Lloyd Cole

Republished in Rip It Up – May 2014

“I hadn’t thought of that,” laugh Lloyd Cole, after contemplating my suggestion to open his Christchurch show with John Hatford’s “California Earthquake”, “I like the obvious irony in that.”  Cole tells me he came across the song when he was looking for other material for his acoustic sets.  “I originally heard Mama Cass sing it. This one rocked my world – sorry bad pun, it’s late.” Indeed it is.  On the end of the blower, the very personable Cole is hiding up in his attic of his Easthampton, Massachusetts home where he’s lived pretty much since marrying his wife, Elizabeth back in 1989 and where they still live with their sons William and Frank. “She has a big family…one of seven children and I’m one of two, so the pull to move to this part of the world was stronger,” Cole replies when I ask him about why he’s based in a part of the USA that doesn’t appear to scream rock’n’roll! “Though,” he adds “I travel a lot for my ‘job’, so I get out and see the world.”

Born in Buxton, Derbyshire, Cole ended up in Edinburgh, and following time at University his band The Commotions hit the indie big time back in 1984 with the single “Perfect Skin”. Their debut album Rattlesnakes contained a heaping helping of literary and pop culture references – Arthur Lee, Norman Mailer, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Truman Capote. Cole can’t help throwing in a few more references on his latest album, Standards which even quote Blondie at one point “Yes I’m touched by your presence, Dear, he laughs, explaining his obsession with quoting the 20th Century.  A case in point is the song “Kids Today”. “These songs are not for me, he emphasises, “Originally my plan was to go chronically through parent’s complaints – so you’ve got the New York Dolls, the Jitterbug and the Lindy-Lee hop all in one song – that’s the magic of song writing, you can do that.” Of course Cole is prone to a few covers, too, Marc Bolan, Moby Grape, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Lou Reed to name a few. Occasionally the favour’s returned, too, most notably the feminist version of “Rattlesnakes” which appeared Tori Amos’ Strange Little Girls.

Ironically, Standards only features one cover, that Hartford tune. And it was a bit of a black sheep for Cole, who’d established himself as an acoustic folkie since the break-up of the Commotions back in the late 80’s.  “I was not sure I could go back to the sounds of the Commotions and that. I was playing a very adult space.  But when I was writing these songs, they were all just ideas in old notebooks…about half were pop, I thought they belonged to my past. But I went ahead and listened to what the songs were saying, how they were.  They wanted to be a pop record with a rock’n’roll band.”

“We almost didn’t make this one.  The previous one (Broken Record) was a financial ordeal and a challenge.” The recording of Standards was part funded by crowdsourcing, his record company and himself, through pre-sales of a deluxe limited edition of the album and the purchasers were also credited as executive producers of the album.  “Fans of mine trust me.  I’m not going to make a record cynically. does a certain amount for you but we chose to do it all ourselves…even the shipping.  There’s always some held up in customs and a group of angry punters…Never again!  But then I spoke to (long time collaborators) Fred Maher (drums) and Mathew Sweet (guitars) and we had a window of time to make it, so we just!”  Asked about the title, Cole giggles “It’s the kind of title that will annoy the people I like to annoy, impresses those I want to impress!”

His eldest, William is a musician now and are sometimes on stage together.  William recorded for Standards, as is about to embark on a US tour. I wondered if it was harder for the younger generation to succeed in music these days.  “Well, yes and no because really as it was then and now – you’re either huge or you’re indie.  The Commotions never made a number 1 single but we made a lot of money, but now that can be harder.  The financial rewards are not as great.  Thankfully he’s got his heart set on being huge!”

“For me,” he adds, “Things are a little healthier (with the success of Standards).  It’s been a series of diminishing returns since 1987 but it’s amazing to know that I’m still making a living out of this.  Plus I get to play a little golf where I go.  I have a day off in Wellington.  A friend has tee-d up some links.  That should be fun.” Fore!


RÜFÜS’ Jon George chats to Rip It Up


Republished from Rip It Up – June 2014

Bringing their show to NZ shores for the first time, the RÜFÜS live experience is a combines live instruments, electronic production, and skilled pop and a dare to dance mentality to the Studio, this Thursday. Tim Gruar had a quick chat to one of the band’s founders Jon George about who they are and what they’re about.

Two interesting facts about Sydney electronica outfit RÜFÜS. One: they are not Chaka Khan’s backing band, no matter what Wikipedia might tell you (It was more a sloppy nod to cool Scandinavian bands like Röyksopp). And two, despite the eternal fire hazards in rural Australia, RÜFÜS like to record in water tanks.

