Van Wyck – An interview

I have a weekend ritual. It might be on a Saturday or it might be on a Sunday morning but I’ll always find time, when lounging in bed, to listen to the listening post on the brilliant Fresh On The Net website.. It’s a rich source of fine new music. A few weeks ago now, I was blown away when listening to ‘Tanned Legs’ by Van Wyck. I savoured the air of minimalist mystery. I liked the gentle approach. 

Intrigued, I tried to find out more but there was little circulating about this stunning new voice. I satisfied my curiosity by sending some questions by e-mail.

 Van Wyck will be a new act to many readers of Sonic Breakfast. How would you describe yourself to them?

 I’d describe this EP as dark and intimate. I’ve tried to get real close to the listener, to draw them gently into these songs where I hope they find wonder, solace and maybe some form of fragile beauty. And I guess my lyrics are very descriptive. In the last weeks I’ve been compared to Damien Rice, Leonard Cohen and Marlene Dietrich, which makes for a weird and wonderful cocktail. (a jewish irishman with long legs)

 What makes you happy? And conversely what makes you sad?

 happy: the unexpected

sad: too much of the same

 You’re based in Amsterdam. Does living there influence your sound in any way? What’s the best and worst things about living in Amsterdam? Is there a scene of similar folk based musicians or are you having to blaze your own trail? 

 Right now I’m pretty much blazing my own trail, but that’s not Amsterdam’s fault. I’ve been in many different bands, both as a musician and as a vocalist and have decided a year ago to focus on my own songwriting and performance and try to find my own space in between al these genres and scenes that have influenced me. Van Wyck is my first solo endeavor and I wanted to sing myself loose so to speak, from any particular genre. Of course folk music has had a deep influence on me, but so has Harry Belafonte, Prince and Marvin Gaye.

Amsterdam and The Netherlands have no strong own tradition in music (could you name any Dutch bands?) It’s a small country and has focused mainly on copying english and american genre’s. There is no typical Dutch brand of folk, or similar female songwriters like you find now in the Scandinavian countries. but there are a lot of wonderful musicians and songwriters working at the moment. Because of this lack of tradition and history there is also a lot of freedom to create something new. And the worst thing about Amsterdam? Definitely the Bierfiets!

 Sonic Breakfast first heard about you as a result of hearing a track of yours, Tanned Legs, that was submitted to the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. How encouraged were you by the response you got from that? Do you often observe scenes in municipal swimming pools?

 The response were heartwarming, it was so wonderful to read how people find words to describe my music. They often find better words that I could and point out things that were hidden beneath the surface for me. And to be reviewed in french is always a treat. So yes, it’s been incredibly encouraging and has given me the feeling that i’m on the right path.

And yes! Swimming pools are always a source of inspiration, I think it’s the floating, or the warm water, or all those vulnerable bodies in ill-fitting suits, somehow makes it easier to reach this subconscious realm where I think my songs stem from.

 Who would play you in the biopic about about Van Wyck? 

 I don’t think I’ll merit a biopic anytime soon, but I would love my music to be featured in a film. People often say they find my music cinematic in that the lyrics conjure up so many images and I love listening to music in cinema’s. Deep in those red velvet seats in the dark with big speakers all around. So I would love to write the score for a movie, probably something french and moody and otherwise a classic film noir with Lauren Bacall and Robert Mitchum

 And finally, what do you wish for most over the next six months? What excites you most about future appointments in your diary? What will success look like over the next six months?

 This is an excellent question because I am so looking forward to the coming months. I’ve started rehearsing with some wonderful musicians and this Monday will start recording  new material. After working on my own for quite some time, this is a big change for me. I’m very much enjoying singing harmonies at the moment. So I hope to release a new EP in the coming months – that would be success number one. Number two would be playing live with my new band. And the ultimate success would of course be to create the album I have glimpses of in my mind – in my perfect world it would be produced by Ethan Johns. I am a great admirer of his work and love his ability to sound both so close and intimate yet sweepingly overwhelming at the same time.

