The lively playful persona of RIDER is merely an entry point into her eclectic musical world.
At the centre of the American born singer, songwriter and musician’s work is melody. A graduate of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, RIDER exudes positivity whether she is presenting synthwave tinged pop, emotive soulful ballads, AOR or something a little bit more indie.
Her style is hard to pin down but with the Trans-Atlantic timbre in her voice and her lyrics referencing life changing experiences, her larger than life personality is the key to her eternal optimism and desire to move forward.
Having maintained a successful career as professional session singer on TV and radio with clients including Disney, Netflix, Volvo and the BBC, RIDER began releasing her own solo singles in 2017 with the best one being ‘Tell Nobody’; its promo video was premiered on The Electricity Club in 2019.
With the bouncy sun-kissed pop statement of ‘Stay’ due out very soon, RIDER kindly took time to chat to The Electricity Club about her music and career to date.
You’ve described yourself alt-pop, so what do you interpret that as?
I feel my music is pop overall because of my melodies but I feel the sounds sometimes give it a more retro feel or sometimes quite indie in certain tracks, so in a nut shell I think ‘alt-pop’ sums it up well.
Who have been your influences with regards songwriting, and then musically in terms of arrangement and production?
Many artists have influenced me over the years. Sting really influenced me in terms of songwriting as well as Michael Jackson, Amy Grant, The Backstreet Boys, Faith Hill and Third Eye Blind. I would say arrangement and production wise M83, HAIM, THE 1975 and certain 80s film music like ‘The Flight Of The Navigator’, ‘The Never Ending Story’ and ‘The Goonies’ have greatly influenced me. I also really admire the slick pop productions from artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift as well.
You’ve released a number of individual songs in different styles, but are you concerned that you could be too varied for a potential fanbase to become attached to you?
I’m not worried about that at all. I feel what gels my songs together is my production style and vocal style. I don’t agree that artists should pigeon hole themselves into one very obvious style. At the end of the day, we are all influenced by so many styles and artist and it’s only natural to express that in the writing. At the end of the day, I love a strong melody and productions that are dreamy, interesting and rich in detail.
Your new single ‘On Your Mind’ has a fabulous synth solo, how did this track come together?
Thank you so much! Glad you like it! The track first came about with a synth sound I found and it created this cool syncopated rhythm. In the end I wrote the song around that. Originally the verses were more chilled out actually, but that synth solo came pretty early on and I knew I had to have it no matter how the song grew. That synth solo sound is actually 3 different synths sounds together. Lil hidden fact there hehe.
The video for ‘On Your Mind’ showcases you as a lover of life, is that presentation very much what you’re about?
It’s true, I do love life. I always have! I have my down days of course like anybody else, but I have always found it easy and natural to find the good in everything and choose to see the beauty in life. It’s helped me get through some tough times that’s for sure and so yes, be it driving in my car, walking my dogs or skating, these are things I enjoy doing. The video captures me trying to get on with my life despite the fact that I’m actually going crazy in my mind about a certain someone.
So is the portrayal of you in the ‘Jump’ video like a fantasy version that captures your musical personalities?
Good question! My label and I actually originally wanted to do an animated cartoon video for ‘Jump’ but we found animators charge a lot of money, so we thought it’d be ideal to have me perform it instead. It was my idea to incorporate different sides of me because there are different sides of me. I’m a tomboy, a girl fascinated about anything spiritual, I’m a bit of a fairy type person and I’ve been interested in angels all my life. Then you get the girl next door as RIDER singing. It felt right to express these different sides of me and it certainly was a hugely fun video to shoot!! I’m glad we did it like we did and not do a cartoon route.
Can you play all the instruments depicted? Which is your tool of choice?
I can, yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily perform with a guitar. I’m more of a studio guitarist but I do love performing with the drums or keys. My first instrument is the piano/keys though and I’ve performed playing that more than anything.
The marvellous ‘Tell Nobody’ explored a synthwave aesthetic, what inspired you to head towards that direction?
It was that main synth sound at the beginning. The chords! One day I played those chords with that synth and I was so unbelievably happy that I knew I just had to keep it. I knew it was instantly more synthwave and 80s but I LOVED that! The rest of the song was written around that hook. It just had to be done! God I love that song.
There was another great video for ‘Tell Nobody’ although on this one, you only made a cameo?
Again the original idea I had for this music video was either a cartoon or a couple of child actors in real life. It’s a song where I’m telling a story rather than it being a personal story of my own, so it felt right that I take more of a cameo role than a main one.
How important to you see the audio / visual aspect of pop music, does it all go hand in hand?
Yes I naturally see visions when I make music. For me they definitely come hand in hand. I’m a very visually led person. I even have epic dreams every night and always remember them. With every song I’ve ever written, I’ve always seen full films for each one. I guess if money wasn’t an issue, I’d have huge budget Hollywood type films made every time!