On an exceptionally dodgy phone line Jon George tells me about how the three piece are all about DIY. Unlike the jokes made in a certain local hardware commercial this band loves to create their own recording spaces. Atlas, their debut album, I’m told, was created and produced in a remote farmhouse on the NSW coast line. An entire house was completely fitted out by George and his band mates Tyrone Linqvist and James Hunt.

To add extra layers they found a disused water tank at the George farm and filled it with carpet and equipment to record more sounds and tunes. It must have worked as Atlas peaked at top spot in the Aussie charts following its release this time last year. Following amazing success with singles ‘Desert Night’ and ‘Tonight’, they release ‘Sundream’ in March as a taster for a new tour schedule planned for July. George confirms Atlas’ musical direction was inspired by the laid back feel of their location. Like their heroes The Presets and Beach House their music is song based, down beat but somehow optimistic and joyful.

I was surprised to find an early review in English heavy weight Q Magazine, who compared it favourably with bands like The Beloved. “I’ll take that,” says George. Although, he notes, the album has also found favour with French producer and Daft Punk collaborator, Alan Braxe. Braxe (Stardust) was introduced to RÜFÜS via the late Adrian Ajax, a Melbourne staple on the DJ scene. Which led to gigs at sold out parties in NYC, in front of members of LCD Soundsystem and skateboard riots at the Bake & Destroy premier in LA. But the craziest appearance was in Moscow, “with this completely foreign audience. They didn’t understand us. We didn’t understand them. No one cared. It’s music!”

Accompanying their music, George’s brother Alex, ‘Patzky’, produces these delicious little twists on well-known themes for their videos. “He’s created all our vids to date. He likes to be involved, stylistically, and in turn that gives us the core idea for our music.” A case in point is ‘Desert Night’, which is a twist on Sofia Copola’s Lost in Translation – sort of. “I can see that,” George laughs, “We had this idea that a girl would sing with a drunk businessman at a Karaoke bar. Instead of spurning his ale-doused lurching, she takes pity on him and follows him home – almost out of worry. “It’s a twist on the loneliness of the night. The night can be a desert sometimes – especially in big cities.”

Big gigs are the future for RÜFÜS. They were recently picked as one of 3 Aussie acts for Red Bull’s ‘Opinion Leader’ programme. The result was “huge lighting installation. It was a crazy idea to put forward. We were picked and we caught the ride. We’re hoping to bring some of it on tour over to New Zealand, if we can. It will make our music more … four dimensional.”







Interview: Mi-Sex keyboardist Murray Burns

Mi-sex (2014) with Eddie Raynor

Reprinted from the original – Rip It Up August:

The first time I heard ’80s Kiwi icons Mi-Sex was in the basement of my school hall. My Form 2 teacher had bought a job lot of excess cassettes from the EMI factory in Lower Hutt and was selling them to students to raise money for a new gym. The song immediately caught my attention. It was unnerving, energetic, threatening and slightly space-age. It was ‘People’, one of the band’s greatest singles, about relationships in a world of computer dating and test tube babies – 10 years before the hit film Gattaca summed up the same ideas in sound and vision. It was very much ahead of boring, conservative ol’ ’80s New Zealand!

After years working on “other” careers, the core members of Mi-Sex plan to once again honour the pact they made with each other many years ago: “We will get together and perform at least a few times each year.” Back in the day they’d swept the annual Countdown awards, charting hit after hit, including number one single ‘Computer Games’. However, with the accidental death of former brilliant frontman Steve Gilpin in 1992, Mi-Sex had been put to rest and the lights switched off. The band’s resurrection only began after one of the Mi-Sex guys saw Noiseworks’ Steve Balbi performing in the Ziggyshow (a David Bowie tribute) recently. Suddenly, the power was back and the lights clicked on.

Of course, I knew nothing of this development – until I began to see posters around town advertising shows with Eddie Raynor, in support. I thought I’d better email keyboardist Murray Burns and find out more.

Welcome back, how long has it been? Where have you been? What have the lads been up to?
We’ve not played as Mi-Sex since the mid-Eighties. We didn’t break up as such, but felt time out was due. We’d toured heavily in America and Australia, (made) four albums, lived in each other’s pockets… still, we maintained a close relationship, even though we’d stopped functioning as a band.

