All My Little Words

Interview with Gomez

Posted in Music by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

This one is from the same summer as the Pipettes interview and again, first published on the online magazine Subculture. 


To say that, with their fifth and latest studio release Split The Difference, Gomez have “returned to form” would be an injustice. Nearer the mark would be to suggest that, in the wake of the indie resurgence, their music has become more palatable to the not-so-discerning British public. Having emerged in 1997 with the album that would win the Mercury Music Prize, Bring It On, Gomez have been one of the most consistent British bands of the past decade. With a quintet of studio albums, a collection of B-sides and rough-cuts and a live album to their name the band have faced the slings and arrows that come with the outrageous fortunes of the music world and remained as strong as ever. Subculture caught up with bassist Paul Blackburn shortly before the band’s recent performance at Latitude festival.

Subculture Magazine: Your first album, Bring It On came out in ’97 and you guys have been together for about ten years. How would you sum up the last ten years?

Paul Blackburn: It’s been a bit all over the place really. A lot of travel. Everybody says “rollercoaster ride” and that’s kinda true but it’s been said so many times before that it’s that old one again. So yeah, it’s been life.

SM: And, looking back on them, how  do you feel about your earlier albums?

PB: To be honest with you, I’ve not listened to Bring It On for a long time because we go around playing the songs anyway you kinda hear it when you’re playing it live. I remember the last time I did visit it, it was quite interesting after playing it live so much it sounds a lot slower and a lot more…. I think we rock it up a bit more live.

SM: Are there any tracks that you play live because you’re obliged to, because they’re fan favourites, that you’d rather avoid?

PB: Definitely. I guess there’s a couple of songs that people won’t play. We’ve not played Tijuana Lady for a long time. People definitely like it – I wouldn’t mind playing it – it is what it is I guess. To be honest I don’t really because it’s all stuff that’s your material. Obviously you want to play the new stuff and get people into the new stuff. It’s always going to be a balancing act of new and old, trying to keep all sides happy.


The Pipettes – Brighton Corn Exchange 22/9/2006

Posted in Music by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

Catching a band that have “made it” on a return trip to their hometown is always going to be a little bit different to seeing them anywhere else. Okay, so The Pipettes aren’t quite the Beatles and The Corn Exchange is hardly the Cavern Club but this is still the nexus of the girls’ support; this is where they came from and they haven’t forgotten that.

I first encountered them almost three years ago – minus Gwenno – when they were bottom of the bill at a crummy seafront bar, opening for a godawful Massive Attack tribute act and a Jamiroquai wannabe twat-in-a-hat. The venue was splitting at the seams when they started and emptied almost immediately afterwards. They were special then, they’re special now: they deserve this stage. (more…)

Interview With The Pipettes

Posted in Music, Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

This interview was originally published by Subculture Magazine in the Summer of 2006. It’s reproduced verbatim as the original, although the introduction has been slightly edited to make me sound like (slightly) less of a twat.

Three girls at once: Honestly

Why do we love The Pipettes? For the obvious reasons, obviously: For the polka dots; for the synchronized ‘50s-American-diner-style dance moves; for their unapologetic, titillatingly tutti-frutti pop songs; for the fact that they are women who, while the music industry is collectively wetting itself over girly indie boys, are unafraid to be girly girls.

Those reasons alone should be enough but having recently spent some time in their exalted presence, we here at Subculture have a few more.

An interview never sounds as good in print. The written word alone cannot render the sincerity and consideration with which these girls speak of their band. Nor is the English language sophisticated enough to depict the enormous variety of giggles that can emerge from three such vivaciously engaging ladies over the course an hour. Only when you come to transcribe the audio from such an experience do you realise quite how fucking useless the exclamation mark really is.

Nick: You signed your record deal a little over a year ago but you were around for a fair while before that. The whole thing seemed to be a long time in coming: did you ever wonder if maybe it wasn’t going to happen for you?

Gwenno: Did you think it was?

Rose: We didn’t really think about it.

Becki: No we just started the band and kind of thought “oh, this is a bit of fun isn’t it?” and then when people started liking it that took us a bit by surprise. And then when we got offered a record deal and stuff it was all a bit like “oh!”.

