Thursday, October 11, 2012

Q&A With Josh Meadows of the Sugargliders

For vinyl fans, the early '90s were dark times. Thankfully, a handful of independent labels like Sarah saved the 7" single from extinction. While thumbing through a stack of 45s at that time, you couldn't help but stop when you got to the Sugargliders. The sleeves were absolutely beautiful in their simplicity. Cool name. All lower case. Typewriter print. Great colors and art. Who were these guys? Well, the brothers, Josh and Joel Meadows, were on Sarah. So, they had to be good.

For the most part, in the ensuing 20 years, if you wanted to own a piece of the Sugargliders, you had to make a major investment for a used 7" from some smug record collector. Well, Matinée Recordings has made life easier (and much cheaper) with the just released 20-track compilation 'A Nest With A View 1990-1994.' Seems like just the right moment to catch up with Josh for a chat about those glorious Sarah years, eh? I want to thank him for answers that were as honest as his songs.

LTL: You fellas were wide-eyed teens when the Sugargliders formed. Who were you listening to back then? Did you ever think, "wow, I want us to be like those guys?"

Josh: When Joel and I first started writing songs we were really into the Smiths, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Everything but the Girl, Durutti Column, Prefab Sprout, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, REM, Billy Bragg and the Housemartins, as well as Australian bands I'm Talking, Stephen Cummings, the Go-Betweens and the Stems. Those were the groups we most admired when we started thinking we wanted to be part of the whole pop music thing. I don't think we ever considered we were in the same league as any of those bands, but we started to write songs and play them live and we found, to our surprise, there were people who liked what we did. We loved pop music and we believed good pop songs could change the world, both of us being able to name plenty of songs that had changed ours.

LTL: I'm a big fan of Sarah. How do a couple of lads from Melbourne end up on the legendary Bristol label? What instantly comes to mind when you think of those years?

Josh: I had a Saturday job in an indie record store in Melbourne that was run by Jason Reynolds, the man behind Summershine Records. Jason used to stock all the cool imported 7" singles from English and US labels like Cherry Red, Creation, 4AD, Sub Pop, Factory, Bus Stop, Parasol, Subway and Sarah. That's where I first heard the Orchids, the Field Mice, Another Sunny Day and other Sarah acts that Joel and I came to love. And, like so many other people around the world, we came to love the label too -- not only the bands. While some indie labels seemed happy to mimic major labels, Sarah was fiercely proud of its independence, its separateness, from the music business of the time. It didn't want to be part of the whole corporate side of the music industry. It wanted to discover wonderful songs and foist them upon the unsuspecting public, one hand-packaged 7" single at a time. Joel and I were immediately attracted to Sarah's music, aesthetics and politics.

How did we come to be on Sarah? We had released three singles through Summershine and one through Brighton (UK) label Marineville. We had a new song, "Letter from a Lifeboat," that we thought was something special. So we spent all our money recording it really well and sent the tape off to Bristol.... It was an exciting time. It was a time of furiously writing, recording and releasing 7" singles and playing the songs live at every opportunity. We never had a business plan and all our marketing was very, very basic. We simply wanted to make pop music and express the concerns that were weighing heavy on our hearts.

LTL: Ten singles. Four years. Done. For fans, it felt like the Sugargliders ended abruptly. Can you explain how that all went down? Any regrets?

Josh: It did end rather abruptly, although there was no bad feeling between Joel or I or Robert (bass player in later era Sugargliders) or any of the labels we recorded for. Joel and I decided to end the band because the songs we were writing called for more of a full band treatment and we wanted to shake off the "acoustic duo" tag the Sugargliders had been lumbered with. We didn't want to keep playing the same old songs over and over forever. So we ditched the 'gliders and started the Steinbecks. Sometimes I think maybe we should have kept the Sugargliders going and let the band evolve to fit our new material, but at the time we just wanted to kick over the statues and do something new.

LTL: The songs on 'A Nest With a View' are about two decades old now. Some musicians don't like to listen to their old material, but how do you think these tunes hold up? Can you play this disc with a smile? Do you cringe? Both?

Josh: I recognise that a lot of our early stuff is poorly recorded and embarrassingly naïve. I hadn't listened to many of the Sugargliders recordings for years and years because I had written them off in my head as unlovely and part of another era that is long gone and unmissed. Some years ago Mike Babb from Drive In and Microindie tried to persuade Joel and I to do a Sugargliders compilation, but we stuck our noses in the air and said we were happy with the artefacts as they were originally recorded and released and we didn't believe in reissues. Remember, we're Smiths fans -- we know all the lyrics to "Paint a Vulgar Picture"! Then last year Scott Thurling from Popboomerang broached the subject of a retrospective album. He convinced us the time was right. If people wanted to find out about the Sugargliders from scratch, the only things they were likely to come across would be eBay bootlegs of very poor cassette recordings, inaccurate information on various indie pop "fan" Web sites and extremely unflattering live videos. The actual recordings the Sugargliders put out between 1990 and 1994 were now really hard to get hold of. Surely we wanted people to be able to hear the Sugargliders at their best, not their worst! So we said yes.

Deciding which 20 songs we would include on the album was an interesting process. Each of our 7" singles had three songs on it, so we aimed to leave at least one track "exclusive" to the original single, although in the end we included all three songs off "Trumpet Play" and "Top 40 Sculpture." There are also a couple of "rare" songs –- "Everybody Supermarket," which we recorded for an International Pop 7" in 1991, and "Another Faux Pas," which was on the Marineville 7". I think it is a good selection. Some of the sounds are very dated, but I feel like every song on 'A Nest with a View' has a kernel of truth about it and I am proud of that. The ones that make me smile are "Seventeen" and "90 Days of Moths and Rust.' We had all 20 songs mastered by the great Ross Cockle at Sing Sing studios in Melbourne, which gave them a real audio lift. Brad Welsh at One Degree did a beautiful design and layout job with the sleeve. And we were flattered when Jimmy Tassos of Matinée Recordings approached us about releasing the album in the USA.

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