Kate Nash @ The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 1 Aug

kate nash

Originally published for The Skinny.

Teasing us early on with a brief version of Foundations (it is the second song on Made of Bricks after all), it’s pretty evident there are more than a few ex-indie kids in the room: the type who, ten years ago, carried copies of the NME around in their Gola satchels and were still trying to come to terms with The Libertines splitting up. It’s clear Nash is saving the full version for later though, once the crowd has been fully warmed up.

Following this up with an epic, punk rendition of Mouthwash, any disappointment at Foundations being cut short is quickly forgotten. Nash thrashes around the stage, belting out the words in an exuberant scream, making it clear she’s no longer the delicate piano-playing indie princess she was ten years ago.

Coming towards the end of her set, we finally get the full version of Foundations we are all waiting to hear and it can only be described as suitably rapturous. Not for the first time tonight, the crowd sing every word back to Nash at the top of their lungs, in between turning to their friends to do the same.

With the encore largely made up of Nash’s newer material, it’s clear to see how much she’s grown as an artist. Behind her cute exterior, there is a real punk within Kate Nash and those who doubt that simply need to witness her live to be proven wrong.

http://www.katenash.com/

 

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Growing Up: Dan Croll interview

dan croll

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

The music industry can be a very cut-throat business at times, and Dan Croll has learned that the hard way. Last year he found himself dropped from his label, left with no management and stuck with the task of trying to find a way of releasing his second album Emerging Adulthood. “I had already pulled the trigger on the album,” says Croll. “I had released One of Us and started to release another single then found myself without any support around me, so I had to start again very quickly.”

Luckily, Communion Records came to the rescue. The label had previously included Croll’s single Marion on their New Faces compilation album in 2012, alongside the likes of Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard and Gotye, so as fans, they agreed to release his new album. Croll had turned things around for himself very quickly, with it seems barely a minute spent to dwell on the situation. This he says is due to his competitive nature, born out of a childhood spent consumed by sport. 

“Up until I was about 17, my life was so dominated by sport and I think naturally playing that much competitive sport made me very competitive, not only with other people but with myself as well,” he says. “Once I had got over the immediate shock of it and I felt quite down, there was a real resurgence to compete with these people who I wanted to prove wrong and with myself to get back on my feet, so the competitive spirit kicked in.”

By the time Emerging Adulthood had been given a release date, however, some of the singles taken from it were now over a year old: One of Us was first released in October 2015, second single Swim in August 2016. But since the album had already been recorded, Croll felt it was appropriate to keep things as they were. “They’ve been around for a bit longer than some of the other tracks but they still belong together in my eyes, on the same body of music,” he says.

Given the success of his debut album Sweet Disarray and, particularly, its lead single From Nowhere, it may seem surprising that Croll found himself in this position. But achieving the same level of commercial success again was not his only concern. “Even when you take a step away from that and think to yourself ‘I want to do this for myself’, for me that’s still not the case because I have to support seven of my closest friends,” he says. “Admittedly, it’s commercial music I want to make, pop music that can be played on the radio, but I want to come at it from more of an alternative angle.”

The album was recorded in Maze Studios in Atlanta with producer Ben H. Allen, who won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for his contribution to Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 album St. Elsewhere. As well as writing all the tracks, Croll also set himself the challenge of playing every instrument on the album.

“I really wanted a hard contrast from the first album where that was quite DIY in its approach,” he says. “When I approached it this time round, I wanted to do what people would consider the more professional way or the more appropriate way and try that out, where I gave myself a time limit. I wanted to write it in five months, record it in two months and I wanted to play every musical instrument on the album.”

In the heat of Atlanta, however, this wasn’t always easy. The way in which Croll describes his drum recording sessions sounds reminiscent of a scene from Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film Whiplash. “The room that I recorded drums in didn’t have any air conditioning so it was like recording in a sauna,” he says. But being as competitive as he is, Croll refused to give up and let anyone else step in, instead suffering through the smouldering heat to finish the recordings.

Croll’s music style is not exactly fitting to the music scene in Atlanta, known as the birthplace of trap music, so it seems an odd choice of location to record his album. “It was quite tough to do an album there because there wasn’t a scene that I could engross myself in that was similar to my music,” he says. But what did impress him was the dedication to and passion for live music.

