Avon Dale premiere new track ‘Annabella’ and discuss the making of ‘Little Ditty’ EP


“We’ve been told we land somewhere near a roots rock Americana soul band – if thats a thing?” say Memphis based Avon Dale of the sound of their new EP, Little Ditty, independently released late last year.

It must indeed be a thing as, for all the verbiage, it aptly describes the stirring and soulful mix of sounds laid down across Little Ditty’s nine tracks, a fiery blend of fully fleshed out longer compositions and the shorter aforementioned “ditties” alluded to in the E.P.’s title.

At the end of a year-long recording period with producer Mike Wilson at the legendary Ardent studios, Avon Dale still managed to find the energy to get out and play a handful of shows at the close of 2016 following the release of Little Ditty, including a set at Memphis’ River Arts Festival and a New Year show at Chicago’s The Elbo Room. Now, ahead of more local shows this Spring, we’re delighted to premiere the band’s new song, “Annabella.”

One of Little Ditty’s slower and more sultry tracks, Avon Dale describe it as “…a little bit of sex, a little bit of pain, and a lot of longing mixed into one short verse.” If that doesn’t make you want to take a listen, goodness knows what will.

Check out the song via the stream below before getting stuck into our recent interview covering the band’s origins, the making of Little Ditty and what it was like to play in front of 15,000 people at Memphis’ FedEx Forum.

Skin Back Alley: For those who might not know, tell us a little about yourselves. Who are Avon Dale and how did you come together as a band?

Avon Dale: We started in Champaign, IL in 2012. The first songs that we ever wrote were in a house on the street Avondale, hence the band name “Avon Dale”. The name is split because there is a town in Arizona called Avondale and a great deal of many other things by the same name. Retrospectively, maybe not the smartest choice in names but we chose it so we stuck with it.

Originally it was a three piece band featuring two vocals, an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and drums. Or in other words: garbage. We moved down to Memphis with Alec when he accepted a Teach for America position. We gigged as much as possible and ended up finding our current bass player Andrew Allen. He’s been a godsend and retaught everyone in the band how stay in time. We’ve done two summer tours where we’ve played 25 shows in 13 states each time and we continue to travel and play around the Midwest. We live and practice in Midtown Memphis right next to the ‘Cash Saver’ supermarket and we all work full time jobs while playing music at night.

I understand you’ve had a change in line-up relatively recently. Can you tell us about that and how you have developed as a band since your last EP?

Our acoustic guitarist moved to China, so during the writing/recording of Little Ditty we were a three piece band. We’ve primarily been a four piece band featuring one electric guitar and one acoustic guitar. This change definitely influenced the content of the songs and the arrangements, which allowed more electric guitar work to come through.

I love the tinge of southern soul in your music. You can hear it clearly in the horns on “Soul Ditty” and again in the likes of EP closer “25”. Was that something you consciously set out to incorporate into your sound?

That’s something that just came out naturally. I don’t think we ever set a purpose for a song before it’s written, in many regards it takes the magic out of the songwriting/recording process. Those songs were just begging for horns (“Soul Ditty”) and a drunken gospel choir ending (“25”) which were decisions made in the studio.

Would you place the band in any particular canon of music? Are there any particular artists that you have drawn influence from as musicians?

I don’t think we’d classify ourselves into any specific genre of music. With that being said, we’ve been told we land somewhere near a roots rock americana soul band – if thats a thing? We don’t focus too much on fitting into one niche, but rather writing songs that feel right to us and hopefully anybody willing to listen.

Our influences vary within the band and are quite eclectic. Influences of Van Morrison, John Platania, Carter Beauford, and Janek Gwizdala are a consistent source of inspiration in our own respects, but we always try to write to the song; meaning the song sounds honest and cohesive rather than a bunch of guys jerking their instruments off.

I’m intrigued to know how you feel being in Memphis has (or hasn’t!) influenced you and your sound as a band. Memphis obviously has such a rich musical heritage, and from an outsiders perspective there seems to be such a strong music community there today?

Memphis has played a big role in developing our sound via the people we’ve met and the music we’ve heard. It does have such a rich musical history and is holy ground for rock n roll, blues, and soul music. We’ve absorbed some of the old Stax and Ardent/Big Star influence which manifests in many different forms. Working at Ardent and specifically with Mike Wilson opened our eyes (ears) and made us become disciplined listeners and recording artists. Every note has a purpose and you need to throw away the fluff.

Excellent artists and musicians are abundant in this city. There’s some great original music coming out of Memphis but in many cases it’s overshadowed by it’s strong musical heritage. Because Memphis is home to Elvis, Stax, Ardent, BB king etc., it becomes a tribute city in many regards. With that being said, there are a lot of efforts being put into promoting and exposing new original music coming out of Memphis. It’s a melting pot of passionate artists just waiting to be unearthed.

We’re premiering your track “Annabella.” Can you tell us a bit about the writing of the song and what it means to you in the band?

“Annabella” is a song that was kicked around for a few years. It always held a lot of weight but never seemed complete. The melody hasn’t changed but the song’s meaning and arrangement have taken on many different forms as we’ve developed. By taking a step back and keeping the song simple in it’s arrangement, we produced the most authentic version of it. I think ultimately it’s meaning is ambiguous but it has this anecdotal/nursery rhyme quality to it that is very pleasing. I tried many times to write a second verse to it but couldn’t quite capture the essence of the first one, so I just sang it again. There’s a little bit of sex, a little bit of pain, and a lot of longing mixed into one short verse.

What was the thinking behind the EP containing four fully fleshed out songs, and then the selection of ‘ditties’ that you refer to in the title?

We knew we wanted to make another EP with more content than our previous (Dress It Up, November 2014) which only featured four songs, but we also knew the time, energy, and effort that goes into writing full songs. We spent a lot of time working on full length songs and the tedious details that go along with them like changing their key and bass line and drum parts and lyrics only to come back right to where we started.

