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Bromide - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 6 / 2018

Bromide - Interview


In a frank discussion about their sixth album 'I Woke Up,' Simon Berridge, the front man with London-based indie trio Bromide, details the back stories behind some of his most compelling lyrics, in which influences such as Virginia Woolf and his cats fired up his imagination.

“Maybe we have woken up or in some way come alive,” ponders Simon Berridge. He is sitting in a quiet pub in Victoria in central London, and talking about his band Bromide’s just released sixth album, ‘I Woke Up’. “I think I definitely have since we got the band back together. I didn’t really think that we would. There was such a long gap between 1998 and 2012. I had just forgotten how much I had enjoyed playing electric guitar. It is great fun.” Vocalist and guitarist Berridge first formed noise pop act Bromide, who have been described as being like “Elvis Costello fronting Dinosaur Jr,” in the mid-1990s. Husker Du, Only Ones and Sonic Youth-obsessed, and like those acts for all their distortion always carrying also a strong sense of melody, Bromide became a regular fixture on the London indie circuit, with Berridge initially performing and recording with whomever he could get to play with him. Bromide’s debut album ‘Iscariot Heart’ came out in 1997 on Berridge’s own label Scratchy Records, which takes its name from Berridge’s then cat and has also released all of Bromide’s subsequent records. They became a three-piece, in time for a single ‘Fool in My Brain’ later on that year and then an EP ‘If All Your Dreams Come True Where Are You Going to Sleep?’ in 1998, but that incarnation of the band folded when Berridge and drummer Ed Lush were unable to find a permanent bassist. Berridge carried on with Bromide as a solo act, recording two albums of home recorded acoustic material, ‘No.Space.Anymore.Even.Inbetween.Words’ (2001) and ‘The Trouble with…Bromide' (2008). He and Lush finally reunited in 2012 for Bromide’s first studio album in fifteen years, ‘Some Electric Sometime’, which saw the album’s producer and ex-Gay Dad member Nigel of Bermondsey filling in on bass. At the end of 2012, Hugo Wilkinson joined Bromide on bass, playing his first gig with Berridge and Lush in support of the Willard Grant Conspiracy and Rotifer at a Pennyblackmusic Bands’ Night at the Half Moon in Herne Hill in South London. The group’s fifth album and first in the new trio, ‘I Remember’, came out in 2015. It was an abrasively joyous record, combining a 60’s pop sensibility with a 90’s alternative rock sound and pushing Berridge’s offbeat lyricism to the fore. ‘I Woke Up’ builds on that formula, but finds Bromide reaching new heights. The soaring ‘Tale To Tell’ opens with fast escalating guitars and the guilt-ridden lyrics of “I killed a cat/I did it quick.” The stop-start ‘Two Song Slot’ tells of triumph snatched out of disaster at an open mic night, while the anthemic ‘Magic Coins’ pays homage to AC/DC’s Bon Scott, Berridge’s teenage idol and also finds him discovering an unlikely new heroine in Susan Boyle. Chiming pop number ‘Futurist Shore Leave’, the band’s first instrumental, makes a main instrument out of Wilkinson’s taut bass and finishes with a razor-tight drum solo from Lush. The closing title track, which at six minutes in length is Bromide’s longest number to date, builds from a single, hypnotic repeated note into a swirling Doorsian epic in which Berridge sings the chorus line of “Tied to the mast and the storm is coming” over and over. In what is our third interview with Simon Berridge, he proved once again to be a natural storyteller. ‘I Woke Up’ In some ways ‘I Woke Up’ carries on where ’I Remember’ left off, but it feels much more like a band record this time. The three of us have been playing together for a few years now, while at the time of ‘I Remember’ Ed and I had only just got together with Hugo. The songs on ‘I Remember’ are shorter. It was much more like bang, bang, bang, while ‘I Woke Up’ is more fleshed out. On ‘Magic Coins’, for example, Ed started playing a beat on his drums, which was pretty unexpected. It took it somewhere else, and it was the same with the title track. Hugo started doing this Krautrock bass line, and it again took the whole song somewhere else. These were a lot of the things on it which I would not have done solo, and they came together because the three of us had put something in. Bark Studios We recorded it like ‘I Remember’ at Bark Studios in East London, just because we got on so well with Brian O’ Shaughnessy who runs it. We liked the way he worked the first time. He is pretty to the point and he makes you think about what you are doing and not going on longer than necessary. I do have the tendency to fiddle with things, and it was good that we had somebody that you are not exactly scared of but who has that bit of authority that makes you self-edit and not be too much of a wanker. He doesn’t mince his words, but at the same time he understands about letting you try things and experiment. I would recommend him to anyone. It was recorded in two sessions, and most of it was recorded very quickly. Ed had at the time a tennis injury (Laughs), and we knew that we probably had only one take with some of the songs, especially the ones that are prolonged. Then we went back for a second session, which was recorded at a slightly more leisurely pace. It took a couple of weeks if you count both the times we were in there recording and also mixing and mastering. ‘Tale to Tell’ ‘Tale to Tell’ was written in the studio. I had this chord change and, while we were sitting down for a break during the recording, I was playing it, and Ed went, “What’s that?” and I went “Just a few chords,” and he went, “That’s great. That has to go on the album. Let’s record it!” We ended up going back for the second session, just to do that song. I had been reading Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’, and there is a scene in it in which a cat without a tail comes across the quad at the college the main character is having lunch at. Immediately it sparked this thing for me with the lyrics, which happened with one of my own cats who was having a litter. It was a really bad experience. If things are not going well, then pregnant cats abort completely and are liable to eat the litter, and that is what happened to one of my cats unfortunately. It was really traumatic. I was sitting with this cat Teardrop through the night, and I woke up after drifting off. I don’t