I'd buy 20 or 30 cassette tapes and dub them all just so we had something to give away at our shows. By the time we had three different tape releases people were asking about it, and what label it was on and stuff. We didn't really have an answer, but I thought that if I was doing it for my band I could do it for my friends bands, and maybe group it all together so that this stuff has a home. I guess we were running a label without thinking about it, so we decided we should give it a name and keep doing it. But I haven't done it for a while. One band we released just got way too much hype, because we were doing so much, and people knew it was our label. Because we were getting attention it felt like anything we did got attention too. That wasn't right because those bands were great on their own merits, rather than me stamping an approval on something. I don't really want to talk about that. 

Can you talk about who that band were?
P: They're called Honeyblood, and they're my ex-girlfriend's band. They recently got signed to Fat Cat. It's a load of bullshit basically. I put all my effort into releasing this thing for my girlfriend, then I got dumped and they got signed. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's essentially how it looks in hindsight. 

Can that go in?
P: Yeah, I don't give a fuck. It freaked me out because I was running a label on bedroom ethics, and I put this out because I loved someone, not because I thought they were going to be huge or anything. They could have done that on their own and I'd have had no attachment to it. we're going to release something properly now, we're going to do a 7" for Black Cop. 


Why did you put tapes out before? it's an awkward medium.
P: It was all I could afford.
J: You could afford CDs as well, but they're fucking shit. Tape sounds nice.
P: As annoying as they are, when you actually find somewhere to play it, it sounds great. Tapes are second to vinyl, then CDs are somewhere way off. I'd take MP3 over CD. I like tapes because if people own it they must really like you, because they have to go out their way to listen to it. You know if they're buying it they're actually gonna listen to it.
J: I don't have a computer or anything, and for a while I only had this old ghetto blaster than my grandma gave me. That was the only means I had to listen to music so I'd go round charity shops and buy stuff up. I found some Sonic Youth singles once. I'd just listen to tapes all the time, until Sean fucked it. Tapes are something you can do yourself, in the house. Unless you have a fucking vinyl press in the house then your next best option is tape.
P: It's hard because you need patience. I couldn't afford to buy the tapes and have them dubbed. I could afford to buy them and - with my ex-girlfriend's release - sit and listen to those songs a hundred times each. You can't turn it down or it doesn't go on the tape. It's not just like burning something on your laptop.


Phil, I know you lost your mum to cancer last year. She definitely seems to have inspired a lot of the music you do.
P: It's kind of more fucked up because - this sounds insane - but two days ago I found out that my dad isn't my dad. And I'm half Spanish. It's a really weird time to ask because this is even more important now than it was then. On the last day of our tour, in LA, my brother who lives there that I haven't seen for ten years disclosed this information to me because he felt like no-one else was ever gonna. He thought my mum was the only one that would ever tell me, but now he knew it was his job to tell me. I found out that the guy who I'd been believing was my dad for 23 years isn't. Obviously he still is, because he brought me up, but I don't really see eye to eye with the guy. I never have, and this is why, I guess. My mum was with this Spanish guy, and for the benefit of everyone I guess she decided it'd be a secret. There's an eleven year gap between me and my older brother, and I've had all of this shit my whole life. The first day I went to school, these kids were "Where are you from? You don't look like you're Scottish", and all this shit. There's been loads of gaps in my life that I've always just ignored, because I had no reason to believe that I wasn't related to my dad. We respect each other, but we have no similar interests, no involvement in each others' lives. It sounds like I'm making this up, but I found out yesterday that he now has cancer. So I found out that within two days of finding out he's not my dad. 

Have you spoken to him about him not being your dad?
P: Not yet. I've decided not to. So now my relationship with my mum is even more intense. My whole life, she brought me up under the pretense that I was special to her, that I was different to my other brothers. I thought it was to try to raise my self-esteem because I was a really depressed teenager, but I know now in hindsight that it was because she was obsessed with Spanish culture, and wanted to move to Spain and all this shit. And now I know that she was calling me special and all this stuff because I was a Spanish kid that she'd had. My whole life I had a really extreme relationship with my mum, because she was the only person other than my oldest brother telling me to pursue anything I wanted to do as long as I didn't do it half-assed and as long as I didn't fuck around. To the point where she let me drop out of school to be in a band, even if it was a shit band, as long as I was serious and wanted to learn from that experience and apply it to my life and figure out what I wanted to do. She was always pretty full on with always pushing me to do what I wanted to do, and not do anything that was boring or stagnating. When she got ill the band was just starting to do pretty well. The day before she passed away we had a gig booked in London. It was the gig that Fat Cat came to and decided they wanted to sign us. She was literally dying, and then eventually I had a choice between going to her funeral and doing this gig. I went to the gig, but I somehow made it back to Inverness on a bus to go to the thing, but she wanted me to do my own thing to such a degree that she didn't give a fuck if I missed her funeral. Before her passing I had this urge, this compelling desire to do these things, but now it's the only thing I have. It feels more natural. If I didn't do anything I wanted to it'd be like I was lying to her and to myself. Her whole life she'd just tell me to fuck complacency, and fuck where you're from, and fuck getting caught up in what other people think or expect of you. Just do everything you want to do. I guess the effect of losing someone that close to you is just to embody their life's efforts in encouraging you to do something and not give up on it. To follow through on the things you say you're going to do. I know a lot of people who shit about "I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that" and then months later they've not even lifted a finger to do anything. The positivity I got from my mum is just to encourage people I know to do things they want to. Don't be a dick, just do it. Otherwise you'll be sitting around when you're 60, if you're lucky to make it that far, saying "Why the fuck didn't I do that?" It's better to do something and fail than sit around on your ass getting old and boring and not try something you really care about. Live healthy and make sure you can pay your rent, even if only just. 


