Category Archive: Miscellaneous
  1. Ed O’Brien: “I’m trying to demystify things”

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    The following is an account of slightly cut excerpts and interview with the guitarist from the popular rock and roll band Radiohead. Felten Ink had the honour of catching up with Ed O’Brien to discuss lockdown feelings, his solo record ‘Brasil’, the passing of time, and of course, the future of the one and only Radiohead. Please enjoy responsibly. 

    How have you been coping with another lockdown thrust upon us – how do you find your own routine being affected for better or worse?

     

    I can’t say that life has changed enormously from how it’s been the last four months, really. I’m quite lucky because I’ve had to implement more. Since, I think in 2001, things came to its point and I knew I had to change. So I knew I had to do something. I’ve had to do things like keeping fit, trying to get stronger, or eating the right things, and meditation have all been part of my routine for a long time now. So, with lockdown, actually, things became easier in a way for me in that regard, because suddenly there was a bit more time. Pre-lockdown, I would get up at 6.45 am and meditate for 20 minutes before the kids needed attending to school and stuff like that. With lockdown, things changed and suddenly I was like, “Oh, there’s half an hour for meditation.” And during the day I found myself being like, “Oh I can do such and such”. Rather than trying to squeeze in a run or train for an hour, I’ve got an hour, an hour and a half extra… So it’s been brilliant health-wise for me and being able to do all those other things.

     

    What about as a musician and the structure? 

     

    Musicians, well… unless you’re on tour or you’re in the studio, there is no structure to your day and you’re not always on tour, and you’re not always in the studio, so you learn how to be structured quite young. You can spend all day on the PlayStation, but it doesn’t really work… I learned that one 25 years ago, there’s something very unsatisfactory about it… it makes me feel like wasting my time away, so I’m pretty disciplined and on time with things.

     

    Although you must have to still keep fit – in terms of mentally and even just through music… 

     

    Yeah, you have to. But what I think happens is, certainly for me the way that I’m trying to, or the way that the rhythm of life works for me and music and creativity and all of that, is that I don’t do it every day, 365 days a year. I don’t do it every day, because for me it’s often the gaps in between, it’s the space. I’ve got a young family, it’s important to be a father and I’ve got a wife. So, what I find is that I’m very much, I’m very intuitive, so when I feel a creative phase I can get to it. I have to say the thing about the first lockdown was I thought, “Yippee. This is going to be great. I’m going to have all this time to … No, I’m not going to tour this record, I’m going to do some writing experimentation.” And I didn’t feel like it. And it was really weird. And I just didn’t want to. 

     

    You’ve been through this with actually having Coronavirus. That must have affected your creative muscles (forgive the term)?

     

    I think looking back on it, getting the coronavirus back in March, there was a very long tail on it. And I thought I was better by about mid-April, end of April, but actually, the way that it affected my energy and my health, it hung on there for a long time, probably until about six weeks ago. So, I haven’t felt it, but now I’ve felt it and you’re right, and what it is it’s like a muscle. I don’t know what is ahead of me, but I feel like I’ve got this big creative phase that I’m about to step into. And that will be probably, I don’t know, a year, two years, whatever it is, and now I’ve got to … I want to start picking up the guitar, start making sounds, new bits of equipment, to find new sounds, to find something new … And I’m working with the things for me as I said, the time away from music is as important. I feel like I’m still figuring this out. I think you’re always figuring it out, and I’m just trying to follow a thread and the thread is really the intuition that goes, “This feels right, or that, yeah I’m not sure about that, that’s not right, but this feels right. I’m not sure, yeah, yeah, this is good.” I’m sort of like Ariadne’s thread in the dark, sort of, “Oh yeah, okay.” Pulling on it.

     

    I’m late to the party in many ways, I only just recently started to listen to your solo record, Brasil. It must have been a bummer, as a musician, to be unable to share your own solo stuff on a more widespread audience?

     

     

    Ultimately it’s what we are, musicians, if you get down to what is it about, it’s about making some sounds that connect emotion with other people. I’ve been touring a lot over the last 25 years or whatever, 28 years, it’s a time when you grow and you evolve hugely as well. You’re playing in this band. I’ve got a band together, a fantastic group of players, and we just started, we’d done gig six, the last gig was at the Roundhouse, and we were just rather than it being ‘oh, rabbits in the headlights’ because it’s all new and you’re bedding down, and we were just starting to feel, just starting to relax, just starting to flow. So, that’s a shame. Having said that, it does allow me to move on from that record in a sense, so that next we go back out there’ll be those songs, but there’ll be some news songs as well. So, it gives you a broader palette. My whole philosophy in life is if you’re presented with something there’s rather an, “Oh shit, we’re fucked.” It’s kind of like, “Okay, here’s a challenge. How can I grow here? How can this be of some kind of benefit? What’s the advantage of this? What’s the opportunity really?”

