Meet Simone Berk

Kid Gulliver, Sugar Snow, and Whistlestop Rock have all released new music in recent months. Simone Berk explains how she is involved with all three bands.

Sugar Snow is my solo project, the first music I wrote, sang, and recorded. It is very personal, melancholy, and quiet. Quite the opposite of Kid Gulliver, which is loud, silly fun. Listening to Kid Gulliver should make you smile. Listening to Sugar Snow might make you cry.

WhistleStop rock is an entirely different project. I contacted some women I love who play in bands I love to play shows, and it evolved into a traveling tour, which was unfortunately cut very short by COVID-19. Another group message was the genesis of “Queen of the Drive-In”, reminiscing about summer nights at the drive-in. It is a nostalgic song co-written by me after a few drinks. I sent it to Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s because so many people told us it was very Go-Go’s, and she loved it. And she has excellent taste. 🙂

Everyone around me has survived the past few months by listening to music, watching movies, and reading books. How can it be that it is so difficult to earn money by making “art”?

It is a funny thing that without music, film, art, this quarantine would be unbearable. It seems that it’s hard to make a living being an artist because the people only want to pay those who have already succeeded. People are ok with a $20 movie or a high priced ticket for a big name concert, but for $15 you can see 4 great bands. And even then, there is little money for us. I’m thankful to have a captive audience right now!

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

Playing shows- We put our everything into every show whether there is a crowd or just 4 people. When the stars align, you have a crowd, your friends there, you are playing well, singing well–nothing can beat it. Our last show before the pandemic was the best show we’d ever played, to an audience of around 250, and I’m so thankful we had the chance to stun a large crowd into submission.


Always proud to answer ‘I am a musician’ to the question ‘what are you doing?’?

I always say I’m a musician but I say I’m a mother first. Both are equally confusing to most people.

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?

Put on your headphones. Music is a different world with your headphones on.

Dolour – The Royal We (Q&A)

It is very hot outside when I listen to The Royal We, Dolour’s new record, for the first time. That does not seem a coincidence. The record seems to be the soundtrack for a hot day.

10 timeless, well-crafted melodies, in different styles.


On Wake Up The Sun and Chasing The Sun, Shane Tutmarc sounds like Burt Bacharach or (even) Gilberto Gil and I Am Over It could be a song by Christopher Cross. The Snake Eye reminds me of a Gilbert O’Sullivan song.

‘Yes and No’ and ‘Drunk Dial’ are pure (Indie) Pop and are, as far as I’m concerned, the highlights of The Royal We and I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Yes and No’ finishes very high in my list of the best songs of 2020.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Shane Tutmarc.

How did this record come together?

“The Royal We” was a very unusual record for me in a lot of ways. This is my 11th studio album and my first Dolour album in nearly 15 years. So that alone made it unique.

Dolour was my first band that I started when I was 16 years old. By the time I was about 24, after 4 albums, I took a big stylistic turn and started digging more into my musical roots in country, gospel, and blues which took me on a decade long journey and a bunch more albums. Ultimately, that journey led me right back around to how I originally made albums – writing, playing, and producing myself, and combining all my various loves of music into a potpourri of sounds. The first record in this full circle approach was “Pink Noise” which I put out under the band name Solar Twin in late 2017.

After making that album, I suddenly felt the notion of returning to the world of Dolour for the first time in a decade. But it still took me a while to figure out what that meant, and how best to go about it. I started by digging through my Dolour archives for the first time. When I ended Dolour I left behind hundreds of song ideas and hadn’t looked back since. For my first few post-Dolour years, I felt super strongly about closing that door and never looking back. But over the years that had waned, to the point where now I was super interested to see what ideas were left behind, that might interest me now.

So after digging through old CD-Rs and hard-drives full of these ideas, I found so many things that excited me, and I felt that with everything I’ve learned songwriting and production-wise over the last decade this could end up being a better album than any of the original Dolour albums. But in my nearly 20 years of putting out music, I had never reached back into previous eras of mine before, so it took some mental gymnastics to work out how I could make this a step forward and not a step backward. After going over the idea for months, I came up with a concept to help me approach returning to Dolour while moving forward. I’ve done a lot of producing and co-writing with other artists over the years (most recently with The Explorers Club, and Sean Nelson), and so I thought I’d approach the album as if it was a collaboration with someone else – my younger self. As if 24-year-old Shane came to me with these songs, and asked me to produce an album for him. That process really worked. I was able to take what I liked from my old song sketches, and freely adapt them any way I wanted, without being overly precious about anything. To let the songs be what they want to be today, and not give in to any personal nostalgia.

