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Black Box Recorder - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 12 / 3 / 2003

Black Box Recorder - Interview


Anthony Strutt talks to Sarah Nixey from Black Box Recorder about the band's three album career to date, and their new album 'Passionoia'

Black Box Recorder features Sarah Nixey on vocals; Luke Haines on guitar and vocals and John Moore on guitar and all other instruments. Black Box Recorder are the most English of all bands and were formed in the late 90's by Moore and Haines who got together to write songs for Miss Nixey, a former actress. John Moore replaced Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie as the drummer in the Jesus and Mary Chain and then transformed himself into a Billy Idol type character to front his own group Expressway. He has also played in various other bands including Revolution 9, and has also been in part responsible for the promotion of the drink Absinthe back into Britain. Luke Haines is the frontman of the Auteurs and also has a distinguished solo career Black Box Recorder have just released their third UK album 'Passionoia’ and a new single ‘These are the Things’ in the UK on One Little Indian. Their previous albums were 'England Made Me'(Chrysalis, 1998), and 'The Facts Of Life' (Nude, 2000). 'The Worst Of Black Box Recorder' (Jetset), a complete B sides collection, came out 2001. The group have included at least one cover on each of their several singles. Pennyblackmusic caught up with Sarah Nixey just before a London gig to speak to her about 'Passionoia'. PB: I believe you originally all met when you were working in a band called Balloon? SN: That is right. Yeah. PB: So how did that move forward on to Black Box Recorder? SN: I had been working with Balloon for about a year as a backing vocalist and I met Luke and John along the way. They were helping out in the studio doing some recordings and then I started doing some songs with John, working with him at what he was doing at the time. Luke and John sent me this fax one day saying "Would you like to sing a song called 'Girl Singing In The Wreckage'? It's not as dark as it sounds.” PB: (Laughs). SN: They told me that it was quite pop or something along those lines. They wrote "Please say you will do it? We will make you famous." I thought that was quite funny really. So we met up and rehearsed the song and originally it was going out to go out on a 'Volume' CD (early 90's indie compilation CD of new released/exclusive track by hip indie combos that came out with a thick book of photos, band histories and interviews-AS) That didn't happen. So, we decided to record a couple more songs and play them to various record companies. It went on from there really and within that first year we were signed to Chrysalis. It was all because of a chance meeting really. PB: I don't think you were on anything released by Balloon. There was just the one album, wasn’t there ? SN: No, I wasn't. It was just the one album and while I was with them they recorded an EP which I wasn't on. PB: The music of Black Box Recorder is written by John and Luke and is very different from the music they had written before then. Was that because they wanted to get a new fan base and to get away from the indie scene? Black Box Recorder’s music is more pop orientated than anything they had done before. SN: Yeah, I think it just happened that way. They just wanted to do something different. They also wanted to write specifically just for my voice and for what would appeal to me and to my character. It just sort of happened that way, I think. I think Black Box Recorder’s songs are very different to Auteurs songs and very different from John's songs. It's just the style that they came up with between the two of them. PB: A lot of Black Box Recorder’s song themes are about sex, youth, boredom and English lifestyles. There are a lot of songs about cars and driving, which seems to be a big obsession. SN: It’s a recurring theme. PB: It does. Do you think the things that they put into lyrics are things that people mostly take for granted and don't use in songs? SN: I think Black Box Recorder’s songs may deal with themes that are not usually dealt with in normal pop songs. They have the sort of the themes that you find in film and in books really and they are not happy, clappy pop stuff, which makes them far more interesting for me to sing. PB: How do Luke and John write the songs? Do they write basically seperately and then meet up together and blend it all together or...? SN: What happens is that it works in various different ways. They have sat in the