     

    Your own record ‘Brasil’ has a ton of really important and interesting musicians on it – how did you go about choosing people to work on it? I’ve heard you say you were apprehensive about it, which is weird to me as you’re in Radiohead  – one of if the not greatest band of all time. Like, who the fuck is anyone to say no to you… 

     

    I literally was like, “Who are my favorite musicians?” Laura Marling is somebody whose work I’d followed since her first album, and then there’s David Okumu and Omar Hakim, and Nathan East.  It’s a funny thing because my initial impulse wasn’t to ask these people because I don’t know if this sounds absurd or this sounds strange, but I don’t think of myself, I think the perception of Radiohead from the outside is a lot greater than the perception of Radiohead within. It’s really nice when you say those words about the band, but I don’t feel it. I know that we’ve done some really good stuff, and I know that it’s a great story and I know that we’ve been doing it a long time, but I don’t go round thinking, and I don’t think the others do, thinking, “Oh, we’re one of the best bands in the world.”

     

    How did those decisions come about?

     

    I was out on tour, we were out on tour in America in 2016 and…. And this is the thing that happens, that when you go out on tour it’s a funny thing that happens, Radiohead, you suddenly step out and especially in America, you’re kind of like, “Oh, there’s a lot of people who really like this and there’s a lot of people who really rate us.” And so it gives you a bit of, you go, “Oh okay, all right.” So, that’s when you make those phone calls, you’re on tour and you’re saying, “Listen I know you live in New York, Omar, we’re rolling into town. Or Nathan East, would you fancy coming? Come to the gig and I’ve got this idea I want to talk to you about.”

     

    I suppose you’re right because in a way there’s no way you could continue to make such important work if you did go about thinking how good you were…

     

    I think so, yeah, and I think I mean it’s not like creativity is not something, I don’t feel like I’m responsible for it, if you see what I mean. I think for me I’ve never felt really comfortable with that thing of I’ve done this or we’ve done this, I think I have a different feeling to it, and it mirrors a lot of what my heroes and heroines have always said: “We’re conduits”. And that thing that when something of beauty, or something happens, it feels like it’s always been there, and I just think that we’re dialing in the frequencies and our job as conduits, as musicians, is to be the best shape that we can to download this information, this stuff.

     

    I would argue that you and your band, Radiohead, are indeed so perfect, so unique… so I guess I don’t but the whole channeling thing…

     

    Well, like when you hear Paul McCartney talk about ‘Yesterday’, it was a dream of his. He woke up and he called it ‘Scrambled Eggs’. It’s like, “Did I write this?” And that for me is the mystery and the magic of it all, and I really believe that in order for … Because I’ve seen it in my own kind a little way and in the band’s way, and I’ve seen it with other people. If you start thinking that you’re the dog’s bollocks, that thing stops, it’s like you get kicked up the arse. So, I’m very aware that I’m very reliant on feeling inspired and having that connection. Because I can’t really do it otherwise, I’m not a session musician, I can’t go okay, “G sharp minor, let’s go into this.” I’m not one of those guys.

     

    “Coming out of the darkness into the light.” And I guess that’s to do a lot with your break with depression. Although that was a long time, it was interesting to me, and then I started to think about some of the practices you indulge in to keep yourself healthy and mentally healthy, and with the fasting and meditation. Are you a spiritual person much? Are you religious?

    I’m not religious because religion for me is control, it’s organizing people, I don’t like that. But at the heart of all religions, as Aldous Huxley writes in The Perennial Philosophy, is the same thing, so I’ve taken a real interest in that. And I’ve read a lot, but also more than so reading it’s experience and feeling it. So, yeah and as I said to … I’ve said to people before I’ve worked fucking hard to be happy. I’ve been incredibly blessed. I had a very melancholic disposition, my childhood was really happy and there were very happy moments, but if you were to describe it I think it would be sad. I felt a lot of sadness, and I don’t want any self-pity for that, or anything, that’s just a fact and an acceptance. I always had a low-level of depression and problems with energy and it reached a point where it was, I just … It was very, very, reached a point in 2001 I’d had enough, and I was doing all the wrong things then.

     

    Why?

     

    Because I was doing all the wrong things like alcohol, drugs, all of that stuff, and that obviously, even if you’re in good health that brings you down and that was bringing me down in poor health and depression. There’s a whole six hours on the journey that I went on. I knew I had to change, it was like, I’ve got to do something. And I’d just gone on this journey that, and I wasn’t going to rule out anything. I was just like, “You know what? I’m going to experience, I’m going to do these things, I’m going to experience it, see how it resonates.” And of course, not everything resonates, and everybody’s different.

    You have things along the way that really make a massive difference, and the massive one for me in the last … I’ve been doing it for about a month and a half now, and the fasting has been a big thing. I don’t want to bore you with my medical history or anything, but that’s been a big issue. But the Wim Hof thing, that book, and I’ve been doing the breathing and the cold showers, it’s unbelievable, and I’m on probably the fourth or fifth week of that. And it’s had a huge effect on me, profound effect. I work really hard to be happy, and I’m not happy all the time. But I know that good health, my spirituality, and being present, that’s what makes me happy and that connection. That’s what makes me happy, and there’s a simplicity to it, that I’m very lucky I live a very blessed life, but I don’t need to have lots of things. Shopping doesn’t make me happy, in fact, it does the opposite.

     

    Shopping does make me ill unless it’s online. What does make you happy?

     

    The things that make me happy are very simple things, watching the sunrise, having a great cup of tea, I really appreciate those things. And I don’t know why, but that’s just how I do it.

