Friday, April 03, 2009

10 Questions

Apologies to all & sundry for the tardy posting. I believe we've a worthy one here, a day late, to sufficiently assuage any angst lingering as a result.

I'm always a bit hesitant when posting responses from people I consider true friends; I don't want to "mess it up", and I don't want to go so far overboard either. We, ("...the 'Royal We', man..."), endeavor to please all parties. So let's away with it, shall we?

"If wishes were horse beggars would ride." (Olde proverb)

How many times have you heard an album and wished the band was still making music? Sometimes we do get that wish granted, though it's a rarity. But, when it does happen the hope is the magic is still retained. There's a semblance of the band's raison d'etre still alive. That which made you clamor for more in the first place. We've such a guest today!

As prelude, let me say this: many-if not most of you, will have come across the following information in your sojourns 'round the blogosphere. Ignore as you like. For those who need the education I'm thrilled to give it!

"There was a time before the internet when if you wanted to know what was going on in the world of Psychedelia you would purchase one of the hundreds of fanzines around the world. Like Bucketful of Brains, Freakbeat, The BOB, Rockerilla, Ruta 66 and Sound Affects, to name just a few.

In the late 1980’s The Chemistry Set appeared in fanzines all around the globe. From the UK to France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Japan, USA, Australia and New Zealand

Some of these fanzines used to give away flexi discs (for younger readers these were 7” floppy plastic records) that used to last for about 5 plays if you were lucky. For a period from 1988 – 1990 it seemed that every other fanzine were giving away a Chemistry Set flexi disc.

Formed in London in 1987, The Chemistry Set comprised of Ashley Wood
(Guitars and vocals), Paul Lake (guitars and vocals), Henry Taprell (bass) and David Mclean (drums and vocals)

They came together through a mutual friend and a mutual love of Psychedelia. Their influences were: Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, Tomorrow, UK Psych, the 4 B’s (Beatles, Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield & The Byrds), Love, Moby Grape, The Yardbirds & The Misunderstood (particularly the use of the volume pedal, check out the quiet part of “Wake up Sometimes”) and Hendrix.

They spent the first 6 months of their existence in the laboratory (AKA a rehearsal studio in Kensington, London) before hitting the road.

An early stage favourite “Batmutation Overdrive” was the Batman Theme that careered into Interstellar Overdrive and could last anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the crowd reaction.

Covers that were played at early gigs were “She Don’t Care About Time”, “Renaissance Fair” & “Lady Friend” by The Byrds, Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” and The Buffalo’s Mr Soul” (later recorded at the ” Wake up sometime” sessions)

During their existence they also covered “See Emily Play” by The Floyd (recorded and released on Imaginary records Syd Barrett tribute “Beyond the Wildwood”, “Faintly Blowing” by Kaleidoscope and “A House Is Not A Motel” by Love (recorded and released on Spanish LP “Wake up Sometime”)

The Chemistry Set could be found playing weekly in London @ venues like The Marquee, The Borderline, The Greyhound, Rough Trade Record Shop & regularly at Alice in Wonderland. They played with Robyn Hitchcock, Bevis Frond, The Steppes and even good old Hawkwind.

The bands rehearsal sessions were more like gigs. Every Saturday a trail of about 50 freaks and hippies would make their way to the rehearsal studio, where they would watch a 4 hour freakout and jam session. Greg Shaw once paid a visit with The Steppes and a Chem Set/Steppes jam session ensued.

In February 1989 The Chemistry Set entered into Raven Farm Recording Studios to record their first LP; Sound Like Painting. The LP was finished and ready for release in April 1989. Interviewed at the time by Bucketful of Brains, they had been offered a number of deals from record companies; Voxx (USA), Music Maniac (Germany), Resonance (Holland) & Romilar-d (Spain) but were holding out to see who else would come along.

The band sent out about 200 copies of the LP to record companies, fanzines, magazines and radio stations and it was “Sounds Like Painting” that became the main reference point for the band.

Sounds Like Painting was never released.

Jim Mcgarry, Head of the Rainbow Quartz label said ” It is one of my favorite albums of all time."

The band went on to release many singles, an LP for a Spanish label and numerous compilation appearances but they never again reached the heights that was “Sounds Like Painting”."

Until now. We RIDE! The Chemistry Set have just released a new EP! Entitled "Alchemy #101", it serves as proof that hope is served.

