There are certain songs which I listen to if not every day then at least three or four times a week. It’s a small list but they are the songs that I just have to hear as they are as much a part of my life as those little envelopes that drop through the letter box regularly every month. The fact is, unlike those envelopes, my life would be empty without them rather than just my bank account.
To begin with most of these "can’t live without them" songs were in some way connected to my youth way, way back in the 60's, but over the years a few more select songs have been added. These are not songs that evoke a certain place or person; they are songs that are simply part of my life because they are just so good. The Zombies ‘Care Of Cell 44’, the Small Faces ‘I’m Only Dreaming’, Ryan Adam’s ‘ Come Pick Me Up’, Jackie Leven’s ‘Live Or Die’ are a few of them.
It’s not often that I add new songs to that list but this year I’ve had to make a few additions. Strangely the four new songs I just have to hear daily appear on the same label ; Australian indie Laughing Outlaw Records, two come from an album they have released during the last months of 2007, namely Perry Keyes ‘The Last Ghost Train Home’, ( the songs, for the record, being ‘Double On The Main Game’ and ‘Joe Strummer’) and the other two songs came from an album the label released at the beginning of the year, the second CD from the Redlands' Palomino Company, ‘Take Me Home’. That whole album is chock-full with classic country rock and even surpasses the band's debut ‘By The Time You Hear This We’ll Be Gone’ which itself was a favourite album back in 2004. The fact is that this British band are making some of the finest, if not the finest, country rock music heard since Gram Parsons picked up a guitar.
In Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall the band have two exceptional vocalists. Hannah has rightly garnered considerable praise for her vocals and without a doubt she is one of England’s finest female vocalists just now. While Hannah can sing like an angel Alex is almost the opposite; but his gritty vocals are the perfect foil to those of Hannah. When the two of them sing together on songs like ‘Please Come Running’ from the ‘Take Me Home’ album it’s just perfect.
It’s not only vocally where the Elton-Walls shine; both Hannah and Alex are exceptional songwriters and the rest of the band are all accomplished musicians. But maybe what makes them the best country rock band around at the moment is the fact that although the band very obviously take their music seriously there is this element of humour that seeps through in the notes on their CD sleeves and at gigs the band always look like they are enjoying playing out on that stage. This is a band that is making music for all the right reasons; because they enjoy it and that shines through in every song and, from the clips I’ve seen, in every gig too.
After recently releasing an E.P. which featured not only ‘She Is Yours’ from their second album but three new songs, Hannah and Alex kindly took some time out and answered a few questions for us here at Pennyblackmusic
Oh, and the two songs I just have to hear daily from ‘Take Me Home’? ‘Wasted On You’ is not just a favourite song from this year but an all time favourite and ‘Coastline’ isn’t too far behind either. My days would be less enjoyable without those songs and that is a fact.
PB : When and where was the band formed ? How did you all meet?
Alex : The band formed in London and has been together, with various different line-ups since around 1999-ish. However, I played with Rain our bass player and our first guitarist Mike Gant back in the mid 90's, and the two of them had been in bands together for years before that. It all gets a bit complicated to be honest though. I worked out the other day that we are on line-up Mk 6 of the Redlands Palomino Company at the moment. Rain and I are the only two left from the original lineup. I guess you could say, however. that we really properly came together in 2001 when Hannah joined.
We all kind of met each other randomly at various points - drunk in pubs mostly, although Rain and David had known each other from before the band. Hannah and I met in a pub in Portsmouth where I am from originally, and she was at university at the time.
PB : In the CD booklet for ‘Buy The Time You Hear This…We’ll Be Gone’ Hannah thanks the rest of the group for “letting a girl join their band”. As Hannah now writes most of the material and is getting good reviews for her writing and singing where would the band be without her? Alex…it isn’t a Liam / Noel thing is it in which Noel "took over" Liam's band ?
Alex : Hannah may be the real talent in the band, but fortunately as the Boss I still have the power of the veto on everything! I’m a control freak. Ha ha ha! No, seriously, who knows what we would sound like if Hannah hadn’t joined. We are all totally aware that Hannah’s voice and songs are integral to the band’s sound and we are very, very lucky to have her, but hopefully, all the rest of us bring something fundamental in our own way. I think we’d probably be a bit louder as a band without her though…with less great songs!
