Who Will I Turn To Now for a Conversation Has To Be Husky Tones
BD: I was delighted you asked Bluesdoodles to review Husky Tones latest album Who Will I Turn To Now. It is an album very different from the previous one size of band downsized and upsized the energy. Victoria: Ha Ha, That is a pretty good summary!)
Before we talk about touring and the album Husky Tones will be a new band for many so Bluesdoodles readers be interested in getting to know you, Victoria Bourne & Chris Harper the Husky Tones.
BD: What were your first musical influences?
VB: First albums people like John Lee Hooker – The Healer, Buddy Guy other influences were Blondie, Patti Smith huge huge influence who kick started my love of music as a teenager. ABBA when I was eleven laughing my little secret no more. I loved all the depressing albums about divorce that was quite fun laughing and Howard Jones was in there too, enormously into Prince I saw him as a teenager and a lot of rock bands through my brother including Metallica, Rainbow so huge variety and a lot of classic as a teenager was added into the mix. I was quite random what I listened to at University Pearl Jam and Madonna danced to her songs.
We didn’t have internet as teenagers who can listen to wide range of easily accessible music. Now teenagers, have YouTube, music is so accessible. We have got into and listening to a lot of Gun Club, PJ Harvey & Iggy Pop two current favourites from 2016 along with contemporary classical music people including Steve Reich among others listen to them a lot when studying music. I did a Contemporary Classic degree in Music prior to that did a course in Musical Theatre at Trinity, London. I really thought musical theatre was what I wanted to do, but then thought I do not want to be in a show for six months, singing the same cheesy musical theatre songs. That was when I met Chris, I auditioned for his band and started our journey thirteen years ago at the time doing Indie Rock. As they say the rest is history!
The influences continued including Jeff Buckley, Radio Head as you talk you think of so many influences. At the moment listening to Blues Rock, Bonneville’s from Northern Ireland and Guadalupe’s Plata Spanish Blues-rock then people like RL Burnside, Cedric Burnside, one of the best gigs I’ve been to like a juke joint in a tiny bar in Bath. Local man Bob Log, Hill Country Blues has been a huge influence. Everything and anything can be an influence even our cats name is Osvaldo named after contemporary classical musician Osvaldo Golijov, The cat got the name as this was who we were really into when we got him. Golijov, the musician not the cat! Wrote some amazing music around the Spanish poet Lorca’s work.
BD: How did the unusual combination of drums & vocals come about.
VB: I like to be different! I learnt the piano from the age of four. I realised that I would not be able to combine piano and vocals to the standard I would want to play. I would always want to play the piano to a higher level not as a chord-led accompaniment. I started playing drums and loved them the power and energy. Starting with my kit. I have an unusual blend of cymbals, people usually have one brand. But I got some Zildjian and Sabian mix of bright and dark. I chose my cymbals by closing my eyes so couldn’t see the brands using the sound they produced as the selection criteria. In the crash ride, I have a Sabian which sounds like a massive gong it sounds awesome, it is huge which is brilliant especially for big events. I have a little Zildjian splash which is a dark at twelve inches it is one of the bigger ones. I also have a Zildjian dark ride to get this really deep and dark sound really very different to the Sabian. Then on the other side, I have Zildjian Crash and Mastersound high hats quite common but the bright version. So I have a mix of bright and dark, cymbals are quite personal and this was the sound I wanted. The Sabian was great when recording with Stuart for the latest album as it had real power. I have them in strange positions compared to other people I have them quite low but that is because I am singer it is a visual thing as well on stage. Others gave combined vocals and drums; Cedric Burnside, other women who have combined the two, Karen Carpenter a phenomenal drummer, contemporary artist Cara Robinson and Donna Dahl based in Memphis.
It is a very strong thing to do at the same time, drumming it is very physical, it is getting that fine balance between drumming and vocals especially now we are quite loud so that you can hear yourself live so as not to be shouting across the drums. It is hard to do the two together but it is fun. When we were recording I had the luxury of doing them separately, which was beautiful. Now when playing live I pull my voice back, slightly sexy, gentler way of singing. It is harder as I get out of breath, I wouldn’t not to be on stage without an instrument. Now we are a duo we have been changing how we deliver the songs. For example, Island of Barb Wire I come from behind my drums and to the front of stage concentrating on my vocals. We are looking at having more opportunities to come to the front even if for part of a song. Part of the stagecraft, we enjoy jumping around front of the stage. Another example of variation throughout the live show is on One Good Reason, in the middle section I move away from being behind the drum kit, sing my vocals front of stage and then go back. Helps to keep the audience engaged with me as lead singer and become part of the Husky Tones stagecraft. Can be a bit of a nightmare at festivals where the drum kit is right at the back of the stage. I do enjoy jumping up and down at front of the stage.
