rom the heights of critical regard with The Boo Radleys and Giant Steps to the ever pervasive top ten hit “Wake Up Boo!” and then into the experimental pop of the Welsh underground, Martin Carr has had a remarkable musical journey thus far. Having walked his own path as well as having daytripped a ride on the Britpop wave as part of seminal label Creation records, Carr ended The Boo Radleys in 1998 feeling they had achieved everything they could, and in 2000 released his first solo record, under the Bravecaptain moniker.
Building upon the early lo-fi psychedelic experiments of Fingertip Saint Sessions Vol.1 and Vol. 2: Go With Yourself via one-off singles for small labels and Super Furry Animals remixes, Carr rejigged his writing process with a lower profile and wider palette on 2002’s Advertisements For Myself. Melding acoustic instrumentation to the debris of 606 beats, Carr’s work is wonderfully melodic finding the confidence and leaps of genius to dip into simple electronics or harsh IDMisms without sounding out of his depth. Stylus finds Martin Carr finishing up his next LP in his home studio in Cardiff, Wales and gets the lowdown on the world of Bravecaptain.
So, you’ve been nominated for 'Best Male Solo Artist' vs. John Cale in the upcoming Welsh Music Awards, fancy your chances?
Martin Carr: After years of slagging off award ceremonies I finally get nominated for something. I'm not sure if John Cale has done much these past twelve months, I certainly haven't seen him down the Canton pub quiz. Cale won't win; nobody has forgiven him for being such a grumpy bastard last time he was here. I need some heavy voting action to topple the mighty MC Mabon though. He’s the cousin of Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals and has done about five albums now, which are mostly good and some like The Hunt For Meaning that are fucking genius. He doesn't do much hip hop now, though, which is a shame. I did a collaboration with him for the Fierce Panda label called “The Badman Rules Forever” which was a top tune but a poor quality recording.
Are you an adopted Welshman now, having lived there for a few years?
MC: No, I am out of here first chance I get, I miss home (London) too much. Don't tell the voters that till after the awards, though. I never intended to stay here this long, I miss the city, the adventure. This place is a little bit cramped.
Does living in Cardiff make you feel like you did on the Boo Radleys song “Reaching Out from Here” where your environment was bringing you down? I’m sure you wrote a song where you came to the conclusion that it’s not the place you live, but its who you're living with.
MC: That was “Wilder”; I was talking out my arse. Actually, I was saying that that is what it should be, but isn’t. It’s fucking stupid isn’t it, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me. I'm like a stupid clock, I keep making the same mistake over and over. I just want to be somewhere else.
Have you had much feedback on the four track I Am a Lion EP you recently offered as a free download on your website? Is it hard to get press nowadays?
MC: Impossible. The last album Advertisements for Myself, I think it was reviewed in the NME but there was no interview which shows how far things have swung the other way from the past. I should start reviewing them myself. I have no idea how many people have heard I Am A Lion. We had to give it away; it had been hanging round for a year and was beginning to smell. I couldn't afford to release it properly and it only got a couple of reviews. I haven’t really read the NME since the band split up. I pick up a copy occasionally if there's one around but I don't know what they are talking about most of the time and half of it appears to be advertising something. I used to lie awake, unable to sleep the night before it came out. One of the reasons I moved to London was because you could get the NME a day early. It isn't the same as it was, it has different agendas outside of music. It’s run purely for profit, or maybe it always was.
Can you talk me through the writing/recording process of the EP’s lead track “I Pledge Resistance to the Flag”?
That's very difficult to do as the song happened so fast and was completed in one session, from beginning to end it took about three or four hours. I was trying to write something for the Warchild album which I had thought was an anti-war album, hence the title. The melody was definitely last thing I did which is unusual for me, I think that's why it doesn't sound like one of my melodies which, by the way, is a good thing. It started off as a couple of chords played on a keyboard, the idea was for more of an orchestral piece which I got bored of after a while. Next came the descending line that is a constant throughout and then the bass line which turned it away fully from the orchestral idea into something quite different. I chucked in some funky drums which I timestretched and reversed in parts and you got yourself a hit (in theory)! I was very pleased with the melody though, it's quite bluesy which is a style I love but find difficult to write. The 'we are the bombs' vocoder bit came early on, in fact it was an instrumental at first with that and the chords. I think...
How’s the next LP coming along?
