Friday, September 22, 2017

THE ORCHIDS: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A




BEMUSED, CONFUSED AND BEDRAGGLED:

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
with 
THE ORCHIDS’ 
Chris Quinn



Scotland has given us some great artists over the years. The list is endless but here’s just a small sample: Nazareth, Simple Minds, Del Amitri, Aztec Camera, Teenage Fanclub, Orange Juice, The Bluebells, BMX Bandits, Average White Band, Belle & Sebastian, Pilot, Big Country, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Skids, Texas, Associates, Midge Ure, The Proclaimers, Marmalade, Friends Again, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Endgames, The Blue Nile, Bay City Rollers, etc. And that is just a smidgen of the tip of the iceberg! However, The Orchids remain one of Scotland’s finest yet most underrated bands. Originally emerging in the late ‘80s, The Orchids were a proper Pop band with big musical dreams but only an indie budget. Signed to the influential Sarah Records label, The Orchids were labelled as a ‘Twee’ Pop band yet they seldom ever fit comfortably into that categorization. With songs like “It’s Only Obvious,” it was apparent that the band, even in their early days, were destined to be something bigger than even they realized.


From their debut release in 1987 to the beginning of their ‘hiatus’ nearly a decade later, The Orchids released three astounding albums and some of the most haunting singles of the era. While their music was not necessarily sad, there was an emotional atmosphere that permeated their recordings, drawing the listener deeper in with each spin. The melodies were gentle – almost subtle in their beauty – and the music was warm and embracing. However, the charts called for glossy, big budget production and The Orchids were not the kind of band to let major labels and producers like Stock Aitken & Waterman interfere with their musical vision so they remained independent. Producer Ian Carmichael helped the band achieve their dreams in the studio and The Orchids may not have climbed the charts but they certainly made records that should have. Their UNHOLY SOUL album is certainly one of the finest indie albums released in the last 25 or so years. The many musical journeys that it takes should have shaken the ‘Twee’ tag for good. And bringing in the soaring vocals of Pauline Hynds added even more depth to the band’s sound

The band split in the mid-‘90s after three albums and a slew of singles but reunited a decade later, releasing three more fantastic albums. Thirty years since they first formed, Cherry Red Records has decided to honor the band with a two CD collection entitled WHO NEEDS TOMORROW: A 30 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE. The first disc collects singles and other favorites spanning their entire career while Disc Two is chock full of rarities including a brand-new version of “Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink,” which was specially recorded for this collection. If you love melodic, atmospheric, wistful, heartfelt guitar Pop that falls somewhere between the ramshackle sound of early Orange Juice and the lush beauty of Aztec Camera, then this is a band that you really need to hear.  Let this be your gateway release…

Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to toss a few questions over to the band in Scotland and drummer Chris Quinn graciously took time to answer them…



SPAZ: WHO NEEDS TOMORROW: A 30 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE has just been released.  How are you feeling about the way the project turned out?
CHRIS QUINN: Very excited. We love the compilation and believe it’s a great way to mark the 30th anniversary of our first physical release in 1987. We are also very proud to be working with such a legendary label in Cherry Red.

SPAZ: You have quite a back catalog filled with albums, EPs and singles. Was it difficult to choose the songs that eventually made WHO NEEDS TOMORROW?
CHRIS: Extremely difficult. We tend to be very democratic as a band and that made it take a long time to select what was going to be on the collection. There were lots of debates but the label wanted all of the singles represented, so that gave us something to build around. Even though the compilation is complete, we are still arguing about omissions today. My 18 year old son is not happy that “Beautiful Liar” doesn’t feature and “Sadness of Sex (Part 1)” isn’t on there and a few of us wanted that featured. This shows how difficult it was. We are waiting to get a hard time from some of our fans on why this song or that song doesn’t feature but that would be the case no matter what songs made it onto the final list. It was also a lot of fun choosing the tracks for the rarities disc and we listened to and reminisced over recordings we hadn’t heard in many years.



SPAZ: The band has been referred to as ‘twee’ thanks to your association with Sarah Records. However, the band has always been much more than that. You’ve incorporated everything from Dance Music to Electronica into your sound. How do you see the band in terms of ‘genre’? 
CHRIS: When people who haven’t heard us find out we are in a band, they’ll ask “what type of stuff do you do” and that is a difficult question to answer. I usually say it’s Pop music. Sometimes it would be easier to compare us to more mainstream Pop acts than pure indie. We are grateful for being part of the whole Sarah Records scene but I think we didn’t always satisfy the purists by doing some of the stuff we released. It’s important not to be constrained by things when you are creating music. We have a lot of different influences and these have all crept in over the years so that you never quite know what to expect from us. That keeps it exciting and fresh.

