Steven Lindsay was the front man with the Big Dish, one of the great lost bands of the 80's.

Formed in Airdrie just outside Glasgow in 1983, the Big Dish recorded three albums, ' 'Swimmer' (1986), 'Creeping Up on Jesus' (1988) and 'Satellites' (1991). The early Big Dish had a chiming and melodic guitar rock sound, but, as Lindsay's songwriting matured and the band went through various line-up changes, their music became increasingly lush and latterly the group worked with both string sections and orchestras. Despite being signed to two major labels, Virgin and then for their last album to Warners/East West, and also releasing various singles, the group, however, always remained a cult act and little known outside their native Scotland.

After the Big Dish folded shortly after 'Satellites' was released, Lindsay dropped out of the music industry for many years.

He finally reappeared in 2004 with his debut solo album, 'Exit Music', which he put out on his own Seminal Records . A break-up album, it found Lindsay switching from guitar to piano, and won many accolades, including being made the Scotland on Sunday newspaper's Album of the Year.

Lindsay's second solo album, 'Kite', came out in June on Chrysalis Group indie offshoot Echo, which also has on its roster Feeder, Bats for Lashes and Morcheeba and has met with similar acclaim. Building on from where 'Exit Music' finished, it combines gorgeous, luscious soundscapes with an ethereal melodies and finds Lindsay experimenting with the Starlights strings and horns, a layered set of his own electronic samples. A themed record, 'Kite' is about finding the means to escape both from oneself and the world at large. The first single from it is 'Monkey Gone to Heaven', a cover of the classic Pixies song, which replaces the discordant sound of the original with a flowing, beautiful piano melody

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Steven Lindsay about 'Kite' and his return to making music.


PB : ‘Kite’ was recorded entirely at home. Did it take a long time ?

SL : I did it in batches. It took the best part of two years, but I didn’t go at it solidly. I would do bits and pieces of it and then go back and change things. I recorded a lot more songs than what is on the record. There are a lot of songs that I didn’t use. The plan was originally to start the album, and then get some string and horn players in, but the more I did of it the more it just seemed to be okay the way it was so I just thought “What’s the point of spending a lot of money when I don’t need to ?” Sometimes you capture something in yourself and then you try and redo it, and it is difficult to find again whatever charm there was there initially.

PB : Did 'Kite' start out then essentially as a set of demos which eventually expanded into being the actual album ?

SL : Not really. For quite a long time now I have tended to record as I write. I have got this thing in which the way in which you initially do something is normally the best way to do it and while it is still impulsive, so I didn’t really look at it like that. I kept going back to the tracks and then maybe I would hear something that was missing and put something else on it after taking a break from it. I finished the songs on the album as I was going along. Some of the songs were finished a year before they went on the album.

PB : ‘Kite’ has got a lot of apocalyptic imagery of fire, flood and storms, It is very biblical in that sense, yet in contrast there are all these references to the skies and the heavens and being above the ground. The essential message of the album seems to be the world is in a pretty bad shape, so

SL : Let’s party ! (Laughs). Essentially it is about that thought that if I close my eyes it will all go away. I think a lot of human nature is like that. The environment is in a bad way and the weather is changing and then people go outside and the sun is shining and they just think “Ah well, let’s just forget about it for today. It will sort itself out”.

PB : You have said that you wrote a lot more than you ended up putting on the 45 minutes of the CD. Did you find yourself then scrapping songs as they didn’t fit in with the general theme of the album ?

SL : Not really ! It is just that some songs you do aren’t as convincing as others basically (Laughs). The album just kind of came about the way it did. It evolved naturally.

PB : So the album developed its theme more subconsciously than deliberately.

SL : Absolutely. That’s the right word. Even ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ was like that. I recorded it on a whim one day. I did it all in a day and I didn’t intend to do anything with it, maybe stick it up on my website or something and then the record company heard it and they said “That fits in.” They were right. In a funny way it did sit in with the rest of the songs on the album.

