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Luxury Stranger - Interview Part 1

  by Dave Goodwin

published: 9 / 2 / 2015

Luxury Stranger - Interview Part 1


In a frank two part interview with Simon York, the front man with Nottingham-based alternative rockers Luxury Stranger, he speaks about his band's career, his anger with the music industry and their forthcoming third album

Simon York has a long back catalogue as a solo performer, but he is also lead singer with Luxury Stranger. He originates from Mansfield just north of Nottingham, but now resides in the County’s capital after having moved around for various different reasons. He is also a graphic designer and an excellent professional photographer to add to his string of many talents. After dabbling in a couple of other groups, he set up Luxury Stranger in 2006 along with drummer Tim Smith and bassist Tim Bond. Luxury Stranger have now released two albums, the first being ‘Desolation’ which came out in 2008 and the second being ‘Commitment and Discipline' which surfaced in 2010. Since then they have issued a number of singles and EPs, including their recent ‘Face’ EP, but we wait in anticipation for a third offering to come out of the Luxury Stranger camp. By all accounts we won’t have to wait long now…. They have been heavily influenced by Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk and perhaps more surprisingly Michael Jackson. As anyone that has been fortunate to catch them live will verify, they are living up to a label that has also been bestowed to them as one of the best guitar bands around. They brought about some serious interest and some fond comments from festival goers when they gave a superb performance at last year's Deerstock. We have featured Simon several times here at Pennyblackmusic in ‘Vinyl Stories’, live reviews and also interviews. At the time we speak to him it has all gone very quiet and for a good reason. We can expect a whole world of new material in the summer of this year as he and the rest of the band have been hard at work in the studio instead of doing live sets. So until then we will have to make do with another interview, but one that unveils some intriguing things. We caught up with Simon in The Peacock, which is an old pub in the centre of Nottingham, a few days before Christmas. It's a quiet place with early doors and a good bar for having a chat although the barman is somewhat eccentric. They do, however serve a good selection of ales of which Simon helped himself to along with a soda water due to the horrible man flu type symptoms he was displaying. Rather strangely the lights were dimmed all around, and it set the scene quite nicely. So here we start, in an old pub, dimly lit and in need of a lick of paint and I ask the first seasonal question: PB: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, Simon. Do you celebrate it or are you a bit of a bah humbug type of person? Simon raises his glass slightly, and a wry grin appears across his face. I get the feeling he is in mischievous mode but also that he is a little troubled by something. Perhaps we will come to that later… SY: Merry Christmas to you too, Dave. I think it's that typical thing when you get to a certain age. It's not about presents anymore and all that, is it? And the fact that you've got to start buying presents for other folk too. I asked Lisa, my partner, what she wanted and she asked me, so I said that I didn't want any old tat. I usually get things like Spiderman cushions, which are great and I love because I collect all sorts of Spiderman memorabilia. I would rather have stuff I can use now like guitar strings or consumables such as beer or posh food that I wouldn't usually buy. PB: How did you start collecting Spiderman memorabilia? SY: I have been buying and reading American and British comics since I was about six years old. I have just moved house and had to sell some stuff, but I've had to throw some of it away. We moved out because of damp problems, and some of the Spiderman stuff was damaged due to that. If it is damaged by mould, then it's not worth a thing. I've got a box I managed to save, and in it is an unused roll of toilet paper from 1978! It's a comic strip of Spiderman and the Hulk which was designed and printed on toilet paper, so you could roll some off and it had the story on each piece. So, while you're there doing your business you can read the comic too! Luckily not one bit of damp has got to it. PB: To return to the Christmas theme, are you a religious person? SY: I've certainly not been brought up to be religious in any way. I've been brought up to respect other people’s religious beliefs. With older folk being funny about things like that. I don't think my family would ever be shocked or have a problem if was to go back and say that I believe in this or that religious belief. I remember my cousin announced he was vegetarian, and my grandmother thought it meant he was gay. I got a bit thinky thinky about it this year actually because you get all these people saying “Let’s celebrate Christmas” and they don't actually know what it's meant to be about, do they? It's almost as if they are praying to the god of consumerism. Money has become the new religion. hasn't it? I think more so these days because it's become so easy to access things like the internet for downloading films and music. It's become a lot easier to get what you want as opposed to what you actually need. Don't get me wrong! It's a good tool for me because it gets people to reach out into the music, but at the same time it makes things a little cheaper, I suppose. All the schools I went to were geared towards religion. We had assembly and we would sing hymns together. I had a friend in my tutor group and he was Sikh. And he would be sat there singing hymns and I used to think well, “Is he singing because he's got to or is he doing it because he finds some sort of kinship with his own religion?” I also remember my uncle telling a story about a lad who