I N T E R V I E W
Greasy Meals and Contentious Tambourines: An Interview with The Scones
By Ian Duggan
'The Scones' have not long released their second effort, ‘The Greasy EP’, following on from last year’s debut effort ‘The Trouble with Thompson’. And the HUP staff think it’s a goodie! On the back of the new EP, and ahead of a couple of Scones (or Scones-related) gigs, we had a chat with Julian White (guitar, vocals) and Greg Edwards (guitar) about the bands musical progression, songs that sound like trains, cryptic lyric inspirations, and the introduction of some (contentious) new sounds!
HUP: The quasi-title track, ‘Greasy Meal (A Song about Trains)’, was one of two on the EP that had not been released amongst your early demos. It is also lyrically fascinating! Is this a more recent song, and am I supposed to be able to work it out what it all means?
Greg: Julian’s lyrics are increasingly becoming a source of enjoyment for the rest of the band. He has a great turn of phrase and I enjoy having the opportunity to mull over what it is he’s singing about, whenever a lull in practice or performance allows me to assign some spare brain cells to the Cipher Dept. Like you, I enjoyed mulling over Greasy Meal, there’s a lot going on. I also admire the sense of humour Julian brings to his work.
Julian: Greasy Meal is certainly a more recent song. Thanks for noticing the lyrics. Many of the earlier Scones songs had quite naïve lyrics, having been written in my youth. A lot more effort has gone into the lyrics in more recent songs. Some of them are just wordplay, and some may be a bit cryptic, but there is a story to all of them. I could write an essay on the lyrics to this song, but for now will give some clues. There are several musical references and one literary one. The literary one is from chapter 1 of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which I read this year and thoroughly enjoyed. There are brief descriptions of a couple of experiences I had with food on trains. Perhaps the lyric I am most proud of in that song is the reference to uplifting gourmandisers, which both relates to food and has a musical connotation. I could spell it out, but I think it might be more fun for you and any interested readers to look it up.
HUP: In ‘Greasy Meal’ you sing that you would like to hear a song about trains that doesn’t sound like a train. What are some songs about trains you can think of that do sound like trains?
Julian: Well, the opening verse refers to several such songs. There’s Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips, where some of the backing vocals sound like a steam train, Naenae Express have a song called Overlander, Anthonie Tonnon has Railway Lines, and in the song Nowhere Fast by The Smiths there is a reference to a train, and at that point in the song it sounds like a train, to me anyway. Perhaps it is just the way I hear them, and to be fair it’s possible that any song with a regular beat might sound like a train. I might add that I really like that Gladys Knight song and am a big fan of the other three bands, so no disrespect is intended.
HUP: How was the making of this EP different from ‘Thompson’, your debut release?
Greg: We recorded ‘The Greasy EP’ at Depot Sound in Devonport (Auckland), which is where we also recorded our first EP, ‘Thompson is in Trouble’. Dave Rhodes is great to work with, and having one under our belt made everything easier this time around. The songs were all played live in studio, like the first EP. The bulk of the recording was finished in a couple of days, with another day or so taken with vocal and guitar overdubs. The mixing process is wonderful; listening as the songs evolve, as the engineer pushes, prods, pokes and tweaks the recorded raw material, and hearing the huge difference that subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes can make to a song.
The songs we selected to go on ‘The Greasy EP’ cover more ground than those on the first EP. You have ‘Weeds’ on one hand, with its light-hearted pop vibe (contrasting with the more heavy-hearted lyrics), and ‘Story of Montreal’ which is at the heavier end of the Scones spectrum. As a result, we had to work harder in the studio with guitar sounds, with these songs particularly requiring some experimentation.
We were keen to break new ground if possible, by looking at introducing new sounds. As a result, there’s a heavily-disguised (and contentious) passage of (contentious) tambourine, and the fabulous plastic Melodica, which Julian plays to great effect over the closing passages of ‘Roller Coaster’. We’ve had success in recent times incorporating some additional instruments into practices. Some of these really compliment the rest of the band, so we’re hoping we’re able to feature these in future recordings and on stage (note to self - enrol Julian in juggling school).
The recording process again threw us a few curve-balls. We picked up on a few things that should help us when we record again. In fact, we were learning right up to the very last day of the process, when we discovered the digital platforms won’t allow the word EP in a title; they use that to categorise the release.
So online, we’ve only managed to release ‘The Greasy’, which we’re hoping just makes our offering even more mysterious and enticing.
What’s greasy? I dunno – buy it now!!
HUP: How did the new EP come to be released on Gravel Streak Records?
Julian: Rob [Shirlow] from Gravel Streak has always been supportive of the band’s efforts; something we are very grateful for. He mentioned Gravel Streak last year after Thompson was released, offering to release our next one on the label. We had a song on the compilation ‘Life Beneath Gravel Streak’. I believe the only other prior release on the label was a lathe-cut release by ‘Sora Shima’. I think Rob’s initial idea was that ours would be released in a similar format. We have only released it online and as a CD so far, but both EPs have been mastered for vinyl, so this remains an option for the future.
HUP: Two of the songs, 'Weeds' and 'Ode to the Mountains', are derived from when you two [Julian and Greg] played together in Yorkie the Bricklayer. So this EP contains a real mix of the old and the new. You have talked about your next release featuring all new songs. Have you now exhausted the back-catalogue, and have a collection of shiny new ones all ready to go?
Julian: Yes, we have exhausted the supply of songs written for previous bands. Which doesn’t mean all the others are necessarily that new, shiny, or ready to go. The Scones is a slow-moving project. Some of the remaining songs have been in and out of the set-list for years. Others have never been played live and need to be tidied up before they can be. But we think they are pretty good songs and do want to get them out there. Recording helps focus everyone on finalising how the songs are going to go.
HUP: Where to from here for The Scones?
Julian: We’ve got a gig coming up at Nivara Lounge with Loudhailer, on October 28. We are looking forward to being able to play for 40 minutes, which is a longer set than we’ve played for a while. Greg and I will be playing a short acoustic set as ‘Kitchenette’, as part of the HUP show at Creative Waikato on November 23. This will be something different for us, but an exciting opportunity to give different treatment to some of the songs. We’ve got a few Scones songs planned, along with a cover.
We’ve got a couple of new songs in the pipeline, with a handful of older ones still needing a tweak before being ready for primetime. We plan to give them some attention and intend to do some more recording at some stage.
HUP: How do people get hold of the EP?
Julian: The EP is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Google Play, iTunes/Apple Music and YouTube. CDs are available to order on the Hamilton Underground Press shop page, and of course at our gigs.