know how many of her kittens she had eaten but she definitely had eaten one which I think had suffocated on the way out, and there was another one with its tail bitten off. It had been mutilated and was suffering, and I was pretty shaken up and so I drowned it. I thought that it was the right thing to do at the time. Ever since then, however, especially when I have seen a cat without a tail, I have thought, “Well, actually I made a decision which was not perhaps in some ways mine to make.” It might have survived in which case it wasn’t up to me to make that decision, and so there has always been this guilt there. I was trying to do the right thing, but I also have this thought since that I was playing God when I shouldn’t have been. As soon as I read that line in the book, I knew that was what that song was about. I have not regretted writing those lyrics since, but wondered if that song should even go on the album. Ed was, however, so keen on the song that it became the first track. ‘Two Song Slot’ I went from the depths that evening to the opposite in a few hours. I went to this open mic night in the Spice of Life at Cambridge Circus with Jonny Velon whose album ‘Goodness Flows’ I had put out on Scratchy Records. He had come all the way up from Bristol to play two songs. The open mic has been going for years and Jonny was ahead of me in the queue, so his slot was quite early and mine was quite late. Johnny played this amazing version of Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’. It was just after Bowie had died, a month or something after that, and, shortly after he had done his slot, he decided he was going to go back to Bristol. After he left, there was a succession of really terrible acts. It was like ‘X-Factor’ stuff.” One of the people that played, I think, was a regular there. He was an old bloke. He put on an Elvis wig, and he went, “Take my hand/Take my hand...,” and he got a girl up from the audience and started singing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love ‘. It was, other than Jonny’s song, the only other good moment. I kept asking myself what the hell I was doing there, so I decided to leave. I had my car in Bermondsey and I was on the way home and I needed a pee, so I stopped at Tesco’s along Old Kent Road. I know there is a loo there. I was on the way back to the car, and I suddenly had this blinder - “Elvis would have stayed, he would have slain them.” I had this bit of paper and I literally wrote the entire lyrics to what became ‘Two Song Slot’ out. It is not that long a song, but I wrote the whole thing out and then I looked at my watch and it was about 11, so I thought, “Wow! I could drive back then and there and still play my slot.” I didn’t have any music yet but at least I could read out my song, so I drove back to the Spice of Life and walked in. It was about quarter to twelve. The guy who runs the club said, “What are you doing back here?” and I said, “Can I have my slot back please?” and he said, “Yeah, you can go on last.” So, I did AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’, which is one of my favourite covers and which everyone liked and that was good. I then read out the lyrics to the song which I just written, and left with that feeling that everything was fine again and I was in a good place. ‘Magic Coins’ That song is about wanting to be a rock star or in some way famous. Whether it is an astronaut or something else you just imagine yourself in that fantastic position. Of course, very few people can actually do it, and obviously an even smaller percentage do. That performance that Susan Boyle did on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ is one of the magical moments in television history. You can see in an instant the atmosphere in the whole room change. It is invisible, but you see people going, “Oh, look at her. She looks like a cleaner” to “Fucking hell! She is a goddess” in an instant. Bon Scott from AC/DC also had something similar. When he sung it was equally electric. He had a down to earthiness, which was what was nice about him. You never got an ounce of ego off either of them, but at the same time they are gods. ‘Futurist Shore Leave’ Hugo came up with the riff for that in the practice room. I didn’t really feel it in terms of lyrics. I think we thought, “This is a great little riff. It could be an instrumental” and “Why not?” I did a little bit of guitar over the top, but the main thing of that song is the bass guitar and the drum beats. It was completely unplanned, but it was a nice surprise really. The Title Track Do you know Glenn Branca? Someone gave me a tape with some old New York experimental people on it, and there was one, maybe two tracks by him on it. This one track in particular of his always stuck with me because it was intriguing through its simplicity. It was just one chord, but it built up an incredible atmosphere by using different strummings on two different guitars. I just wish that I knew what that song was called but I lost the cassette inlay card. Branca is someone that I would like to explore more, but this little bit that I had was definitely an inspiration on this title track. I hit the wrong chord. You sometimes do that when you are playing guitar and you think, “Oh, what’s that?” I was playing A Minor, and I got the fingers wrong. It turned into the riff base of ‘I Woke Up’. The lyric for it took its inspiration from the film ‘Mr Turner’, which is about the painter J.M.W. Turner. I went to see it for my 50th birthday, which was in 2015. I had been to see the film, fallen asleep and woken up (Laughs), so it seemed to fit to write about that. There is a storm sequence in it, which is the part I woke up at, in which Turner wants to be tied to the mast of a ship so that he can feel a storm in its full velocity. As the song started to develop, Hugo came up with this great bass riff, and the song began to feel like it needed to be quite epic. We needed to go with that, and the idea of Turner wanting to experience the storm seemed to fit. It was a great image in a great film.

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Interview (2015)
Bromide - Interview
John Clarkson chats to Simon Berridge , the front man with London-based indie trio Bromide, about his confessional new album, 'I Remember', and label, Scratchy Records
Interview (2012)



I Remember (2015)
Affectionate tribute to musical memory on cassette only new single from London-based alternative rock trio, Bromide
Some Electric Sometime (2012)

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