Monthly Archives: March 2014

… March, April & May: Tour of England

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The internet can be a marvelous thing, can’t it? Sure, we all find our reasons to complain about it, but you’re reading this on the internet right now. February Records wouldn’t exist without it and, to some extent, the trip I’m about to write about wouldn’t have happened without both. At least not in the capacity that it did.

I traveled to England for several different reasons. I had some time off from work and, having only been living in Europe for a month, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. So, why England? I ultimately decided that it would be nice to fully understand the language around me again, which somewhat quickly transformed into meeting the first two bands I worked with on February Records — Finnmark and The Swapsies. During the planning stages of their releases, and even afterward, we stayed in contact. I didn’t have to think twice about contacting any of them when I decided England was my destination. And, within hours of my decision, I was already confirmed to spend time in Liverpool and Leeds.

Arrival

After a long bus ride and sitting around a very small airport for hours, I finally landed in London and caught the first express train from Stansted Airport to the Liverpool Street Station. It was late by the time I reached my apartment in Rotherhithe, some time after 10 p.m. I was worn-out from waking at 7 a.m. for work followed by all that traveling, but I was in London for the first time. Instead of giving in to my exhaustion, I followed signs through gardens and parks, past the roar of the famous Angel pub, and eventually found my way to the banks of the Thames. I followed that path until I reached Tower Bridge, lit up magnificently in the darkness. It was the beginning of a great adventure.

I spent the following few days in the south of England, wandering around London and taking an impromptu trip to Brighton on an unseasonably warm Sunday. I frequented record shops in both cities where I found myself flipping through rows and rows of garage and pop vinyl, though I held back on making any purchases. I did far too much walking and saw the sights, went to the British Museum on two separate occasions, and shared pints with friends, both old and new. The Lexington had great wallpaper, but The Mayflower still remains my favorite pub.

Liverpool with The Swapsies

I caught a train to Liverpool on Tuesday. The overcast skies covering London eventually broke to a clear blue, littered with only a few sparse clouds. The book in my lap was never opened; instead, I stared at the landscape as it passed by. Rolling green hills, growing richer and brighter as the trip progressed. The half-crumbled ruins of old stone houses mixed between farmland and sheep pastures. Narrow canals cluttered with small boats and roads lined with hedges on both sides. I sat and absorbed everything I could, listening only to the hum of the train as the wheels rattled over the tracks. Those hours passed so peacefully and pleasantly. I also knew what was awaiting me on the other end of those tracks.

My first stop was to see The Swapsies, the four lovely Liverpudlians who had become great friends over the course of the past several months. Huw met me off the train, determined to give me a warm welcome. He succeeded. We wandered around the city center: Albert Dock, the Mersey, the bombed-out church, Liverpool Cathedral and Saint James Gardens. Sean, Huw, and I eventually made our way to the studio and were met by Elaine and Andy. There, The Swapsies re-recorded a couple of vocal takes for their Between Two Waves collaboration. The song is quite good! I only regret not being brave enough to sing one of the lines myself when given the chance.

It was surreal for me to be in that environment — I looked around the basement studio and saw collages of Swapsies artwork, the Feb Recs logo right in the center. Andy was wearing one of the badges I sent them on his dufflecoat. The Swapsies were celebrating a milestone (happy belated birthday, Swapsies!) and there were these endearing, heartfelt DIY books passed around. These books were full of images, reviews, and even some of my emails from over the course of the past year. What a sense of delight that gave me — knowing that I somehow played a part in all of this, however small it may be. Little did they understand how much I’ve appreciated all they’ve done, as well. Finally being there and meeting the people I’ve exchanged an untold number of emails with, both professionally and personally, had already been a great experience even after a few hours. I got to see the band’s dynamic and each individual’s personality for what they really were, though they weren’t far from what I imagined them to be. All sweet, shy, and friendly. I even met Fruitcake, Elaine’s lhasa apso and perhaps the band’s unofficial mascot. She didn’t disappoint, either.

The remaining days of my visit to Liverpool were spent in Sefton Park and the city center, with each member of the band in different capacities, almost always accompanied by large pots of tea. Four people after my own heart. There was indiepop on the stereo: The Icicles, Belle and Sebastian, Jam on Bread, Banana and Louie. There were collectable football coins, Irish monopoly, the 1983 UK edition of Trivial Pursuit, and autographed Stephen King novels. My first ever Bounty — which was basically a Mounds bar. The group sent me off with my very own personalized poem from the Lark Lane poet, the bar playing an album by The Shins from front to back. I felt like I was with friends I’ve known for ages, people who went out of their way to make me feel at home. Leaving was so bittersweet.

