The Fall and Rise of Crayola Lectern has been one of our favourite albums of the year so far, sounding unlike anyone else out there in Brighton right now. We decided to catch up with Chris Anderson to find out a bit about Crayola Lectern.
Let’s start with a bit of history and how Crayola Lectern came into being. I only found out very recently that you were in Departure Lounge (whose album “Too Late to Die Young” I bought about about ten years ago). I’m guessing that wasn’t the first band you were in?
No indeed – much of my life has been spent playing in groops. Before Departure Lounge was Supermodel and before that was Map. Since Departure Lounge has been La Mômo, Celebricide, Drum Eyes for a while and lots of other cameos here and there plus various instant bands with Damo Suzuki, LSD-25 and my emergency freekout collective, The Bad Black Dots. One thing I will say though is that I was not the singer of Spiritualized as the internet has started saying recently – at least not when I last looked.
I guess there are worse people to be mistaken for than Jason Pierce! Some of these bands are still going concerns (we saw La Mômo at the Green Door Store last month) – how did Crayola Lectern emerge?
I’ve been making up piano stuff since early childhood but it being something more public was something I only started to consider as the repertoire had become larger. in more recent years. I never wanted to be in a position of having not enough material in terms of making albums and don’t believe in ‘wasting’ music as it were with filler tracks. I woke up one morning with the sound of the words “crayola lectern” in my head – apropos of nothing – but it seemed pertinent to call myself that as it has a flow and I like the childlike element of colouring crayons and Lectern somehow seemed a bit more sinister – but I only ever thought about this meaning since.
I’ve done a bit of hunting around online and found out that your first Crayola Lectern gig was 19th April 2006, so it took a few days shy of seven years for the album to come out. Two of the songs from that first gig – The Goldfish Song and Ultrasonicmetaglide – made it to the album. Have they changed much over the years?
Nope, much the same – just different instruments. There was another tune we played at that time called “Untitled” which became Rise And Fall. I used to sing the trumpet line – “bah, bah, bah…” etc – never quite managed to make it into a words song. Luckily Alistair came along and saved the day with his real trumpet.
The other thing I noted about the first gig was that you played guitar (assisted by Jon Poole on keyboard), whereas Crayola Lectern performances now are focussed on your piano playing. Is that something that’s evolved over the years as the songs you’ve written have been more piano based, or did the change to a keyboard based performance happen quite quickly once you started playing live?
Those early songs were written on the guitar but when we moved out of town a few years ago we bought a piano to cheer ourselves up. I’ve always been hugely drawn to the things and as soon as it was installed in the flat this outpouring started and it’s not showing any signs of abating. Sometimes it feels like it’s the piano playing me. I tried to turn Rise And Fall into a piano song but was out-voted by Jon and Al so went with it on guitar. There are a few other guitar ones to see the light of day at some point. The transition to paying piano/keyboard gigs happened pretty quickly though – well by the fifth gig anyway (which was a year and a half later.)
The Fall and Rise of’s unifying theme is a very English psychedelia, referencing The Beatles, Robert Wyatt and Cardiacs. What records have been your biggest influence?
Most of the records which have affected me massively over the years wouldn’t be that noticeable if you were listening out for them on my record. Big Black, Nomeansno, Harmonia, Can, Hawkwind, Gong, Dinosaur Jr have all made records which I’ve obsessed over for example. I’ve never bought a Beatles album though I know the songs pretty well from the days of my sister having The Beatles Complete songbook. I’ve a few Lennon albums – Mind Games, Walls And Bridges, Double Fantasy… I became morbidly interested in him after he was shot. I was 13 at the time – quite an impressionable age for musical thoughts to imprint themselves onto the subconscious perhaps. Who else? Gary Numan’s Replicas, ELO’s Out Of The Blue, Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter, most of Nick Cave’s music… Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space made an impression which led me to Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom and Arvo Pärt. Back in the days of Map (early 90’s) we did songs with ridiculous time signatures and lots of bits in them – in our first interview the interviewer mentioned that “obviously The Fall and Cardiacs are influences,” and I lied and said “yes” even though I’d never really heard the music. I just knew that I ought to know their stuff. Anyway I duly did my homework and fell in love with Cardiacs too in a big way – justifiably so of course as they are the best band that ever walked this earth.
