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Joe Gideon - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 3 / 2016

Joe Gideon - Interview


Former Bikini Atoll and Joe Gideon & The Shark front man Joe Gideon speaks to John Clarkson about his debut solo album, 'Versa Vice', which he has recorded with Jim Sclavunos from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

'Versa Vice’ is the debut solo album of London-based singer-songwriter and guitarist, Joe Gideon. The first of Gideon's five albums to date not to involve his sister Viva, ‘Versa Vice’ was released at the end of last year. Gideon’s first band was the critically-acclaimed, epic-textured post-rock act Bikini Atoll, who signed to ex-Cocteau Twins’ bassist Robin Guthrie’s record label Bella Union and released two albums, ‘Moratoria’ (2004) and the Steve Albini-engineered ‘Liar’s Exit’ (2005). When Bikini Atoll split in 2006, Gideon and Viva, who had been that band's keyboardist, formed a duo, Joe Gideon & The Shark. For this then new project, Gideon’s lyrics became increasingly narrative and offbeat on tracks such as ‘Hide and Seek’, which told of a boy bullied and locked in a cupboard at his own birthday party, and ‘Kathy Ray’, which was about the rise and fall of a backing singer for Ray Charles. Although Joe remained on vocals and guitar, the acrobatic Viva, who had competed as a rhythmic gymnast in the 1992 Olympic Games, remarkably played drums, keyboards, guitar, glockenspiel and provided backing vocals, often all at once. They were a popular act on the indie live circuit, and recorded two albums, ‘Harum Scarum’ (2009) and ‘Freakish’ (2013), both of which came out on Bronzerat Records. The duo, however, fell into hiatus and announced their split in 2014. While both Joe Gideon & The Shark's albums were exercises in economy, 'Versa Vice', which has also been released on Bronzerat, is even more stripped back still. A blues punk record, it features on most of its nine songs just Gideon (who plays on 'Versa Vice' guitar, bass, percussion and on one track 'Heart Attack Girl' piano) and his friend Jim Sclavunos from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on drums. The tracks on 'Vice Versa' include 'The Lady with the Metallic Voice' which is about a girl who literally disappears in on herself: 'Eugene Went Crazy' which tells of the mental collapse and recuperation of World War II photographer W. Eugene Smith, and 'Rubber Room', a spooky, minimalist cover of Porter Wagoner's lush country and western classic. Pennyblackmusic are long-term fans of Joe Gideon's music, and both Bikini Atoll and Joe Gideon & The Shark appeared several times on our Bands' Nights bills. We spoke to him about 'Versa Vice' and began by asking about his and Viva's break-up. PB: You and Viva had been in bands with each other for nearly twenty years. Why did you decide to part company? JG: I think maybe for just that reason. Twenty years is a long time, and I think that we had just come to a point where we had to decide whether to carry on or not. My sister also moved to Cornwall a few years ago, so we are quite some distance from each other now. PB: Would you say that distance then was the major factor? JG: Yeah, distance, and also maybe musical differences. We had developed different musical tastes, but that is not to say that one day we won’t do music together again. It is just right now. PB: You also damaged your wrist at one point which put you out of action for almost a year. What did you do to it? JG: That was while I was making 'Freakish', the last Joe Gideon and the Shark album and we were in the middle of a take for a song, which is a very long song. It was about twelve minutes long and about three or four minutes into the song while I was playing bass my wrist suddenly popped. As you do (Laughs), you get taken away with the idea that you are doing a great take and you don’t want to stop, so I just carried on and I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t understand what happened and if I had known I would have stopped, but I carried on recording the rest of the album. That was the first day of making that album, so we had three more days left and I hadn’t done any guitar yet. PB: That must have been punishing… JG: Yeah, it was punishing, but you really have to go for it because you have got the studio all booked in and everyone is there and it has taken a lot of work to get to the studio. You have done all the preparation work with the tracks and you don’t want to let anyone down including yourself. PB: But obviously that cost you dearly. JG: Yeah. At one point my wrist was totally frozen because I could hardly close my hand at all. That was for about a month. There was no cure. It was just a waiting game to see if it would get better. PB: Was there any point in which you though that you might not be able to play music anymore? JG: Yeah, definitely. I have been playing the guitar all my life and I had to deal with the fact that it might be a reality, but then fortunately it started to mend and was able to play for longer on the guitar without a three day recovery period afterwards. PB: Did you write songs during that time you were not playing? JG: No. I was out of commission. PB: Was your injury a factor in Joe Gideon & the Shark splitting? JG: Not at all. I think we were both ready to do something different anyway. PB: How long did this album take to record? You have always recorded albums fairly quickly, haven’t you? JG: I have. We did the second Bikini Atoll album, for example, in two weeks, but this one was actually more spread out. I did it in bits and bobs. We got an engineer to record me and Jim initially, and we used the results of that as our basic tracks. That was about four days. Then after that we overdubbed some stuff on my own eight track, and after we got the engineer back in for a couple more days. I was working on it from the summer until November of 2014. It was not like every day. It was in spurts, working weekends, that sort of thing. We managed to get it to the mixer just before Christmas that year, and that then was a whole new process. That took about two months. It took us until February of last year to get it all done. PB: What about the writing period? How long does that go back? JG: Some of the songs were written when I was starting to play the guitar again after my injury, and there are a couple from before then. Some of the songs are maybe three years old and some of them are very new to the process, but I got this idea of what the album could sound like and once I had figured out the language there the new songs fitted in with the old songs that I had already had. PB: How did Jim Sclavunos become involved? Is it true that he is your next door neighbour? JG: Not next door, but near by. We have moved now, but at