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17 novembre 2008

It's not all glitz for Goldfrapp

By Andy Welch, Halesowen news, Saturday 1st November 2008

Goldfrapp begin their UK tour in Cambridge on Thursday October 23. We talk to Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory about their music, working relationship and the ups and downs of life on the road.

It's no wonder that thousands of musically-minded people aspire to being in a band. After all, what could be better than flying around the world to play to fans who've parted with hard-earned cash to see you perform? Most things, according to Alison Goldfrapp, one half of the electro duo to which she gives her name.

"I love performing, don't get me wrong," she says, "but I hate touring."

Having just come back from a brief trip to Australia to play the iconic Sydney Opera House - smaller than Alison imagined, but beautiful nevertheless - it might just be jetlag talking. Considering she's wearing an enormous pair of sunglasses even though we're indoors, it's difficult to know whether the notoriously acerbic singer is being serious.

"Some journalists ask stupid questions, or have their angle they want to get across," she admits later, "and I guess I'm just not very good at hiding what I think of people."

Today, at least, she's great company, and, along with her musical partner Will Gregory, explains in vast detail the intricacies of touring, travelling, their songwriting style and many other topics, some more related to their music than others.

"It's a funny thing, touring," 42-year-old Alison begins. "Like I said, I hate it, but at the same time, you get addicted to it. There is this weird bubble you live in, the routine. I can understand people freaking out on tours, throwing things out of windows, because you have no control over anything you do. You have to rely on everyone around you to get it right, and if they don't, you find yourself going mad at them because the smallest detail has become so important and annoying," she says.

"You don't have to think what you're doing, or have any responsibility," Will adds.

Will's experience of touring comes largely from his time as a self-employed musician. He doesn't actually play live as part of Goldfrapp now, and hasn't done since they first toured after their 2000 debut Felt Mountain.

As a multi-instrumentalist, however, 49-year-old Will has performed with Spiritualized, Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel and fellow Bristolians Portishead. He also played on the latter's recent album, Third.

"I always think touring's a bit like being in the army," he continues. "When I was a lot younger, I remember seeing a photo of myself before and after a tour and, believe it or not, I looked so much better after, really young and healthy! I suppose before, I was this self-employed musician wondering where money and food were coming from. On tour, I was eating well and sleeping."

As he finishes the sentence, a playful smile runs across Alison's face. "You need to come on tour Will! I'll stay at home, and you go out on the road." Well, that's not such a bad idea," he answers. "I've got a little boy now, so I'll go on tour for a rest."

Goldfrapp's most recent album Seventh Tree was released in February 2008 and received rapturous reviews for its blending of whimsical, distinctly English folk, sun-kissed, West Coast harmonies and the band's established electronic sound. Seventh Tree is arguably the band's finest album, and as far as musical arrangements are concerned, the most complicated.

For Alison and Will, recreating their music on stage has always been something of a problem. Both are said to have to been unhappy with the sound of their early tours, a factor that in turn led Will to stop playing on stage in order to concentrate on the music from the front-of-house, like an audience member.

"What I contributed on stage was tiny in comparison to what Alison did anyway," he remarks, humbly. "And now we have someone who can play keyboards better than me anyway. I don't think our sound would have come along so far if I'd stayed on stage."

Despite the numerous musicians on stage during their current live shows, Alison maintains that regardless of Seventh Tree's complexities, it's actually easiest for her to sing live. "On the last album in particular, there was so much... stuff happening," she says. "Every available space was filled with synths, just popping up here, there and everywhere. I found it quite hard to sing to, and felt quite alien to the rest of the sounds. In many ways, it's easier to sing these songs, and more of a sense of being 'in' the music. We also worried about how the set was going to work, with things like Eat Yourself off this latest album next to something like Ooh La La, but it works," she continues. "Having that contrast is great, and I love the setlist at the moment."

Since Goldfrapp made their debut, visuals have always played an important part in everything they've done. Live shows have often seen Alison parading seductively around the stage with bottle-blond hair, like some sort of modern-day Marlene Dietrich.

That image has been toned down of late - "mainly because I thought it was taking over the music" she admits - but also because it was becoming hard to maintain while on tour. These days, in-keeping with Seventh Tree's pastoral, rural contents, you'll find Alison and accompanying musicians sporting white or natural-coloured flowing gowns.

"I design all the stage costumes," says Alison, coyly. "I've always been interested in the current theme, and I suppose all the albums are inspired by nature, the idea of paganism, certain kinds of films and folk music. Folk can be a really broad spectrum of things," she concludes. "People immediately get this idea of someone sitting playing a guitar round a campfire, but it's so much more than that. There's a whole world, waiting to be discovered."

