Interview: We talk to Ewan Grant from WOMPS / Algernon Doll about recording with Steve Albini, his debut 7″ and the Glasgow music scene
WOMPS hail from Glasgow and are formed from the ashes of Algernon Doll, featuring Ewan Grant (guitars/vocals), Owen Wicksted (drums) and assorted friends on bass. Described by Paul Lester in The Guardian as “…cutely appealing in a ramshackle, off-kilter way, like Teenage Fanclub attempting their own version of In Utero…”. The band recorded with Steve Albini at his Electical Audio studios in Chicago, and release their debut AA 7” single on October 9th with UK & US tours dates and album on the horizon.
Hi Ewan. So you and drummer Owen became WOMPS when your bassist in Algernon Doll left. Why’d he leave and how long was that band together and how many records did you make ?
That band was more of an incarnation of the 3 solo records I made. When Owen joined the band we started writing much more together and it was obvious to me that we needed it to be a real band and I was prepared to give up total control as I have such respect for Owen’s writing skills. Owen and I have a special musical bond and that’s probably why we continued on with this new project as a two.
Bob Weston mastered one of your albums and was that a conscious step to recording with Steve Albini? What is the difference between getting Bob or fellow Chicago Mastering service engineer Matthew Barnhart to master compared to some mate with pro tools?
I think I chose Bob as he’d done Rodan and Jawbox records that I really love. I never imagined we’d get to record with Steve. I’ve always looked up to Steve so that was probably a life goal. I just hate pro tools now. It’s totally unnecessary for a live band like us. I’m a big believer in setting boundaries in which to work in and there’s too many options with pro tools. Most of which take over and are a detriment to the song.
Did you manage to see Rodan or Jawbox? I saw Rodan on a great tour with Eggs and Tsunami.
I’ve never seen either unfortunately. I hear the bassist from Jawbox is a primary teacher now. I know that Bob did the remaster on one of their records and it was amazing!
Did you get into the Rachel’s, June of 44, Tara Jane O’Neal? Or that other Jason Noble/Jeff Mueller band Shipping News? The live album ‘One Less Heartless To Fear‘ recorded in Japan is one of the best records I’ve heard-Bob Weston was involved in that too.
Nope. I’ve heard Shipping News. I’ll check them out. I know Bob had something to do with Bakesale by Sebadoh which sounds terrible but I love it. Also the live David Bazan record at Electrical Audio which is perfect!
I love all that scene although don’t have many friends that’d go with me to these things.
I think it kinda means, “crap” to us. Owen and I went for a burrito in Manchester and said a bunch of words and, “Have you heard the new WOMPS LP?” sounded cool to us. We’re well aware that there’s no good band names so we wanted something like that. We’re certainly not a bassy band!
You’re very much a Glasgow band and the music scene does seem very vital with great venues starting up like Hug & Pint from Synergy and MONO record shop/venue and CCA that’s such a great space for art and music. What do you like about the scene there and who are your favourite bands and promoters and how hard was it to get started?
I love the Glasgow scene, mainly for those places you’ve mentioned. MONO is one of the best record stores in the world and the employees will chat to you all day about what they’re passionate about. Synergy are great for helping out bands as they actually care and want to make a difference in the scene. My favourite Glasgow band right now are Lost Limbs who do a brilliant Ecossemo sound. I kind of come from this European screamo (La Quiete, Raein, Daitro) background and there’s so many great Scottish bands that have a unique sound influenced by this. It was hard getting started as it is a bit cliquey with some people. We don’t really fit in to any one scene which is a blessing and curse. I do believe that if you’re actually interested and going to shows and getting involved in a selfless manner then shows and crowds seem to find you.
I noticed a proliferation of Vegan venues in Glasgow, I know you are a vegan-how common is it for venues and bands now?
Glasgow is the Vegan capital of the UK I hear. There’s just a lot of great vegan food here and I guess it’s easy to cook if each band has one vegan member. Most people on tour will sort me out with vegan food which is greatly appreciated.
So you recorded 11 tracks with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, and these form your debut single (out sept 18th on Damnably) and an Album coming in January 2016. What was he like to work with and how was the process of live recording to tape compared with multi-takes on digital media like? How was the famed Electrical Audio studios, the engineers and the coffee Steve makes? Did Chicago feel like an exciting rock city? an awful lot of musicians gravitate there like Silkworm guys years ago and Geoff Farina and Chris from Policeteeth more recently.
