Twenty-five years after their last studio album, alternative / indie rockers The Woodentops return with a new collection of original material. With memories of 1986s seminal Giant album still very fresh in his grey matter, Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates had a chat with front man Rolo McGinty.
Louder Than War: How’s the world of Rolo McGinty?
Rolo McGinty: Neat for now thanks. A good balance between work and play and people whose company I enjoy.
Granular Tales is the first Woodentops studio album for 25 years. Why the wait?
We really needed to recharge the batteries. Live some life away from it all. I needed new life experience to write about as I can only sing what is real to me and I’d emptied the bag. My voice was worn and my hands were really painful. We never split up actually, just dissipated and kept in touch. I’m a blinkered creature so I continued to make music non stop, the other members did other things. It took that long to fall back into a rehearsal room together. You have to really want to do it or an audience will feel your dismal! So it being fun again we decided to make a record. In a nutshell that’s why.
How does it stand from a personal perspective?
I’m only just becoming able to sit back from it and forget the edits, so to speak. To me, it’s close to an album we perhaps would have made before Giant. Before the big pop production thing kicked in. We recorded something that sounds exactly as we sound. Like around our John Leckie period, all musicians in headphones recording, concentrating and live. We’ve tried many things in the past but this one is organic hands on Etsy style! It’s session player free, just friends in there, so actually for me it has joie de vivre and I hope that people feel that somehow. There was definitely some magic flying around. We had some great lucky locations to work in.
I have happy memories of Giant – what are yours?
Mainly happy ones too. I watched as the chaotic group of musicians played better than ever before. Each musician received solo scrutiny, with much attention to sound and performance, a really intense production. I did have some arguments with the producer actually, but that’s normal I guess if you already know what you want. I like a lot of what he did including some moments of genius. I had never seen engineering like John Gallens work, incredible to watch in action. The rough mixes were phenomenal, but the actual final ones were a bit clean for me personally. I wonder how it would have been if we’d finished “Why Why Why”, which nearly made that album. Linn drum was used and the final drums were one of the last things to go down. The lingering image for me is Benny recording his drum kit bit by bit, I enjoyed that so much. Echo units were used to sample and move sound and the brand new Emulator arrived so there was plenty of gear porn going down. Also, I remember enjoying every second of my days doing the vocals. So yes a super happy memory cluster is that session.
Tell me about Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Does he give insanity a run for its money?
Lee is like a Jamaican Monty Python. He’s really clever and funny. People don’t understand him and think he’s menacing, but I remember him being fairly genteel and a lot of fun. A shame we could never finish off and release what we did together. We all got drunk as we worked through the evening. Lee Perry stayed with us from lunchtime till 2am. What a day. Rubbed his spells all over the gear and really knew his way around that SSl desk, he’s a very quick thinker and fast mover. So for me, not insane just eccentric.
How much do you resent Rough Trade trying to steer you away from the Balearic scene?
Pain has gone. Music was changing and many of the people in music biz took a while to come around. I’ve always said that with a few exceptions, most of those guys went to bed at 11. That’s when we went out!
You’ve said recently that someone exciting has remixed one of the new tracks. Any clues?
Bah! Aw Suck.
The recent remixes you did for the Feral Five single ‘Skin’, had The Woodentops sound stamped all over them. Do you see remixing as an extension of the group?
Do you think? I guess I have a flavour! Remixing has always been an extension of the group yes and long may it continue.
Facebook or Twitter?
More Facebook for me. I have negative feelings about both, but enjoy them anyway.
The new album sees you recording all the songs live with antique microphones. Was there a particular sound you were hoping for and did you achieve it?
Ah, we were trying to find a way of making our music unclassifiable by not using standard modern sounds and so making it hard to pinpoint what decade it is from. Playing games with time. Yes I think we achieved it.
What music excites you nowadays?
