Test Card was responsible for the first release on The Slow Music Movement record label so we thought we'd interview him and find out a bit more about the man behind the music. First off press play on his wonderful EP and then get reading.
So Lee first off it's a pleasure to work with you and have you kick start the TSMM record label with a great big super chilled Balearic bang - you've got the label off to a wonderful start.
Thank you very much. I'm very excited to be working with you and The Slow Music Movement.
So let's find out a bit more about you. Perhaps to get things rolling you can tell me a bit about how a young lad from Folkestone got into music and ended up in an Indie band in Preston?
I'm not sure what got me into music. Subliminally it was probably my Dad. He was in a couple of bands as a sailor in the Royal Navy and at home we had an upright piano under the stairs, and a banjo, both of which he played passionately. He and my Mum would often duet on the piano together and I would sit on the stairs and listen intently. As a kid my Dad wanted me to learn the piano but I stupidly rebelled and picked the clarinet. The lessons did not last long. To this day I regret not learning the piano. The clarinet?! What was I thinking (sorry, I mean no disrespect to clarinet players). Then one day I was rummaging arond in my sister's wardrobe and instead of finding Narnia I found an acoustic guitar. I went to the local library and borrowed some Beatles song books and that started my path to learning the guitar. Years later I went to University in Preston and joined the Student Union's Entertainment Committee which was in charge of putting on gigs and club nights. I met a bunch of like-minded people on the committee some of which had recently formed a band called Formula One with ex-Cornershop drummer Dave Chambers. They needed a singer and one day they asked me if I could sing and I said no way and they said great see you tomorrow at 7pm at our rehearsal room!! Needless to say, upon finishing university the prospect of being in a band seemed like an attractive option. Then things really took off. Next thing I know Martin Carr from the Boo Radley's is producing our demo, we're on a UK tour, and we're playing at Reading and Phoenix Festivals.
I was researching your first musical project Formula One and found a reference to you playing the Hacienda in the 90's, were you immeresed in the whole UK rave/Madchester scene at the time or quietly doing your thing on the periphery? If you were raving are there any war stories you'd like to share?
I was still living down south in the late 80's when it was all kicking off up north. Sure I bought baggy jeans like the Happy Mondays, and the Stone Roses debut album is still in my top ten most influential albums of all time, but I never did go to the Hacienda in its heyday of acid and house music. At the time it probably seemed to far to get a train from Folkestone to Manchester!! In fact the only time I did go to the Hacienda was to play that gig which must have been in 1996 or 97. I do remember going to a few raves in random countryside fields in Kent when acid house swept the nation but in all honesty I really didn't get into rave culture that much. It wasn't until I was a university student in Preston in the early 90's when I started going to techno clubs in Manchester, Liverpool, and in particular Leeds, that I really started to appreciate dance music.
Now the only Formula One music that I could find online had you vocalising in Spanish so it seems like you have previous Balearic form! I'd be interested to hear more about that as it was a bold move for a singer from the North West of England back in the day plus I thought everyone in the UK learned French at school! Tell me more.
Ha! Only being able to find one song online goes to prove that we were a pre-internet band!! I don't even think we had an email address. Anyway, my Dad got a job in Spain in 1979 so he took the family with him and we lived in Madrid for three years. I was 10 years old and at that age a person soaks up a new language like a sponge. Besides, if I wanted to hang out with the kids in the neighbourhood then I had to learn Spanish fast. I didn't learn it so that I could be bilingual, I learnt it because I wanted to have friends and play. I have no recollection as to whose idea it was for me to sing that Formula One song in Spanish. It was probably mine, but truth be told I was never really that enamoured with the result, but it ended up being our first single on Kooky Records and John Peel played it on his show whilst commenting positively about the Spanish aspect, so I ended up liking it!
So after Preston it seems that Formula One split and you headed to the stony beaches of Brighton to form a new group Domestic4. Could you tell me a bit about the group and life in Brighton?
Formula One was a six piece band and we all lived in the same house kind of like the Monkees but Deepdale, Preston style! Towards the end of the 90's, for one reason or another, we started to fizzle out. The drummer moved out first, then the bass player moved to Brighton which left four of us who carried on writing songs but instead of drums, bass and guitars, we turned to samplers, loops, analog synths and drum machines. In the meantime our ex-bass player kept telling us how amazing Brighton was so eventually we packed all our gear into a van, got onto the M6, and headed south. We rented a flat, built a small studio, and Domestic4 became an entity. It was more for the love of making music than anything else but over a period of three years we did release a handful of records and CDs on various independent labels. Brighton was buzzing then, probably still is. It had a great music scene, lots of young people, plenty of parties and pubs, and a very liberal, almost bohemian vibe about it. Yeah, it was a good time to live there.
So during these years were you making a full time living from music or were you working on the side?
We were making a living (if you can call it that) when in Formula One and it was helped by the fact that you could get hold of really cheap beer in Preston, but when we moved to Brighton we all ended up getting 9 to 5 jobs to pay the rent and by night we wrote music as Domestic4.
So somehow from Brighton you ended up in Canada, did you take a wrong turn on the M23?
