Friday, October 16, 2009

BMX BANDITS/An EXCLUSIVE interview with Duglas T. Stewart

The Life And Times Of BMX Bandits

An exclusive interview with Duglas T. Stewart

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

(An edited version of this interview appeared in Discussions Magazine)

What do you get when you mix Brian Wilson, Jonathan Richman, Burt Bacharach, Edwyn Collins, Mike Love and Winnie The Pooh together in a blender, add a healthy dose of indie DIY ethos and then pour the concoction over a sizzling selection of Punk, Bossa Nova, Power Pop and Country LPs? Some would say a mess, but the real answer is BMX Bandits!

Yes, you’ve probably heard of them. Maybe it’s because of their links to other great Scottish bands like Teenage Fanclub and The Soup Dragons. Or maybe it’s because Kurt Cobain was a fan (Cobain claimed on a New York radio show that if he could be in any other band besides Nirvana, it would be BMX Bandits). Or maybe it’s because you’re one of the lucky ones who have heard them!

For over 20 years, the Bandits have been creating quite the back catalog: they may not be as prolific as some bands, but each one of their releases is a cause for celebration. Vocalist and songwriter Duglas T. Stewart has fronted the band since its inception and remains the sole constant original member. He is one of the most honest and sincere songwriters of his generation, but fame and fortune have (frustratingly) remained just one big hit single away.

While BMX Bandits albums have flown under the radar in the U.S., there’s a new collection on the market that might help introduce (or reintroduce) the band to a generation of music fans who are looking for something different… yet something comforting and familiar. That compilation is The Rise & Fall Of BMX Bandits, released on the excellent Elefant Records label.

While not exactly a ‘best of’, The Rise & Fall… is a 23 track glimpse into the Bandits’ past and present. With tracks reaching back to their ‘80s seven inch single releases on the 53rd & 3rd label and taking us right up to date with new and previously unreleased recordings, The Rise & Fall Of BMX Bandits is a perfect starting point for the curious and a must-have for the converted.

I first interviewed Duglas over a decade ago for POPsided Magazine and was thrilled to be able to catch up with him again and discuss his 20+ year career and The Rise &  Fall Of BMX Bandits.

SPAZ: What music influenced you growing up in the Stewart household?
DUGLAS T. STEWART: The music that I liked best that I remember hearing around the house as a kid was music from Disney films like Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. I later discovered this was by the Sherman Brothers. Some television theme tunes really made a big impression on me: the theme from The Persuaders by John Barry, Robert Melin's theme from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the theme song from the program White Horses sung by Jackie. My dad liked some electronic music and I have very vivid memories of listening to Kraftwerk's Autobahn album in our VW Beetle. He didn't really approve of music being played in cars, as he thought it might distract people from driving, but he had discovered Autobahn through a BBC science TV show and it seemed to him to be music designed for driving to.
Another thing I got from my dad was the idea of music as an expression of romantic love. My dad was a very shy man; he wasn't a performer, he could never have spoke in front of a large group of people. But I have a wonderful memory of my dad singing a beautiful love song called “Jean”, written by Rod McKuen, to my mum in our kitchen. My mum was called Jean. After my dad died, I started singing that song at some shows and I've recorded a version of it with David Scott.

SPAZ: Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that you wanted to create music and pursue it as a career?
DTS: Well, I think I pretty much always wrote songs. When I say wrote them, often I would just start singing songs about what I was doing or about silly ideas I had. I started singing some of my nonsense songs in Primary School when I was maybe 7 or 8 and became a sort of celebrity at the school getting sent round the classes, singing my songs, doing impersonations and putting on little plays that I would write and perform with Lorna Gibb, the girl who lived next door to me.
My big sister thought I could be a popstar and tried to encourage me to start singing Donny Osmond hits but I wasn't interested in that.
In 1977, I bought an album called Rock 'n' Roll With The Modern Lovers by Jonathan Richman and it changed everything for me. It sounded wonderful; a bit like it was recorded in someone’s front room and it was full of warmth and humor. When I played it in our house, everybody would go about the house with a smile. I knew right then I wanted to try to make music to try and make a connection with other people the way that record had made with me. Seriously, I think the exact moment was during my first play of that album hearing Jonathan sing 'Ice Cream Man' for the very first time.

