Former Utopia only came onto the radar of someofitistrue towards the end of 2012. We were lucky enough to have seen American Werewolf Academy and Wussy on their joint UK tour at the end of last summer. They both released amazing albums on Damnably – and it turns out that I went to University with Damnably label boss, George Gargan. Although I don’t remember how similar our musical tastes were (it was a few years ago) I did recall us both being massive fans of the Come album ‘Eleven: Eleven’. Therefore, when I found out that George’s own band, Former Utopia, were releasing a record I was keen to hear it.
All that said, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so enamoured by the release. The Collapser EP is lo-fi, raw, honest, angry and above all a fascinating listen. We caught up with George & Russ from the band to talk about the EP, the launch show on the 08.02.13 and musical inspiration…..
Hi Former Utopia, how are preparations going for the release of the Collapser EP?
George: Hi, well it’s released on Damnably Records, which I co-run with Janice (not in the band). Right now we are waiting on a second batch of test pressings coming over as the first had some pops on, then they get sent to the shops and those who pre-ordered. I’ve also been flyering, postering a good bit around London for the launch gig and the band has been rehearsing too of course. ‘Plaided’ jet over from Vienna on Wednesday so I’m excited to see them play here again and as a trio this time. Andi from Viennese label Fettkakao Records and Satomi from Deerhoof/oneone are DJ’ing so it’ll be really cool.
What can FU virgins expect from the live show?
George: Umm, It’s quite loud live. Rama is a killer Drummer and the handmade Canopus kit she plays sounds amazing. Russ has a wall of bass drive pedals-even a harmonic perculator clone so we have a lot of fun live and it’s coming together as we get used to having our own gear (used to lend smallgang’s before). But like Agostino from Uzeda/Bellini says ‘it is what it is’, we just play, there isn’t any costumes, dance routines or anything.
Who are Former Utopia and how did the band come together?
George: I’d played Bass in Lazarus Clamp in Leicester for years and left as I had too many of my own songs for that band, which already had one prolific and talented songwriter. I moved back to London, where I’m from, and met Rama at the first Silver Jews gig at the Scala. I had a load of lofi songs I’d done that she liked so we teamed up. She had been in bands in South Korea, so she was really good already. Russ came to the early Damnably gigs. He was a photographer back then and we became friends and he joined on bass maybe 2 years back now.
Russ: George and I met a few years ago, the band was on and off a two piece at this point. Whilst that was a cool sound, I offered my services to the bass department if he was interested. We had a few rehearsals and kept going from there.
How would you describe the EP?
George: It’s a bunch of old songs we’ve played live for a couple years (some a lot longer) and they go together as a set really. Matthew Barnhart kindly mixed and mastered it for us and without him, the sound wouldn’t have come together as well, as we recorded it live by ourselves at our rehearsal space. He did such a great job. I like bands that record live like Shellac or Harry Pussy. There is more life to those recordings. Lazarus Clamp always did it that way, so that’s how I learnt to do it.
Russ: A schizophrenic mishmash of sounds; broadly, similar to Superchunk playing a (Smog) and Karate inspired songs.
Here at someofitistrue we love a short sharp blast of a song – Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Serpents’ being one of the best of 2012. ‘Schism’ is one of our favourite tunes of the year so far – cramming a whole lot of punk attitude into less than 3 minutes – tell us a bit more about this particular song.
Schism’s a lot of fun to play. I wrote it on my Fender Jaguar Custom Six Baritone that was tuned to Low B so had this huge bassy sound. I took it to Rama and added the shouting, which I couldn’t do at home, and it clicked straight away. It’s about survivor guilt and that strange period of time you get when someone close to you dies. Normal reality breaks down as mortality shuffles up close and a lot of guilt and anger flows as you flail about trying to come to terms with a death. Specifically, Schism is a mental processing song about when my Brother Jock jumped in front of the Gatwick Express, at a place called Purley, on May Day. Suicide leaves a big hole in a family and is devastating on a personal level. I’m always happy to play Schism, as it’s a release for me, but it is a heavy song. ‘Palpable in the Disco’ is also from that time and a black humored anti-suicide song. Maybe that’ll be on the next record.
Gargan really gets to show off his chops on the feedback-drenched ‘Blue Fugue’ – what guitarists are influencing his playing?
George: On the whole, it’s guitarists that are self taught and who have generated their own rather idiosyncratic way to play, rather than those gifted guys you always see at parties playing Oasis songs. For me the magic is in the person breaking the rules, usually through not knowing what they actually are to begin with.
As a kid the first albums I bought at ‘Our Price’ in East Ham High Street was Neil Young’s ‘After The Goldrush’, a ‘Best of Billie Holiday’ and ‘Jimi Hendrix Live at Monterey’. It was pure chance that those albums happened to be in the shop and that’s what we’ll miss if HMV folds completely. I had a vague notion of who each artist was and that I should probably check them out, but it’s that physical chance that you get in real shops and library’s and can’t get online, as online you are targeted by adverts. My eldest Brother Eddy got into the first 4AD bands and it was seeing that 1989′ Town & Country Club Pixies/Throwing Muses first UK gig that made me want to be in a rock band. Kristen Hersh, Leslie Langston, Kim Deal and Joey Santiago where so cool.
