Moke Interview [Birmingham, UK Zine]



100,000 WATTS!
The Pills interview/review by Moke

Imagine the perfect night out - nice warm summer evening in a beer garden, you turn up on a scoot and get admiring glances all round, someone you've had your eye on for ages comes up to YOU to say hello, the night spins past in a flash, suddenly you're riding home again with this warm feeling in your heart. You get back and try to find the perfect sound to encapsulate this mood - If I were you, I'd put on "Wide Awake With The Pills". Listening to this album, you can believe in a perfect world!

OK - get the predictable stuff out of the way first - most reviewers say that The Pills sound is based around that of XTC/The Who/Kinks/The Jam - and how right they are, but those comparisons only scratch the surface, of what is undoubtedly the freshest sounding new album I've heard this year. Sort of like Blur's grown-up American brother, taking the same influences as Albarn and co. but with a far heavier sound. Weighing in at just under 30 minutes, with not one single wasted note on 11 of the tracks. Can't be bad! (deep breath, press PLAY)

Kicking off literally with "All That Way", jumping all over the shop, stopping starting, yelping into track two "Real Real Gone" intro of Special-reggae leading into driving bass (best bit) every verse has me turning up the stereo that little bit louder, just to hear the singer's voice-box shred itself that little bit more. "Wide Awake" next, amphetamine Faces-speed psychedelic pop, crunching guitar squeals of feedback, bit of Big Star/dBs harmony ending up in a delightful thrash!!! Ringing guitar, grumbling bass (reminiscent of the best Ruts) heads into an early Andy Partridge "The Devils Song" (think "She's So Square") and some more Special off-the-wall reggae, has Dave Thompson taking over vocals from Corin, finishing with a little bit of "Butterfly Collector". Cool as shit, next up is the natural-born boogiefied "Call Me" with a nod or two to Britpop, thrashing itself into a tremelo-arm frenzy, tape compression (see interview) heavy Jam sound. "Molly & Me" bright as sunshine with showers possibly leading to thunder later. Jeez Corin's grates through "Something About Nicola" (what does he smoke "Camel"?), and more excellent early new-wave/XTC riffing. "Butternut" is almost a comedy-observation essay, something that Ray Davies used to excel at, some sections borrowing from early Jam (circa. "Modern World")bass runs, an American cousin for Billy Hunt? "Back Of Your Head" is over almost just as soon as it's begun, built round a certain stop/start Who riff, delightful as fuck. Leaving the best two till last - the anthemic "Soft", capturing that feeling you get riding into town on a white GS on a sunny midweek day-off (no shitting!), speed and grace encapsulated like sitting in the back seat of an old Jag. Almost an 90's scooter anthem, if not for the final track "Scooter Gurl", very Alex Chilton meets Colin Moulding. Without sounding cliched or forced, your singing along before you know what's happening, and the album finishes on it's Blur-esque coda. Suddenly it's over, and your left wanting to hear it all again. That perfect feeling, captured in a bottle, yours to keep. We got this album from the sharp people Monolyth Records (The Pills record company), and out of the blue, it hasn't left my Discman since! Naturally I was impressed enough to want to know more.

Take it right back to the beginning, about 3 years ago. The band is the brainchild of Corin Ashley and Dave Thompson. In the beginning, it was two men armed with guitars and an arsenal of pop songs that they could only imagine in an electrified form. Other members were drafted in via a press ad with a large picture of The Knack (the band, not the film) and extra-loud guitarist Corey Harding applied.

The original drummer lasted about a year and current drummer Jamie Vavra was recruited, by Corin. "We create the music we make," says Corin, "because there is something lacking in the music that we hear on the radio. We create that music because no one else is doing it. This is music that we want to hear. I'm a big believer in pop culture resonance. People need to buy a record and in ten years time be able to put it on, and not say "Oh I can't believe I liked Asia!" It's just in the last couple of years, the stuff that you hear on the radio sort-of cookie-cutter bands that have one funny, goofy song. We try to make music that has more resonance. The stuff that we recorded with producer Dave Minehan's really got an interesting sound because it's got tape compression. That's when you hit the tape level so hard that the tape freaks out and the weird freaky guitar stuff that Clyde (Corey's bandname is Clyde O'Scope) does, is like a sledgehammer coming down the middle and sending the needle to the red, which distorts a bit. This is what we were hoping for. After doing this for 15 years I still feel my toe shoot up in my shoe, the second that Clyde plugs his Les Paul into his Vox AC-30."

MOKE- Now that the album is out (since about May '99), how has it changed the perceptions of how people view the Pills?
Corin: It's really changed everything for us. We've gotten some pretty good radio play and all of a sudden new people start showing up at our shows and they know the words to the songs. Also, just having a record out meant that we really had no choice but to get in our van and support it. At the level we're at it's really all about putting on a great show in front of 30 people in Buffalo, NY on a Wednesday night and selling CDs out of the van- ten at a time. Luckily, we've discovered that we're pretty good at that. We did over 100 shows in 1999 and managed to all work full time day jobs. I slept more in our van than in my own bed.

