INTERVIEW: TALKING SWEET MUSIC WITH BILLY PILGRIM 0 186

The quartet that make up Sweet Billy Pilgrim; Anthony Bishop, Jana Carpenter, Tim Elsenburg and Alistair Hamer, have been part of the music industry for over a decade, delivering song after song of what they describe as “Thrash Pastel” sound to ears everywhere. As they prepare to embark on an eleven date UK tour which begins in Manchester on September 2nd, together they agreed to chat with me and talk longevity, influences and future plans.

You’ve outlasted a number of bands and artists during your time together, what do you think is the key/secret to your longevity?

That’s easy. We get to do something we love with people we love, whether they be our fellow band members or the people who come to see us. Don’t get me wrong; it is hard work, and sometimes the rewards for that hard work seem all out of whack, but whenever it all gets a bit overwhelming we just remind ourselves how lucky we are. Our shows tend to be a conversation – both literal and metaphorical – between members of the band, and between the band and the audience. I guess the aim is to achieve something approaching a feeling of celebration in the end, so a shorter answer would be that we basically became hippies.

How do you think you’ve evolved and grown as a band since you started out?

We’ve learned to communicate better, and the songs have opened up sonically and lyrically as a result. We love the first two records, but they were the sound of a band always looking inwards, and shows were difficult because we just wanted to get the notes and the sounds right. It was only when Jana joined that, through her background in acting and improvising, we really discovered how to tell stories; how look outwards and invite people in. Yes, the notes and words are important, but now we share them, where – in the early days at least – we might have just performed them.

Have there been any difficult lessons you’ve had to learn along the way?

Just that, really. That most people are less interested in hearing an album played accurately live, and more interested in being connected with. That, and the more obvious how-to-keep-our-heads-above-water thing that most of the musicians we know are grappling with from day to day. Oh, and making sure that when we’re touring Jana gets caffeine and breakfast within 15 minutes of requesting them. Missing that deadline was a difficult lesson to learn!

Do you have any favourite memories so far?

Walking onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a banjo and harmonium in front of a sea of very impatient people with feather cuts and fishtail parkas waiting for The Who to play ‘Quadrophenia’. That felt strangely liberating. We also did a house concert recently for a family where one of the parents was fighting cancer. It was humbling and joyous and emotional and drunken, eventually all at the same time.

You’re soon to embark on a UK tour in support of your latest album ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’. Is there any venue or city you’re most looking forward to playing?

All of them. We genuinely can’t wait to get out there and play the new songs to people. Our only regret is that – without an agent – we weren’t able to persuade some venues to have us, so there are certain parts of the country we’re not going to make it to.

If you could play any venue, anywhere in the world, that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why?

Anywhere intimate, beautiful and with great acoustics. Preferably in a city we’ve never been to before, with a day either side so that there’s time to explore.

Which four bands or artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with?

Sonic Youth circa ’Sister’, making an unholy racket… maybe we’d do some three-four part harmony singing with Gillian Welch, The Band backing Jana and I singing something and Robert Fripp in the midst of his Bowie / Scary Monsters screamy-guitar phase, soloing over one of our songs.

What do you think sets ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’ apart from your other, earlier material?

It was written to be played live. None of the previous records grew from that specific intention.

Has the song-writing process gotten easier or harder for you, or does it still depend on the subject matter you’re writing about?

It’s the same really. Drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting. Endless musical and lyrical possibilities whittled down, usually with some idea of a unifying theme at the backs of our minds as we move from album to album. We work really hard at trying to make albums that are a bit of a journey; that give you something back if you commit to them for 45 minutes. It’s a pretty old-fashioned idea, but we want to at least give people the option of listening to the music like that so that they get that sense of the sum being greater than the parts.

What, to you makes a good song, and which, in your opinion, is the greatest song ever written and why?

It’s got to have the hairs-standing-up-on-the-back of the neck moment.‘River Song’ by the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson is probably top because it seems to be entirely built out of those moments.

How necessary do you think it is for bands and artists today to be involved with social media? Have you found that it’s helped you?

It’s now an integral part of the relationship between the artist and the audience; another way to connect. We write songs; people weave them into their busy lives; people are curious about us; we’re curious about people… it’s a vital and almost always fun part of the to-and-fro.

You’re a Mercury Music Prize nominated band – how important is recognition like that to you?

Well, it doesn’t sell more records for a band like us, but it does open doors. It’s a great calling card.

Aside from your UK tour, what else do you have in store for the rest of the year?

Hopefully some European touring! We’re also working out how possible a series of deluxe reissues of the previous albums with bonus materials might be. That’s something we’d love to do because the label we’re with – Kscope – are so great at curating beautifully assembled and presented back catalogue stuff.

What’s your ultimate goal as a band? At what point would you be happy to say ‘yeah, that’s it, we’ve done all we wanted to. Let’s call it a day’?