You haven’t played a band show for a little while now, is it something you enjoy?
I absolutely love performing!! Once I’m on stage, I don’t want to get off!
The only part I don’t enjoy as much is the band rehearsal scheduling. Everyone has their own lives and sometimes it’s just hard to find a date we can all get together – that takes some patience.
In this social media / streaming centred world, what do you think it the best way for a modern pop artist to engage an audience?
I think Instagram is great! The Insta stories and IGTV are awesome to instantly connect with fans. I’ve enjoyed using it anyway and so I’d recommend that.
What are your plans for the future with regards new material? More singles or is there an album or EP in the works?
Definitely more singles for the remainder of this year but my label Sapien Records and I have already discussed releasing an EP featuring some new tracks. We’re not sure when we’re going to do that though. Perhaps next year!
What are your hopes and fears as an artist as you continue to navigate this ever changing music world?
My hopes are to perform on some massive stages and positively change people lives through my music. My fears are that I don’t want to come across as egotistic because I’m an artist.
I know that I’ll always be me but I see how some artists can change for the worst in terms of their character and it’s such a shame and I’d hate for people to think I‘ve changed for any reason. You’ve got to stay true to yourself and stay grounded.
I’m also sometimes fearful about coming across some no good big cat characters in the business. I’ve already come across a few in my days and it’s made me trust people less.
Overall though, I’m certainly feeling less fearless and more positive about my future and I know that whatever I put my mind too I will succeed and be happy deep within. After all, feeling truly happy in my life is my number one priority.
The Electricity club gives its warmest thanks to RIDER
Special thanks to David Smith at Sapien Records
‘On Your Mind’ and ‘Tell Nobody’ are released by Sapien Records, available on all digital platforms while the new single ‘Stay’ comes out on 15th May 2020
QUEEN OF HEARTS is the musical vehicle of Elizabeth Morphew.
Brought up to the sound of the synthesizer and learning to dance to the beat of electronic drums, she first came to public attention via RED BLOODED WOMEN, a girl group who sounded not unlike GIRLS ALOUD produced by Daniel Miller.
Then in 2014, her debut album ‘Cocoon’ was released, a fine collection of electropop that reflected “love, loss, heartbreak, betrayal”. The catchy glam stomper ‘Neon’ was one of its highlights and offered some deliciously wired glitterball sparkle that almost managed to out Goldfrapp GOLDFRAPP.
Keeping up the glitz, ‘Freestyle’ was a throbbing club friendly tune with a more than a hint of Moroder while ‘Shoot The Bullet’ was an energetic union with Swedish duo THE SOUND OF ARROWS.
Later expanded to a 2CD edition, the ‘Cocoon’ sessions featured three notable collaborations with the Berlin based producer Mark Reeder, ‘Suicide’, a cover of ‘Wicked Game’ and ‘United’, the latter finding a place on ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation.
Following a break from music, QUEEN OF HEARTS returned in 2018 with two new well-received songs ‘Cold’ and ‘The Water Between Us’. She invited The Electricity Club to her palace to chat about her career to date and much more…
Your debut album ‘Cocoon’ was released in 2014, how do you look back on it?
I still can’t quite believe I actually did it! You spend so long thinking about it; analysing which songs work and which to scrap and totally overthink it!
I put so much pressure on myself to make it perfect and to tell a story, which I’m so glad I did because it could have been a completely different piece of work.
‘Neon’ was a key track and has ended up on several TV shows?
‘Neon’ has been the money maker for sure! I fantasised about my songs being used in movies and TV songs but never actually thought that would happen. It’s a pretty surreal feeing to hear yourself in the background of ‘Made in Chelsea’ on a regular Tuesday evening.
‘Neon’ was then remixed by Mark Reeder and led to you doing the track ‘United’ with him, how did that come together?
Mark sent me the instrumental and I instantly found myself breaking into a ‘Vogue’-esque spoken monologue which eventually became the “no teacher can teach me and Jesus can’t reach me…” pre-hook section. I loved it so much I also made it the middle 8. I have no idea how I came about the rest of the melody, I never do really. I’m all about those hooks.
How did you come to be working together?
My good friends at TEC made the intro.
How does it feel to have ‘United’ sitting next to ERASURE and KATY PERRY on ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation?
I’ve seen worse seating plans. 😉
Whereas ‘United’ was very uptempo and rousing, ‘Suicide’ which you did also with Mark Reeder was much more personal?
I like that they are completely different. I think it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your output so changing tempo and the overall theme automatically does that. One is playful and one is vulnerable. You can’t have one without the other.
You also did a cover of ‘Wicked Game’ together?
I LOVE that cover! I always like covering songs originally sung by a man because it naturally gives a completely new dynamic and context. I also think it’s such a classic I wanted to give it the respect it deserves, while still making it my own. Who’s hasn’t been in one of those relationships, right?!
Which songs from that period have stood the test of time for you?
