More Kicks – Punch Drunk (Q&A)

Punch Drunk’ is the second album from London-based trio More Kicks on Dirtnap Records (USA) and Stardumb Records (EU), and it’s easily one of the best Power Pop records of the year. Everything is right; the melodies are powerful, the hooks sharp, the lyrics effective, and the performance outstanding.

James Sullivan explains that there was no grand master plan behind this masterpiece.

I like to believe that there was a moment during the creative creation of Punch Drunk when you must have thought, ‘Okay, we’re that good. This is the new level.’. Or don’t things like that happen?

Thanks! That’s a very nice thing to say. But sadly, I don’t think I had that thought at any time. I knew I liked the songs but the distance between me writing a little song in my bedroom and the three of us actually recording the ‘finished’ version is really quite large. Not in time, necessarily, but if you heard my crappy demos, you’d see how hard it is for me to imagine how it will all sound in the end. So many variables are involved in how the songs evolve to the point when they’re released into the world, so it’s hard to have the bigger picture in mind.

I will say that I was always excited to hear what Kris and Paolo would bring to the songs. And then, once we’d rehearsed and changed things, I was always excited to hear how it would be once we’d recorded. And then, once we’d recorded, I was always excited to hear how it would be after we’d mixed it, and after we’d mastered it, and then how it worked in combination with the other tunes on the album. But, yeah, that all feels a VERY long way away at the start of the process.

You just never know. There have been times where we’ve been in the practice space playing a song that we think is great, and we work really hard to make it as good as it can be… but then, in the end, with a bit of objectivity, we decide it’s not good enough – and then it’s gone, and we move on. I can never really tell which songs that will happen with.

The world has changed since the release of your 2019 debut. Has that affected the way you produced the new record?

It stopped us from touring and playing live, a very large part of how songs evolved. We had to practice much more and in a much more focused way to get to the point when they felt ready to record. Playing a new song in a gig is equivalent to playing it for probably ten practices. Things sounding good is much quicker when you can try things out on stage.

The recording process was more or less the same though. We recorded it on tape at the same studio as the first album. Playing live in a room and recording on to 2″ tape. Just trying to get a good take that captured some kind of energy, even if some of the playing wasn’t perfect. There are a couple of extremely dodgy guitar takes on the album but in context with the rest of the instruments it works so that’s more important than any kind of perfection in technique.

I love recording on tape. It’s not for everyone but I like that there’s nowhere to hide. To me, the record sounds alive. I can hear moments of hesitation, or how the bass slips under the kick drum at points, or how the vocal struggles to keep up with the tempo in other places. It sounds exactly like us playing and I love that.

When I try to interpret Punch Drunk, I hear a multitude of different styles that you bring together in a natural way. Was that a goal in itself, or did it come naturally?

Pretty naturally, I would say. Although I was really determined to make this record as extreme as possible. That might sound strange because it sounds like a poppy rock and roll album. But the loud bits are louder, the quiet bits quieter. I didn’t want any two songs to be similar in any way – either in chords or in atmosphere. There were a couple of good ones that didn’t make it on to the record because it felt like we had that base covered already. “We already have the mid-tempo, harmonized chorus, doomed love song covered – let’s put the slow, existential nursery rhyme drum machine song on instead.”

Clearly, much thought has gone into the lyrics and how they are sung. It remains a challenge to get people to really listen?

Again, thanks! There actually wasn’t much thought into how they are sung. It’s just about capturing a good take. I usually sing the song twice and use the second one. I really like using full vocal takes instead of cutting anything up – it’s more fun to record and as long as you can sing in tune, it almost always results in a more compelling take. It’s fun to hear a singer struggling for breath occasionally.

I do tend to write lyrics quite quickly as well. I often write backward – starting with the chorus. I think at this point, I know when I’m on to something good and I can edit myself quite well. I have an ego about many things but I have no ego about dropping lyrics or ideas for lyrical themes that aren’t working. I can tell when is working and then I try to do it as quickly as possible to capture that thought.

But yeah it’s a challenge to get people to listen, haha! I guess we’re playing the long game here.

When did you know that this record was going to be very special?

