Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview: Louise Hull of Louise And The Pins

"I'm not just saying this... Wherever I live, I always try and find an Irish pub because they're not pretentious, I like a nice pint of Guinness" and "the music is always good." Says Louise Hull, Queen of Camden, and the brains behind one of the UK's most hotly tipped acts for 2012 Louise And The Pins, who have received raves reviews for their retro '50s tinged singles Beauty Strange and Melancholy.

Last night Louise and The Pins played their first Irish headline show at The Stags Head Raw Dublin's newest boutique music experience, an intimate and quaint venue best suited to laid back acoustic acts. Louise and The Pins are the biggest act to play the venue to date and Hull is full of praise for the venue, "This rooms really nice" she beams pointing at the bay window and period features in the room."We were here before for Arthur's Day so it was nice to come back somewhere familiar. We had such a good time and we love coming back here."

Hull's story is as classic as her downbeat '50s sound she's an overnight success years in the making having previously played under her full name Louise Hull, and in a folk duo; "Earning my stripes," as she puts it "getting good live... because, if you haven't got your shit together it really shows." Hull is a feisty young lady and she wasn't shy when it came to promoting herself in the beginning "I really pushed to get my demos out there. Internet, YouTube, that kind of thing is invaluable for getting your face out and people listening to your songs. And then we just played some really important gigs where people saw us. Had some really nice national press, which does you lots of favours. It was not a quick thing. I think you have to be lucky."

One such piece of luck was meeting Laura Marling "I met Laura through Marcus Mumford who I lived with for two years". Hull has subsequently toured and collaborated with the Brit Award winning singer-songwriter. A meeting of minds which has led to an unlikely love affair between Louise and The Pins and Ireland. "We opened for Laura Marling in Vicar St. That was one of our first gigs as Louise and The Pins. So we were kind of thrown in at the deep end a little bit, but in a lovely way. Irish audiences seem to be really active, they get on Twitter and send you messages on Facebook. But they keep it up and that response is amazing. Its nice sometimes to feel like people are actually listening to you and finding out a bit more about you... I think we got some really steadfast fans from that show."

This connection with Ireland grew even stronger when the band visited Dingle, for the recording of Other Voices. "Laura was meant to be playing but she got sick so we all ended up going there but not playing. Richard Hawley was playing and we all had a good night out in Dingle."

"I absolutely loved it" she continues "I really want to play whenever the next one is on. I just think the whole thing is brilliant.Whoever organises it, has got it spot on. Its really really good." She refers to St. James church as "a beautiful acoustically gorgeous place." and is amazed that "its a working church" between performances.

While "The atmosphere and the feel of it, in this tiny beautiful town." really appeals to Hull, who holidayed in the region as a child "I have memories of it being a really special place and when I went back again I just thought there's just something really amazing about it. Everywhere I went it was whats your name, where are you playing, what time are you on."

Other Voices proved a fortuitous experience as well as a heart warming one for Louise Hull, who struck up friendships with both Richard Hawley, and Lisa Hannigan on her visit to Dingle. "We saw Lisa Hannigan, she was wonderful. She's gorgeous, She's really beautiful and she can drink like a fish. She was knocking it back and I was like yeah, your my kind of girl. I like you. We swapped numbers and we've been in touch a little bit, I would love to do something with her."

She's the picture of '50s innocence dressed in a modest unrevealing navy dress and long black overcoat with a shock of bright red lipstick on her face, but don't be fooled by this demure facade. Louise Hull is a sharp, driven, thoughtful and genuine woman who wants to earn her place in the world.  "Louise and The Pins is the idea behind the music, I decided it was going to be Louise and The Pins because I love Smokey and The Miracles, Bill Hailey and the Comets. That's why I did it cause, I'm not a band Louise and the Pins is me, it's my identity."

"The reason I did it is the same reason they did it in the '50s and the '60s. I was solo for a while, and my music was pretty much what it is now. I just really wanted to play the songs I was writing with a band and every recording I did I was putting my own harmonies and I thought live! I'm just gonna have to get some girls, If its gonna work live, that's what it needs to be. I knew Beth, already we were singing backing vocals together in a friends band. It was hard actually, to find the girls  Its quite a hard thing to get 3 voices to sit well together. Getting the low voice was tough. it took quite a while."

