Sunday, 10 April 2022

The Lancashire Hustlers - Big Ask

Northwest emigres search for love, truth, and beauty on their new album.

 

The Lancashire Hustlers are big favourites here at Harmonic Distortion. They comprise of Ian Pakes and Brent Thorley, a pair of songwriting musicians originally from Southport, who now live and work in London. Their work exists outside of prevailing fashions, and is instantly recognisable due to the duo's vocal harmony blend. They're also adept at arrangements, textures and instrumentation. Where the pair really excel however is in their songwriting. Previously they've addressed ruthless ambition, politics, corporate greed, the building of the Titanic, travel, the difficulties of art appreciation, and plenty more besides.

Their latest album, Big Ask,  came out about a month and a half ago, since when it's been a welcome companion on my daily commute to work. This time round they've not opted for the kind of grand conceptual theme that formed the basis of their earlier pop opera albums - there's no overarching narrative or storline. Instead it's an inward journey, with songs addressing the elusive nature of love and happiness. These are sophisticated songs, born of the big city, yet yearning for a simplification. In short they strip away at all that's unnecessary, and focus on the stuff that really matters - love, truth, beauty. It's a thread that runs through all the songs on Big Ask, whether wishing for passion ('Your Cool Reactions', 'You Who Only Play at Love'), lamenting joy's fleeting nature ('Happiness On a String') or appreciating the sublime beauty of the natural world ('Bluebell Painter'). They lay the writers' hearts on the line and wish that others could do the same. A big ask indeed.

One of the Lancashire Hustlers' key influences is Ray Davies of The Kinks. Much like the best of Davies'  songs, the songs on Big Ask  have a slightly removed, keen sense of observation. Whether deliberate or not the back cover image on Big Ask lends weight to this theory of Pakes and Thorley as observers. It's a photograph of the pair in a tile-walled cafe, drinking tea, their attention and eyes focussed on something happening across the room and out of shot. Who knows, perhaps what they're witnessing will feature in one of their future songs. I'd like to think so.

Anyhow, enough theorising, I'll leave you with that thought, because right now I'm off to press play again. 

 

Click here for The Lancashire Hustlers' website.
Click here for The Lancashire Hustlers on Facebook.
 

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Interview with Trevor Deeble from the Office For Personal Development

One of our favourite new bands is the Office For Personal Development. Their single 'You Are In Control' has been getting some deserved attention recently. We interviewed vocalist Trevor Deeble to find out more about the band and what the future holds for them.

  

There's a very strong visual/conceptual side to The Office of Personal Development. It's corporate, cynical almost, but with a knowing sense of humour. Can you tell us about what drew you to this aesthetic?

I've never worked in an office, so maybe I'm craving the structure and career path my life has never had. It's a response to the ubiquity of the pseudo psychology that thrusts itself upon us on a daily basis, and a bit of a comment on the reality of being in a band nowadays. Music has become a very corporate endeavour, even at a low level. Brand new unsigned bands, who have barely done a gig, now spend more time creating online marketing content and chasing the all important streaming figures, than writing, playing, or even just hanging out and getting drunk like the good old days. Maybe it's everyone else, especially the highly motivated super-ambitious 'slacker rock' bands with overactive Instagram accounts, or the, what I like to call, 'pose-punk' bands, who are cynically hiding behind an aesthetic?   

I'm loving the latest release, 'You Are In Control'. What inspired the track and how did you write it?
 
Thank you very much. I wrote most of this song in my head on the walk to and from my son's nursery. I think it's a bit of a pep-talk to myself. I've always longed for a life less ordinary, and as you get older and routine bites it's easy to lose yourself, to find yourself just carrying on, allowing doors to close to protect yourself from feeling like a failure, and gradually lowering your expectations. I think you also become less idealistic and allow things that once would have angered you into trying to change the world to pass. It's a self-preservation response I think, or maybe just fatigue, or realism. I suppose this song is about trying to let yourself loose, to snap out of it, to feel some of that fire again and open yourself back up to new ideas and possibilities.  

Prior to starting this project you were one half of Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou, making mainly acoustic music. What prompted you to veer away from folk-based music towards this more electronic sound?

