THE BLOG
09/29/2015 10:01 am ET | Updated Sep 29, 2016

Chats With Paul Weller and The Selecter, Plus Salvador Santana, Small Feet, Lara Ruggles, Atlas Jungle, Sarah McGowan, and Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys Exclusives

SALVADOR SANTANA'S "TIL THE MORNIN' LIGHT"

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photo credit: Ashley Beliveau

According to Salvador Santana...

"The concept of the lyric video is sweet and basic. It's shot from my POV and the lyrics are cascading down the screen. It's starts off with me waking up to the morning sunlight. I look around to see my adorable girlfriend sound asleep. I approach her; she peacefully wakes up. I begin to serenade her by singing her the song. She begins to sing along with me in harmony. To me, the tone of the song and lyric video is all about watching both the sunset and sunrise with that girl you love."

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A Conversation with Paul Weller

Mike Ragogna: This year you've done so much, you've had your new album, your second book, your clothing line; it must really suck to be Paul Weller.

Paul Weller: I'm very happy. A lot of those things were set in motion after last year, the clothing line and the book we worked on for quite some time. I like to keep busy, man, you know?

MR: When you were working on your new album Saturns Pattern you were working on these others things. Was your creativity with the album affected by your work in these other areas?

PW: I've been working on the book and the clothing line for two or three years, so they've been a long time coming really. The album was kind of easy compared to the others, but I suppose yeah. You have times in your life when you're more creative than other times, certain energies are going through me, and it comes and goes, man.

MR: Did you vary anything in your approach to the new album?

PW: I had seven or eight songs that I wrote last year and I demoed them and realized there were some good songs amongst them but I didn't really want to make a record like that. They were more traditional in that sense, songs I've written on acoustic guitar at home. So I thought, "I don't want to make that sort of record." I like the songs, but I didn't know what I wanted to make, I just wanted to dive in the deep end and see what happens, really. So we kind of put those songs on hold and just started from scratch and built those songs up as we were recording and saw where it would lead us. I guess that was different in a sense; I didn't have a clear idea. I knew what I didn't want to make, but I didn't really know what I should make until I found this. It made it more exciting, it kind of took on its own life.

MR: What went into writing the songs topically?

PW: I think it came from the title track, really. That was the first track that we worked on and I said, "That's where we should be going with it. I couldn't tell you why that is, it was just the feeling, the emotion, but I said, "That's exactly what we should be going for." I guess that's kind of the cornerstone of the record in some ways, but it was only a conceptual thing. That title has got its own meanings, but the words just kind of fell out. I wasn't really aware of what it meant but I liked the sound of the words. I suppose anything I wanted on the album would have a groove to it and big sounding drums and stuff. I guess it's got a bit in common with dance, really.

MR: You've embraced a lot of different styles over the years, but the Paul Weller caliber is always apparent. How do you feel that your songwriting has changed over the years? What do you think are the most obvious or significant changes?

PW: I'm not sure how it's evolved or not. I look back at songs I wrote over thirty years ago, I look at songs from all the different eras and I don't think they're all good but there are some good songs among them. They're all from the same person, the same pen, but I'm not sure how it's evolved. I don't even know if it has, really. I'd have to leave it to my fans and critics, because I really haven't got a clue. I'm not sure if I'm looking for it to evolve, I'm just making sure I'm writing good songs, good melodies, good words, something meaningful, I suppose. But I don't really know the difference from 1993 or 1978.

MR: The Jam was one of the most influential British bands of all time as far as punk and pop. Album after album, critics herald you. Paul Weller is one of those few artists where every time you put something out, everybody goes nuts over it.

PW: Yeah, I find myself pretty fortunate.

MR: What is it that they're identifying with?

PW: I think, at the end of the day, it's about songs. That's the bottom line for me. "Is it a good song?" Hopefully, I've been able to maintain a quality of song, really. I still take my craft seriously, I don't always take myself seriously, but I take what I do seriously. I've got levels of songwriting that I want to reach. I think consistency is important, I've never really stopped doing it. I've always made records since I started, man, and I've always gotten out and played. I've never really stopped doing it.

MR: How does working up the songs while on tour fit into your world?

PW: Well, you just get used to it. The obvious thing would be to go out and play live and then go and record it, but it just never works out like that, I don't know why. When you play the songs on stage they take on their own lives, and you try to replicate that sound in the studio as much as you can. But it's kind of the way of the band. Those songs take on a different life when you're playing in front of people. It's a challenge though, I love that feeling of playing new songs for people. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth and other times it's a joy. Either way, it's all the challenge. We did a thing on the last album called Sonik Kicks where we taped the whole album in sequence, we did four or five nights in London, before anyone had heard any of the record. That was interesting. It was f**king tough, but it was interesting to see because I'd never done something like that before.

