Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The game is changing: Goodnight Lenin

Goodnight Lenin want feedback on their new songs. See them in the bar afterwards. Oh, and there's three, count 'em, three festivals to talk about. With the Monkees?

The challenge for all performers is to know when it's going well, and why. That's why I so admire people who make great music. It's not just the uncanny talent. It's the pressure to perform, to deliver. Not only that: you have to work out how it's going: you have to manage it all. 

This blog doesn't just celebrate moments of inspiration and warmth, but also the stagecraft that goes with it. To have the balls to take your visions and dreams out to an audience, to lay it out in public, is one thing. That's where it really starts. That's when the game changes.

The years of practise and preparation lead up to that point. Now after dreaming up songs, melody and lyrics, you're working on how to put it across. And you never know, until you look back, when you're hitting a peak. 

John Fell and Goodnight Lenin are very much in evaluation mode right now, as they prepare for their second album. When is it right to record? Should you record at all? If and when you do, what's the right way and the right place? 

John Fell's asking all those questions right now, a few months after Goodnight Lenin delivered their first album.

A general perception among your fans – and I am one – is that you seemed to take an awfully long time to deliver your first album
We did. It did become a burden, sadly. Maybe we were too attached to it. It's a difficult thing to put something out there and say 'This Is It - Judge It!' 
But you have to!
I know. I think we weren't ready on so many fronts, especially on the production and recording side. We were lucky to work with Highbury Studio who were ace as our knowledge on that front is very limited. We had to go though that process to know what we now want. We're not guys who sit in our rooms and record. I'd love to be like that sometimes. We want to write songs; we want to play live. 
You're not unique here. A lot of people go back and remix their first works.
We are proud of the album. We very consciously decided we didn't want singles on it. And we've done that now. But it wasn't just a leaning curve, it was a full circle. The curve kept going and going. The way we recorded. How do you mix it? How much does it cost – everything. So now we've come out of that and we've got a different focus. 

The new material

New songs, of course?
We think they're far better. We've got this gig in May at the Rainbow in Digbeth, and a few festivals - Glastonbury and Wilderness - and there's also Moseley Folk. We'll put them out there. But that's it for the gigs until we've got the focus, recorded the album, got it done. Otherwise the songs won't be fresh. It won't take us as long to record the second album. Maybe a release at the end of the year. 
What's going to be different?
It won't be as spread out. That's the key. It's knowing what you're doing. We were recording what we do live, which is not what you should do on an album. 
Different medium, running order's crucial...
All that, yes. And we've got more musicians coming in on the album. Some guests. We're going to different studios to do a test track and see how it works. Trying loads of things. 
I first saw you ages ago at your EP launch. And then last year. At the EP gig you sashayed on stage without a care in the world, you didn't give a toss; you were loving it. And it was your crowd, and the gig had bags of charm. Later, you seemed much more serious, even if you had some great new songs. 
Maybe it was getting older! The music is maturing. It's definitely getting darker. And heavier. That goes hand in hand with how we now are. Five years ago, we were young kids playing happy folk songs, and having a laugh. Now we've done five years of massive slog, even though we're all mates, it's been a massive slog. We're aiming for something, and we don;t know exactly how we're going to get there. But we are getting there – we know what we want. 
You're still the same bright, romantic, clear-eyed bunch of guys. 
But now we're determined. We need to do this justice, so maybe that's why the jokiness has gone. We know what we're doing. 
OK, let me play devil's advocate here. Loudon Wainwright and Leonard Cohen have both written some of the darkest material every put on record, and yet their concerts are a laugh a minute. It is possible! On the other hand, I think they were probably a lot more neurotic in their prime than you guys are right now...
And they've been dealing with that all their lives. 
Surely you get into a band because you love it all, and music drives you. Then comes the work in sustaining it as a working unit. So is the trick to keep the business end sharp and working well, without losing your creativity. Did you expect to collect the knowledge and know-how you've not got?
No! We see how it all works. We've just set ourselves up as an online aggregator. It's our label, even though we work with Static Caravan. Which means we're entirely in control. Everything on iTunes comes though to us, rather than another company which takes its cut. That's quite unusual. Little things like that. We're just getting our shop into order! 
What are we going to see of your old material on the 1st of May?
Not much. We want to get feedback. 
OK – what about dialogue with your fans? 
We'll be in the bar after the gig! Come and talk! 
I know you said you didn't want to do 'singles' - but what about the idea of one song that absolutely slays the audience? Something that you build into your set at exactly the right point? That's getting into the realms of showmanship, isn't it?
Well, we're not going to do something with a 90 second intro that then goes into a great hook – let's just go into the hook for the off. Live, we can do all our complex stuff if we want. But the writing has changed, it's important to show that. To get stuff that works on radio.
You've seen thousands of bands with your work at This Is Tmrw, Moseley, Mostly and Lunar. So you're in a position to evaluate those bands who just walk on stage and nail it. Who's done that for you?
I loved The Waterboys. They banged out their two biggest songs in the first four songs, and then went on a blues jam. They took the audience with them, too. 

The Festivals

OK, let's talk about the festivals. I'm amazed that you're getting such a huge reaction from booking the Monkees. They were a manufactured boy band: the One Direction of my teenage years at Uni, and there's only two of them left after nearly fifty years. And Neil Diamond wrote most of their songs!
Honestly, that's the band that's getting the reaction. People are chuffed about Spiritualised, but the Monkees gets their attention. Micky Dolenz sang lead on some of the big songs. The psychedelic albums were really really good!
But they didn't sell!
That doesn't mean they weren't good! If you don't walk away from Sunday night and enjoy it, I feel a bit sorry for you. And it's their only Festival appearance in the UK. 

Is Lunar an expansion from Moseley? After all there's only so much you can do with the Moseley site.
Yes. It's growing. It's down to infrastructure. It will become the flagship. We're at the limit for the Moseley festivals. You can't grow them. And right now, that's a blessing. You can't change it. But you can still get names like Chic last year, and this year Gregory Porter
Local acts?

Mainly in the tennis court tent. And Kitchen Garden is doing it for Moseley Folk this year. But some big names will still be on the main stages. 


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