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Carol Hodge - Interview

  by Kimberly Bright

published: 16 / 7 / 2020

Carol Hodge - Interview


Kimberly Bright chats with Huddersfield singer-songwriter and music educator Carol Hodge about her new solo album, songwriting, Crass, touring, teaching, and why introverts might well inherit the earth.

Crass fans will already be familiar with vocalist, pianist, and songwriter Carol Hodge through her work in Steve Ignorant’s Last Supper band and his acoustic project Slice Of Life. Manchester natives may know her from her Salford City Radio show and bands like Sadie Hawkins Dance, WRECKS, Synko and Bad Taste Barbies, as well as her Crystal Grenade project. Carol has also worked as a touring musician for artists such as Ginger Wildheart and Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts. Her second solo album, ‘Savage Purge’, was released in March, a follow-up to her 2018 ‘Hold On To That Flame’, followed by an uplifting single “A Song for You” in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. PB: Can you give me more biographical background? You were born in Greenock, Scotland and grew up in Cumbria and Huddersfield, England. Did you go to university in Manchester? Are you the same Carol Hodge voted the Goth Mona Lisa in 2010? https://www.culture24.org.uk/art/photography-and-film/art80849) Carol Hodge: Ha, ha you've definitely done your research! Yes indeed, I was the Manchester Mona Lisa ten years ago, and they hung my portrait in the Da Vinci exhibit at the Museum Of Science and Industry. I moved to Manchester when I was eighteen, to study Drama at Manchester University. I then stayed there for sixteen years, as you do! I moved to Huddersfield in 2018, and it very quickly felt like home. I heart Yorkshire. PB: Since you've lived and worked in different parts of the country, does it feel like there's still a North-South divide in the UK or is it better now than it used to be? CH: I lived in Hastings on the South coast for a year, which definitely felt different to the more familiar climes of The North. I guess it's like the US, every state is different, but also very similar. I always find it mind-blowing how many different regional accents we have crammed into such a small isle. PB: Did you receive support from music teachers and other musicians as a limb-different young person learning to play an instrument? Did you ever experience condescension or negativity? CH: It's been a bit of a mixed bag. I remember people having very low expectations of what I'd be capable of, which I guess motivated me to prove them wrong. I really hope that other young limb-different people will see me playing and feel like they can do it too. That's the great thing about the internet. Now we can connect with other people with similar experiences. I didn't meet anyone with a hand like mine until I was in my twenties. PB: Since you have a diverse background working with so many different artists, what kind of people do you prefer to work with, both as a hired gun and as a collaborator? CH: Having a sense of humour is pretty much top of the list. I love working with talented people, but it's always a massive bonus if they acknowledge my Alan Partridge quotes or get on board the self-deprecation and sarcasm train. This has stood me in good stead on many occasions. I might not be the best singer and pianist in the world, but I'm easy going and a good tour buddy. PB: Have you met any of your musical heroes on an equal footing since you began working as a performer and did the experience change your opinion of them? CH: Jello Biafra asked if he could do an encore with us (The Last Supper band, playing Crass songs in 2011). It was at a venue called Slims in San Francisco. I was walking downstairs to the backstage area and heard a familiar voice holler, "Let me know if my services are required for the encore", and it was Jello. Him and Steve go way back, so it was cool to hang out with him and listen to some old stories for a bit. Also, working with Ginger Wildheart was a massive deal for me. I've loved the Wildhearts for ages, so my teenage self definitely did a bit of a wee when that happened. PB: What did you decide to do differently on ‘Savage Purge’ from ‘Hold on to That Flame’? CH: Not having any limitations on genre or arrangements. I was a bit hung up on how I would play the songs live with ‘Hold on to That Flame’, less so with ‘Savage Purge’. It was also written in a much shorter space of time, so I became more disciplined with songwriting and demoing. PB: What was the inspiration for ‘Let Gravity Win’? What was the moment or series of moments where you didn't feel "young" anymore? I think for me (I'm 49) it was being asked in my late thirties by a young cashier to identify a Pearl Jam song being played in a store and being told that he didn't know the band, because he never listened to "classic rock," which to me is something like the Doobie Brothers or Kansas, not fucking Pearl Jam. CH: I teach music online and have a lot of younger students. Realising that I've never heard of a lot of the artists they like, and vice versa, was a moment of reckoning. I also used to teach in colleges and at BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music