Interview with the Delta Bell

Kate Gerrard is the singer-songwriter and frontwoman of Americana Brighton band The Delta Bell. They’ve just released their second album ‘Hold Fast the Fire’ and we caught up with Kate to ask her about the band and the songs on the album.

The Delta Bell comprise Kate on lead vocals and guitar, James Brandenburg on bass, Bob Baker on drums, Andrew Blake on guitar and Beth Chesser on backing vocals. The album is released on the Random Acts of Vinyl label on beautiful sounding vinyl (and digital download). It’s a great album of what the band call ‘post-Country’ (rather than alt-country) and builds on their excellent debut ‘Bow out of the Fading Light’ from 2015. It still sounds country, but more like an Americana band who grew up listening to the Velvet Underground, a description that gets a resounding “Yes!” from Kate.

We definitely tried to scuzz it up! We wanted it to sound scratchy and imperfect.

With country music you are always running the risk of sounding cheesy so we made a conscious decision not to do that. We love country music, but we’re all Indie kids as well.

The ten songs on the album were recorded live at Church Road studios in Hove in just two days, and to get the band that tight they hired a house in the countryside by the coast to rehearse, which Kate likened to the movie Spinal Tap, although she says there were more games of scrabble than bottles of spirits involved.

Opening song ‘Berlin’ was actually written a decade ago in Norwich where Kate grew up, after she had returned from her first trip to the German capital. She played the song a bit but she didn’t think it worked as a solo number and she forgot about it until she played it again relatively recently and decided it would work with the band. The song captures that sense of “being a bit lost, feeling tired of life.” (Kate was only 24 when she wrote the song). “The line ‘it feels like such a long time since I felt like a child’ reflects the pressures of being a grown up and having to make decisions.” It also has a big sound, aided by a classy added string section.

Second song ‘Lonesome song’ is a really touching song, full of heart and emotion. But Kate says “I wrote it in twenty minutes. I just sat down with a guitar and there it was.” 

‘Little Girl Lost’ seems to pick up on the theme of vulnerability, but Kate says it’s not about that at all. “This is going to make me sound like a really bad feminist, but it’s a bit of a bitchy song.” It’s directed at someone who’s behaving like a little girl and the song is telling them to pull themselves together, although its subtle harsher edge doesn’t come across directly. “It’s not like saying they’re f++king things up, it’s just telling them to pull themselves together.”

‘Rain on Love’ is a song Kate describes as a power ballad. “I think I was just feeling really sorry for myself. It’s kind of one of those songs. It’s grown on us all and a few people have said it’s their favourite song on the album.

Fifth song ‘Catacombs’ was written about 3 or 4 years ago for her boyfriend, although it’s a maudlin song. “Some people might say I’m intense!” she jokes. The imagery in the song comes from some horrific Sicilian myths about the bodies buried in catacombs, which hardly sounds like material for a love song but this emphasises the album’s battle between romance and edginess., or country and indie-rock.

The song ‘Modern City’ is the least country and most VU-inspired song, with some driven Mo Tucker style drumming (Kate says she banned Bob from playing cymbals). It was written on the plane to Berlin and is another love song, about “when you are just feeling worn out with love and life and someone comes along and rebuilds you.”

Their producer Paul Pascoe called the next song ‘Golden’ a thinking man’s Bond theme (possibly due to the strings at the end). The song came to Kate in a dream and she recorded the chorus into her phone in the middle of the night and then went back to sleep. It’s mainly about “enjoying your life with someone who is awesome“.

‘Killing Heart’ also has obscure origins. “I have a sneaking suspicion it is about the Ugandan President,” Kate says, written at a time when she was working for an HIV charity and thinking a lot about how people can oppress other people.

‘Ride Out’ was “inspired by broken rollercoasters” or “about the end of love, the end of relationships.” It’s the image of things made for fun that break down.

The last song is ‘These Days’ although Kate says she hadn’t heard of the Jackson Browne song of the same name. It’s a song about “people who have no hope of getting out of a situation and there’s nothing you can do to help them. All you can do is hope.” It’s just Kate and Beth playing on this track. “We tried it with the band but it didn’t work so we stripped it all right down.

The album ‘Hold Fast the Fire’ is launched in Brighton on the 16th November at the Pelirocco Hotel and there’s also a London launch on the 18th November at Biddle Brothers in Hackney. Both gigs are free entry – but come to buy the vinyl!

You can hear or order ‘Hold Fast the Fire’ at the bandcamp link below

 

 

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Interview with The Self Help Group

Mark Bruce is songwriter and leader of Brighton’s new folk-rock maestros The Self Help Group whose fabulous new album is being released on the Union Music Store label next month. Jon Southcoasting met up with Mark and asked him to tell us more about the band.