     

    I’ve been watching a lot of your Instagram live isolation broadcasts. It’s fascinating to have someone like yourself, someone from an utterly life-changing band (in my view), be so available – excuse the term…

     

    It’s like one of those things where it started at something and it’s become something else altogether. I mean, I’m perennially with it, going every Thursday, thinking, “God, do they want to hear me? And that universal thing, I put it out there, I put it, “Do you want me to do it?” everybody’s just like, “We do…”. I think it’s about connection. It’s always, for me, it’s always about connection. And taking something like social media is such a, can be such a destructive force, but there is something absolutely unbelievable that, and we take it for granted now, but 20 years ago we wouldn’t have it.

     

    It makes me contemplate the world – in yours, it’s been 5 years since ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ which really brings reality home.

     

    One of the things that I’ve been part of in Radiohead is that we constructed quite a big … After Pablo Honey and then we just started constructing the world as how we wanted to be perceived and that means a lot of the time you don’t have any contact, you have minimal contact you just place a few things and those are the things that do the work. And you understand what I’m saying, you let the work be done in the imagination, and it’s very cool, it’s a really good thing to do. But I felt intuitively on this record that I wanted to, my … Because it’s five people and it’s a collective thing, but I just wanted to tear that wall down, I wanted to … I’m kind of trying to demystify things.

     

    And you’re doing that…

     

    I think we live in an age of authenticity. I think a lot of those things that were relevant 20, 25 years ago … You think about, bands and stuff like that 25 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, you think of bands like The Clash and Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Smiths, and they create through photography, photos, through music, through videos, they create this world. And most of the time that world is these people are demi-gods. They’re the coolest people on the planet and all the bands do that, you create it. And it’s completely disingenuous. Because all these people are human beings with problems and I’ve met a lot of these people and some of them are stellar human beings and some of them are complete dicks, and I think what’s amazing at this time, and I know there are a lot of people in my generation who go, “Oh, Ed Sheeran, oh. Bla bla bla.”

    I think what we’re living in, and it really struck me about three years ago roughly was Glastonbury, when Adele headlined that Saturday night and she’s just almost doing this girl from next door with an incredible voice and Ed Sheeran’s the boy from next door with … And I’m like, this is brilliant, this is fucking brilliant, this is like looking behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz, it’s like it’s taking it all down. And that’s something I feel comfortable about, and that’s why I kind of wanted to start the in isolation pieces because again social media is being used. I say it’s an age of authenticity, but there’s also a huge age of inauthenticity, we’ve got the extremes, you’ve got the way people construct the way they live this perfect life on social media, and I’m like, ‘I’m not interested’.

     

    Adele and Ed Sheehan are one thing but: What does interest you in terms of making your own music?

     

    I’m interested in searching for the truth, the authenticity of whatever it is. And what I’m hoping is that when we start working in the studio I’ll be able to drop bits of music live. And let people in a little bit into the world of me and creativity and something doesn’t come out and it’s fully formed. I’ve always been interested in how you get there, and I think that’s really important. Because if you explain how you get there, I think that’s empowering to other people because they go: ”Well actually maybe I could do that as well.” And I think that’s so important, That whole thing of demystifying to me is part of bringing down hierarchies. There are so many hierarchies that have existed and creative hierarchies, hierarchies within bands, who’s the best songwriter, who’s the … Hierarchies of who’s the best musician, who’s the greatest artist, and I’ve got no time for that.

     

    Why?

     

    Because everybody has a part to play and partly our job on this planet, I think one of the things I feel is to find out what it is that you as a human being, what is your role? What is the thing that you’re meant to do on this planet? And I honestly, I don’t, just because I’ve been blessed with what I do, I don’t feel any superiority to anybody, and equally, anybody who might feel superior to me, fuck that, I’m not interested. It’s like there are bigger things here, there’s a bigger picture. We’re all here, so it’s all part of that, it’s all part of that whole thing.

     

    I’d be criminal to interview you and not ask anything about what’s happening with Radiohead. Time to me seems like a small vacuum – on that, it’s been almost 5 years since ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’? What’s next for the band?

     

    I know, time has concertinaed, hasn’t it? I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. People ask this a lot because obviously, they’re interested. I think my answer’s the same as it’s always been, I think in order to make a record, and a Radiohead record, one of the strengths of us is we’ve always made records when we’re inspired to make a record. It’s not been about fulfilling a contract or making money, it’s always been about are we ready to go, “This feels good.” And I don’t think we’ve got that impulse at the moment, and it’s again it’s not a mental thing, it’s not something you say, it’s something you feel. And I think that’s always been our strength is to feel it, but I do think that what happened at the end of ‘Moon Shaped Pool’, it’s the end of another chapter. When we started touring ‘In Rainbows’, that was the first time we’d really loved touring and we got it. ‘In Rainbows’ was more about, ‘fuck me, this is amazing, aren’t we lucky touring?’ And I think that has continued, and I think it feels like it’s the end of another chapter. And we just have to figure out. Also, I think, I’m speaking personally and I think it’s the same for Phillip and I think it’s the same for Thom and Johnny, that everybody’s kind of really into doing their own music at the moment. Everybody’s growing, everybody’s continually growing. The problem is with bands, when bands … kind of the level of success, say, that we have, and have made the amount of records and stuff like that, what often happens is you see the band lose their mojo. Do you know what I mean?

