Coffee Thoughts – An Interview With Andy Whitaker

2012 has been an amazing year for music. Not only has it seen incredible albums by bands that have generated a steady buzz over the last few years (The XX, The Men, Chromatics), it has also seen masterful albums by established acts that have ties to the indie and post punk community (Dinosaur Jr., Public Image Limited, Corin Tucker Band). This doesn’t even consider albums by mainstream artists that I loved (Neil Young, Green Day) or those that are a bit under the radar (Honeychurch, Heyward Howkins). The latest record by Andy Whitaker, things that happened on earth, kind of falls into almost all the above categories (except for mainstream, I suppose). Not only is it one of my favorite records of the year, it recalls Andy’s earlier work in bands such as The Sun & the Moon and Weaveworld while also presenting a forward-looking vibe. I had a chance to catch up with Andy to discuss the new record, The Sun & the Moon, and other assorted oddities. I thought I’d start things off with a “soft” kind of question.

Jason’s Jukebox – What do you think about the insane political environment in the US?

Andy Whitaker – It’s interesting to see that there are similar concerns to what we have here in the UK. College graduates not finding the jobs for which they have trained and working in shitty jobs for which they are over qualified and your government struggling to generate jobs and promising to generate jobs to keep the vote.

JJ – I have to ask – How do you feel to have your bio always linked to the legacy of The Chameleons? (The Sun & the Moon featured Andy Whitaker, Andy Clegg, John Lever, and Mark Burgess. Mark and John were both former members of The Chameleons)

AW – I jumped ship from Music for Aborigines (pre The Sun & the Moon band / released an EP in 1987) at a time when we packed out The Venue, Manchester and people were up to our face singing the songs with us but we may still have been known as the band that knocked about with the Chameleons and borrowed their drummer if we had stayed together. OK we moved from playing to 150 people to 2000 in Manchester and London at least when we formed The Sun and the Moon but we may have been on our way to that in Music for Aborigines, who knows. It’s a thing we’ll never know unless as we are popping our clogs we all get to see the things behind doors that we never opened. I’m not beginning to sound like Jim Morrison or someone now am I? How does Mark feel to have his name strapped to The Chameleons? You know what, it’s like Ray Davies goes round gigging and unless he does Kinks songs folk are off to the bar. It will be interesting to see how people take to the ChameleonsVox new album next year because Mark showed me a cracking track that had all the essence of The Chameleons but also a real way forward for him I felt. It was called “The Fear” I think.

JJ – I spent years looking for anything by The Sun and the Moon (before finally landing a copy of The Great Escape) – any plans to reissue this wonderful piece of art in the future?

AW – We have just come out (not like Uncle Marcus, a subject of a song on the new record) from the studio. The Sun and the Moon are recording an EP featuring reworkings of some of those tracks – but that’s a story for next year. 🙂

JJ – I saw ChameleonsVox in Seattle in 2010 and was absolutely blown away. I am really looking forward to new releases by The Sun and the Moon as well as ChameleonsVox! I have to ask – what are you listening to now? Who would you consider your primary influences?

AW – Listening to: Frans Ferdinand, Buzzcocks, Blur, Paul Whittaker, Kraftwerk, Mogwai. Some of my influences: Syd Barrett, XTC, The Beatles, Nick Drake, The Chameleons, Ride, Stereolab, Ultra Vivid Scene, Doves, The Kinks, Magazine, The Doors, Durutti Column, House of Love, Miracle Fortress, Kings of Convenience, Sebadoh, Velvet Underground – you got me ranting on now……

JJ – I love almost all of those bands (and haven’t heard just a few, note to self – research). Can you tell me how this record came together?