I’m inundated. I’m a YouTube archive hoe and a radio buff and a DJ lover and I adore a good live performance. Across the spectrum music is doing it for me. Electronic, human, rocking, subdued, transportational, funking, skilled or stupid, I love it. I like Brazilian drum battles. Last week’s discovery was Jacques Brel singing “Ces Gens la”, check that drama, the piano, the time signature. Awesome and nuts. Derrick May killed me the other day with his set. There’s a good Sunday night jazz scene at my local, lots of young players, many of whom are really good. I’m a big house music fan, all night long and I still go fuck yeah at a Doc Scott or a Klute production and James Brown at his peak on YouTube is still better than anyone or anything. Some of my friends’ bands are really impressive, Pest for example, I’m in a very musically active part of London. I have neighbours that pump out a kind of groovy relaxed afrohouse. They are sampling and making their own. It’s good. The must have a Maschine (a groundbreaking groove production system for tactile, creative beat making) or something up there. I like to sit in the garden and listen. They don’t over do it. I grow my own so when I’m out they’re on a dig … good soundtrack! I bought the new live Fink album straight away on hearing it in the shop. I hadn’t heard of him before. I even like ‘animals’ ha-ha. Some hits deserve it. Cheesy but somehow good that one. There is the odd cut in the charts that I quite like. I listen to BBC6, Radio 1, Kool FM, Rinse FM sometimes Resonance FM. I am free from having to listen to Granular Tales over and over!
I’m coming for a meal, what are you making?
I make a mean Spanish omelette. I’m really into experimenting with those, don’t take my eyes off them until they’re done. I also like Mediterranean dishes, fish dishes, tofu dishes, hybrid Asian dishes. I like to cook if I’m in the mood to. I don’t cook meat and bird. I was brought up in a seafood town but I’m cutting back and will stop on the fish. Perhaps you’d better come around before I do.
In the mid 80s you had good successes in the Indie Chart and the Ibiza club scene, was this what you aspired to or did you crave World domination?
I think acceptance was more what we were after. If we felt good playing it, we wanted to share the love. We let our Manager do the worrying about World domination.
Pluto or Dogs Deluxe?
I’d have to say Pluto but Dogs Deluxe went from breakbeat Drum ‘n’ Bass music to a new thing which was making music for multimedia like TV and film and led to a job as a sort of mad lab think tank, making all kinds of ‘out there’ music that you couldn’t for a record label and getting paid for it.
Any chance of you venturing North with some live dates? I’m thinking the Manchester and / or Lancashire areas. (Asking for a friend *coughs*)
Our agent is looking at Manchester and Leeds bookings, hope they come off!
Skip McDonald is quite a talent as Little Axe and played live with you in 1992. Do you still have contact?
Skip, oh well I have so many words for that cat. He’s adorable and his timing is so spot on. A couple of the sessions I did with him are my all-time faves. I saw him recently play in Camden actually. Said ‘Hiya!’ afterwards of course. Skip brought Bim Sherman into the studio once. Bim was so sweet and laid-back. He did some backing vocals on the original ‘Because Of You’ recording. The three of us in the headphones, tracking up. Bliss! Actually my biggest indulgence is a double album with Skip. It was really good, it never as a whole saw the light of day and I was in debt for years after it. I threw all my money at it. Just one of those things you do. I will never forget Skip’s solo on the second encore of a show in Barcelona 1992. It was one long unexpected glorious note the whole way through the middle of “ You Could Be Happy”. The perfect note, we all went to a heaven together.
Are there any Liverpudlian musicians that weren’t in The Wild Swans?!
Ha-ha probably. Place is teeming with players I can’t believe they’ve all been through the filter!
Granular Tales is quite a comeback with great songs and great melodies. What are your hopes and expectations?
Thanks for saying that. I’d like it to help us play a lot more. That’s what we need to do, under the bonnet tightening stuff. I have more new ideas and songs so I hope it paves the way for all that. I of course hope that people like it, knowing it’s not like anything else on the market. It’s not associated with any new fashion or new drug movement, so we are on our own.
What does 2014 hold?
A few concerts have just come in with more to confirm, so it should be a Woodentops centric time and as last year was about this year, I hope all that effort is worth it.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.