As you should all be aware by now, the wonderful Dundee band Spare Snare have a new album, Sounds, on its way (released on Friday 20 July and available on pre-order here and here and here and here) an album produced by the legendary Steve Albini. Over the next few weeks tracks from the album will be given exclusive plays on a chosen few radio shows and podcasts, and we are delighted that the band have asked us at TTW to be involved.
In advance of the release of our podcast, we took the chance to ask Jan Burnett of the band a few of our deep and meaningful philosophical questions, which we hoped wouldn’t put him off sending us a track to play. Here are his responses along with some from the rest of the band (Alan Cormack, Barry Gibson, Adam Lockhart and Graeme Ogston):
Hi Jan, how the hell are you?
Jan – I am doing rather ok, thank you.
We are very excited to hear the new album produced by Steve Albini. In your press release you talk about choosing songs that would suit the ‘Albini’ sound. Can you tell us what that is?
Jan – Our live sound can be rather boombastic compared to the original recordings, and songs mature with age too. Keeping that in mind we were looking for a choice of tracks covering most of our 25 years that would lend themselves to something Albini could do something with, that wasn’t a duplicate of the original versions.
Was the choice of tracks to record a unilateral decision or were the rest of the band involved? Was it difficult to get it down to just 10?
Jan – We actually had 8 definites, and 2 in reserve, which we were keen to sneak in. We didn’t expect to be doing any recording on the first Engineers’ Workshop day, but we recorded 3, and another 7 the next day. We then had a day for overdubs and 2 days mixing.
The first track we heard from the new album was one of Kicker’s live favourites, Action Hero, the first line of which he had never quite caught, but now he thinks he’s got it. Can you confirm it’s: “My traption’s hip again, bent isn’t breaking in” and, er, what’s that all about then?
Jan – Er, no idea. A lot of how I write is getting the sounds first, then putting words to those sounds, which often don’t make too much sense, but then eventually over time, I get it. I reckon I’m partly discussing a record, ‘the contraption’. It does name check my cat at the time, Abi (Abigail). There’s a lot of Dundee in that song.
The drums on the new recordings sound huge – was this a particular area Albini brought something new to the way you have previously recorded? What else was different?
Barry – Steve Albini turned up to the recording session with a couple of suitcases of microphones and a very set idea of how he likes to record drums, including the positioning of microphones around the kit and ambient microphones around the recording room. He also had microphones on both sides of the bass drum, which I hadn’t seen before. These all appear to have had a major impact on getting that big sound on the drums. He also suggested detuning the bass drum, which had a marked effect on the sound too. It was nice thinking that some of the microphones that were recording my kit were the same ones that had recorded The Breeders, Nirvana and Shellac amongst many others.
Jan – If there is one thing Steve is known for, it’s his drum recordings. I was chuffed to see he wasn’t shy to reveal his mike techniques to the workshop. Some would say radical, some would say common sense. He was pleased we were so rehearsed, and so there was no time wasting. I know a few folk have quizzed Paul Savage, who owns the studio (Chem19), and was, in effect Steve’s assistant for the week, about how we could record an album in 5 days. It’s all down to rehearsing and knowing what you want.
Adam – For me the drums was the biggest change, the way he recorded them was certainly a lesson: 13 separate mics and using the sound of the space to create ambience rather than recording them dry and adding reverb later, as is the norm with a lot of studios. The thing that impacted the most was hearing how huge the drums were in the control room compared to the actual sound of the drums in the live room. Working with analogue tape was quite refreshing, even the subtle delay on the vocals used a copycat tape reverb. There’s something quite honest about tape: it forces you to keep things simple and not to do any complex edits, that you can do with digital recording.
We have seen video footage from the Engineer’s Workshop that Albini was part of and he comes across as both hugely knowledgeable and genuinely approachable. What was your particular highlight of working with him?
Jan – I drove him everywhere, so outside the studio it was a pleasure to chat to the ‘non recording engineer’ Steve, if that makes sense. Listening back to the mixes as Steve was doing them was a clear highlight for me, as you don’t really know, when recording, listening through the headphones, what it’s really going to sound like.