SPAZ: How did you come to choose the name BMX Bandits? It’s not every day that a Scottish band decides to name their band after a low-budget Australian film!

DTS: I started with Sean Dickson, who went on to be in The Soup Dragons. I remember Sean and I, in my parent's old house, just trying to think of the stupidest names we could think of and crying with laughter. When the name BMX Bandits came up, it seemed really stupid but there was also a reference to one of my biggest musical heroes Brian Wilson; surfing was a big youth trend in 1961 when the Beach Boys started and, ironically, Brian didn't surf…and in 1985, BMX bikes were the big youth trend and I had never been on a bike. I've never seen the movie.

SPAZ: When you first started putting together the first line-up of BMX Bandits, did you look at it as a long-term goal or just a fun thing to do at the time?
DTS: I didn't think of it as being a long term thing, but it felt important to me. I had been in a group with Sean, Norman Blake and Frances McKee called The Pretty Flowers and Frances left that group to start a group with her new boyfriend Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines). I was heartbroken and had a couple of songs I wanted to record before I curled up and died of a broken heart. Norman had decided to quit making music and so Sean volunteered to help me record these songs, and so we enlisted Jim McCulloch and decided to call the group BMX Bandits for recording these tracks. We didn't even think then we'd do anything else or play any shows.

SPAZ: The band has had many members pass through it’s ranks who have gone on to form other successful bands like The Soup Dragons, Superstar and Teenage Fanclub. Do you think that their time in the Bandits gave them the confidence to move forward or do you think that they would have been successful regardless?
DTS: Well, The Soup Dragons really became successful before BMX Bandits and had a much bigger audience. Sean was very driven and went out and made things happen for his music instead of just playing it to a few friends in Bellshill. I think that made Norman and I think we should try a little harder. I do think that some of the people who've been in BMX Bandits have gained confidence being part of BMX Bandits that has helped them when they went on to do their own things. Also, Sushil said that he used BMX Bandits not being like a conventional group and not always being the same 4 or 5 people as the template for Future Pilot a.k.a. I'm sure most of these people would have had success anyway, but I think they mostly took something of their times with BMX Bandits to their later groups.

SPAZ: Your longest ally in the band was drummer/songwriter Francis Macdonald. When and how did you first hook up with him?
DTS: At the end of 1986, Norman had joined BMX Bandits as our drummer and then Sean left the group and so Norman became our other guitarist with Jim McCulloch. Joe McAlinden was now in the group playing bass and violin and we needed a new drummer. Joe said there was this 15 year old guy who played drums in a Jazz concert band that Joe played in and said we should get him to play with us. When we heard Francis play, he was so great and didn't play like an average British Indie Pop drummer at the time we asked him to join the group. He ended up joining three groups at the same time: Norman's new group The Boy Hairdressers, Joe's other group The Groovy Little Numbers and BMX Bandits.

SPAZ: The Scottish music scene was one of the most exciting during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (The Skids, Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera, The Bluebells, Endgames, etc.). Were you influenced by what was going on during this period?
DTS: Norman and I were very much fans of Orange Juice, in particular, from the groups that you mentioned. I remember Norman from when he was 3 and I was 4 but our friendship was really sealed by our mutual love for Orange Juice's first single on Postcard Records. One of the things that I think attracted us to them was, although they came out of punk rock. they seemed to embrace other things in their music that we also liked like disco and soul and ‘60s pop like The Velvet Underground and a bit of Jonathan Richman. There was also strong humor in their songs and a home-made ethic that made us think perhaps. we could do that. Later on, we discovered The Pastels and, after Orange Juice had moved away to London to become a major label act, The Pastels seemed to be like a continuation of many of the things that had attracted us to Orange Juice.

