Emperor Penguin – Soak up the Gravy


Emperor Penguin is back with a new album Soak up the Gravy. It will be released on January 17th on CD via Kool Kat Musik and is available now to stream and downloadfrom all the usual online outlets.

The album comprises 14 original tracks and the new songs are as eclectic as ever, with inspiration ranging from Japanese kids’ cartoons to the philosopher Thomas Aquinas. There are noisy guitars, catchy tunes and some more elaborate arrangements and productions than on previous EP releases. The album opens with art rocking pop tune ‘Hello Picasso’, features a live brass section on the anthemic ‘Hole in Your Soul’, has a guest lead vocal from ‘Queen of Power Pop’ Lisa Mychols on the jazzy ‘Speedwell Blue’ and closes with curry-flavored psych-pop epic ‘The Burning Man’. It’s a selection box of delights with something for everyone.




Neil Christie explains.




What was the moment you knew you were on to something?


We’re still waiting for that moment…


How did this record come together?


Same way as usual: we work independently on the idea for a song. The writer usually shares a rough Garageband home demo with the rest of the band, who make suggestions for amendments, edits, and additions to music and lyrics. Usually, we do this by making changes to that original demo and then sharing them around. A song can evolve through various versions over a few months before ending up in its final form. Or sometimes, as with Nigel’s original demo for Brand New Yesterday, the first time we hear it we all just say, ‘Yeah, that one’s done.’


For the latest album Soak Up The Gravy, we wrote the songs over a period of about six months and then spent another few months recording and fiddling with them in spare time over evenings and weekends. Neil did a home mix in Pro Logic of all the demo’d tracks and then we took the tracks to Bill Sherrington at Crown Lane Studios in Morden for final mix and mastering.



When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?


The only opinion we seek when working on new songs is each other’s. If one of us comes up with something the rest of the band likes, then together we try to turn it into a song. Sometimes, like a cat setting before its owner a mangled bird, one of us submits something that displeases the others. In that case, we delicately flush the rejected song down the toilet.


As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?  


Completely comfortable: the world is equally indifferent to our sentimental displays as are we ignorant of its opinion.


Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?


Haha haha. No. All suggestions welcome.


You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?


Lyrics are tricky. So, I’m going to go for John Donne, Philip Larkin, and W.H. Auden. They each have a wonderful way with words.


What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?  


Prince, at Koko in Camden. An amazing performance and he made it all look like effortless fun. Genius.




When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?


If we thought that, we were dreaming! But we’re not really thinking about writing hits. We’re just trying to write songs that, when finished, seem… not ugly and awkward and wrong. A good song sounds unexpected yet somehow inevitable and correct. If you can hear the effort that went into nailing it together, then something’s not right.


Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?


If a song drops in the middle of the internet and no-one hears it, does it make a sound?


Which five records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?


Here’s today’s list. Tomorrow’s will be different. When do we actually depart for Mars?


The Beatles – Revolver

Joni Mitchell – Blue

Television – Marquee Moon

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

Al Green – Greatest Hits


Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?


It’s simultaneously terrifying and difficult and – when it goes well – exhilarating.


You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?


If our songs are in any way distinctive, it’s because of the things that we couldn’t change even if we wanted to. In the same way that it’s hard to disguise your handwriting or your accent, the way we play is just who we are. Lyrically, we do try to write about subjects that are a bit less well-worn than genre clichés. So, there are songs on the new album inspired by everything from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to government public information films of the 1970s, to the philosopher and Saint Thomas Aquinas.


Vinyl is back, Spotify is ruling, tickets for concerts are becoming more and more expensive, everybody can record songs, social media is the marketing tool, Coldplay stops touring … how will the music industry look like in 5 years?

Who can say what changes will be brought in the next five years by technology? But let’s hope that the current grim political climate will provoke a culture of musical revolt. The Thatcher years gave us punk. Let’s hope a musical upheaval that is equally exciting and provocative comes out of the Trump / Boris mess.

