Friday 3 December 2010

K&A with Thirty Pounds Of Bone

When a press release describes an album as having "the sad accordion of King Creosote" and "some of the fuzz of Neutral Milk Hotel", it's a pretty safe bet that it's gonna get a great, big thumbs-up from me.  Well, that's how the press release described Shetlander Johny Lamb a.k.a. Thirty Pounds of Bone's new album Method.  It's out on Monday and it really is rather good.  It's full of lo-fi, sombre folk songs, some slightly more traditional than others, and the odd Decemberists-esque sea shanty thrown in too.  I've been listening to it for a few weeks solid now and every song lives up to the "whiskey soaked" billing, and added to the warming tones of Johny's voice, its turning out to be one of my favourite albums of the year.  Here's the man himself to tell you a bit more...

Kowalskiy: Who is Thirty Pounds of Bone, and what's the story behind the name?
Johny: Thirty Pounds of Bone is me, Johny Lamb. Sometimes other people have been involved too. Matt Eaton, Steve Grainger, Mary Hampton, Sally Megee, Gris Sanderson, John Pugh and Al from Le Reno Amps have all had a go. There’s an Irish box player called Seamus near Enniskillen who has just agreed to work with me too, exciting that.  The story behind the name? I can’t tell you that, it’s very personal. People often think it’s the average weight of a human skeleton, I’m happy with that, but it’s not true. Well, it might be true, but it’s nothing to do with me.

Kowalskiy: How would you describe 'your sound'?
Johny: I’d describe my sound as ‘not quite there yet’. Almost, but I’m never 100% happy. Everything could be better. I think the thing is to always try to service the song, rather than trying to make the song fit some notion of what you already are. I’m interested in the idea of trying to make a contemporary folksong, something engaged with tradition, but not owned by it. Music doesn’t develop in isolation, I hope my stuff reflects that. Does that make sense?

Kowalskiy: Hmmmmm! So, growing up on the remote island of Unst, son of a clergyman, the call of the sea and the Church must've been pretty strong. What music did you listen to growing up, and how come the call of music won over in the end?
Johny: Well my Dad wasn’t in the clergy then, he had a ‘real’ job. We left the Shetlands for him to retrain. I’ve not quite forgiven him. As for church, my mother is a stoic Irish catholic, so Dad’s church was work, Hers was proper. I always wanted to work in the fisheries, but not much call for it in the midlands of England. Musically, we listened to a lot of stuff in the car. The Clancys, the Pogues, Clannad, Christy Moore, Richard and Linda Thompson, loads of stuff with that ‘Celtic reverb’ you know? (and lots of ABBA). Then I found out about the Pet Shop Boys, the Smiths, Guns and Roses, the La’s, I just bought 7”s every week. Music became all I was interested in. Still is.

Kowalskiy: It's obvious that these all influences factor into your music. What other people/places/things influence you and your music?
Johny: Influence and intuition are hard things to pin down. In songwriting the smallest decision comes from somewhere. The places that loom big in my songs are Wolverhampton, Plymouth, Cornwall, Brighton, sometimes by name, sometimes not. Shetland takes a significant role, because it fills the role of ‘home’, which for the itinerant is always somewhere you are not. Ireland too, to a lesser extent, because it’s where you should, but don’t fit in. Being a second generation migrant ensures ethnic and cultural exclusion from pretty much everywhere. That’s a bit over dramatic I know, it’s not meant to be, it’s just that when you grow up in a lot of different places, you tend to hold on to whatever roots you might have (or have been told you have), and that can be confusing. I also like to write drinking songs, love songs and songs about whaling.

Kowalskiy: You recently released/are releasing (depending when this goes out) Method through Armellodie Records on the 6th December. Some say there's a bit of King Creosote, Neutral Milk Hotel, and personally, I'd say some of The Decemberists in there too. What can folk expect from it, straight from the horses mouth?
Johny: Those comparisons are all very flattering, and yes I’d agree that there’s a bit of Decemberists in there. What can people expect? I don’t know, it’s up and down I guess, quiet songs mostly, but when it’s big it’s pretty dense. I suppose it’s quite sad for the most part, but I don’t think it’s depressing. It looks at loss. Loss of place, of people, of love. But there’s hope there too. I like old instruments, so you can hear the creeks and whistles, with a healthy bit of noise thrown in. This is the first time I’ve played everything myself, which was really satisfying but also scary. There’s no one to blame if it goes wrong. I try to be fairly straight-forward and direct with songs.  Hopefully it works.

Kowalskiy: You're off to Germany/in Germany to plug the album (including a gig at the brilliantly-named 'Prinz Willy' in Kiel). Also, Woodland Recordings have a cracking, free download of a live album from your Berlin gig last year. What's the reaction been to your music over there? Your success wouldn't have anything to do with the 'whiskey soaked' sound would it?
Johny: I always have a great time in Germany. People have been incredibly receptive over there. My stuff seems to work well in Hamburg, perhaps because it’s on the water. It’s an amazing town, as is Berlin. A lot of credit has to go to Stephen Burch (The Great Park) from Woodland Recordings. He does pretty much all the leg-work for me. He’s a selfless guy in that respect, and a good friend. I like touring with him, he can be a kind shoulder. As for the whiskyness, there are specific beers for each town in Germany, before you get to the single malts. We have fun. That’s all I’m saying.

Kowalskiy: What would be your ideal gig?
Johny: That’s hard. I’d like to do a gig at Hasenschaukel in Hamburg, promoted by Vocoustics from Aberdeen, with the Bad Seeds as my backing band, but with Thomas White, Jen Macro from SBL and Al Nero on guitar. Support would come from Birdengine, Mary Hampton and the Diamond Family Archive. I would also insist that Ben Murray from La Frange would be in my dressing room with a Guinness tap. The crowd would all be weeping golden women, and I’d be joined on stage for duets by the ghosts of Vic Chesnut and Mark Linkous with white sheets over their heads. I wouldn’t make any mistakes and the fee would be enormous.

Kowalskiy: Are there plans afoot to tour the album in Scotland in the new year?
Johny: Yes. I think Armellodie are currently booking shows towards mid/late February next year. The 18th or so. It will be exactly as I described above. But in Scotland.

Kowalskiy: What else can we all expect from Thirty Pounds of Bone in 2011?
Johny: I’m working on another record. It’s a much more complicated affair though. Lot’s of field recordings on various formats. More guest musicians. As for the rest of the year, as many gigs as writing and recording will allow, and there’s two or three interesting collaborations in the pipeline….

Kowalskiy: Lastly, as the son of a preacher man, have you ever been tempted to reach and/or teach Dusty Springfield?
Johny: What makes you think I haven’t already? I’m the only boy who can ever reach/ teach anyone. It’s just that some people don’t like to learn….

Method, along with his 2006 debut The Homeless Children Of Migrant Mothers and last years And They Go Down To It In Ships EP are available from Johny's bandcamp page.  To celebrate its release on the 6th December, Johny and the good folk over at Armellodie Records are giving the opening track Crack Shandy in the Harbour - a true tale of racism and narcotics from his time spent in Plymouth - away free here.  You'll also be hearing his name mentioned a few more times on Kowalskiy before 2010 is out!  Lastly, here's those Scottish dates Johny was talking about above....

Upcoming Gigs
18th Feb - BLOC, Glasgow (with The Scottish Enlightenment)
19th Feb - Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh (with Rob St. John)

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