SPAZ: Do you remember the first song you wrote or co-wrote that was actually recorded? And were you pleased with the results?
DTS: I can't remember if the first song that I co-wrote that was actually recorded was 'Strawberry Sunday', which I wrote with Sean or 'Groovy Goodluck Friend’, which I wrote with Norman. Both Sean and Norman were always very good at using porta-studios and so, although the first recordings of these songs were just rough home recordings. they sounded better than anything recorded by any of the local bands we knew. Also, most of the local groups were trying to fit in to particular scenes or sound like other bands but I always thrived on being different and not fitting in. People in Bellshill thought I was a big "weirdo" and probably gay. If someone shouted abuse at me, I took it as a victory. I had a lot of self belief. When I played these tracks to people, they mostly seemed impressed and smiled and so I was happy.

SPAZ: After a few singles in the mid-to-late ‘80s, you released the official studio debut album C86 in 1990. Why did it take so long for the album to be released?
DTS: I think if someone had said to us in 1985 or 1986, “Here's the money to go and make an album”, we would have done it without any hesitation, but the Indie scene in the mid '80s seemed very much a singles-based culture and we were on a label that didn't have much money. The label we were initially on 53rd & 3rd finished in 1987 and we couldn't find anyone who was interested in releasing any more BMX Bandits records and so we decided to do it ourselves. Norman had started a new group with Raymond MCGinley and Francis Macdonald called Teenage Fanclub and they were planning to record an album by paying for it by themselves and so I decided to do the same with BMX Bandits. Then I applied for a loan to start a label to release these two albums. So BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub, now with Gerry Love on bass, went into the same studio in Glasgow for two weeks each back to back and made C86 and A Catholic Education. There was a big crossover between the bands as Norman and Francis were in both bands and “Right Across The Street” was originally meant to be for Teenage Fanclub.

SPAZ: What are your thoughts on the C86 album today? Do you think that the CD reissue with bonus tracks (C86 Plus) has enhanced the album’s appeal, or would you prefer to see it issued on CD in its original form?
DTS: C86 has some of my favourite BMX Bandits songs on it, “Disco Girl” and “Your Class”, but I've always felt it wasn't recorded the way I really imagined it sounding in my head. “Your Class” sounds the way I wanted it, but it was recorded earlier. But the rest is a bit too Rock and a bit mushy sounding to my ears. I still think it's pretty good, though.
I do think that sometimes the original statement that an album was meant to make as a body of songs can be diluted or lessened by adding extra tracks but I don't really think that happened by adding extra tracks to the CD of C86. I think it's because it really was a collection of songs and there wasn't really an ethos that applied to those songs other than the general ethos of BMX Bandits. I wouldn't like some of our albums to be released with bonus material, but I didn't mind it with that album.

SPAZ: A year later, the even-better Star Wars album followed. Was the band more confident in the studio with this release? It sounds far more accomplished and cohesive.
DTS: Well, at first it felt a bit strange because, up until, then my second in command and person I was writing songs with mostly was Norman; but suddenly, Norman was very busy with Teenage Fanclub. So I started writing more things by myself, Francis became my main writing partner and I wrote a couple of things with Joe McAlinden. It seemed that things were moving more towards noisy guitars and becoming more Rock and so I think I reacted against that trend and moved towards things that were more Pop, melodious, more gentle with other kinds of instruments and more harmonies. Just as I thrived on not really fitting in as a person I liked the idea that no other "Indie" bands I could think of at that time would have songs like “Extraordinary” or “Students of Life” or “Smile for Me: or the title track, “Star Wars”, on their records at that time.

SPAZ: What are your feelings about the album today?
DTS: I really like the spirit of that album a lot. A few of the tracks I don't think of very much, but I'm very proud of most of it and I think it sort of underlined the idea to listeners: BMX Bandits do whatever they want to do.

