Life is about changes. Some are bad, some are good, some turn out to be bad and some turn out to be great.
For Sean Cook, Mike Mooney and Damon Reece the year of 1999 meant a huge change that, I dare to say, turned out to be great.
The trio become world wide known while playing with Spiritualized in the late 90's when they recorded one of the best albums of the decade, 'Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In The Space, which came out on Dedicated Records in 1997.
Behind all the blinding popularity and success, there were, however, a lot of things going wrong inside the band. The story of musicians being paid very poorly has probably reached nearly every music paper in the world now so I won't waste my time redescribing it here.
The end of 1997 saw Spiritualized triumph when the band sold out the Royal Albert Hall in London, A year later they released a double live CD of the concert. Shortly after that, in 1999, Sean, Mike and Damon, to the surprise of Spititualized's fans, were fired from the band simply for standing up for themselves.
Having half expected that to happen, the trio got straight down to work doing what they do the best - making beautiful music, but this time with more of a feeling of freedom to their creativity and absolute control over their work.
While Damon went on working with Elisabeth Fraser (formerly of the Cocteau Twins), Sean and Mike started up their own band Lupine Howl later that year.
Joined by Johnny Mattock, formerly of Spaceman 3, and Ian Maclaren, who used to be in Sunna, the band, up to date, have to date released 5 singles, of which 2 came out on their own record label Vinyl Hiss, and 2 albums, 'The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of...' and 'The Bar At The End Of The World', both of which came out on Beggars Banquet.
At the moment Lupine Howl are working on their third album without a record label behind them. The band will be also touring, supporting Massive Attack in their home town of Bristol, and also will be headlining the third Penny Black Music Night at the Spitz in London on August 2nd.
Having been offered the chance to talk to the band to Sean Cook, I didn't hesitate for a second and jumped on the first possible train to Bristol. I met Sean for a few glasses of wine, but more importantly to chat about Lupine Howl and the various changes that the band's music has gone through since Lupine Howl first formed.
PB: How did you all get to know each other? When did you all meet for the first time?
SC: Johnny was the drummer in Spacemen 3. I used to live in Rugby and hang out with those guys so that’s how I first met him. It was about 15 years ago or something like that.
Mike and I met through Spiritualized and Damon was already in Spiritualized. Mike was Damon's friend. They played in bands together for years.
I've known Ian, our guitarist,for about 3 or 4 years. He used to be in a band called Sunna who were produced by Massive Attack's producer Neil Davidge. They were a heavy rock band and were pretty good, but got dropped so Ian started playing for us about a year ago. The first gig he did was when we supported the Charlatans last year in August.
PB: I know Lupine Howl formed in 1999 but when did you first start thinking about doing your own thing outside Spiritualized and writing music for it?
SC: Spiritualized started to go seriously tits up quite a while before it actually ended. We released 'Ladies and Gentlemen' and started going on tour. It was a never ending tour that lasted about a year and a half and it was all around the world. At that point things were going fucking wrong. We knew we were either going to leave or get sacked. There was no future in it. If we stayed in the band we were just going to get shafted.
So while we were on tour we started hatching plans of what we were going to do. Initially it was going to be me, Mike and Damon with Liz Fraser singing.
When 'the Ladies and Gentlemen' tour finished, around 1998, we came straight back to Bristol and started doing stuff with Liz, but it didn't really work out with her. I guess Mike and I are just a bit too hyper and bit too rock. Liz is quite a shy girl and Mike and I aren’t. If someone stops talking for a minute we will start suggesting stuff and taking over basically. We don’t mean to be like that, but we can’t help it (Laughs).
So Mike and me decided to start doing things ourselves. That was when computer technology started taking off and you could actually make proper 24/36 tracks recording on computers that were good. You could actually use a computer as a tape machine and plug it into the guitar and record it.
We bought a computer, but didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t have a singer and we didn’t really have a band. Damon came round and played drums for us in between working with Liz. While we didn’t really know what we were doing, we knew we had to do something. We started putting some material together and it sounded quite good. And then we were like “Fuck! We haven’t got a singer!” (Laughs)
The first idea was to get various different people in so it would be sort of like a rock version of Massive Attack. You know how Massive Attack has had lots of singers in. We were going to do that with rock. And we got Euros Childs from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci to do a track which we still have. He has got a beautiful voice. Then we started approaching other people like Polly Harvey and it just became a nightmare to go through the organization and all that. It wasn't really going to happen.