the time we were living in this little enclave in North West London and on various occasions saw Jim walking down the street and realised that he was also living in the neighbourhood. Bikini Atoll had toured with the Bad Seeds back in the day and so I knew him a little anyway, but it was really down to this great, big coincidence. It has been great because we have been able to spark up a friendship since then. PB: Why did you decide to call this album ‘Versa Vice’? JG: Because it sounded better than vice versa (Laughs). There is no profound reason. I just liked the sound of it. I needed something snappy. It was easy to say, and I liked the intimation of verse being in there and the suggestion of it being a vice. PB: You play piano on ‘Heart Attack Girl’ on ‘Versa Vice’. How much experience did you have of playing the piano, given that Viva was the keyboardist from Bikini Atoll onwards? JG: I played piano on that as a sort of percussion tool. If you listen really closely to the piano playing on that, it is simply me jabbing the piano with my right hand. It is all very one-handed stuff. PB: What about the percussion? You played percussion on bits of it as well. JG: Oh, I loved that. I love percussion. I love what it can bring to a track. I had not really played much percussion before, but I had always seen what adding percussion does to a track. At the time you think it is not going to do anything by adding, say, a tambourine and then when you hear the end result suddenly pretty much the whole rhythm section is reduced to a tambourine. Percussion has brought so much to so many of the tracks on 'Vice Versa'. I just love it. PB: If there is a theme to his album it seems to be temporary insanity. Many of the characters on the songs –‘The Lady with the Metallic Voice’ , ‘Eugene Went Crazy’, ‘Heart Attack Girl’ - are sent mad by their obsessions. Was that a conscious thing? JG: It wasn’t that I set out to write a bunch of songs about madness and there are lots of songs in between those songs that I wrote which are not about that, but it just suddenly did seem like I had this accidental collection of songs and thoughts. It was very much a sub-conscious thing. Stepping back, I suddenly realised I had a bunch of songs like this. ‘Eugene Went Crazy’, in particular,is about that. It is about this ‘Life’ photographer W. Eugene Smith who went off the rails when commissioned to do a project in Pittsburgh to record ordinary life and he got so embroiled and impassioned by that it was supposed to take him three weeks but ended up taking three years. I love characters like that. PB: So what happened to him? JG: He went off the radar for a bit and re-emerged somewhere down the line with a picture of his children walking in his garden. He never said it, but I took that to mean that his family had saved him from the brink. A lot of his photographs were fairly intense war photographs. They show people suffering the effects of radiation, and, while they are amazing photographs, taking them and witnessing that must have had a terrible psychological effect on him. so I thought that was what he was implying with the photo of his children was that their pure innocence is what saved him, which is how the song ends. PB: You have not done many covers at all. You have mainly concentrated in the past on your own material. Why did you want to cover ‘Rubber Room’? JG: I am more and more into covers. We did one as well with 'Freakish' - ‘Poor Born’ by Dead Moon. I just love what it does to one’s understanding of how to do song structure when you cover something. You have this natural approach within yourself, and it is hard to break out of that. When you do a cover, you have someone else creating a song structure that you have never thought of before. PB: What was the appeal to you of that particular song? JG: Firstly I absolutely love that song, and secondly I realised that I can sing it pretty well. It is in the perfect register for me, and I just needed to find a way with my Luddite skills of covering it and trying to do an original spin on it. It was the only way because his version is lush and all his recording is so string-laden and massively produced. I could never hope to accomplish that, so my approach was to strip it down and make it much starker. PB: Ed Harcourt plays piano and organ on ‘The Girl with the Metallic Voice’ and ‘Eugene Went Crazy’. How well did you know him beforehand? JG: Oh, really well. He was also a neighbour in that little enclave I was talking about. We used to bump into each other all the time, and we have become really good friends. He is a very enthusiastic character, and whenever he was saw Jim and I he was always inviting us round to his studio. It was just up the road, and as a result of that I managed to rope Jim into coming over one night. He was about to go off on tour, and he came round in the evening. He had to leave at midnight to catch the plane, but we recorded those two songs and that was probably the beginning of the whole process there. PB: You defined Joe Gideon & The Shark in a previous interview as being “the perfect support band.” Dou you still feel that way now that you have gone solo? JG: Probably more so. Now I can go in any shape or form, can’t I? PB: And finally what other plans do you have for the future? Now that you have this album out where do you go from here? JG: I am already thinking about the next album. It has taken a few years with my ailments and everything to get 'Vera Vice' out, but I am all ready to go with the next one. I have got another album I want to make, so I am going to set about doing that. It is all set to go. You never know with records how long it is going to take. Everything is a favour unless you have a big budget and you have to work around everyone’s time. These things take a lot longer than you would imagine. I would love it to come out quickly. I would love to be part of that machine that can churn out an album very year and a half. PB: Thank you. Joe Gideon will be playing a UK tour in March with Jim Sclavunos which will include the following dates: Tuesday 15th York-Fibbers; Wednesday 16th Newcastle-Cluny; Thursday 17th Glasgow-Broadcast; Friday 18th Middlesborough-Westgarth Social Club; Monday 21st Birmingham-Hare & Hounds Room; Wednesday 23rd Manchester-The Soup Kitchen; Thursday 24th Norwich-Jug Jaws @ Bedfords and Tuesday 29th Ramsgate-Ramsgate Music Hall

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Joe Gideon: Interview (2016
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Former Bikini Atoll and Joe Gideon & The Shark front man Joe Gideon speaks to John Clarkson about his debut solo album, 'Versa Vice', which he has recorded with Jim Sclavunos from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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