After that it was Codeine (http://youtu.be/3JX4i4W2Zuc) and Come (http://youtu.be/-Lj3rlli7CU) that stood out from the terrible UK music scene, so Chris Brokaw and Thalia Zedek from those bands have been a influence for a good 20 years and, as I’m self taught, I made up a lot of ‘Codeine’-sounding chords. Karate’s Geoff Farina (http://youtu.be/SLEWZs5Mrm4) is another influence, his solo’s are so fluid and his journey from Hendrix through post punk, jazz to blues/folk/ragtime is a reverse history of guitar music and fascinating to follow.
Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch is a big favourite of the whole band. I sent him our song ‘A Love Like Infinity’ for his Boise radio show and he actually loved it. I was stoked about that. Bill Callahan’s genre jumping, black comedy as well as his 2 finger finger picking style has blown me away ever since I reviewed Smog’s ‘Wild Love’. I love Steve Albini (http://youtu.be/bkyTK9tRgHs) and his Harmonic Perculator/Travis Bean sound. Michael Hurley’s got the maddest style, and is just a natural kooky iconoclast, I listen to his albums an awful lot and have a print of his artwork on my fridge. Bill Orcutt is another, he was in Harry Pussy and he invented a whole new way to play that came out of punk but is actually more complex than a lot of modern ‘experimental’ classical music. He gets in Wire magazine now but when I bought Harry Pussy (aka In an Emergency You Can Shit on a Puerto Rican Whore) (1993, Siltbreeze) it was a sound from another dimension, much like when I first heard Codeine on John peel’s radio show. It was a, ‘What the fuck was that?’ moment.
Micky and Andrew from Lazarus Clamp are also great guitarists and their band has traversed 19 years 6 albums through Post Rock, Math Rock, Quirky Pop, Alt Country and some lolloping loose post punk and for me is much more musically interesting than the output of say Mogwai, FOTL or even Radiohead. They grew up on The Mekons, Minutemen, Firehose, Bongwater so are not afraid to create all manor of songs and I really like that. They build their own pedals now but always had those huge Marshall Guvnor pedals that sounded so immense. Check out this collection here http://music.lazarusclamp.co.uk/ More recently in 2007 I heard the Chokes! EP by Silkworm and it was like being hit by a musical lightning bolt. Possessed, I bought all 10 albums afterwards and those by related acts ‘Joel R L Phelps & The Downer trio’ &’ Bottomless Pit’. Tim, Andy and Joel wrote, sang and played guitar/bass in silkworm and are 3 of the greatest songwriters and guitarists in the world for me and it’s a body of work that is unparallelled by any other band accept perhaps by the Beatles. Rama is a big Seam fan so she’s into Bottomless Pit as Chris Manfrin from Seam is the drummer. She also likes Shipping News, Shellac, Bitch Magnet and bands with powerful complex drumming. In London I like to watch Simon and Toshi from smallgang-they have a lot of fancy moves and sounds and Alex in Splintered Man, Piers in Slowgun, Russ as well-he does these altered fifths/ninths. There is loads more like Julie Doiron, Shannon Wright, Kate Eldridge from ‘Big Eyes’, Chuck and Lisa from Wussy, J.Mascis, oh and Naoko from Shonen Knife – she’s really fast and plays louder than almost anyone I’ve seen apart from J and she manages to jump about and sing and still play frantic songs.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
George: Sometimes I have a basic or quite polished structure that I take to the band. Russ and Rama often shout at me ‘that makes no fucking sense‘ or ‘your timing is mad-it’s a different each time you play it‘. Then ideas get tested and reshuffled until a song feels right. Post Card is the newest song and it organically came out of a really heavy rock drum part Rama made and me playing this funny chord in 2 places on the guitar neck that’s a really dumb thing to do as its the same chord played twice but it actually sounds really good. Russ was doing this insane bass line and it just slotted into place. The lyrics usually get worked out in my head as I cycle about London humming a particular tune. Like J Mascis says about his playing guitar as he watches TV it’s a process akin to “fishing” and you just need to zone out and free up your mind and see what swims up from the depths.
Russ: It differs; for the most part, George will normally have a song pre-written, even in the sense of a full demo. It might have basic drums for pacing, or a few bass ideas, sometimes even a whole bass part, he likes which would work well with his guitar parts. We’ll then sit down with it together, maybe experiment with the structure, different parts, different dynamics until we get something we are all nodding our heads to. Other times George might start jamming out a few ideas, Rama and myself will then start to add our parts around it. Then, like the former model, we’ll experiment with different ideas and develop from there.
What other records are you looking forward to hearing in 2013?
Bottomless Pit, Wussy, American Werewolf Academy, Tre Orsi, Kath Bloom, smallgang, Slowgun, Bored Spies, Lazarus Clamp are all working on new records. Also Dick Diver, The Glorytellers, Big Eyes and Thalia Zedek have new ones coming out soon.
Russ: Bored Spies. The two new Kevin Devine records.
What next for the band in 2013?
George: I want to go to the pub with Stewart Lee this year, release some 7’s, maybe an album and tour a bit. The others don’t have much time or are working away so we are a slow paced band. Russ just finished recording the debut album for his band ‘Russell and the wolf choir’ that features Matt (smallgang/slowgun/crumbling ghost) on drums so he’ll be releasing that on his own label. Rama just got her own Photography studio that’s huge so she’ll be working on Photo Shoots for big magazines.
Where should people go to find out more about Former Utopia
the most updates are at @ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Former-Utopia/14820332586
and these have the more formal info.