MR: Did you discover anything new about that material playing it that way?

PW: It made us play differently.

MR: A lot of times, the best way to hear a song is live because the band will expand it and experiment with it a lot more than on the record. Is that what you do?

PW: We try to. Not with every song because some have got a very set arrangement, but then there's other things we kind of expand on. But they all change anyway, man, whether we realize it or not, but in a good way. Halfway through the year, after we've done a few shows I'll go back to the record just to make sure we're listening to the essentials of it. We'll go back and try to refine it as well, try and improve it.

MR: Are there any new songs on Saturns Pattern that surprised you when you heard the end result?

PW: Quite a few, really. "In The Car" and "Pick It Up," there's quite a few on the album Phoenix as well where we were following where the music was taking us. When you work like that there's a fine line you're treading between getting excited by it and being scared as well because you don't know where you're going. I do like that. I've enjoyed working like that for the last couple of years because it's getting away from the traditional way I write and probably closer to what we do live where we expand on things and jam on them. There are quite a few tracks that were like that, we just jammed it and saw what happened.

MR: It's interesting the way you say that because I guess that would be the recording artist's way of improvisation.

PW: "These City Streets," the last track, I had the song and I was thinking of how we would eventually play it live, I knew we would expand sections, so we tried to capture that on the record. We did that live in the studio and jammed for like fifteen minutes or something and cut it down. We still ended up with like nine minutes. That was closer to what we do live I guess.

MR: You and Stan Kybert have been working together on a lot of your solo material. What is the relationship bringing to the creativity?

PW: I think it's cause we're both enthusiastic. Every day we start the day out with smiles on our faces because we're excited to listen back to what we're doing. There's a real enthusiasm and energy going through it. Stan's a very positive person. He's very confident and enthusiastic about things and that's a really good thing for me to have.

MR: I'm happy that you've found that chemistry that works. I ask every artist but I can't wait to hear your perspective: What is your advice for new artists?

PW: It's tough out there. It's tougher now than ever. I think hold to your vision. Listen to your advice but just listen to it and take what you need from it. The most important thing is to have a vision for your band and yourself and then to stick with it. It's easy to lose your way. Not everyone knows what's best for you, especially in a band. If you're committed to that band--which is a fucking difficult thing on its own--but if you can find four or five people who are committed, you've got a vision, man, it's important to stay true to that when you're getting swayed in so many different directions or you'll lose yourself.

MR: That's beautiful advice. What would you have told Paul Weller from the Jam?

PW: I wouldn't have bothered, really, because I think I would've been too arrogant to take any advice and it would be fruitless because the advice of a man of fifty-seven to an eighteen-year-old is not going to be received. There are many important pieces of information in life but you have to be ready to receive them and I assure you that when I was eighteen I wouldn't listen to anyone.

MR: The Jam and The Style Council have influenced so many bands over the years, what do you think of those bodies of work these days?

PW: I'm proud of them. I don't know if I'm proud of all of it, but a lot of it I am. I've got that number of years now behind me to see a lot of that stuff objectively as well. There was good work in both bands. I think it was worthwhile. That's a good thing you can say to yourself, "Was it worthwhile?" "Yeah, every f**king bit of it!" Even the mistakes, and I think that's pretty important.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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SMALL FEET'S "MAKING OF..." EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Barsuk Records

According to the Small Feet crowd...

This documentary series on Stockholm-based trio Small Feet gives you a deeply personal and inside look at the band and their approach to music making and creativity as they write and record their critically acclaimed debut album 'From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean' while simultaneously integrating what it means to become fathers each within 1 year of each other. Each episode features a session they shot live at their studio, a converted 17th Century cabin on the island of Södermalm in Central Stockholm.

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LARA RUGGLES' "MOON IN MY HEART" EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Art Heffron

According to Lara Ruggles...

"'Moon in my Heart" stands alone as the single happy song I've ever written and not been sick of singing two weeks later. I wrote it during a songwriting challenge when my dad, who's always been as supportive as he could possibly be, sent me an email with a bunch of ideas for topics I could write songs about. Most of them were absolutely ridiculous--things like the dust under his bed and the dishes in his sink. But then there was 'Moon in my Heart,' this one practically nonsensical gem of a standout line. So I took it and ran with it and imagined what it would feel like to house a force so powerful and representative of childlike wonder, but no-one can quite put their finger on what's different about you.