Well, I’m glad that you think that. I wasn’t sure if we had pulled it off until it was totally finished and mixed. Having an objective view is almost impossible until you’re out of it. We had three days to record and then we mixed in 1.5 days. During those days, there was no sense of it being good or bad or anything – it was just about making the thing as good as we could in that moment. Then once it’s done and you can actually listen with something approaching fresh ears, you might start to think: ‘Okay, we did it and I like it.”

Again, that’s the beauty of recording and mixing on tape. You have to make decisions in that second, in that room. And then that’s it. You have to trust your instinct.

Terminal Love is my favorite. Can you share a bit about how that song came about?

I like that one too. It was written just after the first album came out. So it’s an old-new song, kind of. I wrote it in my old flat one evening just before Christmas. I didn’t realize it, but the relationship I was in at the time was about to end. It’s weird to think that because I was literally writing a song called ‘Terminal Love’ so clearly, my subconscious knew it was about to end, but my consciousness hadn’t faced up to it yet.

It’s a simple song in structure. I like starting and ending with the ringing, open chords but having that concise section in the middle. The lyrics are sometimes petty and bitter, sometimes just a bit wistful and romantic. It feels like one person having a conversation with themselves and not agreeing.

Scruff Myers’ Superhands (Q&A)

Scruff Myers’ Superhands is a great catchy Powerpop Punk-ish record , lots of great hooks! LOTS OF GREAT HOOKS!

How did this record come together?  

This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I wanted total control of how the music I heard in my head was recorded. I did it to please myself; it would be a bonus if others enjoyed it too.  

Being busy touring with The Adicts meant I never had a long enough spell of downtime to record it. When my partner needed an operation, I missed a couple of tours while she recovered. It was this time that enabled me to finally get it done.  

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?  

Neil Young once said that if you stay true to your original idea and do it, nothing is a failure; it is only a failure if you don’t.  

I made the record because I had to. I had to give something back to the bands and artists that made my life so much happier over the years. If Superhands music makes like-minded people happy, that is success to me.  

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

I think I write whatever comes out of my head, and most of the time, it sticks. As long as a line is not cheesy, I’m OK with most things.  

I like to put a couple of meaningful/emotional lines followed by a throwaway or humorous one. It may be honest or profound, but it doesn’t give everything away.  

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

My all-time two favorite songwriters are Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg. Tom has sadly gone, so one has to be Paul. His slacker-style songs have always felt relatable and musically a bit more achievable (guitar, bass, and drums).

Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), what can I say? The guy is a songwriting machine. The older I get, the more I understand that his way is the right way. His DIY Lo-Fi approach is something that is a big influence on me.  

Robert Forster (Go-Betweens). To me, he has a Lou Reed feel, a songwriter who manages to combine poetry, humor, and music so well. He also seems to be such a nice all-around nice guy.  

With all 3, I would just like to meet them, really.  

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?  

When Randall, our drummer, heard my demo recordings, he insisted that we work with George Perks (Producer) as he knew he was the right man for the job, which he was in every way. Randall, George, Craig (Engineer), and I had such an amazing bonding period during our first recording session. It was one of the most amazing times of my life.  

The record is done, and the music is out. Is the best fun done now, or is it just beginning?  

My original plan for Superhands was to try to release an album a year for the first five years. Then Covid happened soon after the first couple of gigs. I always try to be busy and constantly want to be doing something creative. Lockdown put that on hold from the performing side of things, so I wanted to keep myself busy in other ways. I managed to put out a couple of DIY online efforts. These compiled older, unreleased, pre-Superhands recordings that I like to refer to as “clearing out the ashtrays”. A third is now in the pipeline.  

The fun is just beginning; the new shiny vinyl is the starting point. From here comes the opportunity to play the songs live; if that isn’t enough, the next release is already being written!  

The Glad Machine – Hey!

The Glad Machine’s new release “Hey!” contains eight wonderful, very personal hard rockin’ Power Pop songs.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Brad Thayer about how the new record came about.

Slow Motion July is such a beautifully melancholic anthem. Did it feel like a special song when you were writing it?

It summed up for us how early COVID felt. The line “you’re weighed down, but your way downtown” really nailed how we were feeling at the time .. the world was scary now. Nothing felt safe. Blocks away. Densely populated places were dangerous territory… glad that’s changing.