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

Given the nature of the project, and how I basically had to create this elaborate fantasy scenario in my mind to even move forward with it – I kept my mouth shut. And being that I was recording, playing, and mixing everything myself – there was no one else involved to bounce ideas off. Other than my girlfriend and my brother, who heard bits and pieces of it throughout the process, It wasn’t really until I got to my first round of “final mixes” that I started sharing it with a few close friends.

But, honestly, I wasn’t too interested in opinions. I am my own worst critic, so I’m rarely in need of more critique, and by that stage, there isn’t much an outside opinion can do to change my course. But sharing songs with friends gives me a chance to imagine the listening experience through their ears, and that alone helps me listen more objectively. The opinion that surprised me the most were from my mastering engineer, who I’ve worked with on tons of albums – of mine or other artists’ albums I’ve produced – over the last decade and this was the first time I really heard him get super enthusiastic. He’s always very kind, and a pleasure to work with, but this time there were more personal comments about how much he loved the record. That meant a lot, coz he masters albums for a living, and he’s on music overload 24-7.

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

When I’m writing a song, it’s a very quiet, personal thing. I’m not thinking about the world. Once I get into the production side of it, the thought of other people eventually hearing it starts to creeps in. But my process is so insular, being that I write, record, and play everything myself, it’s really not till very late in the game that I start thinking about other people hearing my “emotions.” I will say, lately this thought has come up more than usual though, with all the social and political unrest in this country, I’ve written several songs addressing that, but for the most part those aren’t topics I want to be working through – emotionally – in front of an audience. Political songs are something I occasionally do for myself, for my sanity, but that’s usually enough for me.

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

Honestly, every song on this album gave me that feeling at one point or another during the process. That was kind of a prerequisite for what songs made the cut. Several songs got left behind during the making of this album if they didn’t quite give me that feeling, but every one of the songs that made the album gave me that special feeling.

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

I suppose a stay on Mars would involve a long trek out there, and probably a long stay there? So albums that I never get tired of, and always make me feel good:

1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless: The lush textures and melodies, and the almost indecipherable lyrics make this a record that I always hear something new with every listen.

2. Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information: This is another one that the lyrics are mostly secondary to the melodies and the overall sound. Brilliant and it never ages.

3. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On: This album is often on the top of my ever-changing “favorite albums” list. It always delivers and always inspires.

4. The Beatles – Abbey Road: I would have to bring some Beatles with me, and over the last few years this album has become my favorite. All four of the Beatles and George Martin were working at 100% on this album. And there are enough little curiosities throughout the 17 tracks to keep me coming back and appreciating it more with each listen.

5. Amadeus Original Soundtrack – Neville Marriner: It was the movie Amadeus that really opened up my love of music as a youngster. I was already super into drawing and painting as a kid, but this movie (and soundtrack) made me want to be a musician and composer in whatever way I could. I still love Mozart’s music and listen to it all the time. I often take naps with Mozart in the headphones. I feel like it can’t hurt to have Mozart’s gorgeous melodies swimming in my head while I sleep. His music never fails to inspire and make me want to work harder.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

For me, being a songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer means that the “composing” and creativity never stops from the first note you write to the final mix of the song. So, the recording is part of the songwriting journey for me. I often start recording the song before it’s even finished being written, so it’s all intertwined for me. To be honest, one thing I’ve actually enjoyed about this quarantine period is that there is no pressure to play shows. I enjoy the occasional live show, but writing and recording is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

It’s Karma It’s Cool – Woke Up In Hollywood (Q&A)

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to James Styring about American culture, the quest for spirituality, and “the younger years”.

The wonderful Stephen SPAZ Schnee wrote the liner notes and included the discussion about what’s Power Pop or not. Is it important to you that a label can or can’t be attached to your music? 