‘Neon’, ‘Colourblind’, ‘Shoot The Bullet’ and ‘Tears In The Rain’.
The later 2CD version of ‘Cocoon’ tells a bigger story, it seems there were a variety of directions that the original album could have gone in?
I began putting out music in 2011 and my album came out in 2014, so naturally my sound grew and changed, as well as working with different producers and co-writers along the way. I could probably produce another two albums with the songs I didn’t end up using.
You had taken a break from the music business, why was that necessary for you?
There’s that famous quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – a bit of that I suppose: boredom, exhaustion, frustration, fear? It’s quite common to have an identity crisis in your late 20s. I needed the break.
Does the music business need more mindfulness?
The shift I’ve seen in the last decade has been a positive one. When I began working professionally in the music industry, I was constantly rejected because I didn’t ‘look’ right, and as a result didn’t particularly like or treat myself with much respect. It’s a world that appears glamourous but in reality is cut throat, superficial and money driven. You’re not warned about this and in fact expected to feel grateful about it. I think people are waking up to authenticity and having empathy and understanding of people’s mental health. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s 1000 times better.
‘Cold’ and ‘The Water Between Us’ have been your first new recordings released for many years, what set the muse off again?
Freedom to create what I wanted to… I wasn’t writing the music for QUEEN OF HEARTS at that point. For the first time in a long time I just wrote about how I was feeling. I wasn’t trying to be clever or calculated, I just wrote. The pen rarely left the page and I’d practically finished both in the two days I’d booked the studio for. That was a really exciting feeling.
How do you think you’ve developed as a songwriter?
I’m a lot less worried about creating a product now. I think the greatest songs are written when you’re in a state of flow, zero expectation, writing from the heart. As soon as you overthink or try to make yourself sound like what you’re hearing, you lose everything that makes that song special. In a nutshell, I give less f**ks now.
Where do you think you’re heading musically?
I’m not sure. I’m trying to be really open-minded and less of a control freak. It’ll always start with a beautiful melody and it’ll always be electronic. Some things never change.
Things have changed within music considerably even since 2014, what are the positives and negatives for an independent artist like yourself in your opinion?
It’s harder to make money. My income is purely the result of sync these days, no one ‘buys’ music. What it does mean however is complete creative control and the ability for anyone who wants to make music to get it out there. I think that’s a beautiful thing.
You once said “pop is not a dirty word”, what state of health do you think it’s in as we head towards the end of the second decade of the 21st Century?
I’ve always been a pop fan and will sniff out beautiful music and do what I can to promote it. A lot of the stuff out there however is sh*t. I try not to lose too much sleep over that.
Do you still get mistaken for Taylor Swift?
If I had a pound for every time I’d been referred to as a “Poor man’s Taylor Swift”, well… we’d have a fully funded second, third and fourth album! 😉
I don’t mind it though, she’s hardly Quasimodo! I’ll take pretty much any compliment on offer. I particularly like the stuff she did with Jack Antonoff.
What next for QUEEN OF HEARTS?
I’m still riding high on the double A side I released at the end of last year ‘Cold’ / ‘The Water Between Us’ and working on my next move. You never know how a new release will go down, so I’m chuffed that people seemed to like the tracks and I don’t have to hide away in a cave somewhere. I’m also trying my hand at a bit of DIY DJ-ing with my weekly Spotify ‘Monday Mixtape’ playlists.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to QUEEN OF HEARTS
Documentary Evidence is an unofficial Mute Records website run by freelance music journalist and electronic music fan Mat Smith.
Named after the Mute Records catalogue booklet inserts that came with their releases from 1987, it is described as featuring “Reviews of artists appearing on Mute Records and its various sub-labels”, but also includes other music writing by Smith.
Like many music bloggers, Smith compiles an end of year Top 10 albums listing and in 2017, he controversially included TAYLOR SWIFT’s ‘Reputation’ at No4 above the No6 placed ‘Spirit’ from DEPECHE MODE.
The decision provoked surprise, discussion, amusement and condemnation; how could a respected authority on the legend of Mute Records appear to betray the musical foundations they were built on? However, other commentators were not so surprised and saw it as a sign.
Mat Smith chatted to The Electricity Club about why last year, he preferred Taytay over Essex Dave and presented his Documentary Evidence…
What was the motivation and ethos behind establishing the Documentary Evidence website?
I started writing a blog at university in about 1996, even though it wasn’t called a blog back then. That blog focussed on reviews of concerts I’d been to and records I’d bought that week. I called it Red Elvis Central for reasons that at the time felt important but which now seem silly. I wrote Red Elvis Central until I left uni, at which point anything I’d written up to that point was suddenly lost forever, and I got sucked into a graduate training programme in a non-musical, very sensible career.