Our guest today, I'm (extremely) honored to say, is David McLean!

Early reviews of the CD are quite positive, to wit:

‘Look To The Sky’ is classic daisy-fuelled English psychedelic toy-shoppe whimsy, everything I wanted to hear of the band. ‘If Rome Was Meant To Fall’ and ‘Seeing Upside Down’ both have that Byrdsian harmony jangle down pat, then each kicks in with a lead guitar break, just like the Long Ryders used to do (bless ’em).

‘She’s Taking Me Down’ is arguably the strongest song on here, featuring rich instrumentation, a gorgeous guitar break and a memorable riff. The most ambitious though has to be ‘Silver Birch’, which takes a leaf (arf!) straight out of the Zombies songbook in terms of both production and delivery."
(Phil McMullen, Terrascope Online)

" Got the new EP!! It's just amazing! Every song is just so great. Congratulations Men!! All 5 songs are in fact, as you said, the best songs you've ever done"
(Nelson Bragg, The Brian Wilson Band)

A worthy addition to the discography of a persevering band! Let's see what this veteran of the Psychedelic Scene thinks:

1. In ten words-or less, define "psychedelic music."

Musical Surrealism

2. What is the most psychedelic instrument, why?

The recording studio. It is the studio that creates the magic that takes a good psychedelic song and turns it into a masterpiece. I have been recording for over 20 years and when we made the new EP last winter it was the easiest and most enjoyable studio session I have ever experienced and we got the sounds that we have been striving to get for years. The secret of this?.... good instruments, a great engineer and "pro-tools". We did in 5 days, what would have taken 4 weeks a few years ago but the most important thing is that it sounds awesome. Just the right blend of past and present. Just what we wanted.

3. Favorite psychedelic album of all time?

Without one nano-seconds hesitation, "Forever Changes". The most original Psychedelic-Pop record of all time. I often picture myself as a Psychedelic kid living in 67 and enjoying all the musical fruits that the period had to offer and then WHAM...... up comes "FC". It must have really blown peoples minds. One minute you would have been listening to backwards guitars, phasing and songs about "love" and then along comes Johnny Mathis singing one part Rodgers and Hammerstein, one part Mariachi pop and one part Classical. Mix all that up with incredibly original and haunting lyrics, beautiful bass and drums and superbly original lead guitar. It took my breath away the first time I heard it and it still does today. I have bought or lent this record to so many people from many different schools of musical taste and they all love it.

4. If you could be a member of any band in history, what band would it be and what would you play?

Doh!........Me and Arthur hanging out in Laurel Canyon, spiking Jim Morrison's lemonade, down to Sunset Strip in the evening.

and I would like to play the "Mellotron" for them LIVE at the Whiskey in 67! That way we could recreate "FC"

5. What song or album that wouldn't fall into the classic "psych" definition is, nevertheless, psychedelic to you?

"The further adventures of Charles Westover" by Del Shannon from 1968. What a wonderful, spooky, beautiful record. To me it sounds like his take on "Forever Changes". Totally unlike any other Del record and some true Psychedelic songs. I urge your readers to go out and purchase it. But I am going to take this further than just music that would not fall into the classic "psych" definition if you don't mind. Some of my biggest psychedelic influences come from literature and art. Take "Borges" for instance, his surrealist, descriptive writing really inspires me, so too does the Spanish author Eduardo Mendoza and a whole host more, mainly Spanish and South American (must be something in the blood!). In Art the surrealists totally blow me away and inspire me. Surrealism/Psychedelia = same thing

6. Is there an advantage in being the pioneers (60s psychedelic bands), or being the continuing explorers armed with the knowledge of those pioneers work (the modern psychedelic bands)? Why?

Continuing explorers! my answer really is in question 1. What you can do in the studio today is incredible and allows you to take things even further than in the past. I have total respect for the musicians and engineers from the first period. What they did is a work of art. Backwards tapes, guitars, cymbals, phasing etc but it was a time consuming process and not many people could master it (pardon the pun!). Today with a bit of patience you can fairly easily recreate these sounds and take them even further. An example is on our cover of the Del Shannon song "Silver Birch". For the drums I wanted to play 2 separate parts and then run some sections backwards. In the 60's you would have to fiddle with the tapes for hours to get this. I got it in 25 minutes.