     

    I guess. But Radiohead never lost their mojo? 

     

    My understanding of that is the mojo being lost is directly linked to the band that starts making, that has always made creative decisions, that starts making financial decisions. And goes, “You know what? We’re going to do it because we’ve got a contract to fulfill and we get lovely advances.” I’ll never, ever, ever, ever be part of that. And I’m sure the other guys wouldn’t either. I’m not interested in that. I’d much rather walk away now and it’s got to be in the right spirit, it’s got to be because you’ve got a love for it, it’s got to be because you’re inspired, it’s got to be. And it’s because that’s where it’s always going to be, and I think also the thing is if we made a record that wasn’t that way, then it’d be like the Wizard of Oz, the truth would be revealed that actually … I think it’s that intention and that spirit that elevates what you do because it makes it more powerful. When you remove that and it becomes about status, power, money you can fill out every stadium, you can fill out every arena, but you lose that. But I will never, ever go down that route. I would much rather, literally, honestly, I have no qualms, I would much rather walk away and dedicate myself to working in my garden. There’s people who recognize that there’s a purity to it. And it’s real, and there’s honesty. And if we were to lose that it’s like a bond that’s broken. I think that underpins everything. You might not like our music, but there’s an integrity, that’s at the heart of it.

     

    Ed O’Brien, thank you. 

  2. Understanding a musical obsession: The Grateful Dead

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    By Ashwin Tharoor

    Lovers of rock music will very likely have heard of the Grateful Dead, but their reaction often veers from musical obsession to scorn. Some consider them the greatest band to have walked the earth. Others dismiss it as long, noodle-y and aimless in its form; just Jerry Garcia running scales up and down the guitar. However, there was undoubtedly something special about this band. They consistently created a beautiful, transcendent quality in their music I rarely seem to find anywhere except jazz. The band were highly indebted to that genre as well as countless other forms of American music.

    I discovered the Grateful Dead, funnily enough, through an episode of the cult sitcom Freaks and Geeks. When the protagonist Lindsay is feeling down, her guidance counsellor gives her an LP of their classic album American Beauty. Listening to it alone in her room, her spirits are almost immediately lifted. Despite being fictional, this scene really resonated with my experience and probably countless others. If I’m feeling sad, the music of the Grateful Dead is almost always the perfect antidote. It’s partly this emotional reaction within people, including myself, that has consistently created fanatics of their music for almost fifty years.

    The band had their roots in the San Francisco sound and counterculture of the late 1960s, but unlike many of their contemporaries they transformed their sound rapidly, going into the ‘70s. Trying to categorise their innumerable influences is tough, but in their first ten years they deftly incorporated psychedelic rock, blues, country, folk and jazz into one cohesive sound. Succinct and sweet melodies of Americana are clear on the studio album American Beauty, but it was their live shows where they really shined. In their early years they could easily exceed three hours, leading to a common saying amongst fans that ‘there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert’.

    It’s a listening experience that is often genuinely exciting, surprising and emotionally powerful. Their shorter songs display some incredible songwriting, in terms of both music and lyrics. Robert Hunter, a non-performing member of the band, wrote the lyrics to most of the band’s original songs. I would rank him up there with Bob Dylan in the evocative power of his writing. He had a great ability to tell stories that reach into the distant past but still touch on an ever-present human condition. He also conjured up many mystical lyrical abstractions that perfectly complemented the band’s early psychedelic forays.

    The longer, improvised pieces the Grateful Dead are well known for also evoke a kind of fleeting beauty for me. Like many jazz groups they would extend solos over chord progressions to slowly tease out new musical ideas in the moment. In their early years they also became incredibly adept at improvising together without a specific form or structure. Each band member effectively playing a ‘lead’ instrument and responding to each other’s changes almost instantaneously to create magnificent, intense peaks and introspective, exploratory troughs. To paraphrase bassist Phil Lesh, they became fingers on a hand; moving separately, but always in relation to the others.

    Their concerts became places where the barrier between audience and band was broken down, with every person in the room collectively experiencing the same transcendent and entirely unplanned moment. Intertwined with this experience, and the very existence of the band itself, was LSD. The band solidified their direction through performing at Ken Kesey’s famous Acid Tests in 1966. It was a drug that epitomised feelings of transcendence, breaking down barriers between the self and the external world, and being completely in the present moment.

    Despite never having seen them or their music performed live, I’ve found myself increasingly obsessed with no end in sight. Almost all of their live performances are available to listen in high quality, for free, on archive.org. There’s virtually an endless amount of music to listen to, and since the band evolved their sound so frequently, it’s easy to understand how one gets hooked. They were well known for never performing a song exactly the same way twice.

    The fans of this band are overwhelmingly white, American, and somewhere between the age of 40 and 70. I’ve noticed I fail to fall into any of these categories, yet I think the fact that I have become such a fervent listener speaks volumes about the music itself. I often find the massive subculture surrounding the band quite cheesy and typically American, but still, I can’t deny the brilliance I so often find in the music itself. My passion for this band far eclipses any of the musical phases I had in the past, and I can definitely see it continuing many years to come. I hope my rantings and ravings have inspired some to give them a closer listen, because getting sucked down the rabbit hole is well worth it.