Needles video screenshot

Who are The Self Help Group?

The Self Help Group are, Me, I sing and play the guitar. Clara Wood-Keeley and Sarah Natalie Wood are the good looking side of the band. They are sisters and grew up in Plumpton I believe. Paddy Keely plays guitar and banjo and hails from Selsey. Ian Bliszczak plays bass and spent his idle youth with myself in Peterborough. We have recently been joined on drums by Jamie Fewings who is from Yeovil.
How did you get started?
I had been musically moribund for years since my youthful days in a shoegaze band. When my wife and I bought a flat, I utilised the loft space as a studio, and started writing songs again. Mostly for my own amusement. Friends encouraged me, I started toying with the idea of getting a band together. With the help of some (brave) friends I managed to start The Self Help Group.
There have been numerous changes to the line up before this one, the biggest change being the acquisition of the girls . They started singing and harmonising together at 11 years old in a band called Skyline. Then sang in 10 piece jazz/funk band, followed by their own writing project ‘Tamashi’. All involved close harmonies which fitted perfectly with the sound we’d been aiming for with this band.
How did the link up with Union happen?
Jamie and Stevie invited us to do an in store performance for them at their shop in Lewes. The idea of recording an album for them started forming not long after and became a firm plan after a gig at the Green Door Store back in Jan ’12. 
We started recording in March and the album was finished in October. The album was recorded for the most part in Jamie (Freeman)’s little studio just outside Lewes. Jamie recorded and produced the album. He was definitely a member of the band and had a massive input and influence on making the album as good as (I hope) it is.
The album has a very lush sound. Who writes the songs?
The album is quite BIG at points isn’t it? There is a lot going on. I write the songs. Some come to the table fully formed, but, as time goes on we are fleshing out sketched ideas in rehearsal much more.
The songs are all written in the same way. I will usually come up with a melody while playing guitar. There is a folder on my computer full of odd news items I’ve found and I  have a look in there and try to see which story fits the feel of the music. Then I pick at  the story and write the lyrics. 
Some of the timings of the melodies definitely have a slight funk timing to them but you would never get that from the music unless you were trying to play the parts I think. I’ve never really known what I was doing as a songwriter and had no formal training in music. As a result, the songs are all very simple and there is still a big part of me that is secretly afraid that someone is going to find me out!
There’s a song on the album called the 5th man on the moon. Who’s he? And who is Big Nose George?
The 5th man on the moon was a guy called Alan Shepherd. I read a letter that he wrote to his parents the day before he enrolled in the space program and it interested me. The man inside the space suit. It must have been pretty hairy stuff going into space back then. 
Big Nose George, the song, is older than the band. I wrote it in about 10 mins after spending about 4 hours recording a load of old tosh. He was a wild west criminal called Big Nose George Parrot. Long story short, he was eventual caught and hung. The governor of the county at the time ordered that he be sent to the local tannery, where his skin was made into a pair of shoes which the governor wore for special occasions.
Who are your influences? 
I’m always unsure who our real influences are. I don’t listen to as much music as I used to. I’m too busy chasing a 2 year old around the house and then recovering. Most of the bands that get mentioned in connection with our sound, I know little about. I guess that’s a good thing. 
I was a massive fan of The Smiths in my teens, then the whole shoegaze scene. Funk and soul music played a big part in my late 20’s. Now I listen to more mellow, acoustic stuff. 
I hope I’ve absorbed a little bit of all those things.
I also really love the latest Tallest Man On Earth album. The songwriting is so strong. One man and a guitar. I’m usually drawn to a much bigger sound, but that album is amazing.  I can barely make out a bloody word he’s singing though. And I know t

he girls are really liking The Staves at the moment. Hopefully they won’t try to replace me with another pretty girl. That would suck.
One last thing, the video for Needles is brilliant. How did that come about?
We had a lot of ideas kicking around as we were unsure what the single would be. I was determined to steer away from a stereotypical folk music video. The furthest thing from the norm seemed to be a dance video, so, that’s what we did.
Stevie Freeman (Co-owner of Union Music Store)’s sister Sian happens to be a choreographer. She offered to come up with “the moves”. It was a lot of fun shooting the video, in an old workshop in Lewes, on a cold Sunday morning. The rest is down to Jamie who slaved over an apple mac editing for weeks, bless him.
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The Self Help Group’s launch show on 7th February in Brighton is sold out.

The album ‘Not Waving But Drowning‘ is out on February 11th. But they are playing a free in store show at Union Music Store in Lewes on this coming Saturday at 3pm. It will also be your first chance to pick up a copy of their album too, a week and a half before its official release.