SPAZ: Two years later, you signed to Creation Records and released Life Goes On, the Bandits’ best album yet. Your most infamous track, "Serious Drugs", was featured on the album. What inspired that song? And why didn’t YOU sing it since the song was essentially your baby?
DTS: Well “Serious Drugs” was recorded as part of Star Wars and that's the version that's on Life Goes On. It was near to the end of the Star Wars sessions and I woke up early one morning with this melody and lyric in my head. So I phoned up Norman around 7 O’clock in the morning and said "Imagine this sounding a bit like a mixture of Chic and something from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album!" and then I sung it down the phone. I asked Norman if he could find chords for my melody that were Chic-like. When we got to the studio and ran through it with just the two of us, no one seemed very impressed and so most of the group, Francis, Gordon and Eugene, went home. Norman played an acoustic and electric guitar to a drum machine and then he had to leave to go do some Teenage Fanclub stuff. So Joe McAlinden and I were left to finish it. It was in quite a high key for me and I wanted, when people heard it, they would be confused and think "How can that be BMX Bandits?" I liked the idea of messing with people's preconceptions of the group - people who thought they didn't like us and people who thought they did like us - and so I got Joe to sing the lead vocal. He had such a sweet and soft voice, I thought it made the line "get some serious drugs" all the more surprising and just made the whole track much less what people would expect.
The song was based on a real life incident. I had been going through a rough time with depression and was on anti-depressants and I'd started a romance with a girl who was studying medicine in Aberdeen. When she discovered I was taking anti-depressants she said "you don't need those tablets, my love will make you feel better". A few weeks later, our relationship wasn't really working out and she said "I think you need to get some stronger tablets". I saw some tragic humor in that and thought it would make an interesting and unexpected lyric for a song but with a musical setting that was very pretty and soulful.
I really think there was no other track in 1991 that sounded anything like it, but it wasn't released until 1993. Alan McGee heard it and asked us to keep it off Star Wars so he could release it on his label Creation Records.

SPAZ: You reissued the "Serious Drugs" single later with Norman Blake singing lead. What was the reason behind that?
DTS: The first time it was released it got rave reviews and Alan thought it was going to be one of Creation's biggest hits, but BBC radio banned it after misunderstanding the lyric. Later on, the song continued to gain acclaim; it was the only record on Creation Paul Weller ever contacted Alan to get a copy of, bands in America and Europe had started doing versions of it in their sets and it seemed other groups were trying to make tracks that sounded a bit like it and so Alan wanted to give it another chance to be a hit. Joe had left BMX Bandits to concentrate on his group, Superstar, by this time and his new record label weren't happy about it being released as a single with Joe doing the lead vocal. Norman and Joe's voices could sound quite similar, and so we got Norman to replace Joe's vocal.

SPAZ: How does the album rate with you 15 years later?
DTS: I think it's a really strong album. I think “Kylie's Got A Crush On Us” shouldn't be on it. It doesn't fit the mood of the rest of the album and it isn't really a BMX Bandits song. We started playing it for fun when Gerry Love stood in on bass at a couple of BMX Bandits shows. He'd written it for a side project he had with Brendan from Teenage Fanclub called The Clydesmen and they did a much better version than our's. I really like “Space Girl” and “Cats and Dogs” and “It Hasn't Ended” a lot. I think there are some really good arrangements in those songs and they weren't typical of the time.