Plans for 2014?
P: I think we're going to tour, like three times as much as we did this year. The new album comes out in May. We're doing a full UK tour in February, then a European tour with We Are Scientists, who are fucking great guys. Then we're going back to America for more touring. We're doing a Highlands and Islands tour, Shetland, Orkney, those places.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Witch

It's pretty lazy to call any loud, bass-driven psychedelic rock 'Stoner Metal', but it happens all the time. Sometimes, I suppose the bands are happy with it. Weedeater and Sleep, you'd imagine, probably don't go out their way to distance themselves from the label. Queens of the Stone Age got called it for a while, but they didn't like it. Witch get called it quite a lot, just because they play that riff-heavy, bass-driven, propulsive, noisy rock music. They do tick a lot of the boxes that qualify a band as Stoner Metal, but there's so much more going on with them than that label would suggest. Formed in 2005 by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr and his friend Dave Sweetapple, Witch have their roots as much in U.S. hardcore as they do in metal - two genres that don't often see eye to eye - and while these influences are definitely identifiable in their music, the sound they make is simultaneously incomparable to either. We spoke to Dave just after he returned to the States following a trip to Europe.


How was Europe?
Europe was a lot of fun. I went along to tour manage part of the Earthless tour and launch the first round of decks the French and I doing on 1939, which included an Earthless board, but the plant never got them finished in time. The only item we had along with us was a 1939 collaboration t-shirt with Alan Forbes art on it. But yeah man, record shopping, good eats, and late night tourist shite made it all worth it.

Did you have a favourite town, or show?
I'd have to say London was my favourite town. I knew quite a few people that came out to the show and it was kinda like a party rather than a show where you pull into a town, play, pack up and leave. And of course, French and his wife Chrissie came out which was awesome. When he gets a few beers in him, he blossoms into a wonderful arsehole. He pretty much emptied the the backstage fridges of beer. Stood by me at the merch booth all night and yelled at people buying things. It was great fun, especially when the prospective buyer would ask for a deal on two or more items... He would swoop in and start berating them, "What the fuck do you think this is mate, a fucking bazaar in Marrakesh? You see the price. Fucking pay the man". I was laughing my ass off all night.


How did you meet French, and how did 1939 come about? I don't think too many people over here know much about that.
French and I met at a think-tank in Wyoming. I have no idea why we were there, except it was good food and beverage with a really nice outdoor pool. After a few more times of hanging out and having a mutual interest in skating and music, we decided to start this new company. Of course, he has been putting out boards for a long time through his Witchcraft Hardware brand, and I've been involved with releasing music for many years, so we thought... "Hey let's mix the two!" So we decided to start doing skateboard decks with band graphics on them, mostly in old school shapes. The first three decks were kind of a no-brainer... Witch, because I play in it, and the Earthless and Graveyard ones because it's like doing stuff for family. Coming up are boards for Doomriders and High On Fire, with a few more in the pipeline. It's not like this is a new concept, as there have been sick board designs in the 80s for bands like Metallica and Gang Green, The Big Boys and so on, but for me, those boards always meant something a little more than just a simple generic graphic. it was like wearing your favourite band on your t-shirt.


Do you like being called a Stoner band? I've always thought that term was kind of marginalising.
That's true. I have never liked that term. At first I was completely against it and to drive that point home, our label Tee Pee put some disclaimer in the press kit. It was sent around stating something to the effect of "Not to be pigeonholed in the Stoner rock category". But these days I don't really care. It's easier to call it that than say, "It sounds like Sabbath mixed with...".

What records made you want to form Witch, and make this music?
It wasn't so much listening to records that made us want to start Witch as it was a reaction to what was going on in our area (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) in the mid 2000s. Mascis and I more or less came from the same musical background, classic hard rock into punk followed by hardcore. We'd been going to these shows in our area, more as a social thing than even for the music itself. There was a whole thing going on in these hill towns, which at the time hadn't yet been called Free Folk or Freak Folk or whatever you want to call it. There were tons of bands and they were playing this mellow, folky, falsetto vocal, clanging, folk music... Not that it was bad but it just had so little energy. One day, J and I were talking to Kyle (Witch singer/guitarist) who at the time was playing in an eight-piece folk band called Feathers, making fun of the 'scene', and J starts talking shit about how when we were his age, we listened to and played music that had balls. Kyle more or less dared us to start playing with him and after a few practices, we decided to record the first LP.


Just after you formed Witch, Dinosaur Jr reformed. Were you worried that your drummer might end up being too busy with his old band?
No, I was psyched for him and the fact that his second wind swept in. It did mean not doing certain things at times but none of us had that 'do or die' mentality about the Witch 'making it'. We just pick and choose things that make sense these days.

Were you a fan of the Californian band Witch? Have you met those guys?
No, truthfully we'd never heard of them before. same goes for the African band called Witch. 'Witch' is a tough thing to Google or whatever because it's such a basic, common word. Upon first looking into the name, nothing else had appeared relating to a band using that moniker.

Do you listen to any music that might surprise people? Did your listening habits change over the first couple of years of the band? It sounds like they might have.
I used to be a partner in a music distribution company, and we carried anywhere between 300 to 400 labels at any given time, so it meant exposure to a lot of different bands and a lot of different types of music. If anything I've reverted back to rudimentary shit from my childhood and followed some of that lineage to find new things to listen to. Before the punk/hardcore days, it was all classic rock from me. When I got out of the distro racket, i pretty much stopped listening to new music, mostly because it had been a job. Then I got back into enjoying music.

