“It has not taken as long as the Blue Nile, “ Jeremy Thoms jokes, referencing the Scottish rock group, infamous for the long gaps between their albums, and of as much as seven and eight years apart.

The Aberdeen-born front man with the Cathode Ray and owner of Stereogram Recordings is sitting in a bar in Edinburgh, his adopted home city of nearly forty years, talking to long-term fans Pennyblackmusic about his group’s third album and first LP in four years, ‘Heightened Senses’.

“It was just down to a variety of things” he says, explaining the long gap between it and its predecessor, ‘Infinite Variety’. “Stereogram puts a lot of constraints on my time. I started doing a radio show once a week on Boogaloo Radio as well, so that was another thing. Our drummer David Mack lives in Yorkshire these days, so it can be difficult meeting up with him. Our guitarist Steve Fraser is also in a Blondie tribute band Dirty Harry and plays guitar for the Irish musician Camille O’Sullivan, so he is away a lot with both of them. We had to work around all of those.”

The Cathode Ray was formed by Thoms and original vocalist Paul Haig in 2006 with the loose concept of “forging late 70’s New York with late 70’s Manchester.” Haig soon dropped out, but Thoms largely stuck to this manifesto for the Cathode Ray’s eponymous first album, which came out as the first release of Stereogram Recordings, in 2012.

By the time of 2015’s, ‘Infinite Variety’, the Cathode Ray, which had settled on a line-up of Thoms (lead vocals/guitar/keyboards), Fraser (guitar/backing vocals), Mack (drums/percussion) and Neil Baldwin (bass) had moved on, taking its punk and post-punk blueprint and merging it with a rich variety of other styles and genres. ‘Heightened Senses’ builds on this further, adding into its mix elements of pop, psychedelia, glam rock, disco, folk and reggae.

‘Heightened Senses’ was recorded over several sessions at the farmhouse where Mack now lives in North Yorkshire and also in Thoms’ flat in Edinburgh. It is the first album to feature new additional member and guitarist, Phil Biggs, who was brought in to the Cathode Ray, initially to cover for Fraser at gigs when he was busy touring with Dirty Harry and O’Sullivan.

“Dave also plays in an Americana/alt.country band called Thirteen Cities,” says Thoms. “They don’t do original material, but do things like covers by Richmond Fontaine - they get their name from one of their albums - and the more obscure end of the Wilco catalogue. Phil is also a member, and Dave thought that he would fit in well with us. He has been around for a while now. His style is sympathetic towards ours. I wanted him, rather than just being a deputy when it came to doing this album, to be very much involved in the creative process, and it has worked out really well.”

“It was recorded, depending on who was available” he adds. “I am on every track and Dave is on every track. I ended up playing bass on two tracks, as Neil couldn’t make a few recording sessions, and he is just on seven of the album’s nine tracks. Steve and Phil are both on about five or six of them. All three of us are on about half of the album. It is then either me and Phil, or either me and Steve.“

‘Heightened Senses’ is very much a family affair. Thoms’ wife Laura also contributes backing vocals to one song. ‘Before the Rot Sets In’, and his nine-year old son Robin provides additional vocals on another track, ‘Make Believe’. His elder son, Alex, who is in his early 20s, is credited with providing synths on several songs and ‘additional production.”’

“Alex knows me inside out,” reflects Thoms. “He was brought up listening to a lot of music, and he really understands where I am coming from there. He is a really good sounding board, so when he was listed as being an ‘additional production’ it is more as an advisor. He plays drum as a first instrument, but he was playing around at home with my keyboards, and I said, ‘That would sound great on our album. Can you get it to fit?’ and it went from there and he started sending me things and ended up appearing on four tracks.”

The Cathode Ray have become renowned for their surreally humorous and imaginative cover art work. The post-punk and often bleak-toned material of their first eponymous album was encapsulated by a monochrome photo on its sleeve of an underground car park. The multi-layered music of ‘Infinite Variety’ was matched on its gatefold sleeve by photos of over forty species of flowers and orchids, while ‘Heightened Senses’ has a large photo on it set against a white backdrop of a trio of statues of nymphs taken in a country park.