SPAZ: While the following album, Gettin’ Dirty (1995), did not fare as well as Life Goes On, it was an even better album. Do you feel that the band had reached its first peak at this time? Last time I interviewed you, you explained that this joyful-sounding album was far from a happy experience because of a relationship that had fallen apart during the recording of the album. Can you listen to the album subjectively now?
DTS: Francis and I were the main writers on the Gettin' Dirty album and I think neither of us were completely satisfied with how it turned out. There were plenty of things on it we really liked but there were some other tracks that felt like we were repeating ourselves and were like less good versions of songs from Life Goes On. But “Gettin' Dirty” and “Come Out Of The Shadows” are two of my favourite BMX Bandits tracks.
I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life. I found myself a single parent with a two month old baby girl after the break-up of a very troubled relationship. I'd had my ribs cracked, been spat at, held at knife point, had all my hair forcibly cut off and a lot of other upsetting things. I was both emotionally and physically battered and bruised but trying to be both mummy and daddy to this little baby. The lowest point came when my ex returned saying she wanted to try a reconciliation. I remember Sushil dropping me off at my parent's house the night she came back unexpectedly and giving him detailed instructions of what to do if I was killed. It might seem ridiculous but it seemed possible. The suggestion of reconciliation wasn't sincere and I ended up drugged and locked in my apartment as she tried to abduct and leave the country with our daughter. The next day, I was flying down to collect my baby daughter from a police station at Heathrow Airport as the rest of the group were, ironically, working on “Waiting for a Baby”, a track I'd written with Francis about waiting for my daughter's arrival. I was told there were a few tears shed for us as the group were working on that backing track. I've not listened to the whole of Gettin' Dirty for a long long time but certain tracks bring me great pleasure when I hear them. People tell me they listened a lot to “Waiting For Baby” when they were waiting for their baby to arrive, and that it meant a lot to them and captured how they felt. That's lovely to hear.

SPAZ: Nearly three years passed before Theme Park’s release in 1996. The album was classic BMX Bandits but possessed a raw, slightly disjointed and almost primitive feel. Did you attempt to shake things up on this album?
DTS: I think the wild roller-coaster nature of Theme Park was a bit of a reaction against what Francis and I felt was the overly smooth and bland, to our ears, on Gettin' Dirty. When we made Star Wars, everyday in the studio felt like playtime and I think we wanted to reclaim that.
The other BIG factor was Kim Fowley entering the picture.

SPAZ: Kim Fowley produced a few tracks on the album. What was he like in the studio?
DTS: Kim is probably the most extreme human being I've ever met. He's a legend; he's sold more than 120 million records as a producer, songwriter and recording artist. He's worked with everyone from Doris Day to Jonathan Richman to Cat Stevens to The Runaways to John Lennon to George Lucas and so on. He's been making wild and inspired records since the late 1950s and he's brilliant but he's not conventional.
Our first session with him was 26 hours long, with only a half hour break for dinner. He refused to record any of the songs we'd prepared and so we wrote, rehearsed, recorded and mixed six new songs with Kim in those 26 hours. Four of them ended up on Theme Park and two others were a single. Being in the studio with Kim was a bit like being on a roller coaster; it was, at times, pretty scary but was also a whole lot of fun. Kim would lie on the couch, speed reading, while barking out orders like "Guitarist, that solo was bad. I want to hear dog's piss with blood in it in the solo". So we'd go for another take and Kim would say "Okay, that was a little better. I heard the dog's piss but where was the blood?”
Kim was a key player in the late 1960s Psychedelic scene in L.A. and I remember one of us asking him if he'd done a lot of drugs back then. His reply was "I never drank alcohol and I never did drugs, I didn't need to I was already THERE". We loved Kim and something of his wild spirit stayed with us even on the tracks that he wasn't involved with on Theme Park.

SPAZ: Francis McDonald’s "I Wanna Fall In Love" is one of the most perfect Pop songs ever written. Does it get frustrating when you know that certain songs should be massive but don’t quite get the respect and airplay they deserve?
DTS: I have a co-write on “I Wanna Fall in Love” and did contribute to it, but it was mostly Francis' song and I think he thinks it's still his best. We thought it should have been a single but it seemed that our record label didn't agree. By that time, Alan McGee was much less involved in the running of the label and I think the other people at Creation weren't interested in BMX Bandits. Oasis had arrived and were making everyone lots of money and so we weren't important. I still think “I Wanna Fall in Love” should have been a hit single… but I also think “Serious Drugs” should have been. In some ways, it is frustrating, but then you think “September Gurls” by Big Star wasn't a hit, “I Saw The Light” by Todd Rundgren wasn't a hit. Those are two of the greatest examples of pure pop songs ever made and recognized as such, so it's all a bit random.