What do you think of the hardcore scene these days?
I don't really follow the hardcore scene much these days. Like every genre, it has splintered so much that it's hard to keep track of what's out there. Like metal, it's become really watered down with tons of derivative bands. I'm not saying I don't still buy hardcore records, I'm just a lot more selective of what I do buy. Check out Obliterations. They're from Los Angeles and have that '82 style thing going on.


Did you know your Roadburn set was going to be released?
The German cassette?

Yeah.
Yes. Chris from the label asked about releasing a live Witch recording and I didn't really have much other than the Roadburn thing to give him.

What appeals to you about cassettes? It's quite an impractical medium.
Truthfully, nothing appeals to me about cassettes. I hate them as much as I hate CDs. I gave away almost everything I owned on cassette and CD, except for a few nostalgic things, like the first Bad Brains tape, and some other stuff form the early skate days... There's Raw Power- the Italian band- 'Live', the Toronto Hardcore '83 compilation, Direct Action, etc. These days I only have a basic stereo amp and a turntable at home. I got rid of the cassette and CD players. 

Witch isn't as full-time a project as it could be. Does that make it easier to make music, knowing everything's on your own terms?
Yes, the pressure isn't there to bang out a record every year and try to stay at the top of the heap. We do shows or whatever for fun and if we happen to record then cool, and if not, same thing. 

Witch isn't your day-job, is it?
No, I do a bunch of stuff. I work for a couple of record labels and do the 1939 skate thing as well. Witch is just one of the bands I play with. I just got the test pressings for a new project I'm doing with a few friends. There is no name attached to it yet, but it's it's more doomy that than the others. A drummer friend and I recorded the basics riffs, sent it to California where another friend added layers of guitar, and then the whole thing was sent to Bergen in Norway where vocals and Moog parts were woven into it. It all came back to Vermont where it was mixed and that'll come out later this year.


Can you tell us who's involved?
Sure, I play bass and the drummer is Terri Christopher from 27, who are on Relapse. The guitar was added by Tim Lehi. He's co-owner of Black Heart Tattoo in San Francsico and records solo stuff under the name Draugar. He's a sick artist as well. He did the last High On Fire album cover. The singer is Grutle, who is the frontman for the Norwegian black metal band The Enslaved.

Is that hard work? It sounds a lot more complicated than jamming with your friends in a studio.
No, it was quite easy and stress free actually, because you can do it on your own time without doing multiple takes as a band. The problem is that those freedoms eat time like nothing else. It took us months and months to end up with the recently finished masters, but it's just a project, so it's not a big deal.

What's it like at Tee-Pee? They seem like a pretty good label.
Tee Pee has gone through many phases since I have been involved with it. It's a fine label with much recognition, but a book could be written about the label itself based on all the drama surrounding it. 

Have you got the nicest name in metal?
You know what they say about apples...


How do you know the Earthless guys, and how did the Volcom split EP come about?
Getting to know the Earthless guys came from being signed to Tee Pee around the same time. Witch and Earthless did a few shows in Europe together around the time that we both played our first Roadburn sets. Then we did some east and west coast U.S. tours to follow. (Earthless drummer and former pro skateboarder) Mario Rubalcaba actually filled in as the Witch drummer on a tour or two when Dinosaur first started its reunion shows. Tee Pee used to be like a real family back then, with all the bands touring together and hanging out in each others towns. Bands like Witch, Earthless, Graveyard, Assemble head in Sunburst Sound, Annihilation Time... It was one big family. Things got a little divided in years to follow with newer bands being signed, but I have to say that from that original group of mid 2000s bands, we are all still very tight. I see the same kind of vibe starting these days with a bunch of newer bands, bands like The Shrine, Hot Lunch, Lecherous Gaze, Carousel and so on... With regards to the Volcom split, Kurt, who runs the music division over there, just asked us to do it and we said "Definitely".

What do you think of the new Black Sabbath album? And the new Black Flag line-up..?
I haven't heard the new Sabbath. I'm not sure why, but I haven't had the desire to even check it out. I did, however, buy the new Deep Purple and it fucking rules. I haven't paid much attention to the Black Flag drama. Two bands playing the same songs with different line ups. Pick your kings.  

What are your musical plans for this year? A third Witch LP?
Hopefully, one of these days, we, Witch, will all be in the same room and bang out another record. If it doesn't happen, well... Once this U.S./Norwegian thing comes out, I'm planning on working on another one of those long distance recordings. Time is tough with that one though, as the singer plays in a touring metal band who are rarely home. Another band I started a while back is called Dusty Skull. We released a single earlier this year on Outer Battery Records. It features, me and the drummer from 27, and Graham from Witch and Lecherous Gaze, with Isaiah from Earthless on vocals. I really want to do a full length of that stuff. I guess I just need to book a ticket to Oakland and get it started.

 


U-God

Despite having only one verse on the world-alteringly brilliant debut Wu-Tang Clan album (he was in jail for most of the recording), U-God quickly cemented himself as a solid member of the Staten Island nine-piece with four solo albums since 1999, tracks across all subsequent Wu-Tang albums and guest appearances on records by just about every one of his Wu-Tang associates. From his initial pre-Wu friendships with RZA, Ghostface and Cappadonna through to his son being shot, his incarceration, his own record label his and turbulent time as a Wu solo artist; U-God is planning to document his life in an autobiography. In the meantime, his new album, Keynote Speaker, is out now on Soul Temple Records.


Do you ever visit Park Hills?
Nah, I don't visit the place man. For what? I used to go back there, try to show love to people, try to help people out, and they try to chop you up into a million pieces. There's no reason for me to go back there.