So Mike said “Why don’t you have a go at singing?” and I was like "Fuck off!" (Laughs) and he was was saying "Well someone has got to do it. Just write some lyrics and just have a go.” And we did that and I kept saying "Fucking hell, this is shit!", but he was like “Oh no. This is alright. This could be alright.”
So I started singing. It was a bit crap back in those days and obviously I’ve got a lot better now. I wasn’t very confident. It wasn’t like as if I was 16 and singing in a pub. I had played the Royal Albert Hall and we had been plastered over the NME so there was quite a lot of pressure on me. It was hard work.
That's how we got together. It was me, Mike and we got Damon in when he could and then our friends like Massive Attack supported us.
PB: So you formed the band. Why did you choose the name 'Lupine Howl'?
SC: It all went a bit mad after we got sacked from Spiritualized. Everyone knew we had started a new band and suddenly people wanted to interview us. At the time we thought we would have to get back into the frame of things as soon as possible which now I think maybe was wrong. Maybe we should have held off a bit and got our shit a bit better together...
We had an interview with the Face and we were like “Fuck! We haven’t got a name!”
We came about the name when we were doing some recording at Mike's. I was playing some harmonica and Fred, Mike’s dog, started howling. I’ve seen it before. One of the crew has a dog and, when you're playing, they start howling. We tried to lock him away in another room, but we couldn’t stop him howling and Mike kept picking it up on the mic so he just called it his Lupine Howl (dog howl) and then it became a name. I don’t really like it that much but there is one thing to be said forit. Everybody asks why we are called that (Laughs).
PB: You got a record deal with the Beggars Banquet very shortly after you formed but before that you released a single, 'Vaporizer', on your own record label Vinyl Hiss, right?
SC: Yeah, that’s how we did it at first. We set up Vinyl Hiss and we entertained the delusion that we could do a record company, but we never really got it together.
We were thinking about sending out demos and then we thought it would look better if we actually put something out ourselves. We could create more of a buzz and would be more likely to sign on that basis. Also when we did get signed we thought we would get treated a lot better because people would know we could do it ourselves if we wanted to. In some ways I wish we had carried on making our own records.
PB: The single was very popular and sold really quickly.
SC: The single was actually the fastest selling debut single ever released through Vital distribution. They had bands like Oasis! It sold 4000 copies in 2 days! We were number 1 in the fucking indie chart!
Then we released another single, 'Bronzage', on Hiss Vinyl, but we actually signed to Beggars Banquet before that single came out. We recorded it, mastered it and it was all ready to go and then after that we were on Beggars.
PB: Do you have any more plans with Vinyl Hiss in the future?
SC: We still hope to may do something with it. To keep that alive we told Beggars that we wouldn't sign with them unless they put the label logo on the cover of every one of our releases. We always kept doing that in case we did decide to do something.
But record companies are hard work.
PB: Yeah, I know that from my own experience. Also it can work out being quite expensive...
SC: Oh, my God! It cost a fortune! And that’s only the beginning of it. Then you get lots copies pressed up and they get returned to you so you have thousands of records in your office. You lose a fortune. We’ve lost quite a few thousand and have only just paid it off.
There are still some copies of 'Bronzage' left. We have been selling them at gigs and gradually we have got rid of them. We have now got to a point where we have broken even, but it has been over a long period of the time. At the time, if we had been really skint, it would have crippled us.
We also did a compilation but we have never got off our asses to put it out. It's all really old stuff from the 60’s like funk and soul. I know a lot about old records and old music so I picked a few tracks for it. I'm sure we could have licensed it for absolutely nothing. People in Bristol do that and I think they do okay out of it, but they are still not making a fortune. They are still struggling.
PB: In October of last year you released your second album 'The Bar At The End Of The World'. I have played it lots of times and listened to the lyrics a lot. What is the theme of the album? I get the impression it's about death.
SC: Well, sort of. It’s more about life to me. Death is the only certainty in life. It’s really about what does actually really matter in life. I suppose from the experience of working in a band you worry about things that really don’t matter (laughs).