 

 Vulnerable bodies in ill-fitting suits, classic film noir, Marvin Gaye and Ethan Johns. It’s fair to say that Christine Van Wyck has inspired this man. Take a listen and see what glistens. I sense you’ll be as charmed as I was. 

 

 

 

Of The Valley – Ride Alone

Sonic Breakfast has been in operation for over a year now. There was no birthday party and no celebration. It’s a year that has flown by and it’s fair to say that I enjoy the process of blogging and discovering exciting music even more now than I did back then. Maybe, I should buy a cake? It’s always been my intent to ‘ride alone’.

There’s still nothing that quite beats that feeling you get when an E-mail pops into your inbox direct from an artist you knew nothing about. You listen to the links that the artist has sent and immediately know that you’re on to a winner; such was the experience when previewing ‘Of The Valley’ earlier this week.

Brian DellaValle didn’t say much by way of introduction. In fact all he said was, “My name is Brian DellaValle and I am a Canadian singer-songwriter and long time Copenhagen resident. I have released my first material under my solo work: Of The Valley. I released the first single last night from an upcoming record and I hope you enjoy! Ride Alone.”

Brian’s allowing the tune to do the talking. Drawing clear influence from the very best of The National or Richmond Fontaine, ‘Ride Alone’ ambles along with mysterious intent. There’s no big, catchy chorus here or singalong ending. It’s not required. A violin accompaniment provides the aural equivalent of a nail scratching down a blackboard, adding perfectly to the increasing sense of austere intelligence in the air.

At its heart, I suspect that ‘Ride Alone’ is a positive statement of intent. Here, we have a man , keen to escape the confines that have held him back. There’s an inherent sadness that to do so will mean leaving things you cherish; but an overwhelming sense that it’s only by ‘riding alone’ and taking a risk that your dreams will be realised.

“He promptly dropped the day job and holed himself up in a small town in Northern Italy with an old typewriter and guitar. Though the material for the upcoming record was already written, he spent the next month slowing down and becoming a musician again,” says the press release about ‘Of The Valley’. You can almost hear this process happening within the twists and turns of ‘Ride Alone.’

I’ve got it playing on repeat…

 

 

D’Artagnan – A-Side

Back in November of last year, D’Artagnan released an EP entitled A-side. It’s a varied and charming assortment of five songs; at the core, a harmony-fuelled exercise in modern-day acoustic folk but an EP that’s not afraid to stray out into other more diverse directions; I cite the Beatlesesque, Abbey Road introduction of ‘Jetpack’ that then mixes the influence up with bits of the Electric Light Orchestra.

So, what do we know about D’Artagnan? They are a duo, Wade Allain-Marcus and Christopher Larkin. They formed when working on a theatrical production in New York back in 2011 and played their first gig that year. They relocated to LA and have continued to potter around the margins of the world of music. D’Artagnan could hardly be accused of being prolific in terms of output.

To say that ‘A-Side’ was released to a flurry of activity would be somewhat overstating the reality of the position. It’s certainly true that tweets from the camp rose for a period. Facebook posts re-surfaced after a gap of hearing from ‘D’Artagnan’ for two years. But, even with that slightest of peaks, this is still a band with fewer than fifty Facebook followers. And, in 2015, activity seems to have slumped again; no tweets since January and no FB updates since December. It’s all a bit mysterious.

Does this matter much? Perhaps not. It certainly doesn’t if you’re a fan of Alexandre Dumas and his three musketeers. You probably wouldn’t want any internet search you were to carry out cluttered with music from Los Angeles, by way of Brooklyn.

I’ve exchanged a couple of E-mails with Stephen Bray, the chap who runs the Masterphonic label on which ‘A-Side’ is released. They’ve been brief exchanges but, having done my homework now, I feel a little starstruck; for Stephen co-wrote many of Madonna’s early hits back in the 1980’s. I am mailing a man involved in such classic tunes as ‘Into The Groove’, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ and ‘True Blue’ asking for links and information about a band that few will know about. There’s something incredibly charming and very ‘not 2015’ about that.