You records are pretty different from other Wu-Tang solo records. They each seem to reference different parts of the Wu that nobody else does.
I got my style of music. People either gonna like my style of music or they ain't gonna like my style of music. I'm trying to grow, and at the same time keep the original fans, you know what I'm saying? Every time I put out a record I figure out what people want more of from me. I'm also trying to give you a creative aspect, without being like anybody else. I don't know if people respect originality any more, but I'm still trying to keep that originality there as well. If people don't think it sounds like a Wu-Tang Clan album, well it does to me. It's just a 2013 type of Wu-Tang thing. People in the US are liking it, but some people don't like it. But hey. You can't please everybody. 


When did you realise the tracks you had were turning into an album?
I do a lot of work, and I picked the best of my work, that meshed together. I do more than what a lot of folks do, and I picked the best of what I got. That's how I put it together. I can't tell you how to do it; you just gotta work, work, work, work, until you come to a complete body of work.

You've got Meth, Inspectah Deck, GZA and RZA on this album. Were those tracks you'd been working on together, or are they tracks for the album that you wanted those guys on?
When I get my tracks, when they give them to me, I know where I gotta go with them. I do what I do. When I'm with my group you're only gonna hear sixteen bars of me. You'll only hear a little bit of me on each song. I'm much bigger than that, so that's why I put out records, which are more of what I'm about. I think I did that with Keynote Speaker.

Your first album was quite late, in terms of Wu-Tang solo albums. What took you?
Because I wasn't getting attention! You got nine people in my group. I had to gather my own music, gather my own beats, and I put out my first record in 1998. My first record was a gold record. I don't know what you mean by "come out late", to me it was time to put out a record.

When does something stop being hip-hop? Like the new Kanye album, it's pretty far from what hip-hop 'is'.

Music is music. It is what it is. You as the writer and me as the artist, your job is to write what I'm saying. My job is to entertain you. With my words, with my rhythm patterns. That's my job. Your job is to sit on the sideline and critique what I'm saying and also what I'm doing. At the same time, as a musician, we're dealing with sound here. And there's different levels of sound. As a person who is a musician, I understand what he was trying to do. We go through our experimental stages as musicians. We have to experiment, it's in us. Nobody wants the same fuckin' eggs and salmon every morning. No one wants to talk to the same people every day. You want to keep new energy coming. People want to push the envelope. It's the same with me, I'm gonna give you some Wu-sounding shit, but I'm also gonna take you somewhere else too. And you gotta come with me. But certain music does touch more people than others. And as a musician, that's what your dreams are, you're trying to touch as much people as you possibly can with your music. And sometimes we go out of bounds.


Your track 'Golden Arms' on the new record is more electronic. It's a step away from what you've done before.
The crazy thing about that is that a lot of people are gravitating to that track. Some people love that shit, and some people, it's not their cup of tea. As a musician, I have to make a whole body of work that everybody can absorb. You might not like track number fifteen, but somebody else does. My desire is to get fifteen tracks that y'all can relate to. And that's kind of a hard situation. Everybody's not gonna like the blockbuster movie that comes out, everybody didn't like Batman. You know what I'm saying? Everybody's picky. If you're making a salad you gotta put things in there that people are gonna like. People might not like croutons, but they in there. Like a body of work.

But people are going to dig an electronic track, because it's on a U-God album anyway. Even if it doesn't sound like their idea of Wu.

I don't know how you compare Wu-Tang sounding records, because my record is Wu. Wu-Tang sounding records? I don't know what the hell you mean by that shit. But I know one thing for sure, you turn that record on and it's Wu-Tang right there. It's 2013. By the time I come back you might change your mind. Because people do that too. Saying something at the beginning, then when everybody start liking it, they got a change of heart all of a sudden. It is what it is. This is a Wu-Tang sounding record, it's just my version of it. You're gonna hear more music from me too. It ain't like it's just going to stop. Trust me. I'm gonna give you always good quality soundin' music. That's my job, man.

RZA is credited as being 'Executive Producer' of this record. What does that mean?
I don't know what you're talking about. Next question.

Tell me about the book you're writing then.

That's gonna be about my life story, because a lot of y'all don't even know me like that. I've been like the black sheep of the family, in the background of the fam. It's gonna be my life story. I have lived a very adventurous life. I was a very adventurous guy. It's gonna be a good ride. It's gonna be what it's gonna be.


What are you listening to right now?
I listen to everything. I listen to too much different types of music. That's why my music might sound a little more abstract than usual. I'm not biased, if it's good I'm gonna listen to it. I was listening to some Evelyn 'Champagne' King earlier. I might throw on Mr. Mister, I might throw on Journey, I might throw on Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan or Ray Charles. I'm all over the place.

What are you doing for the rest of the year?
We gotta finish this 20th Anniversary (of the first Wu-Tang album). Get that crackin'. We got that crackin' before, then we had to go on tour. Then I got like a month home, vacation for a little while. Get some air, see the babies. Take care of fam. Then it's back to work. I ain't playin'. We gotta get this music done so we can entertain y'all and do what we do best.

Ty Segall

Ty Seagll is the 26 year-old Californian garage rock troubadour channeling Black Sabbath and The Stooges into his own deluge of psyched-out musical visions. Whether solo or with one of the countless bands/collaborations he works with over numerous labels, the guy is adored by everyone from the indie rock underground and Pitchfork to prime-time US Saturday night TV audiences. We got a chance to speak to Ty about where he's at right now, and if he's worried about becoming too hip. His new album, Sleeper, is out now on Drag City.