And now members of the Cardiacs play alongside you, on the record and live sometimes. How did that come about – Did you seek them out as a fan of the band, or were the Cardiacs moving in the same circles as your previous bands?
My old band Map did play with some of the Cardiacs “family” bands – Sea Nymphs, Panixphere, Cardiacs themselves as well as many other people who were doing equally unusual things. I knew the guys in Ad Nauseam (Jon Poole and Bob Leith) before they became bona fide Cardiacs and making music with people who I’ve grown up alongside, admired and watched from the wings just feels like the most natural way to do it. I think fate has a way of getting people together if you let it. Also I find it important that the people who play with me are somehow familiar, with a connection far deeper and mysterious than I can fathom!
More commonly, you’ll be seen onstage with Alistair Strachan, who mostly plays trumpet, but seems to be able to turn his hand to anything around. He seems to complement your music very well.
Again, it’s that cosmic connection, baby! Alistair says things with music that you can’t say with words – hypersensitive as you’d expect from an improviser but with the ability to let the instrument sing like Chet Baker did as well as playing set parts. Also in the absence of Jon live, he has managed to switch between keyboard, omnichord and cornet in the live set. He’s completely taken over Barbara’s Persecution Complex live with his percussion antics too. All these talents he’s honed to great effect in his other band, Hamilton Yarns.
On the album, Trip in D clocks in at ten minutes. In the past, you’ve strung the song out to a whole set – how did that work?
Trip In ‘D’ isn’t quite the jam it may appear to be – it’s more like a watch with various cogs which trigger other things, there are different time signatures crossing and meeting up at intervals and it has five or six definite sections. So when we did the long version with the extra big band at Lewes Psychedelic Festival it was simply a case of stretching some of the bits to create further tension and extending and developing the wigouts and then really allowing the calmer sections to breathe like when you’ve been running and the heart beat slows back down to a normal rate over an unforced period. A completely fun experience with people in the band who just totally and unquestioningly get it.
Rise and Fall – the only non-piano led track on the album – sounds like it could be the theme tune to a 1960s spaghetti western detective show. Are the likes of Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schiffrin as much of an influence as the english artists we mentioned earlier? Are soundtracks something you’d like to get into?
Yes, absolutely. The power music has to make a film memorable can’t be underestimated… and great films with not so personally great soundtracks somehow fail to really move me. I’d love to get something into a good film by a director I respect like, say Ken Loach or even something like a Raymond Briggs animation. That’d be fantastic. I’m a visual thinker when playing the piano, in my mind locations and images crop up at certain points in the pieces, some real, some maybe imagined, but always the same ones at the same points. In terms of composers writing for movies Morricone has always done it for me. Also Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence soundtrack (and the film) really knocked the 16 year old Crayola Lectern over sideways.
You’ve added a visual element to live shows recently with your collaborations with Innerstrings Light Show, who seems to be one of the busiest men in Brighton at the moment. How closely do you work with him to put together the visuals?
Chris Tomsett (Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow) has transformed mere gigs into unforgettable dream events with his visions. He tells me sort of briefly maybe in a single word the vibe he’s going for which fits the music as he sees it. He needs no input from me as just looking at the YouTube clips of the shows he’s lit you can tell that the sound and the spectacle are in a strangely wonderful synchronicity. It’s sort of magic to me. The dark art of lights!
Was it your intention to make the Fall and Rise an album of two halves, as albums used to get made before the advent of the cd?
It is what albums are about – thinking in terms of a Side 1 and a Side 2 helps make it cohesive. It was Jon Poole who pointed this out and who pretty well showed me that this was the way the tracklisting would have to be. I owe his vision a great deal in terms of seeing the bigger picture. Then we went and ruined it by making a double album. Ha!
And there’s Just Wanna Live a Bit More (the iTunes bonus track) too, which feels really out of place tacked at the end where Apple have put it. Did that have a place in the original tracklisting which got cut to fit things onto a double LP, or was it another track that had been recorded but didn’t fit anywhere?
