Saturday, October 01, 2005

1420 kHz

An interview with Pam Berry of UK indie folk pop band The Pines.

Tell me about your previous and present bands - when did you realise you were in love with music?

I realised music was the best thing since iced raisin bread long before I had any kind of involvement with making it myself. My parents had a big beautiful cabinet stereo that finally bit the dust only about a decade ago, the kind with the stack-o-vinyl spindle on the turntable. I've got an old Christmas polaroid from when I was three of me and my younger brother standing next to what must've been our first record player, with seven-inches without sleeves strewn about the place. Old record filing habits die hard!

The first band I sang in that put a record out was Black Tambourine. I couldn't sing very well but it didn't matter, writing songs and playing with friends was the best time ever. Every band I've been in since then has been the same ace situation of playing with friends and if I still lived in the US I'd hope to be playing music with the same people, I miss them! Speaking of those folks, lemme just say how many times a day I'm compelled to play When You Come Around by The Saturday People, can I get a witness?

I'm presently playing in The Pines with my friend and guitar wonder Joe. These days we record everything at home in my South London flat on a digital 16-track portastudio with my husband at the controls. Joe and I stay pretty busy with our jobs and don't see each other as much as we'd like, but we record more than we play out - we just played our first and last show of the year at what is turning into our annual live gig at the Bush Hall in London. I also join in when I can for Snowdrops recordings with Keith and Dick, who live in Brighton.

Which would you consider your 'day-job' band?

Don't make me laugh! Playing and recording is great but at the rate we do things, I'd be wiser to work on one of the ten gazillion other things that are more appealing than working 9 to 5, like world craft domination or starting London's foremost homemade pie delivery service.

Tell me a little bit more about the process of releasing Pines records - you've recorded for various labels - what is your relationship with them all?

The first Pines release was a song on a comp CD that came with an issue of Papercuts magazine that our friend Stevie put out in 2000. Our first seven-inch came out on the label Long Lost Cousin, which is run by Mark who currently plays in the fantastic Pipas. Mark used to record us on his Mac before Mike and I got the Akai, he wanted to start a label, I was keen to make some sleeves, and it was done. In the earlier days Joe and I didn't really work much on recording until someone asked us for songs, having some kind of deadline would kick our butts into recording action. We've been lucky because the labels who have asked us for songs like Becalmed, Annika, Foxyboy and Matinee have committed to putting out a Pines release and trusted that they'll like the songs without hearing them first! I've known Jimmy from Matinee for ages but still couldn't bring myself to tell him after we recorded that True Love Waits Volume 2's first song was a capella and the last song clocked in at 9 minutes, I just sent along the finished songs and hoped for the best. Only recently have we started recording songs that don't have a home yet.

How many volumes of the 'True Love Waits' eps will there be?

Volumes 1 and 2 are the whole shebang, Joe wrote the songs as a group, though we didn't record them all at once. A long time ago we got asked to release some songs on a new indie mini-CD label and decided to start recording the first half of the True Love Waits bunch of ten. When the label crashed and the record wasn't going to happen after all, Ara from Foxyboy offered to release the songs. Matinee then kindly offered to put out the second batch of five, which mirrored the first five nicely and completed the TLW set.

Did you start 'Chickfactor' with Gail O'Hara - or just work on it for a while? How did they come about?

I started Chickfactor with Gail in 1992 and though she did take on more of the reviewing burden and was a friend to the deadline in a way I never was, we were right there together transcribing, putting on shows, pasting candies and hair thingies on the covers and stapling pages together until I left after issue 11 in 1995. All told, Gail did put much more work into Chickfactor than I did (she hit people up for ads for instance, something I could never do) and though I miss doing a fanzine I really think of it as her mag. Good thing, then, that she carried on doing it after I left and now has a wonderful webspace devoted to it! Check it out for a complete history of Chickfactor, fab pictures by Gail and awesome web-only CF articles (like Peter Paphides waxing excited about choc!).

Do you and Joe have different ideas about how The Pines should sound? Is there any element of compromise when you're working together?

Joe and I have very similar ideas about how The Pines should sound, which is why recording is something I look forward to. We also have very similar ideas about how much lazing about should be done during any day of recording and how much cheese should go on top of the pasta bake made on the day of recording. Doing any kind of creative activity with someone else will always involve elements of compromise but we've yet to have fisticuffs over where the melodica fades out or anything like that, and since we have all our recording gear at home we have the luxury of trying things out different ways, without the pressure of time or expense that recording in a studio would have.

Would you like to be more prolific?

Yes, and not just in music. In music, I'd love to be recording more frequently and getting more Pines records out. In everything else, I'd love to finish even half of the projects I start and get my small biz up and running this year. More music, more bags, more gocco fabric stamping, more mass pierogi-producing and more hat-making!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez is a brilliant singer/songwriter guitarist with a full length CD and 3 EPs available from

Veneer is the debut album by Swedish-born minstrel José González…already a certified quiet-is-the-new-loud legend in his native Sweden. Who needs bells and whistles (outside of a forlorn trumpet and some subliminal percussion) when songs are this strong and the voice is this perfect? When all that you need to hold an audience in blissful rapture is what you can balance on a barstool? Jose’s sensual, sensitive, powerful vocals and supernaturally gifted guitar playing truly recalls artists like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Hayden, and Mark Kozelek. He’s earned the accolades by writing incredible songs and staying true to his heart, keeping the songs barebones simple.