Leeds with Finnmark

Alas, there were two more cities to visit before my return to Sweden. I only spent a few hours in Manchester, but that was enough time to do the reasonable thing and find the Salford Lads Club. I also had to limit my purchases in Piccadilly Records, but walked away with Lightships’ Sweetness in Her Spark 7” and the new Withered Hand album. I spent what seemed like ages waiting for Edward at Manchester Piccadilly. So long, in fact, that we ended up missing the last train of the night — a Leeds right of passage, I’m told. We had a pint at a lively Manchester bar before finally catching a train to Leeds just after 1 a.m. and arrived an hour or so later, where Betsy the cat eagerly greeted us.

Apparently people don’t visit Leeds just for the sake of visiting. Despite that fact, Edward is actually a great tour guide! I saw all that Leeds has to offer; the mix of new architecture overtaking the old. The area of Leeds University that was used in a scene of A Clockwork Orange. The Dark Arches and subsequent bizarre underground compartments turned into expensive parking spaces. The art gallery where Edward educated me on the paintings of John and Paul Nash. The vast rows of identical looking houses once used for the employees of the now inoperative factories of the area, entirely disorienting as to how alike they all looked. We frequented several different bars, in which I remember a conversation concerning Half Man Half Biscuit. We met various people throughout the course of the day. I even managed to meet two more members of the “Finnmark Four,” the members of the live band, Ben and Sandra. Sadly, I missed seeing Owen, the fourth member of Finnmark and the talented musician behind The French Defence. I tried a great deal of local beer, though I couldn’t tell you what they were now. Edward is exactly as I’d expected him to be – charming, friendly, and entirely entertaining. It was a whirlwind of a day and waking up to catch my taxi at 6:30 a.m. after a Saint Patrick’s themed night at The Brudenell was incredibly tough.

Departure

I was sitting on the coach driving down the M1 between Leeds and London when I wrote most of this, the memories still fresh in my mind. Now I’m sitting on the express train back to Stansted, having spent one last sunny afternoon in London and having said one final goodbye before I catch my flight back to Västerås. I’m still trying to recover and struggling to simply stay awake after complete sleep deprivation from last night’s outing, the lull of the train not making it any easier. But as I look back on the previous ten days, it seems like I have been in England for much longer. Though I’m returning to another city that I love, I feel a bit sad about leaving this country. Being a part of February Records, and, to some great extent, this little indiepop community we all speak of, has brought a lot of people into my life. I know I’ve written about that before. I had the chance to finally meet some wonderful people on this trip, several outside of the bands I visited, who have gone unnamed in this account but have had an equally positive impression on my journey. I can honestly say that I have even left a couple of real, true friends in England.

By the time this is posted online, I’ll already be back home in Sweden, removed from the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, and all the things I’ve just described to you now. I know this isn’t the last time I’ll be seeing Huw, Sean, Elaine, Andy, Edward, or anyone else I spent time with over the last 10 days. There’s a summer full of pop festivals right around the corner, after all.

Photo by Kristin Gill. Photo illustration by DG.

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… March, April & May: Tim Brown

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February Records is pleased to announce that, in the coming weeks, we will be digitally re-releasing Lunchbox’s Glow Like There’s No Tomorrow 7″, which was originally released by Magic Marker in 2001.

Tim Brown and Donna McKean are the two constants among a revolving lineup in the critically-acclaimed indiepop band Lunchbox. Forming in 1994, Lunchbox released a string of albums between 1996 and 2002 — their self-titled debut on San Francisco’s Not Happy label,The Magic of Sound and Evolver on Portland’s Magic Marker, and Summer’s Over on Stewart Anderson’s (Boyracer) 555 Recordings.

This coming May, a reformed Lunchbox, featuring one of the band’s “classic” lineups will play the San Francisco PopFest alongside other late ’90s and early 2000s indiepop icons Boyracer, Rocketship, The Softies and The Cat’s Miaow’s Bart Cummings performing as Bart and Friends. A new album from Lunchbox — the band’s first since 2002 — should also be available around that time from Jigsaw Records.