Making a record is a lot of fun but is also a lot of work. I think we decided on the idea of putting in the little ditties because they were the unfinished songs we would play in between our serious writing sessions that we ultimately loved more than the full length songs. It was an idea that I think captures the essence of songwriting holistically. There are songs that require a bunch of chord changes and rhythmic variations that are a pain in the ass, but turn out sounding great if they’re done right. But there are also songs that are two chords and the truth and sound just as good if not better than those overly produced songs. We hope where the Little Ditties are placed provide context or juxtaposition to the full length songs they accompany and ultimately balance this record.


What has the reception been like to the new songs?

The reception has been good. I think because of the time and effort we put into this EP, people are really impressed with the quality from top to bottom and we’ve received a lot of compliments. When we play live, “Soul Ditty” seems to be the song that most strongly resonates with crowds.

There seems to be a broad through line in the lyrics of the new songs: touching on the road weary aspects of the human condition, but somehow clinging on to a hopeful and positive outlook. Is that a fair observation do you think?

I would agree, that’s a very articulate description of the content. I think it’s important to find the silver lining in every situation. Life sometimes sucks but there’s always something to keep you happy, you just have to look for it.

Where did you record the tracks and who did you work with to record and produce them?

We spent over a year writing and recording in Memphis, both at our home practice space and Ardent studios. We have a very close working relationship with Mike Wilson, who helped produce the EP, and we also collaborated with Rickey Shelton. Both of them were great to work with.

Ardent Studios has an incredible history. How cool was it to be recording there again?

It’s always a pleasure working at Ardent. The history, the gear, the staff, and the atmosphere are all excellent. We love it!

What do you feel Mike Wilson and Rickey Shelton brought to the new recordings?

They both have so much experience that it creates a very productive yet relaxed atmosphere. Working in that atmosphere helped us wrinkle out the difficult sections but also provide us the freedom to open up and make our individual artistic choices in each song. It created a very authentic product that we’re proud of.

Mike ran the show and kept everything moving while making the experience lighthearted and fun. Rickey brought a lot of expertise from years of being a musician (currently a drummer and background vocalist for Alvin Youngblood Heart). He helped develop drum parts and sang harmonies on many of the songs.

Can we expect a full album in time? Is that the next recording goal?

We’re not positive on the date, but we’re prepping to record a full length album sometime next spring.

Am I right in thinking you recently played at the FedEx Forum in Memphis when the Grizzlies beat the Warriors? How was that whole experience for you?!

It was awesome! It was definitely a great experience playing on such a large stage in front of 15,000 people. The added bonus was the beat down the Grizz put on the Warriors. We must be a good luck charm.

Have you got any live shows coming up? Where can we next see Avon Dale?

We’re in Chicago on New Years Eve playing a show at the Elbo Room. We plan to play locally in Memphis throughout the spring.

What can we expect from Avon Dale in 2017?

We’re planning on an extensive summer tour in the states and prepping for a full length album in the spring of 2017!

Finally, would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?

One horse-sized duck – That would be a wild sight.

Avon Dale’s “Little Ditty” EP is out now. Connect with Avon Dale via:
Facebook: facebook.com/avdbnd
Twitter: twitter.com/avdbnd
Bandcamp: avdband.bandcamp.com


Album Reviews | Live Reviews | News | SBA Lists | The Playlist | Under The Skin | Without A Song | Live From Los Angeles – Tairrie B. Photography

Interview: Hands Off Gretel

Photos: Kimberly Bayliss

It’s been a remarkable couple of years for Hands Off Gretel, seeing the alt-rock quartet on an upward trajectory worthy of their drive, ambition and – most importantly – superb songs. September saw the release of the Barnsley-based self-described “clungerock” band’s debut album, Burn The Beauty Queen, a harder, heavier collection than HOG’s previous EP and one that saw the band’s new lineup bed in with style.

Currently in the throes of a UK tour, we caught up with Hands Off Gretel songwriter, frontwoman, guitarist and creative powerhouse, Lauren Tate, from the road.

Skin Back Alley: Last time we spoke was about 18 months ago when Hands Off Gretel was still very new. Since then you’ve played a lot of gigs and festivals, released an EP and been through a line-up change. Now your debut album has been released. It seems safe to say that Hands Off Gretel has developed considerably since that last conversation?!

Lauren Tate: Oh yes! Definitely. The past 6 months have been the best months yet! When I told my previous drummer it wasn’t working out just before we recorded our first album I thought we’d really struggle to get Sam (bassist at the time) to the point where he could record a full album on drums knowing he hadn’t even touched a kit for 5 years. Sam literally changed everything. The songs got a lot heavier and I felt so inspired, most of the songs on the album were written about 2 weeks before we went into the studio. Sam stayed on drums and Joe joined us on bass and from our first practice with the new line up I was just so excited, the songs had never sounded better.

What have been some of your favourite moments or highlights in the past year and a half?

Playing the Isle Of Wight festival was a wild one. We were shortlisted from thousands of bands to compete in front of festival organiser John Giddings to win a slot at the festival. We came third place and played the ‘Hey Joe’ stage and it was just so crazy. After we played the show, Sam pulled me into a hug and said “Dude, we just played the Isle Of Wight festival.” And I could feel myself starting to cry because finally I could feel we were rising and I was starting to get everything I’ve ever wanted alongside people I really loved. That was definitely a high point for me!

And what is it with Hands Off Gretel and band members breaking bones?!

Haha! I have no idea, it’s crazy! Some people might believe I’m pushing them all down the stairs… but I’m not. *Evil Laugh* I still cannot believe Sam is playing the whole tour with broken fingers, he’s not even complained once. Part of me thinks he might be faking it so we carry all his drum gear down the stairs for him. Well, Sean will. Joe and I are usually running away at this point with a bottle of wine.

Burn the Beauty Queen has been out for a little while now. What has the reception been like so far?

It’s been amazing! Our fans love it, which is the most important thing. We sold over 700 pre-order copies and heard nothing but praise since. I love that the fans get it, they buy my ‘zines and read my lyrics and I feel like they just understand me so deeply, it’s so wonderful. The bigger radio stations haven’t picked up on us yet though, we are yet to invade, it’s just so damn hard! We got played on Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show ‘Rodney on the Roq’ over in the US and that is so freaking cool cause he broke some of my favourite bands and I feel honoured that he loves HOG!

How did it feel to successfully crowdfund the album, and not only that, but utterly destroy the funding target that you set?