I started the Documentary Evidence website in 2003. I distinctly remember it was a Saturday afternoon, I’d had to go into London for work in the morning and my wife was out at her grandmother’s house when I got home. With nothing better to do, I sat myself down in front of my PC, wrote a review of ‘Text Message’ by VIC TWENTY and by the time she came back home that evening, I’d set up a rudimentary HTML website, which I decided would be a place for me to write about Mute releases for nobody’s enjoyment but my own.
When I was scratching around trying to name the site, I raked through my record collection and found my copy of ERASURE’s ‘Chorus’ 12”, which was the first 12” I’d ever bought. In the sleeve was Mute’s Documentary Evidence catalogue pamphlet, which was what got me hooked on collecting Mute releases in the first place, so it seemed like an obvious thing to name the site with.
When I first picked that catalogue up in 1991, I barely recognised any of the groups and artists listed and I barely even knew what a record label was aside from being a logo.
Photo by Mat Smith
Documentary Evidence switched me on to this notion that there were all these things going on outside of the charts. I also naively assumed that everything released on Mute would sound like ERASURE in some way, which I still laugh at today. I think I envisaged that writing enthusiastically for my Documentary Evidence website would allow me to perpetually remind myself of how exciting it was setting off on that voyage of musical discovery in the early 90s.
The Documentary Evidence website was never intended to attract any attention from anyone else. For most of my life I’ve wanted to record my thoughts and memories in some capacity, just for my own benefit. It felt like a logical thing to extend that into writing about the music that meant something to me and which I’d spent most of my teenage years and twenties collecting in earnest.
Back in 2003 I don’t think I really appreciated that Mute had a sort of ‘cult’ reputation and that there were other people who’d also become avid collectors of their releases. To this day I find it strange that anyone would have even found my website, let alone actually bothered to read it.
About ten years later I started writing occasional live reviews and features for Clash, and that led to working professionally.
Who are your own personal favourites from the Mute roster, both past and present?
ERASURE are the reason that the Documentary Evidence website exists, and they were the first group I really fell for, so they’ll always be my personal favourite.
My dad brought home a copy of ‘The Innocents’ that a friend from work had recorded for him, sometime in 1988. He walked in and said “Matthew, have you heard of this band, ERASURE?” I’d seen them on Saturday morning TV, had heard them in chart and really liked them, but I didn’t have enough pocket money at that time to buy any music.
I grabbed the cassette off him, rushed upstairs to my bedroom and more or less listened to it non-stop on my Walkman for months after that. I still get a huge surge of emotion every time I hear something new by ERASURE, and I can chart the most important points in my personal life by their music. They’ll always be really special to me.
Right now, I’m really excited about the SHADOWPARTY album that comes out on Mute later this month. SHADOWPARTY includes members of the current NEW ORDER and DEVO line-ups, and their debut album is brilliant, like a time machine into a classic Manchester feel-good sound.
The other artist on the label I’ve been listening to a lot lately is DANIEL BLUMBERG, whose debut solo album ‘Minus’ was released by Mute earlier this year. ‘Minus’ came up out of Dalston’s Café Oto improvisation scene, but that sense of freedom is combined with some truly moving, genuinely profound lyrics. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Daniel recently and he’s clearly a prodigious talent and probably unmatched in terms of his artistic vision. Being able to get inside the head of a musician and into the story behind an album or piece of music is the greatest privilege of being a music journalist, and spending time with Daniel was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my career.
You’ve established and maintained a good working relationship with Vince Clarke?
I interviewed Vince and ORBITAL’s Paul Hartnoll for Electronic Sound when Vince started his own label, VeryRecords, and launched it with the album ‘2Square’ that he and Paul did together in 2016.
VeryRecords is totally his own thing and he tries to do absolutely everything himself, as he’s so personally invested in the label. I really respect that. Richard Evans provides support for the technical side of running the label, but apart from that it’s a fully solo endeavour. He could get anyone to help with any part of running a small label and just put his name to it, but he doesn’t. It’s his thing, and he’s really enjoying it.
I can’t quite remember now whether I volunteered to help put the press releases together for future VeryRecords releases or if he asked me if I’d like to help – we were in bar, and beer was involved – but somehow I ended up working on the materials to support the first REED & CAROLINE album ‘Buchla & Singing’, and the two releases he’s put out since – ALKA’s ‘The Colour Of Terrible Crystal’ and ‘Hello Science’ by REED & CAROLINE.
As a lifelong ERASURE fan, to be able to call Vince my boss is probably the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and for the trust he’s placed in my skills as a writer. I wish I could say the same of everyone I’ve worked for.
What level of DEPECHE MODE fan would you describe yourself as? One of The Black Swarm, plain clothes Devotee or an armchair enthusiast?
I’m definitely not in The Black Swarm, and in fact I didn’t even know what the Swarm was until my photographer friend Andy Sturmey explained it to me a few years ago. I guess I’m probably somewhere in between Devotee and armchair enthusiast if I reluctantly had to pigeonhole myself.