pub. PB: And got drunk! SN: Yeah, ideas are bashed out between them over a few drinks. (We both laugh) SN: One may have an idea and then the other may go along with it and write a song in that way, or one may have an idea and then write the verse while the other writes the choruses. They have different methods of writing. PB: Each album has been on a different label. Has that just been because of bad timing, such as in the case of Chrysalis which became part of EMI. SN: Yeah, it was really. It was bad circumstances (Laughs). Chrysalis didn't really know what we were about really. We were their art project, I think. PB: (Laughs) SN: And Nude went bust(Laughs), which was just unfortunate. PB: So you are hoping that One Little Indian will remain solvent, especially if Bjork (who recently became a mum again, she had a daughter-AS) keeps on producing albums? SN: I hope so. I'm not going to say anything. I'm not going to jinx them at all. They seem okay at the moment (Laughs). PB: Fair enough. The single's been out two weeks and the album one week now. Have they charted? SN: The single got into the Top 100 (laughs). So yes, it did chart. PB: So no ‘Top of the Pops' this time. SN: No 'TOTP', but maybe on the next one. PB: Which will be? SN: Probably ‘The School Song’. That's sort of novelty enough to get onto the 'TOTP' and Radio One. PB: Whose idea was the B side collection, 'The Worst of Black Box Recorder'? Was that anything to do with the band? SN: The idea was just to put something out in the interim period between 'The Facts Of Life' and 'Passionoia' so it wasn't a Greatest Hits record like everyone thinks. It really was the worst of Black Box Recorder. PB: It wasn't the worst. SN: It's the B sides (Laughs). PB: There are two new songs on there too! SN: They were previously unreleased songs, so (Laughs) it's not a Greatest Hits. I just find it so amazing when people say that how dare they put out a Greatest Hits record when they have only done 2 records (Laughs). PB: I have noticed all the cover versions you do always come from the 70’s. Is that a favourite time for all of you? SN: Yeah. PB: Because you are only just 30, aren't you or just over? SN: No, I'm 29. So, I'm kind of getting there. (We both laugh) PB: So you were born around the time of those songs came out first time? SN: Round about that time, yeah ! I have always listened to music that was maybe not for or was before my time. I really wanted to do ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ because it was one of my favourite Bowie songs and really that was the main reason why we covered it. 'Seasons in the Sun’, which we also recorded, is in a similar style to Black Box Recorder and is a pop song with dark undertones. PB: And Althia and Donna’s 'Uptown Top Rocking’. Why did you choose that? SN: ‘Uptown Top Ranking’? We chose that because we liked it basically. PB: And then there was the weird one. The punk one 'Lord Lucan Is Missing'. Who did the original of that? SN: The Dodgems. We played in Leeds last night and Doug Potter who wrote the song came along to the gig and we played it and dedicated it to him which was very nice (Laughs). PB: I have never heard of them before. SN: It's great. The original is really great. You should listen to it. It is really, really good. PB: I believe with those two sometimes they write songs to wind you up such as 'Andrew Ridgelry' (George Michael’s former partner in Wham, and the title of one of the songs on ‘Passionia’-AS) SN: Em!(Laughs) PB: Is that a wind up because they knew you liked George Michael? SN: (Laughs) They didn’t really write it to to wind me up. I think it's only that one song where it's really John teasing me a bit. No, not normally. Really they want to please me (Laughs) They have to write songs that have to appeal to me or I'm not going to sing them (Laughs). SN: Is there anything you have refused to sing, and where you have said "No, I absolutely won't do that"? SN: There have been times where I have let them know in in my own indirect way that it is not going to work, but I don't think there has been a lyric that they have written where I have said that it's too dark or whatever and I have said I'm not going to sing that (Laughs). There have been whole songs that aren't that fitting so I have acted as quality control, but generally it works really well. PB: I believe you and John got married recently and you have a little girl. SN: Yeah, we got married. We got married about 2 years ago and our daughter is one. PB: Have you both taken to parenthood or is it still a novelty? SN: Yeah... Definitely that came very naturally. That wasn't hard (Laughs). PB: Because Black Box Recorder are not a constant touring band. SN: Yeah! PB: I imagine Luke is always writing be it for the Auteurs, Luke Haines or Black Box Recorder. SN: Yeah! PB: Does the Absinthe trade keep you and John busy? SN: Actually, he isn't doing it anymore. He sort of resigned a couple of months ago. So it's just Black Box Recorder that we are concentrating on at the moment, but there are other things as well. John has his fingers in other pies and hopefully I will have a solo record out in a couple of years. PB: I have heard about that. Will John and Luke play on that or will that be your baby completely? SN: I kind of want it to be just me. PB: Will you play the instruments on it too? Can you play anything? SN: I can strum a guitar, but I will have to get a few people in on that to help me out as well. PB: And will you write everything on that? SN: Hopefully yeah. I would like to after this record to concentrate on that for a while, but when that will happen I'm not sure. PB: Have you heard all of John's previous projects from his dodgy past like the Expressway? SN: (Raises her voice) Dodgy ! How dare you? (Laughs) PB: I have seen everything he has done apart from Revolution 9 anyway. SN: Oh, I see. Oh, well (Laughs) he played me a video of one of his gigs a couple of years ago and I just thought it was hilarious. (We both laugh) SN: I just thought it was really funny (Laughs) I don't have much to say about it. I just sat there and laughed. I think he really enjoys looking back on it (Laughs) possibly thinking how great he was (Laughs) PB: It was quite weird how he went from drumming for the Mary Chain to this Billy Idol trouser wearing character in the Expressway. SN: That huge hair that he had at the time, that hair was incredible. PB: You said previously when I first interviewed you for my previous fanzine (‘Independent Underground Sound’) that you wanted to make some films and I have now heard you want to go back to acting because you were an actress before. SN: Yeah, I have done a bit of fringe theatre but I'm always tempted to go back to do a bit more acting. There is a risk of me being a jack of all trades though. I think I have to concentrate on one things at a time. There is plenty time to do some acting. That’s always there and I have a daughter now, so I don’t want to juggle time too much with her. PB: It would be nice to go back to it at some point. How weird was it doing 'TOTP'? SN: Surreal. PB: I believe John had done it before, but Luke hadn't. SN: Yeah, John played with the Jesus and Mary Chain and Luke hasn't quite made it before. He was very close but it was really good. It was one of those things where you have always imagined yourself being on it. PB: All your life? SN: Yeah, it's been there all my life. PB: It's been there in everyone's life. SN: It was very odd being there. We really enjoyed it and we will be there again. PB: Do you think the new album will change your fan base? SN: It's hard to tell who our fan base are because it's a bit mixed really. I think this record is more palatable. PB: It's a bit more commercial. SN: So maybe it will draw a different crowd. I feel it is more accessible than 'England Made Me'. PB: I like that album, but it is incredibly dark. Is it BBR's mission to educate or corrupt England's youth? SN:(Laughs) Educate or corrupt. A bit of both I suppose. PB: Because the songs on 'Passionoia’ are still dark. SN: I think it's a bit of both. PB: It seems that a lot of songs are aimed at people in school or that age and the songs are telling you don't do this, don't do that. SN: What with ‘The School Song' you mean? ‘The School Song’ is just a bit of fun. PB: But with 'The Facts Of Life' campaign? You did a contraception campaign. SN: (Laughs,sounding like a school teacher here) Sex education with Black Box Recorder. It's very important you know. PB: And then you got pregnant. (We both laugh) SN: That's the whole irony of the whole thing (Laughs) This is how you do it. PB: Exactly. SN: This is what happens. “The School Song’ is just having a laugh. It really is a novelty song and it's possibly John's fantasy as well. PB: That's the last one. Thank you. SN: It’s nice to see you again. Thank you.

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Black Box Recorder - Interview

Black Box Recorder - Interview

Black Box Recorder - Interview

Black Box Recorder - Interview

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These Are The Things (2003)
More commercial than usual new EP and first music in three years from Black Box Recorder
Passionoia (2003)

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