Oh it felt fabulous! I was shy about it because I thought there was no way we’d get to 100%. Once we launched it I went on holiday so I couldn’t even see how it was going until I came home. It killed me! It was always important to me to launch it totally D.I.Y, to let us have full control and remain one-to-one with our fans. They loved it, some people were spending over £200 a time on everything they could to support us and nothing compares to that feeling, knowing your entire fan base has your back and shares your excitement for your new record.

You chose to record the album in Wales. Was there a specific thinking or logic behind the choice of location?

I wanted somewhere secluded, somewhere with lots of space and no distractions. The house was perfect for what I wanted, though it was a risk that it’d sound any good once we started recording. The house was miles away from any shops; we didn’t even have any Internet or signal for 2 weeks! We literally shut the whole world out to work on the record and apart from the vocals to ‘Little Man’ and ‘Plasters’ we recorded everything within the 2 weeks.

You’ve said in the past that P!nk singing Led Zeppelin covers helped turn you on to rock music. You weren’t worried that disappearing into Wales to record your album would result in HoG going ‘Full Zeppelin’ and coming back with an album full of songs about Hobbits?!

Haha! What? You’re telling me you don’t know that all HOG songs ARE about hobbits?!


How important a role has Pete Thompson of Flat Wave studios played in the making of the album?

Pete was so excited about the album right from the start when Sam laid down his drum tracks. He just kept telling me how good it was, telling me how proud he was after watching my transformation as a writer since my early days. Pete and I mixed & produced the album side by side right at the end, bouncing ideas back and forth, head in hands one minute, hands in the air the next. We made the perfect team. I think the best bit was when I made the decision to scrap the original version of ‘Plasters’ and add piano and crazy vocals instead. My friend Alisha Vickers came in and recorded the piano parts and him and I sat and experimented with the song for hours hoping that Sean and Sam would dig the whole ‘Dresden Dolls’ theatrical vibe. BTBQ was the first album Pete had produced and I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted and I’m so happy he got to do it.

I caught your set at Barnsley Rock & Blues just before the album launched. I was struck by how focused you all were. Even though that night was a support slot, you owned that room. It was like it was a headline gig for you in more ways than one. Would you say you were a driven or ambitious band?

Yeah I’d call us driven. We all have that same dream within us. We all want to quit our jobs and play music full time and I just love looking around at Joe, Sam and Sean next to me on stage knowing that we are all in the same team fighting for the same spotlight. It’s lovely to know that we are all in the same boat, we are all also just mental. We laugh and argue, we scream at each other and punch each other and then love each other so much. You should’ve seen us on the first leg of the album tour, we got a little bizarre.

When I got to listen to the album, it struck me that there were lots of wonderful complexities within it. Confidence and vulnerability. Punk fury and a kind of intimate singer/songwriter confessional quality. A fairy tale dream but with a dark and twisted heart. Were those kinds of complexities and tensions something you were consciously weaving into the album?

You got it! That’s exactly what I imagine the songs look like. I took a lot of inspiration from fairy tales, they are always made out to be really sweet and innocent but the origins are nearly always awful. The Hansel and Gretel original story is god awful and I loved it because that’s what life feels like to me. The good covering up the bad.

Sonically, the album sounds heavier; fiercer than your previous EP and singles. Was that an intentional shift in sound?

That was from Sam joining the band really. I’ve always pushed HOG to sound heavier with previous members and I got frustrated a lot because it was as though people thought I was just bossy and controlling when I’m constantly saying “We gotta’ sound bigger and better than this.” The drums changed so much in the songs, the harder Sam hit them, the louder I screamed, the faster Sean strummed his guitar. Finally now in the band we are all as mental and loud as each other.

The songs on Burn The Beauty Queen feel more intricate than your previous EP as well; layered vocals and plenty of harmonies. Was that attention to detail a natural progression from EP to album?

I started adding harmonies to nearly everything when we did the album songs. I firstly added them to ‘One Eyed Girl’ and then thought “Oooo I could add it here, and there and everywhere”. I deleted quite a lot off in the final mixes because I did get a little carried away. I had a few weeks before recording the album to do all the pre-production on my mac at home using logic so I had lots of indulgence time to work the sounds out exactly how I wanted them, whereas before with the first EP I didn’t even consider harmonies or fancy vocal things like that.

In your time prior to HoG you’ve turned down approaches by the likes of Simon Cowell’s team. Have you been tempted away from your full-on DIY approach as the band has risen in profile over the past 18 months or so?

Every once in while people approach with these ‘ideas’ and these huge offers and to be honest I’ve never been tempted yet. The second I hear “I’ve got some songs I want you to sing…” I’m instantly turned off because I’ve got some songs too, I haven’t finished saying what I want to say just yet. I’m not strong enough or ready for the big boys to control me just yet, I’m still building myself.

When we last spoke you said that success for you would include “…to play and play and play as many good gigs as we can and build up a live following. I really want to connect with people, I want people to come up to me after a gig and tell me Hands Off Gretel has been something they’ve been waiting for.” Mission accomplished in that regard?

Oh my god yes! You’re right! That is the best feeling, so many people give me their stories each night and I love to listen, I love to connect with them person to person and relate to them. Young girls tell me they have started bands after being inspired by my band and God! I cannot describe to you the fuzzy feeling I get inside me.

What are some of your next milestones as a band? Do you have defined goals in mind?

Next milestone for me is to tour out of the UK. We have so many fans in the USA, and in Germany, France, Spain, all over! I owe it to them to make it over there and play to some different faces. I want to release lots of new music videos too and then on to the next album I guess. You can interview me then as I sit in my yacht drinking Mojito getting my toe nails painted by Simon Cowell as he begs me to become a popstar. Haha!

Hands Off Gretel’s debut album, ‘Burn The Beauty Queen’, is out now. Read our review here.