In 2010, Tim reached out to February Records looking for a label to release some songs from his then-band Birds of California. The Great Expectations EP received quite a bit of blog buzz at the time and was followed by a full-length on Jigsaw Records.

We got in touch with Tim to see what he’s been up to in the last four years and talk about the new album, San Francisco PopFest and moving across the country, among other things.

March, April & May: Hi Tim, last time we spoke was in 2010 when February Records was releasing the Great Expectations EP from Birds of California. It looks like you’ve been pretty busy since then — relocating from the Boston area to Oakland, Calif., reforming Lunchbox and getting ready to release a new LP on Jigsaw, and signing on to play this year’s San Francisco PopFest. When did Lunchbox reform? How did that come about? Does that signal the end of Birds of California?

Tim Brown: It all just sort of happened by accident. I was in discussion with Chris from Jigsaw, who was saying he wanted to re-release an early Lunchbox album, and I asked him if he wanted to release this album of material we recorded in Boston after the Birds of California album, One and Only. He was enthusiastic about that, and we agreed that we’d do a vinyl LP, which I was excited about.

Then Stewart from Boyracer messaged me to tell me that Boyracer was playing the [San Francisco] Popfest, and offered to play drums if I wanted to do a Birds of California show. Somewhere around that time Chris said, “If we’re doing an album, you ought to play the Popfest.” So the whole thing somehow morphed into a Lunchbox reunion show. Stew gracefully bowed out so that our old Lunchbox drummer, Shannon Handy, could play. So now it’s going to be the “classic” Lunchbox lineup (one of the “classic” lineups), with me on guitar and vocals, Donna on bass and vocals, Shannon on drums, Jeremy Goody on trumpet, and Amr Toppozada on guitar and keyboards.

It definitely does signal the end of Birds of California. Birds played the SF Popfest in 2009, but then, because of various obstacles, the record didn’t come out until 2013, and even before that, for various reasons (not least because Donna and I lived in Boston, Stew in Arizona, the others in the Bay Area), it proved impossible to continue the band.

M,A&M: Both Lunchbox and Birds of California featured you and Donna McKean. How much of an overlap in band members was there between Lunchbox and Birds of California? Was there a specific reason you released under the different name instead of just Lunchbox with a different lineup?

Tim: Well, the new Lunchbox album is almost completely me and Donna. Donna played bass, sang lead on a lot of the songs and I played guitar, drums, and everything else (except for trumpet, strings, and flute). The live bands are actually the same, except for Shannon being on drums instead of Stew. Jeremy and Amr are both incredible musicians, so I would never willingly not have them in the band. I got together to rehearse with Amr last week — mind you, we haven’t played a Lunchbox song since 2002 — and he just started playing the songs again, almost like we never stopped. Amazing. I think he remembers them better than I do.

The reason the Birds of California album was not a Lunchbox album was partly because I always hated the name Lunchbox, since (as even a little consideration should have told me) it’s such a generic name, that other bands are bound to have it (and do). More fundamentally, it had been so long since Lunchbox that I wanted to do something fresh and new, and part of the idea was that this is a band we would do with Stew, and it would ride on his powerful Keith Moon-like drumming, and we would combine that with electronics and a kind of shoegaze-y wall of sound type of thing. And live, it was definitely like that. But I’m pretty sure that band did not benefit from being recorded with our usual piece-it-together-in-the-studio method; it would have been a good band to rehearse with for a while and then record live, with everyone doing their own thing, building into some kind of organic climax. But the time-frame and geographic situation did not support that. Recording the album sucked for me. Protools too-many-tracks madness, combined with geographically-dispersed band, drums tracks completed before songs were finished, with corresponding arrangement and tempo problems, etc. By the time the album came out four years later, the band was already defunct. I do like the Birds of California album, but it is an artifact of kind of an isolated, hard time in our lives.

M,A&M: Tell us about the new Lunchbox LP coming out on Jigsaw Records, “Lunchbox Loves You.” When will we be able to purchase it?

Tim: The record is supposed to come out in May, in time for the Popfest. It’s going to be a red vinyl LP, which I’m happy about, because, at this point, I’m all about the physical artifact. We stayed analog on this one (as on all the previous Lunchbox records). It’s simpler and it sounds better. I’m not the first one to say it, but it’s far better to have fewer tracks and be forced to make mixing and bouncing decisions along the way. The sound degradation of tape just helps matters. I don’t like separation, I like sonic glue. The more bouncing the better!