It appears that the connection between Louise and The Pins and Ireland is growing exponentially with the Dublin arm of Communion. The Mumford sponsored label and creative community building platform, being ran by yet another housemate "We started playing Communion shows about two years ago, we've done quite a lot of the London show and Manchester, Night and Day. My friend Graham runs it (in Dublin) They've discovered some great people I think its because they nurture people, they get them on stage. If they like them, they'll put out an EP or they'll get them recording, even if no one else is interested. And that's what you need, you need those people to help you get your first few steps."

Another road leading to Dublin via London is The Camden Crawl "Oh God Camden Crawl" She exclaims  "it's fun but it's absolutely mental. I saw Boxer Rebellion about 3 years ago and they were really good. if you're going as a punter you need to be organised because it's absolutely packed. You need to know where you want to be and make sure you can get in. It's just mad how it's grown."

Hull is delighted that the Camden Crawl has gone international and is coming to Dublin next month."I think its great, it's such a good idea. We've been asked but I don't know if we are doing it. I think we might be away but, if we're not we'd love to do it. Any excuse to come back. We'll try and get back very soon. We love it here I don't know why but the Irish just really respond to us. We've played her more than anywhere else. I think we should try and do a little tour next time." This appreciation for Ireland seems quite genuine and uncontrived as Hull is eager for us to write down the names of suitable venues such as Roisin Dubh, for this potential tour

"I like to think that there's a really strong torch song element to it," Says Hull, giving her take of her musical style. unrequited love is a reoccurring theme in her material "I think that sort of style of singing and song has got lost." she continues "You know how Billie Holiday, June London, or Sarah Vaughan, just go up and sing a song. They can convey it, and that's what I'm trying to do. Style wise it is quite '50s but, not massively. There's a bit of folky stuff in there. A bit of upbeat that's kind of Rockabilly."

So how does a sharp modern career driven woman come to be immersed in the 50's sub-culture. A simple case of household rebellion in reverse. Louise Hull railed against her siblings musical taste in favour of her parents vinyl collection. "My brothers really liked the 60s and 70's stuff T Rex and Bowie and I like that kind of stuff but, I've always gravitated towards what my mum and dad were listening to, which is not very cool.  I had two really cool older brothers but, I wasn't that interested." she scorns.  

"My mums really musical she was a dancer professionally. So it was always in the theatre, that kind of thing. But, she loved all the one hit wonders, all the '60s pop. They stick in your head, A lovely melody, I love melody, that's sort of my thing. And I got a lot of her records when I got my own record player. My dad loves Roy Orbison, Joe Cocker, real voices. I think that's why I just love songs but, a voice is what I latch onto. He loved Jazz and Blues and older 50's stuff. I just love that music. I do listen to some new stuff. I try, if people recommend stuff I'll always listen and there are recent people that I love too but, I just like the real stuff." she scoffs.

However Hull's love or music didn't transfer into songwriting for many years "I never actually started to play the guitar until I went to University" she says with a hint of shame and surprise in her voice "I was about 17, which I think is quite late to pick up a guitar. I played a bit of piano when I was a kid, I always sang. Songwriting "wasn't an immediate thing. Its definitely taken a while to get to where I am now but, I think songwriting is like that. I listen to stuff that I wrote when I was 18 and I can sort of pick out where I was heading. It was more folky, kind of singer songwriter. I was in a duet at that point, and she had a big folk background and she influenced me a lot, in my songwriting."

And it would seem that Hull also put many hours into perfecting her vocal tones "Once you learn to harmonise it gets easier and its not so painful but, when your starting out its the most painful thing ever they've got to be perfect  When Louise and The Pins started, in my head, I kind of had the idea to do it more like an Andrews Sisters kind of thing. I think its a bit much, that level of harmony all the time. A lot of it has been encapsulated in Louise and The Pins but, its not as intense."

It could be said that Beauty Strange, is Louise and The Pins most authentic song to date in terms of recreating the sound, feel and lyrics of their influences "I naturally lean towards writing slow downbeat songs," Says Hull  "generally quite personal and about love, with Beauty Strange, I was really trying to write something that was about 2 and a half minutes long," she pauses for a second before declaring "cause I want to bring that back. All this six minute stuff. NO. Get in, do what you're doing and get out."