I’d urge you to take a listen to D’Artagnan. Let’s see if we can get their Facebook ‘likes’ into triple figures?

 

 

 

 

An interview with Lucy Rose

From time to time, Sonic Breakfast interviews acts that it’s interested in finding out more about. Last week, we heard from Happyness as they headed off to SXSW. Today, it’s the turn of Lucy Rose. In a couple of weeks, we’re off to experience tea, chocolate and Lucy’s new, electric sound when Lucy plays in Nottingham. This interview acts as a neat preview.

Morning Lucy – it must be quite an exhausting time? Preparing for a headline tour and the release of your second much anticipated album? In what sort of mood do we find you?

I’m actually in Liverpool this morning for a day off and feeling pretty damn good. And I’ve just eaten a massive breakfast so my mood is at a all time high. I was pretty nervous about the tour before we started as we’re playing so many new songs but the more shows we’re doing the better I feel cause the reaction from the crowds have been awesome!

About that headline tour – are there any particular shows on it that you’re really looking forward to? Why’s that? Any that you’re building up to with a bit of dread?

Honestly, you never really know what to expect from a show, we just played Cardiff which was so much fun as the crowd were on one (in a great way) just cheering us on and it was a great atmosphere. The London ones always seem scary but I think that’s cause they are the ones my family and friends come too.

I guess we’ll see you touring the festivals in the Summer? You’re already announced for a couple (Wychwood and Kendal Calling) – care to give Sonic Breakfast any other exclusives? What’s been your favourite festival experience ever?

Think in also playing truck festival and got a load of others in the pipeline but not sure we can announce them yet, but keep an eye out.

When is the second album coming out? What can people look forward to with it? Is it markedly different in any way from ‘Like I Used To’? Or more of the same?

It’s out July 13th and is called Work It Out and I think it’s pretty different from the first album. I’m only playing acoustic guitar on two songs, it’s a lot more electric and a couple songs are on the piano. It’s definitely different but still 100% me!

 


 “I’m not just another girl with an acoustic guitar singing about how she feels, and I was keen for people to see beyond that.” – That’s a quote attributed to yourself from a couple of years back. To what extent do you think that this has been realised? How much is that ambition still a work in progress?

Gosh I have no idea I completely cringe when I see things I’ve said in the past. I guess I wanted people to stop putting all girl singer songwriters in the same category and see that we are all different even though we’re playing the same instrument and are from the same gender. I think people get it but who knows. I think I would loved to be known as a brilliant songwriter first but I have a lot of work to do to achieve that and then hopefully a good musician too but I guess that’s most people’s dream.

Is Warwickshire still home for you? Would it be easier for you if you based yourself in Brighton, Manchester, London or Austin? To what degree does place matter to you when writing and recording songs?

I’ve actually been living in London for 8 years but pop back to Warwick now and again to see my family and love walking in the Lake District but most my writing has happened on the road or at home in London. I tried going away somewhere once to write and it was a total disaster, I guess cause it felt forced.

You’re known for selling a special brand of tea at your shows. Will there be any new food/drink based products being sold this year? What are your views on the increasing use of Food Banks that we’re seeing across the UK?

I still have my tea and now have added chocolate which my best mate Phil has made, it’s bean to bar and absolutely delicious. I think food banks is a brilliant brilliant thing, makes complete sense and helps out people who need it.

Who would play you in the biopic of your life?

Ginny Weasley

And finally – what will a successful 2015 look like for Lucy Rose?

Well lots if touring, an album that some people have loved and hopefully a future in music.


So, we get through the interview with Lucy without mentioning Bombay Bicycle Club. We did well. If you’re keen to see her on one of the tour dates that remains, then here’s a tour poster with the upcoming dates (and the ones you’ve missed) – and just for old times sake, an old, more acoustic song of Lucy’s that I just happen to love. 

 


An interview with Happyness

I first saw Happyness down in the basement of The Shipping Forecast as part of Liverpool Sound City. I referred to their set in my review of the festival saying that, “Happyness are harnessing a growing reputation for their pavement like stoner fuzz punk. And in this basement tonight they show they’ve got the tunes to back up the talk.”

