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Hey Negrita - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 22 / 6 / 2006

Hey Negrita - Interview


Much acclaimed London-based Americana blues outfit Hey Negrita are about to release their second album 'The Buzz Above'. Front man Felix Bechtolsheimer talks to John Clarkson about the messy break-up that provided the inspiration for its recording

Hey Negrita was born in the aftermath of its front man and songwriter Felix Bechtolsheimer’s battle against drug addiction. As Bechtolsheimer, who was born in Germany but brought up in England, told Pennyblackmusic in a revealing interview last July at the time of the release of Hey Negrita’s debut album ‘We are Catfish’, his addiction problems started in his early teens and when he was at boarding school. At the age of 15 he needed two cans of strong lager simply to be able to function enough in order to get down to breakfast. By the time he was 16 Bechtolsheimer was drinking at least a bottle of whisky a day and, within a year of moving to London when he was 18, he was addicted to heroin and taking crack and cocaine. Bechtolsheimer would remain addicted to drugs for four and a half years, only finally taking his first steps towards recovery when, with the encouragement of Lou Kipp, his uncle, who was already based there, he flew from London to Florida in June 2000 to enter a drug rehabilation centre. Bechtolsheimer had first begun writing songs in his early teens. After being fired, however, as a result of his drug taking from Late Night Munchies, the band that he fronted in the mid 90’s, just as they were about to sign to major label Geffen, he had gone through a long, barren period lasting almost five years, in which he had not done any proper song writing at all. As he slowly began to recuperate, needing a focus, and with Lou who died in 2003 from a heart attack supporting and gently pushing him, he began to start writing music again. By the time he came back to London a year later in mid 2001 he had almost 50 songs. Upon his return Bechtolsheimer teamed up with Hugo Heiman, an old school friend and multi-instrumentalist , and formed Hey Negrita. ‘We are Catfish’ was recorded with Bechtolsheimer singing and playing some guitar, and Heiman, who wrote the album’s arrangements, playing all its other instrumentation including drums, additional guitar, the bass guitar, the slide guitar, the banjo and the keyboards. Described upon its release by ‘The Daily Mirror ‘as “beautifully detailed” and “a fantastic debut” and ‘The Sunday Express’ as the “best Southern fried music. An album of dark but melodic Americana. Sometimes Dylan. Sometimes Tom Waits,” ‘We are Catfish’ looks backwards to the late 60’s and early 70’s for its influences and, as well as Dylan and Waits, to acts such as the Band, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers for its inspiration. It tells of the junkie crowd Bechtolsheimer used to run with, many of whom, including TV presenter Paula Yates, are now dead. With songs too about alternative drug treatments, false starts and sudden relapses, uncertain romances begun shakily without the crutch of heroin and finally also of recuperation and redemption, it tells also about Bechtolsheimer’s own painful struggle to get clean. Hey Negrita expanded to a four piece in April 2005 when drummer Neil Findlay joined Bechtolsheimer, Heiman and plastic skeleton Walter, who is a ghoulish presence at their live shows and serves as a blackly humorous but nagging reminder of Bechtolsheimer’s lucky survival. In the time since they released ‘We are Catfish’ and talked to Pennyblackmusic last July, Hey Negrita have recorded a second album ‘The Buzz Above’ ; induced a fifth member, guitarist, lap steel and banjo player Gus Glen into their line-up, and have toured America for the first time, including playing a sell-out date at Austin’s SXSW Festival in April. ‘The Buzz Above’, which was recorded at the end of last year just prior to Glen’s arrival in January, maintains the haunting country atmospherics of its predecessor, but, as much too about the collapse of a relationship as drug abuse, it, however, is a more subdued offering than ‘We are Catfish’, its stomping blues being replaced in parts by a more introspective sound Like ‘We are Catfish’ it is being released on London indie label Fat Fox. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Felix Bechtolsheimer, back for a second interview with us, about ‘The Buzz Above’, which is being released on July 17th, and the third and the fourth albums, one an acoustic record and the other an electric one, which Hey Negrita have recently begun work on and propose to release early next year. PB : Why did you call your new album 'The Buzz Above' ? FB : When we were recording the album, a hairdressing salon had moved in just above our studio. They had lots of halogen lights and dimmers, so whenever we plugged our guitars in to record anything we ended up with this horrible buzz. As a result we weren’t able to record anything until about 8.30 at night and had to revolve the whole recording session around the buzz going on above in the hairdressing salon (Laughs). PB : How long did it take you to record this album ? FB : As a result of the problems we were having with the people above and the noise and not being able to record every day as we would have liked to do, it took us about two months to do. It was finished just before Christmas. PB : Since Christmas the band’s line-up has expanded and Gus Glen has joined the band. Who is he ? FB : He is an old friend, someone I have known for a few years. Gus used to play in a band I really liked called Monkey Country. He used to play double bass for them, but he is a multi-instrumentalist and can play a whole range of instruments. He plays banjo, mandolin, electric guitar, slide guitar and a lot of lap steel, and was the perfect guy for us. ‘The Buzz Above’ is at one level a bit fuller than ‘We are Catfish’ featuring all those instruments . We wanted to get someone in who could play different instruments for different situations and to help us get a bigger sound in. He's got a fantastic voice as well. We have got a lot of three part harmonies happening now between Hugo, Gus and myself which is fantastic. PB : As Gus only joined