R: It felt like we just tricked them. I always felt like “Aaaaah!” like we’d managed to slip through the net somehow. We didn’t, and to be honest still don’t really, feel like we have, though aspirational and ambitious, expectations of anything necessarily.

G: No. It’s one step at a time isn’t it? It’s been so gradual, even since I’ve joined.

R: But then you relate it to other bands who’ve been going for years and years and years and actually it’s been quite quick. It’s all relative I think.

N: But you guys, it seemed to me at least, were for a while probably the most well-known unsigned band in the UK. A lot of people had heard of you outside of Brighton yet still it seemed you weren’t getting the attention from the labels. Why do you think that, in spite of the notoriety, a deal was so long in coming?

G: It’s the not fitting in thing I think. At the moment people are signing up any two-bit indie band that comes along in a pair of skinny jeans and a funny haircut. The Pipettes is nothing like that so I think it took a while for….. obviously major labels didn’t quite know what to do with us. We went with Memphis (Records) because they just signed us cos they liked us.

R: They took a bit of a punt on us.

G: Yeah. It was like: ‘kinda like this; don’t really know what it is; sign it!’ seemed to be the attitude.

R: The whole thing at the time was like ‘we really like you but we can’t place you and we don’t know how we’d market you’ and all this kinda stuff. It definitely required someone that was a bit less calculating in that way to get us on board I suppose. (more…)

Data Me

Posted in Music by nickchristian on January 28, 2013


Years ago, having interviewed him for my university’s student magazine, the newsreader Jon Snow kindly invited me to watch him broadcast the news from the gallery. It was a difficult, rather than slow, news day, which is to say there was plenty happening but, as was explained, there was very little which stood out as especially important which meant the running order was difficult to devise. My sense of the music released in 2012 has been mostly like that; I’ve listened to a lot this year – perhaps more, even, than I did in 2011 – and while much of it has been worthy, there’s been little – just one in fact[1] – that really stands out for me at year’s end.

Because people like me can’t just not write a list what I decided to do, therefore, was to interrogate the data. At its face, this might seem strange: why would I need statistics to tell me what I like? But hear me out.

Firstly, the way our brains are wired means judgement is neither linear nor static[2]. This means that: 1. How you feel about something after experiencing it for the first time is unlikely to be the same as how you’ll feel after, say, the seventeenth; 2. How you feel about something today is unlikely to be exactly the same as how you’ll feel about it tomorrow. Music critics[3] often say, of albums, “it’s a grower” by which they mean it gets better the more familiar with it you become[4], while the context in which you listen to something (including your mood at the time) can make a huge difference to how you respond to it.

What this means in reality is that our judgment, in any given moment, even about things as subjective as our own tastes, is inherently flawed/dishonest, at least as far as representing our longer term “taste”. Asking someone what kind of films they’re into is a very different question to what kind of film they want to see tonight and you should therefore look in very different places to find the answers. For the latter, I would argue, you ought to stick with gut instinct but for the former it might be worth seeking out data. But what data do we use, and how can we best make use of it?

Computer giant IBM[5] claim that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day which sounds like a lot to me, being one of those numbers that’s so terrifyingly big I’ve never even heard of it. And it’s a number.

Somewhere amongst that obscene quantity of information, you may or may not be surprised to learn, is a relatively reliable record of my listening habits, as well as those of many others of a similarly geeky lilt. I do this by “scrobbling”. Despite being desperately feeble when it comes to anything technical, my rudimentary understanding is that scrobbling happens when you authorise a piece of software to keep track of what you’re listening to, through Spotify or any similar digital service. You are then able to check yourself out at your own personal profile page, somewhere like this.

While on the one hand you may be of the opinion that quantity does not equal quality, that the number of times you’ve experienced something does not adequately represent your value of the experience, on the other you might consider each individual item of data to represent a discreet expression of preference. Whether you’ve very deliberately chosen to listen to a track, or merely chosen not to skip one randomly shuffled in your ears’ direction, those preferences, when added together, might be enough to constitute, or at least contribute to, “taste”. Viewed in this way data, rather than something abstract and alien, in refusing to weigh a conscious choice more favourably than an unconscious one, is simply aggregated preference.