As not to bore your readers, here is the short version.... I eventually got fed up with Brighton, wanted to travel, got a job as an Adventure Travel Tour Leader in Guatemala for one year, ended up backpacking around Central & South America for four years, wound up on a small Mexican island in the Caribbean for two years, got offered a job in Canada, went back to the UK to get a work visa, moved to Canada. Next question!!
There have also been unconfirmed reports of you wearing lumberjack shirts and bare back moose riding. How is life in Vancouver compared to England? Any thoughts of ever going back?
OK, I admit to the lumberjack shirt thing, but bare back moose riding is nothing more than a vicious rumour!! Culturally speaking life here is very different to the UK. I do miss many things; family, friends, pubs, Branston pickle, Marmite, pork pies, and Question Time with David Dimbleby! I will move back to the UK one day that much is true. I just don't when.
It seems like you never stopped making music but there was some downsizing going on from Formula One & Domestic4 to your Future Peasants duo and solo projects Electrohome & laterly Test Card. Is there any reason for this more solitary direction?
I actually took a break from making music for about six years while I was in Latin America. It wasn't until I got to Canada and picked up an acoustic guitar that I started to write songs again, this time under the moniker of Electrohome. I then found out how far technology had advanced since I was last making music so I got myself a decent computer, an audio workstation, and a midi keyboard, and that's how I got back into it. Sure we were using those same technologies in Domestic4 but back then we would spend hours twiddling away on an Akai S3000 sampler trying to piece together loops and samples and working out which channels each sample would come out of or which bus each output had to be assigned to, and there would be leads and cables everywhere, it was crazy! Nowadays it's all drag and drop and presto; perfectly timed, auto-stretched loops by only using a mouse! So instead of hunting around for a band to join or form, I ended up hunkering down at home and worked out that I had everything I needed to be a solo musician. I also think the solitary direction is a direct result of the technology itself. Having access to multi-instruments and sounds means there is no need to be in a band with multi-members because I have all the instruments I need on my computer.
Now you've always been fairly relaxed musically but you seem to be mellowing even further with age, is this your back playing up, a conscious decision or have you got a death metal project I don't know about?
I'm not sure if it was a conscious decision per se. Ever since my techno clubbing days I have always enjoyed listening to ambient/electronica which I think started with a lot of Warp artists such as early Autechre and Speedy J and the Artificial Intelligence series that Warp put out. But over the past 5 years or so I have gravitated towards more drone and neo-classical music. It just seems to push all my buttons at the moment. I also think it goes back to what I was saying earlier about the technology havng a direct effect on the music I make. For now I'm very happy being Test Card but who knows how far I can take it. Having said all that, I am helping to produce a demo for a three-piece band who play traditional Scottish music with a fiddle, double bass and acoustic guitar. It's very uplifitng and worryingly infectious (I mean that in a nice way!) and is almost as far removed as death metal is compared to Test Card!
So the Test Card EP is about to drop and it has a warm, wistful air to it and is perfect for sea gazing in the sunshine and all sorts of relaxed and horizontal activities. Could you tell me a bit about what was going through your head during the making of it?
Recently I've been rewinding my dusty, disintegrating memory tapes to summers of old when I was a young boy kicking a football around with friends in grass-stained jeans late into the summer dusks and then hearing Mum in the distance saying it was time to come in for supper. The sounds, smells, and even the colours seemed so different then. So this EP is dedicated to the memory tapes playing in my head of summers gone by.
One for the geeks and muso's now, where was the music recorded and what type of gear are you using these days?
Everything was recorded at home in Vancouver, Canada. My basic set up is Ableton Live Suite 9, a midi keyboard, and an audio interface. Then I have a Fender Telecaster electric guitar which I tend to record through an Alesis Quadraverb GT, a Seagull acoustic guitar, a Fender bass guitar, a Theremax Theremin, a Zoom H4n Pro for field recordings, and a good handful of VST Analog Synths such as Synth 1, Minimoog V, Podolski, Max Synth Latte, and TAL U-No 62. I strongly recommend to any musician who uses VST's to subscribe to a blog written by Tomislav Zlatic called Bedroom Producers. It has all the latest information about VST's and Tomislav really knows what he's talking about. Take a look https://bedroomproducersblog.com/.
You've lived through some serious changes in the music industry since you started out. You've gone from releasing vinyl on UK labels to the brave new digital world and popping out releases for Japanese, Greek and now Portuguese based labels.
What's your take on where music is at these days - is it working for you? Yes absolutely. Firstly it has allowed me to easily contact and work with record labels regardless of their location, and secondly it has allowed my music to be accessible to anyone, anywhere. For example I know for a fact that the majority of listeners streaming and downloading my music from my Bandcamp page are not located in Canada. The majority are coming from the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Australia, which would never have happened had my releases only been available in a physical format.
So what are your future musical plans? Is Test Card going to see you out or are you still evolving?
Well I never planned to be in an indie band in Preston, and I never thought I would be twiddling knobs on analog keyboards in Brighton, and I never imagined I would be creating droney electronica in Vancouver. I honestly have no idea if this is it or if there's more morphing to be done. Whoever's driving this bus hasn't told me where the next stop is!!
Thanks for your time Lee and thanks once again for the EP, I really couldn't think of a better way to kick off the label.
Thank you James.