SPAZ: How do you feel about Theme Park now?
DTS: I like it. It brings back lots of happy and fun memories. Another of Francis' songs is one of my big BMX favorites, “One Big Heart”.

SPAZ: Why did the Bandits leave Creation? Do you feel that it was a positive and productive partnership while it lasted?
DTS: It was a mutual decision. I can't remember exactly what happened but I think I called up Alan McGee and said I thought we were probably going to be dropped from the label and wanted to thank him for believing in the group and giving us his support. We decided we should agree to part company professionally and remain friends. The label had changed a lot in the time we'd been there and it felt like we didn't fit there any more.

SPAZ: You released a solo album, Frankenstein, roughly around the same time. The Bandits have always been perceived as Duglas Stewart plus whoever else was in the band at the time. Why did you feel it necessary to make a solo album?
DTS: Well I wanted to make another album and I wanted to do quite a lot of cover versions and quirky lo-fi home-recorded things on it and we were still on Creation at that time. I knew Creation wouldn't want to do it. I knew I couldn't do it and call it BMX Bandits or Creation wouldn't be happy, so it became a Duglas album. Because of that, it also meant that I could do exactly as I pleased and didn't have to listen to anyone else in the group's opinion. At that point, BMX Bandits had become more of a partnership with two leaders, Francis and me, and although Francis was involved in some of the tracks, I was the boss on these tracks. Also it allowed me to do things with people like Bill Wells and David Scott, who were outside BMX Bandits.

SPAZ: "Stupid" is one of the best songs from the Stewart/Bandits catalog. How did that song come about?
DTS: Well, it was one of those songs that was reporting on the sad break up I mentioned earlier. It was probably meant to be a self healing thing. I remember coming up with the idea of the "dumb dumb dumb" line and loving it, as it's like something that people hum spontaneously, but also worked in capturing me sitting in my room, banging my head and saying to myself that I was "dumb dumb dumb".

SPAZ: Although there were a few compilations released in the meantime, it took quite a few years for the next Bandits studio album to appear (2003’s Down At The Hop). What took so long?
DTS: Francis got busy with starting his own label, Shoeshine, rejoining Teenage Fanclub and other stuff, and I was busy being a dad and working on a music program for the BBC called The Beat Room. We made more than 300 Beat Room programmes in three years and we had the UK TV debuts of acts including Cornelius, The White Stripes, Peaches, Yo La Tengo and lots of groups who you'd normally never see on TV.

SPAZ: Down At The Hop was released on Francis’ Shoeshine Records label. Was the label and his band, Radio Sweethearts, the main reason he retired from the Bandits?
DTS: Not really. I asked Francis to leave the group. It felt like BMX Bandits had two leaders but we both wanted the band to be two different things. I let Francis hear some things that I'd been working on that I thought were the best songs I'd ever written and he didn't seem very interested in them. Also. he was getting more and more busy with drumming for Teenage Fanclub, running his label, managing Camera Obscura and lot of other stuff. It was getting really difficult to find time when he was available to play live or record.
I felt like Francis felt strongly about what he wanted the group to be and I felt like he wanted it to be more guitar based Power Pop and if it went in that direction, I would really just be the singer in his group. I felt I was moving further and further away from traditional guitar pop and I thought there was three options for the future: 1) It could be Francis' group and I could be his singer; 2) It could be my group and Francis might not want to just do what I wanted to do; or 3) it could be a compromise of both of us trying to fit in with each other. I made the difficult decision that I didn't want to be the singer in someone else's group, I didn't want to compromise and if I left the group, it wouldn't be BMX Bandits. By this time, I'd recorded a lot of My Chain and Francis hadn't been involved. I didn't want to compromise that album and so I had to ask Francis to leave.
It was very difficult; he'd been part of the group for 18 years and had written or co-written some of our best-loved songs. Francis was very gracious about it and even came to the first show we did after that and made the point of telling me and the new members of the group how great he thought it was. Since then, I know Francis has said he thinks it was the right decision and he should have seen it was time for us to go our separate ways. I still think we might end up writing some songs in the future again.