No, not really. We don’t sit down and decide how we want to sound. There are elements of Power Pop to what we do for sure, but there are also many other influences. I think if you label yourself, you restrict your creativity and therefore your writing. We let the songs go where they need to go. We all share a love of melody and harmony, so chances are we would never release a thrash metal album, or sound like Motorhead, but who knows…?

American culture, the quest for spirituality, and “the younger years” were these important sources of inspiration this time? 

It’s quite often only when I listen back to a finished song, or album, that I realize a common connection or inspiration. A lot of the songs are reflective, looking back on life, almost longing for the past, I guess. Spirituality has always been a part of what I do, not in a religious sense, but the idea that there is something bigger than all of us and we’re all in this together. America has always fascinated me from childhood. It seemed such a cool place, all the best movies, comic books, etc came from there. I would love to visit one day.

 Battle of Burnt Out Bliss. Can imagine that was a tough one to write?

Yes, there was a bit of soul searching for that song. We all have to come to terms with loss at some point in our lives. It’s about the healing process that has to take place before you can move on in life. The acceptance of change and of letting go.

 No Spotify release for Woke Up In Hollywood?

There will be soon, Patrick, watch this space…

Buy at KoolKatMusik

Nite Sobs – Do the Sob! (Q&A)

Nite Sobs, like many a power pop band, are throwbacks to a golden age of rock and roll. They write two-to-three minute pop songs about the ups and downs of love – timeless stuff both musically and lyrically. But while the Beatles are often ground zero for this sort of band, Nite Sobs’ inspirations go back even further to doo wop, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly.’, writes Faster and Louder.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Jittery Jeff about crafting clever rhymes, finding Ralphie and making art.

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

When we were looking for a drummer and Ralphie, after hearing our demos, contacted me and said he lives an hour and a half away but he was willing to commute to band practice because he believed in what we were doing.

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

Well, one thing that’s nice about it is that you can say things that no one would ever want to listen to you whine about, but if you put it to a catchy melody, then it’s art.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Bands like us have to fund the recording of our own albums, and it’s expensive to make one that sounds good, and it’s hard to recoup that cost since people these days tend to stream music rather than buy it. But as far as getting it heard, the internet has leveled the playing field to a large extent for all bands. The fact that you live in the Netherlands and are interviewing me about it means that it can’t be that hard to get heard.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

When you first write a song, it’s partly a theoretical thing that exists only in your head. Then when you take that song and start to work it out with the band and it comes to life, that’s very exciting. And then when you go into the studio and record the song, you hear it in a way that you hadn’t before, and that’s a whole other stage. Sometimes that can give you fresh ideas to try out. If money was no object, I would love to spend all my time in the recording studio. Although, I really don’t have fun when I have to track my vocals.

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’m going to say the lyrics because I think I put a little more time than most people into crafting clever rhymes and such. But whatever level people enjoy it on is great with me.

Meet Juniper!

‘Juniper’s debut is precocious, but never precious. The Bubblegum crunch melodies are deftly balanced by her vocals, which are sunny, but never cloying. There’s a coltish grace to this album that hints at better things to come. This is just the beginning.’, writes CV Weekly.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Juniper. And we weren’t talking about her age, her dad or the incredible number of top musicians who helped her out.

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

It is definitely not always comfortable to put your emotions out there, but it’s very rewarding. One of the biggest challenges for me in making the record was learning how to transfer my own feelings into that of the “character” that I am playing. I wanted to make sure that the record came from an honest place, but I also wanted to accurately portray the girl represented in the song, which took a lot of thought about my own emotions.

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

It would certainly be amazing to have the record be a million-seller. One great way to do that would be to be featured on a tv show or movie. However, I really did make this record with my dad for fun, and in that way, I feel that I have already gotten what I wanted from this record. I had a blast making it, and I believe that shines through when you listen.

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

We have actually only done one gig pre- COVID. It truly was an amazing experience. The gig took place at Monty Hall, in Jersey City, and everyone was so kind. It was December, so the holiday spirit was already in the air and I remember feeling very excited and electric. It’s not often that you get to do something for the first time, and I will always remember standing on the stage for the first time.