Your debut album, ‘Live At Home’, is the only one you have released on vinyl (a gorgeous 10” package, ahem) before now.
As you can imagine, Kicker is very pleased the new record is being released on vinyl (he has lined up 3 of the 5 coloured variants already) – was the decision to move away from CD to vinyl for this album down to the, er, sound, of ‘Sounds’? Is it your preferred medium?
Jan – It’s all down to finance. The first album was financed from our publishing deal at the time. This (new) album was partly funded by Creative Scotland. The other albums have all been self financed. It made sense, this being a fully analogue recording, to go down that root. You get as close to the studio sound (particularly the bass) with this vinyl cut. I like both CD and Vinyl, I collect both. The type of music will sometimes nudge me towards what format I buy for the home.
Is the ‘Live’ in ‘Live At Home’ a verb or an adjective?
Jan – Ha! Do you have the 7” of Bugs? The insert will tell you.
You are, rightly, clearly very proud of the new record, but last year’s ‘Unicorn’ was another career highlight for us. It seemed to be a more overtly political record than previous recordings – do you think that’s a fair assessment? Is the state of the world/this country likely to be a major influence on future recordings?
Jan – Yes. I’m often more oblique with my politics on record, but Unicorn, for whatever reason made perfect sense in all ways. The biggest influence on me is having a near teenager daughter, and fighting for her corner in this world. Suffice to say her opportunities have shrunk dramatically in the past couple of years, and not because of Scottish voters.
Kicker tells us that he has all your 7” singles …
..and has ‘As A Matter Of Fact’ as his favourite. This was flipped from the B-side of your debut single (Super Slinky) on the US (Prospective Records) release – why was this?
Jan – Nice trainspotting question. From memory, Prospective Records preferred ‘As A Matter Of Fact’, but it was my choice. I also think they are slightly different mixes, but don’t quote me on that. Prospective actually released a double CD of their 7” singles recently, we’re the only non U.S. act I believe. It’s been remastered and sounds great. Doing all the hand painted sleeves was a task, but worthwhile.
What is your favourite single you have released?
Jan – Both the debut 7” and Thorns would be my favourites, partly sentimental, partly, they are great songs, all four tracks.
Graeme – Sort It For Afterwards
Alan – Smile It’s Sugar. This is a song I really love playing live. It reminds me of some great times we had in the mid 90s when we did a co-headline UK tour with The Delgados and were a part of what the NME dubbed ‘The New Scottish Underground’ along with Urusei Yatsura, Bis & The Delgados. The title is a reaction against sugar free drinks like Diet Coke and synthetic stuff like Aspartame – at least you know where you are with sugar!
Barry – Hmm difficult, but maybe both versions of Smile It’s Sugar or maybe Bruising You, which is a bit of a forgotten tune these days.
Adam – My favourite single is Smile It’s Sugar.
From the very start you have self-released your music on the Chute Records label – was this borne out of necessity or a preferred way of getting your music out?
Jan – In terms of attitude and perseverance, we are rather punk. We have never had a label come to us and say, we’ll sign you. I did have a lunch with someone many years ago, on a rather cool, funded label, and they said ‘you know too much, just do it yourself’. That was either a lovely, ‘no thanks’ or a fair statement. He did ask me for lunch by the way. I maybe put people off by saying I will only licence. 20 odd years ago that was a weird thing to do. Now it’s common place.
Can you tell us a little about your other band, who also record on Chute, The Grand Gestures?
Jan – Shucks. Well, I’ve killed them off. The plan was 3 albums, a Christmas album and a Remix album. Done. However, I have been chatting to someone who loves the albums and is keen to do a track, so I am considering compiling an album from the previous 5, with this new track on it. I can’t tell you who it is, but they are not Scottish and it’s a male.