Norman – Buzz and Fade


There are albums of unknown bands that sound like albums of very famous bands. ‘Buzz and Fade’ by Norman is such an album. The quality of the songs is so high that it is hard to believe that Coldplay is better known than Norman. The two bands don’t have much in common but they both write melodies that you accept from the first listen that they must have always been there. If that is the definition of ‘timeless’ then Norman makes timeless Indie Pop. It rocks and pops and it is above all very pleasant.




Eric Nordby explains.



How did this record come together?


We’ve been a band for 15 years now, and as time has gone on people got wrapped up in life; School, families, careers, and we’ve always tried our best to make room for Norman because there’s something special about getting in the same room with these guys.  It’s like that same feeling when you don’t see someone for a year and then you get coffee and you feel like you saw them the day before.  It feels like that to play music with this group.  That being said, we had a major undertaking in releasing something new.  We recorded this album for a bit over a year and a half in Portland, and although it’s been 5 or 6 years since we’ve put something out, we want to make sure that we’re putting out something that really deserves the listen, and something we’re really excited about playing live.




When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?


We were stuck in this musical whirlpool for a while, writing demos, messing with ideas and had just over 20 different ideas and songs we had penned, and it seemed like we just needed to get another voice in the room.  Adam, our drummer suggested a producer he had the opportunity to work with earlier in the year that might be a clear candidate for producing the songs and perhaps help shine a light on what would be good to work on.  When we first played demos to Danny he immediately trimmed the list down to 14 ideas, then 11, and from there we went into the first session with producer, Danny O’Hanlon.  It was brutal some days.  Danny challenged the hell out of us, to write a cohesive album and not just a personal diary of songs.  The songs needed a voice and to tell a story in 3 minutes.  I felt like I was back in songwriting class and guitar 101 some days.  Ultimately I believe we all became a better band because of it, and there was some real unity we had going into recording the album.  We weren’t allowed to hide behind what our ideas of what the songs should be anymore.  The songs were stripped of what we found familiar or comfortable.  I remember the first sessions we were told we weren’t allowed acoustic guitar, harmonica, no piano tones, only synth and electric.  In the same way, you become attached to a certain genre or sound it’s easy to become attached to a composition, lyrics, or what a song is about, that the song becomes this linear thing that isn’t necessarily as good as it could have been had you given in to letting the elements of the song serve the overall compassion.  So, I guess share your music, and collaborate, because there is a lot to be gained from that kind of vulnerability.




As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so? 

Sometimes sharing the songs that feel like they’re a story from the pages of your life is the most challenging.  One of the hard parts with that is being able to disconnect from the music in a way that serves the song, so it can exist without you and mean something to someone else. And of course, it’s uncomfortable.


Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?

I’m sure we could come up with some kind of scheme scheme.  Maybe get the cops on our side by saying people need to buy a copy as a diversion to their parking ticket.  Or it could be alike a Willy Wonka golden ticket thing where they win a free horse or something if they get the ticket from the album, like a lottery.  Make the album super rare by burying all the copies at the garbage dump like the ET Atari game, and then 30 years later everyone tries to find that RARE album and it becomes this mystery that everyone is trying to uncover, bootlegs everywhere, t-shirts, hysteria.




You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why? 


Ray Davies – There’s something really special about how honest and sentimental and appreciative for the small things in life.  Ray does this turnaround in songs like “Do You Remember Walter” and “Some Mother’s Son” this is victorious and celebratory even when life dishes out the unexpected.

Laetitia Sadier – Would absolutely love to write something colorful and wild with one of my favorite songwriters.  Laetitia is always challenging the way I experience music, and her voice is absolutely gorgeous.

Nils Frahm – When I hear a composer that interacts with the world in the way Nils does it reminds me of how small and insignificant I am.  In the same way, I respect the landscapes that someone like John Cage or Brian Eno create I always have immense respect and admiration for those that can capture human experience musically without words.  I also am fascinated with the explorative approach Frahm takes to his works.  They are an adventure that I’m in for.



Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?


Absolutely getting heard is more difficult.  There’s so much out there and it’s hard to get the attention.  There’s so much music now, and it’s available everywhere.  It’s almost like you have to be an Instagram influencer or have to have the promo dollars to get a record into the hands of the right people.  I don’t want to risk sounding like an old man, because I do find new music on Spotify and look up bands new and old on blogs still, discovering most new music online unless I’m in a record store or listening to local college radio.  It’s one of the perplexing challenges of putting out a record.  How do I get people to discover it?  I think it’s one of the greatest challenges a musician faces.