MC: Good, I've just about finished. It's the best one so far I think, it's certainly got some of the best songs I've written for ages on it. It's not quite what I intended but I like it. I had these wild visions of a sprawling electronic thing like Bitches Brew or The White Album but all done on my laptop, and then I started writing tunes. I know! What a fucking cop out, but it's not all sunshine and lollipops though. I hope it will see daylight this year, I never know when a song is finished, usually when I'm told that there is no more time…that means it’s finished. Working the way I do now with the laptop, it's hard to tell when a song has started. We are going to rush this one out, hopefully in the next couple of months. I want to release three albums this year, I've only done one but am going to record another two. I do 'em at home. The working title is All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace which is a poem by my favourite author, Richard Brautigan. There’s a shit band called Machines of Loving Grace too? Really? Bollocks.
I remember reading an interview with Mark Eitzel a little while back and he sold 2 tour CDs and he said it was the most money he'd ever made from a release...could've been talking out of his arse though.
MC: No, he's right. Think about it, even if I only sold maybe 1,000 copies every time I put one out. I could release a song a month that would cost £1 to subscribe to. Every year you would have a twelve song album for twelve quid and I would have made twelve grand to put into Bravecaptain. It's the record companies that are ripping everyone off. Thing is, I only sell about 20 copies.
Have you changed or has the industry changed?
MC: I've changed in the way that I have no interest in the music industry, I license my records when I make them, Wichita (the label ran by ex-Creation head Dick Green) always have first refusal. I love making music and if I could find away to support myself outside of the industry I would. I'm hoping the internet will provide. Hopefully that’s what we'll end up doing. Not everyone has a computer yet though, but that's the aim.
When you first decided to go solo, did you initially base your new career on the way a particular artist’s path had gone, or hope it go a certain way?
MC: I wanted to do bits of everything. Have a band, do electronic stuff, DJ, remix, all under the Bravecaptain umbrella. Hoping that one would take off, enabling me to fund the rest.
Your live work with Bravecaptain is so different to the traditional band set-up you had with The Boo Radleys. How does it compare?
MC: I don’t know, it feels natural to me now. The last Boo's gig was five years ago…that seems like forever. I like being up there on my own, I didn't really like being the front-man in a band. With the Boo's I could hide behind an assortment of hats, amps and drugs but I didn't feel comfortable at the front. It's hard to gauge response now because there are no gaps in between songs, obviously you can tell if people are nodding their heads or dancing. And if there is no fucker there at the end then it's a safe bet that you haven't captured the audience's imagination in the way that you would have liked. The live shows follow a pattern of sorts, I know the songs that are available to me beforehand, but the ones I do and what I do with them is down to how I feel on the night. I could spend half an hour on one song, you may not even realise which song it is! The software that I use, Ableton, is incredibly interactive and I put more effort into a live show nowadays than I ever did standing there with a guitar. The one problem is that the whole thing isn't very stimulating visually for the audience, it's something I need to address for the future. Hopefully I’ll be gigging this year.
Are you bummed about the credit (or lack of) you get as a songwriter?
MC: Not really, because I'm not very consistent. I like to do stuff that not many people really get. I'm too selfish to be a great songwriter, although I want to be one when I grow up. Selfish in the way that I can write really great songs that everyone likes, but I think its an easy way out so I write a bunch of stuff that people (I'm talking about my friends and stuff here) admire. But they always say 'Yeah, but I really like “Betsi's Beads” or “Comb yr Hair”. Every album I think 'Fuck it, I should do an album of great songs’. But I get scared half way through and write stuff that I think is cool, rather than the things that I find easy which are the ones that touch people the most. I don't normally use the word 'stuff' so much…and stuff.
So it’s a war between you being an awkward obscurist and the populist? Do you think if you did an LP of normal sounding great songs and everyone thought it was shite and it didn’t sell you'd be heartbroken?
MC: No, because it would be a great record. I think all that NME reading as a kid (and the Beatles) has got me hooked on being 'important', but that’s not what pop music is about. And I don’t like bands like The Lightning Seeds, even though I admire that guy for what he does, because I think the music is twee. I think that I'm afraid of becoming like them because it’s just not my thing. I love Kid 606, Knifehandchop, 555 and Tigerbeat6, but I don’t sit around all day playing the albums. Give me a spliff or a Sunday afternoon and I’ll kick back and listen to anything but that. I do want to reach people, but I want to do it in a different way, and that was the Boo's problem. As soon as we stopped trying to be clever we had a top ten record. Look at Oasis, they released a few fantastic pop records and then decide they want to be a 'serious' rock band and everything they've done in the last nine years has been really boring, self important shite. So basically, I’m at war with myself. Cool eh?