‘Somewhere between The Knack and The Outfield,’ I answered to my son when he asked where you were. Would you take that as a compliment? (And ‘yes’, my kids know both The Knack and The Outfield 🙂).

The Knack Is a great example of a band that wrote great pop songs, but also appealed to a more discerning listener, so we’ll take it! And who doesn’t like that Outfield tune, right !?

If I could make songs like you, I’d dream about playing them in a packed stadium. Do you recognize that dream?

Stadiums … huh .. we definitely swing for the fences when we write, and at one point in my life, I imagined it daily, in my room, with my air microphone. Now, the thought of packing a large club with great sound is the ideal situation.

The world has changed since The Glad machine came out in 2017. Was ‘Hey!’ created differently than the previously published music?

It was a different process. Covid didn’t allow us to be in the same room, so most songs were written and recorded remotely. Mike Franklin and I did the lion’s share of the writing, and Mike did most of the heavy lifting with the recording. We produced it together, but he’d get it really close and send me mixes, which I would then send him notes, and we’d go back and forth like that for a bit. He worked his ass off on this!

How much fun is it to write a Christmas song?

Days Gone By … inspired by my best friend Gary Comstock . He lost his mother at 12, and could have easily given the holidays the old middle finger. But he didn’t . For the last 15 years, this NYC artist/writer / chef would post the most sentimental, beautiful, childlike yearnings for the season. His untarnished glee of the season inspired the song. Unfortunately, Gary died July 4, 2021, so the song means so much more to me now.

The record is dedicated to the memories of Gary Comstock, Chris Carr, Adam Schlesinger, Joshua Stoddard, Amber Reeves, and Ross Haberen. All people we lost, during the recording of the record, which absolutely directly affected and molded the end result.

Push Puppets – Allegory Grey

Push Puppets is an indie pop/rock ensemble from Palatine, Illinois.

If you are looking for well-crafted and smart Power Pop, don’t look any further!

Sweet Sweet Music spoke with Erich Specht about how Allegory Grey came about.

It’s a fantastic record, treasure it.

Release date September 30th

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

There were several. When “The Bane of My Existence” was written (the first song written for Allegory Grey), I felt I was on to something.

Then when we recorded bass at Gravity Studios with producer Doug McBride helping guide the already nicely arranged bass part that John William Lauler was playing and really getting all of it, I could tell that this album was going to reach new highs.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I already feel that the record is a success in that we achieved musically and lyrically what we set out to accomplish – which is making a recording that brings the songs to life in the best possible way. I consider myself to be a slave to the song, and when a song goes to where it feels it should be going, that is success to me.

Beyond that, our hope is that the album will gain us many new fans that will keep the momentum going. That is already happening.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

That is what I live for. This period of waiting for the release has been difficult – knowing there is so much more that people haven’t heard yet. So to stop dwelling on that, I’ve found that writing songs for the next album is the best distraction. And I’m pleased to say that the follow-up album (likely to be recorded in 2023) is already shaping up to be something special.

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

I often wear my heart on my sleeve and it definitely has led to some discomfort, but I think that’s just part of this trade. I do try to write with characters a little more often these days, which somewhat obscures exactly what is being said, but those who know me can figure it out. In the past I’ve used names that made is immediately clear who I was writing about. In one case I suppose that I really did want that person to know I was talking about her, even though it made it uncomfortable to be around her.

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

  • Andy Partridge from XTC. I love the way he crafts lyrics and has such a breadth of knowledge to draw upon.
  • AC Newman from the New Pornographers. I’m a big fan. He takes songs in such interesting directions while avoiding being sappy or over sentimental. And all the harmonies!
  • Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. I find his prolific output to be inspiring. I’ve been reading many books about songwriting these days – his being one of them – and am empowered in finding that my heroes don’t have any secret sauce and approach it very much as I do.
  • Elvis Costello. Lyrically he is so amazing. And for someone with so many great songs, he comes across as fairly humble. Funny story – I have a slice of pizza that Elvis handed me preserved and framed in my studio. I met him using a fake backstage pass.

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

That would have to be when my band from the mid 90s was performing at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin. On the way there, we noticed that the safety chain on the trailer was hitting the ground and sparking. When we stopped, we found that the welding had given way, so we just tied it.