16 novembre 2008

Fever Pitch

Music Interview - Dengue Fever / Sugar Club

Rachel McMahon (The Event guide) speak to Zac Holtzman of American/Cambodian psychedelic sextet, Dengue Fever.

Sung mostly in Khmer (one of the exceptions being the seductive but comically manipulative duet ‘Sober Driver’), LA-based six-piece Dengue Fever is a blend of American psychedelic sounds and 60’s Cambodian pop. Guitarist and vocalist Zac Holtzman explains how he and his brother Ethan were first drawn to the music of 1960’s wartime Cambodia; “In the 90’s, my brother (Ethan) went to Cambodia and collected a bunch of tapes of old music. I was living in San Francisco at the time. And then he got back and I moved from San Francisco down to LA and I, on my own, had a CD with some of the old, really neat music from Cambodia. Then when I was playing it, he was like ‘Where did you get that?’ and he showed me his tapes and then we just started talking about it and we just thought it would be a neat idea to bring back a band that was based on that body of music.”

With their newfound inspiration, the guys set out in search of an authentic Cambodian singer. “We started driving down to Long Beach because there’s a big population of Cambodians, probably 50,000 people. So we started driving down there and going to the nightclubs and seeing just different singers perform,” the guitarist recollects. “Then we went into this one club called the ‘Dragon House’ and we saw (Chhom) Nimol on stage singing with a band, and then as soon as we saw her we were really hoping that she would be the one who would sing for us. So we approached her that night and we gave her a CD and at the time she didn’t speak any English, she was just able to say ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank you’ and so we asked her if she wanted to join the band and she said ‘Yes. Thank you’”, says Zac.

As well as their American/Cambodian fusion, Zac acknowledges the influence of other cultures; “A lot of us were really into all that Ethiopian jazz music. So some of our grooves have that kind of a feel. I like a lot of like Krautrock, like German sort of electronic music, and so some of our songs have sort of that feel but (with) instruments playing, that kind of a feel.”

In 2005, the band made the trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where they performed a number of shows and recorded some new material. Zac recalls their reception; “When we first got there, we played the biggest television show which is called CTN –Cambodian Television Network. They had us on for like a two-hour episode and then they heard that we were going to be there for like two weeks, so they aired it like three or four times a day for the entire time that we were there, so it was pretty crazy. It was like they instantly got us. So we played about six shows - some of them were like smaller clubs where there would be a mixture of Cambodians and people that were over in Cambodia doing work, for NGOs or Embassy workers, or just people over there doing humanitarian type of work, and so it was kind of a mixed crowd. And those shows - everyone kind of picked up on the vibe and went crazy, kind of rock n’ roll/punk rock style.” He adds however, “But then we also played some shows that were entirely made up of a Cambodian audience and kind of in a very poor neighbourhood, and so at that show everyone tended top be more reserved and just kind of checking us out, kind of just tripping out on what they were seeing.”

From Cambodia, Nimol was given a warm welcome, as Zac explains, “They were really happy that Nimol came back, because she hadn’t been home for five years. So they were really happy that when she did come home that she was playing Cambodian music and staying true to her roots, instead of being like just completely Westernised, you know, a Hollywood pop singer.” Whether their performances will encourage other bands to start up in Cambodia, Zac is optimistic; “I hope so, because the music scene there is a little bit in need of that, you know. I mean there are a few bands that, for the most part, is just a lot of karaoke going on.”
After releasing their last record ‘Venus on Earth’ in June, plans for a new album are already well underway, as Zac explains, “We’re going to record it in December and January…we’ve got about probably seven or eight songs so far. And we recorded two of them when we were in England, because we are working with Real World and so we went to their studio for a week.” Getting involved with Peter Gabriel’s record label, Real World, began when the label “Saw us in Spain once at this festival and then I think they were very interested and wanted to see us play a few more times. So then they came to a couple of our shows in England. And after that they wanted to work together. We put out our last record with them, just in Europe, and I think we’re going to hopefully do another one,” says the guitarist/vocalist.

Contemplating Dengue Fever’s possible future developments, Zac considers, “There’s this Cambodian instrument called a chapei dong veng, which means like a long-necked guitar - it’s kind of like a long-necked banjo instrument that has a really deep kerplunky kind of a sound and I’d like to get one of those. I think that would be really cool to have an electric chapei.” Zac muses, “So we badly need to get one of those. And then I feel a couple of our tunes that we’ve been jamming in the studio have sort of a psychedelic disco kind of feel, so that’s a direction that I feel it’s sort of going”.