How did you first get into the glitch style music that you do?
MC: I have heard it in my head for years, and I'm not sure where I heard it first—possibly a Hrvatski remix. I’ve always loved that cut-up vocal thing. When we were doing Kingsize I bored everyone rigid with the Fatboy Slim remix of Wildchild’s “Renegade Master” single. I think the first record I heard that made me think I wanted to do it was the Richard D. James album. The first track on Kingsize is me copying that.
Do you have any fond memories (or any memories at all) of working on Dave Baker’s post-Mercury Rev project, Shady?
Wow, now we're going back. I met Dave Baker in Leeds in 1990/91. Me and Mark Bowen (Wichita) had persuaded his girlfriend to drive us up there from Liverpool to watch Mercury Rev at the Duchess Of York. I remember we played the demos to 'Everything’s Alright Forever' all the way up. It was one of the best gigs we ever went to and afterwards we got chatting to one of them (as we always did) and it turned out to be Dave, who was really nice to us. We went to see them everywhere after that in Manchester, Dave left the stage during the gig and came and shook our hands. That made us feel pretty cool. Anyway I can't remember much after that (he turned up in Canada to watch us once!) but somehow I got word that he wanted to do a solo album and that he wanted me to do a couple of tracks with him. I stayed at my mate Pete's house and we did three songs, I think. They were very sketchy at first. Dave got mad at us (me and Andy, the engineer) because we just drinking and drinking and taking drugs and not getting very much done at all. I remember being all wasted and him shouting at me: ��What are you doing? I asked you to do this because of what you have done with your band! Because of what you do!' and I just stared at him all glassy eyed and said, ��But this is what we do', which I think he liked even though he wanted to kill me at the time. I wasn't a very good producer. I'm still not, except for my own stuff. It’s just that he didn’t know that and I hadn't discovered it yet. I remember he spent loads of money on the first Aphex album and he was really mad 'cos he thought it was shite. He was right like. I've seen him a few times since. I'd love to see him again. I really liked him. Mercury Rev—I loved them; “Chasing a Bee” is great, as is “Car Wash Hair” as is “Coney Island Cyclone”. I never liked anything after that.
Have you ever produced or collaborated with anyone else?
MC: I produced an Irish band called Puppy Love Bomb that were pretty good, which I did for Rough Trade. I did a band called Blue Seed who sent me a demo of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, but when we got into the studio they just wanted to do blues jams that were fucking boring—it was heartbreaking. Howie, the singer, is in The Stands now, and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Just a shame that he wanted to sound like third generation cassette copies of Cream playing live. I swore I would never do it again after that, and I never got paid. My ideal musical collaboration? Me, Mingus and DJ Scud in a pond with Pavement records overdubbed later.
Did you ever think about giving music up after the Boo Radleys ended? Your songs talk a lot about positivism and getting up off your arse, but a lot of your lyrics are deeply pessimistic about your life, too.
MC: No, music is the only thing I can do, it’s the only thing I ever want to do. I’ll be doing it until the grave, it’s not a hobby or a dream or a distraction; it’s my life. A lot of people talk to themselves, I see them in the pub and in the supermarket, the trick is to do it in a song—then the authorities don’t notice so much. It’s all up or down with me, as I don’t tend to have too many middling days. Writing helps as therapy, but what really helps is therapy.
You reference 'god' or something like it/him/her a lot in your lyrics, are you a traditionally religious man?
MC: I was brought up a Catholic and we did have it rammed down our throats. My mum’s side of the family were very religious and I turned against it (organised religion) many years ago. I don’t believe in heaven or hell or old men with beards in the sky but I believe there is a spiritual life to be had, as in I believe we can be happy following certain guidelines. I believe in empathy and tolerance. I hope there is an afterlife and I hope it involves smoking and time travel.
Some musicians get a bit arsey about discussing their old bands or speaking to fans via websites, you seem comfortable with both.
