Sunday, 6 April 2008

Glasvegas interview

Glasvegas frontman James Allan is enjoying a “lovely” pub lunch of lentil soup and steak pie, pondering on why getting a passport is proving so difficult, and amidst all of this, musing on everything from linguistics and Lisa Marie Presley, to air-hockey and Alan McGee. And all the while, James “doesn’t really feel any pressure at all”.

This very special Glasgow-based band have managed to acquire almost universal acclaim (“I think when people believe in you, that’s not something to feel pressurised about”), the complete enthusiasm of a certain Alan McGee (“Alan is so enthused, beyond my mum’s enthusiasm, he keeps phoning at like five in the morning wanting to know what the songs are about and stuff”), and a vinyl demo now selling on eBay for close to £100 (“aye, you know, I hope they don’t spend all their pocket money on it”).

These tips for the top can’t be musically situated much further away from the local counterparts that have enjoyed success over the past few years – there’s no post-post-punk art school angular jerk-pop here. Glasvegas have, excusing the cliché, gone back to basics. The music is personal without being overwrought, anthemic without being contrived, retrogressive without plagiarising, and the wall of sound noise is enough in itself to set the four-piece apart from its peers without even bringing to mind the delicate melodies, the atmospheric textures and the girl-group harmonies.

Glasvegas have all it takes in ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and ‘I’m Gonna Get Stabbed’ - the latter’s focus needing little explanation, and also well worth checking out so long as you don’t mind having it stuck in your head for the next three days – to create festival chants to last. “We got together a few years ago, just pals really – no auditions. The guitar player Rab is my cousin, the bassist Paul I was in the same class at school with, and I met Caroline our drummer in a vintage clothes shop she worked in, in Glasgow.”

So the next step is to find out more out about James’ take on the hype, the monikering of Glasvegas as any of many superlatives to come out of Scotland since The Jesus and Mary Chain. “The thing is,” he pauses before coming across all too conscious of the industry he must embrace yet beware of, “at the beginning it’d be difficult to tell us that we’re gonna make it or essentially for people to write good reviews. Or for people to write shit reviews and say we’re never gonna make it and for us to be disappointed and heartbroken.” Whilst his words are wise, it doesn’t mean that the comparisons haven’t happened, as Glasvegas have been described as everything from ‘The Ronettes go indie’ to ‘nu-C86’, as well as inducing inevitable mention of Phil Spector originating from James’ own admiration of the musical legend alongside the ever-present use of echo. The truth of the matter is that the more diverse the descriptions become, the more clear it becomes that “we just sound like Glasvegas - it’s a difficult thing and it’s always up to other people to put their own take on it as opposed to me.”

James describes Alan McGee as anything from “a pal”, to “a fan”, to “the Malcolm McLaren or the Tony Wilson of our generation”. But he continues to take the plaudits not just in his stride, instead focusing on the long-term: “I’d like to think we’d be inspiring people into doing music, but this could be our only album though hopefully not. I’d like to think we’d all still be together in five years. That’s the biggest thing really.”

Borderline muso tête-à-tête is interspersed with little anecdotes about professional air-hockey. If he wasn’t doing Glasvegas, he broods over whether he could actually be anything else, eventually coming to the conclusion that he’d go pro air-hockey, “have a leather case and travel the world meeting everybody”. Is this because he’s so sure that Glasvegas is the place to be? Or is it really because of some strange, long-term ambition? Who can tell, but either way, he’s certainly humbled by the fact that people would even care for his opinions. And then, running on that theme, arrives the almost blasé mention of the time he met Lisa-Marie Presley: “Aye, it was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant night and she told some amazing stories. We just had a really good time, and we spoke about music and other stuff. When we go to America we’re gonna tour [in March] and she’ll be around – we’re gonna have a drink.”

Gigwise and James proceed to swap tales of recent musical finds, with one side of the exchange (hint: not James) rambling incessantly about some obscure Chicago-based math rock, but at the same time realising that this interviewee is far from bored. As well as proving himself clued-up and analytical, he also has a genuine interest in what other people have to say in order for him to broaden his apparatus. On the point that Glasvegas are continually being compared to all sorts of contemporaries, James offers that “whoever the band may be, like some I hadn’t even heard of, I check them out - ironically you find out for yourself.” He then mentions the fact that the ‘Edward Scissorhands’ soundtrack is a huge inspiration to him, in a quasi-apologetic way, as if was something completely unexpected. After the revelation about air-hockey, it’s clear that not only musically, but personally, the Glasvegas frontman is diverse and well-informed more than the requisite.

As we seamlessly move between topics, the conversation somehow makes its way to regional accents, and whether it’s strange that a fuss is being made out of James’ stark Glaswegian vocal hue. “I don’t really know what other options I have! I guess the other one is American… but we’re from Glasgow, that’s why we’re called Glasvegas. I think everybody should just do what they feel comfortable with. I think if I tried an American accent it’d probably sound really bad. I’ve never found it a big deal myself, it’s only other people that have. If I sing a Frank Sinatra song, I don’t sing it in a Glaswegian accent. If I sing Elvis, I sing like Elvis do you know what I mean? A Glasvegas song I just sing it like me. And the thing is that when other people sing Glasvegas songs they’ll be singing it like me.” “When we go and play Liverpool”, he continues, on a roll now, “they’ll sing it in a half Scouse, half Glaswegian accent, which is really mad. It’s cool for us as a band because if you were singing Johnny Cash you’d probably do a little bit of Johnny Cash.”

After speaking to James on so many things, nothing much more can be added, only rehearsal of the fact that he seems ready for the onslaught, whatever shape it shall take, and in his own unique way. And what Glasvegas in fact sound like is “up to you”, though it’s objective fact (perhaps optimistically so, or in the eyes are ears of anyone with any rationality) that they’re pretty bloody comfortable in themselves, possess a melange of sublime tunes, and have all it takes to indeed become what the hype suggests. We awaited their future with baited breath.

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