It’s Valentine’s Day and singer-songwriter Jess McAvoy is premiering her new video Do What You Want here on RockShot Mag.
Fittingly, the song is about having a relationship with someone else, based on the enjoyment of their company rather than societal pressures to treat dating as a serious matter.
So what about the day of the year when that pressure reaches fever pitch: Valentine’s?
“I think it’s nice to be reminded to pause and celebrate your lover, but I do my best to be present in every day, and honestly, I feel a deep love for my life and those I am connected to most days. I’m extremely fortunate in that way,” Jess tells us.
Her outlook is “very much towards the idea that good things happen when we all feel good. So, from a law of attraction standpoint, it’s important to move towards the things that make us all feel the most like ourselves, even if it’s not meant to last forever”.
With the song itself based on personal experience, it was important for Jess that the accompanying video be close to her heart as well.
The Australian-born, Brooklyn-based musician explains: “I feel so fortunate to be able to showcase things about New York that I love – and the subways are a big part of that.
“You really get a sense of the spirit of the down there, in its most raw, honest form. I think this video catches some of that vibe.”
Last week, Curt Smith tweeted a photo from Tears For Fears’ tour rehearsals. Jamie Wollam is seated at a drum kit, chatting on his mobile. The caption reads: “so good he just phones it in”.
It’s not just a bad pun. The drummer, like the three other musicians backing band founders Smith and Roland Orzabal, really is so good. But he, guitarist Charlton Pettus, keyboard player Doug Petty,and vocalist Carina Round have no choice: the songs they’re performing range from existential crisis ‘80s synth-pop anthems to Sgt. Pepper-era psychedelia.
Curt Smith, Roland Orzabal & Jamie Wollam of Tears for Fears
That’s because this postponed tour, named for the band’s 2017 Rule The World greatest hits collection, is a career-spanning celebration of their biggest (and/or best) songs. Fittingly then, their biggest arena show yet begins with their first US #1 single, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, performed as if nothing’s changed since 1985. And as Smith’s pure voice delivers lines like “I can’t stand this indecision/ Married with a lack of vision”, it’s clear that nothing has.
Thebright, Beatles-flavoured Secret World from their most recent studio LP (now 15 years old) is the perfect springboard for the set’s second tentpole: Sowing The Seeds Of Love. Sung with gusto by Orzabal, who draws special attention to the line “the politics of greed”, the sunflower symphony reaches full bloom with the vocal harmonies of Smith and Round, and Petty’s impeccable recreation of the lavish orchestrations.
Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears
Wollam, in turn,has hisfirst truly standout moment on Pale Shelter, with his performance making the group’s second single sound more urgent and Smith’s vocal (“you don’t give me love”) more despairing than ever before.
Jamie Wollam of Tears for Fears
Repeating the trick of pairing bleak vocals with a bright, sunny melody Break It Down Again calls upon the drummer to lay down a martial beat instead. Of course he obliges with flair. And yet the highlight of this essential Elemental single, originally recorded by Orzabal during the duo’s ‘90s estrangement, is hearing them sing it together.
Curt Smith of Tears for Fears
The title track of their appropriately named reunion album, 2004’s Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, continues the impressive vocal interplay, this time against a kaleidoscopic musical backdrop that Paul McCartney might have dreamed up in 1967.
Change time travels to 1982, albeit with slightly updated synths which, in conjunction with the strobing lights and Pettus’ angular guitar riffs, give it a newfound menace. An anguished Mad World, in turn, needs no tweaking to convey the same sense of alienation, isolation, and hopelessness it did almost 40 years ago.
Curt Smith & Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears
The same era’s Memories Fade is filled with similar angst but, partly thanks to Wollam’s booming drums and Orzabal’s keening vocal, sounds more epic than ever, before Suffer The Children concludes the four-song run through debut album The Hurting with a major twist. Musically pared down to just a piano, it’s hauntingly sung by Round before Orzabal joins in on guitar and vocals.
Their duetting continues on Woman In Chains, with Round more than capable of matching the soulful resilience of Oleta Adams’ original vocal and the entire band perfectly capturing the drama of the studio version. An effortless Advice For The Young At Heart, also from 1989’s The Seeds Of Love, marks Smith’s return to the microphone which he relishes with a pitch-perfect recreation of the summery single’s a capella finale.
