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Experimental Pop Band
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Davey Woodward first came to prominence in the mid 1980's when his band, the Brilliant Corners, became labelled as a prime mover in the jingle/jangle pop "C86" craze that was sweeping Britain's pop kids and clogging up a thousand fanzines.
After a clutch of quality singles, 3 mini LPs, 3 full-length LPs and 2 compilations, the band called it a day in 1993 following the under rated 'A History of White Trash' LP.
Within a couple of years Davey Woodward had formed a new band, "The South West Experimental Pop Band" (quickly shortened to just "The Experimental Pop Band") and leapt on the pop merry-go-round again.
Whilst different in sound to the Brilliant Corners, the ingredients remained similar and the end product just as engaging.
To get the inside line on things Pennyblackmusic finally pinned down Davey Woodward on the eve of The Experimental Pop Band's first Northern gig in years and a new down-load single (see www.experimentalpopband.com for details).
PB: Before we get up to date with the current happenings of the Experimental Pop Band, can we take a little journey into the past and discuss the Brilliant Corners. The mid 80's were a great time musically with a whole clutch of guitar based bands rising up from the ashes of the New Romantic scene. Bristol was as vibrant as any city back then with the likes of the Flatmates, the Groove Farm and the Chesterfields (although actually from Yeovil, but who's splitting hairs?) in addition to the Brilliant Corners leading the charge.What were your highlights of those heady days and which bands if any did you feel a kinship with?
DW : We did a lot of gigs with the Flatmates and the Chesterfields all over the place. Debbie from the Flatmates and I thought we would only do it for six months as no one from our neck of the woods (we grew up together in Avonmouth) went to see bands let alone were in one. Mark Barber from the Chesterfields was also in the Experimental Pop Band for a while and we’re still good friends and hang out.
Other bands back then:- Mousefolk were pretty good. I liked the Siddleys. I am not sure if they were from around Bristol but I remember seeing them a few times and we always had Rodney Allen doing gigs with us. He was 14 then!
PB : Even though I'm sure you had offers, the Brilliant Corners remained fiercely independent and never signed to a major label. Is that something you regret or do you think that a short burst of fame would have brought a premature end to the group?
DW : There was an indie ethic which we kept to and we never really had a manager, so no one was pushing us forward. I think we were approached by most major labels at one time or another, but never really knew how to deal with it - and didn’t. I think if I had been on a major label back then I would not be making music now. I would have lost the desire or ended up very one dimensional. Back then labels did not really know what to do with alternative bands. Now that’s very different. I think it’s possible to be on a bigger label now and still create what you want. It is just harder to get on one these days!
PB : From my own digging since, I know there were stacks of un-released songs (a great deal of which would be performed live a few times and then just disappear). You were clearly a prolific song-writer. Are there any tracks that haven't been released that you wish had been ? I'm thinking specifically of tracks like 'Julie', 'Faithful Lips', 'I Bet She's Gonna Go' and 'Reason'. There are a few labels, Cherryred and Firestation, for example, that specialise in releasing such compilations. I know there has been some re-issues on a Canadian label in the late 1990's and, more recently, Vinyl Japan put out an excellent radio sessions compilation, but are there any plans for any other releases to put a full stop under that chapter of your musical career?
DW : No plans at all. There are hundreds of songs on cassettes, (remember cassettes?) somewhere. I am sad to say I have lost a lot of stuff over the years from moving around. So if you have access to the songs you mention hang on to them. At some stage I should try and unearth this stuff and put it out. Someone in Greenland might be interested.
PB : Did you do anything musically between the demise of the Brilliant Corners and the birth of the Experimental Pop Band ?
DW : I am sure there are songs or ideas for songs somewhere. I got back into listening to records again and started DJing 2 nights a week. In a lot of ways not being in a proper band made me get into music more!
