Gigs, eh? They’re like the proverbial buses – noisy, smelly and with some sweary chap up the back swigging from a bottle of Merrydown. Where was I? Ah, yes – a bit of poor scheduling on my part means this week will be a bit heavy on the promotional content, despite the fact that a very special birthday coming up is going to stop me getting to any of them. But I’ve been told off for giving enough away on that count already…
First up is Little Doses, who are curating a great little line-up through at the Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on Saturday night. Founded by ex-Snow Patrol bassist Mark McLelland, with contributions from former members of the much-missed Kays Lavelle and Degrassi, this is a band that has learned its lessons and is looking to retain its independence and creative control while befriending “likeminded independent souls” along the way. Mark was good enough to answer some questions for us before the show.
Who’s in the band, and how did you get together?
I play bass and write the tunes. Kirsten Ross has been in my life for ten years and is an awesome singer; she was there when I wrote the songs and is as intimately connected to them as I am – she is the perfect voice for Little Doses.
I met Michael Branagh when I went to see Degrassi playing at Alan McGee’s Death Disco club in Notting Hill. We were staying at the Columbia Hotel at that time and they came back for more than a few drinks. We got on well – I had half-known the guys from playing around Edinburgh. When I decided I was going to take Little Doses from demo tape to fully-fledged band, I went straight to him.
We then went through various guitarists which was frustrating for us; any time we seemed to be getting anywhere the guitarist would leave, we would have to cancel six months of gigs and go back to square one. We were auditioning for one guitarist and we found two that we really liked so we expanded to a five-piece and that was a really great decision for us.
Chris Alderson had a great understanding of our sound from that first audition, everything that came out of his amp fitted – I guess we have a lot of influences in common. Mike Skinner was totally different with almost no musical influences in common but it somehow worked: he’s very talented and can range across many styles of music. He’s a great counterpoint to Chris’ layers of noise.
Three words to describe your sound…
Rock Riot Soul. [Curiously also the name of the album the band have recently recorded, and are hoping to release later in the year!]
What influences you?
I am ruthless about bands that I fall in love with. I find albums that seem to me to be perfect in every way and obsess on them. I hate this concept that has grown up – write three singles, put them as the first three songs on the album and the rest is filler. I don’t have any respect for that. I guess with the iTunes era, nobody buys albums anymore, but I do, and I’m driven to create albums rather than singles.
Bands who have made perfect albums in my eyes, albums that I just can’t stop listening to are Deus (The Ideal Crash), Spiritualised (Ladies and Gentlemen…), Sparklehorse (VivaDixie… and most of his other work), Grant Lee Buffalo, the Afghan Whigs, Led Zepplin 1-4… I could go on, but most recently the Arcade Fire and the Raconteurs been huge for myself and Kirsten.
The Raconteurs were a huge influence, like Sparklehorse and Grant Lee Buffalo, because they produced their own records which makes them flawed and unconventional-sounding but more powerful as a result. It’s a sound a musician recognises from playing on stage – it’s not been sanitised for mass consumption. They were hugely inspirational for me during the recording of our first record, Rock Riot Soul, as that was the approach I wanted to take. When things seemed impossible and we felt all the doubt creeping in during making the record, I’d stick either of the Raconteurs albums on and try to re-energise.
I love the whole recording process, but it was a steep learning curve filling in all the technical gaps you take for granted in a studio situation. So many jobs to master, write, play, engineer and produce and it nearly broke me; but it gave us freedom that was impossible under any other approach and I felt that more than compensated for the pain. Anyway, albums are meant to be a struggle and I love a challenge. It was a really unifying experience for the band, it really solidified our sound and it’s something we are all very proud of. The demos we’d tried in a few of the studios just felt rushed and uninspiring to me. We had been rehearsing acoustically in the lounge in mine and Kirsten’s flat and everyone had commented on how good it sounded in that room. So a plan formed – I bought some extra equipment from my demo set up and we waited for my neighbours to go on holiday and we started recording what became our first album.
What releases/shows do you have planned at the moment?
We have a show coming up in Caberet Voltaire on the 18th June: also playing with us are Death Trap City, an awesome Edinburgh band featuring one of our ex guitarists – Rich Beeby who also played cello and guitar on our record. F.O Machete from Glasgow were initially on the bill but they’re having line up issues and have had to pull out. [It has just been announced that singer-songwriter Dan Lyth will complete the line-up.] After that we are playing in the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on 16th uly with Figure 5.
We’ve just finished our debut album and recently got it mastered at Fluid Mastering in London. We are finalising the artwork and then will take steps to release it later this year. These things take time and it’s not something I want to rush after all the work we’ve put in so far – maybe a single off the album before then.
You’re all veterans of other bands, big and small – what lessons have you learned, and how are you doing things differently this time around?
Big lessons are: love what you do, do what you love and stay true to the music. I love playing gigs, recording and making music, that’s your focus – everything else will either come or not. The music industry is not a meritocracy, the best do not succeed. Every now and then real music somehow makes it through the cracks and makes us all feel sane again. So don’t look to others for validity, look to yourself, otherwise you will likely go mad and quit; then the big bland music business will have won.
I’m not sure I’m concious of doing anything different this time, apart from not seeing a record contract and sales as the be all, end all. It’s a cliche but its the music that matters and the process of creating something beautiful to your eyes, ears and heart.
How do you feel about the current Scottish music scene?
The current Scottish music scene seems very healthy indeed. There is a pride in local bands here with some guys playing huge concerts at home despite not being well known anywhere else – that’s a great thing. That’s life blood for these bands, allowing them to be creative for a day job and make more music. It’s great to have some autonomy from London in this respect.
And what are you listening to at the moment?
Inform the Indie Police because the uncool answer is Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, an awesome sounding record and not the normal pop dross. You can actually hear the instruments playing in the room, it’s not over-compressed and the record really breathes. As a juxtaposition to that I am listening to Queens of the Stone Age literally right at this moment while I type this and before that I was watching a BBC documentary on Queen – so rather eclectic I guess. Closer to home, I just found out about a really interesting band from Dunfermline called Val Verde who sound great, huge sound, great voice who I’ve been listening to, going to try and get them on the same bill as us in the near future.
Little Doses play Cabaret Voltaire on Saturday, 18th June with support from Death Trap City and Dan Lyth. More information at the Facebook event page, and tickets are available for £6 each on Ticketweb.