Vinyl is back, Spotify is ruling, tickets for concerts are becoming more and more expensive, everybody can record songs, social media is the marketing tool, Coldplay stops touring … how will the music industry look like in 5 years? 


This year vinyl just surpassed CD sales for the first time, which is exciting to read.  I particularly enjoy vinyl as a format for the sake of the artwork and craft that goes into making a record.  I think as dark as it seems, there’s going to be this continued devaluing of music that happens, but there’s always going to be a love, need and desire for what music brings, and that’s culture, story, and memory.  I think the hard part for a lot of artists is being able to make a living as a musician, and nowadays looking to avenues like music licensing is becoming more commonplace.


As always Don wrote a pretty amazing review. Check it here!

Dan Israel – Social Media Anxiety Disorder

From the fiercely catchy, horn-driven power pop of the album’s opening track, “Be My Girl,” to the dark, moody contemplative drone of “Still I’m Lost,” the songs on Social Media Anxiety Disorder span a wide variety of textures and styles, pushing the boundaries of Israel’s past work. We get to hear what it sounds like when Israel works with two accomplished producers with divergent styles and approaches, and we also get to (brace yourself) hear Israel rap. A little, anyway (while also embracing stream-of-consciousness ranting and raving, that some may even find comedic). “Just Can’t Take It” finds Israel wearing some of his deep love of ‘80s synth-pop on his sleeve, while “125” takes on a haunting, psychedelic tone amidst abstract lyrical directions, and many longtime listeners might well be quite surprised at the many new and uncharted (for Israel, anyway) musical directions taken on “S.M.A.D.”




How did this record come together?

I am a pretty prolific songwriter.  Especially since I quit my day job in 2017 – I worked for the Minnesota Legislature for 21 years and finally quit the job to do music full time a couple of years ago. Since then, I think I have had more time to work on songs and song ideas, so I had quite a surplus of ideas coming into 2019.  Then, we had a really bad winter in Minnesota (2018 to 2019) and I think it really just forced me inside and gave me a lot of time to focus on the songs.  The world seems to have been in a lot of turmoil and I had some personal turmoil that maybe fueled the songs too.  I had all these strong song ideas, and even though I had just put out an album in 2018 (“You’re Free”), I decided to work with two new producers (Jon Herchert and Steve Price) and make this record right away this past spring of 2019.  We got to work on it and it was out by October 2019, due to lots and lots of days spent in the studio, and tons of great contributions from very talented guest musicians.




As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world.  Is it always comfortable to do so?

No.  Not always comfortable.  But for me, it’s necessary.  I’m not someone who can “keep it all inside.”  Never have been.  I think my songwriting is just an extension of my personality – I want to share my experience, my stories, with the world.  Always have been that way, ever since I was a little kid, I was telling people my stories.  But there can be blowback – believe me!  I am OFTEN accused of “over-sharing”, both in my songs and in my public comments, social media posts, etc.  It can be really hard to walk that line between showing enough of my inner state and showing TOO much of it.  So no, it is NOT always comfortable, but I essentially feel like I have no choice.  This is who I am.


Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?

No.  None.  Well, not really.  I don’t understand the music business anymore.  Not sure I ever did, but especially not here in 2020.  I really don’t understand the WORLD in 2020.  I do know that if my music was to be more “contextualized” – that is if it was to be used in movies and TV shows where the emotions and stories could be “demonstrated” by pairing them with scenes and images that corresponded well to the songs, I think it’s possible it would be embraced by a much larger audience.  But a million-seller these days, for a rock album?  Who even sells a hundred thousand records in rock these days?  I’m not sure I want to know.  Not very many artists, and frankly many of the rock artists these days who DO sell a lot are…not very good.  But I do want more commercial success – you better believe I do.  I need a record label, first of all – someone who helps me push this out there.  That would be a good start – some kind of indie label deal and/or some film/TV placements.  Let’s go with that!  I also need more touring support – someone to help me book shows in Europe and around the US so I can bring my music directly “to the people” more often and with better shows.  All of that would help – but I still doubt I’d sell a million!

