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Distractions - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 12 / 2014

Distractions - Interview


Malcolm Carter talks to Distractions members Mike Finney, Steve Perrin and Nick Halliwell, and Neil Storey, the owner of record label HiddenMasters, about 'Parabolically Yours' the 80's new wave band's new PledgeMusic-funded box set

The news that fans of 80’s band The Distractions have been waiting what seems like an eternity to hear finally came through; PledgeMusic started in early December their campaign for ‘Parabolically Yours’, a box set put together by Hidden Masters, the company responsible for going more than that extra mile when compiling box sets of music that should never be allowed to fade away. This shouldn’t be personal but it is. We all have those albums that will forever mean just that little bit more than the others for a million and one different reasons. When ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, The Distractions’ debut album, came along in 1980 it sounded out of time. It looked back to a rich musical past while not sounding dated. yet at the same time it fashioned the music of the future. It was, simply, like nothing else around at that time. The albums that had soundtracked and shaped my life up to that point, ‘Pet Sounds’, Odgens’ Nut Gone Flake’, The Who Sell Out’ (to name just a few) now had some new company. ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ was as important to me as that Beach Boys classic, it didn’t just define a certain period of my life, I knew, even then, that it was going to stay with me forever. Over fourteen songs the band touched on every emotion I’d ever felt not just in the lyrics but also in the wonderful rush of music that they clothed their songs in. The urgency of ‘Valerie’ doesn’t just make me feel like a teenager again; it confirms that I’ve never been anything else. ‘Looking for a Ghost’ is still the most hauntingly beautiful yet chilling song about lost love (maybe) I’ve ever heard. It still, thirty-four years after first hearing the song, sends shivers down my spine. The Distractions wrote lyrics that those whose hearts had been broken could identify with but they had a unique way of doing it. Was Mike Finney imagining the whole thing in ‘Looking for a Ghost’? Who knows, but it’s unsettling how this guy, still one of our most underrated soul singers, can turn our darkest feelings into something so scarily beautiful. There isn’t a dud song on the album, even the only cover version on the album, that this writer remembers spending his paper round money on (Eden Kane’s ‘Boys Cry’ on Fontana) somehow worked even if it did seem an unlikely choice at the time. I hardly ever leant albums out then but ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ I just had to because I knew that, even after that glorious single on Factory and the wonderful ‘You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP, that preceded it and even with the positive press the band were receiving, I just had to get this music heard. I wish now I hadn’t because my copy of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is the most worn album I now own. It’s almost unplayable. And if everyone who loved the album had bought their own copy instead of wearing mine out maybe The Distractions would have had more success and stayed around a little longer. But now, with the Pledge campaign underway, it seems like I’m going to have the chance to replace not only that album but also all the singles and EPs that the band released too. The Distractions story didn’t end back in the eighties, although for a long while it seemed that we’d heard the last of them. ‘The End of the Pier’, a 2012 set of new songs that followed a couple of EPs of new material proved that mainstays Steve Perrin and Mike Finney had lost none of the magic that made the original band so special. In Nick Halliwell the guys had found a kindred spirit; Halliwell’s production, playing and writing confirmed he was the perfect choice to breathe life into this band again. ‘Wise’, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, is but one of the songs written by Halliwell for the album and which captures the sound and spirit of the original band perfectly. Hidden Masters haven’t taken the easy route and just reissued ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ with a few choice bonus tracks. Although we’re still uncertain exactly what will, or will not, make it to the final track selection, one thing is certain; it will be created with the care, love and passion that all Hidden Masters releases have so far been afforded. What has been confirmed is that there will be three CDs and a 12” vinyl album all housed in a book which will cover the band’s early days, and which will take us up to ‘The End of the Pier’ and maybe even beyond. We tried to find a little more about the Pledge campaign and what pledgers can expect from Distractions Mike Finney, Steve Perrin and Nick Halliwell. Neil Storey, founder of Hidden Masters, also had a few things to say too which