After our second child was born we decided to do solo projects, both out of logistical necessity and the fact we felt we'd done everything musically that we wanted to do as a husband-and-wife-harmony-singing duo. We'd really lived it, toured endlessly, lived on the road out of a campervan, and pursued it with such full commitment, we knew that at this stage in our lives it would be impossible to improve on. I was recording a solo acoustic album and suddenly realised I was boring myself with my own music. I'd done a few solo shows and just felt like I was going through the motions. The shared mission was gone. The rooms clapped politely, some people even cried in all the right places, but it just felt like a dead scene to me. It felt very safe creatively, and with very little to lose or gain. I was almost always the youngest in the room by a good 10 years, and while there's nothing wrong with that, I just felt like I wanted a bigger night out. I also think you can say serious things in a non-serious way, often it's more effective. I started to find earnest music really annoying and folk-acoustic nights were like listening to endless teenage poetry, and I was acutely aware that I'd contributed more than my fair share of it. 

I really don't know what triggered the electronic experimentation initially. I remember wanting to scrap every musical and production principal I'd ever snobbishly adopted and do the polar opposite. Clearly all my principals hadn't worked, I hadn't had a hit record yet. I love learning and the feeling of progress, so the more out of my comfort zone a new process was, or the harder a new piece of gear was to understand, the more obsessed I became. I've always loved 80's pop music, and Eurovision, a hangover from growing up in Germany, so I think the stars aligned and the rest is hopefully history.
 
Your childhood was quite peripatetic compared to most. What effect did that have on the music you got to absorb?
 
My Dad is in the MOD, working alongside the army, so we moved roughly every 3 or 4 years. I went to 7 different schools. I did two stints in Germany, the second at a very formative time, from when I was 8 until I was 13, on a military camp. It was brilliant. It was like a small, completely secure town, so we, even as kids, had the run of the place. We could go to the cinema with our friends and walk home at midnight. Sleep out in the woods. I loved it. I would consider that my hometown as it was where I lived the longest whilst growing up, and was happiest. My family left Birkenhead where I was born when I was a baby. The military camp has now been shut down. It was abandoned and has slowly returned to nature, so I can never go back, or show my kids where I grew up. I really have no roots anywhere. 

I didn't have a particularly musical upbringing, my Dad was massively into Queen, but also R.E.M, who I still love now. I was more into sport growing up. Living a weird colonial life, floating somewhere in between the cultures of 'the motherland' and your adopted country, meant music didn't seem to have any cultural resonance. We had BFBS (British Forces) Radio which played a very mainstream overview of UK music, then I'd hear europop down the nearest German skate park if we went off-camp. I'd get caught up in Eurovision fever every year, which I loved, as it combined music and competitiveness.         
All the moving around meant that I was always the new kid. In Germany we were all in the same boat, so that was great, but back 'home' I was, and still always feel like, an outsider. I think that's why I've always felt like an observer, in every aspect of my life. That's maybe why I ended up getting into art. I did a Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths and really discovered music as an outlet while I was there. I've never felt like I fit into a scene, be it the folk, or americana world. With no sense of belonging comes no sense of obligation, which I think is crucial for an artist. I don't even feel like I'm a musician despite doing it now for nearly 20 years.      

Do you think being based in Bexhill-on-Sea, away from the established music industry cities, has helped shape the way you make and release music?
 
We only recently moved to Bexhill, mainly as we could afford to live here and have a studio, so that's a big influence. Without my own studio there's no way The OPD could have happened. It's taken thousands of hours of production so would have been unachievable any other way. We were in Hastings (just down the road) for nearly 10 years which is a real music town. With the music world becoming more and more virtual, I think it's still really important to be appreciated in your town before taking on the world, to try it out in real life, which is great if your town has opportunities to play, which we have in abundance down here. When you're in London with so much going on, making even a tiny dent can seem like a chaotic and insurmountable task. I think it's easier to concentrate on what you are doing down here, to build something, then take it up to town when you think it's ready, although it seems like most of the music business has moved down here now anyway.    

Joining you in The OPD are Bellza Moore and Del Querns. How did you meet and what qualities and strengths do they bring to the (boardroom) table?
 