They’re a band that I’ve followed with interest since. It’s somewhat strange that I’ve yet to feature them on Sonic Breakfast.

A couple of weeks ago now, I popped along to Leicester’s Cookie to see them support Slow Club. Their growing confidence in performing live; an increased swagger that never once erupted into arrogance was more than evident. In a packed room, they indulged in a brotherly hug and then launched into their bass thumping buzz of an opening tune. A year earlier, the Pavement comparisons were hard to avoid but now they appear to be drawing on a wider set of influences. Wilco come to mind.

“This mic smells really strongly of rosemary and thyme“, they say. I find myself wondering who might have used it before. “Anybody know Slow Club? Because they’re playing after us”, they comment. The audience cheer. They play ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’ making no reference to the fact that part of the lyric is NME award winning. They crumble into a sweat-laden bundle on stage; solos are played from the crouched backs of other band members. It’s all laid-back, laconic slack from a band on the up.

 

 

Before the gig, I’d sent Happyness some questions. Here are Jonny and Ashley’s answers. With references to bearded ladies and tanning pills within (do follow my link to check out who Jane Barnell is), you suspect that Happyness are no ordinary band. You’d be right – there’s something extra-ordinary here.

 

2014 was the year that many people became aware of Happyness. Was there a point in the year that you thought, ‘Shit, this stone is really beginning to roll’?
It was nice releasing our music into the world after spending a while recording ourselves and not showing anyone. We’re still surprised when people say they have our album. There wasn’t a point as such, although since our label deals maybe some people think of us as validated. But from our viewpoint not too much has changed.

For those readers of Sonic Breakfast who might be still to experience the delights of Happyness, what would be your elevator pitch?
Don’t try and be brave just press the alarm button and wait for emergency services.

You’ve been touring with Slow Club. How’s that going? What’s been the highlights and lowlights? What’s your favourite Slow Club song?
It was kind of Slow Club to have us follow them round. I think the highlight and lowlight had to be explaining to a Slow Club fan that there was a support band, which would mean he would not be home for Question Time (because Slow Club would be on later). He spent our whole set asking for a refund.

Who are the bands that you simply must tour with in the future? And conversely, which one (or perhaps two) bands would you refuse to tour with?
The Glands, but I don’t think they tour as such. They play shows around the place.
And there’s not a single band on the planet we wouldn’t tour with for the right fee or personal favours.

You get to curate your own festival. Who would be your headliners (alive or dead)?
Pere Ubu, Randy Newman and Mariachi El Lemar

Which joke brings you most happiness?
There are two whales and one whale says to the other whale “[whale noise]”.

Who would play you in the film biopic of your career?
Jane Barnell

As you’re a trio, let’s play one of the best ‘threesome’ games that there is.. Shag, marry or kill.. (Snog, marry, avoid for adults).. Your choice is between…
(a) Madonna (b) Lana Del Ray (c) Lady GaGa…
Obviously Lana Del Rey and Madonna would never have sex outside of wedlock so this whole question is impossible to answer. And avoiding Lady Gaga is not difficult.

What are you most looking forward to in 2015? What will a successful year look like for Happyness?
Canthaxanthin on tap


 

Embleton – It Did Me Well

“Though my record may say it, no-one will play it’ ‘cos sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year“, sings Kevin Embleton in the refrain of the one cover version on his new, incredible album, ‘It Did Me Well’. And you wonder if Embleton might be resigned to the fact that few will hear this gem of an Americana album that’s out this week. It would be a crying shame if that were the case.

Yes, there’s a fair dowsing of sadness within ‘It Did Me Well’. We’re thrown straight into that theme in the opening title track. This is about leaving, being on the run, cancer and illness. Those themes are emphasised from a different perspective in ‘Leavin’ For Good’. “When I heard that you were leaving, with a one way pass, I tied myself to a railroad track”, sings Embleton in an anguished vocal style perfect for such sentiment. It doesn’t get any happier on one of my favourite tracks of the record ‘She’s Not There’ in which Embleton imagines a happy time; a time driving to meet parents with a girlfriend in his car. He looks towards the passenger seat and she’s no more than a memory.

