Wednesday, November 8, 2017

CO-PILGRIM: Introducing The Band

     England’s Co-Pilgrim is a band that is quite hard to categorize. While they are certainly influenced by some of Rock’s greatest bands of the 1960s through the 2010’s, they avoid sounding like any of them. With songs that range from wistful Folk to spacey Psych Rock, they have forged a path that is undeniably their own. At times, they sound like a Velvet Underground-influenced Lilac Time but then they switch gears and go into melodic Pink Floyd mode, allowing their gentle melodies to float out into space. And boy, their melodies are gob-smackingly good! Co-Pilgrim are not the latest ‘flavor of the month’ act but over the course of four albums in as many years, they have proven that they are worthy of your attention.

     While many modern bands are content to mine the Radiohead and Coldplay back catalogs for inspiration, Co-Pilgrim leader Mike Gale avoids any such temptation and focuses on creating something special. If the band had existed 25-30 years ago, they could have easily signed to the Creation or Sarah labels. But make no mistake – they are far from Twee, Shoegaze or Britpop regurgitators. Co-Pilgrim occupy a space inside and outside of those genres without being blatantly retro or relying on the typical Rock tropes to get their musical point across. Pop hooks make up a huge part of Co-Pilgrim’s catalog but they are more reserved and airy, unsure whether to take the form of an earworm or a heartbeat. Many of their songs can be quite beautiful while others swirl around your head like army ants off to a battle.

     MOON LAGOON is the band’s fourth long-player (not to mention Gale’s solo releases) and is a wonderful addition to a catalog that just gets more impressive as time rolls on. Gale is once again joined by multi-instrumentalist (and Farm Music head) Joe Bennett and a cast of friends and bandmates. While the album does have dark undertones that creep within the grooves, the music is hopeful, emotional and adventurous. And if you are looking for melodies, Gale offers up a mess of them here. ‘You’ll Look Pretty As A Picture When The Acid Rain Hits Ya’ is one of the best things they’ve ever done, tackling a few different moods and styles in just under five minutes. “Digging Holes in the Whites of Your Eyes” conjures up the spirit of ‘70s Pink Floyd without having to resort to using their rulebook. “Wouldn’t You Like To Dance” could have made the shortlist for the legendary C86 compilation. “Turn It Around” and the album’s title track are playful, edgy rockers with great hooks and some strategically placed harmonies. “I’m Not A Wallflower, I’m The Wall” is pure Pop that would make Lawrence Hayward (Felt/Denim/Go Kart Mozart) proud. To make a long paragraph slightly longer, MOON LAGOON is ace.

     Stephen SPAZ Schnee reached out to Mike Gale, who graciously took time away from prepping his latest solo album to answer some questions about Co-Pilgrim and MOON LAGOON

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourself!
MIKE GALE: Hi, I’m Mike, I write songs and sing them.

SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
MIKE: MOON LAGOON is it’s name and it’s a journey through time and space in search of a mythical utopia.

SPAZ: Which song off the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the
band is all about, musically?
MIKE: For me, that would be ‘You’ll Look Pretty As A Picture When The Acid Rain Hits Ya’. It’s rocking,
spacey, trippy, has some nice harmonies and is a little bit funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt work together well?
MIKE: We definitely approached it as a whole piece of work, as we do with all of our albums. I tend to write songs quickly and in a burst, so they are all related through whatever experiences I’m having at the time.

SPAZ: When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like or did it come together organically?
MIKE: With MOON LAGOON, more than any of our other albums, I actually had quite a clear idea of what I wanted things to sound like. That’s not to say that Joe and I didn’t have our usual amount of collaboration in the studio, just that I had more of a definite direction I wanted the songs to go in.

SPAZ: As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
MIKE: Well, we’ve all been working together for so long now that studio collaboration is second nature. It’s very, very rare that anyone gets upset about anything to the point it becomes a problem. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with Joe. He instinctively knows the direction I’d like things to go and understands my non-muso attempts to explain things. I’d hate to be so precious that I didn’t allow any input from the rest of the band. Collaborating with Joe, Andy, Mike and Claire in the studio is so important, exciting and always rewarding.

SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world. Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
MIKE: I’m very much always looking to the future and recording the next album. Hanging around trying to make one album perfect sounds like hell to me and usually results in losing the true essence of the album anyway. It’s kind of amazing how often little mistakes are actually magic. I wouldn’t change a thing, once it’s done, it’s done….time to move on.

SPAZ: Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well. Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
MIKE: The usual suspects I guess like The Beach Boys, Guided by Voices, Sparklehorse, Yo la Tengo. I feel that this album was less influence heavy than previous albums. It felt like we were just sailing blind at some points with no references and that was exciting and a bit scary.

SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
MIKE: Yeah, the movie TURBO KID inspired ‘You’ll Look Pretty As A Picture When The Acid Rain Hits Ya’. I’m also a big fan of the Sci-fi author Clifford D Simak, his influence is all over the album lyrically.

SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
MIKE: I always think we’re making something special but a particular highlight would be sitting in a smoky studio with Joe, in the early hours, listening back to ‘Cylindrical Fire Escapes.’

SPAZ: What is next for the band?
MIKE: Back into the studio to record the next album.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
MIKE: I’m completely obsessed with hip-hop artist MF DOOM at the moment. Can’t see that changing anytime soon.

Thanks to Mike Gale

Special thanks to Joe Bennett

1 comment:

Barry Gutman said...

Co-Pilgrim are terrific. I also really love Joe Bennett's band (with brother Robin), The Dreaming Spires -- really LUV them!