Then when we were driving in the fast lane in rush hour traffic in Dallas, the ball of the hitch broke and the trailer was dragging behind us, and the tied chain was all that kept it from hitting the cars behind us.
Then as we were loading in to play at a bar on 6th Street, I slammed my left hand in the door of the van. I was barely able to play guitar, but the show went ok. The next day my entire hand was black and couldn’t move.

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

Pretty much every time I write a song, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and will be loved by the masses.

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?

I think something that is unique in my songwriting is how the words marry with the melodies. I listen to the words to hear their natural melodies.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why? 

– “Sometimes the Buds Never Flower” – This is one of those songs that came in a flash. It was the last song written for the album and rather than work on one that I had partially written, I thought about what I wanted to add to the album. I wanted something upbeat and sweet to offset some of the melancholy that is present throughout much of the record. Most of it came within a half hour. I feel that the verses of this song tell a beautiful story that applies to life in general. I did need to ask my mom some questions about flowering trees.

– “There’s No One Else Like Lynette” – I think this song is so much fun. It’s not the most mature song lyrically, but it is focused. I love the way the line “There’s No One Else Like Lynette” is set up with the feel changes and the Tommy James style guitar lick.

– “The Bane of My Existence” – I love the melody of the chorus and how the chord pattern changes for the second half of it. The upright bass supports the retro vibe of the song, and the drum fills at the end kill me.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

  • Wilco – I love the writing and Nels’s amazing guitar playing. Plus they seem like they’d be nice guys.
  • Guster – They too seem like great guys to hang with.
  • The New Pornographers – I love all the harmony!

An Andy Bopp Compendium (reimagined and compiled by Nick Bertling)

‘I consciously decided to sand down some of the jagged edges and make a nice collection of lesser-known pieces that have a more friendly or straightforward approach.’, says Nick Bertling about An Andy Bopp Compendium (reimagined and compiled by Nick Bertling).

The result is overwhelmingly beautiful, a work of art, a great introduction or a most pleasant re-acquaintance.

Nick Bertling explains how this anthology came about.

How would you describe An Andy Bopp Compendium (reimagined and compiled by Nick Bertling)?

I would describe the album as a playful, lighthearted glimpse into the vast world of the records of Andy Bopp.

How did the idea come about, and how did you proceed?

Andy has been part of my chosen family for many years. He’s always been supportive, critical, and brutally honest with me about my work, and I’ve been a fan of his for years. I’ve taken the de-facto role of “archivist” since I’m more familiar with Andy’s back catalog than he is.

As we’re both home recording artists primarily out of necessity, I was allowed access to multi-tracks, and we have a back catalog of work together. I decided to take songs I knew I liked and edit them with no regard for anything other than showing a slightly different approach.

Basically taking a piece of artwork and coloring over it for the pure joy of doing so.

Andy Bopp is a great songwriter and musician. What do you find attractive about his songs? Why did you think it was a good idea to redo the songs, and how did you decide which songs they should be?

Both Andy and I share mid 60’s and 70’s AM radio music as a musical language despite the 19-year age difference. Andy is a tireless songwriter, and he’s always written songs with a few core musical values that we share.

I started by asking Andy about songs he likes of his, and then picked songs I had either multi-tracks that I could remix or alter, or simply used existing mixes to modify the speed, equalization, and pitch. I overdubbed parts where I felt they might help a song keep its momentum and generally tried to have a good time reimagining songs I’d known all along.

You and Andy are both special, a little different from the rest, and certainly not average. Isn’t it complicated when two such personalities have to work together?

The easy answer is “yes, it’s complicated”; however, it’s far more complicated than that. We started working together knowing “things we’d heard” about each other, so we made a pact to be friends above all things.

At this point, we’d both seen and heard enough that we could relate on an almost telepathic level since I was a fan, and I already had my own musical path that wouldn’t be strayed by anything we did together.

When we started the band Alto Verde, we got on like a house on fire. Loudfastchaoticaudiencepummelingvolumelunacyfulltiltwholealbumin22minutes. That’s how we used to do things. At the heart of all of that volume and destruction is a great songwriter.

I consciously decided to sand down some of the jagged edges and make a nice collection of lesser-known pieces that have a more friendly or straightforward approach.

How will the record be released, and when?