You've just moved to LA from San Fransisco?
Yeah, I've been here four months now. The main difference is really that LA is bigger. You have to drive. I guess there's more space, I mean, we found a house here to live in. We wouldn't have been able to find a house in San Fransisco. It's cheaper too.

Are you nearer the things you need to be near?

The only things I really need to be near are friends, family and the ocean. I don't need to be near any 'industry' place or anything.

What's so good about sleeping?
You don't strike me as somebody who spends much time sleeping.
Haha! The album's about dreams. And death. It's not actually about sleeping, it's about what comes after sleeping.

 
Have you seen the website of the Texas prison service, where they post up all the prisoners' last words? It's pretty fucked up.
That's such an intense piece of information. That's crazy. I can't believe they would put that up. Are the things that say pretty potent?

Yeah. They all seem to say that God has forgiven them, and that death is just a stage of some journey.
And they all apologise. Anyway, the songs on Sleeper are all pretty different to what you normally do. Is it an album you sat down and wrote or is it a collection of old songs?
They were all songs I wrote for the record. I started with a couple, then they all started coming out. It was a fast thing, like a month of writing and recording. I honestly was trying to write some loud rock n' roll stuff, and it just wasn't working for me. It just really didn't sound good. Those two songs came first, and I tried to write more loud stuff and it just wasn't working out. So I didn't really know what was going on. You kind of decide half way through a record where it's going to go, once five or six of the songs are done you know the vibe.

You've done Conan O'Brien and Letterman. Are you a rock star?
No, I don't think so. Haha!

Well what's more significant? Prime-time TV appearances or people bootlegging your new record? The CD I got wouldn't even load into iTunes. I could only play it.
That's wild. Both are just as wild. That's pretty rad if people are trying to bootleg the record, because it means they're excited about it. That's probably cooler. In the moment, playing Letterman and Conan was pretty cool. That's an experience that you'll never forget, or have anything similar to. But they're both equally rad.


Do you think there are people at your shows now who only come because they think you're hip?
There's definitely a lot more people coming out. People come up to me at shows and say "Yeah man, I'd never heard your records, I'd just heard your name", which is always a trip to me. It's like "Woah, that's pretty cool that you'd spend fifteen bucks to come out to a show of somebody you don't know!" Which is cool. It's always a trip to see different crowds, it's not just pals or rock n' rollers or punks or psyche-heads or record dudes any more. It's definitely a bunch of different kinds of people that come out to shows now. Which is awesome, which is the point.

You played a load of classic rock covers at a show in New York quite recently, how did that go down?

I don't remember that show. What happened? Covers..? Oh yeah! I remember that show! It was at Death By Audio. We did two shows that night, the first one was just normal then the second one was a load of covers and a few really old songs of mine. They were stoked, it was a super-small place and people were just raging, crowd surfing. We did 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath, a couple Redd Kross songs, a James Gang song. And AC/DC, 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'.

How much music do you make that doesn't get released? You've made more albums already than most people do in a lifetime.

A lot. There's a lot that I don't release. At least half has been thrown away over the years. With records, I'll always write 20-plus songs, and it'll end up being a twelve track record.


When you sit down to write a record, do you know what label's going to put it out?
It kind of depends. Almost all of my proper solo records have been for Drag City. And then a lot of other projects go to a lot of other places. There's still a few labels I've talked to that I kind of 'owe' a record to, because I want to do one with them because they're pals. Nowadays labels can really do a lot, with the internet and with distribution. There's not a ton of difference between labels, it's really just who you're working with and their style of pushing a record, or promoting a record, or how they're going to 'work' the record. Goner is more of a garage punk label, and Drag City is kind of an everything label. So there's some differences in that. Drag City has worldwide distribution, and Goner does too, but they're an import, so their records are more expensive in Europe. There isn't much difference, they both care a lot and put in a ton of effort. They're both radical labels to work with.

You've got a signature guitar pedal, how much input did you have in making that?
Matt from Death By Audio asked if I wanted to do a pedal, because I've gotten my pedal tweaked a bunch of times. I've known those guys for years now and I'm always sending my pedal in to get repaired or tweaked. I got this one Fuzz War that's my lucky Fuzz War. I've probably bought seven or eight of those over the years to give to people or as back-ups. The said they were doing a series of pedals and asked me, and I was like "Yes! Awesome!" and I came up with an idea. It's basically a volume boost with a delay reverb. I wanted something to volume boost over the Fuzz War. (John) Dwyer (of the Oh Sees), his pedal is a pedal that they had already designed like two years ago, because he loved the Fuzz War but wanted something even gnarlier. The basically put two Fuzz Wars together and made a mega Fuzz War.


Rad! You're playing the last ever ATP festival, and ATP has increasingly become the domain of reformed legendary bands. Is there value in that, in reforming, playing an album and going away again?
It's definitely more difficult to pull off, but there's definitely value in it. If it's rad it's rad.

But if it's not, it could ruin the whole thing.

Yeah! That's the chance you gotta take. The handful of reformed bands I've seen have been so good. I saw Pere Ubu do The Modern Dance in its entirety and it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life.

Did you ever meet or play with Jay Reatard?
I did, yeah. I played a couple shows with him. Once was a Reatrads reunion and once was his solo band. The first time I saw him was his solo band, and it was amazing. It was right when Blood Visions had come out. It was in Oakland and there was only 150 people there. It was so cool. The second time, at the Reatards reunion, was definitely gnarly. He peed on his guitar player. It was pretty intense. But rad.


Did you ever skate?
I used to just cruise as a kid. I used it for transportation. Sidewalk surfing!

What are you doing for the rest of the year?