The José González song "Crosses" was featured on the season finale of The OC.U.S. press now rolling in:

Entertainment Weekly:"A Nick Drake manqué without — we hope — the suicidal tendencies, José González is a gifted Swedish singer-songwriter of Argentinean descent, whose deft, syncopated fingerpicking and hushed vocals are hypnotic on Veneer, and never more so than when he covers the Knife's ''Heartbeats,'' turning a synth-pop assault into a heartbreaking lullaby."

Harp Magazine:"A succinct acoustic meditation-11 cuts in 30 minutes-that includes hypnotic guitar figures (“Deadweight on Velveteen,” in particular) that create the feeling that you’ve stumbled into a pre-dawn workout for emerging finger-pickers..."

Chicago Tribune:"Everything about guitarist-songwriter Jose Gonzalez surprises you. The first surprise is that he's Swedish. Second, unlike most of his rock-crazed countrymen, Gonzalez's hushed, solo acoustic guitar work recalls the eclectic yet introspective "folk" of British troubadours Bert Jansch and Nick Drake... "Veneer" really is a kindred spirit to Drake's classic "Pink Moon"..."

Pitchfork:"It's taken two years for the debut album by singer/songwriter José González (Swedish, obv.) to reach these shores, and it's easy to see what nudged it here. González's sparse recordings showcase hushed, double-tracked vocals, haunted imagery, and a clearly gifted classical guitarist. His gripping acoustic cover of countryfolk the Knife's electro-pop "Heartbeats" was even a minor hit in his homeland. An ethereal, sometimes-aloof troubadour, González will sing you to sleep and then dash off under cover of night..."

Uncommon Folk:"Minimalism is the word on Veneer. Soft, hushed vocals, immaculate and brilliant guitar picking, and soft and subtle songs are the stuff that make up González’s work... Though very classical in style, though very personal in nature, Veneer sounds and feels new, with the ability to connect with new people and the new emotions of an ever-changing world..."Plenty of UK press to peruse as well: Time Out London: "Veneer displays an intense yet hushed talent, equally in thrall to the floating drone of post rock as to the elegant finger picking of Bert Jansch…"Uncut Magazine: "Mentioning a new artist in the same breath as Nick Drake has become shorthand for anyone with an acoustic guitar who favors melancholy restraint. Such a comparison, however, only hints at the talents of Jose Gonzalez. The Swedish singer-songwriter marries Drake’s mournful minimalism to deftly picked, Latino guitar. The results – melodic purity, a mesmeric rhythmic drive and stark emotionalism – are extraordinary."

Telegraph: "It's not just the dreamily introspective vocal and minor key melodies, the 11 songs of Veneer are all powered by Gonzales's mazily intricate guitar picking. He cites a mix of Beatles, flamenco, bossa nova and classical as his influences, but it's old Nick who springs to mind…[a] melancholy mood leavened by a very Drake-like fondness for playing cat and mouse with the beat."

Mojo Magazine: "Dark, still, yet oddly powerful elliptical folk songs that suggest Paul Simon’s Duncan or John Martyn’s Solid Air adrift in Arthur Russell’s "World of Echo"."

Q Magazine: "Lo-fi folk doesn't get any more exotic. 25-year-old Gonzalez was born and raised in Gothenburg to Argentinian parents, grew up listening to bossa nova and Joy Division, and deftly picks at his classical guitar with a flamenco flourish, singing in a hushed voice somewhere between Paul Simon and Nick Drake. Luckily, he's also very good. Occasionally, as on the gorgeous Heartbeats, his sparse music –just brooding guitar and double-tracked vocal—is uplifting. But the bulk of this 30-minute journey is downbeat, a little bit suicidal, and the most intimate music you'll hear all year."

All Music Guide:"Don't let the name fool you; singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez is the Swedish born and raised son of Argentinean parents. His debut album, Veneer, is a striking collection of hushed and autumnal indie pop bedroom songs that reside on the hi-fi end of the lo-fi spectrum. Gonzalez is definitely a member of the "quiet is the new loud" school as founded by Elliott Smith and the Kings of Convenience. Veneer is about as intimate as they come; it sounds like he is sitting right on the end of your bed singing just for you. At times, Gonzalez is a little more forceful than most of his schoolmates, often working himself into a tightly spinning ball of emotion (as on the driving "Lovestain" and the bluesy "Hints"). At these moments his voice is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, only without the wild flights of pretension. Mostly though, he is content to cruise along on mellow vocals double-tracked behind gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitars. The beautiful "Heartbeats," "Deadweight on Velveteen," and the gently rollicking "Stay in the Shade" are the high watermarks of a remarkably focused and promising debut."