I recorded that with it being a bonus track in mind, not to cheapen its value as I think it would make a decent single but it was something I could knock up on my own and get across to iTunes. As you say though, the album has definitely finished by then. Awesomne View (penultimate track) is really the end of the album and the Ultrasonicreprise (End Of Messages) (final track) is like the end credits rolling – so anything after that is going to appear a little out of place, like ad even – but this is how you get iTunes behind it apparently and it worked as the album was featured on the front page for a while there.
The lyrical content of the first half seems to suggest falling / failing / disappointment – a suicidal goldfish, forgetting a good idea, advice to live your life a bit slower before things go wrong. Even Wholetoner which starts sounding like a swirling fairground organ descends into slightly more sinister paranoia towards the end.
Failure is (not that I’d like to admit it – oh, hello internet) something that possibly crops up more often than not with me. And fear. Fear can become all pervading, can stop you looking for success in anything. It paralyses and deadens the spirit. Sometimes it can be a hard thing to pull yourself out of. Earlier nights help allay such feelings and music creates tunnels through to the other side. Paradoxically making music after a night’s sleep deprivation is usually the most satisfying music which I make. Exhaustion is a many headed beast and after years must be kept away from the door for survival’s sake. Maybe this is why people make shitter music the longer their careers/lives last – whilst their more illustrious counterparts fall by the wayside.
The second half of the album covers more positive emotions though – Trip in D is more experimental, Rise and Fall feels quite hopeful, and towards the end there’s a sense of resolution. It doesn’t feel like a negative album.
Yes, I don’t feel there’s anything negative as such on either side – it’s all redemptive, Goldfish shows absent parents how to get their acts together, even I Will Never Hurt which is about things getting so bad that at least with the heart numb nothing can hurt anymore. Slow Down is a cautionary tale with some humour amidst the despair, I Forgot My Big Idea’s redemption lies in the final musical refrain which suggests that it doesn’t matter that the big idea was forgotten really. Stuff in life is usually good and bad at the same time and my tunes reflect that generally.
Another interview with you that we read pointed out a political message in the closing track, which we’ll hold our hands up and admit completely passed us by. Having had conversations with you and reading various things posted on social media, you’re incredibly affected by politics and current affairs. Was it a bigger decision to have the political message on the album, or to have the message hidden subliminally in the closing track?
I suppose I’m continually appalled by decisions made, particularly regarding the sick and poor who have become targets for austerity by people who are creaming money off for their own ends. All the usual corruption and lies, delivered with a cold-hearted smugness, borne of not having experienced much in the way of suffering or poverty. I target “Conservatives” in the song by which I mean the Coalition with their usual mantra-like bleatings of it being “labour that got us into this mess,” despite the slump being a global problem. The rise of the Right is a worry for which I partially hold the press to account. The simplistic hate-fuel for the masses in the headlines of The Express, The Mail, The Sun and all those millions of people who buy them who actually believe they’re so moderate and decent. Ditto Jeremy Kyle hate TV. The horrible self-righteousness and intolerance shown towards people who more often than not have undiagnosed mental health issues, moderate learning difficulties, dyslexia, been told all their lives that they’ll amount to nothing – I mean why stamp on these people any harder? Maybe you don’t notice these national tendencies so much in Brighton – but you do in Worthing. Where is the Left? I’m looking towards the People’s Assembly or anyone with an ounce of compassion. Not dodgy deals in the Middle East for Cameron’s rich chums to cream some more money out of other people’s destroyed lives and countries. And I’m putting my money (HA!) where my mouth is and trying not to buy food and clothes make by slaves for wankers to profit from – but that is proving pretty difficult – to do it properly would be a full-time life work.
My music isn’t really related to politics however but it seemed incomplete for me not to mention my disdain. Mentioning it in Awesomne View made the album feel more whole and reminds us that this record is a like a little island in a sea of shit.
At your launch party, you mentioned that you had another couple of albums in you, and The Fall and Rise doesn’t include live favourite Barbara’s Persecution Complex. Will the next record take another seven years?
I bloody hope not. I’ll certainly make a shorter one next time. That’ll help!
One last question we ask most people we interview is which other Brighton Bands they’d recommend?
Do You Feel What I Feel Deer – cos they’re ace. Ham Legion are another band I love from this here city. Oodles of creative energy and tunes.
Thanks very much to Crayola Lectern for taking the time to answer our questions.