AW – When Weaveworld split up and at the age of 30 I couldn’t stop telling myself that I was over the hill for Rock and Roll. I did record my demo album Bewilderbeast but I diverted into acting, thinking at the time that “well, at least they always need granddads for when I really get old”. I’ve had some moderate success on British soaps and films but about 7 years ago I started to write songs again. I came up with “An individual Mind” that went onto the Black Swan Lane album namely The Sun and the Moon Sessions 3 years ago and Bottlejacks got stockpiled for Things that happened on Earth. I also added lyrics to a melody that I composed  20 years ago that I was going to bring to The Weaveworld table namely “Tidal Wave”. Around 5 or 6 years ago “Singing September Song” sprung from just about nowhere. I didn’t think anymore of these songs than isolated songs purely for gigging with but then one sunny day and with ultra-violet inspiration I came up with “Sermon on the Mount” & “Man”. I knew then that I wanted my album to be called Things that Happened on Earth and that I would write most of the remaining songs to fit in with the theme. In fact without trying under that theme there is nothing you can write about that doesn’t fit. My life / someone else s life. Except for Stars I suppose 🙂 but they can be seen from earth.

JJ – What level of involvement does Andy Clegg have? (Andy Clegg has played alongside Andy in bands such as Music for Aborigines, The Sun and the Moon, Weaveworld, and Black Swan Lane)

AW – Andy wrote quite a lot of the second guitar parts and had a lot to do with the composition or at least the shape of the lead break on “Sublime Light”. However due to family commitments Andy was unable to attend the main recording session in Atlanta, Georgia so a week before flying out I went round to Andy’s and he showed me his guitar parts and either I played them or John Kolbeck played them on the album. On “Stars I turned Andy’s guitar part into a piano part and Jack Sobel played that. Check out the second guitar part composed by Andy on “Man” and that is played by John Kolbeck to the letter. I absolutely love it. It hits you like some pagan ritual, makes me fell like I’m going to be sacrificed in a wickerman at any moment. Oh, and it was Andy that put my backdrop guitar through a blender on “Primordial Soup”. I took that over there on CD and we all played to it. The most challenging musical performance ever as there were no click track and AC had everything spinning off my guitar like some spaceball ricochet. Finally, you will be pleased to know that Andy is actually playing second guitar on “Sermon on the Mount” as this was recorded in England at Ste Wilson’s studio then mixed in Atlanta by Donn Aaron.

JJ – That actually leads me to my next question. “Sermon on the Mount” is one of my favorite tracks on the new record. What can you tell me about the track? Is it coming from a place of faith? Or a place of questioning?

AW – Cheers Jason. A place of questioning. It’s my belief that Jesus in fact was a ‘thing that happened on earth’ but I believe he was a historical figure and not a prophet. Not to dissimilar to Gandhi or Lao Tzu. Only the tabloids (or tablet writers) back then were even more sensationalistic than The News of The World was and expanded everything he did into mumbo jumbo.

JJ – I can appreciate tackling the topic from that angle, as I have a suspect history with organized religion. The Rolling Stones are in the news and are touring for their 50th anniversary. If you were a Rolling Stone, would you consider yourself a Mick or a Keith?

AW – Neither, I consider myself to be a Syd Barrett with a little Burt Bacharach thrown in. :-). Can you imagine a band of 70 year olds giggiing back in the 60s? You were’t allowed to be in a band over if you were over 29. In fact bands hadn’t been around long enough for anybody to be older than that. So the fact that they are still at it – I take my hat off to them because they make it legal for me – a 50 year old – to be a musician.

JJ – I’m not really sure how it started, but at some point I began talking about coffee non-stop. Friends post things about coffee to me, and I have some fun with it (hell, even this series is called Coffee Thoughts). So I have to ask – what’s your drink of choice?

AW – Stella and I’ll have a pint please.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Andy’s album released last month, I implore you to check it out. You can read my review here. You will find shades of Nick Drake, The Chameleons, and David Bowie all wrapped up into what should make everyone’s “Best of 2012” lists. I know it certainly will be on mine.

It was immensely satisfying to find out that Andy is a really nice person – too often you finally meet or chat with someone you never thought you’d come across in this life and they do not live up to expectations. Andy is the real deal. You can check out Andy’s page on Wanderlust Music by click on the album cover below:

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