“What I really enjoyed the most out there was the local radio set-up,” he says. “There were hundreds of stations locally but they weren’t in radio stations or offices, they were the clubs themselves, so they would live broadcast the radio from the club. Everything was so live and energetic.”

Croll himself is admittedly bit of a live music snob. In the past, he has voiced his dislike for artists using backing tracks when performing live, something he says stems from going to gigs and noticing the corners being cut by certain artists. “I think it’s a bit of a muso thing,” he says. “But some gigs I went to where I loved the band’s album, you go and watch them and it was almost robotic how similar it was to the album and part of me thought that just felt like listening to the album.”

Vowing to make his live shows a different experience to listening to the album, Croll and his band only use backing tracks when absolutely necessary. “While I use some elements of backing tracks myself, it is the absolute last resort and it’s only if me and my other four members physically can’t play that part but we need to have it there,” he says. “That to me is what makes the difference, that kind of last resort thing.”

Engaging with his fans is very important to Croll and, with a predominantly young fan base, this means spending a lot of time communicating with them on social media. Despite managing and running all his own social media pages himself, he didn’t feel he was achieving the kind of engagement he desired. “There were some very heavy periods where I found myself on it a lot and after spending all of this time on it, I still felt like I was no closer to my fans than I was when I started,” he says.

To combat this Croll launched a ‘Dial Dan‘ hotline, a project where he releases his phone number to his fans over a week-long period and takes as many of their calls as he can. “My one rule is that I can’t hang up,” he says. “A lot of people rang me and I managed to take 258 calls in the first week.”

Part of this engagement also involves him encouraging his younger fans to participate in politics. In the run up to the June General Election, Croll consistently posted on social media urging fans to vote, while not so subtly sharing his own personal voting preference.

“I think everyone should be active in it, especially musicians and anyone who appeals to a younger age range because there is a very clear divide at the moment in our country of young and old,” he says. “Obviously it’s a fine line, you want to push people to vote or register and try and direct them to what you feel is good, also keeping them in mind, but you don’t want to be in people’s faces, so it’s trying to find that balance.”

Croll’s dedicated fan base and his own competitive nature seem to have been the key factors in allowing him to get through a very tumultuous year. It seems apt then, given the circumstances, that his new album be called Emerging Adulthood because over the past 12 months, Dan Croll really has had to do a lot of growing up, and fast.

Emerging Adulthood is released on 21 Jul via Communion Records
https://www.dancroll.com/

 

The Japanese House @ The Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 10 May

the japanese house

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★

Amber Bain, aka The Japanese House, takes to the stage at Edinburgh’s Liquid Room looking like the fourth member of Hanson, with her denim on denim attire and wispy blonde hair covering her face, announcing that she’s ill but will “try not to cough.”

Luckily Bain’s vocoder masks any sign of illness in her vocal, as she plays through songs from her three EPs with almost no interruption. In fact, the only between-song chat we get from Bain is to introduce the next song. What Bain lacks in charisma, however, she makes up for in songwriting ability: particular highlights include Teeth, Saw You in a Dream and Clean. The performance of the latter is sadly ruined though by the distracting and unnecessary strobe lights, but the band seem to think it’s cool and headbang along to the track’s clichéd dubstep-esque break.

The difficulty with Bain’s music is that, at its core, it is bedroom music. It’s minimal, ambient and best listened to alone with headphones in; live, it just doesn’t quite have the same effect. But this doesn’t stop her droves of teenage fans, many of whom will be aware of her music from the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack and from her ties with The 1975, gazing up at her admiringly and singing along to every word.

There is something undoubtedly captivating about The Japanese House but if Bain intends to move on to playing headline shows in bigger venues then she’s going to have to come up with something more exciting than a few strobe lights.

PWR BTTM @ CCA, Glasgow, 15 Apr

pwr bttm cca

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★★

PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins makes a crucial observation about the difference between British and American crowds halfway through tonight’s show at Glasgow’s CCA: that Americans will scream in your face and maybe even throw a cheeseburger at you if they enjoy the show, whereas British people will tell you ten reasons why they found it interesting.

To begin, there are two very important things to be taken from the show: 1) Support band Orchards are about to be your new favourite indie band and 2) PWR BTTM are the most exciting live band around right now. Here are a few more reasons why the show was interesting.

