Kerosene have experienced the big highs and lows of the music industry since the early 90's when they went from being an indie label band to getting signed by Warner's and touring the world. James and Paul from the band took some time out to tell us about their experiences and how they are enjoying newfound creative freedom 25 years later.
Be sure to listen to their amazing new album 'DESIGNED BY ROBOTS : DESTROYED
BY MAN' and read on to find out how the global pandemic changed the course of this album in unexpected ways...
Kerosene are: Paul Taylor, James Mountford, Mr Hancox and Chris Willcocks
Q. As a band who has experienced the highs and lows of having record deals in the 90s, making albums and touring - how does making music on your own terms and having all these options available now to release music independently compare?
Well, our lifespan as a band is quite long and we've seen a whole cycle of events. When we got our first record deal with Dead Dead Good (based in Northwich) that was great as that was a genuinely independent label. Steve Harrison managed The Charlatans and then signed up the best acts in the North West that hadn't gone to a major label, and we used the local community for artwork and marketing etc, quite a 'punk/DIY' process and very much in line with our ethos. It was good being 'underground' in hindsight!
Before we knew it we were signed to Warner's on a worldwide deal and we got swept up in the maelstrom of the corporate world - it is a machine though, it chews you up and spits you out! Before we knew it we were in the studio - these were the days when studio time was expensive and our first output wasn't as good as we wanted it to be, we were naive and there was no option for us to revisit anything, so from the start you lose some control and you have to make compromises. And for several years it was a blur of studios, tours, interview and so on, we couldn't come up for air, tours just became a blur of hotel rooms - I remember driving past a sign pointing to Niagra Falls (5 miles!!) but we didn't have time to visit as we had to get from Boston to Cleveland in time for a radio interview and we'd forgotten about the timezone changes with the States!
So all this time later we are back to how we were at our inception - doing this on our own terms. We can experiment and we don't have to compromise, it's incredibly liberating and it's a very creative energy we now have back with us. The KLF published a book called The Manual as a guide to creating a hit single and way back in 1988 they called it right "It's obvious that in a very short space of time the Japanese will have delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off all that crap about going into studios." So now, not only do we have no record label execs and lackies pulling the strings, but we have the tech within our hands to create great music within our own world. Much of what we do is also 'in the cloud', a stream of code pinged between us to work with in our own environments - and these means we can be happy with the music we can now make. Often the first play through of a new song is essentially the best in its rawest and freshest energy, and we can now use that, many of our tracks use the very first demo guitar take and we've learned how to create more impact with less fuss. Back in the '90s we'd play a song dozens of times in the studio for the "perfect" take (read "blandest" there) and then mix/produce the life and soul of the poor thing, until we had the most sterile sound imaginable! Then we'd play live and the song would be resurrected and crackle with vitality again. So now we capture that essence from the start and we can be proud of our work - and then we put it out there if people want it!
Q. You started out as a Manchester based band - what’s your favourite venue that you played in the city?
Oooh, tricky! We cut our teeth at The Boardwalk, so that's special in our hearts. We played as local support to many a decent band there (That Petrol Emotion, Sebadoh and tons more) as we learnt our craft - so much so that we were made lifetime members and we could go to any gig we wanted to! Then the Roadhouse was always good, a nice intimate venue that always came alive for us. Always wanted to play The Ritz, but that wasn't a common venue back in our day so for a decent size we played the main Academy, but we do like the down and dirty, compact and bijou venues most!
Q. We remember bands standing on the streets in Manchester in the early 90’s with tape players and headphones stopping people on the streets to listen to their music - did you ever try that?!
Jeez, no we didn't do that! We did bombard journalists, labels, promoters and other industry players instead though! I used to live next door to Ian Brown before the Stone Roses really took off, and would, ahem, 'socialise' occasionally - and I was impressed with the impact they had with their 'graffiti' campaign, so we'd go round Manchester and paste up our own locally printed posters and flyers on top of major gig posters. We found out that this was an essentially Manchester-Mafia run enterprise when we were advised to back-off courtesy of a glue-laden brush being smashed in my face one day. We were persistent though, and we made the most of our tenuous contacts - Tim Booth would drop in the shop where I used to work part-time and as we ended up signing to the same label I could pick his brains, same with John Robb, a thoroughly decent chap, so he'd give us a break with some interviews too. Again local stalwarts like Terry Christian would champion us locally and Craig Cash on his Signal Radio show, even before we had any record label interest.
Q. Best tour story?!
Ha-ha, what happens on tour, stays on tour! Nah, maybe we were too sensible, cribbage and cocoa after a gig for us! Most of the crazy stuff happened in NYC during album pre-production as the record company insisted on putting on the guest list for every gig and club going - how Paul's liver didn't pack in we have no idea. For most of the band a high point was the visit to Graceland, Elvis' mansion was cool when we hit Memphis, Tennessee - doing the Spinal Tap 'harmonies scene' at the graveside! And for fear-of-our-life stuff being chased out of a shopping mall car park in Waco, Texas by a bunch of local gun-toting KKK types screaming "kill the f*****g long-haired f*****g weirdos!" - we got out of town quick!