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

Last summer we had a live recording session where we recorded a lot of the record. Something about playing the songs with a group of amazing people and collaborating with them really made the record click for me. The experience of playing with other people is so different from singing in the basement with my dad, and it really showed me what a good thing we had going.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

So much! For one thing, it’s fun to be able to work on something until you think it sounds right to you. When recording you have so many opportunities to try things and experiment which makes it very fun. Sometimes, recording is also a time to connect and play with other musicians, which is always fun.

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

This is such a good question! With the new age of Spotify I so rarely listen to full albums, so here are the five songs I would bring with me.

  • “She Makes Me Laugh” The Monkees
  • “Magic In The Hamptons” Social House
  • “Cury Your Favor” Green
  • “Tounge Tied” Grouplove
  • “December 1963” The Four Seasons

Buy here

COKE BELDA – 4 (Q&A)

Alan Haber writes: And now the fourth time is, again, the charm. With Coke Belda 4, Coke has fashioned yet another parcel of tunes that speaks to the heart of people for whom the song continues to be the thing. From Coke’s delicious tribute to Paul McCartney, “Thank You, Paul,” which cleverly calls out the titles of treasured Wings numbers, to the amazing “Watching You,” a song about love gone away that stretches out to more than six minutes of harmonic splendor and lyrical guitar solos, this album is a celebration of the pop music form from one of the form’s modern masters.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Coke Belda about ‘4’, well crafted songs, COVID, and Graham Gouldman.

The term ‘well crafted’ is used a lot to describe the quality of your songs. Does that make sense to you?

I believe it does make sense. I try to start each song with the lead melody, aiming for it to be pleasant to the ear and easy to remember, and from there is where I start building up the layers depending on the song. If the result makes someone say that it is a “well crafted” song then I’m happy!

Releasing singles or ep’s seems to be the new norm. Not for you?

Yeah, not for me. When my favorite artists launch a new EP or single I always get mad because I want more of that! I like giving the people everything I can and as long as I believe the songs are good, I’m planning on keep releasing whole records again.

How did this record come together?

Well, after Nummer Zwei, my second solo album, I released the first volume of a Bee Gees tribute, which helped me to set my counter to zero and start again from scratch. This new album contains only new songs written in the past 2 years. It starts like any other record, you are just playing guitar or piano and a new melody appears and then you think “this is good” and then you are already thinking about the cover of the new album, hahaha.

Hard work or did the songs just keep coming?

Writing songs for me is always hard work. I believe in inspiration but most of my songs come after hours and hours of playing. There’s always 1 or 2 songs that for whatever reason they appear as a magic act, and in a few minutes, you have it done!

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

It took me a while this time. Like a year before the release, I got stuck, I didn’t know if the songs were good enough, I felt like maybe I was making a bad record. I talked to some friends and sent them the songs I had, and all of them said that they thought the songs were great and had potential. I sat down again and I reviewed the songs one by one, I discarded a couple and wrote few more and here we are, I’m happy with the record and very grateful that my friends helped me to carry on.

I survived on ‘music, movies, and books’ in the last couple of months. You?

Well, luckily for me, my job is one of the few that exploded due to the COVID-19, so I definitely survived on my job, but of course, I spent time discovering new music and books. If I can recommend something I would say that the new Graham Gouldman record is great and the masterwork “A Confederacy of Dunces” is a must-read book in life.

Honeywagen – Halfdog (Q&A)

‘For Love’ is such a beautiful song that you may forget to listen to the rest of ‘Half Dog‘ as well. Don’t, there is a lot to discover.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Mike Penner.

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


Haha, when a couple of nice-looking older girls came up and talked to me afterward. This was when I was in my first band in 8th grade 🙂
We were called “Blastwagon” — so you can tell I have progressed 🙂

Honeywagen – a little sweeter and more refined – or if I can quote what Rick Nielsen said about us “Honeywagen — what’s that? — like a Volkswagen with honey poured on it or something?”



How did this record come together?


I wanted to write a “live set” of songs sequentially from beginning to end that I thought would work well in front of a crowd.
So I approached it that way as part of a big picture plan. Start strong, show some versatility with the songs as the set moved along, and finish strong.