Badman’s Song, Tears For Fears’ most ambitious yet, is a far weightier proposition. As Petty slides from swelling organs to swinging piano and Wollam marks the sudden time changes, from big band swing to skittish jazz, Round makes another powerful Adams performance her own, going toe to toe with an intense Orzabal. That intensity’s matched equally well by Pettus’ soloing during the freestyle jam at core of the night’s emotional highlight.
Curt Smith & Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears
A bouncing Head Over Heels could never match that towering emotion but, as a bonafide hit rather than beloved album track, is a crowd-pleasing end to the main set, especially with its catchy Hey Jude-style singalong ending that clearly has the desired effect. During the few minutes that the band are offstage, the capacity O2 Arena audience spontaneously begin singing Shout.
And, inevitably, Tears For Fears’ biggest hit (and second US #1) is tonight’s goodnight song. The synths have undergone a slight update since 1984, but that makes no change to the anthem’s impact. Although he could easily hand over to the audience, Orzabal sings his heart out and almost throws himself into the front row during the iconic guitar solo before red and white confetti rains down.
Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears
It’s a powerful conclusion to a show where the songs come first. There’s not much chat – Orzabal, alluding to the moved shows, thanks the fans for their patience; the Los Angeles-based Smith jokes about yoga and gets the audience to sing for his family back home – but there’s a lot of love for the music.
Nobody even mentions the long-gestating new album, but based on how invigorated the old ones sound tonight, it should be worth the wait. This tour certainly was.
Review of Tears For Fears at The O2 Arena on 6th February 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
Jack Lawrence-Brown is a bit stressed. It’s mid January. In less than two weeks White Lies hit the road for four months. They’re playing 55 dates across Europe and North America. They’re marking the 10th anniversary of their debut album. Oh, and they’re launching a new LP.
“This is always one of the toughest parts,” the drummer admits, looking ahead to the release of Five on 1 February. “It’s all done, you’ve had it done for a little while, and you’re just drip-feeding songs to people, constantly checking the internet to see what they’re making of it all.
“Once it’s out, it’s out and you can’t do anything about it. I much prefer that situation – I’m still nervous at the moment, to be honest.”
But Lawrence-Brown and his band mates, singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh and bassist Charles Cave, are also quietly confident.
“We really feel like we couldn’t have done any more with the record – we’re all very, very pleased with it. As it stands, the record is exactly the record we want now,” he says of the self-produced, self-financed LP. “We’ve got complete creative freedom over the whole thing. You can’t ask for much more than that, I think.”
That confidence isn’t misplaced. Five is, quite simply, their strongest album yet: ambitious, thrilling, and undeniably self-assured.
“I attribute that to many things,” says the drummer. “Maybe it’s just that Harry and Charles were on a roll when they were doing lots of writing. Or maybe it’s as simple as they’re better songwriters: Charles’ lyrics are better than before, I think that would also be true.”
Experience also contributed to the self-assurance. Already having self-produced 2016’s Friends, they were less worried about going it alone. And, in turn, no record label involvement meant they could take bigger risks.
“We were super confident with the songs. We were really happy with how they were demoed, and we knew that if we were going to do it this way we had to be pretty bold and pretty committed to every single thing we put down.”
Helping along the way, and giving them a confidence boost in the process, were the owners of Assault & Battery Studios, producers Alan Moulder and Flood.
“We didn’t have the budget to get Alan Moulder to mix it, but he did it as a favour. He said: ‘I’d love to do another record for you guys, and I know that you’re not going to be able to pay my usual rate I charge the Smashing Pumpkins, but I’ll make it work’,” Lawrence-Brown remembers.
Flood, who’s worked with everyone from U2 to Depeche Mode, joined in after Moulder played him a few of the album demos.
“He literally came in for half a day and just messed around on his synth,” underplays Lawrence-Brown. “He said: ‘I’m just going to come and do it for a laugh.’ And when somebody does that, when they’re going out of their way because they like you as a band or as people, it does make you more confident in what you’re doing.”
The final cheerleader, and sometime critic, was long-time collaborator Ed Buller. The Suede and Pulp veteran, who produced White Lies’ debut album, was essential during pre-production for his no-nonsense approach.