Connect with Hands Off Gretel at:
Facebook: facebook.com/handsoffgretel
Twitter: twitter.com/HandsOffGretel
Web: handsoffgretel.co.uk

Hands Off Gretel will play:
Oct 13th: Trillions, Newcastle
Oct 14th: Parish, Huddersfield
Oct 15th: Sanctuary Rock Bar, Burnley
Oct 17th: Krazyhouse, Liverpool (w/Barb Wire Dolls)
Oct 27th: Fulford Arms, York
Oct 28th: Soundhouse, Leicester
Nov 05th: Surya, London (w/BirdEatsBaby)
Nov 11th: Mulberry Tavern, Sheffield
Nov 17th: Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow
Nov 18th: Bannermans, Edinburgh
Nov 24th: Rainbow Venues, Birmingham
Nov 25th: Brain Freeze Fest, Ebbw Vale
Nov 26th: Mothers Ruin, Bristol
Dec 03rd: Rebellion, Manchester
Dec 09th: Lincoln Imp, Scunthorpe
Dec 10th: Chameleon Arts Centre, Nottingham

Album Reviews | Live Reviews | News | SBA Lists | The Playlist | Under The Skin | Without A Song | Live From Los Angeles – Tairrie B. Photography

Interview: The Salt Riot

The Salt Riot 2016 002

While traveling on a tiny island with a bombastic flock of parrots that mostly sang in five part harmonies, The Salt Riot honed their musical talent while eating various seed and tree nut particles…

Or so says The Salt Riot’s concise Facebook bio. It’s an arresting vignette and one that suits the Seattle trio down to the ground. Insightful, impassioned, sophisticated and harbouring a wicked sense of humour, the band have produced in their most recent album, Dead Star, a visceral collection of holy sonic grace, summarised thus in our review:

Theirs is a cleansing fire of guitar, bass and drums. A warming and potent distillation of an alternative Seattle sound. A trio of artisans with a fuse; a spark; an explosive fuzzed-up invocation of a rebellion against the Boyars who have become bloated in their counting houses, counting out their money. They bring light and love; freedom and purpose. This is their mission.

This is The Salt Riot.

We caught up with vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and lyricist Julia Vidal and bassist, engineer and co-producer Jack Machin soon after the band’s appearances at this year’s North West Folklife Festival and NAMIWalks (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Washington event.

Skin Back Alley: How are the parrots and their five part harmonies, and have you grown sick of eating seed and tree nut particles yet?

The Salt Riot [Julia Vidal]: Absolutely not. Seeds and nuts are the future of food. The only way forward really.

And are you feeling salty?

Saltier than the dead sea!

Why did you choose to call yourselves The Salt Riot? Presumably it has a connection to historic events in Moscow and the citizens’ uprising there?

It is an interesting connection for sure. Primarily the thought process was this common human history of leveraging resources for control and power. Salt used to be traded for money hundreds of years ago (as the latin root “sal” is used in the term salary now), and we found the irony in our time, as salt sits on almost any dinner table as a common commodity with little to no value. Yet at one time people used to kill each other over it. The resources and the wars we wage interchange but this struggle for power and control does not.

In many ways the name could have been “The Money Riot” or “The Water Riot” — but essentially we are seeking to establish a historical connection to our current times. Now we start wars over oil, and who knows, maybe in 500 years every dinner table will have a little glass of petrol you can sprinkle on your bangers and mash (yes that was for you England).

The lyrics across Dead Star have a lovely literary quality to them and cover a wide spectrum of subjects and emotions. What were some of the specific inspirations for the album?

I am lyrically inspired by social/political and historically rooted themes. I personally take a lot of my subject material from direct pain and suffering I see as a result of our shared global ties and human history. It seems broad and it is. But it isn’t. It’s the monstrous CEOs we see getting called into Wall Street for a slap on the wrist. I think I watched the documentary on Larry Hillblom and the generally Western colonial cowboy rampage his life turned into after making a fortune. We are talking about years and years of systematically rooted tragedies and hierarchies. (And I’m almost positive Donald Trump was the piñata in one of the songs, too.)

This album is about universal heartbreak. It directly covers the devastation left by modern colonialism, globalisation, and all the stories we don’t really want to hear because we live in a protected bubble of Kardashian media and popular music topics that barely scratch a surface of “baby” this and let’s “drink” that. Those things can be pleasurable and personally important, but so can engaging with a deeper story. I think modern music and media for that matter is failing its audiences’ and listeners’ intelligence.

As a band you seem to take an active interest in progressive politics, art and culture, playing a benefit to raise funds for Bernie Sanders’ campaign for example. How important is it to you that you engage with these kinds of causes through your music?

I don’t know if you can really separate music from community and social well being. Music is perhaps the only sacred place where people can come together, regardless of political, social, economic, race, etc. Music is where you are a human first, and the rest of the nonsense that’s largely been classified to divide second. It is expression in its purist state.

Bernie Sanders is an important political figure for the US and the world right now. He has taken a stance against plutocracy. The very same structures that allowed events like The Salt Riot to take place.

Every generation, political, and historical time needs this type of figure. They symbolise the uprising. They symbolise the “human.”

Who did you work with when recording Dead Star and how did they help you to realise the album?

Dead Star was recorded with David Miner at Chartreuse Muffin Studio. David knows our band so well I would argue he is the fourth member. There is a lovely feeling of an unspoken connection when we get into the studio. There is no need to do over and over and to explain and explain; it is simply intuitive. David has that touch. He can dissect a band’s music, understand its motivation and cause and he simply brings it to life. He knows exactly where to sprinkle extra “salt” and where to let the main dish shine.

I’ve heard on the grapevine that David Miner is a killer sax player. Digressing for a moment, he (and everyone else) needs to check out a band from Manchester here in the UK called Mask Of Bees. They have plenty of great sax. But back to The Salt Riot…

Oh WE will make sure to tell him. (BTW, we would love to get over there to play!)

Can you tell us how you came together as a band? How has The Salt Riot developed into the trio you are today?

The Salt Riot primarily started when I became disillusioned by the classical world of music in college and decided to stop bowing a violin and start writing songs of my own on guitar. Meanwhile Jack Machin was already recording records at the age of 18 in his dad’s Seattle suburb basement for high school bands, and playing in Jazz Band himself. Nick La Pointe was playing percussion in school symphonies and spending his off time in hardcore metal bands in the Seattle Scene. When the three of us came together to make it work, we could easily see the common classical training that allowed us to “keep up with each other” while also pushing the band in new directions because of our different musical preferences and sensibilities. It is an interesting dynamic for sure. We push each other to hear different areas, styles and nuances all the time. It’s a constant challenge to each of us. and I believe we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jack, if it’s not too personal a question (and tell me if it is!) how did you end up in Seattle after hailing from Reading here in the UK?