I'm in this band Fuzz, and we got a record coming out on October 1st. We're going to Europe for about a week, then doing a US tour, then maybe back to Europe in the Spring to do a full tour. I'm just working on demos, and my band are going to start touring again. We haven't played in a really long time. We toured so much that we needed to chill out so we haven't been on tour for four or five months now. I was working on Sleeper when we were kinda slowing down! I think we're going to go back into the studio and do a sequel to Slaughterhouse, maybe. And I'm going to do another record. Just working on stuff, but it's cool to have some down time.

Have you ever sneezed so hard that the doorbell rang?

Definitely not.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Jon Horner

You'll know Jon Horner's work already, if not from his Sleeping In The Dirt comic strip Sidewalk magazine then perhaps from his monthly strip in Thrasher, or even his comic in music-nerd bible Record Collector. It could be that you know his art from the boards, t-shirts and wheels of John Rattray's lifestyle/streetwear super-brand The Predatory Bird. Howsoever you've been touched by Jon's wit, penmanship and imagination, you can be assured that everything he draws, he draws for fun - truly a skateboarder's approach to art. Without ever having to dabble in the dark art of self-promotion, Jon's cartoons and caricatures have found their way into magazines and skateboards here and across the Atlantic. With his profound knowledge and appreciation of skateboard history and Alan Partridge, we're lucky to have him - and since he's one of the most humble people you could meet, we were even luckier to get him to agree to this interview. As you'll see, we're very glad we did. You can find vast amounts more of his work here and here.

Jon Horner by Andy Smoke

What's your art background? Did you study art, design, graphics..?
I've got an art GCSE! That's it as far as 'formal training' goes though. My training was years spent copying things from the Beano and trying to draw the Thunderbirds.

When did you start skateboarding?
Around 2001ish I think. It was in the Tony Hawk boom. My brother skated and it looked like fun so I got a Hudson complete from JJB Sports for £20. The board had been shrink wrapped before the trucks were attached, and as I didn't know how to take the trucks off I spent hours trying to pick all the little bits of plastic out from around the bolts.


Did one lead to the other?
Not really, but it definitely helped keep my interest. I'd spend longer looking at shop adverts than the photos in skate mags. Looking back I guess it was the tail end of the hand drawn cartoon graphics boom, World and Blind had been sold but Marc McKee was still doing incredible drawings for them. Flip had some incredible graphics then too, it probably helped that most of their team were basically cartoon characters.

Mark McKee kind of dropped out not long after that, what other skateboard graphic artists did you get into? It maybe wasn't the most obvious era to be inspired by... Did you start getting interested in older stuff? You seem to have a pretty vast appreciation of the history of it all.
Enjoi was just starting back then, I think Marc Johnson was doing the art, there were a lot of Saul Bass inspired graphic s that were great, the Heroin illustrator series were always amazing too. As far as particular artists go, at the time I had no idea who actually did anything! The internet was like a little broken down hutch compared to the vast rabbit hole it is now so there wasn't really a way that I knew of to find out who actually did anything, or really to find old board graphics. Document used to interview artists, so that was always interesting. I remember trying to copy one of the drawings in the Jamie Bridson interview.


What's your day job?
I was hired to design a range of children's characters. Basically, my job was to invent the characters (how they look, what they're like, their world etc) and to work with other people on making toys, computer games, books and that sort of thing. The project is still relatively new, I've been working on it for about a year now and it's starting to come together. It's beginning to go from ideas on paper to actual physical things. Before that I worked at HMV. 

Do the people at your work know about your other life as a skateboard illustrator?
Haha, yeah! The day job's only part time and I work from home so as long as everything gets done it's all good!

'Where's Penny'. Click for bigger and more.

How long did the 'Where's...' posters take? I imagine you sitting up for nights on end surrounded by hundreds of magazines - was it like that?
They took forever! I don't really want to know exactly how long because it will probably just make me miserable. There were a few magazines but mostly it was just finding things online. I watched a lot of old videos on YouTube and logged an obscene amount of hours scrolling through the Chrome Ball Incident. That was the fun bit. Mostly they came together gradually over time but there was one all-nighter. When I did Where's Chin it was just one massive drawing on 9 sheets of A4 paper held together with sellotape so the whole thing was pretty precarious. I was moving flat and I wanted to be able to take it apart before I moved it so I stayed up all night surrounded by boxes listening to the Tina Fey audio book (which is excellent) and drawing.

What medium do you work in?
The most basic one! I plan things in pencil on cheap A4 paper, go over them with drawing pens, rub out the pencil marks, scan them and colour them in with MS Paint.


Rejected Factory Sleeve Designs. Click for bigger and more.

What artists do you rate just now?
Andy Smoke, obviously. 'His Board Had No Pop' is one of my favourite things (it's at littleliedown.wordpress.com). Everything Mike O'Shea does is amazing. There are loads of people! Phil Morgan, James Jarvis, Ryan Salter, Paul Parker, Pete Fowler, Rob Mathieson, Mr Gauky... I could probably go on for a while...  

Would you be doing what you do now if it wasn't for Gilbert Shelton?
Ha, I was never that into Shelton, his art is always great though. When I was younger it was the Beano, Thunderbirds, Asterix and Wallace and Gromit then the Simpsons and later I discovered underground comics and got very into R Crumb, Peter Bagge, Joe Matt, Art Spiegelman, Harvey Kurtzman, guys like that. Basically, anyone who draws properly and writes funny stories. Life's too short to read turgid crap about feelings. Although, having said that, Chris Ware is incredible. A bit of melancholy is fine in his hands.

 More Man Cat here.

