Tamar Berk – Start at the End (Q&A)

‘Everything will now be measured by the me before my dad died and the me after. And even though his life and my life as it was ended, I need to start over.’, says Tamar Berk.

The new songs came about during a difficult period for Berk. Start at the End is therefore an emotional and very personal record.

It’s easy to imagine that all of her future music will be compared to this new milestone in her career. That’s because it so good!

Start at the End has a different, richer sound than its predecessor, or do I hear things that aren’t there?

“Restless Dreams of Youth” was a collection of older and newer songs. Some songs that I’ve had for years that I had lived with for a while,  I wanted to keep those as true to the original intent as possible. I also wanted a more light-hearted nostalgic vibe.

On my new album “Start at the End” most of the songs are new. I wanted to explore more instrumentation and layering to mirror how complex my feelings and emotions were in regards to dealing with the death of my father, Covid, my feelings towards life and death in genera,l and the emotional and existential crisis I was going through.

I was deliberately trying to capture that with more richness and complexity of the songs.

At what point did you know you were making your best record?

I did not at all. I was crying a lot during the making of this record. I changed the structure of the songs many times, asked for advice from many folks, almost cut songs and actually, had close to a complete breakdown a few times to the point where I almost put it on hold.

So yeah….I did not know.

But my family kept encouraging me. 

I have a feeling the record came about in a tsunami of creativity, and it wasn’t an endless puzzle to find what you were looking for?

Yes….I had some sketches for songs but after my father died in June….I was overflowing with emotions and confusion. I locked myself in my studio and just wrote and composed for hours. I was mourning through the songs.

How much fun was it writing and recording Real Bad Day?

AHHH! That is one song I’ve had in my pocket for several years. I always wanted to put it on an album and actually, almost didn’t put it on this album. But I was listening to it one night and thought about the fact that it was a song talking to my mom about having a bad day….and I realized that I only had my mom now, so I wanted it to be a dedication to her.

As far as recording it, I remember Matt Walker texting me and saying that he had SO much fun playing drums on that song and Allen Hunter who played bass sent me his tracks and mentioned that he sweated up a storm while playing that! There was a lot of good energy that went into the making of that song!

I was wondering what’s the story behind the photo you’re using as the cover?

The photo was taken on New Year’s Eve 2000 Y2K. The person sitting next to me was my boyfriend at the time but we were in the midst of breaking up. I knew it was the end of our relationship and yet, we decided to go to this party. I was pretty miserable in the photo, but I tried to act like I was in the spirit by blowing into that noisemaker. The thing is, I knew that though it was the end of our relationship, it was the beginning of a new chapter for me. I felt hopeful too and I suppose that’s what endings are…just new beginnings—starting at the end of something.

This also is the same way I needed to feel after my dad died. I will never be ‘Tamar’ the same way again. Everything will now be measured by the me before my dad died and the me after. And even though his life and my life as it was ended, I need to start over. I thought the photo was a perfect depiction of the bittersweetness of endings and new beginnings. Isn’t that what a new year is symbolically? 


EMPEROR PENGUIN comes out of the lockdown with their best record.

SUNDAY CARVERY is British through and through, like The Kinks, Elvis Costello, or XTC, but don’t expect a retro sound; the band is firmly rooted in the present tense.

Neil Christie talks about Fran Lebowitz, rough home demos, strong melodies, and a quirky sensibility.

After seeing the conversations between Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz, our little house in Utrecht was filled with her typical wisdom for months. How did Fran Times a Million come about?

Fran Times a Zillion came about in a way not dissimilar to your own experience! Guitarist Nigel is a fan of the wit and wisdom of author, raconteur and native New Yorker Fran Lebowitz. He urged us all to watch the recent Scorsese series about her, Pretend It’s A City and converted us.

Nigel decided to write a song in praise of her and “Fran Times a Zillion’ is the result. The conceit of the chorus is that the world might benefit if we were to scientifically replace all the morons in the world with cloned duplicates of Ms Lebowitz, multiplied by a zillion – a numerical exaggeration she often employs. Nigel is attending one of the dates on Fran’s forthcoming tour of the UK and may well serenade her from the stalls.

The creation of the record was certainly different this time. Not being able to create together in one space has led to a beautiful result. When did you know it was going to be okay?

Thank you! The songs were written and recorded during the 2020/21 lockdown at home in London, Retford and Surrey. Getting together to rehearse was difficult at that time due to pandemic restrictions, so we made home demos and shared them with each other online. Usually when someone shares a rough home demo there’s a fairly quick consensus on whether something’s OK, or not OK.

Then each band member adds bits, removes bits and changes bits until the songs gradually takes shape. Once we had rough home demos of enough songs we got together as a band in a studio in London, with producer Jamie McEvoy. Jamie helped us to turn the rough demos into final tracks, overdubbing vocals and guitars and ending up with probably our most polished set of recordings yet.

More than usual, Sunday Carvery is compared to the music of XTC. When that comparison is made, what do you hope they heard?

It’s flattering to be compared to XTC as they are musical heroes of ours. If you can hear a resemblance, I think it’s because we’re in that same tradition of literate British guitar pop with witty lyrics, strong melodies and a quirky sensibility. Like XTC, we can’t help being influenced by bands like The Beatles, the Kinks and The Move, but we also love everything from Burt Bacharach to The Wombles.