The Salt Riot [Jack Machin]: The Microsoft global recruitment Tornado of 1994 swept my family away, and for good! We do visit quite often though.

Obviously your current base of Seattle has a long-established history when it comes to independent and alternative rock music. Do you ever feel any weight of expectation upon you as a result of your geography?

The Salt Riot [Julia Vidal]: You cannot deny it here. This town has heard good music, damn good music. You don’t get praise just for showing up to a venue and playing. The general public has high expectations when they come out to a show. You cannot impress them as authentic with a cover song. The great news is there is a huge appreciation for original song writing and for that which falls outside of the term generic. The blessings are there with the weight, or as we like to refer to it, the challenge and the bar that has been set.

Do you think that your classical training has helped set you apart from other bands or musicians in any way? It’s my perception that your arrangements are more sophisticated and engaging than many other bands.

All of us studied classically, and Jack studied jazz as well. I think this type of schooling lends itself to a developed sense of writing. Two hundred years ago humanity was living without TV, without the internet, iPads, etc. We communicated in song, the written form. You can hear the detail and the agony of a concoction nursed by time and skill at the opera, the symphony. This kind of music was comprehensive and complex. It has been slowly turning into snippets, soundbites, marketing catch phrases. From two hour symphonic pieces, to 45 minute albums, to singles. All three of us love the sound when organic instruments come together in melody and play off each other. It’s organic and it sounds real. At the same time classical training gives that stiff and limiting sense of rules and regulations when it comes to music, we also had to shake these off to write originally. Rules give form but BREAKING the rules gives meaning.

There’s an exquisite juxtaposition, too, between the rock and pop sensibilities of your music and the weightiness of your lyrics. Was there an explicit intention to balance the two elements of your songs in that way?

Absolutely. This goes back to my point about the generally generic and somewhat vacuous lyrics of modern pop. I wanted to have themes that were powerful and global, but play them against the same types of melodies one would hear in a popular song. Part of this was thinking was to get these lyrics heard, to get people engaged with them through a familiar sing song melody. It could largely be a failed attempt. But pop and rock don’t need to be empty modes of expression. Of course many great artists have used catchy melody as a tool to further deeper meaning. Each listener takes away something different, depending on how hard they are listening.

The Salt Riot promo 2015

Your music videos have been as visually engaging as your music is aurally. How cold was it for you, Julia, having to fall into Lake Washington in the middle of December in the video for “Get There”?

I boasted and strutted around like a ridiculous peacock after making the plunge. Although for a few seconds in the water there was a moment where my body was so shocked it just stopped moving.

You can’t make an album without taking a risk. This was the physical manifestation of Dead Star in many ways. That and the beginnings of acute hearing loss.

I had a really visceral reaction to Dead Star and tried something a little different with the Skin Back Alley review. Your music inspired some really cinematic and visual vignettes. If it’s not a ridiculous question (and it might well be) do you ever think visually about your music when you’re writing it?

Wow we were floored when we read it. I felt like I was reading the Sabian symbols for each notation, like a psychic vision of each lyric and note I had written. I think it is hard not to visualise music especially as the lyrical writer. You are telling a story and painting it aurally. The art is all there. It was such a great feeling to read someone who not only “got it”, they SAW it. And felt it! It’s the most rewarding feeling as an artist.

Your video for “Angel” has a really strong aesthetic, set against the backdrop of the desert-like landscape of Vantage, WA. How did the visual concept for that video develop?

Honestly meeting Joe Moore and Brain Quarella from Smokescreen Media was an instant match for creative energy. We bounced many ideas around for that idea and after they heard us out they simply said “we have the perfect location, meet us at these coordinates on Saturday.” We tried to get a real address out of them and failed. We ended up following them from a nearby gas station. There was a geology team studying rocks that we had to wait out to film it.

The Gorge there is simply stunning. There is an aura of positive fullness and simultaneous emptiness just by gazing at it. It was such a perfect backdrop for really the only ballad on the album, “Angel.” The song lyrically fits the haunting, daunting and emptiness of the landscape.

Its quite a juxtaposition from Western Washington, you drive over the pass and you loose all your old growth trees and you simply have desert.

Can you tell us a little bit about the cover art for Dead Star? Who created it and what its significance is for you?

There is a local artist here in Seattle. Her name is Tara Lee. We spent months and months going through her collection. Tara is so emotionally engaged with her art. It’s truly special to watch her with it. Tara feels ties to her art in the way we feel to the music. She also had the perfect visual for the Dead Star as the falling modern rock icon… or the political figure for that matter. Her art captures so much emotion and poetry in a visual way. We felt we were prying her baby out of her arms when it was time to publish the album. She took a deep breath. She was ready to let the world see. Please look her up and tell her you love her as much as we do.

Julia, you mentioned in a recent interview about working with Jay Conrad on your video for “Boom”, and celebrating women working together in the music industry. We’ve just marked International Women’s Day 2016, have you yet been inundated with questions about what it’s like being a woman fronting a rock band?

It is actually quite hilarious to respond to the questions over and over again. I don’t think much of having different genitalia from other musicians. It’s definitely a topic many like to explore though. Women have come so far in so many industries. And we have so far to go. Music is one of those industries. Being expected to act a certain way, play a certain way, dress a certain way, it’s all there. Gender roles hurt us all. I regularly like to encourage Jack and Nick to be as “womanly” and “feminine” as they want while I try the opposite. There is no room for limiting identity in a creative endeavor.

Do you foresee a day when a musician’s or fan’s gender simply won’t be a talking point? It certainly doesn’t seem like we’re there yet. It was really disheartening on International Women’s Day to see Baroness having to speak out against a male fan who had sexually assaulted a female fan at one of their UK gigs, for example.

