LIBRARIANS WITH HICKEYS themselves call HANDCLAPS & TAMBOURINES ‘the perfect album for your next rock-and-roll book club meeting’, even though I didn’t specifically ask RAY CARMEN and MIKE CROOKER what they meant by this, I understood at the end of the interview.
Release date: October 14, 2022
NOWADAYS, SO MANY SONGS ARE VACUUMED BY SUPERFLUOUS PRODUCTION WORK. WAS IT A CONSCIOUS CHOICE TO LEAVE SOME AIR BETWEEN NOTES?
RAY CARMEN: It depends on the song. There is a lot of space in songs like I See You and When We Were Young, whereas a song like Lady Overdrive is all about the noise–wah wah guitars, feedback, and Stonesy-sounding backing vocals…!
MIKE CROOKER: From a production standpoint, we were already dealing with recording four guys in separate home studios. It’s my job in mixing to make it all sound cohesive, and much of that is finding space within songs so you can hear every instrument, backing vocal, handclap and yes, tambourine. Part of that remit is building a “universe” that each song lives & breathes within. To echo what Ray said though, the approach does depends on the song and what we’re trying to put across. I’m a big fan of layering things that you might not hear the first four or five times around, but eventually it may become your favorite little bit within the song.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS THAT LED TO THE RELEASE OF HANDCLAPS AND TAMBOURINES UNDOUBTEDLY STARTED DURING THE COVID PERIOD. IF SO, DID THAT AFFECT THE CREATION?
RAY: It affected my lyric writing for sure. Our single from last year, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You b/w Stumbling Down Memory Lane, was directly influenced by the pandemic. I Can’t Stop is, underneath the surface, ultimately about the possibility of losing touch with family, friends, and bandmates for long periods of time. Stumbling is about the passing of people like Prince and David Bowie, and about getting older in a troubled world. There’s also a little bit of my daughter going off to college in there, as well.
MIKE: You can’t escape the elephant in the room, and as I said, it definitely affected how we did things with all the recording done apart from each other. We started right after LONG OVERDUE finished its run around October 2020 and made pretty good progress, but we ended up taking a step back in the middle of the process and re-evaluated some of the 30 or so songs that were under consideration. In the end, the 12 that ended up on HANDCLAPS & TAMBOURINES are not the same group of tracks that would have come out had we finished in 2021. The good news is there’s plenty of material to work on that will surface in the future!
I CAN EASILY HEAR THE INFLUENCE OF THE BRITISH INVASION BANDS, BUT I CAN’T INTEPRET THE MODERN INFLUENCES AS WELL WHILE THEY ARE VERY AUDIBLE. WHAT INLFUENCES GAVE RISE TO THE LIBRARAINS WITH HICKEYS SOUND?
RAY: Well, we each have our own influences. My influences are bands like the Beatles and the Monkees, which is pretty obvious. I also love Martin Newell, who we’ve covered, and R. Stevie Moore, who I’ve worked with. Mike and I also love Queen, and bands like the Church, who we often get compared to–which is OK with us! Mike and Rob Crossley, our drummer, both love early industrial bands, and Drew Wilco, our bassist, loves bands like Rush and the Police. But we all love three minute pop songs with catchy choruses, great harmonies, and guitar riffs. As for modern influences, Drew sent me a YouTube link to a song by beabadoobee a while back, and we’ve both been huge fans of hers ever since. She’s just a great songwriter.
MIKE: That’s a great point – many reviewers haven’t really pinpointed much in the way about modern influences – I mean, there must be, we don’t live in a vacuum – but the four of us have deep record collections We’re all students of music in many different forms, as Ray mentioned, and eventually some of that seeps into what we’re doing, whether it’s a guitar chord voicing from a Church song, or a rhythm pattern from The Pretenders or a lyric fragment nicked from psychologist William James, somehow, inexplicably, it all comes out sounding like a power pop band from Akron!
THE QUALITY OF THE SONGS IS SO HIGH THAT YOU MUST HAVE OFTEN LOOKED AT EACH OTHER HAPPY, OR DID NOT REALIZE HOW GOOD IT IS DURING THE RECORDINGS?
RAY: We realized the songs were good early on. It was just a matter of getting a satisfactory recording and mix for each song. Mike and I both co-produced the album, but Mike does the mixing, because he will notice things in the mix that I don’t. I told him the other day that our songs sound both modern and from the past–like AM radio, but in stereo!
MIKE: Sometimes, you can tell early on that you’ve got a good one, and the trick is to not mess it up! Once we figured out what direction the album was headed in, the songs really took care of themselves, we just need to capture that essence. That’s the happy fun part, but easier said than done! There were nights sitting in bed falling asleep with headphones on and listening to whatever song we were working on a loop,. I’d wake up at 3:30am and finally hear the thing that needed fixing – usually subtracting – to tighten the song up. There’s really no wasted action in any of these songs – get in, hit the hook, get out and hopefully end up with a great song between 3:02 and 3:30.
There’s enough little weird time signatures (much to our drummer Rob’s frustration) that make things interesting. I’m not saying it’s like Rush or even Burt Bacharach time signatures, but somewhere in between to keep us all on our toes! 😉
STUMBLING DOWN MEMORY LANE, LAST DAYS OF SUMMER, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG, ME AND MY BIG MOUTH ARE MORE MELONCHOLIC AND NOSTALGIC. IS IT A CONSCIOUS CHOUCE TO MAKE THEM THE LAST FOUR SONGS OF THE RECORD?
RAY: Not really. When Mike and I were putting the track list in order, we had two different ways of looking at it. Mike looked at it as if it was a set list for a live gig. I looked at it as if it was a vinyl record: side one and side two. It just seemed to make sense to put those four songs last. Initially I thought the album should end with When We Were Young, and Mike thought it should end with Over You. Mike decided to move Over You up into more or less the middle of the album, and I thought it would be nice to end it with Me And My Big Mouth, which is musically more upbeat.
Mike made a comment to me the other day that Handclaps And Tambourines is very nostalgic-sounding–and he’s right, it is. A pandemic-induced lockdown will do that. Plus, at our age, you inevitably start looking back at some point. But the thing is, you can’t spend too much time doing that, or you’ll get stuck in rewind. The next album will be more forward-looking.
MIKE: The whole album has a nostalgic flavor, but it doesn’t live there full time. We did move Over You up to follow I See You & I Can’t Stop Thinking About You as sort of a trilogy of “You” songs. That meant the end of the record naturally gears down a bit before sticking the landing with Me And My Big Mouth.