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John Clarkson speaks to Beth Arzy about her involvement with LA indiepop band Aberdeen with influential label Sarah Records, and her present bands The Luxembourg Signal and Jetstream Pony’s contributions to new Sarah-inspired compilation ‘Under the Bridge’.
Beth Arzy was the vocalist in Aberdeen, a Californian indiepop band who released their first two singles, ‘Byron’ (1994) and ‘Fireworks’ (1995), on the influential Bristol label Sarah Records.
Aberdeen had a turbulent career and split up after releasing a third single, ‘Snapdragon’, on Sunday Records, again in 1995. They reunited six years later in 2001, and went on to release a further three singles as well as an album ‘Homesick and Happy to Be Here’ in 2002.
Beth Arzy now lives in South London with her partner, ex-Field Mice frontman. Bobby Wratten. She has sung in both of Wratten’s post Field Mice projects, Trembling Blue Stars and Lightning in a Twilight Hour.
She is currently the vocalist in two bands, the LA shoegazing band The Luxembourg Signal in which she co-shares vocal duties with Betsy Moyer, and Brighton-based indie pop project Jetstream Pony.
Both bands appear on Rob Pursey and Amelia Fletcher’s label Skep Wax’s new compilation ‘Under the Bridge’, which features tracks from musical artists as they are now who were formerly signed to Sarah Records. The Luxembourg Signal open ‘Under the Bridge’ with the Russian folklore-inspired ‘Travel Through Midnight’, and Jetstream Pony appear later on with their track, ‘Strood McD F.C.’.
Pennyblackmusi spoke to Beth Arzy about her involvement iwith Aberdeen with Sarah Records, and The Luxembourg Signal and Jetstream Pony’s contributions to ‘Under the Bridge’.
PB: How aware were you of Sarah Records before you signed to them?
BETH ARZY: I was very aware of them. I was a big fan through a chap in LA called Brandt Larson. His parents were doctors in Africa, and he always had the house to himself as they were always away. It was a beautiful, massive house nestled in the hills outside LA, and he was just the kindest guy ever. He would say, “I am having a party on Saturday night,” and people would come and drink coffee all night and be themselves. He was just great. He had a great musical knowledge. There would be LA bands there at these parties, people from bands like Beachwood Sparks. They were always hanging around there, and you would go into Brandt’s room and he would go, “This is the new song by Blueboy. This is the new song by The Field Mice. This is the new Heavenly,” so he basically got me hooked.
There was a mail order recrd shop called Parasol Records, and we would get a flyer and it would have all the new releases on it, and Brandt and I would tick off all the things we wanted, and we were ordering stuff once and he said, “Do you want to talk to Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd from Sarah? I have got their number,” and I was like 22 and said, “Oh my God! I am so nervous,” but we called up. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I do remember saying, “I really like the new Field Mice record. It is the best thing that they have ever done.” So, I was introduced to them through being a fan.
Then one day Brandt said, “You should send your demo to Sarah,” because Aberdeen had just done this very lo-fi four track demo, and I was like, “Oh, come on! Give me a break!" and he said. “You should send it and we’ll see what happens,” and the rest of what happened did happen and they put out two singles.
PB: Clare Wadd told Pennyblackmusic in 2002 that “Sarah was for the bands that didn’t want to go outside of their bedrooms and didn’t want to play gigs.” Were you like that?
BA: In Aberdeen I didn’t really like playing gigs. I didn’t really feel that I was good enough for playing gigs. I was just a fan who had happened to get lucky and had the verbal say to put out a record, but there were people in the band who did enjoy being on stage and the whole gigging experience. I, however, thought that there was a bucket of pig’s blood that was going to pour down on my head at any second.
It was about half and half at Sarah. You would get acts like The Field Mice who I didn’t know at the time but now I know they weren’t keen on playing, whereas you could tell that Heavenly liked playing gigs and they looked like they knew what they were doing. We were, however, in LA. We were outside things. We couldn’t play a Sarah night.
PB: Sarah was a very political label which was pro-feminism and anti-Thatcherite. How easy was it for you to relate to their politics from your side of the pond?
BA: Very much so. I grew up listening to The Jam and The Style Council, so I knew which side I was on from very early on. So, I got that side of it and chose which side I wanted to be on. I don’t think that I ever had a conversation with Matt and Clare about politics. They weren’t going to have anyone on their label who was a complete fascist. It was just a case of all the pieces falling into the same place and it just gelling.
PB: You put out two singles with them, ‘Byron’ in 1994 and ‘Fireworks’ in 1995. You and John Girgus, who as the other main songwriter, have been critical of those singles in the past. Have you warmed to them with time?
BA: I think that John is cool with them. It is mainly me because I am critical of myself. It is not because of the guitars or John or anything like that or the song. If I am critical of it, it is because of the crap lyrics and the crap singing. I listen back and I cringe. It is not a criticism of Aberdeen in general. With some of the later stuff, I really felt that we were getting somewhere. If I heard either of those two singles on the radio, would I listen to them? Would I write them down and go and find them? No, I wouldn’t, but there are a couple of later songs like ‘Sink or Float’, where I think if I heard it on the radio I would listen to it. If I heard it in a club, I would dance to it. They are not the best couple of singles I have done. I think that I could have done them a lot better.
PB: Why do you think Matt and Clare were so keen to put you on their label then?
BA: I don’t know. Maybe they felt sorry for me (Laughs). No, I’m just kidding. They did like the songs, which was nice. It wasn’t in Sarah’s heyday. It was kind of near the end. I don’t think of us as the raging fire of Sarah Records, more like the embers. They must have liked us. They didn’t put out anything they didn’t like.