What about playing live (adj)? You have announced an August date in Edinburgh, but have also suggested more will follow. Will you be playing outside Scotland in the near future? Can you see the band playing in the US again?
Jan – No plans to play the States, unless someone wishes to pay for it, but yes, other live dates. A Glasgow date in October about to be announced, and an English date in January: we are just awaiting the green light to announce.
You’ve had a long career making music, have you got to meet some of your heroes?
Barry – We haven’t really met that many names over the years. Mr Albini was probably the biggest name we have had any interaction with and he was a decent down to earth guy to work with.
Alan – We met Joe Strummer before we played T In The Park in 1995.
Jan – I’d rather not, I don’t want to be disappointed.
What song would you choose to soundtrack your life aged 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50?
Alan – Aged 10: Tommy Gun – The Clash. Give ‘Em Enough Rope was the first album I ever bought. Still has a special place. In fact, Barry is known to replicate the drum intro to Tommy Gun at the end of Wired For Sound when we play it live.
Aged 20: Schizophrenia – Sonic Youth. Probably the band that made the most impression on me musically.
Aged 30: Peloton (album) – The Delgados. I toured Europe with them in 1998, selling their merch. They were promoting the album and hearing the same songs every night made me love it. Favourite song: Everything Goes Around The Water.
Aged 40: Far too many to choose from. I think turning 40 made me reevaluate my musical snobbery and open my ears to stuff I’d been resisting and dismissing as shite. Also with the birth of things like Napster it allowed me to explore and sample, opening my once closed ears to a whole new world of sounds.
Aged 50: Again, far too many to choose from. Current listing includes The Goon Sax, Alice Coltrane, Billordo… I also listen to a lot of early 80s hardcore punk when I’m out running!
Barry – Aged 10: The Beatles – Hard Days Night
Aged 20: Cocteau Twins – Pearly Due Drops Drop
Aged 30: Aphex Twin – Richard D James
Aged 40: Richard Hawley – Tonight the Streets Are Ours
Aged 50: Kamazi Washington – Harmony Of Difference
Adam – Aged 10: Call Me Al – Paul Simon
Aged 20: Man Called Aerodynamics – Guided by Voices
Aged 30: Hot Chip – No Fit State
Aged 40: Landmark – The Field Mice
Jan – Aged 10: Osmonds – Crazy Horses
Aged 20: New Order – Confusion
Aged 30: Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring
Aged 40: Flaming Lips – Waitin’ For A Superman
Aged 50: Taylor Swift – Shake it Off
What bands/artists should’ve been massive but weren’t?
Alan – I’ve always thought The Go-Betweens should have been bigger than they were.
Adam – Guided By Voices
Graeme – Hello Saferide and Judee Sill.
Barry – Urusei Yatsura, B.A.D. (should have been U2-sized), Clinic, especially after having tunes appearing on American T.V. shows.
What is your favourite song with a question in the title?
Adam – Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? – The Wedding Present
Jan – How Soon Is Now – reminding me of the first time I played it as a B side, hearing it at Club Feet, Dundee and being blown away by it.
Graeme – Must You Throw Dirt in My Face? by The Louvin Brothers
Alan – The Question Is How Fast? – Superchunk or Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? – Wedding Present.
We are aware that we have taken up a lot of your time, but we are contractually obliged to ask one final question. You are in a café ordering breakfast. You are given toast and your choice of tea or coffee. You are then allowed 4 more items, what do you choose?
Barry – Fried egg, veg sausage, beans and potato scone (hash brown as acceptable alternative).
Adam – Poached Eggs, Black Pudding, Bacon, Beans.
Alan – After detesting eggs my whole life, I’ve recently have food rebirth, an “eggpiphany”, so it would have to be eggs four ways.
Jan – Sausage (link), Black Pudding, Potato Scone, Fried Egg. NO TOMATO or TINNED MUSHROOMS EVER.
And with that we will let you go. Thanks so much for answering our questions. What are you going to do now?
Jan – Listen to Disc three of the new Flaming Lips Warners Years compilation.
And coming soon…..