In life, generally, everyone tries to make you believe that everything really matters and that’s why you have to have morals and opinions on good and evil. You have to acknowledge that your government is really keeping you from the brink of chaos. And your government tries to convince you of that because people are easy to use when they are worried.
And that record is about the realization that none of it really matters. The only thing that every one knows is that we are all going to die.
PB: I really like the artwork for the second album. It's quite a dark painting capturing something that could possibly be the end of the world. Who did that?
SC: That was done by a friend of mine called Greg Griffith. He is an artist and has had lots of exhibitions. I like some of his work and he has always offered to do some stuff for us. At the time a lot of record sleeves were done by photomontage on a computer. I couldn't really think of many people having a real piece of drawn art work so I thought we should do it just to be awkward.
PB: I think it works really well with the music.
SC: Yeah, that’s what I think, but a lot of people don’t like it. They say it’s all really morbid and depressing. Well, lots of people like it but a lot of people don’t. You see it in the shop window next to all those happy smiley artworks…
PB: I don’t really like "happy"…
SC: Yeah, neither do I. I don’t trust people that are too happy all the time. There is something wrong with them I think.
So we did it like that because that what the record was about and that'sw what we thought was good. At the end of the day people who don't like it can always go and fuck themselves. I can always do and do session work and do drugs or what ever. We are not depending on people liking us. We do what we want and I thought that artwork worked out really well.
PB: I also like that the actual CD itself is all black.
SC: Yeah, I do all that sort of thing personally. I go through all of that in particular detail. Lots of people these days make a record and they just employ some graphics company to do just some random graphic artwork that they think looks cool.
Well it seems that people buy those records more then they buy our records. Maybe it’s me that’s wrong, I don’t know. But I don’t like the idea of other people fucking with our stuff. Also it keeps me busy. I get easily bored. I like doing stuff.
PB: What about the artwork for the first album? It shows a girl's feet that have been strapped up by a rope and gives the impression that she is hanging upside down.
SC: Yeah, I did all that as well. The rest of the band didn’t even like that! (Laughs self-indulgently) That was funny doing that.
First, it was really difficult to find a girl who didn't mind having her feet photographed! It a took us long time because a lot of girls didn't want to have their feet photographed?! And then we actually had to hang her up!
We tried to do it in other ways but nothing worked and the only way to make it look real was to actually hang her up. So it was quite painful and afterwards we were in the pub and she couldn’t even go up to the bar. I felt quite sorry for her. We did give her some money though and she did want to be on the cover of an album.
PB: I only got the album yesterday and unfolded it on quite a busy train and there was all those porn images inside…
SC: Was it in a box or jewel case?
PB: Jewel case.
SC: Originally it comes in big box that you open and the cover is on the box and inside you have CD in a wallet and then you have a concertina thing that comes out. We based it on the packaging used by Trojan Records for their ska and reggae box sets.
The inside photos on the LP were taken from porn sites on the internet. We had to tone them down a bit using graphics packages because everyone was scared that they were too extreme and that shops would refuse to stock the record.
PB: Going back to the music your early music seems to be quite experimental. On 'The Carnivorous Lunar Activities Of...' you used a lot of sound effects. There is the sound of a river...
SC: The water is a sample of African women washing their clothes in the river. That was the original sample and we chopped it up until we just had a river left. From time to time we use a lot of samples. I think the next album won’t have so that much of that.
PB: I also like the idea of the mobile phone sound at the very beginning of 'The Bar At The End Of The World'. I always think it's my mobile trying to catch the signal.
SC: Oh, everyone does that! (laughs) We do that live as well and then Johnny just hits it with his drums, but everybody meanwhile is going "Oh my fucking mobile!" When we were in studio we just put my mobile on a guitar pick up and recorded the sound.
I think the next record is going to have less of that kind of thing. We have done about 6 tracks already and nearly all of them are completely live. What we have done so far is to me the best we have done by a mile.
PB: Could you tell me more about the album and what it's going to sound like?
SC: The stuff we are doing now is as focused and coherent as the second album, but there's been quite a change. It’s more aggressive and there are more songs that are more upbeat.