I think its hard to foresee this day when we have a candidate for our highest office who is primarily distinguished by her sex rather than her topics or any of the actual acumen pertaining to the job. It is the same in music. Women want to be judged fairly, we should have high expectations set for us. We shouldn’t just let the “boys” play the instruments and write the songs. I honestly am more concerned about how under-represented woman are in the sciences and math, engineering than anything else. When you prioritise a gender in one area and not another, you literally loose half a population of thinking brains. And it’s clear we need them all. Man or woman, both or neither. WE NEED them all.

Talking of political and societal issues, does the prospect of Donald Trump as President scare you there in the North West US as much as it does many of us here in the UK?

Scared and needing to vomit immediately can definitely be the same feeling. Donald Trump’s nomination makes it absolutely clear you can buy into an election.

I always say we need separation of church and state, but more importantly we need separation of Hollywood and state. There is only so much acting we can take, “BELIEVE ME.”

Trump’s politics seems to be based wholly in fear, whereas whilst your music may have a dialogue that discusses and recognises elements of individuals’ fear, it is essentially grounded squarely in a passionate hope?

You know, talking about this country and how many people perpetuate and live in fear-based rationale, it permeates every level of our interaction. Music is the place people go to heal, to bond, to nurture ties. If The Salt Riot can create any sort of sense or discussion of people living with other people without the fear, the hate or the rhetoric, than we have accomplished more than we could have imagined.

Trump aside, what are your hopes for 2016? Where can we see and hear The Salt Riot next?

The Salt Riot is listening, we are watching and we are creatively dispensing. We are not living under or near many rocks — just a volcano (the perfect metaphor!). This is a great time to be an artist that has something to say. It’s a great time to be putting music out there freely to anyone who might be able to take a second to really listen.

We are hoping this album is just the start, because we have A LOT more in us.

The Salt Riot are: Julia Vidal (vocals, lyrics, guitars, violin, and synths), Jack Machin (bass, audio mixing, co-producer) and Nick La Pointe (percussion).

Read the Skin Back Alley review of The Salt Riot’s most recent album, “Dead Star”, here.

Connect with The Salt Riot at:
Facebook: facebook.com/thesaltriot
Twitter: twitter.com/TheSaltRiot
Web: reverbnation.com/thesaltriot

Album Reviews | Live Reviews | News | SBA Lists | The Playlist | Under The Skin | Without A Song | Live From Los Angeles – Tairrie B. Photography

Interview: Boss Keloid talk sonic evolution, psychedelic sludge and nice woollen jumpers

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Wigan: a town that, it is believed, was part of the territory of the Brigantes during the period of classical antiquity, an ancient Celtic tribe that ruled much of northern England. The tribe took their name from the same etymological root as the goddess Brigantia, meaning “high” or “elevated”, and was often used in the settlement name Brigantium, translated as “high ones.”

The town is also home to the annual World Pie Eating Championship, usually held at Harry’s Bar on Wallgate, but we digress…

It is possible to harbor a romantic notion that the members of Boss Keloid, Wigan’s very finest purveyors of all things doom-laden, psychedelic and sludge-metal-like, are somehow descended from that elevated Celtic tribe, their new album, Herb Your Enthusiasm, occupying an intense and crushing space, yet also layered with expansive, mind-altering detail the like of which is all too uncommon in the sonic universe they operate in.

“Enlightened” ancestry leading to this delightfully brutal new sonic platter? We can but dream…

Combining metal, art and a wicked sense of humour into one all-conquering music-making unit, Boss Keloid and Skin Back Alley caught up ahead of the release of Herb Your Enthusiasm on the 8th of April.

Skin Back Alley: 2016 seems like it’s gearing up to be a big year for you. There seems to be real momentum for you with the new album, plenty of tour dates and notices from the likes of Metal Hammer and Rock Sound. How does it feel to you guys? A culmination of previous hard work? The start of a new stage in your music careers? Something else entirely?

Boss Keloid [Paul Swarbrick/Guitar]: It’s a natural and continual evolution for us. We don’t see it as a series of stages. We want to continually write, create and play new music that interests us and it’s obviously great to have positive coverage in the press along the way.

When you started out, did you dare to envision yourselves reaching the level of interest that you’re working at now?

We’ve always been focussed on creating new music that we’re proud of and are constantly trying to better ourselves as musicians and as a band. It’s cool that we’re at a point in time were a few more avenues have opened up for us in terms of gigs, exposure and press coverage.

Lots of UK bands find it necessary to head south to help move their career forward, but hailing from Wigan and working in the north of England doesn’t seem to have hampered you? Do you think your geography has posed any particular challenges during your time as a band?

On the contrary, within the north west and especially Manchester there is a lot of passion and hunger for live music and bands of a heavier ilk. We’re happy to be part of that. Of course, we’d like the opportunity to play more shows around the country which can sometimes be restrictive logistically. We have a few tours lined up for later on in the year which will see us venture into pastures new.

How did your relationship with Jon Davis, Chris Fielding and Skyhammer Studios come about? What influenced your decision to work with them?

We were aware of the high quality work that Chris has produced at Skyhammer and the vibe and tone he can capture on record. I got in touch with Jon who didn’t take long in convincing me Skyhammer was the place for us. We were positive Chris could give us what we wanted and make the record sound massive but also with great clarity and depth. He certainly did. We asked Jon did he fancy providing some additional vocals on a few songs that we thought would work well with his scouse battle cry over the top. His vocals compliment Alex’s really well on “Lung Mountain” and “Chabal”.

And was it therefore almost inevitable that you signed to Davis’ Black Bow Records?

Not necessarily. Jon asked for the finished album and then offered to release it, which is cool. We had a few other label offers but went with Black Bow. It is a relatively new label but already has a tasty roster of bands so we’re really pleased to be part of that.

The new songs seem to have a greater sense of depth and dynamism to them when compared with your previous album, The Calming Influence of Teeth. There also seems to be a greater focus on melody. Was that something you were specifically aiming for?

Most definitely. The last record had a lot of ideas, perhaps too many in hindsight. With the new songs we focussed on giving the riffs and vocals more room to breathe and incorporating a greater sense of melody and depth. We spent a lot of time getting the tone and vibe exactly how we wanted this time around.