BD: Why did you choose Drums out of all the Instruments? What made Drums so Attractive?
VB: In fact it could have been keys, trained to play piano. Especially when teaching I play piano for my students. Piano would be too difficult to do both. It would take a huge amount of practice to be as good as I would want to be doing it in the blues. Thinking about chord structures and singing on top would just not work for me. Yes, playing three chords backing the vocals is fairly straightforward but not what I wanted to do. Guitar tried in the past, I hate how it hurts your hand. Thought about Bass but that was learning a whole new instrument. I started dabbling with percussion about 10 years ago when we had our own studio. I used to teach a blues singer who was also a drummer. I was also involved in the electronic music scene I used a basic drum kit doing weird electronic things, loops etc. started from that. When thinking about a band the drums are always nightmare so tempted to give it a go. Started 4-5 years ago with a small kit without a kick drum, really cheap so said I would give it a try and really liked it. So bought a cheap kit, had some drumming lessons, Ken Pustelnik, from the Groundhogs, who I knew from the music scene. He gave me some lessons, his way not the way a college would teach the drums. I learnt on the cheap drum set-up which I used until I was sure that I wanted to play drums. The reality was I loved it went crazy for it. Practiced loads, went off and did gigs after year upgraded to a Yamaha. Year later upgraded to the kit I have now which was very expensive a Gretsch Renown Mahogany not made any more so very special, beautiful instrument. Gradually added cymbals sold those I didn’t like and ending up with the set I have now. Takes time to build up the kit I enjoy it. It is interesting that the piano is percussive as well so has strong connection, started learning piano when I was four. Lessons through rogue teacher like Ken meant that I didn’t follow traditional structures initially people questioned the way I played asking what I was doing. In fact on this album I don’t think I play a single shuffle. Each song has different pattern that is something I aim for, audiences get bored If they hear the same over and over again. I have also been studying punk drumming which is fun. Been long and continuous process. You have to be fit for three-hour gig and sing. Drums has been the instrument I have most enjoyed playing.
BD: On the album you Husky Tones are a duo is that now the format you will be touring with? What are the advantages and will the three-piece be back?
Chris H: (joined in with his perspective) Now there are just the two of us it is easier to keep a handle on what we are doing. We are freer to jam our way into different corners of the music. Now the two of us can rehearse every day. One of the problems with the four-piece was difficult to all get-together. Plus now only one standing up front I have a different pressure. Enjoying being a duo we said let’s do this getting very quickly feeling good. It was scary at the beginning, you do not have the safety of numbers when part of a twelve piece. Chris as only one standing up has nowhere to hide. When the Crowd are on side at a good venue you will have a good time. We had to re-write older stuff for the two of us; whereas the new album was written for the duo Husky Tones. It is getting easier now bookings coming in now are for us as duo no one expects to see the band now. The promoters/venues have heard the new stuff and reacting positively some exciting gigs lined up for 2017. VB: Plus all the re-writes are getting grungier
We only changed because Liam lives in Swansea and was not financially t working out for him plus clash of commitments with his other bands. Matt bassist got more successful than he thought it would be found this difficult. It had been suggested that we should be a duo and we are loving it. The transition for the tour with two weeks rehearsal it was a great chance to jam together. Now we have more material written for the two of us, new album and it is only our availability to worry about.
Now we have Skegness to kick the year off the set will be a mixture of songs from album, older stuff rearranged and some acoustic numbers we have leant that we have to be ourselves trying to adapt and second guess what the audience is expecting doesn’t work. We know that Husky Tones is not going to please everyone. Our Blues will be too loud for some we are definitely not a traditional 12 bars. We know that we will only be pale imitations of what we are copying. Have to remember that many of bluesmen seen as traditional like for example Elmore James they were cutting edge. Need to think about what will reflect the times. No artist has ever stayed in one place.
