Thursday, 1 May 2014

Q and A with Paul Hamilton of Yellowjack

Do you have a fave track on the album and is there one track you're more proud of than the others? The idea behind this record was outrageously simple - to capture a band playing live in the studio, flaws and all. With most records there isn't the raw excitement; it's just machines and loops clattering away with all the character and idiosyncrasies airbrushed out. The drums are quantised, never skipping a beat. The vocals are Autotuned. Everything sounds perfect - perfectly boring. However, there are no sequencers or keyboards used on this record, it's just Dave Pope twanging his guitar, Andy Thomson bashing the bass and me clobbering the kit. A bit of a guitar overdub here, some percussion there, but it's the format that served The Who, The Velvet Underpants, Wire, Supergrass and The Kinks damned swell. A favourite track, though? Possibly 'Next' - it's an ageing Cockney Casanova recalling all his conquests. He's a braggart, a shit. All these women are notches on his bedstead, they mean nothing to him, and as soon as the situation gets out of his control, he's off. There's no poetry in his soul. He's like a more cunning Robin Askwith in those rancid 'Confessions…' films from the mid-70s. Dave sings it majestically and we play it like Jonathan Richman on steroids. It's great to write 'character' songs. I don't like the confessional school of songwriting. There has to be a twist in the tale for me. It's hard to pick one song I'm most proud of… They are all my sweet little pointy-headed babies. Oh, if I have to decide, it might be 'It's Time I Went Mad Again'. It was very weird because we had written it in a very poppy Paul McCartney style, lots of hooks and quirkiness, a really light touch - like 'Penny Lane'. Have you ever noticed the drums on that record? Amazing. Anyway, when we got into the basement studio, we suffered a kind of collective amnesia; we didn't know how to play the song. We remembered how to approach the middle eight - and, if you hear it, you'll know it just screams 'MACCAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!' - but the rest of it was a blank. Luckily, Malcolm Gayner, our producer, took the Occa's Razor line and said 'Play it as simply as possible, like White Stripes would do it' and we got it in about two takes. Lyrically, I love it because - although it's a serious subject; the looking for love, the fear of being left alone, to want somebody to love - it's treated in such a ridiculous way. Dave sings it with the lovelorn fiery intensity of Jimi Hendrix but the words are pure Bonzo Dog Band. On top of all that, Gemma Gayner added a small orchestra of violas which are so dramatic yet quite bonkers. Yeah, that was a major breakthrough creatively. We never knew that pretty little ditty we penned would turn out to be such a mad bug-eyed monster.
What's the idea behind the album's cover image and title? There's a variety of possible meanings. Perhaps, in essence, it's saying don't waste your time waiting for life to happen. Or it could be saying the writing's on the wall. Or it could be like the audience shouting in pantomimes, 'Look behind you!' We want there to be a certain amount of ambiguity about the cover. Andy is on the back cover holding a paintbrush stained with white paint. Is he Godot or just a practical joking graffiti artist? Does Godot exist?
The CD is available from the Smoking Ant website. What are your hopes for this release? The complete destruction of Ukip; the collapse of this corrupt government; Royal Mail and the rail services to be taken back into common ownership; cancel Trident; a halt to the rightward lurch of British politics. Yellowjack have set the ball rolling, it's now up to you. Should an old age pensioner die of hypothermia this winter because she was terrified of the gas bills, then may her blue-lipped corpse be laid at your door. Only by buying this album can you save the world.
How did the members of the band get together and how did you choose the band's name? We met in a lift. Dave Pope (See photo below) and I were at art college together and played in a band called Horrible Head - 'Have a terrible time with Horrible Head'. This is back in the mid-80s. I remember we sent a cassette tape of our songs to Stiff Records and got a reply: 'You have Van Gogh's ear for music'. They went bust about a year afterwards. We had put the Curse of Horrible Head upon them. The band broke up when Dave fell madly in bed with some babe - it was all very nasty, really. Then, after more than 20 years, we found each other again, rekindled the friendship, lovely lovely lovely, started this band with Andy Thomson who was in Reticents with me for a few years, lovely lovely lovely, made this record, lovely lovely lovely, then Dave goes to the other side of the world with another babe. Is it history repeating itself? Find out when we get together again in 2034. Yellowjack? Well, it's a comedy reference. Nobody under 30 would get it. If we were called 'Nighty Bye' or 'Little Johnny Frostbite' then most people over 40 wouldn't know about the provenance. It's a generational thing, a shared reference and means nothing at all.