Just to be able to keep doing this. Some of us aren’t great being ‘in the moment’ and so being on stage is probably the closest we ever get to that, so projecting forward sort of defeats the object! Just before work on this album began, there was at least one occasion where we almost gave in to cynicism and called it quits because the effort-reward ‘system’ seemed so out of balance. Then we soon realised that we weren’t going to stop writing songs, or recording them, or wanting to share them. That feeling never really goes away, so while we can still stand and carry our own amps we’ll be out there somewhere making music.

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P!NK CONFIRMED TO PERFORM AT 2019 BRITS; RECIPIENT OF OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC AWARD 0 24

We are thrilled to announce that multi-million selling global pop icon P!NK will be honoured with the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at this year’s ceremony. P!NK will be the first international artist to receive this award.

Seven studio albums and one greatest hits album on since her debut in 2000, totalling over 60 million global sales, over 8 million in the UK alone along with over 12 million UK single sales, P!NK is a musical force to be reckoned with. With seven Top Five albums – with two going No. 1 (Funhouse and the most recent platinum-certified Beautiful Trauma), three UK No. 1 singles (‘Just Like A Pill’, ‘So What’, ‘Lady Marmalade’) and 32 Top 40 singles, 19 of which going Top 10, including ‘Try’, ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ and ‘What About Us’, P!NK has become one of the UK’s best-selling female artists and one of the world’s greatest singers, with her inimitable powerhouse vocals and show-stopping stage performances.
 
Over 2 million tickets sold in the UK alone to date, nine BRIT nominations, and one win for International Female Solo Artist in 2003, and a string of other prestigious awards and accolades including three GRAMMY awards (20 nominations) and two Billboard Music Awards, P!NK’s career sees no sign of letting up with her first UK stadium tour in five years booked for this summer, including two nights at London’s Wembley Stadium.
 
P!NK said: “I am so honored to be recognized with the Outstanding Contribution To Music Award at the 2019 BRITs! Since the beginning of my career the British fans have been some of the most fierce and loyal in the world. I am humbled to receive this honor and be in the company of an illustrious group of British icons!”

BRITs Chairman and Chairman & CEO of Sony Music UK and Ireland Jason Iley said: “P!NK is a trailblazer, a phenomenally talented singer and songwriter, and truly one of the greatest artists of our time.  It is a real pleasure to honour her at this year’s BRIT Awards with the Outstanding Contribution To Music Award. With her remarkable career spanning nearly 20 years, P!NK is one of the most successful artists in the world, consistently releasing multi-million-selling albums and selling out tours all over the globe. I am really excited to welcome her back to The BRITs and to recognise her prodigious success.”
 
P!NK joins an illustrious list of previous BRIT Awards Outstanding Contribution to Music recipients including Sir Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Spice Girls, U2, Sir Paul McCartney, Oasis, Robbie Williams and Blur. The award was rested in 2013 to make way for a Special Recognition for War Child to mark the charity’s 20th anniversary. P!NK will be the first international artist to receive the honour, a decision taken by The BRITs committee to open the award up to overseas acts who have achieved long term success in the UK, and P!NK will be awarded in recognition of her significant impact on British music and her incredible musical repertoire over the past two decades.

Like all winners on the night, P!NK will be presented with an exclusive trophy designed for this year only by Sir David Adjaye OBE, and she will close the show with an exclusive performance on the night, showcasing her extraordinary talent which continues to wow audiences all over the world.

MATT DOBKIN CHATS ‘SIX SONGS OF PROTEST’ & HIS VIEWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA 0 28

Music has always been an outlet for artists keen to share their views – personal, political and everything in between – and for Matt Dobkin, thanks to his new, upcoming EP Six Songs Of Protest, it’s allowed him to express himself in exactly the way he wishes to be heard. Frustrated and shocked by the outcome of the 2016 US election and all that has occurred and impacted both the States and the world since, his new collection addresses issues such as police brutality, the environment and White House corruption. Having just released the first single from the EP, “They Warned Us”, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Matt to delve a little deeper into his political views, the impact of social media on his career and how happy he is to see more of his artistic counterparts speaking out about issues that matter.

TITL: Hi Matt. Sum yourself up in a few words for me please.

Matt Dobkin: Right now? In 2019? Pissed off.

TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist? What makes you stand out? 

MD: My aim as an artist right now is to express my frustration, distress, and anger with the current state of the world. And I think – or at least hope! – that that’s a selling point, because I’m certainly not alone. I would like to think that my voice, lyrics, and political point of view might, to some small degree in today’s landscape, help me stand out.

TITL: Growing up, which bands and artists were you most inspired by and how do those inspirations influence the music you make now? 