BD: Tell us a bit about the making of Who Will I Turn To Now – and deciding on Stuart Dixon to produce the album and deciding the studio space
VB: We got on with Stuart really well. We didn’t know we would, having had really bad experiences making the first album. We had three or four pre-production meetings with him and though he is pretty cool. When it came to the sessions completely got what we were trying to do. He knew what microphones to use, the settings. He knew how to get the best out of us both.
We started off recording drums and guitar at the same time. These are all one takes so no chopping, he would make us play until the take was right. Two/three songs where we completely re-wrote the drum part we actually put in some real African drums into Jungle Blues. And then following re-writes had to learn them in half a day and record the tracks it was tough and challenging but was good improving the songs so much. Chris as well did lots of Electric, acoustic and slide guitar. Then the vocals were recorded over a couple days loved recording them separately can concentrate and focus on the voice so songs sound so good.
Then added other bits like Wah wah on Jungle Blues and other added extras on top of the recordings. We laughed a lot. The whole ten days. The view at Platform is a lake it is just stunning such a beautiful atmosphere to record in. Stuart third wheel of the band for that week, he got involved, very intense and we were all on the same page. He would come up with ideas so everything was improved working for ten days on album was amazing very proud. Another benefit, as the two of us we could book in a solid period where as with the band he has to work around their diaries. We were there for the mixing and he then mastered it. He cared about it so got it right.
BD: I have always been interested in the lyrics of a song. Where do you get your inspiration for your songwriting?
VB: Always write together always have, lyrics and music. We ask what shit experience can we use from your past can we use this time Victoria. Who Will I Turn To Now, was a reflection of the less than positive experience of signing on after my masters. Let’s make that generic lots of people unfortunately, have experienced get door slammed in face by those who should be there to help. Relatives in the past luckily have to draw on. My Gt. Gt. Gt. Uncle was interned inspired Island of Barb Wire. Looking for interesting things in your family. Round the Wrekin I use the phrase a lot it is a Midlands colloquialism going long way round a gift for a song. Momentum, build up people getting together deeply political about protest and the right to protest. Then there are the cheeky ones like These Hips Were Made For You little personal love song. Drawing on things that mean a lot to us have a meaning. Writing is a continuous process I have some ideas. Some take a long time. With lots of re-writes to get lyrics right some are from the newspaper articles of the time and how the interns were actually referred to. One of us will start and then we will tidy them up, we try to avoid clichéd, the obvious. Bits of lyrics, riffs sometimes lie around and have left overs from the album. We created too many songs probably have enough for another album, we wanted to make sure that the songs we chose will be the right mix. Love jamming it comes as it does not have hard or fast rule sometimes it’s a riff, drums or a line. We are a bit obsessive and crazy we work at something every day.
BD: What plans do you have to get Who Will I Ask Now? Noticed?
VB: We do our own PR. For two reasons, we have no money to pay someone. But it is not the main reason we trust ourselves to approach and deal with people in an empathetic way. So far we are getting lots of notice, played on Paul Jones on BBC Radio 2, just before Christmas from an album we sent in September. Done lots of research on how to write to people who do blogs, contacting magazine editors etc. How to format things, what they like to be informed about and getting lots of interest from a wide range of people. You have to do a lot of work yourself to make it happen. This one is doing all right actually with the people we are contacting.
BD I am sure you have many plans for 2017 and beyond for Husky Tones
VB: Album Launch 25th Feb Crofters Bristol, Benjamin Bassford will be Pay What You Can reflecting the album’s songs highlighting that people can’t always afford to pay for a gig. We are going to pre-record some interviews co-op environment homeless group refuge and relating to songs and what can do to help. Going to Isle of Man to perform Island of Barb Wire for my Uncle live acoustically and video it as part of the album launch. Last event in a fans house, many may be more acoustic, in London with more than one song. Hopefully if it works to go out on Facebook as live performance then put up pre-recorded interviews. Later in 2017 tour and number of festivals including Field Good Bar a Women’s Music festival in Bath. Headlining on Saturday night others in the pipeline so keep checking our website.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing
VB & CH:
Drums: Cedric Burnside
Bass: Tina Weymouth
Guitars: Ry Cooder, Bob Log
Vocals: Patti Smith
Backing Vox: Jeff & Tim Buckley
Sax: PJ Harvey
Bluesdoodles Review of Who Will I turn To Now HERE
Tour Dates: HERE