I wrote and recorded the songs in the same sequence they appear on the record. I think part of this thinking comes from putting together setlists for live shows over the years.

I made a record like I was putting together a setlist for a show. I also didn’t want anybody to listen to it and say “every song they play kind of sounds the same” haha, so I hope that didn’t happen with this record.



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


That’s an interesting question because I love it when a record is done and you get an opportunity to really get it “out there” to a wider audience. By that I mean your friends and family will always say good things about the songs and record “back home”, but you don’t really know what you’ve got until people you don’t know hear it and start saying (hopefully good) things about it.

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


I tend to not explain my songs and what I was writing about specifically to people because maybe they take on their own thoughts about it. If I would explain “well, this next song is about how I met my wife” that might kind of ruin it for them haha.

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


Oh man, well — opening up for Paul McCartney and/or the Stones on their next tours might help things out a lot!! That is a whole another level above “hey guys, we just gotta get out there and play!”



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


John Lennon – because nobody has inspired me to write, sing, and play as he has done from the first time I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. (I know, so many have said that was “the moment” for them, but it is true with me too)

Alex Chilton – Alex, when he wrote Big Star songs — even up to “In Space” which I love –, had an uncanny knack of putting something really cool and unexpected together that made you go WOW!. chords, melody, words. But the other side of him that is so cool are the things Alex did outside of Big Star. His solo records, playing in a cover band for a time, recording bass tracks on somebody else’s record …


Matthew Sweet – I played 4 or 5 shows with Matthew back in Lincoln NE back when he was 16 yrs old. It has been amazing to follow his career since those days. And the times I have been able to talk to him over the years — he is still that same amazing soul I got to know briefly a long time back. It would be so fun to write and record a song or two with him now.



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


I’m lucky to have some good stories and to have shared the stage with some great bands, but the one I’ll never forget was a time I was subbing on bass for a country band in a club in Lincoln NE.

The dance floor was packed and this one little guy with boots and a cowboy hat had a real pretty blonde girlfriend he was picking up and twirling around out there. It was going great until her head caught a rotating ceiling fan (she was ok!!) but as you know a head cut can bleed pretty good.

Words and language soon followed that event and guys were really mad he didn’t take better care of her and before you knew it a huge fight broke out roadhouse style.

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


It’s kind of funny because I don’t always think I’m the best judge of some of my songs. You work on them until you think they work and feel right and yes you hope somebody else will like them too.

Sometimes they come relatively quickly, other times they take me a while — and they might even change a bit after they’ve been played out a few times.

I seem to kick into a different gear when playing with the band vs. maybe first coming up with a song on an acoustic guitar. Each song you write seems kind of like one of your kids in a way.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?


Yes, I think so most definitely. First I think you want to have a record that you really thought about and believe in, otherwise, you are selling yourself and others that you hope listen to it short. Making a record is one thing. Getting it out there is the second thing.

Help from others in getting it heard is the third thing. It takes a lot of help from good people to get it heard and my songs wouldn’t be anywhere without that.

Lastly, you hope that people that heard it want to listen to it again and will tell their friends they want to hear it too.

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


Haha, I love the Beatles early stuff so much — I guess if I have to pick it would be Beatles ’65 – as I think I’ve bought that one about 4 times because it always seems to have disappeared … Ain’t nobody going to take my Beatles ’65 up on Mars!


Big Star – Columbia: Live at Missouri University (Jim Rondinelli recorded this live – the beginning of a new version of Big Star – so spontaneous and so good!)


Cheap Trick – In Color (not fair and so hard to pick out just one especially from the first three records)


Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out (love the guitars up to 11 through those Ampeg amps so much on this record!)


The Beat – Paul Collins first record out in ’79 (such a perfect 2 guitar, bass, and drums record every song so great – made such an impact on me!)

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?


Technically: Back when the internet was fairly new, I was not shy about reaching out for answers. Being a huge fan of the sound of Brendan OBrien records, I reached out to Southern Tracks in Atlanta specifically asking about how they were getting their drum sounds.