SPAZ: Weren’t bands referred to as ‘twee’ often times because of their low-budget production? Was ‘twee’ just a label thrown at The Orchids because journalists couldn’t figure out what The Orchids were about, musically?
CHRIS: That word has been talked about a lot. It’s a lazy unrepresentative description and plenty of people, including John Cavanagh on the new album sleevenotes, have pointed out that The Orchids are so far away from that tag.

SPAZ: The Orchids’ songs are most certainly well-structured Pop nuggets yet they have an ethereal atmosphere to them. Who were the band’s chief musical influences? There seems to be a lot going on beneath the haunting, enchanting melodies.
CHRIS: The original advert from 1985 when we advertised for a vocalist (I’d love to still have a copy of that) cited influences such as REM, Aztec Camera, The Go-Betweens, The Beatles, Prefab Sprout, as well as others. We all have lots of musical tastes individually but there is also a lot of crossover of stuff that we’ll all like. I think you can hear influences from almost every decade since the ‘60s and all of the members of the group bring different ideas and influences to the songs, so it leads to a lot of diversity in the songs. John (Scally) is known within the group for coming up with some crazy samples to add to songs and we like fitting these in!


SPAZ: Was there a formula in regards to songwriting and arranging?  Or did it vary from song to song?
CHRIS: There is certainly no formula and each release has always had its own unique way of bringing together the songs that were eventually released. For instance, the first mini album had pretty much been written and constructed through rehearsals and playing live before it was recorded but the next, UNHOLY SOUL, was a mixture of songs like that alongside others that took different directions once brought into the studio and some that were created once in there. We’d often all be there throughout the whole recording process and that led to a lot of ideas feeding off each other. The third album, STRIVING FOR THE LAZY PERFECTION, was recorded over 18 months and the first part was with the original line up, the second part was completed once Ronnie Borland joined on bass in 1993. The next three have all been different too. GOOD TO BE A STRANGER in 2007 returned to the written, rehearsed model and included songs we’d been writing since we got back together in 2004.

SPAZ: The band quickly progressed with each release.  Was this because you became more comfortable in the studio or was it because the band was playing live more and honing their chops?
CHRIS: I’m not so sure it was ever quick – our albums came out in 1988, 1991, 1994, 2006, 2011 and 2014 so each one took a long time to create! We definitely became more comfortable in the studio and Ian Carmichael at Toad Hall really helped with that. I think we became more confident working together in rehearsals too. Our last two albums were self-recorded and that made the writing and recording different again – we weren’t always together all the way through those recordings and would often be recording our own parts then feeding back to each other online, which wouldn’t have been possible for the earlier records.

SPAZ: One of the first epic Orchids track was “It’s Only Obvious” (the chorus gives this compilation it’s title). Were there songs that you realized were pretty special when you were recording them?
CHRIS: I think when UNHOLY SOUL was finished late in 1990, early 1991 there was a “we’ve created something special here” moment when we held a party in the studio for invited guests to hear the complete album. Songs like “Peaches” and then later “A Kind of Eden” and “The Girl And The Soldier” had that effect too. We rehearsed a lot in a bedroom in Penilee in the early days and there were songs that stood out then. We ditched a lot of songs because they weren’t up to those standards. We knew “It’s Only Obvious” was a good song at the time too – very summery and bright. It’s hard to answer that question, since you like all of them and have invested a lot of time and effort in then and it’s difficult to say one song is better than another – they are just different. We had a song called “Forevermore” early on that really stood out as the best we’d created at the time, and we’d play it as the last song in our sets but even that was dropped eventually for better songs. At that time we were still all learning to play our instruments so to construct something that felt and sounded good was very exciting. That excitement still doesn’t go away even after all these years.

SPAZ: While your album LYCEUM (1989) was an impressive collection of finely constructed Pop songs, your 1991 sophomore album UNHOLY SOUL was a huge step forward from the band. Did you realize while recording the album that you were moving well beyond the sound and style of the debut?
CHRIS: Definitely. There was just more confidence in the writing and recording and much more variation in the songs. We are still proud of that album being referred to as “Sarah Records answer to the Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS”. We were very happy at what we were doing at that time.


SPAZ: STRIVING FOR THE LAZY PERFECTION came along in 1994 and added a slightly experimental edge to some of the tracks.  Were you trying to find a new direction or just build on what you did with UNHOLY SOUL?
CHRIS: Some additional influences were coming into the band at that point. As I’ve already said, it was constructed in two different time periods. At one point, we were writing songs rehearsing in a factory so we didn’t just have three hour rehearsals and this allowed us more time to try different things out. Once in the studio, some of the ‘90s’ Dance influence was coming more into the songs. Although UNHOLY SOUL has diversity, it is more marked on STRIVING… because of the longer time spent on the songs, the longer time it took to create and because of the new influences coming on board.