    Recommendations:

    American Beauty (1970)

    Europe ‘72

    Cornell ‘77

    The Grateful Dead Movie (1977)

    Photo by Richard Pechner

  3. Jacob Lovatt: “I don’t want people to think, ‘God, let’s go end it all.”

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    “Will the rats carry my box, and the dogs dig my grave, will the pigeons lower me, down, down, down…”

    Jacob Lovatt has been a pioneering figure within the Glasgow music scene for some of it’s most important and memorable years. He emerged in the early 2000’s with Uncle John and Whitelock, a raw, rabid hybrid of post-punk-horror, recalling bands like Gallon Drunk, The Birthday Party and The City and Crime Solution.

    After leaving Uncle John, he started Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, a vessel for him, and his band which has since cemented his status as the man responsible for the genre ‘doom-wop’, even if that term was initially coined as something of a piss-take. Since the band’s inception, they’ve managed to release three of the most gloriously gloomy albums this country’s ever witnessed. As we discuss, it’s a frustrating and slow process, but worth it for those of us seeking light from the darkness. 

    In this warm and funny interview with Jacob Lovatt, we discuss the difficulties of making the most from the underground, the restrictions that artists like he and his band faces, being creative whilst managing a family life, the comedy in the sadness of the tunes, and subsequent ‘trenches’ he goes through to make such angelic music.

    Let us bathe in the joy and not the misery.

     

    Jacob, you released ‘The Moon. The Hare. The Drone’ record back in 2018, and you dropped the ‘Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ from the main credits, if not in the band makeup – Why was that?

     

    I suppose that personnel shifts had occurred within the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, somewhere and another. With that album I went to the band said I thought of dropping it. It was more for guys in the media, or guys like yourself, it was just a bloody mouthful. I thought I’ll just do you guys a favour. I thought ‘lets just cut that’. It was a bit of a laugh when I came up with idea of calling the band that. It was really about ‘how big a name can you get away with?’. I wasn’t even thinking it was gonna be a recording band initially, that wasn’t really even on the agenda – I was just trying to find a vessel that I could vent stuff I was writing after leaving Uncle John and Whitelock.

     

    In doing so, move more towards being a solo artist?

     

    There was a little move in that direction, I suppose lyrically and mood wise. I was thinking this is what I do, it’s who I am, and since Uncle John it has been a vessel for me venting my creative, angry or whatever outlook. 

     

    What’s the future for the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers?

     

    The way the band works, on the last album, is kind of the way it’s working now. Just after we finished ‘The Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, guys in the band were all just becoming fathers, so that had a big impact on what we were doing musically. You just don’t have time and if you do then you’re not doing your dad job properly. Bringing up kids and being in bands at the same time is difficult, unless you’re making loads of money, but we’re not. At some point we’ll get together. On the last album, I’d booked a studio for 11 days with some ideas. I know Chad (guitarist) had a few ideas and we went into the studio and it was whether we’d come out with an album, or one song, we just didn’t know. It was the first time I’d ever done that and it was a really nice process. That’s probably how things will work in the future. We don’t tour, we don’t do anything like proper bands do, cos no-one asks us to play gigs!

     

    And is that different from your approach when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?

     

    It’s not the same world when I was in Uncle John and Whitelock. People watch what you do in terms of your social media presence, your Youtube output, your… ‘whatever else it might be’. Everyone’s got a job, and everyone’s doing that and music at the same time – and we’re not full-time artists where we can just put all out energies into that. But that was always the way it was gonna be after Uncle John and Whitelock, for me. I’d made that decision. I wasn’t gonna be ploughing into full-time musicianship and going down that route. I wasn’t willing to put my neck on the line, really, thats why its became more about the me writing, trying to come up with songs or at least enough of the songs to to take to the band.

     

    These days you’re now living in St Andrews? 

     

    I grew up in Dundee, so it’s strange back to be here, especially after spending 12 years in Glasgow. I feel like I’m kind of haunting myself. I keep kind of almost bumping into an 18-year-old version of me. Although things have not really changed that much. I try really hard to do some writing and get some new stuff on the go, that’s the main thing at the moment. The rest is all looking after kids, wiping arses, changing nappies, walking dogs, doing the washing.

     

    How does living away from Glasgow, the surroundings, affect your songwriting?

     

    I knew it would stay dark but when I first moved north of Aberfoyle, I thought it’s all gonna go towards folk music, that it would become all about the woods and the hills. I was almost expecting that to come instantly, but it didn’t happen. Really, it wasn’t until the last Jacob Yates album where it started to come through [the woods and the hills]. It slowly seeps back through into you. I grew up in England when I was a kid, in a small village and the woods and fields was always around but it’s only just come into my writing now, really.

     

    Did you ever consider chucking everything and just focusing on music?

     

    I was never in a position where I thought this could work full-time. We’ve never had a label say ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you an advance’. At the height of Uncle John and Whitelock, there was a few larger labels that sniffed about. But even then, eventually they were like ‘nah we’re not gonna go with that, that’s not gonna happen’. It has crossed my mind. When I was walking away from Uncle John and Whitlock I was like ‘well if I’m gonna stay it’s gonna have to be full-on, mad type thing’, and I just didn’t wanna go ‘full-mad’. I didn’t think it would be good for me and I didn’t think it would be good for anyone else.