The new material still feels as though it has more complex, progressive elements, but it seems as though the more frenzied math-rock elements have been paired back. Is that a fair observation?

Sure dude. The new songs feel a lot more cohesive and considered. In hindsight, the approach to crafting the songs from the last album felt a little contrived perhaps, with the focus on trying to cram as many ideas and riffs into a song as possible. The songs from the new album came together more naturally.

I know a lot of people who love a good pun. How did you settle on Herb Your Enthusiasm as the title of the new album?

It just popped into my head when driving home from work. We agreed pretty quickly that it would be the album title. We are keen gardeners. It’s a bit daft but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use it.

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You’ve made no secret of the fact that you took the band name Boss Keloid from the Iron Monkey song of the same name. Has Iron Monkey’s brief but vital career influenced any other aspect of the Boss Keloid philosophy?

Iron Monkey created some pretty dark and sludgy music but also had a great warped sense of humour that came through in their music. These similarities can be drawn to our band. Humour and heaviness is very important.

Early reviews of Herb… seem to be placing you in the same canon as Clutch quite a bit. Never an insult to be compared to Neil Fallon and Co., but your sound draws on numerous influences. People might be surprised to hear you reference the likes of Snarky Puppy or The Carpenters in interview for example?

Everyone has their own frame of reference when defining our music, some are more applicable than others. Collectively, we have a wide range of tastes and influences and aim to draw on these as much as possible when crafting the songs. We are always focussed on keeping things interesting, heavy and dynamic.

Our sound has developed naturally without putting much thought or desire to fit into a specific genre or style. The song writing dynamic hasn’t really changed since day one. I have some riffs and ideas that collectively we craft and refine into a song structure until we’re all happy.

You seem to be able to maintain a healthy sense of humour in and amongst the work involved in putting out the new album. Would you say that’s important to you as a band? There seems to be a philosophy of taking the music seriously, but not taking yourselves too seriously?

Yes, definitely. We have a strong chemistry which is based around a shared appreciation of all things warped and humorous and it’s important to bring that into the music without it necessarily being obvious.

Tell us about the incredible cover art for Herb Your Enthusiasm. It’s an awesome piece of work and striking imagery. Who? What? When? How? Why? What does it represent for you?

The beautiful album artwork is courtesy of Ben Tolman. For me his work draws parallels to Hieronymus Bosch, one of my favourite artists, and his intricate surrealist and psychedelic depictions. The artwork should be left to the individual’s interpretation. It blows me away when I look at it and get lost in all its layers and detail. The more time you spend enjoying it, the more amazing little details you uncover, similar to how I view our album.

It’s been suggested that you’re a woolly jumper connoisseur. What makes a great woolly jumper and can we expect a Boss Keloid Christmas edition at your merch table this year? Perhaps with a nice green herb motif?

I enjoy a nice woollen jumper indeed. I have many which have been knitted for me by my wife’s Aunty. Pattern, texture, colour and fit are all very important. Herb Your Christmas jumpers will certainly be on the cards. Great suggestion dude.

We only ask a paltry commission, honest.

At the risk of entrenching a Wigan-based stereotype and inviting every possible Yorkshire jibe in return, do you guys each have a favourite type of pie that you can recommend?

Steak and ale, as it has meat and beer in it. A pie is only a pie if it is fully encased in the finest pastry.

What have you got in store through 2016? Presumably as much touring as possible behind the new album?

The album is released on the 8th April and we have a series of gigs lined up in April, June, August and October including an April support slot with Conan in Manchester, the Noiz All dayer in Manchester with Hang the Bastard and Witchsorrow in April, and a 5 date tour in August which will culminate at Riff Fest 2016, Bolton.

We’ll also be playing Mammothfest 2016 in October on the same line up as Conan, Black Moth and Bast. We’re also pulling together a tour for the end of the year too. The album’s first video for “Lung Mountain” will also be released March/April time.

Boss Keloid’s new album, Herb Your Enthusiasm, is released on the 8th of April via Black Bow Records. Pre-orders are available from the 26th of February via bosskeloid.bandcamp.com. You can read our review of the splendid platter of psychedelic sludge here, and check out the official album teaser video below.

Connect with Boss Keloid at:
Facebook: facebook.com/bosskeloidband
Twitter: twitter.com/bosskeloid
Bandcamp: bosskeloid.bandcamp.com

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Interview: introducing UK rock band Vermillion Tides

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Photo (C) Rhian Melvin

If all you know about Halifax in West Yorkshire is what you’ve learned from Sarah Lancashire on the BBC, or some high-profile TV ads for the banking sector featuring some bloke called Howard, then be prepared to have your eyes – and ears – educated.

Vermillion Tides are an up-and-coming rock band based in the town, playing a vintage-tinged, energised strain of psychedelic rock n’ roll. Having worked with a host of solo artists and bands with some serious pedigree, Vermillion Tides’ guitarist and chief songwriter Blair Murray decided to branch out on his own in an entirely new direction.

Blair himself picks up the story as the band catch up with Skin Back Alley ahead of their debut live show this coming weekend. Also present, vocalist Natalie Cooper-Bates, bassist Andrew Tarling and drummer James Newsome.

Skin Back Alley: Give us an introduction to Vermillion Tides. Who are you all and how did the group come together?

Blair Murray [Guitar/Songwriter]: Well Vermillion Tides has come about from when I split from Twisted Wheel and decided I wanted to form my own band, but something that was completely different.

Natalie Cooper-Bates [Vocals]: And that’s where I come in. Blair wanted a female singer, we had been dating for a while and he had seen me perform with an old band of mine, so it kind of made sense really.

James Newsome [Drums]: I had been mates with Blair for a long time, I even used to teach him drums. He wanted to focus on writing and playing guitar, so he asked me to join and work on some songs before we decided to recruit our other troops.

Andrew Tarling [Bass Guitar]: Me and Blair had worked together before doing some work for Tom Hingley [solo, Inspiral Carpets]. We had always kept in touch. He had sent me some demos of the new music he was doing and when he mentioned he needed a bassist I was well up for it.

Forming in 2015, the band itself may be relatively new, but you’ve all had experience playing with other artists and bands, I understand?