“That picture was taken at York House Gardens, which is near where my sister used to live in Twickenham,” reflects Thoms. “I took it a couple of years ago when we were staying with her. I just loved the imagery of it. It was like being in a painting. I did some googling, and I couldn’t believe that no one had used it before on a sleeve. It reminded me of a combination of things, of ‘Houses of the Holy’ by Led Zeppelin, the first album by Black Sabbath, some of Fairport Convention’s sleeves, all this late 60’s/early 70’s stuff, and not post punk.”

“I don’t really think that the post-punk thing applies to us anymore. We have moved on so much. I chose it because a couple of tracks on ‘Heightened Senses’ have something of a 60’s feel ,but also because we wanted to do the opposite of what people expected us to do with ‘Heightened Senses’, and that captures that perfectly.”

While both ‘The Cathode Ray’ and ‘Infinite Variety’ were largely angst-ridden, much of each embedded with a feeling of dread and alienation, ‘Heightened Senses’ in contrast has a skewed sense of optimism.

“It is easy to write about doom and gloom,” says Thoms about the title track, a surprisingly euphoric and upbeat love song, but ‘Heightened Senses’ is about that rare thing people never write about. It is about being in the here and now, about feeling a joie de vivre, of actually appreciating what you have. It is very easy to look on the negative because there are so many negatives, especially in the current political climate, it is about accentuating the positive, and grabbing at life as you can.”

The main theme of ‘Heightened Senses’ is finding the will to carry on, whatever for better or worse life throws at you.

Glam rock ballad ‘Another World’ is on the surface the darkest track on ‘Heightened Senses’, referencing suicide and finding its protagonist wanting his time over again in another better world, but even here there is a sense of hope.

“I wrote that at a point in which I was feeling quite low,” admits Thoms. “That was written in 2013, so it could have been on the last album but it didn’t quite fit so I held on to it. I was thinking about all the mistakes I have made, but it is saying the next time I will try and do better. It is also alluding to the next life, and saying that if there is one the next time I will get it right. It is in the end about being resilient.”

Stereogram Recordings continues to be very active. It recently opened a book publishing wing. Thoms’ business partner Innes Reekie started out as a photographer, before switching to journalism where he wrote a column for ‘The Sunday Times’ and also worked for ‘Loaded’ magazine. A first photo book entitled ‘Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn’, which came out at the end of 2018, pulled together various photos he had taken of the young Nick Cave, both with his first band the Birthday Party and also in an early incarnation of the Bad Seeds. A second photo book, ‘Nite Life During Wartime’, which came out in June caught the 80’s Edinburgh night life and club scene. A third photo book, provisionally named ‘Unloaded for You’, which will focus on the 90’s scene, will come out early next year, and there are also plans for a compilation book of Reekie’s journalist writings.

Thoms also already has in the pipeline Stereogram’s next two albums.

“I was in a band a long time ago called Skyline with Andy Kelly, who had been the vocalist in my previous band New Leaf,” recalls Thoms. ” We recorded a bunch of songs with Dave Mack on drums. It never came out because everyone dispersed and went off to different places, and the Cathode Ray started,. It is a weird jazz pop record, a cross between Everything but the Girl and the more jazzy end of George Michael, and that will probably come out at Easter.”

Edinburgh-based prog/folk rock band the Eastern Swell have already released two albums on Stereogram Recordings.

“There will be a solo album as well from Chris Reeve, who is the guitarist and the main songwriter in the Eastern Swell,” he adds. He approached me because their drummer has just had a second kid, Their singer Lainie Myers also wanted to take a back seat for a while, so the Eastern Swell are on temporary hiatus, but Chris is very much still writing. I am going to produce it and play bass, and Alex is going to play drums and we have got a friend of Chris on keyboards. We are demoing it at the moment, and going to start recording it next year.”

With his own album with the Cathode Ray to promote also, 2020 will be a busy year for Jeremy Thoms.












Related Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathode_Ray
https://www.facebook.com/thecathoderay


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