SPAZ: Creation Records issued the excellent Serious Drugs compilation in 2005. Did you feel that it was a decent representation of your output with the label?
DTS: Well. we liked this compilation because we were allowed to select what went on it and what didn't. Francis and I picked the line up of tracks and the running order. The only disagreements were I didn't want “Kylie's Got A Crush On Us” on it and Francis didn't really think “Little Pony” or “Little River Of Spring” should be on it. But we agreed to allow each other these tracks as a compromise. I think it works well as a document of our time on Creation and also works well as a listening experience.

SPAZ: My Chain was released in 2006 and is a gorgeous and emotional album. Yet, most of the time, it feels like a Duglas solo album. Did it start out as a solo release or was it always going to be a Bandits album?
DTS: Well, originally I was writing songs for BMX Bandits but, as I said before, Francis didn't seem interested in what I was coming up with. Also, I'd built up a really strong friendship and musical relationship with David Scott at that time. David wasn't in BMX Bandits and Francis was, so I thought I would maybe have to release this as a Duglas album. That frustrated me because I really felt this was me really arriving at somewhere as an artist and I thought this could be the best thing I'd done. I knew if I released it under my own name, it would reach a smaller audience. I played the stuff I'd done so far to Norman and Sushil and they said "You have to release it as BMX Bandits" and "BMX Bandits is the world according to Duglas through music", and so they helped me decide what I had to do.
It doesn't have a traditional group feel to it; it's more intimate and most of it was made by just David and me, but it's my favourite BMX Bandits album. It's the only one that there is nothing on it that I would change even if I could. I'm completely satisfied with every note, every sound, every mix, everything.

SPAZ: Bee Stings followed in 2007 and seemed to be yet another peak in the Bandits’ career. With the addition of vocalist Rachel Allison, the album has added emotional depth. Have you always imagined the Bandits with a female vocalist working alongside you? "I Wanna Fall In Love" (from Theme Park) seemed to be pointing the way…
DTS: I'm glad you think that. Bee Stings started with writing and recording “Doorways” and, as a writer, it felt like a big victory. Thematically, it was a continuation of the love story from My Chain, but musically it was quite different. I'd read about Henry Mancini writing “Moon River” as a portrait of Audrey Hepburn in music; trying to capture her essence in music. Rachel had joined us close to the end of the recording process of My Chain and, after that, I wanted to write something especially for her and so I tried to create a portrait of Rachel in music. Then later. I added a quite emotionally raw autobiographical lyric. When I heard Rachel singing this lyric that was so personal to me, I liked the idea of having an album with two narratives running through it, a male narrative and a female narrative, and having them blurring and crossing over with each other. In some ways, it's musically our most ambitious album. There's a couple of tracks that I think, when I listen to them now, we didn't quite get 100% right, but I think all the songs are really strong.
A lot of my biggest musical heroes are female and a lot of my favorite music is sung by female voices and so I always was attracted to working with women and writing for them. Rachel came in to the studio one night just to do a little bit of backing vocals, but somehow, she just seemed to fit and there was a chemistry between us.
Rachel really understands the emotional content of songs and knows how to make them connect with people.
Also, I really like having not just guys in the group; I don't enjoy the company of men that much; as individuals yes but not really as a gang. Having a girl changes the chemistry and atmosphere in the group for the better.

SPAZ: How do you think the album rates compared to the Bandits back catalog?
DTS: It's my second favourite of our albums. I especially love listening to the songs Rachel sings. It feels lovely to be slightly removed from the finished track by not having my voice the main point of focus. So when I listen to emotionally raw tracks like “Doorways” or “Just Remember I'm a Woman”, they don't hurt, they just sound beautiful, and then I can feel something lovely came out of some heartache.