was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he didn't have to go into assembly because of what his beliefs were. Here's something a bit strange. When I do a gig, nine and half times out of ten, I don't drink. I only have a drink if I'm a bit nervous or worked up in any way. I remember somebody putting this story out that I didn't drink because I was a born again Christian! PB: You recently put a post on Facebook in which you said that "It seems nowadays people fear the loss of the ability to consume more than something that can't be proven to exist - saying that, 'faith' is something you can't remove from people no matter how much they're beaten down." What are you referring to? SY: Looking back as far as, let's say, the Dark Ages, where people had the fear of God put into them no matter what you did, then I think it goes back to what I said earlier about consumerism. People worry and stress because they haven't got an internet connection. It's like the recent thing that happened on Black Friday. There were people kicking shit out of each other and it's not even an English thing! It started in America I think, so again we are taking on another Americanism! I'm on the friends list with Ian McNabb of the Icicle Works and I tend to pick up on a lot of things that he says. A lot of people say that he comes across as a whinging, bitter man, but a lot of what he says does make a lot of sense and if you do listen to it you think actually he's got good grounding for what he says there. A lot of it refers to the fact that we are being led by the elite into that situation or position that you are in and you are just a flock. It's just the same as the music industry and all the manufactured music nowadays. It is highly likely to be controlled by the elite or the government, so they control what you actually listen to. PB: I take it from that that you don't like such programmes such as ‘The X-Factor’ then, Simon? SY: I don't. It happened in the Fifties as well. They said then, “We've got to control these kids with the outbreak of rock and roll music, and then they brought out all these twee singers with bow ties. It's all happening again and again. The trouble is it is becoming easier to speak out against nowadays with the advent of social media etc. On the flipside there's more ways to fool people now too. There is a photo going around of a chap that has shot loads of lions and when you look at it there are lions everywhere that have been shot, but when you examine it closely you can tell it's been photo-shopped and it's been done to wind certain people up. You put in a line on Facebook that's its fake, and they shut up because they realise they've been made to look stupid. PB: You've been very quiet this last half a year, Simon. I know you have been writing new stuff, but what's been going on? SY: I've been continually writing, but it has come to a halt recently as we've just moved house. Also I have been conscious of writing stuff that I get excited about and not stuff that is actually any good and we've been trying to mould the stuff that we already have got into a live act. There are tracks that I've written and instantly I've looked at it and gone “That's a Luxury Stranger song,” and then there's stuff that I think doesn't work in the realms of Luxury Stranger, so I'll push it aside and work it into Simon York's stuff. A lot of the time I'm writing stuff as I'm playing it. Whether I use an oblique strategy or whether it's just by nature of chance, if it works I'll keep going at it, but if it doesn’t have a Luxury Stranger sort of sound then I'll move it on but keep the idea to work with solo. PB: Last time we spoke you mentioned that you had writers block now and again which can frustrate you, but by the sound of it at the moment it is coming easy to you. SY: Yes, it is. One of the reasons is that as I'm writing I'm just letting it happen, whereas before I was thinking, “These people like the music, so I would write a song specifically so they would like it. Over the last few years people have come to our gigs and said, “Oh, it's not the same stuff as I thought it was,” or “They've not got the same image,” or “They're not playing the same style of music or maybe they are, but it sounds different.” They go away and leave it for a while, but then come back and say, “Actually it's better.” PB: It might just be me, but I thought some of the newer material sounds a little more industrial or guitar driven? SY: That might have been the way it sounded when we played our last few gigs. I've always tried to emphasis the sound coming more from the drums and bass than anything really. The vocal melody weaves in and around that. I have been saying for a while that I'd like to get a second guitarist in to help me out a bit in terms of spacing things out, so that I could play something and then be able to stop and perform and do something else, or we could split stuff so it has more of a stereo feel. I had asked an old band mate, but he couldn't give us the time or commit to it so it didn't transpire. We will find somebody along the way, but it's got to be right. It takes time. It is like the third album that it is coming. I've been saying for ages that it's on the way, but the reason it has taken so long is that it's got to be right. I think that we’ve got a lot riding on this third album. PB: How much of the original material for the album has been thrown out? SY: There's probably about two thirds of the original album gone. 