SPAZ: The band split up after the STRIVING… album. Did you feel that you had taken the band as far as you could at the time?
CHRIS: There were a few things happening at the time that led to us taking a break at that point. The STRIVING… album was taking off and there was a feeling we’d outgrown the record label (I think that was mutual from the band and the label). Our live audiences were getting bigger, we’d be doing proper radio interviews and sessions to promote it, talking to people about having a proper manager and being invited to do things like Sound City in Glasgow. Opportunities were starting to arise that hadn’t been there in the past. We had a serious motorway crash in our van early in 1994 and that took the wind out of sails a little. We’d then been booked to do a European tour and just before it James (Hackett) broke his leg playing football and we had to cancel it. Added to that, we’d started to argue and fight a bit more internally and all of this just led to it not being fun anymore. We were also growing up and jobs and relationships were starting to happen – before we’d just all been going along without a care in the world having fun with your pals, amazed that more and more people actually wanted to buy your records and come see you live. When we started out we just wanted to release a single and after we achieved that, we never really adjusted our objectives or masterplan so just went along with whatever was going to happen next. In that context, it wasn’t difficult to just say that we were going to take a break, we just kind of drifted after a rehearsal one night. We never had a conversation about splitting up, it was just a case of no-one ever booked the next rehearsal.

SPAZ: Thirteen years later, the band reunited and released the glorious GOOD TO BE A STRANGER album. What instigated the band’s reunion?
CHRIS: Lots of drunken conversations reminiscing about the tours, records, people we’d met. Each time we’d say we were definitely going to go back into rehearsals then sobered up the next day and didn’t do it. In 2003, I was made redundant and found he had some time on his hands. He used this to persuade the John, James and Ronnie to get back together again and we recruited a new guitarist, Keith (Sharp). We eventually managed to get back into the studio to write brand new songs, without any plan about what we were going to do with them. In 2005 were contacted by LTM about re-releasing the back catalogue and this also galvanized the effort to take forward the new stuff, find a label and actually create what became GOOD TO BE A STRANGER.



SPAZ: You’ve released two albums since then – THE LOST STAR (2010) and BEATITUDE#9 (2014) – and you still remain one of Scotland’s finest outfits. How do you compare this trio albums during the second phase of your career to your original trio of albums?
CHRIS: Wow, that’s some compliment given the long list of amazing bands to have come out of Scotland! Thanks Many of those bands from Scotland directly influenced us, especially with the motivation and desire to start the band. We are very proud of all of the albums. We felt GOOD TO BE A STRANGER had some great songs, but perhaps wasn’t as strong as a whole as some of our older albums but we were still very happy with it. THE LOST STAR was much better and contains some of our strongest work ever and BEATITUDE#9 is also a great record. As we love them all, it’s hard to compare them. We’d need to do a poll of fans who don’t have the vested interest of having created them. It’s a bit like a parent being asked to compare their children! We love them all but just in different ways and because of different things.

SPAZ: Is it easier now working with your bandmates than it was back in the ‘90s now that you are all older and more experienced?
CHRIS: Yes, but now the arguments just happen online instead of in the pub!


SPAZ: The Orchids recently celebrated their 30th Anniversary. Are you amazed that the band has lasted this long?
CHRIS: Yes, and no. We were always just pals first and foremost, so the longevity is helped by that. The ‘no masterplan/just enjoy it’ objective has also helped to make it last. We were having a discussion about that whilst walking back to our hotel in Preston in February this year after a sound check – i.e. if I’d said thirty years ago we’d still be doing this and find ourselves playing for the first time in Preston in 2017, you’d have said I was crazy, but here we were in 2017 doing just that! We are amazed and grateful that people still want to hear our records and see us live (on the rare occasions that we do live shows!). That is the bit you can’t factor and we know we have a huge debt to the fans who have supported us in any way over the 30 years.

SPAZ: What’s next for The Orchids?
CHRIS: We are excited about playing Shiine On Festival at Minehead in November (which has a fantastic line up and a long list of bands that we want to see at it). We are looking at some launch events for the WHO NEEDS TOMORROW retrospective. Hopefully more gigs in 2018 and will start writing and recording our seventh album, although I did say that same thing in an interview last year! It’s always just been about having fun and we’re still having it!

SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD and record players?
CHRIS: Neon Waltz – STRANGE HYMNS, Daniel Wylie – SCENERY FOR DREAMERS, Pronto Mama – ANY JOY, The Wild Swans – THE COLDEST WINTER FOR A HUNDRED YEARS, Bonobo, Elvis, Nadia Reid, Aldous Harding…

Thanks to Chris Quinn
Special thanks to John Scally and Matthew Ingham
Even more thanks to James Hackett, Matthew Drummond, Ronnie Borland and Keith Sharp



THE ORCHIDS

WHO NEEDS TOMORROW: 
A 30 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE


Available NOW!

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