make for interesting reading not for just those who have already pledged but those who are still need a little convincing. And, if the music itself and what promises to be the box set of 2015 still don’t have you reaching for your credit card, then check out http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thedistractions and enjoy Steve Perrin’s and Mike Finney’s hilarious video updates on ‘Parabolically Yours’. PB: Is this the first time any of The Distractions have been involved in a Pledge Music campaign? SP: Yes. MF: Yes PB: ‘Parabolically Yours’ had already reached 25% of its target within 24 hours of the campaign starting. Were you happy with that result, surprised even? SP: Surprised and delighted, although that probably came from the people who already knew about it. Now we have to convince the floating voters. MF: Very pleased – but we now have to try and spread the news! I agree with Steve. NS: Yes, surprised is a bit of an understatement! Personally, I’d have been happy if we’d hit 10% in 24 hours… It’s quite a long campaign and we’ve still got a good deal to tell people about – the track-listings plus no one has seen any images of the packaging yet either… All will be revealed over the coming weeks. Plus, as you’ve undoubtedly seen, both Steve and Mike are posting videos… and, I suspect more are to come! PB: There are a number of different packages available. Were members of the band involved with what should be offered? SP: We’ve been consulted at every stage. NS: In brief, Hidden Masters put all the different packages together, but nothing was officially included until both Steve and Mike said okay. Luckily they did! Also, from a reasonably early period, they’ve both been seeing the various elements of artwork for the book. I think they both first saw it when it was 60 pages and its now increased to 100 – and may grow a bit more as well. So far, it’s a thumbs up so that’s encouraging! PB: Is the whole of the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ album going to be included? SP: Yes, it’ll be a remastered version. Also, Nick Halliwell has been working on some remixes to make it sound a little bit less ‘80s’ – basically stripping out the keyboards and strengthening the rhythm section. We might also include some of that. MF: When I first heard the ‘new’ mixes, I was taken aback a little…I prefer them to the original mix. They are more like we really sounded. NS: Yes – it’ll be re-mastered by Richard Whittaker from the original analog ¼” production reels. Richard you’d otherwise know from his work on archive projects with the likes of The Who or the Stones. NH: With the remixes Steve mentions, I’ve just tried to make it sound a bit more like The Distractions. I’ve not tried to deconstruct it or anything like that, just stripped off some of the “new wave” production, trying to play to the band’s strengths and let the songs breathe a little more. PB: The basic package includes three CDs and a vinyl album. Is the vinyl a reproduction of ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ or a selection of the tracks spread over the 3 CDs? SP: It’s ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. NS: The vinyl is ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. PB: Given that ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is now getting on for being 35 years old and some of the other tracks on ‘Parabolically Yours’ are even older, are you surprised that there is so much interest in that music now, especially as, although loved by the critics at the time of release, not so many put hands in pockets back then? SP: I find it pretty amazing, though pleasantly so. It’s easier to understand as a fan. When they reissued the first four Scott Walker solo albums on CD I not only had to buy the CDs, I had to buy a CD player so I could listen to them and I was happy to do so. I’ve since bought the vinyl reissues. Music fans are crazy. What can you do? MF: Not too shocking (although amazing as Steve says) as I still love Northern Soul, Sam Cooke, Otis...all of which are older still. Northern Soul probably sells more now and the time factor isn’t really important. NH: I’m one of those who put their hands in their pockets in 1980. Essentially, although the production was felt to be a little dated even at the time, the songs are so strong they’ve stood up beautifully. PB: Looking back, if ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ and the rest of your work then had achieved the sales it deserved do you think the band would have carried on longer than it did? SP: Hard to say. I really needed some time off at that time, but I guess if we had been selling some records we could have afforded to send me to a health farm for a few weeks. MF: Steve is right. If we could have all afforded to go somewhere for a few weeks, I would have joined Steve at the Health Farm, but he probably would have killed me in my sleep and there isn’t usually a bar. PB: Who had the final say in the track selection of ‘Parabolically Yours’? SP: It’s still not been finalised but it will be down to Mike and me in the end. MF: I