PB : One of your early Experimental Pop Band singles was 'Boutique in My Backyard' which was subsequently covered and released by Sophie Ellis Bextor in her indie days as singer of the Audience. How did that come about?
DW : One of the guys in the Audience was a big fan of the Experimental Pop Band and their management contacted Fat Paul at Swarfinger Records. I think they gave Paul some money, which he kept and bought pizzas with for a year, and then he mentioned that the song had been covered. We did a couple of gigs with the Audience. They did not seem to be enjoying themselves much and it was difficult for us because Chris was ill at the time. Still I think we had more of a laugh. Even back then Sophie had many helpers and advisors. She was apart from the guys in the band. She came to gigs in a Sudan chair and it was obvious she would go solo. She really should cover another one of my songs!
PB : There is a song, 'London Pregnancy Test 1976' on the Experimental Pop Band's debut LP, 'Disgrotesque'. Is it a true story and if so who is the "famous musician" in the lyrics?
DW : None of my songs are true. They are all lies!
PB : The next LP was the excellent 'Homesick' released on German label, City Slang. Even going back to the Brilliant Corners days, you have had great support in Germany, possibly more so than in England. Can you pinpoint why there is this odd alliance?
DW : I can only put it down to the fact that German audiences are very broad minded. They like all sorts of stuff and are not so faddish as British audiences and in an odd way I think we got written about and played on radio more in Germany. Years ago I remember going to clubs in Germany and hearing guitar bands and electronic disco - that still rarely happens here. There are many people in the UK who have not heard of the Experimental Pop Band and it continues to be very difficult for us to break through to any kind of alternative audiences here, let alone more mainstream. Also we were very lazy. I think we need to push ourselves more. I think we’re the only band in the world that is not on Myspace yet. Hey, why don’t you get us on it?
PB : 2001's 'The Tracksuit Trilogy' LP was a fine follow up to 'Homesick', but sadly your last for City Slang. It prompted a rare UK mini-tour. Why have you not toured more?
DW : We just don’t have the larger label machinery to do this. I’m sure most people know that bands that tour are usually financed by a record label, and many pay to play with bigger groups. It costs us so much hiring vans, paying drivers and hotels that we would have to sell literally ten or twenty thousand records to cover proper tours. If we did sell that many discs we would be touring all the time and we would be a more mainstream act……..and of course we have to work too. It’s not like any of us live off royalties, so it’s very complicated and frustrating really but I think there is still a potential audience out there for what we do. People just need to know that we’re around, and that’s the hard bit as there are so many bands competing for the same space.
PB : In 2003, there were rumours that you were going to sign for Matador, so how did the deal with Cooking Vinyl come about?
DW : All a bit strange really. At the time we thought that the label, Cooking Vinyl, would be a good one to get our music across to a wider audience, but I never built up any kind of a relationship with the people at the label, which was very different to City Slang where we were always on the phone to each other. We just drifted off the label. They never spoke to us. We didn’t contact them. A year went by and that was it.
Every now and then I get people contacting me from Japan and they always tell me Matador really like you guys. I don’t even know if Matador have ever heard our stuff. They are a very cool label though. They should get in contact with us!
PB : The last LP (released in January 2004), 'Tarmac and Flames' is probably your best so far, with much more focus on the pop, rather than the experimental side of the band. Was this a conscious decision or is it just the way the songs developed ?
DW : I think when I have been working in one area for a while I like to move to another. All my songs are really simple pop songs. I think we just made an attempt not to use too many loops and samples because we had been doing that for a while. Also I wrote a lot of the songs on piano and I can’t really play piano - so that’s why it sounds pop. Pop music should not be played very well.
PB : One of the songs on the LP is entitled 'Gothenburg'. You have also previously released songs entitled 'Helsinki' and 'Oslo'. Is Scandinavia an area that you hold dear?
DW : It is all a bit bizarre this thing I have with Scandinavia. It’s in my subconscious. Keith used to go out with a girl from Finland. That’s the closest link. Sweden always beat England in football. Abba and Britt Ekland - they also have something to do with all of this.