Loads of boards get re-issued these days. Do you think that's because the graphics were better then? Rather than just logo boards...
Hmm. Maybe. I don't know if anyone will ever be as good as Sean Cliver, Marc McKee and Jim Phillips, they were the right guys in the right place at the right time. And it's true that some companies put out some awful rubbish these days (and not just logo boards), but there are still amazing new graphics coming out all the time. I think the reissue market is a lot more to do with nostalgia, there are a lot of men 'of a certain age' who have glowing memories of happy childhoods when skateboarding was all that they cared about. Now they have jobs and mortgages and responsibilities and reissued boards let them buy back a little piece of that glow and hang it on their wall. I totally get it, I bought a copy of the first Beano I ever owned from eBay! Also, it's probably pretty helpful financially for certain companies who's years of relevance are in the past.

Alan graphics.

Magazines have always been a big part of the skateboard aesthetic. You must love magazines.
I'm such a sucker for actual physical things you can pick up and hold in your hands. Obviously it's pretty indisputable that in many ways the internet is 'a good thing' and as a method for distribution it's incredibly exciting. But as a medium for holding the written word, photographs or comic strips I don't think anything will ever be able to beat a piece of paper. Going back and flicking through old magazines is so evocative of a time and a place in your life, and that ability to go back and wallow a bit is something that's much more difficult online with the constant screaming emphasis for the newest, most excitingest shiniest thing. I really hope the days of the printed magazine aren't numbered. I never had much access to American magazines aside from a few issues here and there, but between Sidewalk and Document we've always been pretty well catered to over here.

 A strip Jon did, featuring characters by Andy Smoke, and based upon the Bite My Wire interview with Jereme. Click for full size.

How did you come to work with Sidewalk, and how did you come to work with Thrasher and Record Collector?
Andy Horsley changed my life. After finishing uni there weren't really any 'proper' jobs around so I decided I had nothing to lose by just doing the thing I most wanted to do rather than something I thought would be more obviously useful in the quest to be employable. I'd tried being a journalist for a while, and it was fun but my heart wasn't really in it, although I did get to review the film 'Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus' for Time Out. That's a film about which dissertations should be written. It was also really hard to find anyone willing to pay real money, so I figured if I wasn't getting paid anyway I should be getting paid nothing to do what I really wanted to do. 


What I really wanted to do was make comics, so I made one. At the time I was horrendously naive over-ambitious, so I planned out an eleven part epic called 'Gentlemanly Conduct' about a UK skate team on tour in 2002. It was vaguely inspired by the Vans 'No Home Comforts Tour' video, which is one of Andy Evans' many masterpieces. About six months after starting work on it issue one was finished and I sent it out to pretty much every magazine and skateboard company I could think of. Andy got back to me and started giving me bits and bobs to do and it went from there. There was a Big Push DVD cover, some stuff for the Buyer's Guide and the regular strip. The pitch was 'It's like Lost, but with the history of skateboarding'. As I result, I've been making it up as I go along. Getting work from Sidewalk was the first thing that really made me consider illustration as a thing that could potentially be a job, so I started looking for part time work to subsidise my hours spent drawing. 
The Thrasher connection is all John's doing. He sends me a script, I send him a comic and he has all the dealings with them. 

 
Bob Dylan Supervillian. Bigger and more here.

The Record Collector strip came from a comic I wrote with my brother called 'Bob Dylan Supervillain'. He's a massive music nerd and a musician himself (look for Syd R. Duke on YouTube) and we wrote this ridiculous strip about Dylan going electric with the help of Allen Ginsberg to fight Mr Tambourine Man. It was originally written with the Stool Pigeon in mind, they had a great comics section, but when we never heard back from them I sent it out to a few magazines just out of curiosity. Record Collector got back in touch saying they didn't have space for a full page comic strip every month, but asked us to pitch a few ideas for shorter strips. We did, they liked them and it's gone from there.

Was the Crayon board pre-Predatory Bird? How did that come about? Did you skate the board yourself?
That was a direct result of the 'Where's Chin' poster. Dykie sent me an email and it was his idea to do something similar but with Korahn and his friends and famous Bristol spots. I was so stoked to be asked, Korahn is an amazing skater and Crayon have some serious heavy hitters doing graphics for them, so to even be considered was amazing. I didn't ever skate one myself, it was a bit wide for me! Having someone make something you've drawn into a skateboard is the best feeling. 


Do you art types all hang out?
Andy and I have regular important high-level executive business meetings to discuss implementation strategies for Class IIB. These often take place at the kerb bit at Clapham skatepark, the crusty old banks at Royal Oak or in the pub. 

You drew up a rad graphic for the new Blueprint. Do you think they should have ditched the spray hearts or do you reckon it's a legacy the new guys should keep up?

I'm trying my best to get hired by Bizarroprint. No luck so far though. It's all a bit sad what's happened there, isn't it? Everything I know about exactly what happened comes from internet rumours and hearsay (Myleene loves industry gossip), but it seems like the brand's been in a bit of a tailspin for a little while due to various factors and now it's crashed down to earth in the Canadian tundra. I suppose it's a good thing that what Dan Magee and Paul Shier created was seen as worth saving, but this lumbering dreadlocked Frankenstein's monster is fast becoming a cruel and incontinent taunt to the past.