agree with Steve NS: The short answer is Steve and Mike with Nick H because more recent Distractions material is being included. That said, the final track listings are work in progress. Why? There are two radio sessions we know of but…they’ve disappeared! The BBC one doesn’t exist at the BBC – we’ve all heard tales of reels being reused and I’d imagine that is what happened there…shame but it is what it is. Same goes for the Piccadilly Radio session. What we’re hoping… and I stress the word hoping here… is that someone, somewhere, taped either/or off the radio and has a cassette copy. And gets in touch! Meaning, we’ll keep our options open as long as possible on the finalised track listings. Reasonably soon, however, I’ll put together a draft running order for the three CDs. From that rough map, fine-tuning will begin and, eventually, we’ll reach a position where we have three running orders all agreed. NH: The decision-making process in The Distractions usually goes like this: I say, “Mike, what do you think?” He says, “I agree with Steve”, I point out that Steve hasn’t said what he thinks yet to which he replies “Well, when he does I’ll agree with it”. So I ask Steve who usually says, “I agree with you”. As I generally agree with Mike and Steve this makes for a happy ship. As the others say, overall it’s up to Mike and Steve for most of it, with me coming in on the latter-day stuff. PB: Is there anything usable left in the vaults now that’s likely to get a general release in the future? SP: I don’t think so. This will sort of clear things up. Then we can get on with making the next record. MF: What about the a cappella triple concept album we recorded at St Aspinall’s…? NS: From day one, we’ve only thought of making this set as comprehensive and as musically and artistically brilliant as is humanly possible. Without a doubt, there is bound to be music we won’t use…in just the same way there are images we’ll put to one side or bits of interviews that won’t be included. Better to keep quality at 110% rather than include item X for the sake of it. Obviously, IF something does turn up in the fullness of time something that no-one, at this point, can remember…and all are agreed it is something that has merit / should be issued…then, we’d look into ways of doing that. It’d be great to be proved wrong but, right now, I don’t think there is anything substantial. NH: Ask us again once the final track listing is decided. PB: There are a number of live tracks included in the package; do these cover the recent reunion gigs as well as the original ones? SP: There’s stuff from three line-ups – Finney, Perrin, Wright, Nichols, Sidebottom; Finney, Kadmon, Wright, Nichols, Sidebottom; Finney, Perrin, Halliwell, Torabi, Kellie. Obviously we don’t want three live albums in there so we have to make decisions about which tracks to use. My current thought is that we should include any live songs of which there are no studio versions, which might lead to more Arthur than me but that’s not firmed up yet. MF: Not forgetting Van Den Burg and Usher, but there were no live recordings with that line-up available. The Dingwalls, Newcastle University and Hurrah! Club recordings are interesting, as are the very early ones. However, interesting is not always good. NS: The live tracks we’ll be including range from ‘79 / ‘80 to 2012. NH: Occultation had the 2012 Salford shows recorded and filmed, and I’ve told Neil he’s welcome to any material we have, with no restrictions. The 2012 live tracks are certainly among those under consideration and I’d particularly like to see the closing “Tribute to Adrian Wright” section on there, especially ‘Nothing Lasts’, a fabulous song which has never been released in any form - unless someone can find a proper studio recording of it, anyway. PB: We’ve still not seen a complete track listing, but is this release going to bring The Distractions’ story bang up to date? SP: Yes, there are some acoustic versions of songs from ‘The End of the Pier’ and possibly one track that didn’t make it onto the album because we didn’t get it finished in time. MF: I agree with Steve NH: I’ve not seen a complete track listing either but it should go at least up to 2012. PB: Given that ‘Parabolically Yours’ has been a massive project, years in the making and, given that it will be up to the usual high standard of all the Hidden Masters releases, this understandably reflects in the price. Are there any plans to release just the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ album at any point in the near future? SP: Not to my knowledge. MF: No idea, but after the last four years I wouldn’t be surprised at anything! NS: Actually…I’d forgotten (until I cross-checked some document dates) that we’d begun this just over four years ago! Time flies, eh?! The basic set-price has been governed by the equivalent of walking a tightrope 300 feet up; an exercise made a bit more dodgy when there is no safety net and one doesn’t really have a head for heights. As I said a bit earlier, from day one, we’ve set out to fulfil the following. It has to be the best possible