in January, does he not appear on 'The Buzz Above' then. ? FB : No, he doesn't. He'll appear on the next two albums which we are working on at the moment definitely though. PB : Neil Findlay joined the band in April 2005. How did that affect the recording of ‘The Buzz Above’ ? ‘We are Catfish’ was recorded as a two piece by you and Hugo. FB : Most bands start off with the drums, but we did it the other way around. We finished with the drums. We basically put the whole track together and then put the drums on at the end, which worked really nicely for us. We found that we could do with each track whatever we felt like and then Neil could come in and he would have a complete track there to vibe off and put on there whatever he wanted. The drums on the album I think sound absolutely brilliant. He has done a really good job on it. PB : Now that you are a four piece how does that affect the song writing ? When you were working on 'We are Catfish' you wrote the basic songs and then Hugo did the arrangements. Has it changed much ? FB : It hasn't really changed things at all. I still do the basic track, and then Hugo will come in and we'll do some pre-production and throw some ideas around and will record the majority of the song. With the acoustic album that we are planning at the moment for example, it is going to be me and Hugo doing the basic tracks, then Gus will come in and put his parts over the top of that, and then Neil will come in at the end. It is a three way recording process, but as far as the writing goes it doesn't really affect things. The only thing it does for me is I now know that I have got more to play with. I can think in the back of my head about how we are going to deal with the three part harmonies and how we can have other instruments doing stuff. PB : 'We are Catfish' was written when you were recuperating from drug addiction in Florida and then recorded with Hugo when you came back here. You came back to London with about 50 songs. How many of the songs on ‘The Buzz Above’ were written when you were in Florida, and how many of them have been written since you returned from there ? FB : There are three songs that I wrote when I was Florida. The rest, the remaining nine tracks, consists of entirely new material. There is a song called 'Coming Down' which is one which I wrote out in Florida and there's a song called 'Lust and Bones' near the end of the album which was pretty much written out in America. I reworked the chorus when I got back here before we recorded it There is a song called ‘The Message' on the album which I wrote out in Florida as well. I wrote it for my uncle actually. I never wanted to do it with the band, as it was a very personal thing. I wrote that when I lived out there and then when he passed away-he lived on a boat out there, so we had a sea burial- I played the song at that. I never wanted to do it with the band, but I played it to Hugo and he said "It's such a beautiful song. Let's have a shot at it." PB : ‘We are Catfish’ was largely about drug addiction. On this album you seem to have moved away from that a little. It seems to be in part about a relationship and knowing when to walk away and knowing when not to walk away. FB : Yeah ! Absolutely ! It has gone more down the traditional song writing route. Before it was very much based upon what was going on out in America and the four and a half years before that. A lot of this album came out of a very painful break-up. It was one of those horrible break-ups in which you split up with someone and then three months later you get back together again and then after three months you split up again. We split up in April of last year and got back together in July and then split up finally in October of last year. A lot of the album came out of that. PB : Did you make a conscious decision with ‘The Buzz Above’ that you wanted to move on from writing songs about drug addiction and to write about other things as well." FB : It wasn't really like that because a lot of time has passed since then. I had had a new experience that was really having a big impact on my life and so I think it was just natural that all the songs were based on that experience rather than what happened five to six years earlier. PB : Is it true, however, that '9 to 5' from the album is about a date that you had with a high powered estate agent ? FB : That is true (Laughs). I met her at a party, and then I met her again totally by coincidence at another party a few weeks later and we went out on a date and she was telling me how does all these high-powered deals and how she had drunk champagne and done this and that today, and then she asked me what I had done all day and I said "Well, I was working on a track in the studio". It seemed very pathetic at the time and ’9 to 5’ is a celebration of that. The song is a bit tongue-in-cheek because people do tend to think over here, more so than they do in America, that musicians don't actually work. They don't actually do anything, whereas that is not really the case. In fact we work pretty hard. PB : ‘What is ‘Charlene’ about ? FB : When I was on drugs I didn't have anywhere to stay in London, so I used to go around all the bed and breakfasts in the area and try and convince them to let me stay and that I would pay them the next day. Then the next day would come and I didn't have any money and I'd just do a runner. ‘Charlene’ tells of how I overdosed in one bed and breakfast when I was staying there. It is also about the girl who was my partner at the time. When I was living in Florida she turned up on my door step unannounced and out of the blue from England. The song is about that really as well. It is about a combination of those two experiences. PB : A lot of careful planning seems to go on with your EPs and singles. They all unfold like three tier dramas. Your latest EP 'Can't Walk Away', for example, starts with the title track with optimism and promise. It then moves on to tell of failed reconciliation on 'Lust and Bones' and then finishes pretty heartbreakingly with 'Losing You'. Is that planned ? Do you put a lot of thought into the track listings on your EPs ? FB : It is very much planned. I think that if you give someone something that has only got a few songs on it they need to link into each other. It's