PB : It’s actually the first cover song that you have done. One of the reasons why you ironically left Virgin when you were in the Big Dish was because they wanted you to do cover songs and you weren’t up for it.

SL : That’s right. They wanted us to do a single of cover songs. When were playing live we played covers certainly, but we didn’t want to do that. The Big Dish did actually record a version of the Harry Nilsson song, ‘Without You’, believe it or not, long before Mariah Carey murdered it. It was at the time that I was signed to Warner Brothers and East West. They wanted to put it out as a single, but we said no. We wanted to have one of our own songs as the single. ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ is the first time that I have ever come up with the idea of putting out a cover as a single myself

PB : Why do you think you have done that now when there were all these problems in the 80’s when not just one but two labels, Virgin and East West, were putting pressure on you to do exactly that ?

SL : It is best to do things on your own terms, which is what happened here. I didn’t have any great plans for it when I recorded it. I liked the way it turned out and I thought it would be a good idea to put it on the record and to see what happened with it. I was just a Pixies fan and it went from there.

PB : It is sometimes said about cover versions that, while at one level you want to remain true in spirit to the original, at another level there is no point in doing one unless it is also at the same time radically different from the original. Was that your intention there ?

SL : Exactly ! I don’t think there is any point in doing a cover version unless you do something different. That is why I put melody all the way through the verses, which isn’t there in the original. I think that all the good cover versions that have been done over the course of time, ‘Money’ for example by the Flying Lizards, have been completely different.

PB : ‘Kite’ employs “the Starlight Strings and Horns”. Was that a special computer program ?

SL : No, the reason why I called it that was over the years I have built up a really good bank of string and horn sounds. Those strings and horn sounds were created by me making samples. For some strange reason I used to usually end up putting together all those samples together in the middle of the night and the name comes from that. I have got a trumpet player and a sax player for playing live and it has been nice to see them doing those parts.

PB : You don’t play live very often these days, but, given that you recorded both 'Exit Music' and 'Kite' entirely by yourself, when you do how does it work ?

SL : I have only played really one gig for ‘Kite’, which was for the album launch at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. That featured myself playing the electric guitar, a keyboard player playing the piano, the trumpet player and sax player playing the horn parts and a stereo backing track from a laptop which featured some of the other sounds and noises from the album. It worked pretty well. We used some projections with pictures from the album sleeve and some of the stuff in the ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ video. I am going to try to put a band together now so that we can tour.

PB : And will you use the same sort of instrumentation for that ?

SL : The only difference probably will be there will be a drummer and a bass player.

PB : The first three Big Dish albums were all essentially guitar albums. ‘Exit Wounds’ and ‘Kite’ were both, however, arranged for the piano. Why did you decide to make the switch ?

SL : I didn’t think that there would be much point in writing another Big Dish album and picking up a guitar and trying to do that. It was to give me a change as much as anything else. I don’t claim to be any great piano player, but I think that sometimes when you are embarking on something and you’re not that confident you can come up with some quite interesting ideas. I thought that I would start writing songs on the piano for ‘Exit Music’ and it all fell together from that. The sound was quite fluid and I liked that. With both ‘Exit Music’ and ‘Kite’ I then added guitar and drum machine parts later. There is more guitar on ‘Kite’, but the songs were still all written on a keyboard.

PB : The Big Dish are the sort of band who regularly make Great Lost Band lists and who are very fondly remembered in certain circles. How do you feel about their three
albums now ? Do you still like them ?

SL : I like them, but there are loads of things I would have done differently. There are aspects of them which I really like and then there are other bits and pieces in which I think I should have known better than to do that (Laughs). Overall though I have got a lot of affection towards them. Since 'Exit Music' and 'Kite' have come out, I have been surprised and amazed at how many Big Dish fans have come out of the woodwork. It seems that there are a lot more than there were at the time (Laughs), which is great but strange as well. I don't know if people who like my music have to get it or understand it or something like that, and so there are those people who do get it and really love it and then there are others people who it just passes by. It's good to think that there are a lot of people who love the Big Dish albums. It is really is nice to know.