MOKE- What kind of guitars do you use? Do the B-52's (whom you toured with) still use 12-gauge heavy strings (in homage to The Ventures)?
Corin: Well, we have a black guitar and a gold one. The other singer, David, plays a really pretty Gold Telecaster and my Rickenbaker 12-String (but I tune it for him). The tall guy, Dr. Clyde O'Scope, plays a fab Les Paul with P-100s and a Bigsby, the Neil Young special. We go for a really wiry sound. You have to get back to the sound of wires on wood. That hissy, distortion that you hear all over radio is strictly for pussies with backwards baseball caps. We say poo to them. Old guitars that go out of tune. GOOD, guitars with pointy headstocks BAD.

MOKE- Has Corey (or anyone else in the band), ever considered using an e-bow?
Corin: He has, on occasion, used his elbow. that's Spanish archery, you know. El-bow.

MOKE- I know you are into XTC, have you heard The Dukes of The Stratosfear?
Corin: That's just fantastic music. "Vanishing Girl" is the first song we ever played all together. We also used to do a really chaotic version of "My Love Explodes". That's probably one of my top 10 favorite albums of all time.

MOKE- Any musical skeletons in your album, that have shaped the sound of The Pills?
Two words: Night Ranger (Who? - ed)

MOKE- Any famous look-alikes in the band?
: well I woke up this morning, and thought I looked like shit, which is pretty modish (ha-ha).

MOKE- Do you all have record-players at home(and if so, which kind), or are you all staunch fans of CD?
Corin: Oh, I'm a vinyl hound. Wait 10 or 15 years until everyone figures out that analogue sounds tons better than digital and all the music from the 90's is essentially lost because all we have is digital interpretations of real sounds (the first digitally recorded record was "Mirror In The Bathroom" by The Beat - Moke ed). I have an old Techniques SL-1200, the wheels of steel! Listen, get yourself an original vinyl pressing of "Exodus" by Bob Marley and compare it to the CD version. There's jus no comparison at all.

MOKE- Can you remember the last paperback you bought from a thrift-shop?
Corin: I'm constantly bringing them home. Let's see, I just got a complete collection of Joe Orton's plays for about $5, and that's really great. I bought a used copy of the new Keith Moon biography which is fabulous. Oh, and a copy of "The Crack Up" which is a very unusual F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. It's very bleak, which you don't usually associate with him. I love Fitzgerald.

MOKE- Which album was the first album that you (and the others) heard, which first made an impression on you (mine was a toss up between The Who's My Generation album & The B-52's first album, when I was 13!)?
Corin: See, that's the whole key to the Pills. We are a band that has never grown out of our love for certain records. Records like "Singles Going Steady" by the Buzzcocks, "This Year's Model" by Elvis Costello, "All Mod Cons" by the Jam, "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society", certainly The Who "Sell Out", even something like "Zenyatta Mondatta" by The Police, these things are imprinted on our musicality. That's a very big part of what we are.

MOKE- Artschool from Spain, are probably the closest sound to what The Pills are doing right now. Will you be checking them out, when you tour Spain, in the near future (they were on the Spanish comp. "Fever")?
Corin: Yeah, that's a pretty groovy compilation. I hope we get to play with them.

MOKE- Have you got any more tour-stories, like the 4 day tour-bus acid/pot/booze binge?
A lot of my tour stories are about seeing the inside of our van in various other cities. The tour bus story makes us sound more glamorous and decadent. Normally I avoid such questions but I'll give you our tale of excess. One year we got a sponsorship from a big whiskey company that paid for us to have a tour bus for a month. At the end of the tour we had a four day drive across the country and nothing to do but drink the bourbon they gave us in Arizona. There was also a lot of beer left over from the dressing rooms of all bands we opened up for, some incredibly mossy trip weed left over from Colorado, acid from some chick in San Francisco, shrooms from God knows where and our tour manager had a cyst on his back and picked up some major pain killers in Wyoming. So in the interest of geography, we took all of it, and watched "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory". Mind you, outside the window was the desert, so it was incredible scenery anyway. It was like this complete sensory overload situation and then we saw it - The All-You-Can-Eat-Steak-House! Whomsoever could finish "El Diablo" 64oz. Of pure Texas beef, would get it for free. We ended up paying. Man, did we pay!!! We played in Boulder, Colorado (home of Mork & Mindy, I wonder if they went to the music store? - Moke ed), and those rich crusty kids are everywhere. They're really into the dreadlocked look out there. You see all these rich white kids driving around in expensive cars. They park them round the corner and beg for change (a lot of them have a dog that wears a bandanna). The locals call them "trustafarians". Weird. There was this one fellow who sat in front of the theatre we played, with his dog and spelled out "Please Help!" in pennies around a peace sign. He kept asking us to put him on the guest list while were loading in. We felt bad for the guy and said "Yes" after a while, then he says "Plus one?" He sold one of our less respectable friends this incredibly strange trip-weed that looked like spinach. Anyway, he pulled out a wad of crinkle the size of your head, he must have hd a couple of thousand dollars on him, and that's how he chose to spend his day. Very strange place Boulder, no oxygen you know.

MOKE- It's a good album, when will we see a follow up?
Corin: We just turned in a full CD-R of demos for the next record-74 minutes. We have some really cool songs up for consideration, we'll have to weed that down to about 15 songs. We should start recording when we get back from Spain and then, if all goes well, we should have a new CD out in the summer.

Can't wait! Half an hour listening to "Wide Awake With The Pills" is half an hour never wasted. The album is on Monolyth Records (and available through the website which also has more info on the band). The Pills are touring Europe, and looking for a UK record deal, so all the best.


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