MD: How much space do you have? As a very little kid, I would listen to whatever was on pop radio and sing along; whether that was Fleetwood Mac, ABBA, or Eagles. I was a total 80s pop obsessive: Prince, Michael, post-Barracuda pop Heart, Yaz, U2, and George Michael. In high school, I got the retro jazz/soul bug and I became fixated on Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. I discovered Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and I “came home” to the 60s/70s soul space that would become – and remain – my main inspiration. But, I also had a classical-music background and I’m sure that all these various influences have informed what I do now. It’s a big ol’ mash-up, as it is for most musicians.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing? With that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?

MD: Greatest song ever written? Impossible to answer. Different songs evoke different feelings and mean different things to different people. Not to be a killjoy, but I’m not really into pitting one song against another. In terms of my personal inspirations, I have two different lists, the “singing” list and the “songwriting” list. As a singer, Aretha Franklin tops the list, followed closely by Al Green and Sam Cooke. As a songwriter, Prince and Joni Mitchell, which I realize sounds absurd as I’m barely fit to sweep their floors. Marvin Gaye manages to straddle both lists.

TITL: Tell me a little about your latest single “They Warned Us.” What’s the story behind it?

MD: “They Warned Us” is the first single off my forthcoming EP, Six Songs of Protest. But the song that really launched the project for me is called “Organize.” It’s inspired by Gloria Steinem and really set the tone for the whole release. Once I had committed to the idea of an all-protest-song project, I started listening to A LOT of old classic songs of resistance. Much like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”, and many more. I started to realize that all the issues I wanted to address in these songs had already been dealt with by these great artists, not to mention Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, etc. So the idea behind “They Warned Us” was very simple, all the problems we’re facing now, we also faced years ago. And all this stuff I want to address now was addressed decades ago. Marvin, Nina, and Dylan warned us years ago about the scenarios we find ourselves dealing with today. Nothing has changed.

TITL: As you mentioned, you’ve got an EP, Six Songs of Protest coming out soon. Without giving too much away in terms of its content, what can fans expect from the collection?

MD: In addition to “They Warned Us” and “Organize”, which is a very pointed critique of the American president. Featuring a circa-1972 sample from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to throw her hat into the ring for U.S. president. There’s a song about the environment – “Earthquake and Hurricanes”-, a gay rights song – “The Ramble” -, a song criticizing the epidemic of police murders of black Americans – “Paid Administrative Leave” – and a cover of the great Phil Ochs’s “Power and the Glory.” You know, just fun, light, frothy entertainment.

TITL: Which of the songs on the EP might you say you’re most proud of/connected to and why?

MD: I’m really happy with how “Organize” turned out. The groove, the lyrics, and not to mention the background vocals of Teresa Stanley. She’s a killer female gospel/soul vocalist always adds authority to a song.

TITL: Your music is “overtly” political – not that that’s a bad thing in this day and age – but do you wish other artists would share such powerful and important messages through their work, or are you happy to be one of the few leading the charge?

MD: Thank you, but I wouldn’t say I’m “leading the charge.” I’m hardly alone in trying to get these messages across. I think we’re in a moment where a lot of artists – whether musicians, writers, visual artists, whatever – are addressing the kinds of political and social problems we’re all assaulted by every time we open the newspaper or a web browser. I’m genuinely excited by the fact that so many different creative people, across genres and disciplines, are finding ways to resist.

TITL: What is your tour/performance schedule for the months ahead looking like? Which one venue would you most like to play and why?

MD: I like small, intimate shows, where it’s easy to connect directly with your audience. So, I’m angling for Joe’s Pub here in New York City. But if Madison Square Garden or the O2 Centre came calling, I wouldn’t be averse…

TITL: It could be argued that social media is all but taking over the world – and certainly industries like the music business. How do you personally feel about society’s connection and obsession with the likes of Twitter? How has and does it impact your ability to reach an audience?

MD: I have friends who refuse to be on social media, and I really admire their ability to steer clear and not get sucked in. But, it’s impossible to get your music out and your message across without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s incredibly helpful in reaching people, so I can’t complain.

TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

MD: I am completely focused on Six Songs of Protest at the moment and whatever small ways I can help prevent a re-election.

TITL: Finally then, with seemingly no end in sight to the political turmoil the world finds itself dealing with, where do you see your music going in future? Are there any other causes or views you’re maybe looking to support through future releases, and with that in mind, many years from now, what one thing would you most like people to say about you/remember you for in terms of your career and artistic legacy?

MD: When I first started singing and writing songs, I had no ambition to get into this political realm, but it’s feeling like a pretty good fit. I’m sure that, even when our idiot president has been expelled from office, I’ll find some other situation to be outraged by and respond to in music. Or maybe I’ll just want to sing cheesy love songs. We’ll just have to see!

Check out “They Warned Us” below and for more information on Matt Dobkin, visit his website, follow him on Instagram or give his page a like on Facebook.