DEPECHE MODE are really important to me, no doubt about it, but I actively detested them when I first became aware of them, which would have been just after ‘Violator’ was released.
In my high school English classes I used to sit next to a girl called Sarah Vann whose folder was covered in photos of Depeche from that time. I just figured they were an Athena poster-friendly boyband because of that. I also couldn’t get my head around songs like ‘Personal Jesus’ at all, mostly because I was slightly intimidated by guitar music at the time.
Later, when I read the Documentary Evidence booklet that made me a Mute collector, and I read about Vince having been in DM at the beginning, I felt really conflicted – I suddenly felt duty-bound to collect their material but didn’t think I’d like their music.
I started with a beaten-up copy of ‘The Singles 81 – 85’ borrowed from Stratford-upon-Avon’s library and tentatively went from there. I guess it was appropriate that the CD came from a library – it proves the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its (Depeche-decorated) cover.
Photo by Mat Smith
Between the ages of 15 and 16, I consumed all of their albums and was a paid-up fan by the time ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was released.
The first concert I ever went to was Depeche at the NEC on 14 December 1993, and I wore a black long-sleeved ‘I Feel You’ t-shirt.
I have really fond memories of that show. I still have the programme and the ticket, but I no longer have the t-shirt.
I once spent a whole afternoon sat on my parents’ sofa listening to ‘The Things You Said’ on repeat because my girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me. Like ERASURE, their music is inextricably bound in with a lot of very vivid memories.
Much, much later I got the chance to interview Dave and Martin for Clash, Dave when he did the last SOULSAVERS LP and Martin for his instrumental album ‘MG’. Perhaps it’s the point they’re both at in their careers, but neither had massive egos, and both came across as appreciative and humble. I like it when people surprise you.
Had it been your intention to feature artists from outside of the Mute family on Documentary Evidence?
I was really pretty purist at the beginning – this was a Mute site, and it was only ever going to be about Mute. But then again, I started out with a review of the solitary VIC TWENTY single that came out on Credible Sexy Units, a label Daniel Miller formed outside the EMI ownership of Mute for the sole purpose of releasing that one single in 2003, so I was always bending my own rules from the off.
After a while I found myself writing more about musicians that had been on the label and who had then gone off to do different things, or people who were clearly influenced by Mute, or producers who had worked with Mute, or releases by Mute artists but that were released on other labels – tangents, basically, especially with Blast First artists.
Then people started sending me their music, saying they liked my site and asking me if I’d review them. When you’re starting out, the generous act of people wanting to send you the music they’ve laboured over is a really persuasive thing, and to the best of my knowledge I never turned anyone down.
Photo by Mat Smith
I guess it just all got very restrictive after a while, the idea of only writing about Mute when there’s so much more music out there, but to this day I honestly think of Mute as being a lot like my musical spine – it’s at the centre of everything, and I can always form a connection back to that central core, no matter what it is I’m listening to.
Pretty much every music I’ve gotten into can be traced back, in some way, to Mute and that original Documentary Evidence booklet.
Even something like jazz, which I really love now, can be traced back to seeing the name SUN RA as a Blast First artist. It made sense to me that my entry point into jazz would come through SUN RA rather than a more conventional, obvious route.
I guess at some point I decided to start writing about some of those non-Mute things with as much passion and enthusiasm as the Mute stuff, but I wouldn’t be doing any of that if it wasn’t for Mute.
When I became a ‘proper’ music journalist, whatever that is, it would have been really restrictive just writing about Mute.
I’m still normally the first in line enthusiastically pitching a Mute release when a new review section gets commissioned, but I get to cover all sorts of weird and wonderful things, most of which aren’t anything to do with Mute, and I absolutely love that.
Controversially in the Documentary Evidence Top 10 Albums of 2017, you placed DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Spirit’ at No6 but ahead of it was ‘Reputation’ by TAYLOR SWIFT at No4? Please explain… 😉
I do find it amusing that this would be regarded as remotely controversial. It’s only the second year that I’ve done an end of year countdown, and I’m not sure I’d do it again! When I was putting it all together, there were certain albums I knew had to be in there – ‘Reputation’ was always going to be high up in the rankings – but after getting five or six together, I really struggled. It was only when I looked back at what I’d written about that year that I even realised that ‘Spirit’ had been released in 2017, because it felt like it had come out ages before.
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
It wasn’t that ‘Spirit’ was in any way a forgettable album, as my review for Clash was incredibly positive. I even found myself indulging in a bit of journalistic hyperbole when I compared parts of it to MARVIN GAYE’s ‘What’s Going On’, which rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.
I maintain that it’s a good album – great even. It showed a new side to DEPECHE MODE, one that initially jarred with me, but it was one that I ultimately respected.
I haven’t listened to it once since I assembled that year-end countdown, but I rarely get a chance to listen to albums over and over after I’ve reviewed them these days anyway. You’re more or less always moving onto something else as soon as you’ve filed the review copy.