To make a long story short I received invaluable info from the engineers that worked with Brendan to get sounds that I still use today. And studying the records you love the sound of and using those techniques to make a record how you want it to sound. The other thing fun about recording music is writing songs and making records.

I love the entire process of recording, mixing, and mastering.

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


For me, it is first the challenge of entertaining people. Working a crowd to show them a good time, and get them to forget about stuff. It is even more fun having success with the crowd playing your own songs. Some think the only way you can please a crowd is to play covers. I found out you don’t have to do that.

Always proud to answer ‘I am a musician’ to the question ‘what are you doing?’?


Sure, I’ve learned to just be who I am. Everybody is not going to understand why I like to write songs, sing, and play guitar. Music has always been a big
part of my life. When others are home watching TV, I’m probably down in “the lab” playing my guitar.

ED RYAN – EVEN TIME (Q&A)

I like to hear Ed Ryan sing high notes, I like to hear his hard-rocking guitar solos. I like the melodies he writes, I like the rough mix of his records. I like the stories he tells. What’s not to like? Even Time is a great record.

What makes a good Ed Ryan song?

A good Ed Ryan song? It has to have some emotional resonance, be it through a memorable melody and a meaningful and/or clever lyric. It also helps if it has a good arrangement, a sense of immediacy and it rocks!

While creating the new record, what were the happy moments?

What makes me happy is when I hear the songs take shape and become part of a bigger whole. I loved getting to use all of my guitars and layering them. Seeing the beautiful cover art made me very happy indeed!

You included 4 songs by your old band The Rudies. They need to get out, don’t do?

The original concept for the album came from my son Jesse, he is also an artist and musician. He said that I had all these great older songs that had never seen the light of day, so I should record them and put them out. The Rudies were fairly successful in NYC back in the day, but we had very little recorded and only one single released. I just picked some of my favorites, that are over forty years old, and recorded them. No Time For Love from the Roadmap album is an old Rudies song.

Are you always writing?

I am always writing! As I was recording these old songs for the album I started writing new ones. Like Roadmap, it’s a mix of old and new. The title track, Even Time, is less than six months old. I have an album’s worth of tracks in a more American roots and garage rock kind of vein, like Petty, Hiatt, that kind of thing. I write all the time, it’s what I do. I’ll write three bad ones to get to the one good one!

Art’ ensured I didn’t go crazy the last couple of months. Why is it so hard to explain the importance of it to the people who govern the country (yours and mine)?

The Arts are an intangible, especially music. It is, or can be, abstract and emotional. A lot of people in government find art to be frivolous. To them, it’s just entertainment, decoration, and background noise. To your first point, it’s hard to imagine being in lockdown without music, art, and literature to remind us of our humanity, to feed our hearts, minds, and souls. It is a difficult concept for literal-minded people to grasp.


You can now buy the record on Bandcamp and listen on Spotify. Keep an eye on the KoolKatMusik webshop because you can buy the CD there soon.

Spygenius – Man On The Sea (Q&A)

The new Spygenius album, “Man On The Sea,” is an expansive (17 song, 79 minute CD / Digital Download, a double album if you get the vinyl version) ride that defies immediate description. Read the full Mike DeAngelis review here.

Buy here.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Peter Watts about the new record and how it came together.

Releasing singles or ep’s seems to be the new norm. Not for you?

When Spygenius got together, we wanted the band to be a vehicle that would let us write, record and perform original music of the sort we wanted to hear, for as long as we could get away with it – so we were never really concerned with what was or wasn’t the new norm or the old norm or any norm… we’ve never been part of a scene or a movement, we’ve always been a bit of an anachronism, to be honest – but that’s great because it’s liberating, artistically. And it’s always been part of our ambition to record great albums, like the albums that inspired us when we first got into music – albums with a coherence to them, that can take you on a bit of journey. But we’ve done five albums now, so who knows, we might become a singles band from now on!

How did this record come together?