Hannah : Ha ha ha, I like this question! I still consider myself lucky to be in a band like the Redlands. When I first saw them play I was blown away. They wouldn’t have been much different had I not joined… just more ‘blokey’!! Although the band is now using more of my material, it’ll always be Alex’s band. He’s a slave driver and definitely the brains behind the whole operation! We tease each other about who is the better songwriter or singer, but I think the best thing about the Redlands is the mix of the two of us. Our voices are as contrasting as is possible really. The rest of the band speak for themselves. They can all really play. You can have the best song in the world but if your band is rubbish it’ll sound rubbish!!
PB : That title ‘By The Time Hear This…’ was it tongue in cheek? You apologise in the credits on the second album for still being here as “you hadn’t quite finished ” Was it really your plan just to release the one album?
Alex : It was a bit tongue in cheek, but at the same time there was also a serious side to it. When we finished recording our first album, we were all pretty pissed off with idiots in the music industry misleading us and making countless false promises. We spent months and months being strung along by various record labels who’d told us they wanted to release the record and it was all getting a bit tedious. We’d recorded the track ‘Music’s On’ which has the first line “By the time you hear this I’ll be gone” and David, our pedal steel player, thought it would be more than appropriate for an album title!!
Hannah : I found recording our first album quite stressful, I swore I wouldn’t be making another, so maybe it was a bit less tongue in cheek for me! It gets better and better though really. We are recording again at the moment and it’s very relaxed – no arguing, just having a nice time recording some new songs.
PB : On your website it states that you have both moved to the country. Has living away from the city inspired your music in any way ? Do you think it has taken on a different direction now you are free from the hustle and bustle of city life ?
Alex : I don’t think living in the country has really had an effect, or been an inspiration for my song-writing or the sound of our music in any way, but what it has done is made us both happier and more relaxed about life in general. Being detached from London and the music business has been a really good thing, and whilst we still care deeply for our band and the music we make. In a sense the move has taken the pressure off us both. In a way, music is no longer controlling our lives and destiny, as it did when we were in London. For years, as we struggled to get our music heard, we felt we had no choice about living in London, and that it was just something we had to do as it is where the music industry is. The reality is that I don’t think the move has hindered us at all. Of course now that the band is geographically spread out, it does make some things harder – like rehearsing but it’s not really that big a deal. We just find ways around the distance issue.
Hannah : Moving has had a negative effect on my songwriting strangely. I write tons of material when I’m miserable and stressed! I’m much happier here in this environment so I find myself picking up my guitar less often. Despite that, I’m still writing quite a bit though. The third album has been written since the move. Plus I have a huge pool of unrecorded songs from my miserable London days to fall back on!! It’s brilliant here though. I have a horse and a dog and I much prefer my wellies to heels. London was a great place to live for a while, but, once we had decided we wanted to leave, we couldn’t get out fast enough.
PB : In every review of your albums mention is made of just how good your vocals are, Hannah ? Were you aware that your vocals were something special before you read all those flattering reviews?
Hannah : I don’t know. I know that I’m not really good at anything much other than singing. I think friends and family tell you encouraging things long before any reviewers do. That gives you confidence, and reading nice reviews gives you an idea that you are doing something right I suppose! It still honestly does amaze and flatter me when people make the comments they do though. The best reviews are those where you can tell that the reviewer has really listened to the record intently and comments are made on the songs rather than just the vocals. It is fantastic when your songwriting is rated as well.
PB : About a quarter of your first album, ‘By The Time You Hear This…’ was recorded in the spring of 2002 yet the album wasn’t released until the latter half of 2004. Why the delay in getting the album out? Was your present label, Laughing Outlaw, already involved then or were you still waiting for the right label?
Alex : We recorded four songs at first and started looking for labels and then continued to record, realising that we needed a finished ‘product’ before we could really sell ourselves. We had a lot of positive feedback from labels which was mainly unfruitful, but when we came across Laughing Outlaw we knew they were 100% committed in what we were trying to achieve.
PB : Those initial songs were produced by Alan Tyler of the much missed Rockingbirds. How did he get involved?