You shouldn’t view me placing ‘Reputation’ higher than ‘Spirit’ as indicating that I think TAYLOR SWIFT is better than DEPECHE MODE; it just means that ‘Reputation’ means more to me. Documentary Evidence was always intended as a personal website, where everything I wrote was essentially my own subjective view. People are free to disagree with what I write, and frequently do, especially it would seem if I’m writing about DEPECHE MODE. I was roundly slated for giving Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams’ ‘The Posters Came From The Walls’ the positive review that I felt it deserved, and I’ve developed a thick skin about people’s views.
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
The point with TAYLOR SWIFT is that her music means a lot to our family. We have two daughters, ages 12 and 10, and as parents we’re acutely aware of the need for girls to grow up with positive, empowering female role models. TAYLOR SWIFT is the epitome of that.
She’ll go down in history as a great pop musician and songwriter but also as the one who – by suing that radio DJ for a buck – did more to highlight the gross inequalities and power abuses in the entertainment industry than anyone else.
But she also makes great music. We listen to TAYLOR SWIFT on roadtrips all the time and her music brings us closer together as a family. It’s that simple. Debating whether ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ is better than ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ is a nice way to spend a drive around Cornwall, for example. It sure beats arguing.
The four of us going to see her at Wembley last month was among the best evenings out we’ve had as a family. We all wore TAYLOR SWIFT shirts, all sang every song at the top of our lungs and I’d rank it as one of best concerts I’ve ever been to, unashamedly. For me, and plenty of other people, ‘Reputation’ is a bold, multi-hued album that works as both social criticism and fucking great pop music.
What also amused me about people decrying this so-called music journalist snob putting TAYLOR SWIFT in his top ten is that not one DEPECHE MODE fan moaned about me ranking ERASURE higher than ‘Spirit’, or sticking a RYAN ADAMS record above it, or choosing an electronic jazz fusion LP by JAMES HOLDEN as the best thing I heard in 2017! And ‘Spirit’ getting into the top ten, when I conservatively wrote between 80 and 100 reviews last year, is still a pretty big deal.
But TAYLOR SWIFT surely doesn’t have any links to Mute… or does she? 😉
It’s slightly tenuous, but there is a link. Jack Antonoff from BLEACHERS, co-wrote and produced two songs on ‘1989’ and six on ‘Reputation’. Vince Clarke worked with Jack on the first BLEACHERS album, and I think the big, anthemic pop that BLEACHERS make has definitely rubbed off on some of the recent mixes that Vince has done. You can hear some of it in the last ERASURE record, ‘World Be Gone’, too.
Jack’s style is extremely distinctive, but very natural. Some people have to work hard at creating these huge, stadium-friendly, euphoric songs, but it’s like it runs in his veins or something. I knew which songs were his on ‘Reputation’ before I even looked at the credits.
So, yeah, if you squint a little and are happy that it’s an indirect connection, there is one. But I didn’t need one to justify enjoying TAYLOR SWIFT’s music – just the look on my girls’ faces when they were dancing round our lounge to ‘1989’ when they got it for Christmas 2014 was justification enough.
Photo by Mat Smith
The Electricity Club saw this positioning of TAYLOR SWIFT above DEPECHE MODE by a respected Mute Records commentator as oblique symbolism for DM’s current artistic decline, have you any thoughts about how this?
It certainly wasn’t intended that way.
As I said before, I really liked ‘Spirit’, and I really liked its predecessor ‘Delta Machine’, which I awarded eight out of ten in a review I wrote for Clash.
I wonder whether people have unrealistic expectations of what DEPECHE MODE should be doing today.
They’ve been going for nearly forty years and sit on top of a back catalogue containing some incredible moments, and those moments are going to be part of a personal soundtrack to significant events, whereas as we get older we don’t accumulate as many of those things.
Most artists that have been going this long are valued not for what they’re doing today but what they’ve done before, and any new material is just a catalyst for getting back out on the road and playing the hits.
The best example of this is THE ROLLING STONES – they’ve consistently released new material, but it’s generally regarded as second-rate compared to the album’s they released in their first two decades.
Anyone going to a Stones show doesn’t want a set filled with the new stuff – they pay for the hits. I know that fans have moaned about the recent Depeche festival shows not containing enough of their big songs, and I would say that’s probably fair. I don’t think they can hide behind being inexperienced with festivals, as a glance at any other band’s setlist would have provided ample evidence of the rules.
But I do think the fact that Depeche are still trying to do different things – the overt political reference points of ‘Spirit’ or the pronounced bluesiness of ‘Delta Machine’, as examples – shows that they still have a creative spark beyond just rehashing ‘World In My Eyes’ all over again. And if they did that, then people would moan at them for not making any effort. I’m not sure they can win, but it’s not like people aren’t buying their albums or eschewing their shows.