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Yes.  Absolutely, it is. It’s not that it’s THAT easy to make a record – it still takes work, and time, and money – but it definitely is cheaper than it used to be, with digital technology.  You still have to really spend a lot of time to make something worthwhile.  But manufacturing costs are way cheaper and all of that.  What’s hard is getting it to be heard, above the “noise” of so MANY releases out there, constantly.  The lower costs have frankly made it easier for EVERYONE to make a record – which is great, but hard too, when you’re someone like me on his 15th record and it seems like you’re competing for attention with everyone who ever had a song idea and a basement recording rig.  I am not saying people shouldn’t make their records – but the flood of music has definitely made it harder to get my music heard.  The Internet is a great tool for promotion, and yet also terrible because there is so much “overload” and of course the payments for streaming are SO bad, but that’s another subject for another day!




Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

Well, first of all, I’d be very scared to GO to Mars, but that was not the point of your question!  This is always a tough one, but I’ll try not to overthink it – here goes:
Beatles – White Album

Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (hey, if I’m only getting 5 records, you’d better believe I’m going to bring as many double albums to Mars with me as possible!)
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (I’m a huge Dylan fan, so very hard to pick one fave, but I’ve been SO into this one again lately)
Tom Petty – Hard Promises (same as my Dylan problem, can’t really pick just one, but I’ll go with that one for now)
Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings (I always go back to this one)


Meet The Speedways!



One record, one gig. At least that was the intention, but the plans have changed. Fortunately. In May the follow-up to ‘Just Another Regular Summer’ will be released, the sensational good debut album. The Speedways is Matt Julian’s band and he is inspired by the music of Paul Collins, Cheap Trick, The Cars, Tom Petty and The Exploding Hearts, among others. And the good thing is, you can hear that inspiration on all songs.

Buy here.

With every song you write are you learning to become a better songwriter?


Kind of yeah. You learn what it is that you do best. Lyrically I always try to improve. I do think that the more you write the more bad habits you lose – which is a good thing – Your arrangements become better and you don’t over complicate things as much.


As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?


I had a moment on stage once when I was singing ‘Regular Summer’ where I suddenly realized I was telling a room full of people what a broken man I am! ..but for the most part, it’s not an issue at all. I like to write that kind of sad songs.



Any idea how to turn this one (forthcoming new album ‘Radio Sounds’) into a million-seller?


I think that ship sailed a long time ago! but I do believe whatever level you are you should aim to make a ‘hit’ record. You have to allow yourself the chance to think “what will I wear on Top Of The Pops?” otherwise there’s no point making a record is there? It’s gonna be a strong album and I hope people like it – a million of them!


What’s the gig you will always remember & why?


The first one (which was supposed to be the only one) at The Finsbury in London. Lots of friends made the effort to be there and we played a great set. The Baby Shakes were on the front row singing along next to my monitor. It was the most ‘Power Pop’ moment in history. We’d only had a couple of rehearsals but we nailed it. I also thought the show at the Wurlitzer Ballroom in Madrid was great too. Our first time in Spain and it was a busy night. People knew the words which was flattering as fuck! I really enjoyed that one.


When was the last time you thought “I just wrote a hit”?


I always think that! There’s a song on the new album called ‘In A World Without Love It’s Hard To Stay Young’ that I have a good feeling about. Not that I think it’ll be a hit single! – just that people might like that one. I remember thinking ‘Reunion In The Rain’ would have been a hit for the Ronettes in 1964…




You can’t control the way people “hear” music, but if you could make them aware of certain aspects you think set your songs apart, what would they be?


I don’t know as anything sets them apart. It’s hard to answer without sounding delusional! I write catchy songs with themes of disappointment & regret. They’re quite melancholy I guess, but not in an emo way!..more of a Del Shannon way. I could never write party songs or political songs. I mean, I enjoy those kinda songs by other bands, it’s just not something I’m good at. I think love songs are the backbone of all forms of pop music & I try to write them as sincerely as I can. The first album was a ‘love letter’ to a moment in my life, the second album has songs that are a response to ‘Regular Summer’ but there are a few genre pieces too.