Hannah : Alan is brilliant. We met him at his club nigh,t ‘Come Down and Meet the Folks’, in Camden, North London and we ended up getting a gig there. Alex had always been a Rockingbirds fan and I think Alan enjoyed what we were trying to do. He did a fantastic job. I’ve been lucky enough to do backing vocals on his solo records – all of which are brilliant. He’s one of the best lyricists I can think of. I love his songwriting.
Alex : I’d agree with Hannah. Alan is brilliant. In-fact, he is a genius. One of the best songwriters of his generation, and I think in years to come more and more people will realise that. I was actually listening to the first Rockingbirds' album last night. It’s a really great record. Alan’s new band Alan Tyler and the Lost Sons of Littlefield are really fantastic live as well, and, as Hannah says, are just about to release a new record.
Hannah : Plug. Plug. Plug. Ha ha!
Alex : The Rockingbirds connection also continues with our music though. 'Take Me Home' was produced by our friends Chris Clarke and Sean Read, who played bass and keyboards respectively in the Rockingbirds. And I bought my first really decent acoustic guitar years ago from Andy Hackett, the guitarist in the band, who ran a guitar shop in North London at the time.
PB : A full year passed before the rest of your debut was recorded, this time with Brian O’Shaughnessy producing. Why the change of producer and why did it take so long to complete the album?
Hannah : Why did it take so long? I honestly can’t remember! It was probably money, laziness and the fact that we all had full time jobs. We were initially just going to record an EP, but our drummer at the time, Jamie, persuaded us to record a whole album. Savings were raided and we booked the studio time.
Alex : If Alan could have done the whole record, then we would have loved it, but, as Hannah says, I think it was just a combination of things and circumstances. As far as the time issue goes – people just don’t seem to understand a) how long it really takes to record, mix and master music and b) how long it takes to deal with all the business side of things – artwork, record deal, blah blah blah. And as Hannah says, we all had full time jobs and had no management at the time. It’s very easy for things to just drag on and take far longer than you’d hope.
PB : It’s often said that you are produce a more authentic Americana / country rock sound than the Americans! You certainly don’t sound like a British band, which is a compliment by the way! Did you strive for that American country rock sound ? Did you deliberately go out to make a non-English sounding record?
Hannah : We all love American music, so of course we are influenced by that. But I really do believe that it is because we have a pedal steel player that we sound ‘authentic’. Not many British bands can boast a steel player, so I suppose it sets you apart in a way because you are using an instrument that is synonymous with country music. But at the same time I don’t think any of us really buy modern British records so we are bound to emulate the stuff that we love.
Alex : We don’t consciously try to sound American. As Hannah says, it’s just that the majority of the records we listen to are American or Canadian so of course we will be influenced by that. To be honest though, I’ve got no desire whatsoever to make records that are doing anything new or groundbreaking. In my view there is nothing to be ashamed about in loving a genre of music and wanting to make music that sounds a bit like it. At the same time, we have, however, to be realistic – we are a British band and it would sound crass if we just tried to ape American music completely. We sing about things that happen to us and that matter to us, and it would just be silly if all our songs were about Texas or something! I think all we do is use some of the instruments that are normally associated with country music.
PB : ‘She Is Yours’ was picked from your second album, ‘Take Me Home’, as the lead song on an EP. Why that particular track? ‘Take Me Home’ is a strong album and practically any song could have been singled out for that EP. The opener, ‘Wasted On You’, for example, must rank as one of your best songs so far.
Hannah : Thank you. I think ‘Wasted on You’ is a belter and that would have been my choice over ‘She is Yours’, but Alex, our manager and label preferred ‘She is Yours’ so I was outvoted!!
Alex : It’s difficult, isn’t it ? How do you ever decide on these things? Despite the fact that in many ways I’m a fascist dictator when it comes to this band, we do actually try to come to a majority decision on the big issues. 'She Is Yours' just got the most votes I think.
PB : The other three songs on the EP are all new, were only recorded in April of this year and were produced by Alex. If you still haven’t finished and are going to stick around for a third album do you think Alex will produce that?
Hannah : That’s a good guess… it’s what we’re up to at the moment. Dan, who has been playing drums with us recently, arranged for us to stay at his parents house to start the recording. It was perfect. The place is an old renovated farm house, absolutely beautiful, and most importantly detached so we could make a lot of noise! We are going to try and continue recording in this way. It’s a lot less stressful and Alex gets to have complete control which he loves!