PB : In the press release for 'Tarmac and Flames' you mentioned that the LP was inspired mainly by growing up in Bristol. The lyrics sometimes paint a dark picture of violence and poverty (more often than not to an upbeat musical score). Do the lyrics reflect what you see and the music what you feel ? What comes first the tune or the words?
DW : It’s usually the music and then the words, but when the words come the music changes and then the song I started with turns into something else. Its never the same really.
PB : What else inspires your song-writing?
DW : Boredom and girls
PB : I was fortunate enough to see one of your first concerts (for a while) in Bristol in December 2005, when you played mainly new songs in a raw stripped down (i.e. without the loops and samples) form. The quality of the songs was at least the equal of your past output with tracks like 'Jodie' and 'Can You Explain This?' still buzzing round my head days later. Is this a more straight-forward pop direction that the band is taking or were these songs mere work-in-progress due to be given the Experimental POp Band makeover when they are recorded?
DW : The songs you mention are very straight forward songs and the recording of them is like how you heard them live. Both the songs will be on the new album and 'Can You Explain This ' can be downloaded from our web site.
PB : I noticed that of the 6 older tracks played that night only one was taken from your most recent release, 'Tarmac and Flames'. How do you decide what songs to play (in addition to those off whatever LP you are working on or promoting)?
DW : It's difficult as we have a lot of LPs and songs to choose from. It depends which songs I can remember the words too and how we want to shape the set.
PB : Similarly to the Brilliant Corners, there are quite a few great older Experimental Pop Band tracks that haven't been officially released yet ('Shut Your Mouth', 'Tinsel Stars' and 'Raining All Day' - definite single material). Are these likely to stay lost forever?
DW : 'Tinsel Stars' will be on the new album. The others are in deep space.
PB : So to the present and you have an intimate gig coming up in Bury 19th May (details on the website). Do you enjoy playing smaller venues where you can actually see the whites of the eyes of the audience or do you prefer larger less compact gigs?
DW : Small is good. Big places require lots of equipment and sound-checks that last all day.
PB : You also have a new download only single coming out in June.What will it be?
DW : I am not sure yet. It’s bound to be delayed to be more like Autumn than June. We may have to consult our manager on this as he might think we should put a proper single out so Jonathan Ross can talk over it.
PB : As a traditionalist, I have a certain fondness for vinyl 7" singles. Will there be any 'traditional releases' prior to the new LP or do you see the internet as the way forward (it was good enough for that 'Crazy' song that recently topped the charts on downloads only)?
DW : I would like all our stuff put out on vinyl but alas its so so
expensive. If you know anyone who can do it cheap, let us know.
PB : Your new LP, 'For Adults Only', is due in the Autumn. How would you describe it?
DW : Not for children.
PB : There are rumours floating around that you are working on a separate solo LP of quiet songs. Can you shed any light on this and when is it likely to be released?
DW : Well I don’t know where these rumours come from but yes I am doing a solo record. It’s half done and I was told that its alternative folk, but it’s pop to me just with less instruments and more singing. It will be out early next year I hope.
PB : Finally, what does the future hold for Davey Woodward and the Experimental Pop Band?
DW : I will tell you when I’ve consulted my fortune teller.
PB : Thank you.
Commenting On: Interview - Experimental Pop Band
ie London, England
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18505 Posted By: Adrian Cornes (London)
Thanks for a great article. Why the mainstream media have never championed this band is beyond me. One of my favourite acts. I love the way Davey has moved his music on over the years yet there is still a great consistency to the songs - Real lives and believable characters rather than disposable nonsense. This is why I keep coming back to all of his work again and again.
Bristol-based musician Davey Woodward was the frontman with C86 group the Brilliant Corners, but since the mid 90's has fronted the Experimental Pop Band. Dixie Ernill chats to him about his long musical career
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