institute) and working with teenagers made me realise how young and cool they are, and how old and out of touch I am! At least I'm self-aware, and enjoy learning as much as I enjoy teaching, so it's a fun two-way process. PB: You mention alcohol in a couple of the new songs and in your press release. Is it something you've struggled with personally? CH: Yes, I stopped drinking for good towards the end of 2018. Other people are capable o “'just having a few every now and then”, but this has never been something I was able to do. I got to the point where I just felt too old for it. The world of touring can be a pretty toxic environment for alcohol and drug issues. It's somewhat accepted and very easy to slip into. PB: Who are some of your songwriting influences? I know people throw Amanda Palmer's name around when describing your work, but I was more reminded of John Grant and Ani DiFranco. CH: Oh, I love John Grant! I always find this a difficult question to answer, as I never consciously set out to emulate anyone. Elton John, Queen, Carole King and St Vincent are pretty high on the list. PB: Now that artists are expected to mostly promote themselves, how do you feel about having this extra responsibility? Do you think it puts less talented but more self-aggrandizing extroverts at an advantage? CH: You've hit the nail on the head there. That analogy applies to all walks of life. What's the phrase? "Let he who shouts the loudest be heard first". But now that person is spreading their potentially Covid-soaked droplets everywhere, so perhaps the tide is turning. PB: Were you familiar with Crass before working with Steve? Have you met all of the original members? CH: Weirdly enough, I performed on a cover of ‘Our Wedding; in 2003, for a compilation album of Crass songs. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to Crass and I was struck by some of the lyrics and imagery on ‘Penis Envy’. I've hung out with Eve Libertine, Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher a few times, and they are all very inspiring people. PB: What is Steve Ignorant like to work with? CH: He's pretty easy going and puts a lot of faith into me. We've been pals for almost a decade, so we know each other pretty well, and he knows he can trust my judgement most of the time. PB: Was it terrifying to sing the parts of this iconic person from a cult favorite band with a devoted fan base? CH: I remember the very first gig I played with Steve, it was in 2011 in Brooklyn, and the crowd was ridiculous. Looking out and seeing hundreds of people singing along was intense. I had no idea how much the songs of Crass meant to so many people all around the world. It's an honour to help keep those songs alive. PB: Do you do different vocal exercises to get ready for live shows with Steve than for your solo shows or other artists'? CH: Oh man, the Crass songs are a real vocal workout! It requires a lot of stamina, and there are constant demands to flit between speech-level singing, belting and even some operatic passages. It's an awesome challenge. I have a routine that warms me up, works on my break area, and gets me belting before I sing the songs. PB: As a music teacher, how is your approach different from how you were taught? Are there old-school theory books that you hated as a student but now find useful? CH: I always felt like there were two musical worlds when I was growing up: it was either classical piano, theory and sheet music, or chords, songwriting and figuring out songs I liked by ear. I try to combine the two worlds as much as possible for my students, with big dollops of the Blues thrown in for good measure. PB: How do you encourage your more introverted students to learn how to perform in front of an audience without panicking? Is there any kind of trick to improvising that you teach them? CH: If you hit a bum note, repeat it, then it sounds jazzy and people will think you meant it! Plus loads of PMA [positive mental attitude], it's meant to be fun. PB: Is it helpful or challenging -- or both -- being in a relationship with another artist? CH: It's all I've ever known. Every partner I've had over the past twenty-odd years has been a musician! I kind of take it for granted that my partner knows what it's like to be a touring musician, so a lot goes unspoken. I'd struggle to be with a 'normal' person who didn't understand the world of disgusting comedy routines, exhaustion and mental instability that accompanies life on the road. PB: What is your life like right now, as the UK is opening back up? CH: Pretty much as it's been for the past few months. I've been very lucky to be able to continue to teach online, and this has kept me busy. Live music as we know it won't be coming back any time soon. Plus a second wave seems inevitable, so I'm not getting excited about life getting back to 'normal'. The whole pandemic situation has made me appreciate a lot of things that I had hitherto taken for granted. You've got to find things to be grateful for. They are always there, every day. PB: Thank you Photos by Mike Bennett

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Carol Hodge - Interview

Carol Hodge - Interview

Carol Hodge - Interview

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