SPAZ: Now, in 2009, the excellent Elefant Records has released The Rise & Fall Of BMX Bandits, which is a collection of non-Creation material plus some new recordings. How did you go about choosing the material? There is an awful lot of great songs to choose from…
DTS: I just followed my instincts. The only track that I don't really enjoy at all on it is “Whirlpool”, but I know some people really love that track. It was always a big favorite when we played it live and so I decided it might be a bit unfair to leave it off. Of course, I was most excited by the new stuff. My favourite is “I Can Wait Forever”, which is the first song the three of us, David, Rachel and I, have written together. Also I think “Disco Girl” sounds much better than it did on C86.

SPAZ: Three of my favorite songs EVER are included on the collection including "Extraordinary" (the other two being "Stupid" and the slightly different mix of "I Wanna Fall In Love"). When you look back on your songs, do you feel that some are overlooked more than others? "Extraordinary" was a stand-out track on Star Wars….
DTS: I do like 'Extraordinary' a lot and feel it's like the ancestor of quite a few other BMX Bandits songs like “4 Minutes 22” and “Death & Destruction”. We played “Extraordinary” live at our most recent concert and releasing this compilation album has brought some of these older songs that weren't singles back to the front of my mind. “Stupid” is another BIG song for me and that's why I had to include it on this album. It's like me saying "Maybe you missed this one the first time so here's another chance to discover it".

SPAZ: Do you feel that, if someone were to listen to The Rise & Fall… and the Serious Drugs compilation that they would have a pretty good idea of what the Bandits are all about?
DTS: To some extent, yes. Only I feel it would be a bit of a shame because then they wouldn't hear anything from my two favorite BMX albums.

SPAZ: What’s next for Duglas Stewart and BMX Bandits?
DTS: We've started the new album for 2010 called BMX Bandits In Space. The opening track is recorded and a couple of people have said they think it might be their favorite BMX Bandits song so far. It's called 'Still'. BMX Bandits have a new line up again. Joining David, Rachel and me are the original BMX Bandits guitarist Jim McCulloch, Finlay Macdonald, who played on all our Creation albums, and Jim Gash.
Also I've recorded a single with a Korean singer called Yeongene, which was produced by Saya from Tenniscoats. I hope that will be out later this year. And there is a CD of tracks David and I produced for Yeongene called Bonnie Gene that is coming out in January 2010.

SPAZ: What do you have currently spinning on your CD and DVD players?
DTS: I've been watching a lot of Billy Wilder's films again recently. My big favorites are Irma La Douce, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot.
I've been listening a lot to Tenniscoats and another group from Japan called Eddie Marcon. This last week, I've been listening to Daniel Johnston's new album, Is And Always Was. He has such great songs.
There's a band from Memphis called Magic Kids that have a song called 'Hey Boy', which is like The Beach Boys meets the Langley Schools Project meets Wizzard, that I love. I think that song could send one million copies and make the world feel a little better for a while ( ).
I've also been listening to stuff from two young Scottish songwriters. The first one is called Adam Ross and he has a project called Randolph's Leap ( I think he's in the tradition of people like Norman Blake and Stuart Murdoch, he's very charismatic and I really think he could be one of the major guys in the future.
The other new person is Ashley Little ( So far, she's only done home recordings of her songs but they have a really deep impact on me when I listen to them. There's a rare purity and directness in her writing. In some ways, it's a bit like when I listen to Daniel Johnston. I don't need all the production and stuff to connect to these songs. Also, I keep thinking I'd like to sing that song. Maybe she'll write some thing for me to sing someday. David is going to produce some of her songs and I'm excited to hear that.
Another big thing this year was returning to Kate Bush and, in particular, “Wuthering Heights”. I hadn't listened to it for years. It had a big emotional connection with some things that made me sad to think of but when I rediscovered it, I couldn't stop listening to it. I slept about a total of an hour over two days just listening to it over and over again.

Thanks to Duglas T. Stewart

Special thanks to Luis (Elefant Records) and James Agren (Darla Records)

Get on your bikes and ride,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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