PB : The Big Dish folded in 1991. You said at the time of the split that you "got sick of banging your head off the back wall." What did you mean by that ?

SL : (Laughs). In those days you really needed a hit single and that is not what I got involved in music for. When we signed to Virgin I didn't really see us as as a pop group, but the emphasis was always on "You need to write a hit single. You need to write a hit single". When I signed to Warner Brothers/East West I thought things were going to be different, but they were exactly the same. "You need a hit single." It is understandable from their point of view. I just felt that as if we were constantly writing for the next single. Then we would make a video and that wouldn’t be a hit either. It really wears you down if you are doing that constantly.

PB : There was a whole wave of Glaswegian bands that were attracting a degree of national interest, such as Love and Money, Hipsway, Deacon Blue and Del Amitri, at the same time as the Big Dish . You all had first albums out at the same time. Do you think that is something that went against you in some ways ?

SL : I don't think so. People wouldn't admit it at the time, but there was a real rivalry amongst all the Scottish bands. I suppose you could call it healthy competition as well. There was an inevitable backlash, maybe because we were lumped in with all the other Scottish and Glasgow bands of the time, but I don't think things would have changed much even if it hadn't been like that. It is funny though. There was all this rivalry then, in which everyone was trying to jump in front of everyone else, but nowadays when I meet people from those days, like Justin Currie and other people from that time, it is really nice to see them. You wish them well. I suppose that is to do just with being a bit more mature, isn’t it ? I think taking a break for some years really helped me there as well.

PB : You were away after the Big Dish finished for a long time, There is a 13 year gap between ' Satellites' and 'Exit Wounds'. What did you do during that time ?

SL : I wrote some soundtracks for TV, but nothing very interesting. I produced a couple of bands and managed a band called Dark, who were a good band but nothing really happened to them. I did some work with Craig Armstrong as well and I wrote some stuff for Lloyd Cole.

In between that I went back to being an illustrator again. I started working in visual arts and in graphic design and then from there moved on to working in creative design and doing TV ads. I learned how to use a lot of software and was also involved in making music videos. I did all sorts of things really and I quite enjoyed it. It was good to step outside from the music business because it is such a bubble and it can be a very strange kind of existence.

PB : Why did you come back after all this time to making vocal music ?

SL : I had recorded all these songs for ‘Exit Music’ and I had them sitting there and I didn't have any kind of expectation for it. I just thought this would be interesting to do an album and see what would happen. If anything did happen it was a bonus and then if it didn’t you know so what ? The reaction ‘Exit Music’ got really surprised me. I didn't have any great plans or anything like that. I had had various offers after the Big Dish to make another record and to play live, but the time didn't seem right. As a result of the reaction ‘Exit Music’ got, I thought maybe I should think about making music a bit more seriously again.

PB : Why did you decide to sign to Echo Records ?

SL : I like Jeremy Lacelles. Jeremy's the head of Chrysalis Music. I had a meeting with him and they've got Echo on their roster. I quite liked the people they have got signed to them. It is not too big a label and it didn’t make me feel as if I would get lost. It is not as if I had big labels chasing me anyway, but there are a few people who wanted to sign me after 'Exit Music'. It just seemed a good label. I liked the people I met there.

PB : You're back now. You're recording regularly. You're getting good reviews We're going to be seeing some live dates. Where do you see yourself going from here ?

SL : I've no idea. I'm already writing new songs. One of the things I like is the actual recording of music, the actual process you go through. I am just happy to be making another record and if it sells then that is fantastic, and if I can pay the mortgage then that is great. You do get sick of people saying "Are you not frustrated at having not been more successful and had more hits ?"and I suppose I am a bit but you have to get on with it. From a commercial point of view and the record company point of view, the aim is to turn all the good reviews into sales and get my profile up a little bit. All that stuff they can get on with. I am not very good at that. I just want to keep trying to make good records. That is all I can do really.

PB : Thank you for the interview.












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