Coming very soon is Episode #6, featuring today’s interviewees, The Strange Blue Dreams, playing Aberdeen for the first time on Saturday 9th April at Downstairs in Aberdeen. Fellow newcomers to the city, Crash Club and Tribal High complete the lineup.
Good morning, first off, can you tell us a bit about yourselves… who you are, where you come from, how long you’ve been playing together and how did you get your band name?
Duncan (Guitar & vocals): The Shiverin Sheiks is how we all met and that band does our own versions of old rnb, rock n roll and country songs. That’s our day job and we work some years way in excess of 300 gigs a year. The Strange Blue Dreams is the same band, which spun off in 2015, and plays songs that the singer Dave wrote.
Dave (Lead vocals & guitar): The name Strange Blue Dreams comes from a line in one of our songs, it felt like a good name for the band. Simple, yet evocative,universal yet personal, the subconscious is a wild and unique place for even the most straight down the line of people. I felt that summed up what we’re trying to do with our songs, see the strange and magical in the everyday. The guiding principal in what we do is to tell stories and create atmospheres, so every cog in the machine has to be working exclusively towards that task, there’s no space for waffle.
Aye, we first discovered The Shiverin’ Sheiks (at Brew at the Bog, 2013), tried to book you and ended up with The Strange Blue Dreams!
Dave is no stranger to Aberdeen though?
Dave: I’m very much looking forward to playing Downstairs as The Malt Mill was one of the first gigs we did with my old band The Needles back in 1996, when we were still at school packing the place out with the 5th and 6th years of Harlaw Academy!
Over the years after that we did a fair bit with the band, starting to release stuff on Aberdeen label Lithium records, then getting signed by the guy who discovered Supergrass and Muse, getting national exposure on BBC and MTV, recording a session at Maida Vale for the Mark Lammar show, playing at various big festivals such as T-in-the Park, SXSW in Texas. We always had a great following in the North East and when we decided to call it a day our final gig was at a sold-out Moshulu in 2007.
Who are your main influences, obvious or otherwise?
Duncan: The music we like is nearly exclusively old music, but then again, everything is old music nowadays. (The current penchant for 80’s music is a trend that is nearly forty years old!) what the strange blue dreams like is high fidelity pop music. That was getting done brilliantly in the 1920’s and 1930’s by people like Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, in the 1940’s by Louis Jordan, in the 1950’s by Patsy Cline, in the early 60s by Roy Orbison, just to randomly pick a few of our favourites.
Saying that we love all sorts of music, we love all the Mavericks of songwriting be it the film themes of Ennio Morricone and Henry Mancini, the guys at RCA records in Nashville making pop hits out of country music, Joe Meek’s attempts at making American rock n roll in Britain in the early 60’s, the list is endless.
We particularly like the bands of session men that made all the hit records; the more well known ones like the Wrecking Crew and Motown guys, Chess Records and the RCA A Team guys in the fifties and sixties but also all the great American labels like Specialty Records and King Records.
Throughout history the best music was usually made in the in between eras, the most interesting and exciting stuff was often just at the start of famous eras, the late fifties, early 60’s pre-Beatles era is a goldmine as is the start of the swing era in the 20’s and 30’s. The same could be said of the early punk years and the pop era of film score writing and indeed any musical movement.
We love gospel music as well, did we mention that? That and Doo Wop are two particular favourites. Though we are talking old time gospel music, not so much on the post 1960’s stuff. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers, the Falcons, Dion, Frankie Lymon, they are the best!
Dave: Aside from the musical influences Duncan has mentioned films and books have also been an inspiration in what we try and create. Writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Raymond Carver, F Scott Fitzgerald, Phillip K Dick, directors like Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, Woody Allen, to name a few, have all inspired in the very different ways they use the tools available to them to create the textures, nuances and atmospheres of their worlds. Be they sad, humorous, dramatic, apocalyptic or whatnot. That’s sort of what we try and do rather than just have a mad jam. Nothing against bands that have a mad jam mind, there’s definitely a time and place for that. And sometimes we just try and make people dance.
I love your own genre description… Dramatic pop, gypsy swing, skiffle, doo-wop and ballads from the music hall to the jet-age, kind of dreamy.
And a seriously sharp dress-code on stage?
Duncan: Bands have a responsibility to look sharp no matter what it is you do. Turning up in an ill fitting t-shirt and trousers is frankly not on. You are letting down yourself, your country and your entire family tree.
What do you find the biggest challenge of being in a band? Or, what pisses you off the most?
Duncan: The biggest challenge to a band is recording yourselves and honestly listening and saying: how can we make this sound better? Now is a fantastic time to be playing music. Technology and the demise of the traditional record label system has allowed musicians the ability to promote themselves and not be dependent on other people to be heard. The musical world has become a little more open minded than it has in a long time because of the vast range of music that is now freely available to listen to. If more people create their own opportunities and get out and play and make themselves working musicians the musical landscape will gradually shift so that live music once again becomes a fundamental part of the culture in the UK.
Can you put into words just how damn happy you are to be playing Episode #6 this Saturday?
Duncan: It’s thanks to excellent people like the Flares n Seagulls chaps that bands like us get to play in places outside of Glasgow. There is a network of pro-music minded, enthusiastic, hard working and usually very very drunk (!) guys and girls across the country that really put themselves out there and promote great music and great music nights. This is the backbone of real alternative music and forms a massive part of underground music scenes. Underground music scenes are what lead to shifts in popular culture and inform the mainstream. If it wasn’t for nights like flares and seagulls and your comrades across the country music in Scotland, the U.K. and indeed the world would be a poorer place, so thank you very much indeed.
And for the rest of 2016, are there albums, EPs, festival appearances, world tours etc on the horizon?
Duncan: As well as touring in support of our EP and the album later in the year, we’ll will be out and about at various festivals this year, Southern Fried, Belladrum, Doune the Rabbit Hole, Kelburn Garden Party. The album is scheduled for an Autumn release but in the meantime there is our EP available from www.holysmokesrecords.co.uk if anyone wants to hear more.
Your favourite music festivals, to play or attend?
Duncan: Our favourite festival to play, without a doubt was Glastonbury. It is an absolutely brilliant experience.
Tell us something unusual about each member of TSBD?
Duncan: The mandolin player (David) supports Partick Thistle football club and, despite this, is an incredibly happy and easy going chap. The drummer (Ross) wears a suit and tie in bed and likes cans of Tennents. The guitar player (Duncan) likes the fact that girls used to smear butter on their pvc miniskirts to maintain a high gloss shine in the 60’s. The bass player (Richard) is contemplating using butter to deepen his obsession for well polished, shiny shoes. Dave has not yet responded to allegations that his perfect moustache is held in place by a buttery substance not dissimilar to butter.
Interesting factoid: Western swing legend and all round great – yet slightly strange – man Bob Wills famously shouts “what is this thing called butter?” in the song Milk Cow Blues, over the singer whilst he’s singing.
Three bands you’d love to share a stage with?
Duncan: Most of the people we would like to share a stage with are dead.
Which bands from your manor should we keeping an eye out for? And acts from outwith your region?
Dave: Some bands to look out for at the moment are A New International, Honey and the Herbs, C Duncan (who probably doesn’t need too much of our championing now but he’s ace so there you go!) and Daniel Meade and the Flying Mules. We’ve also made a couple of albums with people who are well worth checking out (though I guess we would say that!) Les Johnson and Me have a great album called 15 Hands and Christine Bovill also has a great album called The Sentence That I Serve.
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Duncan likes salt and vinegar crisps, the rest like cheese and onion.
Many thanks for your time and we look forward to seeing you on Saturday.