Data, furthermore, can help keep us honest.

In the course of getting to know someone, you’ll often find yourself interrogating them what music or films or books they like.[6] Chances are the answer you’ll get will be on the dithery side; not just because they’re trying to think of something but because they’re trying to think of something that they’re prepared to offer to you for scrutiny. The reply you get won’t, therefore, be a lie, but it’s unlikely to be satisfactorily truthful either. A better question, therefore, would be what book/film/band they’ve read/seen/heard the most often.

There’s a scene in Friends, almost decades old now, the boys are competing with the girls over how well they know each other, with the winner getting the big apartment. One of Ross’s questions is what Rachel claims her favourite film to be – Dangerous Liaisons – which he immediately follows up to ask what her “actual” favourite film is: “Weekend at Bernie’s”, Joey immediately replies[7].

Making your cultural preferences public presents the same dilemma – how much do you care what your audience thinks of your taste and is it enough to alter it? Even if your audience is small in number, you’re going to anticipate its judgement to some extent[8] (otherwise why would you be expressing your tastes in this way at all?) which is likely to result in at least some distortion. To bring us back to lists I might, for example, compile an initial ten or twenty, based purely on my own sense of what I enjoyed in 2012, only to reflect that it’s not as balanced as I would like it to be: it doesn’t contain enough music by black artists or by women; there’s not enough instrumental or dance and too much drivelly indie[9]; the list is too obscure or not obscure enough. Thus I might review those records that didn’t quite make the cut against those I deem to have snuck themselves in, promoting and demoting as appropriate. Before I know it, the whole thing becomes a LIE – not a massive lie but a lie nonetheless – but at least it LOOKS right to me.

Looking back on last year’s ten I don’t necessarily think I got it wrong, but there’s a few that made the cut that I’m not sure I’ve returned to too many times since, the appearance of which is indicative of a recognizable bias on my part.

Even if you don’t necessarily want to rely upon data alone – the data itself is vulnerable to distortion – it can certainly provide valuable insight which can help reduce this bias. In the information age[10] our data is constantly being collected and passed around and sorted and analysed and resorted and applied by all manner of agencies and corporations. One of the most common reasons they’re doing this is to divine our tastes and interests better in order to better predict our behaviour, to understand how we’ll respond to certain prompts and stimuli, and to subsequently manipulate that behaviour in one direction or another.

If they’re doing it, why shouldn’t we?

Of course list-making is a ludicrous exercise, almost certainly indicative of the presence of one if not several psychological deficiencies but getting to know yourself better, as so many self-help books I’m sure will tell you, is not.  Maybe the data can help?


Update: Gonna follow this up with another post later in the week demonstrating how this approach might work in practice. 

[2] I realise this is a dangerously woolly statement to make, especially from one who is not a neuroscientist, but just go with it, yeah? This article on that subject is very interesting:

[3] Lazy ones, granted

[4] Pop music tends to be the opposite – designed to hook you on the first listen, causing you to listen to it a hundred times on day one and then never again

[5] Actually I have no idea what IBM’s primary function is anymore. The topline of their Wikipedia entry describes them as “an American multinational technology and consulting corporation” but what the hell does that even mean?

[6] If this is a date, it may not be going well….

[7] Although I had to check what the first film was, I remembered the second easily enough. I’m not proud.

[8] Arguably, a smaller audience might matter more, as it’s more likely to contain a higher concentration of people you know personally and whose tastes you respect in some way themselves.

[9] There’s always too much drivelly indie

[10] Full disclosure: I just typed in “what age are we in” into Google and “the information age” was the third result, so I went with it

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Posted in Music by nickchristian on March 18, 2012

Last week I tweeted an endorsement of Leonard Cohen’s new record. After two full listens it felt like a really strong album, deserving of praise certainly, but not one that would have necessarily troubled last 2011’s end of year lists. Since then there have been several more trips to the end of the album and back and, well, things have changed.