PB: The first song, 'Grave To Go To', on 'The Bar At The End Of The World' is quite like that and then it…
SC: …mellows out. There is mellow stuff on the new stuff we are doing as well. I supposed ‘Grave To Go To’ is loud and fast in a kind of acid rock way. The new songs we have done are bit more punky like the Dead Kennedys. We do a couple of them live. I don’t know whether we will do them at the Spitz, but we will definitely do at least one of them.
I supposed we were trying to get the record to sound as powerful as something like an AC/DC record. If you listen to AC/DC's records they sound really powerful. They used to record their records practically live and the reason they sounded so big is that there is hardly anything on that. It’s just 5 guys with a couple of vocals but it sounds forceful. Even though now we are not doing sort of devil rock, we wanted that sort of forcefulness in our sound. It worked really well. We have done 6 tracks now. A few of them need bits of work on them here and there.
The music is more in your face. It’s more simple. More or less we just set up our instruments in a studio and play it live. We did that at first as an experiment because we didn’t have much time in a studio one day.
PB: Sometimes it seems to work better when you do it quickly and don't spend too much time doing it.
SC: Yeah, the last 2 albums are quite intensive in the way they were worked upon. With this one we have done it a bit more freely and easily. It also ties in with the fact that we haven’t got a record company backing us anymore. We have to buy our own studio time and we haven’t got that much time to fuck about so it’s sort of necessity to do it quickly.
In terms of writing songs and getting songs together we are so much quicker now than we were.
PB: How does it work in the band when you actually write music and lyrics? Is there any specific way you do it?
SC: It varies. With the first album we made all of the music and then I wrote songs on top of it. With the second album it was much more me with a guitar thinking of vocal lines and finding the chords that go with it. Then I would give it to Mike who would make the chords more interesting and do some interesting guitar stuff with it and then we would build it up from there.
A few tracks like 'Grave To Go To’ and ‘Burning Stars’ are based around Mike's riffs. I would then write words on top of them. A few of the new ones came from Mike’s riff as well. So it’s a combination of that and me thinking of vocal lines and then building the song behind them. Whereas before it was quite a slow process we found that now we sort of go into the studio where there is not an engineer, just us and we just go and jam out the ideas and record the next day. We can do it really quickly now.
PB: Have you started thinking about a record label you would want to the third album to come out on?
SC: We are talking to a few different people here in UK. We want to record on small labels and we also want to do non exclusive deals so that it would be free for us to sell it on the internet as well. We are not really interested in major labels. We are far too awkward motherfuckers and too old as well. We have been around for too long.
PB: Yeah, but you have a lot experience that all those younger bands don't have and can actually play really good music.
SC: Yeah, but the record companies are not interested in that. (laughs) They are not interested how good the music is. They are interested in how easy you can be used and it's the same with press.
PB: What happening with you all at the moment?
S: We just do one off gigs. I’m doing session work quite a bit and Mike is doing some session work. Ian does some work for TV. Johnny is doing session work on the same project as me. It's something Neil Davidge, Massive Attack producer, has got together. So that's how we make money really. You can’t make money on gigs.
PB: I think your music is great and should be should be played to many more people then it is at the moment.
S: Yeah, but that’s not your job. (laughs) If that’s anyone’s fault that’s ours. We can do it any way you set it up. We can do big production stuff and play on big stages or we can do it punk rock style. We can do it any way we have to. You won’t find us moaning about it. We have a great laugh. We always do. We always get totally fucked up. We just get crazy on the stage and give it 100 % every time. And that’s the only way to do it.
PB: You will be playing the Penny Black Music Night on the 2nd August but that's only one of the dates of your tour. Which other towns will you be playing?
SC: We will be playing Newcastle, Derby, Sheffield, Bristol, Bath and a few more. The last one will be at Queen's Square here in Bristol with Massive Attack on the 25th August.
For a few of them we will double headline with Six by Seven. They came to one of our recent gigs in Nottingham. I have known them for years and I have played harmonica in guest appearances at a few of their gigs. They have been dropped by Beggars as well, so we thought it would work better if we joined forces. So they headline one night and the next night we will headline.
PB: Well, thanks for talking. It was really interesting.
SC: Thank you.
More info http://www.lupinehowl.com