Q. Any advice for new bands starting out? What do you wish you had known?!
I think most genuine creatives have their own vision, or an ethos, a style, sound or whatever it is that defines them, and that should help them stand out from the crowd. So 'dare to be different' in defining yourself and then keep true to that, be firm with your belief. Always strive to deliver the best version of yourself, the best version of your art and don't compromise on the way. Don't pander to people who are there for the money, we mentioned John
Robb, so connect with the people who are there for the love of music.
'Spotlight ' from Kerosene's new album: Designed By Robots Destroyed By Man
Q. You split up for 20 years or so - what triggered you getting back together? And are you enjoying this creative period better?
We reconnected quite naturally, ultimately through Facebook/Messenger - but after being so incredibly close, living inside each other's personal headspace all those years ago, despite the time apart that spiritual and creative connection was always there smouldering at the back of your head. We're too old for petty and bitter recriminations now! So it wasn't long after chatting that we decided to dust down the archive demos that never saw the light of day 20-add years ago and freshen them up with today's tech. After that new songs happened naturally, we've all developed well as song-writers and we've formed a good way of working remotely and digitally that suits us all across the continent. We have no pressure to conform to anything, no timelines except the arbitrary ones we create ourselves. The rules have gone out of the window about releasing single, single, album, tour, video etc etc, so without all of that BS we have the freedom to enjoy the music and the creativity.
Q. Tell us about your new album Designed By Robots: Destroyed By Man - and did lockdown slow down recording?
Well 'lockdown' did impact the recording but not for the reasons most would expect. We no longer live near each other, so we all record our parts remotely with our home studios anyhow (we've been socially distancing for 25 years already!) which means we can flex our own personal time around our music. COVID and lockdown had a different impact for us in that it altered the background to the album. Last year we produced 'Circadian' an album that redefined our style and sound as a separation point from old-Kerosene to new-Kerosene and was about a dystopian future on the horizon - little did we know that 2020 would bring that future into the here and now. So faced with coronavirus, continuing climate disasters, a bleak economic outlook, starvation, the BLM campaign and finally starting to confront our appalling privileged colonial past the subject matter changed radically - the whole tone of our output was influenced by global events. Lockdown allowed us to reflect on ourselves once more and the theme for the album became far more introspective. As we've said, with the freedom we have it's okay to change the course of the project, and so the tracklist was totally overhauled and aside from a couple of songs only the title of the album remained - something we couldn't have done previously; we would have needed to persuade our management team, who would have need to speak with the East West team in London, who would have need to speak with the New York team, who would have needed to speak with Burbank etc etc. Soul destroying! So we've produced an album that starts and finishes with instrumental tracks, music that sets the scene and speaks without the need for words. Elsewhere, vocal duties are split between Paul and David for the first time, and the music moves from gentle fragility to full trademark Kerosene alt-rock and twists around a few corners. There's gentle 80's synth sounds padding and tinkling within, smarter use of strings and even a trumpet solo on 'Thin Air Farm' a song that looks as the bleak prospects for many, reminiscent of Steinbeck's Grapes Of Wrath. We'd be pleased if anyone takes 48 minutes out, pops on some headphones and gives it a listen at least once. (In track order though, none of this 'shuffle' stuff!)
Q. What’s your favourite Kerosene song?
Depends which day and what time you ask us. From the archive, Sink is liked, it sounds energetic and spunky to this day, Broken (from the album 'Broken') is great for its beauty, but our current general consensus is 'Recoil' - we've recently done a live Facebook session of this, and then we shared the video exclusively via TuneBubble.
'Sink' - their first video in 1992 & the lead track from the 'Collision EP' released on Dead Dead Good label.
It was our first live performance for 25 years! The audio will be on Spotify from 26th August too.
Q. Give us 10 songs on your playlist today!
Well today's list will be different from tomorrow's and that in turn is different from yesterday! Here's 10 for a start...
Talking Heads 'Once In A Lifetime'
Fugazi 'Waiting Room'
The Go! Team 'She's Got Guns'
David Bowie 'Heroes'
The Joy Formidable 'Liana'
Royal Blood 'Lights Out'
The Brian Jonestown Massacre 'Anemone'
The Only Ones 'Another Girl, Another Planet'
Def Robot 'Gordon From Gordon', Thievery Corporation 'Until The Morning'
You can check out Kerosene's Spotify playlist 'kerosene : active ingredients' which is 100 songs that influenced their work!
Q. What’s coming up for you next?
(I so much want to say that we're doing a Jazz Odyssey but I'll refrain!!) ...but some of the songs from the DbR:DbR session are still unreleased and are currently being complemented with new material for our next album 'Extremities : Music From The Motion Picture' - so that's half complete already! It will continue our journey with more experimental songs, styles and instruments (there's already a 15 minute instrumental 'Man Your Time Is Done' in there!!) - actually that's starting to sound like we have done a Jazz Odyssey!!! We also have a collection of live session tracks following on from doing Recoil, so we've done 'Come Alive', 'Broken' and 'Soda Queen' so far. So overall we've done the best and the most in the last 18 months and we have the freedom to carry on doing more. Our albums are all alphabetical if you haven't noticed, so we'll stop when we've released the 'Zaddikims' album.