To understand how, I think we have to return to 2008, Glastonbury Festival, and Leonard Cohen’s Sunday evening performance on the Pyramid Stage. It had been a rough weekend, in the best of ways, and having slept barely at all the previous night, at the end of a glorious summer’s day my legs were past their last. I might have wanted to head forwards to join the many thousand strong standing throng but biology refused. In the end, it didn’t matter as the music and the atmosphere travelled. Boy, did it travel.

From some distance up the hill we sat mesmerised by a master, rumbling through a performance the worth of which was many times more than the sum of its priceless parts. The highlight of the set was always going to be Hallelujah, but it could not have been anticipated quite how high this would be. I couldn’t stay seated any longer.

An unreliable memory has the song starting right on sunset and with sunset that evening at 9.21, the performance having started at ten past eight, that feels about right. Whether the timing was deliberate or coincidental I’m not sure I need to know, but certainly the celestially clear skies were impossible to predict as the last of the evening’s light left the valley and one of the greatest choruses in popular music rang out across the Somerset hills. That was the moment I, along with many others, lost it.

At the time and since I have attributed the tears shed in that field to, as much as anything else, exhaustion, electrolytes and having had one helluva weekend. Last Tuesday morning I listened to Show Me The Place for what must have been the fifth or sixth time and experienced an almost identical response. Bear in mind I was at work.

The troubles came, I saved what I could save
A thread of light, a particle, a wave
But there were chains so I hastened to behave
There were chains so I loved you like a slave.

Maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. It might sound like a lofty goal but music, as all art, should seek to affect; the listener, in turn, should expect, or at least aspire, to be affected. Music can of course serve many mistresses but that is my own principal raison d’ecouter and while that can mean many things besides tears, it seems it’s only listening to Leonard that provokes this particular emotional response.

To my ears Leonard Cohen’s unique brilliance lies in his grasp of the present and the beguilingly beautiful tone he adopts in order to express his outlook on it. Music, I feel, is rarely humble and seldom relatable and on the whole, I think that’s fine but Cohen is a master of communicating meaning and it’s hard not to be grateful.

Old Ideas sounds like an album about having aged. Not about ageing, because it doesn’t seem to speak of process and doesn’t feel comparative, nor of age as the subject matter relates to death, because it doesn’t appear to look beyond itself. Living in the present is a difficult trick to master but Leonard Cohen, impressively self-understanding, appears to have managed it.

The lyrics matter, of course they do, and it is nigh impossible to talk about Leonard Cohen without talking about them. As much as he is musician, he is poet. Still, it is the sound of the words as sung that matters more to me, how that sound compliments and conjoins with the music that proves their worth. The rumbling bass of Cohen himself gently and discreetly balanced by the angel choral harmonies of the Webb sisters. As lovely as the lyrics are they almost deserve a separate study; I’ve scattered a few sets through this piece so if you like these, do seek out the rest.

I’ve got no future
I know my days are few
The present’s, not that pleasant
Just a lot of things to do
I thought the past would last me
But the darkness got there too.

This is not, I should be very clear, an album review, because I can’t promise you’ll experience anything like the same reaction I did. I can, however, promise an album with immense depth and uniquely articulate profundity. If that’s your thing, go get it.

Why Vinyl?

Posted in Music by nickchristian on February 6, 2012

record player needle

As it was announced recently that sales of music in vinyl format had increased for the fifth straight year, Radio 4’s Today Programme last week invited DJ Liz Kershaw and the PRS’s Will Page to try to explain why.

The reasons suggested included:

a) “Authenticity” – a desire to listen to music as it was originally intended

b) Sound quality

c) Information – liner notes and artwork, basically.

d) The desire to own music in artifactual form.

e) “Capitalism getting back at Marxism”

Putting aside the last slightly batshit suggestion from Ms. Kershaw, each of these has its merits but none, for me quite justifies my own love of the pressed plastic form. I have two main reasons for buying records: to connect and to give something back.