Much like all of my academic life, I’ve come unprepared. At this very moment, Andy has several copies with him for the next few shows, and I’ll be sure to coordinate with his label so it can see a proper digital release and a more deluxe cd package.

I told Andy that I think he will gain a lot of extra listeners with this collection; there’s no denying the quality of what’s on offer. He won’t take it from me like that, do you?

I truly hope he does gain some new listeners! He’s one of my true musical brothers, and there are a lot of really sweet moments nestled inside a bag of broken glass. I decided to pick them out and present them like a little art piece. I hope it’s fun for those who are already fans, and maybe a fun little ride for folks who’ve wanted to dive into an extensive catalog of music.

L.A. Mood – A Print out of the Sun (Q&A)

L.A. Mood is the solo project of Melbourne musician Dave Mudie; he is also touring the world as Courtney Barnett’s drummer. “A Print out of the Sun” is the debut record. Incredibly tough and classy Power Pub Glam Indie Pop.

Or: “Charging power-pop, waltzing country and hazy slacker rock, all joined in an unshakably accomplished feel that belies the fact it’s his debut release as a solo songwriter.” – For the Rabbits

How did this record come together?

The album was recorded over two years in a few different locations, including an old school house by the beach where I tracked the drums and guitars. That really bought out the sunny references throughout the record.

I then sent it across to Collin Hegna from BJM to mix in Portland and had the record mastered by Mikey Young.

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

Gaz Coombes

Kurt Cobain

John Lennon

They have an amazing way of writing songs; I’d love some of that to rub off on me.

What’s the gig you will never forget? And why?

We played this year’s Glastonbury Festival and closed out the Park Stage, and it was definitely the best show we’d collectively had as a band; such an electric atmosphere after the last couple of years.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

T.Rex and David Bowie, in the early 70s, they were both just such a force live.

The Joe Cockers Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour would have been brilliant.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

You’re my favorite drummer – Jim Eno from Spoon said that to me one night, and I’ll never forget it; he’s an amazing drummer and producer, so that was super nice.

Chris Lund – Indian Summer (Q&A)

Indian Summer, the second record released by Chris Lund this year, is an ode to the days when life was a little less complicated. Eleven hard-rocking Power Pop songs that make you long for the time when you drank a beer with friends and listened to Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, and Van Halen.

Indian Summer is the second record you released this year. How did that happen?

I wanted to do a new Lund Bros record (Across State Lines) to reboot things after the disappointment of all the reunion shows we had booked that got canceled due to the Covid pandemic.  Also, Sean and I hadn’t put out a true studio record in about six years, though we did have the Live records and Remasters and Rarities in the interval. I thought we were well due to getting a studio album out there and it contained many of the songs we would incorporate into our live set. Being unable to play live post-pandemic due to my brother, Sean, being in WA and me having recently moved to AZ, a record was simply the best and quickest way to get back on the radar. 

Regarding the solo record, I usually have more songs written than I can put out at any one time, so I had enough material to do both projects. I had a bit of mixing still to do on the Indian Summer tracks, but that came together rather quickly.  Additionally, the songs on my solo record were very much part of a concept/theme personal to me, so I felt a solo record was appropriate. I am very happy with both records.

Is Indian Summer an ode to the time when life was less complicated, and why did you want to sing about this period right now?

Yes, absolutely. I put my mind back to the time of my teenage years to come up with a lot of these songs. “Time Runnin'”, about the last day of school and meeting up with a girl, is a perfect example. I suppose it is a nostalgic take on life as I remember it as a teenager, when the most important things were Rock and Roll, girls, hanging out with your buddies, and looking cool. 

The whole tech thing, especially after it increased during Covid, has been a real soul-killing thing for me and a lot of people I suspect. The loss of many record stores, clubs, bookstores (and even shopping malls, for that matter) is such a shame.  This is what modern teens are missing – places to celebrate youth and congregate. I don’t believe online gaming and online relationships come close to replacing those former cultural meccas of youth. 

For me, the Indian Summer concept boils down to an extended summer, where you get that extra bit of time to enjoy it and the freedoms it offers.  Symbolically or by analogy, I feel like that is where I am at this point in my life.  I’m a bit older now, but I now have my Indian Summer, a second coming of the golden age of youth, so to speak. I still have a good amount of time to make good music, feel cool, and get back to the simpler pleasures.  I came up with the title to this record several years ago before I wrote any of the songs. That set my songwriting in a certain direction and within a given set of parameters, namely the  Indian Summer theme.  Usually, it’s the other way around, where the album title is imposed on a group of songs afterward.  It was interesting to have the discipline to stay on theme in writing for this album. I think the songs benefited from it.