I think we did like 4 songs in one night. We just got in a zone and Steve kept recording till he thought we were tired. He keeps you fuelled with his amazing Fluffy Coffees and collection of American sodas. How anyone finds this guy intimidating is beyond me! It’s great to be in the studio around all the Shellac, Silkworm, Mission of Burma and Fugazi posters and memorabilia and Steve made us very welcome. It became clear that he’s a genius after a short while talking to him but never let him know I think that or his head won’t fit through the door. Chicagoans are special people and the town is so unique that I can see why people gravitate there.
Can you see WOMPS living in Chicago or NY?
Definitely would love to do that. I’m in love with both cities. If I could afford to move to Brooklyn then I would in a heartbeat.
We love playing in England. It’s more organisation and petrol that inhibits us from going as much but I feel we’re much more organised now! I think we’re pretty niche too and if people don’t get what we do and how raw it’s supposed to be then they’ll hate us so it’s always playing to the right crowds that’s hard.
I know you love North America, what was it like touring there and was there much difference with the audiences? I know you are keen to play CMJ/SXSW is there any cities/venues that stand out that you’d love to play? And which bands are you into at the moment from the states?
It’s great! People there are much more outgoing and loose so they dance a long and it seems like they’re just out to have a good time rather than just be seen at a show. We’re playing CMJ in October, I’d really love to do Portland, Seattle and Vancouver as that’s where The Wipers came from and a lot of influential bands. I like Cloud Nothings a whole lot, Pharmakon and a bunch of Sacred Bones artists. I’m into all the older stuff like Shellac, Mission of Burma. I’m mostly listening to Danish post-punk bands right now though if I’m honest. Really interested in what’s coming out of Copenhagen right now.
Owen is the drummer and you play guitar, do you jam out songs together and then get a mate it to work out bass parts? Who is your bass buddy at the moment?
Yeah, well Owen is a great bass player too so he comes up with ideas too. Kenny from a band called The Sinking Feeling is our bass buddy and it would be wrong to say that he doesn’t have any input too.
The second video from your debut AA Single is just out, and you have a Glasgow and London launch shows with some more dates, what else do you have coming up ?
We’ve just started working with Joanna at Coda Agency and Paradigm in the US so hopefully that means lots of touring to support everything we do. We both really hate being home for extended periods of time. Oh, and we’ve got a Radio session booked for BBC Radio Scotland with Vic Galloway, so that’s exciting.
You are a Photographer, did you study that at University and which modern photographers do you like? And what do you make of the style/coffee table magazines that mix Photography/music/fashion etc. What bit of Photography excites you?
I just learned from my friends, Tom Mitchell and Martin D Barker who are fantastic photographers. I think there’s so much you can learn from people without necessarily studying it. The workings of a camera are very simple so it’s mainly ideas and perspectives that I pick up
I really love Ryan McGinley and his book, “You and I” is on my coffee table. I love Jurgen Teller and Ed Templeton too. I have a paradox with fashion in that I love the photos and the clothes but the ethics of a lot of it grates on me.
I love capturing moments rather than staging them and it gives me a creative expression as I’ve not drawn in so long.
Tell us about your pedals as you have some nice guitar sounds going on.
I use a Fulltone OCD set really low gain for my tone all the time with a Fuzz War for anything over the top, although I use it less and less. I really love my Death By Audio Reverberation Machine as it has built in fuzz/attitude so I like to mix that up with my Echo Dream for old analogue sounding punk tones. I just want a tone like Dead Kennedy’s meets Shellac. I also own a Soundwave Breakdown which is like two wild oscillators that you can mix between each other and make cool sounds with but it’s pretty uncontrollable!
19 Sep 2015 – Edinburgh – Sneaky Pete’s
25 Sep 2015 – Glasgow – The Hug and Pint
01 Oct 2015 – London – Old Blue Last
03 Oct 2015 – Glasgow – Tenement Trail Festival
24 Oct 2015 – Dundee – Drouthy’s
27 Nov 2015 – Dundee – Buskers
13th Oct 2015 – Don Pedro (King Pizza Records showcase)
14th Oct 2015 – The Legion Bar: Sugar Mama BK Party w/ Wade, Darkwing, Sun Abduction, Sideasideb, Looms, Happy Lives, The Off White, Fat Heaven, Samantha
15th Oct 2015 – Cake Shop (NYCTaper day show)
17th Oct 2015 – Pine Box Rock Shop (Indie Bushwick showcase)