Photo by Simon Helm
At the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ book launch where there was a live Q&A which included Daniel Miller, it was reported that Anton Corbijn was making made his feelings known publicly about the current direction of DEPECHE MODE? What was your interpretation of what was said?
Honestly, I can’t remember. As the host of that panel discussion, I was too busy making sure I didn’t drop my microphone.
My recollection was that Daniel and Anton were both incredibly positive on Depeche and where they are right now, creatively. These guys are like the fourth and fifth members of that band, as their input into what makes them a band is really important to who they are, what they do, and how it’s presented, and I don’t think that will ever change. If anything, Anton was super positive about how much trust that Dave, Martin and Andy placed in his judgement, and how rare it is to find that these days. I didn’t get the impression that DEPECHE MODE are ignoring his counsel and doing their own thing at all.
That night, I do remember that Daniel said that they’re still a Mute band, even though they’ve left the label. I think that says a lot about how he approaches artists on the label, as well as how much he cares about them; I guess it’s like waving your kids off when they leave home – they’ll always be family. In the same way, Daniel will always be their A&R guy and creative mentor.
Daniel Miller = DM = DEPECHE MODE. That’s a complete coincidence, but it also isn’t.
The Electricity Club often likes to highlight a musical connection it has noted between CHVRCHES and TAYLOR SWIFT, do you hear it as well in her songs like ‘Out Of The Woods’, ‘Gorgeous’ and even ‘Blank Space’?
It’s not something I’ve noticed especially, but it says a lot about the way we music critics approach very overtly successful music that we can only give a pop artist credibility by comparing it to something a little more underground, or something less popular.
Electronic music has been mainstream for the last forty years and it’s only natural that stuff coming out of the underground would feed into popular music. That’s just how it has always worked, all the way through musical history.
Things start outside of the public eye, in almost cultish micro-scenes, they blossom, become popular, popular acts co-opt them, a new thing comes along and it starts again. If it didn’t, this would all be pretty boring and we’d all still be listening to easy listening music.
Is TAYLOR SWIFT consciously riffing off CHVRCHES’ ideas? Probably not. Does she have the budget and bankability to attract any producer she wants to work on her record? Absolutely. Do those producers and her A&R team have their fingers on what’s cool and what’s not? For sure. To me it’s not that surprising.
As far as electronic based artists are concerned, who are the up-and-coming acts that you would rate at the moment?
Electronic music – in its broadest sense – is having one of its most fertile creative periods, from the mainstream to the most avant garde of locales. For example, there’s a German producer called VONICA whose music I’m enjoying right now. He makes this fantastically skewed, very densely-layered music that is umbilically linked to dance music, with all its attendant euphoria and drama, but this slightly off-centre quality. He’s one to watch, for sure.
Elsewhere, I find myself listening to lots and lots of fusion music. Back in the 70s, stuff that fused jazz, electronics and rock together was seen as hugely innovative but over time it became a shorthand for naffness, something that my older self thinks is massively short-sighted as I’ve begun to appreciate things like CHICK COREA’s underrated ‘Return To Forever’. The new groups tackling fusion music are just incredible. JAMES HOLDEN I’ve already mentioned, but there are others like KAMAAL WILLIAMS and RATGRAVE that manage to create these amazingly fresh pieces of music out of seemingly incompatible reference points.
How and why do you think Mute had managed to maintain its position as a credible brand in the music industry after so many years?
I think it all comes down to being artist-led. When you’re artist-led you’re prepared to take more risks to allow them the space to realise their creative vision. When Daniel Miller started Mute again as an independent enterprise, I think that’s why he named it Mute Artists. That’s a very egalitarian, equitable way of approaching running a label – it emphasises that without those artists the label wouldn’t, and couldn’t, exist.
That’s not to say that Mute have always just let artists get up to what they want, because I’ve heard that Daniel is a very hands-on guy, even if he’s not in the studio with every artist on the label. However, if you start with the primacy of the artist and are focussed on allowing them to realise their vision in a supported way, you’re probably going to get the best results.
Going back to what I said about his relationship with Depeche above, he evidently cares for his artists, and I personally think that’s ultimately why he sold Mute Records to EMI – faced with seismic changes in the record industry, he deemed that was the best thing for his artists to allow them to stay creative. It wasn’t for commercial gain, but to give his artists some sort of financial stability. I think it came from a fundamentally good, well-meaning place. It wasn’t like he’d decided to disown his kids and start a new family with someone else. You might think of everything released on Mute as songs representing Daniel’s enduring faith and devotion in the artists whose music he elects to release. I can’t see that ever changing.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Mat Smith
Having delivered the decent second album that LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE or HURTS never managed, can CHVRCHES’ continue the upward momentum with their third album ‘Love Is Dead’?
With the kaleidoscopic lead single ‘Get Out’ and its supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty in full bouncy Taylor mode, nothing more than their most overt pop statement to date can be expected.