     

    It’s a wee bit frustrating for ‘followers’ of your music having to wait such a long time in between albums…

     

    It’s a tough thing for the guy trying to write them! Time, money, availability… it’s down to that. Each time I finish I then need to find someone to put the thing out. It’s enough of a big thing to go and record an album, but who’s gonna put it out?!

     

    How do you go about getting these records out?

     

    With the ‘Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, I already had that album in the bag. We’d sent some emails out to a few folk, Chemical Underground, a few other Glasgow labels, and got nothing back from anyone. Then, I’d thought about Keith from Optimo, who I’d known for ages. I knew they’d loved Uncle John and Whitelock and I just was like ‘do you, would you, put a record out by me?’ and he was like, ‘dude I’d put anything out by you’. So we met, chatted a bit and he said ‘look, we’re a dance label, and this is something we wouldn’t do normally, we can’t promote you… we don’t have money to put into the project beyond pressing them up’.

    Equally, I sat opposite and said ‘well, I’m not going to tour it and or do any gigs really, so I won’t be doing much around marketing it’ etc. We both laughed and he said ‘Ok, cool, lets do it.’ Let’s face it, no ones making any money off of what I do. I’m not and nobody else is.

     

    Presumably the same when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?

     

    We shifted quite a lot of units but we put a lot of work into that. We sorted out the distribution and we gigged a lot so people were interested and at every gig we’d be selling records. I’m not doing that as much now, or nowhere near what I was doing with Uncle John and Whitelock, it’s just not viable.

     

    I guess real life must get in the way…

     

    Real life has to get in the way, you can’t ‘not’ go to work, pick your kids up from school, and the rest of it, you know. Unless a tour pays more than I’m earning, then it’s not gonna work, and then with that I’m gonna be away from my family and that makes me feel shit too, so it’s a double edged sword. But I would desperately love someone to say ‘Hey, let’s go and tour’. I’d love to be playing live music evert night of the week, ofcourse I would. There’s nothing I like more than standing in front of my band and going ‘this is amazing’. Thats what i get the biggest hit out of.

     

    Let me be one of many to say the output is still brilliant… 

     

    It’s nice of you to stay that. I’m very critical of what I do and I always go back and think ‘I could have done that, maybe I should have done this’, and thats of course what you do. It’s good to be like that, I’m not really that satisfied. I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m always constantly thinking ‘well, maybe I could try this or do that in a different way’. I dunno where the new stuff will go.

     

    Your music, lyrics etc are often quite dark, a huge attraction for myself. You seem a pessimistic sort… is that fair?

     

    *Laughs* Pessimistic maybe. Do I think the worlds doomed? Yeah I guess I do think that, but every time I say that I laugh, that’s the way I look at it. You have to laugh these things, or not take them with any ounce of seriousness. You have to be able to look at the funny side of things. The kind of music that I love is quite often like that too. I think thats just what comes out, I’m trying to sort of emote… I’m trying to write songs that I’d like, where I’d try to get some kind of emotional content across and some emotional cross back from the audience. I’m totally aware of that, that’s something that I thrive on. I want people to feel sad, happy, angry or confused, or bemused. But I don’t want people to walk away thinking ‘God lets go and end it all’.

     

    How about your own metal health – how does that make it’s way into the music? if you don’t mind me asking…

     

    I definitely suffer from darker trenches that I go through and I have issues that I have to deal with. I’m feeling on the up at the moment a bit – sometimes I feel very despondent and difficult. I don’t mind you asking that. It’s good to talk about these things. It’s nice cos you can kind of make these things autobiographical if you want or you can characterise it in a way thats a narrative about something else, so that’s a nice way of ‘sort of’ dealing with it. Without it I’m defiantly a poorer person. If I’m not addressing it it I defiantly suffer for it.

     

    “Had to tell the truth, my lover had upped and gone – hanged himself in the woods with a dog looking on.”

    – “Bits of Glass’ from the ‘Goths’ album. I’m slightly obsessed with that song and that line, it’s bleak to the point of poignant.

     

    It’s funny cos theres the myth around it and it being real even and whether that’s true or not, I’ll leave that to the listener. It comes from when you drive along roads you must see bunches of flowers rotting by the roadside, I know a place where I see this bunch of flowers, and it evokes the story and it takes me to place. It does what the song says, it’s just about a couple that break up. She crashes when she leaves and it’s the aftermath of that, and how you deal with guilt, or not *laughing*.

     

    What about the writing of songs like these, how does it work for you?

     

    Some things like that will trigger a narrative, or I’ll piece together a story from that, but it might just be as simple as seeing a bunch of flowers on the side of the road, or an abandoned car on the way to work. That’s where ‘Bits of Glass’ came from. Other things like ‘Care Home’ (From ‘Goths’) will just be things out of the papers, about… you know, the state of the world, and Jimmy Saville and all the rest of it. There’s lots of different triggers, there’s lots of areas, things from my childhood, stories or myths that I’ve read or heard about, it comes from all over the place. It’s great!

     

    The ‘Goths’ album was particularly dark. Can you tell me about that?