This record sort of grew out of the last one (‘Pacéphale) – in fact, they both came out of a really prolonged ongoing recording session. They sort of go together, really – except this one took a while to come into shape. We tend to just work on individual tracks, letting the song take us where it wants to go, and then usually, a moment will come when things start to shape themselves up, the collection gets a distinctive ‘feel’ to it, you start to get a sense of what the track order should be – but this lot, it took ages before that ‘feel’ started to emerge, which might be why there are so many songs on it! It was also recorded over a period where some members of the band went through a lot of changes at a personal level. I’m not sure the album has a theme that can be intellectualized – it’s more of a feel thing – but mortality, and how our relationship to it changes as we age, as we experience joy and loss, is definitely in there – after all, it starts with a track which is sort of about kidding yourself that you’re immortal, and ends with a eulogy.

Hard work or did the songs just keep coming?

It’s always work, but maybe not ‘hard work’ because we love what we do. The old ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’ maxim holds true, and we do just keep slogging at our recordings – and if they don’t come out right, we re-do it… which is part of the reason there are such big gaps between the releases – we all have day jobs and most of us have kids and stuff so we just try to keep as steady a pace as we can, and put the stuff out when it’s ready. As for the songs themselves, there’s a mix of old songs that have been waiting their turn to be worked up and brand new ones, but there’s no particular formula – sometimes a song will just present itself to you, almost finished, sometimes it takes a lot of graft and reworking. Sometimes you get halfway there and just have to put the thing down and accept that it’s going to be finished some other time.

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

I think in this case when a dear friend – sadly no longer with us, but someone whose musical judgment and experience we really, really rated, and who we were a bit in awe of, to be honest, – heard an early assembly of the album and just raved about it, how much he loved it. He gave us a track by track breakdown of what he liked the most, which was amazing – literally, on Messenger, while he was hearing it for the first time. It’s not like we didn’t think it was good before that, but that endorsement certainly made us go ‘ooh!’ And then when Champniss added his artwork – which is really sympathetic to the music – it really started to feel like the whole was getting bigger than the sum of the parts.

I have “survived” in the past few months by listening to music, watching movies… why is it so difficult to explain that art is important to our well-being?

No idea. Maybe everyone knows it, really, but for some reason, they think it’s inappropriate to admit it. Because it doesn’t always (often… ever?!) generate a profit? It’d be a sad world indeed if that was our only measure of success. A cash reward has never been the benchmark that Spygenius has used to judge whether or not what we’re doing is worth the effort – it’s about does it please us, and does what we do touch other people – are they moved by the songs, do they go home after a gig feeling a bit uplifted and that that was a couple of hours well spent. If we can achieve that, then we’ve hit the mark. That’s why we were so excited to team up with Big Stir – their whole ethos is so about creating a mutually supporting musical community, and that suited us down to the ground.  

2nd Grade – Hit to Hit (Q&A)

Get Alternative writes: Sincerity and sarcasm are the central tenets of 2nd Grade’s music. It’s full of  tenderness and wit that can only come from musicians who love playing together and respect what they’re doing. They’re a super-group of sorts, composed of members of bands like Remember Sports, Friendship, and A Million Dollars. Their new record, Hit to Hit, is a collection of 24 songs that run on the shorter side, usually between one or two minutes. This works to their benefit, though, as each track feels like a sweet burst of fizzy indie pop.

SweetSweetMusicblog spoke to Peter Gill about Hit to Hit, Stephin Merritt, Styx and Pitchfork.

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

I was sitting in a nightclub on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, writing lyrics onto a cocktail napkin while getting blasted with techno music from the house speakers. I looked up from my work, and saw that Stephin Merritt was sitting next to me copying my lyrics onto his own cocktail napkin!

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

I saw Styx somewhere on Cape Cod when I was a kid. The thing I remember most is that before the show my Uncle Paul taught me a great line which goes “you paid for the whole seat… but you’ll only need the edge!”

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

Last year I was competing in a regional songwriting contest against other songwriters from the tri-state area. My best event is typically 15’s, a category where you have only 15 minutes to write a full song. Anyways, I came up with this great glam-rock tune called “My Baby’s Been Radicalized” in that day’s 15’s, beating out some Win Butler wannabe from Delaware, and as a prize, they now play my song every day on ABC Channel 6’s weather report.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

For me, the best part of recording is the certainty that the final product will be designated Best New Music by Pitchfork.

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 know that some people tend to think of these songs as being “simple.” I would like those people to be aware that I fooled them!