PB: Were you surprised when they folded?
BA: I was. It was a bad day. I remember receiving a fax. We used to fax each other. The A & R was kind of funny at Sarah. Clare used to deal with the guys in the band, and Matt used to deal with the girls. Matt and I became really good friends, and we used to fax each other a couple of times a week. I used to hear the fax machine click in the office I was working at in LA and I was using the fax machine for personal reasons. The fax started off differently. There wasn’t the usual joke or him being sarcastic. I just knew that I was going to read something bad, and it said, “This is really hard to say, but I wanted you to be among the first people to know...” They were going to put out an album. Our first record was going to be on Sarah, and it said, “I don’t want you to panic. Sarah is finishing and I am starting a new label,” but it still felt like someone had just told me that a friend had died. I was like, Oh, no. How could this happen? What is going to happen to Heavenly?” I did have to sit down and take a few deep breaths.
PB: Sarah seems to have been fondly remembered by all its bands. For most of them it seems to have been a fantastic experience.
BA: I don’t think I was in a Sarah band. I tend to think I was in a band who had two singles out on Sarah Records. Another Sunny day, Heavenly and The Field Mice were all Sarah bands. I was just happy to ride on their coat tails for a while.
I have never met anyone, however, who has said, “That was rubbish. They were just horrible people.” I have never met anyone who has said that. There might have been people who had trouble and differences of opinion with Matt and Clare about the art work, but you are never going to get people saying that Sarah Records was crap. and if they do I will punch them on the nose (Laughs).
PB: The Luxembourg Signal open ‘Under the Bridge’ with ‘Travel Through Midnight’. Is it true that it was inspired by Russian folklore?
BA: Yeah. I didn’t have much to do with that. That was the guys in LA. I wasn’t even going to sing on it. I was out there at the tail end of last year. I think it was around Halloween and they said, “Do you want to hear the new song?” We really had to rush it to get it on time, and they played it for me and I was like, “Oh My God! This is great,” and they said, “Maybe it needs a bit of backing vocals.“
We had been in the studio for a few hours, and we had a power cut. Most of the band were sitting outside the studio in the darkness and Ginny Pitchford, who is our keyboardist, said, “Please tell me that was saved,” and Johnny Joyner, who is the guitarist, shook his head, and I said, “Okay. That was the practice run. It is fine,” and then we went in there when the lights came back on and got it nailed really quickly, which in a way it made the song.
I was doing the lead on ‘Strood McD F.C.’, the Jetstream Pony song on ‘Under the Bridge’, and I said, “Please don’t use a lot of my vocals on 'Travel'” because I didn’t want to be on it twice. Luckily they only used a tiny bit of me, and Betsy’s vocals go up really high and mine are more low. I think Ginnywas the brains behind the whole Russian folklore idea and its theme of travelling late at night and never reaching the end of the tunnel.
PB: Despite them being your “vacation band” you have done three albums with The Luxembourg Signal. How easy has that been to do given with lockdown and because you live in the UK these days?
BA; As I have got family in LA, I still come and visit. It works out quite well because my visits correspond with how long it takes them to write songs which can be a very long time. Everyone is working and busy. Betsy also lives on completely the other side of town to Johnny and Ginny , our drummer and other guitarist Kelly Davis and Brian Espinosa live in San Diego, so for them to come together it is like herding cats. It takes so long to get together and pull our fingers out and write the songs that it works out quite well for me.
Whenever I go over there, they are like, “We have got six new songs. Do you want to come in the studio?” and I am like “Okay”. We have never had a problem working things out like that. It just falls into place.
PB: How did you get involved with Jetstream Pony in contrast?
BA: I just got lucky and was in the right place at the right time. I really liked the band The Fireworks. I went to see them a couple of times, and I thought they were great and their album ‘Switch Me On’ was fantastic, and they asked me to sing at a Christmas thing at the Betsey Trotwood in London, and they told me in confidence at that gig, “We asked you to sing because Emma Hall our singer is leaving. Do you want to join the band?” I was like, Oh God!” and I think that i said yes because I didn’t want anyone else to get that gig. They sounded like a C86 band. They could have been out of Glasgow in 1986 or 1987, and I really loved them and so I thought, “This is the type of band that I want to be in.” I couldn’t tell anyone I was in the band for ages because they had a new single coming out. They didn’t want to put anyone off by saying, “Oh, by the way! Our lead singer is leaving.” It was over a year that I was in the band and couldn’t tell anybody.
It wasn’t a very pleasant experience and nobody got along. The guitarist Shaun Charmant had written a couple of songs for the band which I really liked, and he said, “If you like those, do you want to hear a couple of demos that I did?” and I said, “Yeah!” and I really liked them as well and he said, “Do you want to sing on them?“ and I said. “Yeah, sure!” We weren’t really thinking of anything. We were just having fun, trying to take our mind off how volatile the band was at the moment (Laughs), and it just turned out really well and around about that time everything fell apart. The main guy Matthew Rimell just had way too much on at work. He couldn’t really do much because he had way too much going on and the band split up, and Shaun said, “Let’s form a band. I know a bassist.” The bassist knew a drummer. We all got together in a room and everything fell into place.
PB: What is the song ‘Strood McD F.C’ about?
BA: It is about the McDonald’s in Strood (Laughs).
PB: What else have you got planned for your year?
BA: Shaun and I are starting to work on some songs. We have also got some gigs planned with Jetstream Pony. They were all postponed because of lockdown. Everything is pouring down at once, so we are going to be focusing on those over the next few months.
PB: Thank you.
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