Hopkins shredded the life out of his guitar and his vocal cords throughout most of the show but particularly during performances of Silly, from new album Pageant, and Ugly Cherries, from the duo’s eponymous debut. When Liv Bruce takes over the mic, the biggest singalongs of the evening occur, to fan favourite I Wanna Boi and recent single Answer My Text.

The chemistry between Bruce and Hopkins is unlike that in many other bands. The pair bounce off each other like a pendulum swinging at full force, exchanging banter back and forth between songs, making for a thrilling – and hilarious – punk-rock show from two performers in their absolute prime.

If all musicians could be as enthusiastic about being in a band together and playing their music live as PWR BTTM are music, and the world, would be in a far better state.

QR PWR: PWR BTTM interview

pwr bttm

Originally published for The Skinny April 2017 issue.

PWR BTTM tell us about rediscovering themselves on new album Pageant, being born performers and how Lady Marmalade changed their lives

It’s only been a matter of months since PWR BTTM last graced our shores but, just like their fast-paced music, the New York queer-punk duo are not slowing down.

“Liv and I actually walked into a haunted cave as children and we’re cursed to be touring musicians, so an evil witch will kill us if we don’t do this,” says Ben Hopkins, speaking from their van on the way back to New York, having just completed another round of live shows in the US. Their touring schedule has clearly been quite gruelling, judging by the sound of Hopkins’ voice: “I’m criminally an optimist despite my sore throat.”

It barely feels like any time has passed since the release of PWR BTTM’s debut album Ugly Cherries, a 27-minute long collection of short, sharp and sassy pop-punk tunes about love, heartbreak and fucking shit up at Disneyworld. But the duo refuse to rest on their laurels, quickly returning with the announcement of their second album.

Pageant feels like a second album should: a growth and progression on the first, with a more reflective, looking-from-the-outside-in perspective. “We had to take some time to figure out who we are now because we’ve grown up so much since writing Ugly Cherries. I think this record reflects the difference in who Ben and I are since we made that last one,” says Liv Bruce.

“We’ve been working on it for a really long time,” adds Hopkins. “Not as long as Solange, but a long time.”

The UK release of Ugly Cherries in October 2016 was followed two months later with their maiden jaunt to the UK, by which time it had been out in the US for over a year and work on Pageant was nearly complete. “The last time we were in the UK we were finishing our record via conference, getting masters and mixes back every night, so we were non-stop working,” says Bruce.

This time the band are doing things the other way around, with their live shows preceding the album’s release date, a decision they say was intentional. “It’s just fun to take the doggy on a walk before anyone knows the songs. As a music fan, it’s really exciting to me to get to hear new music live before the band puts it out and to remember songs from the show when you finally hear the record.”

They’re not only looking forward to less after-hours work on their upcoming tour, however; they’re also hoping for some warmer weather. “I remember Ben was furious all the time,” says Bruce. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this cultural difference but I think people in Britain just generally don’t believe in heating the way that Americans do. We would be soundchecking at a venue and everyone working there would be wearing a scarf, hat and gloves and be like, ‘What are you talking about, turning the heat on?’”

Having both studied performance-related subjects in college where they met (Hopkins studied theatre and Bruce studied dance at Bard College in New York), the live show is an intrinsic element of PWR BTTM. “I feel like I don’t really understand our music until we perform it,” says Hopkins. “Just on this last tour, there were a couple of songs that we recorded that I’ve sort of had an idea how to play, then after the live shows I’m like, ‘Oh, this is where the real vibe is.’”

There’s one specific performance Bruce remembers as being “truly life-altering”, that being the iconic rendition of Lady Marmalade by Mýa, Pink, Lil’ Kim and Christina Aguilera, as performed at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards. “I remember downloading the video of that performance on Kazaa after it happened and then watching it all the time and just being like, ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up,’ and here I am. Gotta get that dough, sister.”

Their love of performing seeps through very obviously into their music videos, where the song’s stories are visualised in a very PWR BTTM way. Their video for Pageant’s lead single Big Beautiful Day is a glitter drag fest, which sees the pair at a party anyone would want to be at. Bruce tells us: “That was the first time we had ever done a music video with a stranger but it felt very similar, very collaborative.” Is it more difficult working with a stranger, though? “It just takes more emails.”