“He was brutal with us from day one,” laughs Lawrence-Brown, thinking back to their first meeting in 2008. “But he doesn’t mean it in a negative way, he just wants you to know.
“When you take a song to him, he doesn’t spend half an hour talking about all the great things about it, he immediately says what’s wrong with it and works from that. So, when you play songs for him, you basically brace yourself because he’s going to tell you a lot of it’s bad, and then you’ve got to try again.
“That’s the creative process with Ed and for us it’s great. We’re over the point now where we’re scared or intimidated by people in studio and basically we know he’s only going to say that to us because he wants it to be good.”
Take Time To Give, Five’s seismic opening track. Almost eight minutes long, it’s easily the most ambitious song in the White Lies catalogue. But it wasn’t always that way.
“We had a song that was a verse and a chorus, so about two minutes long. After he heard it, Ed said: ‘That’s really boring, that song needs so much doing to it.’,” laughs the drummer.
Buller suggested they make it three times longer and use what Lawrence-Brown describes as “a never-ending ascending chord progression”. So they did.
“By the end, it became a bit of a joke for us to see how many times around we could go with a slightly different progression each time,” he explains. “We wanted to draw it out to the point of ridiculousness and see what happens.”
Initially, they laughed off the final demo as “a bit mad”. But, after some more work in the studio, the trio realised they hadn’t “ruined the song by trying to do too much with it”. Instead, he says, “that song is about us pushing the boundary of what it could be and turning it from a fairly boring two-minute concept into the longest song we’ve ever written and one of the most interesting”.
It’s certainly not a song White Lies could have written for To Lose My Life… But Lawrence-Brown is justifiably proud of their debut LP, released when all three members were still teenagers.
“I genuinely think it’s an amazing record,” he admits. “I can say that now with some distance to it because there was definitely a period between 2012 and 2017 where I sort of fell out of love with a lot of those songs just through overplaying them, to be honest.”
Now he’s grateful for the endurance of songs like Death and Unfinished Business.
“If we never make another album that’s considered as good as that again, then I don’t really care. That’s fine. If people consider that to be our high point, then that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he elaborates. “It’s just stayed with people in a huge way and a lot of bands never get that at all. A lot of bands will never have that moment, so if we’ve had it once and if it’s only going to be once, that’s still absolutely fine by us.”
Lawrence-Brown’s memories of the time following the album’s release are slightly more fraught.
“There were times in the first three years for sure when members of our band were close to burnout and we were getting to ends of tours just about without somebody having a breakdown,” he grimaces.
“That’s just due to the fact that we had a number one record and we were being paid by the label to fly everywhere to do everything. There was no point where someone said: ‘Maybe it would be nice for you to have a few weeks down just to get your headspace back.’”
Instead they were sent from city to city on the seemingly endless cycle seen in virtually every film about a rock band on tour.
“Honestly we wouldn’t be able to do that now, physically or mentally,” admits the drummer. “Everything since then has been a bit more on our own terms and a little more relaxed, which has definitely helped a lot.”
When Lawrence-Brown says “relaxed”, it’s all relative of course. White Lies will be spending the next four months touring relentlessly.
“It’s going to be a tough one for sure, physically and emotionally,” he confirms. But he’s looking forward to playing live again, especially since the songs from Five are already hitting the mark with fans.
“I’m especially excited about Tokyo,” the drummer says. “Along with Time To Give, it could be one of maybe three tracks off the new record that could really be big euphoric moments in the show.”
White Lies UK tour dates 31st January: Brighton, Concorde 1st February: Bristol, SWX 3rd February: Leeds, Academy 4th February: Newcastle, Boiler Shop 5th February: Glasgow, QMU 7th February: Liverpool, Olympia 8th February: Manchester, Albert Hall 9th February: Nottingham, Rock City 11th February: Edinburgh, Liquid Rooms 13th February: Cambridge, Junction 14th February: London, Forum 15th February: Birmingham, Institute
Interview with White Lies by Nils van der Linden. Portraits by Pauline Di Silvestro.
Jack White insists that fans hand in their phones before a show so they can have a “100% human experience”. Prince had men on stage armed with flashlights to blind anyone holding up their mobile. And, even less subtly, Nick Cave has been known to call out people who insist on watching the gig through a lens.
