The Skeleton Key labelmates are heading out on tour together in May, as well as releasing new albums a matter of weeks apart. We thought it would be interesting if they all sat down and interviewed each other – and we were right.
Kindred spirits geographically, musically and now linked by a common record label, soul-powered garage rock doyen EDGAR JONES and Wirral kosmische mystics THE SUNDOWNERS both issue eagerly awaited new albums on Skeleton Key Records in April. A setup with an already impressive provenance – She Drew The Gun, Marvin Powell and Cabbage also release on the imprint, run by The Coral’s James Skelly – both acts plus labelmates Cut Glass Kings are set to tour in a Stax/Motown-style revue.
The man occasionally codenamed Summertyme is first on to the record shelves with The Song Of Day And Night, his first release in five years. Steeped in the singer’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Northern Soul and 1960s obscurities, the new LP follows the triumphant live re-emergence of Edgar’s previous band, The Stairs. Appearing a week later, The Sundowners release their second opus Cut The Master, the product of many miles on the gig circuit and an immersion in 1970s krautrock.
Given all this serendipity, the two parties convene to interview each other; Parr Street Studios provides the ideal setting for the summit meeting as parts of both records were tracked in its legendary surroundings. Unsurprisingly, the common ground between both outfits turns out to be plenty.
With Edgar and three fifths of The Sundowners present – Niamh Rowe (Vocals/Guitar), Fiona Skelly (Vocals/Guitar) and Alfie Skelly (Lead Guitar) – the Stairs man pitches in with the first starter for ten…
When you were doing the latest record was there a piece of music or an artist you came across for the first time?
AS: Rotary Connection. They had the best musician from Chess Records at their disposal.
FS: I really got into John Carpenter. I’d seen the films but I never knew they were his scores and bought Lost Themes I and II, his latest albums.
Was album number two easier to do than album number one?
Hmmm… [all three Sundowners spontaneously chorus, before dissolving into laughter and ‘fessing up their individual experiences.]
NR: I think it was easier. With the first one there was so much pressure and we were pushed in so many different directions.
FS: It was difficult to get us all in the room at the same time for the second one, it was really separate. It was kind of good, in a way.
AS: Yeh, it brought fresh ears.
Have you changed the way you approach recording compared to when you started?
EJ: I listen to other people a lot more now. You’ve gotta remember I grew up in the age of huge drum sounds. I was really adamant doing what was seen at the time as ‘under-production’, which is the way it’s done these days. They were trying to record guitar bands the same way you’d record a pop band. It’s totally different the way Duran Duran should be recorded to The Smiths.
Have you become purists for analogue or digital in your recording process?
AS: A bit of both. You use what you’ve got as well, I reckon. If you’ve got a tape cassette and that’s it you’ll end up using that. Or, if you’ve got a laptop you’ll just do it.
EJ: It helps to have the right mind at the controls as well.
AS: To be fair, most of the stuff we did was digital and when we got here [to Parr Street] we got to go analogue, just mix it up.
Which piece of music do you find yourself going back to time after time?
EJ: Tighten Up [Archie Bell And The Drells’ groundbreaking 1968 funk cut]. Bass players are always going back to Tighten Up. It’s trying to convince everyone else to play it!
Cut The Master features James Skelly and Rich Turvey on production duties, but you also worked with someone called Andy Votel – who is he and where did you kidnap him?
AS: [laughing] He saw us at the GIT Awards. He was with Jane Weaver – we went up to them and said we loved their tunes. He booked us after that to play Festival No. 6 on his Finders Keepers stage and he said we should do a track together. We had the album finished and we gave it to him to remix. He’s an archivist and usually puts together compilations – he linked each track together with mad instrumentals that he had.
NR: Yeh, it’s gonna flow as one on the record, with no breaks in between.
There’s a song called Procrastination on the album, are you a big procrastinator?
EJ: I was when I wrote that! Nah, it wrote itself that one, it’s kind of a cross between Mozart and Tales Of The Unexpected.
FS: I love it when a song leads you and you’re not chasing it. It sort of pulls you along, then you find yourself at the end and you think, ‘Now I’ve got to realise what it’s about, so if I get asked I can say!’
Edgar, what’s the new album all about?
EJ: For me I was kinda on a quest of colourful chord progressions that I hadn’t really been to before. A verse in one song will be minor and the chorus will be major-related so you’re always getting a different shade of dark and light. Production-wise it was just beg, borrow and steal on no budget!
AS: We used a bit of our tour money [for making the second album]. When we got to the end we threw a bit in so we could get to have a day in the studio.
Do you think it’s important for music to have a time and connection to the situation it was made in?
NR: It usually is, it’s a connection to what you’re doing and feeling at the time.
FS: I think when music has mattered it’s because it’s been part of a big social change. I think now we’re in a funny time cos we can go back and forth at the click of a button, we can sort of time travel in a lot of ways now.
EJ: One of the things about now that makes the question fall back on itself is the access to the past. I can get hold of things nowadays that I could only have dreamt of in the 80s
That was the thrill of it though wasn’t it, the quest to find something?
AS: It’s like you earnt the right to hear a gem. I think longevity is a hard thing to come by, or something that’s now appreciated because everything is a quick fix. I think the closest you can get to that now is seeing a brand-new band. You’ve never seen a bunch of kids playing and that’s the closest to that feeling of something turned up you were after that no-one else has got.
FS: Like The Lemon Twigs when we saw them. It was their first UK tour, their first album, they’re so electric when you watch them.
In the pre-internet 1980s how did you discover all those, at the time largely unknown records that continue to have such an influence in Liverpool?
EJ: It was Probe Records. Also, there was a fella at the time who went on to run a psychedelic reissue label, he used to run a club in the Bierkeller [located in the basement of the now defunct 051, Mount Pleasant] called The Hangout. I wasn’t old enough to go there but I used to get tapes passed on to me. I think it was between Probe Records and that club. There was something to do with Joss Cope as well, Julian’s brother. Their interest in it kindled our interest in it. Will Sergeant was always a fan, the Bunnymen covered Action Woman Litter [a storming 1967 garage cut] by The Litter.
Edgar, you played 90% of the instruments on your album – do you like having that level of control in the recording process?
EJ: Not necessarily, I think that needs must. The situation demanded it. The 10% I didn’t do was the drums. I’ve got the enthusiasm but none of the stamina.
Do you have to stay in the zone when you’re making a record?
EJ: I have to go for something lighter. Music without a beat, a bit of classical.
As we reach 7pm and with people understandably clamouring to use the studio, the discussion draws to a close with one final question for Edgar to ponder, a bit of a profound one: why is music important to you?
“I don’t know anything else really,” Edgar shrugs. “There’s always stuff to learn.”
Edgar Jones’ The Song Of Day And Night is released on 14th April, and The Sundowners’ Cut The Master is released on 21st April, both on Skeleton Key Records. The Sundowners play FestEVOL on 30th April.
Bido Lito! Members get an exclusive track from The Sundowners second album. Find out more here.