7. Assemble a psychedelic "Supergroup" of your all-time favorite musicians for us:

Mitch Mitchell on drums, Roger Mcguinn on 12 String, Arthur Lee vox, Gene Clark backing vox (and tambourine), Grace Slick 2nd backing vox, Rick Wright Farfisa compact duo, Paul Mccartney bass, Syd Barrett (mirrored telecaster)

8. You're in a discussion with your great-great-great grandfather, through time travel; what song of yours are you going to play for him from your catalog as an example of what you do?

"Silver Birch". It is not our song but in our arrangement we take Del's song and mix some "Forever Changes" acoustics and general vibe, a section of "Sanctus" from David Axelrod/Electric Prunes "Mass in F Minor", then add some mellotrons, backwards guitars, drums and monk like backing vocals. That's us. Mix it all up and produce some "symphonic psych- pop"

9. Top Ten Psychedelic Songs?

Ah it changes quite a lot, depending on what mood I am in but this is today's......

You Set The Scene – Love
Broken Arrow – Buffalo Springfield
Draft morning – The Byrds
My Mind – the Misunderstood
Someday – Moby Grape
Steel Sings – Group 1850
Can you Dig It – The Monkees
The White Ship – HP Lovecraft
Laughing – David Crosby
Zig Zag wanderer – Captain Beefheart

10. Turn the tables, if you'd like, and ask me a question.

David: I want you to join The Chemistry Set and tonight we are going to play at Hammersmith Odeon. Also I want you to choose the first song. What instrument would you want to play and why and what would be your choice of first song?

-valis: Interesting. If all of this were to happen I'd grab some percussive instruments and a tambourine and we'd lead off with "She's Taking Me Down"! Why..? Because we'd aim for the Third Eye from the count-in, 1.., 2..,3..and it's one of the best songs you've ever made. And that's saying something, in a catalog of great songs your best is happening RIGHT NOW!

How about a whole "Dream Setlist"..?

1. She's Taking Me Down
2. Look To The Sky
3. Don't Turn away
4. Wake Up Sometime!
5. Strange Thing
6. Escalation
7. Some People Never Learn
8. Colossus
9. If Rome Was Meant To Fall

Fist Encore
1. Seeing Upside Down
2. I Don't Need You

Second Encore
1. Minas Tirith
2. Silver Birch

I'm hoping YOU get to play the Hammersmith!!! Gods bless The Chemistry Set!!! (Thank you Tio!)


sr-71 said...

Yeah, Zig Zag Wanderer is on frequent rotation on my mp3 player. Never fails to get me movin'.

Haven't thought about Draft Morning in quite a while. Notorious Byrds Bros. is definitely one of my top psych albums of all time. It don't get much better than Change is Now.

Cliff. said...

First off, yet another superb interviewee. I'll admit my psych collection seems woefully bereft of Chemistry Set tunes but 'Sounds Like Painting' has to rate as one of my fave psychedelic albums of all time (many thanks to you Valis good sir for turning me on to them)

David's answer to Q1 has to be the most compact yet full answer ever! By the time we get to Q5 I'm thinking this is a man after Valis' heart and by Q6 I'm thinking, David we must meet for a pint and or a carrot!

By Q7 I'm drooling (I'd have Jimi along too though) I've spent many a happy hour over the years pondering over this question and David's line up beats anything I've ever managed to come up with.

Finally the best ever question to come back at ya Valis, however, I'm in the audience and I'm screaming for 'Orange Juice Sun' and 'The Candleburns' do you hear me?

Definitely worth waiting an extra 24 hours for was this interview. Now all I can say is, How do I get my hands on Chemistry set tunes that I don't have? Also. hey guys come play 'Mondo Bizarro' in Rennes then crash at my pad!!!

Chris said...

Plenty of music to check out between the new ep and suggested listening.

i would love to see valis on stage shakin' his tambourine and tail feather!

Andych said...

Yet another excellent addition to the Ten Question canon. Kudos to you, Sir!

gomonkeygo said...

This might be my fave 10 ? yet. Love that Chemistry Set! And I dig his all-star band totally.

And I'd completely like to sit down and talk music over a good beer (and a single malt or two) with David. Sounds like a swell fella.

gerryboy said...

Superb stuff once again, oh psych questioner-extrordinaire! The Byrds album is indeed one of the truly great ones. Everything the good chap mentions would be in my top 100 psych tunes.