I've known Del for many years. He runs Music's Not Dead, one of the finest record shops in the land, in Bexhill. I never knew he could play keys though. I had someone else in the band, who unfortunately had no choice but to let us down the night before the video shoot for 'You Are In Control' and Del, who was due to be an extra in the audience, was upgraded to being in the band at very short notice. Then life imitated art and he is now our Head Of IT. I think it was Michael Stipe who said every band needs a musical encyclopaedia, they had Mike Mills, we have Del Querns.  

When another friend of mine, who was also in the OPD for a bit but never made the first show - I'm a great Boss honest, but HR have worked overtime - handed in her notice, she recruited her own position, filling it in true corporate nepotistic style with her daughter, Bellza. Bellza is less than half mine and Del's age, so is the Office Junior. We quip that that means Bellza works twice as hard for half the pay. We pay everyone the same. The rest is true.       

What does the future hold for The OPD? Any imminent new releases or plans to tour? 
 
We will have another single coming out, probably in April. That might be the last release before we think about releasing the album. It's all finished, we're just waiting for the right business opportunity to make it happen in the fashion we see fit, to achieve our projected market share. We're playing our debut London show at The Social on 22nd March and we have some exciting festival announcements coming up as well. 


Click here for the OPD website
Click here for the OPD on Twitter
Click here for the OPD on Facebook
Click here for the OPD on Instagram
 

 
 

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Action & Tension & Space - Tellus

Modern psychedelic lounge music from the Norwegian coast.

 

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a band that describe itself as a “spaced out, instrumental loungerock outfit, with added vibes of folk music, jazzy surf, psychedelia, free improvised chill-out, jangly post-rock and travelling bass”? I certainly am, but before I listened to Action & Tension & Space’s latest album Tellus, I was drawn in by the sleeve art. Several coloured spheres, simply rendered in bold colours, tell you little about the music therein, but that was part of the charm. It looks like the work of Dick Bruna, taking a break from drawing Miffy. Do they represent planets? Snooker balls? An illustration to show a mathematical law or physics experiment? Probably none of those things. The sleeve had done its job, I was taken in and keen to listen. And Tellus does not disappoint!

 So, who exactly are Action & Tension & Space? They’re a group of musicians from Haugesund on the west coast of Norway, made up of members from groups such as Electric Eye, Lumen Drones, Undergrünnen, and The Low Frequency in Stereo. Tellus is the group’s fourth long-player and one that has me gripped from beginning to end. It’s comprised of five tracks, each with a unique mood and feel. They’re stretched out with extended improvisation which never feels forced, false, or unnecessary.

 ‘Chromosomes’ is the album’s opening track, a Krautrock-ish number with guitar arabesques that have something of Will Sergeant about them. Repetition rubs up against mutation here in a most pleasing way. ‘Tellus’ follows, further encouraging a meditative state. Perhaps the calmest, most chilled track on the album. In many ways the calm before the storm…

 ‘Trinity and the Holy Ghost’ is the album’s mid-point storm, and my favourite track of them all. A ten-minute finger-snapping, mutating epic with a 5/4-time signature, underpinned by a killer double bass riff. By the time it finishes I just want to play it all over again.

 But then I’d miss out on the following number ‘Schweppes and Koskenkorva’. Named in honour of the mixer and Finland’s famed clear spirit drink, it has a suitably hazy, intoxicating vibe. Oddly it conjures up images of sun-soaked North Africa and the Middle East rather than Scandinavia’s icy climes.

Those are saved for album closer ‘The Last Petrol Station Before Hardangervidda’. According to the press release, Tellus was recorded in a tiny studio on the Norwegian coast as a heavy storm came in. This track has that ominous, stormy feel. Music that says the dark clouds are approaching. It all adds up to an album that’s hypnotic, swirling, transportive, and groovy. There’s action, there’s tension, there’s space, and a whole lot more.

 

Action & Tension & Space are –

Per Steinar Lie – lap steel, electric guitar
Øystein Braut – guitar, organ, Mellotron
Julius Lind – double bass
Ørjan Haaland – drums
Sigbjørn Apeland – harmonium, Fender Rhodes
Ståle Liavik Solberg - percussion

Tellus is released by Rune Grammofon on March 25th