You sound so young, Chris. Your voice doesn’t seem to age. Many singers have to adjust the emotion and energy of songs at some point as the singing becomes more difficult.

I have heard that I sound young, and I think it’s kind of cool. I am grateful that is the case.  I’ve never had any trouble getting what I want on the recordings in the studio.  The only thing that can be challenging is getting ready for live shows after a substantial hiatus or break from playing live. That requires rehearsals, getting the vocal chords in top shape, and working out the phrasing, so you are comfortable in performance – ready for long sets and multiple shows.  As a result, I approach preparation and rehearsal in a very workmanlike manner to avoid any of those potential issues.

I hear the influences of Cheap Trick and The Knack, and the twin guitar on Please Me reminds me of Thin Lizzy. Did I hear that correctly? And how have these bands influenced you?

Yes, you heard it right for the most part.  Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy are both heroes of mine. More specifically, the guitars on “Please Me” may have been inspired by the kind of approach Brian May of Queen might take – harmonized leads in three parts with neo-classical lines. Thin Lizzy does the harmonized guitar thing very well, too. Their Black Rose record is amazing. 

Vocally, I must say that  Robin Zander has been an influence on me. John Lennon and Allen Clarke of the Hollies were too.  Cheap Trick and the Beatles were always favorite bands of mine, and I don’t mind that those influences may sometimes be apparent in the music.  Just as the Beatles influenced Cheap Trick, we all have our heroes. The Raspberries were also a big influence for me along the way. Van Halen, too, as far as my use of the whammy bar on some of the harder rockers and even the songwriting.  My Stratocaster is all over this record – things like” Down the Line”, “Mary Jane” and “Military Girl” for example.

Where You Goin’? sounds just a little different from the rest, a little more psychedelic. How did that song come about? And how did the outro of that song come about?

“Where You Goin’?” is one of the few songs on here that dates back a few decades – the 90s, actually.  I always kept it around, planning to use it on a future record because I thought it had a good chorus and some interesting guitar. The ending was originally part of another song – notice the key change.  I wanted some kind of modulation at the end and the piece of the other song seemed to fit well. Particularly on the last few records I have used some synthesizer. I thought this song lent itself to some spacey wild sounds so I used the Korg in the breaks and on the outro. The key change combined with the synth give it a kind of sci-fi vibe, taking the song into another dimension as the record fades out. 

It’s kind of funny; when we performed this song live years ago, long before it was recorded, I used to use a violin bow on the guitar in some of the sections that now have the synth.

The Click Beetles – Emerald Green

With Emerald Green, The Click Beetles release their best record. It’s all right, the songs, the (movie) atmosphere and the beautiful guitar sound on Green.

Dan Pavelich talks about how it came to be.

How did this record come together?

The songs were written over the last year. I do a simple demo of vocals, guitar and bass. Van listens to it for a while and then we add his drums. I take his drum tracks and start a new recording on top of that, paying more attention to getting my final parts the way I want them.

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

I’m always interested to hear what people think of my songs. I start trying to get feedback from friends as soon as we start the mixdown.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

For me, success is breaking even and not going into the hole financially. If Emerald Green does that, I’m happy. If it makes enough to partially fund another project, I’m ecstatic.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Creating something out of nothing, and seeing it develop, gives me the same thrill now that it did 30 years ago. It’s always amazing.

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

When I was younger, maybe, but I’m 55 now. It’s easier to roll with the punches without getting a chip on my shoulder. Most of the time now, I write from the point of view of a character, so, it’s not usually about me, or my life.  

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

Jim Ellison, Pat DiNizio, Matthew Sweet, Susanna Hoffs….so many!  

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

Another band I play in, The Bradburys, was doing a small theater show. Cliff Johnson of Off Broadway came on stage and sang their big hit, Stay In Time with us, and it sounded fantastic. We also played The Beatles’ version of Bad Boy and Badfinger’s No Matter What. For four guys from the Chicago area, it was quite a night.

