Monday, November 21, 2016

Q&A With Simon and Wendy Pickles of the Perfect English Weather

You know and love the Popguns for indie classics like Festive 50 standout "Landslide," "Still a World Away" and "Waiting for the Winter." Nearly two decades after their last album, the Brighton band accomplished what few dare to try. Their comeback album 'Pop Fiction' not only tread on familiar ground to please the most discerning fans, but also created a sound deemed my 2014 album of the year. Okay, the NME my blog is not, but I was far from alone in singing the praises of 'Pop Fiction.'

Simon and Wendy Pickles of the Popguns now return with a side project, calling themselves the Perfect English Weather. New album 'Isobar Blues' is a perfect storm of ballad and boom, and all are part of a warm front that drenches you with a downpour of pop hooks. With the album set for release on Friday (or right now if you order from our friends at Matinée Recordings), it felt like a good time to get in from the cold for a cozy catch up with Simon and Wendy.

Linear Tracking Lives: There were hints with the 'Still Waiting for the Winter EP' that this tone could be coming, but let's start with the obvious. How did 'Isobar Blues' become something other than the next album from the Popguns? Another indie-pop power couple, Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, recently had a similar pursuit with the Catenary Wires. Did you find any inspiration from their intimate 10" record 'Red Red Skies'?

Simon Pickles: It was a couple of years ago that Wendy went up to the attic and recorded about 12 songs as acoustic demos for the rest of the Popguns, and after listening to those rough recordings, I thought that someday the world should hear her performances that way. Very soon after that I did indeed hear and buy the Catenary Wires album, and a few weeks later asked Rob & Amelia to play with The Popguns at a gig of ours near Brighton where we managed to put together 3 UK matinee acts, including Richard Preece (aka Lovejoy). It was a really memorable evening and having seen CW live a few times now I'm enormously impressed by them, and they are really quite musically sophisticated behind their misplaced modesty -- Rob is an excellent guitarist. Of course, the Perfect English Weather album includes some more "full on" guitar pop, but they certainly gave us a bit of confidence to do this record. And yes, England is so small that us "indie-legends" see each other all the time.

Wendy Pickles: Seeing Amelia & Rob play certainly did give me confidence that Simon & I could make it work as a duo. They are always entertaining and engaging, and I hope we can emulate them. It would be wonderful to gig together (a Mr. & Mrs. tour?) and perhaps sing a little with Amelia -- it's been a long time since the anti-poll tax cover of "Bye Bye Baby"! I was also inspired by Dean & Britta's low-key simplicity, though as Simon says we ended up going a bit wild with drums & bass on some songs!

LTL: 'Isobar Blues' is gorgeous and destined to be at or near the top of my list of the year's best albums. I will resist the urge to ask you about every song, but I have to know more about "Spirited Away". We have lost a great many artists this year. Is this about a specific musician or the collective loss of so many talented people?

Simon: During the year which this album was written I was working next to a beautiful big park in Brighton where I'd spend lunchtimes listening to music on my 'phones whilst sitting on park benches and drifting off to those places that music takes you. It was more the fact that music and ideas live on long beyond their moment of creation that inspired the "spirited away" theme, but obviously the death of Bowie was such a big event around that time, and it's easy to imagine him as the song's subject. Having said that, my own bizarre fantasy for the song was around the possible passing of Steven Patrick and how that could feel for those of us for whom he loomed so large. Then the actual title probably came from my son's Studio Ghibli film collection. But I usually say that songs are often not about things, they are inspired by them and become something else. Then the meaning is in the listening, not the writing.

LTL: Right down to the font, it seems cover art and layout are very important to you. I loved the aesthetics of your last album and single "Lovejunky" so much that I tracked down Jason Brooks' 'Paris Sketchbook.' 'Isobar Blues' has an equally intriguing and beautiful look. What's the relationship between the cover and the music this time around? Were you moved by any covers from your youth when you adopted this look?

Simon: Jimmy [of Matinée Recordings] would probably laugh at this question. Throw enough mud and eventually some will stick. We tried a few other covers around the (slightly corny) idea of weather and weren't really convinced, but we included the Glastonbury muddy boots shot (taken by Wendy last year) as a possible inner sleeve when we sent it to Jimmy. Luckily he saw the possibility in this and came up with the monotone blue cover which we loved immediately. Obviously (to us anyway) it's very Smiths from a monotone point of view and fits the title and songs perfectly. 'Isobar Blues' is probably an awful pun to most people, but as there's only 2 of us, we really don't care, and there's nobody to argue with us!

Wendy: Regarding the cover, that photo sums up last year's Glastonbury for me -- it shows how everyone embraced the mud and made it part of the experience. Good old British spirit!! It was an amazing time, particularly because the Brexit decision was made that very weekend. It felt as though we were in a safe bubble of like-minded folk -- the overall mood was one of comradeship and positivity in the face of gloom and doom. When the U.S. election result was announced last week, I wished I could go back inside my Glastonbury bubble!

LTL: The Popguns have been busier than ever, and I hear from reliable sources there are a slew of songs in the hopper. Will the Perfect English Weather find time to hit the stage? If so, how would that show look? Duo? Unplugged?

Simon: Yes, there is a Popguns album recorded and basically ready to go, and TPEW allowed us to get some of the dreamier stuff out of the way and do a proper indie-rock album for that. TPEW will probably play a show or two in the UK this winter in Brighton, but we'll have to see if anyone wants us after that. Dates with Catenary Wires might be a bit too much with two husband and wife duos, but I'd be up for it. And I still want to play "Shallow" with Amelia, even though she refused last time we played together in London* -- I'd learned the chords and everything!

*This was a "Totally Acoustic" evening (with MJ Hibbert) and I think you could find recordings of it on the web and even on iTunes.

LTL: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the gorgeous album 'Isobar Blues'. Your generosity knows no bounds!


Misterprime said...

Many thanks for bringing this to my attention, Brian, though I did get an email later, possibly via some bandcamp thing to which I did not realise I was subscribed. It's my birthday today too so I had no qualms about treating myself to a copy this morning. I've been a big fan of the popguns since I was a student - they were the first band I saw live in Nottingham (at the long-defunct Venus Club) when I first moved here in 1990 and I interviewed them (well, Simon) in Birmingham for a fanzine I was involved in probably a year or so later... Still waiting for them to come back to the Midlands, though!

Brian said...

Happy belated birthday! You're going to love this album, Misterprime. Right up your alley. I never had the privilege of seeing Popguns, but I may just fly over there and see them one of these days.