But, to write this album off as pure sadness and loss overlooks the strand of redemption that sometimes surfaces. The guy who’s running away for much of ‘It Did Me Well’ does appear to find some kind of uneasy satisfaction at the end of the song as he returns home to the place he left; and in ‘Only Begun’, we’re given a snapshot of a new relationship in which running away and leaving is far from mind. “Take our time, we were meant to, meet my eyes, we’ll be fine”, sings Embleton in a break from the sad songs.

I asked Kevin Embleton for an entertaining story. He replied with this: – “So, we recorded the album live in our engineer’s living room. We all had jobs at the time, so we would get together around 6:30 pm to practice and then see if we could record a track all at once. We were often tired after a long day of work, and so it was pretty slow going. We took breaks often and tried to keep things light. We were back in the living room/studio trying to lay down a track one evening after a few of us had taken a smoke break on the porch. Everything was going smoothly, in fact I thought for sure this take was the one, until our studio drummer Matt Kurtz stopped playing. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on, but finally I heard him say “The porch is on fire!” He hopped out of his throne and went out to the porch. The bucket that we threw our cigarette butts in had caught on fire and was making quite the sight. We eventually put it out and got back to tracking, but somewhere in the archives of our pro-tools sessions is someone yelling “The porch is on fire!” So that’s a story about a time smoking cigarettes ruined a potentially beautiful track. We all had a good laugh about it though.”

Musically, this is an album that’s drenched in Americana roots. It does stray away from the slide guitar and Alt-Country pangs from time to time but never to such a degree that the flow of the album jars. The songwriting stands out and pushes this above records coming from a similar place. There’s a laidback lilt at play here that draws the listener in and then refuses to let you out. It’s beautiful, tender and well worth investigating.

Let’s see if we can get ‘sad songs’ (and some hints of happy ones) selling this year. You cen find out how to get Embleton’s new album “It Did Me Well” on their Official Website .

 

 

 

 

 

Sonny And The Sunsets – Happy Carrot a Health Food Store

Spring is coming. It could even be here. I’m sat on a train heading to Hitchin to watch a football game. The sky outside is a beautiful blue and I’m feeling fuzzy.

Clearly, the music that I’m listening to on my headphones is helping that glow. Earlier this week I was sent a link to the wonderful new video from Sonny and the sunsets. Happy carrot health food store is exactly the sort of thing that Sonic Breakfast was established for; quirky, creative and laced with delicious madness.

Remember when I wrote letters from Pete to Joanne? Gig reviews, festival reviews – it was all a construct. Some people loved it; others thought that the style was self-indulgent and forced. Those others can stick to liking Coldplay. I loved creating those characters, dropping little clues across different pieces of writing about what had gone before in the lives of Pete and Joanne. You suspect that Sonny Smith comes from a similar, albeit much more elaborate, place. Happy Carrot Health Food Store pays attention to the lives and loves of the disaffected misfits who work within. It’s glorious storytelling. And then it gets really weird..

On the back of this I listened (and listened again) to the recently released album, Talent Night At The Ashram. It feels like there’s a concept here. We’re treated to more fragments from the lives of Sonny’s characters. It’s an ambitious album that drips with twee psychedelia; it’s so rich with content that writing a full review seems a daunting impossibility.

I remember first listening to the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society record on my Sony Walkman. I was in the back seat of my Dad’s BMW. That makes me sound posh and rich. I was neither. It was a vintage crimson orange car. ‘Talent Night At The Ashram’ takes me back to that moment. The happiness is innocent; the joy is pure and unblemished.

I dug further into the man that is Sonny Smith. I like what I found. A few years ago now, Sonny created an art exhibition. For ‘100 Records’, Sonny invited 100 artists to produce artwork for the record covers of fictional bands. He then concocted the personas of all 100 fictitious bands and wrote songs for each of the bands. That is artistic endeavour in my book.

I’m still on the train. The sky is no longer blue. I’m feeling a different kind of fuzzy.