Hull, then lays out her perfect blueprint for a song "look at all those '50s and '60s songs none of them are longer than 3 minutes, some of them are two minutes. There's no middle eight, no instrumentals, no repeat chorus at the end, they're just done. Or maybe it starts with the chorus and there's one more and it's just done." Beauty Strange, clocks in at a whopping 2.33 secs "I just wanted to write that kind of song." She continues "It's a personal song but it's a little more general and it's a little bit sassy......"

Hull was disappointed at Beauty Strange's chart position "Writing a good song is not enough unfortunately" She says but she wouldn't be adverse to re-releasing the song in the future because she believes it deserves more recognition.

An appearance on X Factor host Dermot O'Leary's BBC Radio 2 show won Louise and The Pins many new fans with their brave imaginative reworking of a classic rock song striking a chord with listeners. "You don't even realise what it is until halfway through" Says Hull, with glee. Referring to her cover of The Clash's 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go'.

"For Dermot, they said could it be an interesting take on a classic song. I'd been toying with the idea of doing 3 or 4 classic rock songs and that was the one that I was like, I think this really works, It went down really well" and now  "everyone asks us to play it." Hull is full of praise for O'Leary "He's just such a gorgeous person. absolutely lovely, really knows his stuff music wise. I was talking about Sarah Vaughan and he was like oh yeah I've got this album of her in Paris. I knew that he would be interested in music."

But she was surprised at the level of O'Leary's musical knowledge because of "The X Factor connection". However she states "He's a real muso, he loves his 50's music as well, so we have lovely chats." Hull also highly recommends O'Leary's world famous hugs "I had a black eye at the time because I'd been in a car crash. I got a kiss on the black eye. I got lots of cuddles, because obviously I wasn't looking very well. He was absolutely lovely to us. He's a very cool individual and very good at his job."

However it hasn't all been a case of chance meetings and happy accidents for Louise Hull. She's also had to deal with the dubious honour of being crowned Amy Winehouse's heir apparent following the singers death in July 2011. Hull is hesitant to speak about the subject and is visibly emotional when she does. "I lived in Camden for four years and I worked at the Hawley where Amy always used to drink. The day the Guardian did that, was the day after she died," she cringes "and it was like ouch...."

"I have had those comparisons before. Which I don't think are very relevant  I think it was an easy thing" for the media "to jump onto. We are both a little bit retro but, the music is nothing alike. Girls always have to be compared to somebody, oh she's the new Kate Bush or she's this and that, I don't think men get that, that often. You can just be the first you. I think that's obviously just a great story isn't  it she's passing the baton. It's a nice thing to say and she was very talented but I just don't think it's very relevant.God bless her."

You can't help but feel that Louise Hull has been emotionally scared by the disrespectful timing of such plaudits. Hull has since moved out of Camden. "Camden's still very much heavy drinking partying. There's still a big music scene and the Hawley's still very prominent. it's still a really fun pub.. But, Dalston, and East London is getting really popular with bands. The music scenes really really good. The Slaughtered Lamb's really good for acoustic acts" (The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkemwell Road, Islington) "and they are really stringent about people talking. People are there to watch the music. It's really beautiful and comfortable and you will get told to 'shut up' if you are at the bar yapping. The quality of the acts they get on is really high."

On the subject of her highly anticipated debut album "It will be here before the end of the year. I've written it. I know what record I want to make. There's a couple of amazing people I've been speaking to" about producing the album "But I don't know if I can tell you..." she coyly tells us.

All Louise and The Pins releases so far have been on Chess Club records. Fronted by Will Street, son of legendary Blur producer Stephen Street. He has a good eye for talent having signed amongst others White Lies, and Grouplove.

Hull is full of praise for the label "Chess Club were kind enough to put out our first two singles so far. Those first few little helps in the right direction are worth their weight in gold" But with the success of previous  Chess Club singles and rumours of major labels waiting in the wings it seems unlikely that Louise and The Pins will remain on any Indie label for much longer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview: Kowalski

Kowalski are a group of four good-natured cheeky chaps from Bangor Northern Ireland. Their 2010 EP 'Take Care, Take Flight' won rave reviews for its shimmering ephemeral pop sensibilities. Since then they've picked up celebrity fans such as Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody and their music has struck a chord with television executives. 2011's single Outdoors in particular has made Don Draper types the world over stop and take note. You may have seen Ballygowan's 'Drink it in' rebranding commercial on television, it is for this very reason we find ourselves in the company of one of Ireland's finest bands today.