Nigel actually loves Rush, but we have forbidden him to speak of this. XTC’s approach is eclectic and hard to categorize; I hope people can hear that we share a willingness to try different styles and sounds in our own way.

The last record is always the best. Especially so soon after the release. However, I think I know that in your case it really is. You too?

We think Sunday Carvery is our strongest album so far in terms of songwriting and production. It’s great to hear you agree!

What musical dream would you like to fulfill?

Musical dreams! We’d like to travel back in time and appear on the 1974 Christmas episode of Top of the Pops, please. And while we’ve got the use of the time machine, I’d also like to catch The Beatles at The Cavern, The Sex Pistols at The Screen on the Green and The Who at the Marquee Club.

For the future, the dream is just to get more people to hear our music and enjoy it.

Amoeba Teen – s/t (Q&A)

Amoeba Teen’s first album in three years will be released on April 22 on Big Stir Records.

Mark Britton and Mike Turner spoke to Sweet Sweet Music about the beautiful harmony vocals, the pedal steel, and how this self-titled record, their best by far, came about.

What made you decide to record the new songs ‘live as a four-piece’ in the studio?

Mark Britton: Apart from Suit and Tie (which we recorded live) on our previous album, all the other tracks were recording one instrument at a time. We really liked how Suit and Tie came out and it made us realise how much energy there is when you capture a live recording – just like the way records used to be made years ago. So this time around we thought we’d capture the live sound and bottle some of that energy that you’d feel if you came to one our live shows.

Mike Turner: We had so much fun working with Sean Lloyd at Claptrap studios when we previously recorded Suit and Tie with him, he was able to capture the sound of the band better than any of our previous releases in my opinion.

Probably a lot of thought went into recording the vocals (because they sound beautiful)?

Mark: Thank you! We have to thank Sean Lloyd, our producer for that. Not only has Sean got a great recording studio, he pushed us to try new things. But rarely did we have more than 3 or 4 takes on a track as we wanted to capture the spontaneity of a live performance.

Mike: I had a joke whilst recording the vocals that “more is more”.  Just when we thought we’d hit the vocal lines and we’d got the end result, it was “let’s keep going and see where it takes us”.  

We had the basics of the harmony lines and backing vocals from the initial rehearsals, but approaching the layering of backing vocals, stretching out and experimenting into different directions when recording is something which I love to do.   Many of the final BVs were built up in the studio and thankfully we have voices that can blend quite nicely together. 

By spending the time working on the backing vocals and harmonies, we made an album that we love, that doesn’t feel like we missed something off.   So many great albums have layers of backing vocals and harmonies that you don’t even realise are there.   But if you took them away the songs would not have any where near the same impact. 

When (and how) did you find out you were recording your best record?

Mark: Going into this recording process we knew we had a strong bunch of new songs with lots of arrangement ideas. And bringing our producer, Sean, into the equation made sure that sonically they’d sound great too. All we had to do was focus on capturing a strong performance as the four of us; we’d done the preparation with rehearsals before we stepped into the studio.

Mike: I think we recognised that the songs stood up really well.  In rehearsals we tried out a bunch of other tracks, but you know when they’re not quite happening.  Myself and Mark have an unspoken understanding that if we’re having to try too hard to make an idea work, then it’s probably not right.  At least for now.  

And then of course the pandemic threw us a curve ball.  We originally started recording in November 2019, with the view of the album coming out in the summer of 2020.  But the delay in being able to record gave us plenty of time and space to live with the songs. To make sure we did them justice in the recording.  By the time we got to having most of the tracks coming together we realised that we really needed to keep going to make the songs the best they could possibly be, hence the horns; the pedal steel, the additional keys.  Not to mention the backing vocals.

With Sean doing such an amazing job at recording and mixing it all, we then wanted to give it the best possible finish, which is where we turned to George Shilling for mastering the album.

Somehow the first single, January, sounds a bit different from the rest. Is it just the pedal steel?

Mark: I think this is one of Mike’s best songs to date. I played 12-string on this which adds more jangle, but certainly the pedal steel gives it another dimension.

Mike: I do love the sound of a pedal steel!  I’ve wanted to record one onto our songs for so long.  January came from one of the early writing sessions, and when we first ran through it as a band it sounded so vibrant.  I probably had in mind a mix of The Lemonheads, The Jayhawks, and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by The Byrds.

The core of the song is in a similar style to what you can normally expect from Amoeba Teen.  A few reviews have picked out particular songs from the album as having a certain musical style, but for me it all feels natural and comfortable.  There was no preconceived idea that we needed to write an Americana influenced song.  I guess it’s in the DNA of what we like to do. 

Putting the Kids Through College sounds so melancholic. How did the song come about?

Mike: I had the phrase “putting the kids through college” for a while.  I guess the song can be a bit melancholic, but that wasn’t the intention. It has a resignation about it, it’s a gentle sigh!

As parents you always want to do the best for your kids, and that sometimes the sacrifices now will only be fully realised many many years down the line.    We have lots of baggage that we hide from our kids, and petty opinions that we would rather they didn’t mirror or pick up on.