package we can put together plus, of course, it has to be something the band are happy with and proud of – that, hopefully goes without say we have to make it the best value we can for the fans. But…we have also to recognise we inhabit a limited market thus we have to carefully consider how many we’re likely to sell in a reasonably short period of time…Going fairly low slightly stymies us because the lower the manufacturing quantity, the higher the unit price. Then, we have to balance all of that against not pricing ourselves out of the market (and pissing the fans off) while, at the same point, pricing the end product at a level where we can pay our own bills as well as the royalties to those we pay royalties to as well. Part 2 of the question – Yes, it is possible; the required permissions are in place. Maybe in time… Right now though, concentration is on this! PB: When can Pledgers expect to actually hold ‘Parabolically Yours’ in their hands? NS: So long as the actual Pledge goes according to plan and we make our target (fingers crossed!), then we’d aim to start manufacturing within (approximately) a month of the Pledge closing. That interim time will be when we start to lock down the various elements. Manufacturing this time around for us will be a slightly longer process than normal as we have the vinyl to consider plus we’re a teensy bit geographically challenged with regard to test pressings being approved by Steve… It is a long ong way round of saying, I’d imagine we’d be supplying finished copies in June ’15 or thereabouts. There are also a big number of items that will be individually signed – to be honest, I’ve yet to figure out precisely how that will work… but, we’ll find a way! PB: Is the package only going to be available via the PledgeMusic site? NS: Pre-ordering is (as usual for all Hidden Masters sets) exclusive to PledgeMusic.com. If there are any copies left after the pre-ordering closes these will be made available – solely – via HiddenMasters.net. These will only be the book-set and won’t include any of the extras which are exclusive to pre-ordering. But… just to complicate things a tiny bit (sorry!), the ‘NME’ re-imagined advert will be available via Hidden Masters as a separate item (it is another line we’re starting to develop). PB; Are there any plans for live gigs to promote ‘Parabolically Yours’ as the band did for ‘The End of the Pier’? SP: Geography makes it difficult but don’t rule anything out. MF: I do hope so…but Steve being in Australia is a bit tricky and we can’t do it without him. Tried it once and it didn’t work. NH: As Steve says, the problem is geography. At best, we all get together for maybe 3-4 days once a year, whenever Steve can get over from wherever in the Antipodes he happens to be residing at the time. PB: To leave this exciting release just for the final question, we’ve heard that all the current Distractions make an appearance on the forthcoming Granite Shore album; can you tell us a little about that? And is that the only way we are going to hear more from the current line-up or can we look forward to some new Distractions material at some point? SP: The rhythm section on the Granite Shore album is the same as on ‘The End of the Pier’ – Arash Torabi on bass, Nick Kellie on drums – I’m doing something – either guitar or backing vocals – on every track. Mike’s on backing vocals on several tracks. The plans for a third Distractions album are still a little tentative, but it looks like it will be recorded in late 2015 for release in 2016. That’ll be the last record, I think but, again, you never know. MF: I really enjoyed the Granite Shore recording. Very powerful stuff, put together with love from all parties and it sounds that way. Another Distractions album is late 2015 as Steve points out, but, as it is not yet written, it’s difficult to confirm much about it. The Distractions has also taught me that nothing is final. NH: When I was thinking about who should play on the Granite Shore LP, Arash and Kellie were my first-choice rhythm section, then we’ve got Phil Wilson on 12-string electric and myself. Steve appears on every track. Mike and I spent an afternoon in the studio this summer, so he’s on more than half of the record in some vocal capacity. There’s also an appearance by Martin Bramah (The Fall/Blue Orchids/Factory Star) and the cast is completed by Probyn Gregory (Wondermints/Brian Wilson/Arthur Lee/etc.) who played brass on all songs, and Bella Quinn on vocals on most tracks; both appeared on the ‘Flood of Fortune’ single a few years back. The LP, entitled ‘Once More From the Top’, should be out around March 2015. In some ways the process that led to the whole concept - and believe me, there is one - probably began with ‘Wise’, one of the songs I wrote for ‘The End of the Pier’. Steve and I have just started the process of thinking about and writing the third - and, realistically, probably final - Distractions LP, aiming to record late 2015 for release early in 2016. PB: Thank you. Photos by Adrian Boot www.urbanimage.tv

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