Coinciding with the recent-ish release of Bevis Frond’s latest album, We’re Your Friends, Man, Vinyl Connection was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with the band’s founder and well-spring, Nick Saloman.
VC: Hello Nick. Thanks for talking to Vinyl Connection once again.
NS: Always a pleasure, Bruce
VC: Congratulations on the latest release. A big double album full of terrific songs. Your ‘twenty-somethingth’ record.
NS: Thanks, glad you like it. Actually it’s gone down really well. When you put an album out you always hope people are going to like it, but there’s a nagging doubt that this will be the one where they all go ‘we’ve heard it all before, that’s enough’. So it’s very gratifying that this one seems to have been received very warmly.
VC: One of the aspects of your lyrics I particularly appreciate is the humanity; there is a wry warmth running through Friends, Man. It seems at odds with the unsettling ‘Second Life’ mannequins on the album cover. Was contrast what you were aiming for in that design? Or something else?
NS: The sleeve design was just a strange photo I took of a kid’s clothing shop window display in Northern Spain. I thought it tied in quite nicely with the title We’re Your Friends, Man. Almost like these little alien children were trying to make friends with you. Yeah, I know, nonsense! I wasn’t really trying to tie it in with the lyrical side of the songs, I just thought it looked quite odd, kind of spooky and charming at the same time. Perfect for an album sleeve!
VC: I’ve read reviews that talk about how you lay your soul bare in your lyrics, yet although I’m frequently touched (and often amused) by the words, it feels to me more like the focused observation of a novelist than bed-sit confessions…
NS: Well, my Mum was a published novelist (Gawd rest her). She did a bunch of historical novels under the name Joanna Dessau, so I guess I’m just a bit wordy like her. I haven’t got the patience to write a book though. You can finish a song pretty quickly, maybe an hour or two. I just don’t have the discipline to carry the writing on for days. I’d go barmy. I don’t think my lyrics are remotely like bedsit confessions, but then again I don’t really see them as the work of a novelist either. I just write lyrics that sound interesting or funny or angry or compassionate… just kind of depends how I’m feeling at the time. I make a point of avoiding certain topics. I never write ‘I love you’ songs, or things about ‘trucking down the highway’ or anything too cosmic, because it’s all been done so many times before, and I don’t want to be boring. (Don’t say it!)
I think lyrics are really important. I mean lyrics are half a song really. A great tune without good lyrics is basically an instrumental, and great lyrics without a good tune is a poem. Without wishing to sound too bombastic or pretentious, I see myself as a songwriter, so I reckon you need both components, a good tune and good lyrics. I just try to make my words flow naturally, so they’re almost conversational. I never invert sentences to make something rhyme, like ‘As long as I live, My love I would give’. That’s just rubbish. And I want to give the lyrics the ring of truth, so it sounds like it’s coming from the heart. Well, it always comes from the heart. Though it’s not always the way I personally feel, it has to sound convincing to do the job.
VC: Parents aren’t supposed to have favourite children, but we are only human. Which were the songs on We’re your Friends, Manyou felt most satisfied with at the end of the production process?
NS: I was very pleased with ‘Enjoy’, ‘Little Orchestras’, ‘Venom Drain’ & ‘Mad Love’ and strangely enough, despite what I just said in the previous answer, the lyrics to all of those arethe way I feel.
VC: They are certainly amongst early favourites for this listener, as is ‘Lead On’.
Observations on the rock and roll world abound: ‘Young Man’s Game’, ‘Gig Bag’, opener ‘Enjoy’, closer ‘You’re On Your Own’. Surely you’ll own up to at least partial autobiography on those?
NS: Yeah, I guess those are a bit autobiographical. However, ‘You’re On Your Own’ was actually nothing to do with music or the music press. That was about the Grenfell Tower horror with reference to a specific incident in my record shop, where some guy (the asinine reviewer in question) suggested that it wasn’t so bad because the victims weren’t British. I was truly horrified & shocked that some normal-looking person could have such appalling views. I felt that he was kind of saying that it was okay for a foreign child to be burned alive. So I asked to him leave and never come back. That’s pretty much what the song was about. Grenfell in general, but with special reference to that guy.
VC: Totally fitting to cast him out (Ed: a somewhat sycophantic reference to a terrific album track: ‘When you cast me out’).
Reviews always cite references to guide ‘the public’. I was tempted to ask your opinion of the comparisons, but instead I’ll try a more interesting angle. In an echo of a game we played last time, would you care to comment on these artists?
NS: The greatest guitarist that ever lived. I think the term ‘genius’ is very over-used in rock music. There a lot of great artists who are called geniuses who are nothing more than very good. In my view Hendrix was a true genius. I’m not sure who else in music is/was: Bob Dylan maybe, and I’m not even a great fan of Dylan. John Lennon? Not sure. Brilliant, but a genius? Don’t know.
Neil Young (esp. with Crazy Horse)…
NS: Well, you’ve got to love Neil haven’t you? He’s done some fantastic stuff (and some not so fantastic stuff). Strangely, I’m more a fan of his lyrical stuff than his fuzzed out 20 minute things. I reckon he was pretty infallible till the 80s. I particularly like On The Beach.
NS: An absolutely brilliant songwriter. Again, not one of my favourite recording artists, but as a writer/lyricist almost unsurpassable. I mean ‘Shipbuilding’ is a staggering piece of work. He covers so much ground in a few verses. What a lyricist! And I love ‘Hoover Factory’. He’s so smart and literate, and yet very compact and concise.
Guided By Voices…
NS: Again, I think they’ve done some wonderful stuff, and some not so great stuff. Robert Pollard is very prolific & tends to release loads and loads of tracks, and I sometimes think he’ll put out stuff that isn’t really worth issuing. Having said that, he’s written some really great songs, and they’re really good live (at least they were when I saw them). And I have a lot of time for Doug Gillard too. He did a solo track called ‘Unawares’ that I think is brilliant.
The Grateful Dead…
NS: Have I been compared to the Grateful Dead?? Surely not! I love their first five or six albums. Live Deadis a masterpiece if you discount ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’, which I don’t like much. After American BeautyI reckon you have to be a bit selective. But I love the early stuff. I remember getting Anthem Of The Sunwhen I was about 14 or 15, and getting completely lost in it. Though I must add that the single version of ‘Born Cross-Eyed’ has a wonderful free-form feedback segment at the end which isn’t on the album.
VC: Finally, what’s the record you have acquired in 2019 that will definitely bypass the shop for your own private vinyl eminence?
NS: Oh, loads, Bruce. If anything comes in that I fancy, it comes home with me. I just brought home a UK original 45 of The Soul Survivors doing ‘Hey Gyp’. Not a great band, but a really good single! And I picked up a mint demo 45 of Pat Wayne & The Beachcombers: ‘Bye Bye Johnny’. I had a stock copy already, but it wasn’t in great shape and had the centre missing.
VC: There’s always another record out there… Thanks for chatting, Nick.
NS: My pleasure, mate.