"I actually shot two different videos for this song, which was a lesson in always working with people you trust. The guy who shot the first video, in New York City, took my money and I never got any usable footage. So the second time around, I was a lot more careful and I worked with Sarah Megyesy because she was already a friend and the work of hers that I'd seen was so masterful at building a story and bringing it to a conclusion. We had so much fun shooting the video and she was up for anything--even traveling all the way to the Great Sand Dunes, shooting till dark, camping out, and then waking up and hiking again at 4am the next morning. And we had a great crew of friends who showed up to play all the zany extras--I think their characters all turned out better than we hoped. The idea for the animation came from a short story I wrote once in which the moon came down from the sky and created the landscape of the desert. Evan McCandless did such a great job bringing that to life. And the dress...we spent a whole day shopping fancy secondhand stores for the perfect dress for the video. I tried on dozens and then it was the first thing we found at Goodwill for $6."

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A Conversation with The Selecter's Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson
 
Mike Ragogna: Pauline and Arthur, The Selecter's new album is titled Subculture. What does that word mean to the group these days considering its history started in a musical subculture decades ago?
 
Pauline Black: Hi Mike, thanks for doing this interview with us- much appreciated. I've always loved the idea of subcultures, people proud enough of what they like, to stand up and be counted, be it fashion wise, musically or ideologically. My favourite subcultures were mods, skinheads, rudeboys/rudegirls, northern soul & punk, all of whom supported the 2-tone movement that The Selecter was associated with. They were the "in crowds" and as everybody knows it's always cool to be in with the in crowd- whatever your musical weapon of choice.

Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson: Subculture was always about the people who like to dress according to the different genres of music they listen to.
 
MR: Your music has grown beyond the ska and punk genres you were originally associated with back in 1979 with The Selecter's first 2-Tone release. How would you describe your music's progress over the years? And how has the label evolved?
 
PB: The Selecter is proud to have been part of the 2-tone movement and to have actively fought against the twin evils of racism and sexism with our music. But we are now in 2015. The world has moved on and it isn't enough to live on past musical glories. It is necessary to write new material about what is going on in the world today, because the problems of racism and sexism are just as bad as they ever were and not to say anything about this would be a dereliction of duty on our part.

We reformed to write that new music, which has elicited 3 brand new albums, Made In Britain, String Theory, and our latest success Subculture. We have built our own audience, who have embraced the new material as well as enjoying the old. It was necessary for The Selecter to pass beyond "heritage" status. This conscious strategy has worked very well for us and made The Selecter the dynamic band that it is today.

AH: The Selecter has always had members of strong character and personality and we always try and show these traits whether we're performing live or recording. We always remain mindful of what's going on around us musically and have plenty experience, plus the Selecter now has a brilliant horn section. This is a good recipe for progress.
 
MR: The new single and album opener "Box Fresh" seems to point to the things to come from The Selecter. Have the creative and recording processes changed dramatically from the early days?
 
PB: It is now much easier to record and produce musical content for distribution. But it is still just as hard for bands to market that musical content. For that, you need backers with money, who naturally are looking for the best return on their investment. This is why bands of our longevity are pushed towards re-packaging their 'heritage' every five minutes, with varying degrees of success.

Fortunately, we found a very sympathetic backer at DMFMusic Records who respected our new album Subculture, that we had already produced and recorded. The record company was prepared to go that extra mile in remixing, re-packaging and promoting it, in order to make it a success. The respect involved in that process was entirely mutual and gave us our first chart album success for over 30 years.

AH: we are always looking or trying different sounds without trying to complicate matters. We have Neil Pyzer--quiet genius--who's very level-headed even when things are not what they should be. Along with Pauline, we write and compose together.
 
MR: What inspired you to restart the group back in 2011?
 
PB: An ideological vacuum.
 
AH: Dedicated 2-Tone fans!
 
MR: What are a few personal favorite moments on Subculture?
 
PB: "Walk The Walk" and "Breakdown."
 
AH: "Never Worked Out" and "Stone Cold Sober."
 
MR: Did you ever notice how The Selecter might have contributed to music and culture either in the recordings or groups you've inspired? And what is the story behind the group's iconic black and white guy logo?
 