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

On this new album, I think the lead-off song, Modern Girl, is one of the best I’ve written in a while.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

1. Roll To Me – Del Amitri

2. That Thing You Do! – The Wonders

3. You Might Think – The Cars

4. What Girls Want – Material Issue

5. Sorry – The Smithereens

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

I don’t play live anymore. My hearing is going steadily downhill, so I try to avoid noisy environments. There’s also a sensitivity that makes most movies so loud to me that I have to wear earplugs. Around the time I decided to stop doing shows, we weren’t really getting many gigs that would tolerate original music anyway.

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?

I’d love to be able to sit people down in front of a good stereo system and listen to Emerald Green all the way through, but people just don’t listen to music like that anymore.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

Modern Girl, Natalie Would and Goodbye Margot, all from Emerald Green. I spent a lot of time on them and I think they’re three of my best.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

Probably Material Issue and The Smithereens. There’s a lot of similarities in our collective DNA.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

I’ve had several of my musical heroes tell me that they really like my songs. It doesn’t get better than that.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

Probably recording at Shoes’ studio. Jeff & Gary both sang background vocals on songs by The Bradburys. We also had Ted from Material Issue in to play bass!

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

I don’t think I’m in the music industry, really. The artists, DJ’s, bloggers and fans of the kind of music The Click Beetles and The Bradburys play, are more of a community. We’re all kind of fans of each other.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

Shoes. No contest.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

The fun is just beginning! It’s always fun seeing which songs people react to.

The Click Beetles:

Dan Pavelich – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keys
Van Dyke Brown – Drums & Percussion

The Kryng – Twelve Hymns to Syng Along (Q&A)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve played Jacky, my favorite song from The Kryng’s new record Twelve Hymns to Syng Along, endlessly.

The raw, pure, and straightforward emotion is simply irresistible.

The Kryng is a Dutch Garage Pop band. Arjan Spies of The Kik is a band member, but Mark Ten Hoor writes all songs, and each song is… well … a hymn to singalong.

Great record!

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

When I heard The Beatles as a child, I thought, “I want that too”. I started thinking up songs relatively young before I could even play guitar.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

The necessity is quite high because it has always been a big dream of mine and still is to write songs and record them and play them with a band

How did this record come together?

The three of us go into the studio, and in a relaxed atmosphere, we devise the arrangements for the songs I supplied. We often play those live, and later the vocals come over it, as well as percussion and other effects. This is how it has always been with the recordings we make in Rotterdam.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

We get great reactions, reach an audience, sell some records, and play some gigs we enjoy.

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

A good example was when I wrote The Kryng’s debut single, “Baby What You Want”. At that time, I listened to a lot of folky garage punk, and this was a result of that. I certainly hope to have moments like this many more times.

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 separately. What would they be?

The combination of sensitive songs with a raw garage sound; indie rock combined with 60’s beat/punk.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

I always like it when people think the songs are good or original. Fortunately, I’ve had that compliment more than once.

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

John Lennon, Roger McGuinn, and Lou Reed, because these guys have influenced me and my songs and taste in many ways.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

As I mentioned, it would be nice if we sold some records and could play some gigs. By the way, we can be found in the studio regularly and record all kinds of old and new ideas from me. At the beginning of September, we will spend another day with Arjan’s Teepdek in Rotterdam.

The Krying is:

Mark Ten Hoor: Guitar & Vocals
Peter Kroes: Bass, Guitar, Mellotron, Backing Vocals
Arjan Spies: Drums, Guitar, Piano

Crossword Smiles – Pressed & Ironed (Q&A)

CROSSWORD SMILES is a new band, and it’s a new sound even for the the deeply respected Michigan-based guitar-pop stalwarts at its core. The band was quietly formed two years ago by TOM CURLESS, formerly of Your Gracious Host and currently enjoying solo success, and CHIP SAAM, best known as the bassist for The Hangabouts and Curless’s backing band The 46%.

PRESSED & IRONED, release date September 16, is the band’s beautiful debut. No frills, just ten beautiful songs, with sharp lyrics, for example about how gossip and backbiting can shape relationships in small-town America.

The message of This Little Town is clear. I was curious if there was a specific reason to write the lyrics like this?