     

    On ‘Goths’, all those songs were little kind of gothic/ horror. Yeah, it was a pretty dark album *laughs*. The idea was to make it be so dark that it’s just pitch black. Then there’s a little tiny bit of light that you see creeping underneath the door, maybe that’s a good or bad thing, cos who knows what’s out there. Good friends of mine listened to that record were either like ‘that’s rubbish’, or, ‘it’s too bleak, it’s too down, man, I can’t take it!’

    With songs like ‘The Heart’. The line “Five hundred years ago we were cutting off peoples heads, look how far we’ve come, we’re still cutting off people’s heads… burning babies as witches..”. The song is massively bleak, but it has that punchline at the start so there’s instant laughs. But then there’s the line ‘We’re burning babies as witches’, which people are doing right now, burning their kids cos their possessed.  While you’re still laughing, you hear that, so then your like these people are just sick, what’s wrong wit these people!?

    I do like that. I love lyrics. 

     

    How has your approach to writing changed over the years, the influences?

     

    You definitely mature as you go. Sometimes it becomes not far off being ‘automatic’. For me, it can be very much like a ‘third hand’ writing it. I found a song the other day, I was just going through some lyric books and looking at some notes and I found something. I can’t remember writing it, and it cant have been that long ago. It’s of the ilk of what I’m doing at the moment, and I’d just stuffed it in my notebook and clearly hadn’t thought about it since. But when I found it I thought, ‘this is great’! There are times when you are just automatically writing, which is a nice thing to have.

    With Uncle John and Whitelock, it was very Marijuana based. A lot of creativity comes out of that but a lot of time you’re just rubbing your head and not really doing anything. So that’s why the lyrical content has matured over time, because I’m not doing that anymore. You just get better at writing just as you go.

    In terms of the influence and where things are coming from, It’s not really changed massively from Uncle John and Whitelock, from what I look at and where I take inspiration from. I think the rural side of me, the guy thats sitting on a beach and watching his dog run around, I’m noticing more organic things coming through and theres more of nature of things coming through, it’s getting a bit more Ted Hughes. I’ve been working with a filmmaker called Henry Coombes and he’s interested in the audience and what they’re doing while I’m singing these songs. So while I’m talking about really dark subjects, it’s looking at why are people hugging each other and laughing or why is a boyfriend or girlfriend kissing in the background. I’m never a member of the audience so I don’t really know, it’s an interesting thing to look at. I don’t get to see it from the stage,  cos I should be lost in the moment or I should be lost in the moment otherwise it’s a shit gig.

     

    Have you ever considered just publishing poetry?

     

    The project that I’m looking at, at the moment, the filmmaker (Henry Coombes), there was an idea to pull together a documentary around me and the songwriting, the creative process, live performance, and then looking at the reasons of what I write about, the humour, the darkness, the bleakness. We tried to get some funding together to try and expand on that but funding didn’t come through, which was a bummer. So I started to think about trying to do a digital book of poetry and lyrics, but also within that there would be live performance and music. Maybe that would be going back to my songwriting back to when I started until now, which is a pretty vast expanse.

     

    You mentioned the influence of drugs previously, albeit ‘lighter’ ones like Marijuana, and you have written about it a lot in your music – was that ever a possibility for you?

     

    You have to check yourself sometimes. I could have gone down that route and imploded and have done nothing. I was lucky to find a beautiful amazing person in my life who’s now my wife so that totally pulls you through these sort of things, and you go. Thank God for that.

     

    Has there every been a chance of Uncle John and Whitelock coming back together for a tour?

     

    I wouldn’t know, but I would never say no to it. It would be a good laugh, with those songs… 

     

    Do you still listen to that band?

     

    I might stick ‘Crowley’ on sometimes, listening to that big booming base. I enjoy that, I have very fond memories. Good times were had with that band but hopefully that’s enough. Maybe I’ll be to be sitting in a chair, in a care home one day, thinking about that time…

     

    Besides music or family life, what are your current passions?

     

    Wandering with my dog on the beach. Like Lemmy used to say, ‘I’m happiest wandering in the fields with my dog’. I am most happy doing that sort of thing, outside of the family, which is amazing and wonderful, but it’s nice to spend some time by yourself.

    Jacob, thank you.

  4. Isaac Cordal: “I miss a dose of positivism to create a new inertia in the world.”

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    Isaac Cordal is a Spanish artist who finds inspiration for his sculptures on the streets. Is he commenting on homelessness, architecture, capitalism or middle-aged patriarchy? Felten Ink chatted to the man himself to find out what was going on. 

     

    Your art is fascinating. Tell me about how you started working in the way you do – you’ve said previously that it came about by accident?

    By that I meant my relationship with urban art which was a bit casual. I had been making smaller and smaller sculptures in my studio for some time, and I thought it would be a good idea to integrate them with the urban space. The material I was using was cement and it seemed to me that it made sense that they should be in the city as their natural space. Cement seemed to me a very symbolic material because it one of the footprint that betrays us in front of the nature.

     

    Why did you start to use figurines as a key element of what you produce? 