Natalie: Yeah that’s right, the lads have worked with some top artists. I myself had only previously played in a low key Leeds band a few years back and before that hadn’t ever even stepped in front of a mic. Actually, tell a lie, I sang with a mic at my school leavers assembly when I was 11 if that counts? I knew I could hold a note or two but just kept it to myself and that was that really.

Blair: I have been playing in bands since I was young and then from that I played drums for Tom Hingley on his solo album. It was Andrew actually that put my name forward for that, so cheers Andy. After that I was gigging round Manchester, and from that I was seen by Twisted Wheel’s management who asked me to join. This gave me some good opportunities. One of my favourite artists I worked with was Laura Cantrell, a country singer which was so far from what I was doing.

Your new single is “Atom Bomb” backed up with “Fortune Cookie” on the B side. Can you tell us about the stories behind the tracks and what they mean to you?

Blair: “Atom Bomb” is a hard one to put in to so many words as each line stands for different things, like everyone has a breaking point, frustration towards those who have power such as the “government.” But when each line of the lyrics is broken down it still comes together as one strong message. I would say it is mostly about people who have addictive personalities and the way those in power say what’s good and bad for you. The chorus is saying that we can all be like a bomb and in time we can blow up. Whilst writing the second verse Robin Williams had recently died, so the story of Adrian Cronauer who Williams plays in “Good Morning Vietnam” was added as condolence to him. There is so much more to this song, but lets just leave it there for now.

“Fortune Cookie” was written in a psychedelic way for the listener to struggle to work out what the story is about, as the meanings behind the song are quite personal. BUT I guess we can give some of it away now. The story can be dedicated to any one who has been disappointed, used and betrayed by the lies people live. The chorus line ‘here comes the rain’ I guess can be seen as a simile to here come the tears, which I’m sure most of us have been told whilst growing up.

The songs have a distinct psychedelic rock vibe to them, and that’s a theme that continues in your aesthetic such as in your logo and cover art. Presumably as a band you always knew you were aiming for that style and sound?

Natalie: The theme if you will is, yeah, that 70’s psychedelic style, but that has a lot to do with our general interest in that era for the clothing etc. Our sound is such a mixture, it’s so hard to say what genre you are and sometimes it’s just easier to put yourself in a category. Although to be honest if you come watch us and hear the rest of our stuff, our sound is all sorts, so you could say we were alternative but that word is so cliché and used way too often. We’re not too bothered what people want to say we sound like, it just matters if they like it or not and get a buzz for it like we do.

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Are there specific bands or artists from that oeuvre that you look up to or draw inspiration from?

Blair: What actually set this idea off for me was when I watched the film “Dig!” [a 2004 documentary, directed by Ondi Timoner, about the careers of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre], so yeah I suppose I have had inspiration from BJM. I like all sorts of bands from the psych scene like Spaceman3 and The Jesus And Mary Chain, which I suppose influences the sound of the music. But in terms of the lyrics it would be more artists like Tom Waits, Dylan and poets such as Oscar Wilde that I have taken an interest in.

Natalie: I wouldn’t say I actually really draw inspiration from anyone as such, I just like to do my own thing. With me in terms of inspiration it comes mainly from the way artists act or style themselves. I mean I can spend ages online just looking through pictures and footage of artists such as Grace Slick, and Cher (don’t judge, she had amazing presence when she first started!)

Where did you record the tracks and who did you work with to record and produce them?

James: We recorded “Atom Bomb” and “Fortune Cookie” with producer Yves Atlanta, who has worked with Peter Hook [Joy Division, New Order], DeStijl, Julie Gordon [Happy Mondays] and Mark Burgess [The Chameleons, I Am Kloot]. We then mastered the songs at Homespun Studios with Andy McKerlie who was the guitarist and piano/organ player on the Folks album “I See Cathedrals” and bass player for Marion.

And what has the response been like to the songs from audiences?

Andrew: It’s been great. Couldn’t really ask for a more positive feedback. It’s interesting to see people choosing which is their favourite song from what we have released so far. Everyone who has listened to “Atom Bomb”, whether it’s their style of music or not, has said they can definitely see it going down well live at gigs. It’s got so much energy. We recently got a quote from a Manchester magazine saying “Vermillion Tides are one to keep an eye out for if their following releases are as good as this first one.”

Can we expect a full album in time? Is that the next goal?

Blair: The next goal would be to release another single and then to bring out an E.P or a small album on vinyl. We are always writing new songs, and for our first album we want it to be the best it can be. I had written the songs before anyone had joined and now that Natalie has now been writing lyrics it feels right to wait until we have a collaboration of songs which has both our input.

Have you got any live shows coming up? Where can we see Vermillion Tides in the future?

James: Yes, we have our debut show coming up at Hebden Bridge, Trades Club on the 27th of February supporting Deadcuts. Their lead singer is Mark Keds from a band called Senseless Things [and he was also very briefly in The Wildhearts – Ed]. It will be such a good night.

Natalie: We love this venue, it’s so intimate and has had some great acts play there over the years. After this we will be playing The Lanes in Bristol on March 19th, which is another cracking venue; a bowling alley, a vintage shop and a gig venue. What more could you want? Another gig we can’t wait to do is in Manchester at The Castle Hotel on March 27th, where we have two great supports and a DJ set. Oh, and it’s on Easter Sunday, so no work the next day which is always a bonus.

Well the future for Vermillion Tides is obviously going to be massive! No, seriously, we have some great support already and can only hope for bigger things. The next step really is getting on some great festivals and keep building our fan base.

Finally, big up Halifax for us. “Happy Valley” has got us thinking it’s full of sociopaths and policemen and women with a dramatically troubled past.

Natalie: Ha, “Happy Valley” is actually a favourite of mine. Bloody loved the first series. Cant beat Sarah Lancashire, she’s great. But anyway, YES to putting Halifax on the map and making people see it’s not a ‘troubled town,’ We’re really proud of being from Yorkshire.

Connect with Vermillion Tides at:
Facebook: facebook.com/vermilliontides
Bandcamp: vermilliontides.bandcamp.com/releases
Spotify: open.spotify.com
iTunes: itunes.apple.com

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Photo (C) Rhian Melvin

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