Tom Curless:  The lyrics were written by Chip so I will let him take this one. My favorite line is “where people talk behind the back of their hands”, as this represents all the gossip that often flies in every town across the USA, I am sure we have all experienced that, and I believe there is a lot of “Keeping up with the Joneses” in the lyric as well. The darker side of apparent idyllic suburban town life, that was my take on it, but Chip can expand further.

Chip Saam: The lyrics for this one were inspired by real life experiences with a town here in Michigan, although obviously it could be applied to places everywhere. It’s a commentary on the tried-and-true idea that just because things look great on the surface, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some awful things going on behind the scenes. According to some bandmates, I seem to be good for at least one story song for every record I’m involved in.

Perhaps, because there are musical similarities, I thought, it’s a little sneer at John Mellencamp’s glorification of little America. Nonsense?

TC: There was no sneer at John Mellencamp to my knowledge, musically we were going more for later era Go-Betweens on this one. However I never thought of it, but you are right at times it also sounds a little like something that could have been on Lonesome Jubilee!

CS: There was no intentional sneer at anyone, we are just not that sinister, Ha Ha! – I will say that fiddle part, which definitely has a John Mellencamp vibe, is something that both of us heard in our heads while writing the song – but it was an Amanda Brown thing from The Go-Betweens and not a Lisa Germano bit from a Mellencamp song.

I find the wonderful summery, almost mellow, atmosphere striking. Were you looking for a specific sound?

TC: We did have some intention of making a very direct, simple and “clean” record, and we started the majority of songs on acoustic guitar, so that had some influence. Let’s put it this way, the distortion pedals did not come out much on this record. Ha! We just wanted a very streamlined, direct and clean record as much as possible and I think we achieved that to an extent.

CS: First off, thank you for noticing! There was a deliberate attempt to make this a more direct sounding record. We had some specific ideas about keeping things relatively clean and uncomplicated. Some of the more atmospheric parts of the record are my favorite parts and the three main outside participants on the record – Joel Boyea, Greg Addington, and John Lowry – are responsible for some of them.

After I had heard the album ‘normally’ a few times, I listened to it through headphones during a walk through Utrecht. Then an extra world opens up with beautiful guitar melodies, soft harmony vocals and sharp lyrics. Is that a compliment or not?

TC:  I would say that is a compliment. There are a lot of layers of vocals and various things that slide in and out of the mix and I think you hear more of that when you immerse yourself in it with headphones. I would recommend that to everyone, headphone listens are the best!

CS: Definitely a compliment. While we wanted the record to be more direct, we also wanted listeners to discover things after 10 listens that they hadn’t heard before. Tom is an incredible singer – his layers of vocals with doubling and harmonizing are something magical to witness in the studio. The handful of guest guitar spots from Greg Addington and Joel Boyea were exactly what we asked of them – they’re real pros. Finally, anytime anyone notices lyrics, well, let’s just say that’s a songwriter’s dream listener.

How did the two of you collaborate to get the result that makes both of you happy?

TC: Making this record was easy and fun. Chip and I collaborated a lot on the writing, we would get together with guitars and either he would have the idea or it would be mine and we just chipped in here and there on each others songs. We were not too precious about it, whatever was best for the song. In the end we just called all of it co-writes because the majority of it was true collaboration. I want to say we had a lot of great “other” friends, musicians and collaborators who helped to make this record what it is: Joel Boyea recorded and mixed it beautifully, we recorded most of it in his living room! He also contributed some beautiful guitar work. Greg Addington also was a key contributor on a few tracks, acting as an engineer and helping us to record a few tracks. He jumped in and added some very key elements. Making this record was a great experience and I hope that comes out in the songs. Finally, we are so grateful to be part of the Big Stir label, Rex and Christina there work hard and are doing an excellent job with this record…it is in good hands. We are glad you are enjoying it!

CS: While each of the songs on the album started as an idea that one of us brought to the table, after that it was true collaboration. Musically especially, we bounced different song structures and ideas off each other in multiple songwriting sessions – this continued while we were in the studio recording the songs. For the most part, lyrics were left to the initial songwriter. Fortunately, we both checked our egos at the door and, I’d like to think, had the song’s best interest at heart. We’re both proud of these 10-songs and are glad that Big Stir Records is behind getting the music out to people.