not just a matter of putting the best three tracks that you can find on it. There needs to be something connecting the various songs. Our new EP, 'Abandon Ship', which will come out in July, is like that too. It features three tracks on the album. There is 'Abandon Ship', which is quite a depressing song. You've got 'Penny Drops' after that.in which you are asking yourself how the hell you got yourself in this situation and where you are in your life. The third song is '9 to 5' which is more up-beat and on which you are laughing about the whole thing again. We didn't want to leave people totally depressed by the end on this occasion (Laughs). PB : ‘The Buzz Above’ is more introspective in tone. There are some up-beat songs on it like 'Good Times', but there are less of them. Was that deliberate again ? FB : It wasn't at all. I wish I could have written some more up-beat songs. I was really depressed when I wrote them (Laughs). I am trying very hard for the next album to write a few more up-beat tracks. PB : You also recently toured America for the first time and played a headline at SXSW. You're a very British band, although you have strong Americana influences. How did you go down over there ? FB : Amazingly well ! Surprisingly. We were hoping to go down well, but we couldn't possibly imagine how well we went down. Every gig was sold out. We were signing autographs and the whole vibe out there was very supportive. I think we have had more major record companies come down to see us in those two weeks than we have in had in the last three years over here. There was a good response from both industry people and from the punters as well. They all seemed to really like the music, so we're thinking of even temporarily relocating out there for a while just to see how it goes out there. PB ; You're now working on both your third and fourth album one of which is going to be an acoustic album and the other which is going to be an electric album ? Which one is going to come out first ? FB : The acoustic album is going to go out in January. As this album is called 'The Buzz Above' the acoustic one is going to be called ‘The Hum Below'. What we thought we would do is that we would take some of the best tracks off ‘The Buzz Above’ and ‘We are Catfish’ and give them the full on acoustic treatment. We are going to slow them down a bit and really concentrate on the vocal harmonies. There is no new material on that. It's just new versions of older songs that we are trying to show in a slightly different light. That will be coming out with a DVD, an hour long documentary. There will be footage of the tour just we did in America on it. We're going to film the making of the acoustic album. We're doing a university tour in October and then another US tour later in the year and that is all going to be filmed too. We’re also going to put on it some of the videos that we have made. It's just a way of tieing the old stuff together and letting people have another look at that, before we head out on the next one. The idea there is to give people a retrospective of what has happened with the last two albums. Then three months after that we are going to put out the electric album, which we don’t have a name for yet but which will consist entirely of new songs. PB : What direction do you see that new album taking ? FB : Most of it is written. We have written about two thirds of it and it is going to be a cross between 'We are Catfish' and 'The Buzz Above'. It's going to concentrate slightly more on vocal harmonies. I am pleased with the material that we have got for it so far. PB : Are both these albums going to be released on Fat Fox again ? FB : I think so, at least in the UK anyway. We are in talks with much bigger record companies in the US at the moment, and we should hopefully in the next month or two know what is going to happen with those. It looks like it is going to be Fat Fox over here, but one of the major labels that is looking at us in the US might end up doing it in the UK as well. The plan is for them to come out on Fat Fox, but then if something bigger comes along then the albums will come out on that. Fat Fox own all our records, and they’re at the moment trying to work something out with the American labels. PB : You're going to be doing a 10 day prison tour in October in age of the charity Rapt as well . Why have you decided to do that ? FB : What Rapt basically do is take drug and alcohol rehabilition into the prisons. I always wanted whenever I had the chance and the profile to help out a little and to give something back a little bit. It seemed like a really good idea to get involved with them. We played Wandsworth Prison in London last year and it was such a good audience. The people there were so receptive to what we were doing that it just seemed like a really great idea to get further involved with them. I am really looking forward to it. PB : Last question ! You’re incredibly busy, You've got ‘The Buzz Above’ coming out. You’re working on the next the two albums,doing both the university and the prison tour in Britain and going back to America again. Do you have anything else planned ? FB : We've going to be playing some festivals this summer. We're also looking at a full UK tour, but that hasn't been organised yet. We're looking at various options for that. There will definitely though be a regular UK tour later on in the year as well. PB : Thank you for your time.

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Hey Negrita - Interview

Hey Negrita - Interview

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Interview (2008)
Hey Negrita - Interview
At a show in Glasgow, John Clarkson speaks to acclaimed country/blues outfit Hey Negrita about their third album 'You Can Kick', line-up changes and renewed sense of energy and creativity
Interview (2005)

live reviews

Oran Mor, Glasgow, 17/6/2008
Hey Negrita - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 17/6/2008
After a difficult year in which two of its principal members quit, John Clarkson at Oran Mor in Glasgow watches the new line-up of previously melancholic London-based blues/country rockers Hey Negrita play a blistering set fused with a new found spirit of optimism
Academy, Manchester, 28/10/2006

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