MC: There's no point in ignoring things that have happened in the past. Once they're done they're done and they become immutable. I don’t regret anything and I'm not ashamed of anything. The people at the website keep me going, they're the best thing. Without that I would think there was nobody out there. Yeah, they rule and I love them because they remind me of me. I'm their fan.
Have The Boo Radleys left any sort of legacy?
MC: I've never heard a band sound like us since. There were plenty before, but we killed the genre dead. The Electric Soft Parade seem to like us; nice boys with good tunes, but I don’t think they sound like us though. We took a few risks, bands don’t really do that now unless they already sell billions anyway, the imagination found in bands nowadays ends at the first advert offer.
How do you feel about talking about Creation? Do you feel like kicking Alan McGee up and down your back lane after what he said about The Boo Radleys costing the label a million pounds and never being a real part of the label?
MC: I’m an evolutionist, I don’t mind. As for Alan McGee, I don't have any feelings in his direction really. I was doing it for the band first obviously, but I was proud to be on Creation. I thought we were the best label in the world, but I had my own view of what Creation was. Everybody involved will have their own view of what it was. For me it was great, until a couple of things happened that were kind of embarrassing, but I told Alan what they were at the time. I have no baggage from then, just great memories. He can say whatever he likes; it's a free country (so they tell me).
Have you ever met any of your heroes and did they disappoint?
I've never wanted to meet anyone that badly really. When I was a kid I was always into hanging around after gigs, trying to meet the band but I never had anything to say to them really. I think I just hoped that some of what I perceived to be their magic would rub off on me.
Do you still adore The Beatles as much as the old days? What did you reckon to Let it Be...Naked?
MC: I haven’t heard it yet, I don’t care really. If I could afford it I would buy it, but I'd rather spend what money I can afford on records on something new. I still love them though.
People seem to go mad over any old bollocks, grown men are weeping over Franz Ferdinand...I just don’t get it.
MC: I’ve never heard of grown men. I did like the thirty seconds I heard of Franz Ferdinand though. Its conveyor belt culture now. People see an epoch from the past and they suddenly need it every week. Next!
What was the last record you went all teenage over?
MC: "Milkshake" by Kelis. I think the Neptune’s are on the fucking money. So simple, yet different. You always know a Neptune’s tune. Guitar-wise? Fuck all. Maybe I don’t get out enough.
Samples? Do you clear them or fuck them beyond recognition?
MC: I don’t use them. I don’t need to. I just do what I’ve always done, which is nick the vibe and redo it a little bit differently. For me, sampling is a bit lazy; it’s a no-risk high-gain capital venture.
If you get a melody in you head, do you go for the guitar or the laptop?
MC: If I get a melody in my head, I’m usually holding a guitar anyway. But if I'm stuck I will get things running on the laptop and see what happens. They sometimes come in the night, but you can't really catch them. No such thing as demo anymore, I just write and record.
What’s the last stuff you bought that you would recommend?
MC: “Hillside Runway” by 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, who are a new Jamaican band and sounds like the old stuff, and some hip-hop by Kidz With Toyz. If you like tunes I would recommend Clifford T. Ward, an old-style traditional singer songwriter guy who does beautiful songs with pianos and strings. It’s old man music, but not Oasis. Oh, and Zabrinski.
What’s your opinion on the latest Tony Blair (UK “Socialist” Prime Minister) situation with Tuition fees and Iraq etc?
MC: I’ve never voted for him, which just makes me angrier at him because I do want to vote. He only won because he turned it into a leadership/party thing, forcing MP's to stand down on their principles with bullying and threats. The MPs should be loyal to us first, then the party and then him. He's swine. There is a solution involving graduates with high paying jobs giving a little back, but it hurts my head to think about it. I agree that education for some can benefit us all but not if students are just going in to marketing and the such—becoming just another spindle in the consumerism wheel. As for socialism, I like to look for the reason behind the problems we face rather than knee jerk reactions. There is a quote by someone, I wish I could remember who…I'll have to paraphrase: "If I give money to the poor they call me a saint, if I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist". I think it may have been a priest, or one of the Banana Splits.
Martin Carr’s Top 10 Albums [in no particular order]:
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
The Pixies - Come On Pilgrim
Goats - Tricks of the Shade
Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings
The Beatles - The Beatles
Tom Waits - Raindogs
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Dinosaur Jr - You're Living All Over Me
The Beach Boys - Surf's Up
Aphex Twin - Richard D James
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2004-02-23