"We got approached by Ballygowan" says Tom O'Hara, Kowalski bassist and the bands chief jester "they approached our publishing company, they liked the track and felt it fitted in with the Ballygowan brand. So we said aye let's do it, why not, it's good water" before making the first cheesy water based plug of the day adding the advertisements tag line "Drink it in."  Outdoors was released last August and though you may only be hearing it now it has kept the band very busy. Outdoors was also picked up in France "we just said as long as we get some free swag, free trainers" says O'Hara referring to Tour De France TV spot for Le Coq Sportif. with a huge cheeky smile on his face. However all mentions of swag are purely for comedic effect, rather than greed  "We wouldn't do McDonald's or anything like that" he continues.  Strangely for a Bangor band they made their first venture into television in the states when Letters From The Height Of Summer (Dear Bird) was used in the American version of Skins. " I think the show bombed but you know.... one of us checked you tube one day for Dear Bird and it come up with twenty thousand hits or something" The figure is much higher at 29891 at the time of writing "it was pretty cool we've some friends in New York who sat and watched it. there's the seeds of an American fan base starting hopefully."

When it came to creating a video for Outdoors, a trip to the woods led to unexpected and revealing circumstances, but the band have nothing but praise for up and coming video director Babysweet "It's great we know Gregg really, really, really well" Says singer Louis Price "he's one of our best friends. He used to live in Bangor as well. Him and Paddy Conn (Keyboards/Guitar) where in the same class in school. He's a great guy to work with." Paddy Conn continues "it's just easy because we're all mates and whenever we go to London we sleep on his floor"  However the band admit to being less than enamoured with the green screen process, and in particular blue suits "it was ridiculous have you seen the outtakes video" says O'Hara, before Price adds "There's quite a lot on display in those outtakes. the blue suits were quite revealing" and continued "We watched the footage back at my house that night after shooting the first day and we were pissing ourselves doubled over with laughter."

So why is Bangor such a hot bed for creative types? "You tell me I don't know there's something in the water" says O'Hara milking the water puns again with all his might. But Paddy Conn has a more introspective view "People strive to do better in places" of disadvantage "you can relate it to so many things, like post war art and stuff, you know bad times in Germany and then out came this amazing scene" before O'Hara gives credit to one of Ireland's biggest post rock outfits "The whole of the greater Belfast area everybody helps everyone out. ASIWYFA sort of started the whole thing with their little solidarity movement."

Much to Kowalski's credit they shy away from advertising that drummer Paddy Baird is a sibling of Two Door Cinema Club bassist Kevin Baird. Furthermore the band won't be drawn on whether they've received any begrudgery from other northern Irish bands because of the connection. "They've nothing but helped us the whole time, in a way its strange because we helped them when they started we've been a band longer" says Price "We helped them too well" says O'Hara jokinkly "We are not trying to hide it but we're not shouting it from the rooftops."

Since Outdoors release Kowalski have been hard at work on their début album "We only finished the album on Sunday so we haven't got a title yet, something good hopefully" Jokes Price "we started in January we tracked it mostly ourselves in Bangor in a studio that Paddy B works, so we could spend as much time as we wanted to, to work things out. Then we got" producer "Tom McFall (Snow Patrol) He came over from London last month. He spent about a week on the production side of things. We put the guts down and he came in and took out all the bits we liked out." jokes Price "It was great, really good fun. it was the first time we'd done anything of this size."

