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Thursday, June 19, 2014

These Go to 11: interviewing Pale Lights

The Pale Lights' week arrives to its climax with Phil Sutton, band leader and founder answering our questionnaire on the latest of our interview series. Grab a pen & a notebook, the pop lesson is about to begin. These Go to 11!

Philip Sutton, Pale Lights
Pale Lights, jangling people
Former drummer of the indispensable Comet Gain, founder of Kicker and my beloved The Soft City, Phil Sutton created his latest music project after his former band went on hiatus in late 2011. Fronting a band for the first time (guitars and lead vocals), he has assembled a flamboyant cast around him, first a quintet, with members of Soft City, Crystal Stilts and Knight School, releasing a self-titled debut EP in May 2012, and later on as a quartet, with whom he has now delivered first LP 'Before There Were Pictures'.A pop treaty in only 30 minutes, echoing Flying Nun and jangle-pop myths, here's a classic penned in the age of ephemeral hypes. Here we go!

1. First record that you bought (be honest)
I can't remember! It was either Altered Images or Ultravox on cassette. I was all about tapes. Taping the Top 40 Show on Radio 1, then later John Peel, Kid Jensen, and Janice Long, when my tastes became more esoteric. I didn't but a vinyl record until 1988. I think it was a lot of stuff in one go. My Bloody Valentine, House of Love, Robyn Hitchcock, some Medium Cool records (Corn Dollies, Raw Herbs) a Miaow! 12''. The first indie pop type albums I bought, on cassette of course, were Felt's Goldmine Trash (with 7 instrumentals on the b-side!), Biff Bang Pow!, 'The Girl Who Runs the Beat Hotel' and 'Pass the Paintbrush, Honey' on one tape, and the Shop Assistants album. 

2. First and last concert you have attended (be honest too!)
First concert was Ultravox, at a venue in Oxford. I went through a synth period! First indie pop type show was either the Soup Dragons, in Birmingham, or The Pastels, in Oxford somewhere. The last show I saw was a group called Air Waves, a couple of weeks ago, here in Brooklyn, NY.

J. Geils Bang' centerfold
3. Guilty pleasure (song/band you shouldn’t like but you do, yes, it’s the embarrassing question)
I'm not sure I feel guilty about liking a record anymore. I heard the J. Geils Bang song 'Centerfold' playing in shop the other day. The lyrics are really awful, but the music was so catchy, and it reminded me of being a kid, because it was always on the radio. I did feel slightly ashamed for thinking how much I liked it. For the chords and the nostalgia only. There was a time when I was embarrassed to admit I like Kate Bush, but not anymore.

4. Most precious music item you own (collector mode on)
My Felt records. I sold a lot of records when I was poor and younger, but managed to hold on the Felt records. 11 LPs, including two compilations, and a bunch of EPs and singles. I still haven't bought 'Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death yet', though I do actually like it!

Grant McLennan's: forever right here
5. Favorite lyrics (not yours)
Definitely not mine! That's hard. So many. Favorite lyricists are so many. Foster and Mclennan, Leonard Cohen, Dan Tracey, Roddy Frame, Judee Sill, Gene Clark, Bob Dylan. I don't know. So many. My old friend David Christian of Comet Gain, has become a really good lyric writer, probably the best of my peer group. He's fairly dismissive of his early work, but Pier Angeli is still one of the best set of words I've heard. Really, so poignant for one so young. I'll say Grant McLennan's 'Cattle and Cane'. The lyrics describe a time, they're evocative and nostalgic without being sentimental. Still slightly detached though. And there are gaps in the narrative, enough to make the story personal to the listener. You can tell he was a film major. The words are more visual than literary, if that makes sense. And they go so perfectly with the music.

Felt's leader
Lawrence of Belgravia
6. Musician/s you would like to meet (should be alive, for obvious reasons, but you can choose a dead one too)
Hmm. You should never meet your idols. Though I've never met one, so what do I know. I'd probably be too nervous if I did. If I was more gregarious, I'd say Robert Foster. Or Lawrence. Or maybe coffee with Francoise Hardy and Jaques Dutronc. Tell me about when they were King and Queen of French teen. I'd ask them lots of questions about Michel Polnareff.

7. Favorite artwork album (not yours)
Francoise Hardy, the EP with 'Dis Lui Non'. I love EPs. They're the perfect format. Neither LP nor single. Love 'em. Especially French pop EPS. I have quite a lot. Jacques Dutronc, Francoise Hardy, Michel Polnareff, Serge Gainsbourg, lots. If I could be on any record label, it'd be Disques Vogues! Perfect little sleeves.

Keith Waterhouse's novel
Billy Liar's book
8. Books or movies? Depending on your answer recommend us one (trick: you can choose both)
Again too many, but as we're indiepop, let's say 'Billy Liar', the Keith Waterhouse book and the John Schlesinger film. Even though I love Julie Christie, she is totally miscast as Liz. Anyone who's read the book can see that.

9. Song (of yours) you are most proud of:
I don't know about proud. I'm too close to know what I really think. Of Pale Lights I like 'Ghosts of Youth' from the EP, and 'Another Broken Heart', from the LP and a song we're recording tomorrow, called '14 stories'. I hope it turns out well! I thought 'Dear Claire' by The Soft City was one of my better songs. Probably, it's still 'Blue', a song I wrote for a band called Kicker, back in the UK.

10. What’s does it mean indie for you? (yes, the “serious question”)
To me it doesn't mean jangle pop, or twee, or indie pop, or Orange Juice, or white boys playing guitars, or Oasis. To me it means independence from the mainstream, and from capitalism. I think of independent music as a music by people for the pure love of doing something, making a noise, shaking things up, getting something made. Whether that be writing songs, recording, designing sleeves, writing fanzines, releasing records, putting on shows, DJing, whatever. I think of a spirit of independence as Do-It Yourself. Independence creates a space in which you can have limitless creativity, to say what you want, and to be yourself, to create a vision pure, as someone once said. No fashions, trends, cliques, and scenes. It can be Riot Girl, punk rock, Northern Soul, twee, reggae, death metal, post-punk, dance music, whatever: music for the soul. Remember, Orange Juice were influenced by Chic and The Velvet Underground, two very different sounds and scenes. Lawrence said it best:
"There's a place for abstract
And there's a place for noise
There's a place for every kind of sound
So come on now and tell me why there's a void"

I reckon.

11. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Living on the West Coast making a solo LP, written and recorded with all my friends. The Hoffner Burns Piano Band.
Zillion thanks Philip & Pale Lights!

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