M,A&M: When February Records released Great Expectations, the band was based out of the Boston area. How long have you been back in California? What prompted the move?

Tim: We moved back to Oakland about a year and a half ago. That’s where we’re from, and we basically moved back there at the earliest opportunity. Oakland is a great place to be right now, but even if it wasn’t, it’s home.

M,A&M: What did you think of the Boston/New England music scene when you were living here? Were you involved in local music at all?

Tim: I was only nominally acquainted with it. Boston seems like a good music town as far as I can tell. The only music we did was recording those two records (Birds of California and new Lunchbox) in our mildewed semi-subterranean basement. In Oakland, the “basements” are actually at ground level — much healthier! We saw a few shows, at Great Scott or whatever; but I was really busy with work, and just really found it hard to meet people to do music with locally.

M,A&M: You played San Francisco Popfest in 2009 with Birds of California. Are you excited to return to the fest with Lunchbox?

Tim: Yes. It’s really fun to do Lunchbox again, and play with Shannon again, and sort of reclaim the oeuvre. When we stopped doing Lunchbox in 2002, we had been at it hard for years, and were kind of burnt out on it; but now it seems fresh again.

M,A&M: Are you playing with the original Lunchbox lineup?

Tim: There have been so many lineups; but this is one of the classic lineups, since Shannon played on Magic of Sound, and Amr became our main “utility person” not long after that.

M,A&M: What can festival goers expect to hear?

Tim: We’re going to play songs off all three of the old Lunchbox albums (Magic of Sound, Evolver, and Summer’s Over) plus songs from the new one. Stew will be making a guest appearance to reprise his ace guitar work on “Letter from Overend,” so that will be fun. It will be the less shoegaze-y Lunchbox; trying to keep it pop for the kids 🙂

M,A&M: What do you think of the San Francisco PopFest lineup? A lot of the bands harken back to the late ’90s and early 2000s — Rocketship, Boyracer, Dressy Bessy, The Softies. Other festivals, such as New York PopFest have followed this trend as well, recently featuring Close Lobsters, The Bats and, this year, The Flatmates. How do you feel about bands like these reforming, touring and even releasing new music?

Tim: I love all those bands. I love Boyracer, and Rocketship is fundamental for us. If there was no Rocketship, there would have been no Magic of Sound, I think it’s fair to say. I’ll never forget walking into Mike Schulman’s shop, Dropbeat, back in the ’90s, and seeing the Rocketship LP, and thinking, “fuck, some smart person called their band ‘Rocketship’,” and then I heard the record, and that was a game-changer. We went off to live in Berlin for a year in 1996 with Rocketship ringing in our ears (among other things), and we moved back to Oakland a year later steeped in drum and bass and kind of Berlin-haunted, and that was really the genesis of the Magic of Sound/Evolver/Summer’s Over era. I am stoked that Rocketship is releasing a new LP on Jigsaw, so that we’re now label-mates.

As to all of them (and us) releasing new music; I see no reason to stop, and I’m sure they feel the same way. If people like it, or want it, then it’s a great thing to be able to do.

M,A&M: Are you planning more shows for Lunchbox? Will you tour to support the new LP?

Tim: I want to. I’ve made a few inquiries about some West Coast dates. I told Chris at Jigsaw to tell Dusty from Rocketship that I want them to tour with us. Dusty, if you read this drop, me a line — it’s not too late!

M,A&M: What else have you been up to musically since we last spoke?

Tim: Donna and I have a new band, with Lindsay Romig (Pennywhistle Park) and Jon Braham, called #1 Smash Hits. It’s a return to our earliest loves, basically Buzzcocks plus feedback, mostly fast, very pop, but no wistful Major 7 chords like Lunchbox. We’ve been gigging around the Bay Area quite a bit with some bands we like (Kids on a Crimespree, Terry Malts, etc.). The goal of the band is to keep it simple — no studio skullduggery, no painful self-exposure, just fun. It’s working out pretty well. We’ve recorded an LP, which hopefully will come out somewhere at some point.

There’s a new Lunchbox bandcamp site up with some tracks from the new LP; and we’re working on a video this spring for the Lunchbox song “Tom, what’s Wrong” with our friend Claude Cardenas.

Interview conducted via email and compiled by Dan Goodwin. Photo illustration by DG.