"Working with a producer was an amazing experience," enthuses O'Hara "to take that step back and detach yourself from the songs." However, Paddy Baird admits there was an initial reluctance to let go of the material "At the start he'd pull a bridge out of a song and say I don't think it needs it and we'd all be like" pulling back in astonishment "No, I really think it does. But after the first day we all loosened up a bit and it was great" Singer Louis Price agrees "Whenever you've written a song you're too close to the song to really understand whats going on cause it's all just a series of parts and you play your part. At the very start it's a song but after three months of hearing it over and over and changing this, that, and the other it just turns into parts  So it was nice to have that week and take a step back and go oh my God, actually this is a song, not just a series of parts. It was good in respect that he did change a lot of things, you don't realise till it's done and you're like oh my God why didn't I think of that"

By the sounds of it Kowalski's existing fan base will not be disappointed by the material contained in the as 
yet untitled album "it's still Jingly jangly summer pop" says O'Hara "I'd say it's a little more keyboardy than Take Care Take Flight and a little more polished." adds Price "Theres a lot about relationships and love on there and being apart from a loved one, distance. Theres also a lot about rediscovering something you had, something you lost, and getting it back again. "We wrote a song" Burning Blue "one of the few songs were me and Paddy (Conn) came up with a concept before we started writing it. And it was a concept about Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest. It has a good summery vibe, it's a communal sort of positive reflective happy sad song. I always like to retain a message of it will be all right in the end. This stuff is happening to me and it's quite bad but you know what..." 

Kowalski plan to release the album by September with a single arriving in June. The band are confirmed to play Pigstock, but are in the process of planning a tour in June and they are looking forwards to playing two songs from the album live, for two very different reasons. "There's a song, it was the last song we wrote before we started recording its called Lets Start Over, its gonna be the last track on the album but I just cannot wait to play it live to play it to people. I'm really excited about it" says PricePaddy Conn tells us about the other song "We've been playing this song Ribbons for ages and suddenly it's a different song" thanks to Tom McFall's input "we're yet to play it the new way."

One of the most endearing things about Kowalski is that they adopted a pensioner during the recording of their EP Take Care, Take Flight and continue to regularly check in on him to this day. "Jim-Jam is a hero, He didn't have a clue what was going on whenever we turned up to his wee cottage on the hill with a van . He thought we were in a folk band and we were gonna get a couple of acoustic guitars out" says Price while O'Hara eagerly whips out his phone to pass a photo of Jim-Jam around the room..  "It's thanks to him that we have Get Back, most of the EP and some of the album tracks were written in Jim Jam's as well" adds O'Hara.

Outdoors and Take Care, Take Flight are available to stream and download here

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Video: Goodtime - Come With Me (Take The Night)

Come With Me (Take The Night) is the latest single to be taken from Goodtime's album 'The Colours of Darkness'. We lavished praise upon singer/songwriter John Cowhie -at the time of release- for the ephemeral soundscapes and vulnerable lyrics contained within the album. Come With Me (Take The Night) is a perfect example of why we christened the album "a beautifully executed record".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Fear Of Folk - Stags Head Raw

Fear of Folk deliver a slice of Americana with a European twist bypassing the clichés and constraints of the genre, creating their own musical identity in the process. True life experience is still the lyrical cornerstone however, you will not find any references to barren deserts or your grandma's knickers. Fear Of Folk concern themselves with the universal truths of the modern world. Early morning come down ballad You Will Never Know showcases front man Gerrard Griffin's vocal range. From quiet heartfelt murmurs, to full volume this is how it is refrains, his ability to draw empathy from the audience is clear from the off. His affable nature and upbeat stage presence offers light relief between songs. "That's enough happiness now back to the pain" he quips following Smile Lights Up My Face, a Hawaiian tinged feel good ballad, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Teenage Fanclub-esque probable single Headstrong was an early highlight of the set. Heavy on melodic interplay between perfectly weighted pedal steel vibrato and shiny spring guitar lines. Pedal-steel is a major part of the Fear Of Folk sound however, it is never clunky or overbearing and most importantly it's never cheesy. Chip On My Shoulder a rousing Harvest Moon style love song with a sing along "oh oh" vocal outro, features an impressive Pedal Steel solo. Wistful radio friendly love song Lost + Found was the highlight of the set with a catchy chorus of "For you, for you, for you" which hooks the listener in

Fear Of Folk are a welcome addition to the ranks of Ireland's folk scene which has been revitalised in the last eighteen months or so. Their début release 'Charity and Tolerance' EP is expected later this year and features a quest appearance from renound pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole who has worked with the likes of The Verve and Beck. You can catch Fear Of Folk in Whelans on Friday 1st of June supporting Bronagh Gallagher and at Knockanstockan Festival,  Blessington, Co. Wicklow July 27-29th.