As much as I love the plethora of musical opportunity that the likes of Spotify have opened up I am the first to admit that the ease of access to so much music inevitably diminishes the value of one’s relationship with it. Even if you aren’t on the free version of Spotify it’s difficult to feel a connection between what you pay and any music you listen to. If you want to listen to the new Lana Del Rey album you can do so immediately, entirely on a whim and it will cost you, effectively nothing. If you don’t like it, or don’t like it enough, you can interrupt the experience, bail and you don’t ever have to go near it again. Even albums that you love you probably don’t listen to on repeat in the same way you used to when you bought them in units of one, because there’s always something else tempting you to try. I’d be surprised if I listened to even my favourite album of last year as many as fifteen times and that does make me a little sad.

A vinyl LP purchase, on the other hand, is a statement of intent: It says that I will listen to this album several times and I will commit to every listen because, simply, changing the fucking record is a lot more hassle than swiping to the next track on iTunes. Intrinsic to this is an appreciation of artwork and some desire to own music in physical form, but is on its own not enough – I’ve bought some records with dog-ugly covers and I hate CDs and a bedroom cluttered with crap. (Sidenote: that we still say “change the record” when someone is harping on about something makes me very happy.)

The second reason is to do with wanting to support music and a preparedness to pay what I feel it is worth for the pleasure it provides. While it might make it legal to listen to all the music I want, at £10/month my Spotify subscription doesn’t even come close to a full monetary appreciation, or to giving me the sense that I’m not still ripping off the artists. When you know musicians and are aware of how hard it is for even the relatively successful to make a living, this is and should be a . I, on the other hand, am in a grown-up job, earning a reasonable salary and just as I’m now inclined to buy free-range eggs, fair trade chocolate and locally produced cheese – even if all that stuff costs a little more – it’s worth considering the ethical implications of cultural consumption as well.

Of course I’m far from perfect: I only buy maybe a couple of records a month and I tend to buy them from Amazon which is hardly the equivalent of the farmer’s market. But at least I know that, compared to my £10 Spotify sub, a greater proportion of the £10/£15/£20 I spend is going into the pocket of a musician I admire and whose work I particularly appreciate. That means something.

Image by Dan.

Self-Indulgent Ten for 11 – My Albums of the Year

Posted in Music by nickchristian on December 11, 2011

Obviously any list like this is only ever a reflection of the amount of new music one has listened to. These are only the ten records I’ve enjoyed the most of the maybe fifty or so I’ve heard at least once this year; as such there are still many more that I didn’t get round to that I’m sure I would have loved (Zomby for example).  It’s hard to be sure you’ve listened to anything enough before moving onto something else, especially when temptation is but a Spotify search away, but I’ve done my best.

In no particular order (apart from the first one):

Front and centre because she’s my friend but on the list because Erika has made a quite brilliant record. Thunderously  visceral as no other album I’ve heard this year has been, I’m certain PLMS will find itself atop far more prestigious lists than mine.
Big, bold, and brassy I remember first listening to this during the riots. Gets me in the mood for (following) a bit of looting (on Twitter).
No-one walks the line between the sincere and the saccharine with more deftness than Fyfe. For many he has never, and maybe could not, come close to the symphony of Made Up Love Song; maybe I agree, maybe I don’t, but when almost as good sounds like this, does it really matter? “Take my hand and make me feel amazing.” That’s all we want, right?
Just the right side of too epic I think, this album stops you in your tracks with a symphonic clash of doom and divine. It’s no coincidence that Zola features on the M83 album as well.
The album I’ve listened to the most in 2011. I think the girls rather beat the boys this year.
Snuck into my life on a Monday morning that needed perking up. Did the trick and keeps doing it.
Albums with this much depth don’t come round very often. Hard work but more than worth persisting with.
The most joyfully melancholic record of the year.
Unapologetically resurrecting the slacker-gen indie of the mid-90s, Yuck sound like everything I loved back then but better.
Another great debut, lest we dare imagine that music can’t surprise us anymore.
Notable Others
Below Expectations
  • Cut Copy – Zonoscope
  • Friendly Fires – Pala
  • TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light
Close but no cigar:
Iron and Wine
Gruff Rhys
PJ Harvey
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