In a way, maybe it's exciting that Britain can add a brand to the Blind/World legend of companies that were once great and are now a bit awful, but it must be pretty horrendous for Dan that they've not mixed up the graphics a bit. I mean, aside from the always incredible team, the first thing that Blueprint brings to mind is an aesthetic, and as far as I can tell, that was entirely deliberate and all Dan's doing. It must be pretty grim to see something you've worked so hard at and poured so much of your soul into being hacked up and shuffled about and slapped with a rasta colourway. From the graphics I've seen so far, and particularly that monstrosity of a cruiser board, it's like they've got all the pieces but they don't quite understand how they go together, why they would go together and why anyone would even want them to in the first place. But stick them together they do, with all the artistry of a drunk assembling an Ikea bookshelf. 
But maybe it's a good thing. I think we can now all agree that Blueprint is no longer worthy of our attention, and perhaps that will give some other UK companies a bit of breathing space. Now that the Death Star has been blown up, the ewoks can all dance around a bit. If the decline of Blueprint was in any way responsible for the birth of the National and the existence of those RA Brown painting decks then it wasn't an entirely bad thing.


Triangles in 2013: Post-post-modern, or tired and tedious?
I've got a theory about Palace and it's quite highfalutin (which is just a pretentious way of saying pretentious).
Plato had a theory that everything has a form. I tried explaining what this means in my own words but it wasn't working out so I'm going to do some route one philosophy student work and copy and paste from Encarta:

"Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless tables in the world but the Form of tableness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them. A Form is an objective 'blueprint' of perfection."

My theory is that Palace is incredibly close to the form of 'Palace skateboard company'. It seems like every single decision that they make is made on the basis of 'is that what we want to do?'. It sounds obvious, but it's pretty rare that you don't see something that's been second guessed in some way, whether it's to try and broaden its appeal and shift more units or to take the edges off an idiosyncratic idea that might be unpopular or controversial. It's especially rare in a company that's actually got popular and successful. There seems to be no great strategy in place at Palace other than, in the words of Nuit, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and I think that's pretty admirable. 
Having said all that, they're so tempting to make fun of! As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons for that. Firstly, they've got a really strong graphic identity (and rest assured I hate myself for using that phrase) which makes them easy to parody because it's very straightforward to make it clear that what you're doing is a Palace reference. And secondly, they're massively beloved of Sugar Ape readers who are nature's easiest and most deserving target.

John Rattray bonus!



Hello John. Tell us about Jon.
Jon sent me, via Gmail, an illustration he did, fully finished and coloured, of Carl Weather's character Dillon, from Predator. The illustration depicted Dillon, screaming on his knees on the jungle floor, his arm, severed at the shoulder is being carried skyward, assault rifle still blasting, by a bold and ravenous gull.
The accompanying note said, "I've been very much enjoying the blog lately and in a moment of inspiration(?) I drew this. It's yours if you want it."
I did want it. This was the greatest piece of unsolicited mail I've ever received. So far it's a tee shirt.


Not long after that, on Instagram, he posted a picture of some graphic ideas with portraits and quotes from Bertrand Russell, Hunter S. Thompson, George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut. I hit him up about the fact that these should be somehow manufactured. It's a project that remains unrealised - as lots do - but it showed that we were on the same page as far as heroes go.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after that there was some news coverage of Dutch artist Bart Jansen's taxidermied cat helicopter. Jon posted a picture of that and I commented that "I just can't tell if I really do like that or not", I've still never double tapped that image. Jon replied, "I know what you mean. It's the expression on his face that sways it for me. Plus, he was named after one of the Wright brothers. And it would be really fun to take it to Trafalgar Square and blow some pigeons minds." He was selling me on the idea that although morbid, it was also awesome. I already knew morbid things can be awesome from growing up watching Evil Dead and listening to the drum check with Pete Sandoval skit. I told Jon that "it certainly adds a new dimension to the whole predatory bird thing". That's when he suggested, "The villain in The Predatory Bird comic would fly around in this".
"You make it and I'll sell it and this time next year we'll be millionaires!" I said. I've never been sure if he got the Only Fools and Horses reference there but he did agree that "Unimaginable riches surely beckon".
That's pretty much it. We've been collaborating on this comic story since then. We email and occasionally Skype to talk about it. It's been a lot of fun, Thrasher's been running it and hopefully we'll adapt it into a little stand alone thing at some point.




Andy Smoke Bonus!


Jon and his pal Andy Smoke are both managing directors of the UK's leading skateboard sticker company, Class IIB. Dismantling the snobbery of the skateboard industry one adhesive at a time, their limited edition collaborative cartoons can be admired (and purchased) here: http://class2b.bigcartel.com/ You might have seen Andy's drawings illustrating our Bite My Wire music page, you might remember the board graphic he did for rooftop-preacher and self-confessed sexual superhero Jereme Rogers, or you might even have noticed the excellent drawing of Jon he knocked out to illustrate this very interview; so we asked Andy about his mate. Andy's drawings, photographs, mixes and other art can be found here.


How do you know Jon?
I met Jon through a mutual affection for Clockwork Orange banks and the Beano. I think Class 2B was born out of skating the bottom step of Southbank 7 one day. And anyway, having drawings printed up into stickers rules!

Congratulations on getting a drawing on a Jereme Rogers board.

The Selfish graphic competition was funny - the other entrants were excellent. I'm still amazed the boards ever saw the light of day. J Cass may be manically insane, but he put one of my drawings on a board. Stoked!

How did you get into drawing?

Alex Moul was getting a lot of coverage in the first magazines I bought. Moul was on Deathbox then - a company that inspired not only with their skaters, but with their twisted cartoon graphics. New Deal and World were also making great graphics - I'm still stoked on Marc McKee and Sean Cliver's art. Needless to say, I was hooked.

And how do you go about it?

Most of my stuff starts with an idea in the bath, followed by a damp paper sketch. Sometimes drawings get completely re-worked in Photoshop; other times they get inked and coloured by hand.