(Lead singer) Steve (Gilpin) began to build his family home in Byron Bay, NSW, and the rest of us mostly became heavily involved in studio work of varying degrees – producing artists… scoring for film and TV. We’ve also played in other Aussie bands. I played with Richard Clapton’s band for a year and Colin Bayley (guitars) toured with Men At Work. Kevin (Stanton, guitarist, writer) moved to London for a long period. We began (again) to write again, as a band, in 1992 – sadly in that same year we lost Steve in a car accident.

Has Mi-Sex always been there?
In spirit. Losing Steve obviously placed what we felt was a “full-stop” and goodbye from us as a band… time marched on and we never really paid much attention to ideas of reforming. So to even consider doing a full-time gig again after 30 years is quite a challenge. However, the past three years wheeling out the Mi-Sex bus (on various occasions) has been beyond our expectations. That moment on stage, when there are four of us there from our ’80s line-up. Myself on keyboards, Don Martin on bass, Colin Bayley on guitar and Paul Dunningham on drums – both of whom joined Mi-Sex for the final three years of our time, then making us a six piece. They both contributed to the songwriting on album number four, Where Do They Go, and breathed much-needed new life into our road-wary band. Colin actually wrote ‘I Wanna Be With You’ for Graffiti Crimes. It was a natural progression. Sadly, today Kevin is unable to play with us due to cervical spondylosis (where raw bone is exposed against the spinal chord). He’s lost the use of 75% of his left arm, has no feeling in his fingertips but he still thinks positively.

Is it possible to be Mi-Sex without Steve Gilpin?
We love and miss Steve’s voice, but the songs still remain strong. We often comment that Steve would be looking down upon Steve Balbi, who sings with us now, with total approval and happiness. To see that we are actually playing today, years on with a brand new energy. Steve was like that.

Tell me more about Steve Balbi – how did this come about?
It didn’t seem to ever be on the horizon until our bass player Don Martin, by chance, met with Steve Balbi. Steve is also a bass player, singer/songwriter, and founding member with (Aussie band) Noiseworks – also a producer in Sydney. Steve said to Don, “If we ever wanted to play again he was sure he was the man”. It’s been a long-time desire of Steve’s to front a band like ours.

How good is his Bowie?
Bowie might see a touch of himself in Steve and I’m positive David had an influence on the Steve Babi we know today. We actually did ‘Heroes’ the first night we played with Steve, at a Sydney gig.

Are you playing just old material, or is there some new stuff too?
We’ve been playing around in the studio with new songs and ideas but we’ll see how a couple of these feel live on this trip home to NZ. It’s a “slowly, slowly” for all of us on that front.

Some of Mi-Sex’s material borrowed heavily from Gary Numan and the new romantic/new wave era. Isn’t funny how so many new bands are heavily influenced by that age and by Mi-Sex – such as Franz Ferdinand and Kids of 88? You were new wave in the ’80s – in the 2000s what would you be? What’s your inspiration?
Just to set the record straight, we had actually recorded ‘Graffiti Crimes’ in 1979, the same year that Gary Numan also had his moment with ‘Are Friends Electric’. He invited us to meet him on tour. ‘Computer Games’ resonated with him somewhere I suppose. I would say John Foxe, early Ultravox, Bowie and Roxy Music would’ve been more of an influence on Mi-Sex at the time but the brash Australian rock music was the biggest thing to hit us. We absorbed the energy of bands like Midnight Oil and the Angels. They showed us all about the deliverance of the live show and the studio also to a degree. Mi-Sex was a hybrid of many bands, maybe that’s what all bands actually are! Today we might be a fusion of, say the Artic Monkeys, The Killers or Arcade Fire, with a touch of Coldplay for sugar. Then again – probably none of the above!

Some of your big hits, like ‘People’ were post-Orwellian nightmares – “carbon copy people”. Has that dream come true?
I can comment on the music of those songs. Kevin Stanton was the one who had so many of those visions. His lyrics do ring true today, unquestionably.

And what about ‘Computer Games’?
This was a fantasy but is now so real in the age of Facebook and Twitter relationships.

What would you be writing about these days – are the themes eternal?
NZ has been family and friends for the past 30 years. It is now a whole new adventure for us and for Travis New on guitar and Steve Balbi. We have the energy to perform and we know it’s on par with our ’80s performances. Best now we think “there’s no time like the present!” It is actually great to re-acquaint with home, travelling around and seeing old haunts. Some things don’t change at all, but many things in NZ are almost ”alien” now – joke!