Produced mostly by Californian Greg Kurstin whose credits have included ELLIE GOULDING, SIA, LILY ALLEN, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, KELLY CLARKSON, LANA DEL REY, KATY PERRY and TAYLOR SWIFT, he certainly makes his presence felt by co-writing nine of the thirteen tracks.
Its predecessor ‘Every Open Eye’ had already unveiled some more Trans-Atlantic leanings while Mayberry’s relocation to New York is another factor to consider. ‘Love Is Dead’ certainly doesn’t mess about, with hooklines that could snare a shark. But while this is certainly pop, the song titles suggest something much darker lyrically as ‘My Enemy’, a shadier downtempo duet featuring Matt Berninger of American stoner rockers THE NATIONAL confirms.
These weightier topics are further affirmed by another Taylor-esque number ‘Never Say Die’ which despite being driven along with big synth arpeggios, sees Mayberry confessing that “I’m falling in, I’m falling out”. Then there’s ‘Miracle’ steered by British producer Steve Mac (noted for his work with boy band THE WANTED) which is still embroiled in melancholy with Mayberry’s emotive pleas despite the “woah-oh” chant chorus and big beats.
It starts off gloriously with ‘Graffiti’, a classic CHVRCHES tune that punches the sky with some rousing vocals from Mayberry, before the steadfast ‘Deliverance’ which tackles the hypocrisy of organised religion under a neon-lit sonic backdrop.
Upping the tempo, ‘Forever’ takes its leaf from the more Trans-Atlantic crossover tunes that figured on ‘Every Open Eye’ with that Brat Pack film montage flash that sees Mayberry wondering “What else could I do?”. The enjoyable ‘Graves’ is cut from a similar musical cloth, but given some Hooky bass grunt as Mayberry reflects on recent human tragedies both home and abroad.
On a similar lyrical gist, ‘Heaven/Hell’ asks further questions accompanied by more bass guitar alongside the synths for a much darker musical backdrop. The clouds loom heavy on ‘Love Is Dead’ from here as the gloomy indie house of ‘God’s Plan’ sees Doherty take his usual album lead vocal; thankfully, it is better than either of his two offerings on CHVRCHES’s debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ which will be a relief to armchair fans of the band.
The minimalist arrangement on the wonderfully sad ballad ‘Really Gone’ would make Vince Clarke proud while closing the record, ‘Wonderland’ crosses some metronomic trance with midtempo AOR styled interludes.
CHVRCHES have undoubtedly shed their innocence on ‘Love Is Dead’ and as the band themselves put it “coming to terms with the fact that there are great things in the world and there are awful things in the world and that you can’t get one without the other”. Darker but crucially still melodic, this is a good third album which is something else that HURTS and LITTLE BOOTS didn’t manage either.
So kudos to Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty for maintaining their standards and continuing to fly the flag for classic synthpop around the world. If you are attracted by the concept of Art School Taylor Swift, then you will love this.
‘Love Is Dead’ is released by Virgin Records as a CD, clear vinyl LP and download
When CHVRCHES released ‘The Mother We Share’, The Electricity Club described it as “the sound of TAYLOR SWIFT gone electro”.
And now with the kaleidoscopic ‘Get Out’, the bouncy first song to be previewed from CHVRCHES’ as-yet-untitled third album, Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty have gone the full Taylor and presented their most overt pop statement to date.
Despite rumours that David A Stewart of EURYTHMICS fame was to produce the next CHVRCHES album, the trio have turned to Greg Kurstin whose credits have included ELLIE GOULDING, SIA, LILY ALLEN, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, KELLY CLARKSON, LANA DEL REY, ADELE, KATY PERRY and yes, TAYLOR SWIFT!
With Miss Swift’s CHVRCHES aping ‘Gorgeous’ hitting the airwaves of late, there has obviously been something of a language exchange between both parties. With a highly infectious chorus and bridge attached to the Glaswegians’ usual percussive trademarks, ‘Get Out’ is one of those supreme singalongs.
The song’s accompanying multi-screen surveillance style video sees Cook pondering over a vintage computer in the studio while Mayberry is captured in a restroom, lipstick drawing a crossed-out heart in what appears to be this album’s campaign logo; this is an image that has actually appeared before, having previously adorned the artwork of TRIO, DURAN DURAN and NIGHT CLUB.
And in a move reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE’s phoneline promotional campaign for ‘Personal Jesus’, pay close attention to the video and a phone number appears in one of the screens which when actually dialled, reveals a recording of Mayberry reading some shadowy prose…
CHVRCHES go into this third album phase on an artistic high, having delivered in ‘Every Open Eye’, a decent second album; this was something that LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE or HURTS never managed! So while expectations are high, they have forward momentum.
But a slight word of warning though… more live drums beckon!
‘Get Out’ is released by Virgin Records on the usual digital platforms