'Wash' is the only one that has survived. It’s a really big-sounding, tribal one. A lot of it has come from playing the songs live and seeing if it does work or if it doesn't. PB: Where are you drawing the subject matter for you songs from now? Simon is obviously getting a little more at ease with me now as he settles down and takes a sip from the pint he has. For some reason the lights in the Peacock dim a little more, and the barman pays a visit to each table with a candle in a glass holder and then disappears from where he came. SY: There's a lot of stuff that is “closing doors” for me. I'm thinking things like, “That's it. I've had enough of that situation or you or holding you aloft.” I still have things that touch on fetishism, and that's always going to be there. There are love songs in there too, but not the soppy sort. They are about the struggles of love. Love is not always wonderful. Well it is, but it's not always the way we are told to believe it is like those evil people at ‘The X-Factor’ would like us to believe (Laughs). PB: When it comes to writing, do you do it all or do any or both of the two Tims have an input? SY: The way it works is that I'll write a song and do a demo of it and then get it out there to get people's ideas and feedback, so then I know what the fans think of it. It'll then go into a folder and the lads can listen to it, and they can say either yes or no, and we can work on it in rehearsal. It'll then turn out largely the same, but with a bit more bollocks to it, or it'll be a little bit different and I can then go, “That sounds interesting.” On 'Dismissal', for example, I got the drums sorted because I really like the tom tom looping around and then Tim had put in this the beat thing which lifts it up even more, but it still keeps that negative feeling in the song. It has that sort of pop element there now to make it kind of radio friendly. There will be other times when we are playing around with something and I'll go, “That sounds cool,” and I'll sort of guide it and it works really well. I record all the rehearsals anyway, so I can listen back later and if I get something I can get it down and put it in some kind of structure. There will be other times when Tim Bond will play a riff and I'll go, “Play that again,” and that's where songs like 'Takeover' came from. Some people have said it sounds like the Police, and yet some folk have said it sounds like Luxury Stranger which is great because that's exactly what I want to hear. I don't like comparisons. I get fed up with comparisons. I think people bring in comparisons to try to relate to it and make it safe for them. Nobody said to Jimi Hendrix, “Oh you sound like an electric version of Muddy Waters.” It was only from the mid to late 1990s that people started making comparisons like that. Nobody said to Paul Weller, “Oh you're a bit like Pete Townshend.” I don't understand it. PB: People like me have to though sometimes. When I've got a review to get across to the reader, I will sometimes go, “They sound a little like so and so” to enable me to give them some idea of what the music is like and about. SY: Somebody somewhere said in a review that I sounded like a cross between Bowie and Bjork which I found quite interesting. PB: It wasn't me was it? SY: No (Laughs). There was nothing negative in there for me. It's like on the internet where the reviewer will say something like, “Here they sound a little bit like so and so,” and I think with the press it is harder to put something into someone's head unless they've got the song in front of them. This guy, who was working with us, took some of our sounds round, and the record company bosses sat there listening to it, tapping their pencils and their feet, and one of them said, “He's got a really nice voice. Is he black?” It’s a very strange and fickle industry. PB: You had a big record deal and were signed to a big label at one point. What is your opinion now of the big corporations and record companies as you have been on both sides of the coin? SY: If I'm absolutely honest, I'm not one hundred percent sure myself. I've not really watched them as close as I used to. All I've been seeing is them disappearing. For example, on Facebook there are all these groups for gigs and groups for bands and groups for promoters, and they are all living this dream where record companies are like banks that just hand out money for gigs and going on tour. A lot of them are wise to the fact that it's just one big rip off. I've sort of come away from that. I'm more focused on what I'm doing now because I think if you take note of what everyone else is doing then you lose sight of what you are doing yourself. That's what happened to me a while back. I was taking note of other folk and not concentrating on me because there were people at the time causing trouble on the internet creating fake profiles and the like, which is all very sad. PB: Who were they causing trouble for? SY: Me and the band. PB: Are you being serious? SY: Yeah. It's not as if we are bloody U2 or REM! Dave, we had people create some really wacky profiles. One of them created a profile and called themselves Donna Lekerhell. But when you looked at it properly, it read 'Don't you like hell'. So we dragged the photo into Google and found it was fake. Shortly afterwards we started seeing familiar things happening. Phoots by Dave Goodwin www.davegoodwinimages.com

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Luxury Stranger - Interview Part 1

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Interview (2018)
Luxury Stranger - Interview
Nottingham-based alternative rock outfit Luxury Stranger speak to Dave Goodwin about their new line-up, intensive touring schedule and playing Europe.
Interview Part 2 (2015)
Interview (2013)

live reviews

(Supported by Desperate Journalist), Chameleon, Nottingham, 13/12/2014
Luxury Stranger - (Supported by Desperate Journalist), Chameleon, Nottingham, 13/12/2014
Dave Goodwin watches Nottingham-based alternative rockers Luxury Stranger play a stunning set of classic and new material at the Chameleon in Nottingham
Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 6/12/2013
Spanky Van Dykes, Nottingham, 15/11/2013

digital downloads



Darkness Falls Upon the Light (2017)
Long awaited third album from Nottingham post-punk act Luxury Stranger, which finds front man Simon York moving down darker roads than before but with occasional elements of light
Face EP (2013)

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