     

    Working in sculpture logistically is complex. I thought that reducing the size would allow me better mobility and conceptually it works well. The project was intended to be a critical reflection on our idea of progress. I chose to stereotype middle-aged business man as a metaphor for decadence, patriarchy, power…My interventions try to become a reflection on the side effects of our idea of progress. Cement Eclipses refers to when a building blocks the sunlight and we stay in the shade. It seems that more than ever we live trapped in that shadow.

     

    How long have you been experimenting – since childhood? What were your early instincts?

     

    Since I was a child I have been intermittently connected to drawing, music and ceramics, as my mother was a ceramist and sometimes helped her in her workshop. Maybe school, high school, all that industrial education limited us in the sense of creation. Early instincts? Well, I remember pen comics that were quite macabre.

     

    It’s cliche but what influences your work?

    Inspiration has a lot to do with everyday life, both what happens around the corner and in remote places. There is a constant bombardment of events and the media distort reality, I miss a dose of positivism to create a new inertia in the world. I am basically influenced by everyday experiences, books, films, art … inspiration is something complex, without an appointment.

     

    Tell me about your locations, such as New York, in relation to your work. 

     

    Cities today are quite similar to each other, so much that we might transit them and think that each one is a neighborhood that continues into the other. Gentrification and tourism tend to turn cities into amusement parks, they lose their personality and their urban centres tend to become a kind of open-air shopping mall. In other cities the centre tends to disappear, it becomes a spectral and decadent place. I think my interventions work in those abandoned spaces that dot the urban environment. I’ve had the opportunity to do some things in NY but always ephemeral. I would like to do something more permanent.

     

    Is there any place you would love to work in, to take your sculptures to?

     

    I would like to go to many places, the list is endless, but maybe Tokyo, Hong Kong and back to Latin America.

     

    Do you subscribe to the notion that you’re a street artist? It seems to me that photography is also a huge part of your work… 

     

    I basically consider myself a sculptor. At first I used photography to document my installations but little by little I realized that the images alone perfectly summarized the themes I wanted to deal with, so it became an important part of my work. There are some installations that I make just to take a picture and talk about a specific subject, the search of an image as a final work. And in other occasions the photography works as a document of an installation where the sculptures are the essential part.

     

    Tell me about working in public spaces – there must be alot of challenges to deal with?

     

    In the city there are a lot of visual stimulus, especially advertising, and I think it’s interesting to introduce other kinds of details, even if they are subtle and small, that can change our perception. Nowadays we interact little with the urban space, everything is forbidden or about to be forbidden. When you work in public space it’s complex to control what’s going to happen, it’s part of the game. There are multiple factors to take into account. I am interested in the sculptures staying as long as possible in their location so I place them at a certain height so that they are not too accessible. They disappear for various reasons, as you say, the public interested in them, the cleaning services, … is part of a cycle of survival of these objects that we add to the urban furniture. Some installations are ephemeral to take pictures that reflect on a specific topic. Other installations claim to be more permanent and that is when I place the sculptures on top of the walls, cornices, windows, cables … In some cities, sculptures have a longer life than others. In some places the sculptures are well camouflaged and can spend years without even being seen. When you do something in the public space everything becomes uncontrollable.

     

    Why are street landscapes important to you and how you work?

     

    The space has an essential role as it is what gives meaning to the sculptures. The same sculpture depending on the space and its location can change its meaning. I usually choose spaces that are a kind of zoom, a macro universe, generally with a certain dose of decadence. I use windows, cornices, cables, walls, holes … a residual architecture that serves as a shelter for the sculptures.

     

    You’ve spoken before about the rich and the poor being ‘visible’ – homelessness maybe – why are these themes important to you? 

     

    I think it is important not to lose the capacity for self-criticism and to reflect on everything around us. I think we should take a step back and contemplate the trail that progress has left in its path. It is a quite desolate landscape and capitalism is its creator.

     

    Is your work political?

     

    I think politics is in everything. Every little everyday act is subject to its pervasive power. We’ve had presidents who were actors, showmans, rich kids, … nothing can surprise us anymore, right?

     

    Do you think these days politics is just another form of business?

     

    Obviously there are different politicians in the “market”, right?. In a way I think it is a business, or at least it favors the business of the elites, you just have to look at the “rotating doors” from the public to the private sector. Perhaps in the past there were certain politicians with a more vocational profile, with values, today I think it is very different and does not look like improving.

     

    How much time do you spend in the studio before you go out into the real world – whats the process like and whats your schedule?

     

    In my studio I model the pieces in clay, polymer clay or plasticine. Then I make a silicone mold and strain them into different materials. The time to produce the pieces depends on their complexity, but in general I am quite slow when producing. The process of working on the street is a mixture of research and casual encounters. Sometimes I see a place and it suggests to me to create a scene. Other times it’s a more random process. The ideas I use usually suggest a specific space and sometimes it takes me a while to find it, or it just doesn’t work out what I had planned. It’s a drift in the city.

     

    You’ve recently had an exhibition in New York – tell me what you have planned in 2020…

     

    It wasn’t exactly an exhibition. I was invited to an art residency and had the opportunity to do some ephemeral street installations and take some pictures. 2020 looks interesting. I’m already working on new projects in my studio, see what comes out of it. I’m also curious.

    See more of Isaac Cordal’s work

    Main image by Henrick Lund.