Alex : Well, yes…we’ll definitely be making another album. I think the band has never sounded better than with the current line-up and we must capture that sound. We have a batch of new songs and have started to record some of them ourselves. We are just going to see what happens – it might work or it might not. We have had several offers to work with a couple of pretty ‘big’ name producers in various recording studios, but none of us were really that keen. We all felt that we wanted to make our next record in a completely different environment. We want it to be more relaxed and organic, and to be honest – less pressurised and more fun to make. We want to take the time to do things in our own way. We want to get together for sessions in various places in the country and just make music for the fun of it rather than all working against the clock in a studio in London somewhere. It may be, however, that this approach doesn’t work and we revert to booking some studio time and get a producer in. We’ll just have to see what happens though.
PB : Hannah, all four songs on the EP were written solely by you. Are you writing continuously or do you have periods when you don’t write at all?
Hannah : I go through real spurts where I can’t stop, then I have the dry spells. I would say on average I probably write a song a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. There are always plenty of songs being bandied about though. That is the advantage of being in a band with two songwriters. Tou can afford to have a lazy period while the other one does a bit of work!
PB : There’s only been a handful of co-writes between Hannah and Alex and those were on the first album. Are there more that have yet to be recorded or do you both prefer to write alone?
Hannah : I love the songs that we’ve written together. I think ‘If You’re Down’ is one of my favourites ever. But we would both freely admit that we argue like mad when we try. I like to work quickly. If I haven’t finished writing something in 30 minutes I want to pack my guitar away. Alex is much more methodical and I think my slapdash attitude drives him mad… and he’s just too bleedin’ slow!!
Alex : Ha ha ha…ditto. Love the songs we’ve written together. But they don’t come easy!
PB : What’s best? In the studio or on the stage?
Hannah : Both can be brilliant. I’d say stage though as I get bored in the studio and have to read copious amounts of horse magazines to keep me entertained!
Alex : Nothing beats the buzz you get half way through a gig when everything is going really well and the audience are clearly really into it. But then again, nothing quite beats the feeling of listening back to the final mix of a song for the first time. I wouldn’t like to just have one or the other. Both can also be quite frustrating as well. As Hannah says, recording can be boring, and there’s nothing quite like a bad gig!
PB : Looking at the list of gigs you have done this year it seems you have only played in the U.K. Have you toured other countries on the past and are there any plans for touring other than the U.K. in the near future?
Alex : We have played abroad in the past, and will probably do some European festivals next summer I should think. We love going abroad and hope to do more of it in the future, but we all have busy lives outside the band in one way and another, so up till now have really just concentrated our time and energy on playing in the UK and building up a following here. But of course, we’d love to get to the States and Canada to play, and our label are keen for us to tour in Australia next year. We’ll just have to see what happens.
PB : It’s interesting reading but maybe no big surprise when each band member lists their dream band on your web site , apart from Rain that is, as, for the most part, elements of all the artists you mention apart from his can be heard in your own songs. What music are you currently listening to for pleasure ?
Hannah : I always seem to enjoy a staple diet of female artists like Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss. We always listen to the Jayhawks. ‘Rainy Day Music’ has always got to be in the car or I get annoyed! We saw Ryan Adams again recently in Cardiff so were listening to his new stuff beforehand. Alex is always buying new CDs, mainly ancient stuff I’ve never heard of!
Alex : I seem to spend a fortune on CDs but when I’m asked this question I can never bloody remember what I’ve been listening to recently. Let me think…oh yeah…our guitarist Tom, just bought me the new live Burritos album from 1969. That’s really good. I also bought Mark Olson from the Jayhawks' most recent album. I didn’t get it at first, but saw him live and then it all made sense. Now I love the album. Also, the new album by our friends the Deadstring Brothers is fantastic. I’d recommend that to anyone. But on the whole, I listen to all sorts of stuff…classic late 1960’s and early 1970’s country rock, newer alt-country, bluegrass and old-time stuff – a bit of everything really.
Hannah : A bit of everything??! Yeah… just as long as it’s country…
PB : Thank you.