PB: Gwen Stefani of No Doubt has said that she was influenced by The Selecter in her youth & a couple of years ago even chose our Celebrate The Bullet album for her Top 5 albums in Elle magazine. That was very nice of her. Thank you. The iconic logo is named "Walt Jabsco." He sums up the mix of music and style, which is essentially 2-tone, black and white.

AH: It's an uplifting thought when other artists have been influenced by 2-Tone music, especially if they have success in doing so.
 
MR: What are your thoughts when you look at the current music scene?
 
PB: Progressive music is made at all times. Sometimes you just have to search for it. Spotify and Apple Music make that task much easier. So much choice and not enough time to listen to it all.
 
AH: There are some very talented musicians around. Some are not so clever. I've always thought as long as it's eye candy and pleasing to the ear then it is not such a bad thing and there is quite a lot of that going down at the moment.
 
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
 
PB: Do what you've got to do. Never be swayed by other people's opinions. Know thyself! Then you can't go too far wrong.

AH: Believe in yourselves. Mash down obstacles in your way and get ready to rock and roll.
 
MR: What did the creation of Subculture do for The Selecter that your previous albums hadn't to this point?
 
PB: Got us back into the UK album chart.
 
AH: You just hope that one or two songs that you've recorded might be popular with people who love the band. We seem to have done that with the Subculture album.

MR: What's next for the group?
 
PB: Australian and American tours are first on our agenda for 2016.
 
AH: A few ideas are floating around, but it's a bit too premature to talk about them at the moment. In the meantime we will continue doing what we're doing, touring, meeting fans and see where the music takes us.

MR: Is it all still fun?
 
PH: Double fun.
 
AH: Immense fun.
 
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ATLAS JUNGLE'S "PYTHAGORAS" EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: J. Spang

According to Atlas Jungle's Jeremy Spang...

"This track is called "Pythagoras" because the source of what led to his mathematical discoveries is similar to the same source that inspired us to create this track and video. According to legend, Pythagoras practiced darkness retreats with the Egyptians. Spending weeks on end in complete darkness. In a country where rituals like this are now sorely missed we wanted to pay homage to him for keeping the allure of darkness retreats still alive. It's this practice that gave us the focus, energy, and inspiration to try and put something together that was different. The music we create is inspired by the energy that live concerts and the experiences around them have imparted to us. These experiences have changed the way our mind relates to our perceptions to the point where it is a daily occurrence to remember how music has changed our lives. Its always in our heads and so the wish to create our own music comes very naturally."

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LINDSAY LOU & THE FLATBELLYS' "EVERYTHING CHANGED" EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: John Hanson

According to Lindsay Lou & The Flatbelly's gang...

"Shot toward the end of winter in the Chicago, this narrative-style music video offers a glimpse into the life of a transient young person whose fate becomes unexpectedly entwined with a cast of characters who are caught in a cycle of addiction. Set to the soundtrack of Nashville-based acoustic roots band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, this video features the song 'Everything Changed' from their new album, Ionia. For their first official music video from the new album, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys gave the filmmakers at Chicago's Big Foot Media carte blanche to do what they wanted with the song. The result is as much a short film depicting the zeitgeist of our modern culture of addiction as it is a stunning music video with a narrative that claims no answer or judgment, but rather speaks to the heart of our human story."

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SARAH McGOWAN'S "WHEN I COME HOME" EXCLUSIVE

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original photo by Rachel Cabitt Photography

Singer-songwriter Sarah McGowan's "When I Come Home" previews her upcoming debut CD. She co-produced the album with inspirations ranging from The Strokes to Amy Winehouse to The Ronettes.

According to Sarah McGowan...

"My goal with this album was to have every song sound unique and have a little 'edge,' whether it is through a quirky lyric or an unusual instrument in the mix. For the 'When I Come Home' video, the director is Josh Hammond and the producers are Katherine Paige and Scott Schuler. We've been working on this video for almost 6 months now, going through many different ideas and visions before finally settling on our current abstract, visually interesting concept. We filmed at several locations throughout NYC, including Bush Terminal Piers Park in Sunset Park, and several of our friends' apartments. Everything was done on a shoestring budget--in fact, many of the people who worked on the video are my former classmates and friends at NYU. Concept-wise, it was a collaborative process between myself, the producers, and the director. We created different colorful, interesting vignettes that told the story of my song--having relationship issues, but coming home at the end of the day and hoping that everything will be ok. We wanted each vignette to be as colorful, creative, and interesting as possible, with the performance sequence tying the video together. Our hope is that the video will be unique so that people in our world--with short attention spans--will want to watch and re-watch it!"