The 1975 (all images Jordan Hughes)
The 1975 have taken a different approach. Knowing that their average fans document their lives online, the band have devised what can only be described as the most Instagrammable arena show ever. The dextrous, genre-fluid musicians are dwarfed on three sides by giant versions of the empty picture frame that’s become an integral part of their visual identity.
The one at the back swings up into the ceiling when it gets in the way of the three massive floating cubes that, covered on all sides in LEDs, are part-time spotlights, props for the two vigorous backing dancers to interact with, and multidimensional screens to embellish the ever-changing imagery on the gargantuan video wall.
Incisive lyrics are splashed over footage of humanity’s worst moments during an aggressive Love It If We Made It A wall of blinking eyes lights up the slinky Girls. The scrolling New York City street scene of R&B groover Sincerity Is Scary complements lead singer Matty Healy walking on a travelator. Rainbow clouds bring home the message of Loving Someone. Negative reviews (“TERRIBLE HIGH-PITCHED VOCALS OVER SOULLESS ROBO BEATS”; “THIS BAND THINKS IT HAS A CHARISMATIC SINGER”) flash up in all caps throughout a foot-stomping rendition of The Sound.
Somebody Else sees the backdrop transformed into a seemingly endless corridor of neon-pink rectangles. And The Ballad of Me and My Brain has Healy rising up on a platform before stepping into the video wall, creating the illusion that he’s inside an iPhone.
The visual overload is as relentless as the audience’s attempts to record it. And yet, for all the device screens lighting up the arena, the fans are completely immersed in the live experience. Cheers of utter joy greet the opening notes of every single song, no matter whether it’s new, old, indie-rock, glitchy electronica, shimmering disco, or swaggering hip-hop. Adoring screams meet every “How are you doing?” Healy drops during songs.
Spontaneous singalongs erupt with every anthemic chorus. During The Sound, 20 000 people jump in unison with an enthusiasm usually only seen at Iron Maiden shows. And nothing, not even a sax solo, or a noodly new song without much of a chorus or lyrics (How to Draw / Petrichor), prompts a rush to the toilets.
But never is that immersion more apparent than during a sensational I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes). Not a single (yet), it’s the last track on an album that came out less than two months ago. And yet, when Healy steps away from the microphone, the masses take over, unprompted and word perfect.
Clearly overwhelmed by the response, he struggles to keep it together. And in that moment of shared adoration, it’s clear that despite all the tech on display, tonight is about that personal connection – that thing Jack White described as a “100% human experience”.
If rock and roll really is dead, as the text on screen declares during Sex (their most urgent, rock and roll song), its spirit certainly lives on in The 1975.
Live review of The 1975 @ The O2 Arena on 18th January 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Jordan Hughes.
KOMRAUS, the London-based electronic group, are revealing a brand new song.
Gas, from their forthcoming debut album Untie The Ropes, debuts on RockShot Mag today.
Built around a slow groove and metronomic trip-hop beat, the song is the perfect showcase for Sara Rioja’s rich vocal, reflecting on what it is to be human with lines like “I don’t want time to think, my life is what I dream”.
“Gas is kind of satire – a song about us, modern human beings, addicted to the urban life, living like automatons in the need of gas (breathing gas) to keep us alive,” Rioja tells RockShot Mag exclusively.
The singer shares songwriting and composing credit in KOMRAUS with Martin Komraus. The pair are joined by drummer Giuseppe Grondona and Miguel Ramires on keys and synths.
The group say Untie The Ropes, released on 15th February, “represents a breaking free of our own boundaries; a dare to do, a dare to say and a dare to love album”.
They add: “It is inspired in the different scenes and situations we all live throughout our life performing all the roles our life is about, like if it was a theatre play. Each song talks about different optics of human relationships as well as personal growth and some social and political matters.
“One song is written from the perspective of a free person, with no ties or social limits; another one is from the one who is dependant to someone who loves; another one from the one who is addicted to the modern life and lives like a machine, another one from a mother who sees his child grow and wishes him/her to be free and fly.
“They are all part of an imaginary and personal world that we all live: always real, always true. We recorded all songs in one take, so we could transmit to the listener a bit of what we give when we perform live.”
Last year the group took that live show across Europe and, on 23rd February, will be playing a live album release show at The Underbelly in Hoxton.