Interview: Adrian Hextall
The album has a certain earthy, real feel to it, it’s the sound of a working man making an honest album about things he believes in. It was key therefore that the production and engineering reflected the sound and vibe that Tony was trying to achieve.
TW: With the first mix, it sounded really professional. It sounded really like an up to date modern sounding album which normally would have been great. But where we were at, we knew that it just wouldn’t work for us. Imagine we’re at this point in the process and there’s a fork in the road, that professional modern sound is down that way but we want [need] to go down that way instead.
We recorded a lot of the album at the Clashnarrow Studio in Helmsdale, the town on the Sutherland coast in Scotland. [Set up by Edwyn Collins (Remember Gorgeous George and it’s worldwide hit single A Girl Like You?) and James Endeacott who worked at Rough Trade where his taste informed the signing of The Strokes and The Libertines. He then had his own label, 1965, where he launched the career of The View among others]
That was an amazing experience. In addition to the production that we were able to get just the way we wanted it, there is also this amazing collection of guitars that you’re able to use. It’s like a museum which is usually full of things that say, “Do not touch” on them. And so you go through them all. I think Millie [Milton Evans – Tony’s partner in crime for years on his solo works and band mate in Terrorvision as well] chose one called a Harmony Sovereign and played that.
[Harmony Guitars went out of business in 1975 but their affordable guitars were known for With its jumbo body shape, the Harmony H1260 is known for its big, booming voice. This guitar was a popular acoustic built by Harmony during the company’s peak in the ’60s.]
When you’re playing in the studio, I think it plays even better. I think it improves the playing on the album. I got a 1947 Gibson Southern Jumbo (these start at £2,700 with some older models valued at over £40,000 – contrast that with Millie’s Harmony which sells second hand for around £300).
Edwyn is an absolute whiz. He set up the studio and was plugging guitars into cabs and speakers instead of just into the board which gave it a great rich sound, just like playing live really. He has all of these boxes in the studio and he knows what will work together, he joins them all up and in joining up all the components he gives you what what he thinks is going to be the right sound.
The sound as noted above has a feel of Ennio Morricone about it and the old spaghetti westerns. Whilst it wasn’t a deliberate move, Tony is full of respect and admiration for the composer;
I do love Morricone’s music. Some of my favourite pieces are his although not from the westerns. I do of course know that he wrote a lot of the music to the Spaghetti Westerns and I do like that music. The other thing that gives it that sound you hear is because the album does hark back to older times. It’s like going back to an album that I loved and it’s what I’m actually recalling. I think really works. The album doesn’t have to have drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, singing, it doesn’t need that on every song. I think you can set more of a mood and an atmosphere by bringing in taking out instruments. It may be that sparser, more open feel. It’s not crammed with production and it’s quite raw and open.
Whilst the lyrical content actually can be quite tough at times, the harmonies and the music provides quite a bit of balance making the songs quite uplifting. It reflects, explains Tony, the period that it was written in.
I did sort of put it together through, lock-down. I mean, it was more of a party for lock-down. I was just playing my guitar because there was nothing else happening. It sort of makes you question things as a result. The monotony of it all. Monotony of the lives. It’s why we have songs like ‘Nothing To Write Home About’. Also there’s ‘Sleep‘ asking about your life and is it real, and then other elements like looking at our lives and why for example we might go back to those old school reunions. It’s all the same stories; I went to school and I got a job and I got a car and I met a girl and got married. And these other two guys are there as well saying yep, yep, tick tick tick, all that. Listen to the lyrics and see if you can relate as people see we got a bigger car because she got promoted and I got promoted, so we got a bigger house and then she got a bigger guy….
Different songs on the album channel different styles of vocal approach from Tony but on one in-particular, Hearts and Minds, feels like Tony has discovered his inner David Bowie.
I think it’s because he was so good with what he did. He knew how to play just with an acoustic guitar as well, didn’t he? You can play by our songs on an acoustic guitar, you can play him in a folk style. It’s a real compliment to hear that and I love his music but definitely unintentional.
Going through the whole album you get to experience life from sleeping to school to marriage, work, old age and more. As you get to the end of the album you see life through the eyes of the same person but they could be 100 years old. Definitely check it out and if you can, check out Tony and Millie on one of the tour dates that they are currently undertaking in the UK.
The dates are below and artists like Tony need your support. It’s tough out there with gigs and tours being cancelled or postponed still. there are reasons for that as well that Tony has a view on;
Some people are still worried to going out. I think people are also quite worried about the cost of living because it’s cruel and I think that really has to be taken into consideration because it means the first things to go are always the arts. The best thing they could do is give every child an adult, a guitar and say just like this will see you through the next two years till we get an election.
But that’s what I can see, how people are going to survive. I just got a gas bill. Can I pay that and also keep my coffee shop running? How am I going to pay the staff, keep the suppliers that supply me. I’ll do my best. I’m lucky. I’ve got a band and I’ve got a tour and album and a solo career. It’s all the more important to think of what’s important in life and music is to me, so I’ll do it. I’ll go watch gigs, I’ll go play them.
Tony is out on tour in the next few days. Tour dates and ticket info below:
Sun 9th Todmorden Golden Lion