For anyone in their early to mid-20s, PWR BTTM’s music is likely to have an element of nostalgia to it, a throwback to the pop-punk bands of their youth. But the band’s influences spread much further out with that genre. “The first time I heard Mykki Blanco, I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is possible,’” says Hopkins.

“I was very much influenced by that music and still am,” Bruce agrees. “The queer hip-hop explosion of the early 2010s.”

You might think that it would be more difficult to be accepted as a queer rapper, given the narrative of mainstream hip-hop’s prominent and oft-discussed issues with homophobia, but Bruce is quick to interject: “I think that the indie rock community can be just as closed off. It happens in ways that might be subtle and not easy to put your finger on, so instead of someone saying, ‘that person is a fag,’ or whatever, they would say, ‘that doesn’t seem very authentic to me,’ or ‘that seems fake,’ or ‘gimmicky,’ but it’s all kind of coded language just getting at the same misunderstanding and almost fear.”

Being an openly queer punk band does come with its controversies. Last year, a group of anti-gay protestors picketed PWR BTTM’s show at Big Sleepy’s in Jackson, Mississippi. Instead of allowing them the satisfaction of causing upset, however, PWR BTTM reacted in the only way PWR BTTM would: with humour. “These protestors at our show said my asshole was going to fall out, and I was like I think I’m a better bottom than that,” the band posted on their Twitter feed. “In a way, I understand them because I want attention too,” says Bruce today, “but we’re better at it and we don’t have to resort to violence and evil to do it.”

No matter what’s thrown their way, however, PWR BTTM just keep bouncing back. It really seems there is nothing that can fuck up their big beautiful day.


Pageant is released on 12 May via Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl
PWR BTTM play The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 11 Apr; CCA, Glasgow, 15 Apr

The Pigeon Detectives @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh, 4 Mar

pigeon detectives

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★

For many 20-somethings, The Pigeon Detectives will bring back fond memories of a golden age of indie, the ups and downs of which are still very visible today.

In a packed-out Electric Circus, the indie vibes are strong. It’s small, it’s sweaty, it’s laddy and it’s likely you’ll be leaving covered in beer. The band open the show with Enemy Lines, a track taken from their new album Broken Glances. It’s much more mellow than their older material but that doesn’t stop the lads in the crowd thrusting forward in a surge to get closer to their indie gods – suspicions arise that frontman Matthew Bowman sees himself along those lines when he stands on the drum set, imitating a crucifixion.

The laddy antics continue during the band’s performance of I Found Out, from their 2007 album Wait for Me. Bowman goes full Coyote Ugly, crawling on the bar and taking a shot before proceeding to spit beer into the crowd. It’s all very rock’n’roll, or at least the frontman seems to think so, and indeed he whips his crowd of loyal followers into a frenzy, hanging from the light fixtures as he tries to get as close as possible to them.

If there’s anything to be said for the Leeds quintet, it’s that they know how to work their crowd. It may be a bizarre sight to behold for many, but The Pigeon Detectives’ devotees are certainly putty in their hands.

TeenCanteen – Say It All With A Kiss review

tc

Originally published for The Skinny September 2016 issue.

TeenCanteen – Say It All With A Kiss

Album Review

★★★★

Album title: Say It All With A Kiss
Artist: TeenCanteen
Label: Last Night From Glasgow
Release date: 9 Sep

Nadia Younes | 05 Sep 2016

Never ones to deny us of a singalong chorus, TeenCanteen’s debut album Say It All with a Kiss is packed full of infectiously catchy, sing-into-your-hairbrush indie pop anthems that’ll make you feel 14 again.

The album’s tracklist nods to childhood nostalgia in the playfulness of the titles, such as Kung Fu Heartbeats, How We Met (Cherry Pie) and Candyfloss. This theme runs throughout the album: the band bring their best cheerleader impressions as they belt out ‘It’s A-L-W-A-Y-S / It’s always for you’ on Roses (My Love), and frontwoman Carla Easton takes innocent hindsight to a new level on How We Met (Cherry Pie), singing, ‘Like sugar in my cup of coffee / Apples dipped in toffee / This is how we met.’ The Glasgow girl-band’s knack for combining sugary sweet, nursery rhyme-esque lyrics with hammering melodies is undeniable, and it makes for the best kind of punch-packing bubblegum pop.

Listen to: Dancing (Hey You), How We Met (Cherry Pie)