Which famous singer or songwriter would you most like to hear your CD and tell you they liked it? Is there any of your musical heroes that you'd love to get feedback from? Well, you're a fan of David Devant & His Spirit Wife, I know. For them's wot don't know, David and his ghostly girlie were a welcome antidote to the macho, 'Loaded' generation, Britpop, Oasis scene of the late '90s. Made a classic pop record, 'Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous',which, if it were a jungle region, would be called The Glamazon. OK, long story short - Mikey Georgeson, who is David Devant when the spirit takes him, and is a phenomenal songsmith, bought the download of the album and sent the usual van of roses and crate of the old shampoo. My forelock is firmly tugged. Of my other musical heroes, though… Well, they're mostly dead. Wild Man Fischer, Tony Newley, Keith Moon, Nilsson, Judee Sill, Arthur Lee… And I doubt whether any of the living ones would be interested. Godley & Creme have been absolute beacons of inspiration for me. Whenever I've been stuck, whilst writing or recording or producing, and it looks like the song is going to be predictable or formulaic, I think, 'What would they have done?' and I act accordingly. In the song 'Next' I give them a namecheck - 'Like Stan & Ollie, or Kev & Lolly, we made an oddly perfect couple' - which no-one will ever pick up on, but that's all right. It's my salute. I'd be riding sidesaddle on the cow jumping over the moon if, say, Jarvis Cocker or John Cooper Clarke raised a thumb and complimented me on some particular felicitous phrase, but unfortunately I have the same name as a comedy character created by Kevin Eldon. He has this character called Paul Hamilton who is a dreadful poet in North London - the author of 'Shadows Of Reflections'. Therefore, it's likely if Jarvis knew of this record he'd think it was really by Kevin Eldon and all a big joke. In fact, it's partly by me and a little jokey.
Do you feel life is getting a little bit better every day? Not whilst there's this other Paul Hamilton and his rotten poetry getting in the way of me and my rotten records. Maybe I should invent a comedy character - the world's worst comic actor and call him Kevin Eldon. Oh, it could be worse; think of all the poor sods with names like David Brent and Alan Partridge. Strangely enough, I visited a music college recently and a senior lecturer had the name of Frank Pike - you know, the scarf-wearing 'stupid boy' in 'Dad's Army'. It didn't seem to affect him, though.
What do you like most about the way you look? I have grown to like my fatness. I'm rather attached to it. Jesus died for someone's chins but not mine.
Are there any poets who have influenced the way you write lyrics? The only poet I've ever really read in any depth is Philip Larkin. He mined a slim seam but a very rich one. I like his caustic humour, the everyday, commonplace details - 'grim, head-scarved wives', 'Love again: wanking at ten past three', 'children/With their violent shallow eyes', and in 'Dockery & Son' where he writes about changing trains at Sheffield 'and ate an awful pie' - and his atheism that doesn't negate spiritual transcendence. I don't know if I'm making any sense. What I like about him - and I've not thought about this before, so thanks - is that his poems are concentrated vignettes and they always rhyme, adding to the intensity. I don't like songs that are vague - 'It can mean anything you like, man!' - and I don't like free verse. Allen Ginsberg and all that lot I find really boring - they have no gift for self-editing, it's so much waffle. Working to a ruthless rhyme scheme intensifies the imagination, I find. Pretty much every song I've written has been to a set agenda or scenario. Harry Nilsson likened songwriting to joking; you set the scene, introduce the characters, have a conflict or exchange, and then finish on a punchline.
Are you more of a cat person or a dog person? Neither, really. Sorry all you pussies and puppies out there who are reading this, but I'm allergic to you. I'm a frog man. Lizards are lovely, too, but you don't really see them anymore.
Which of your songs are commercial?
You tell me, brother. I don't know what's in the charts. Is there even a chart these days? If there is, I can't see how the records I've been involved with can possibly integrate seamlessly with your Franz Fernandos and Smiley Viruses. My stuff is too misfit, too rough; it's glass in the face cream. All I can do is try and write something entertaining and fulfilling artistically, bash the drums and cymbals in an enjoyable way and attempt to produce a record that doesn't make me want to stick my head through a plate glass window. It's odd, isn't it? An artist can expound on how he or she made this certain piece but if you ask them why do they do it at all, invariably they'll be stumped for an answer. Making songs and records is such an intrinsic part of my life, I couldn't begin to explain its significance. I just have to do it. It's not for the money - I've spent a fortune and never seen a bean. But if I did make a fortune, I'd spend it on making more records.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed! 'Godot Woz Ere' is 'ere to 'ear: