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Cartesian Jetstream interview with Simon Kilgannon

I’ve been listening to music long enough at this point that I can remember when, as an American, I felt extremely alienated from any imported release.  Anything that wasn’t made here on American soil, felt somehow illusive and out of reach.  The internet has changed all that though, the walls and boundaries tumbling down exposing a whole new world of music to me, and the rest of the world.  Cartesian Jetstream are a prime example of what you can find; a perfect combination of modern garage rock and snarling UK punk swagger.  From the opening song “My Captain” it becomes obvious that Cartesian Jetstream doesn’t pigeonhole themselves or worry about constraining themselves with genres or imitation.  Soaring builds and guttural drop outs lead the listener on a pleasantly explorative, at times loud and brash, and others quiet and contemplative, journey through the mindscape of Cartesian Jetstream.  It’s not just genre either though, it’s honestly difficult to tell where they’re from when you listen to their music, and I love it.  It’s refreshing to hear a band doing what they want to do and no one else, seemingly unaffected by what’s going on around them.  Take some time with me as I explore the strange and twisted world of Cartesian Jetstream with our guide the ever talented lead singer and guitarist Simon Kilgannon. Click on the link below for some music and read the interview for everything else wink, wink, nudge nudge…

What’s Cartesian Jetstream’s current lineup?  Is this your original lineup or have there been some changes over time with the band?

We are Ben Scott – drums, Philip Bell-Scott – bass and Simon Kilgannon – guitar and vocals.  That has been our lineup as long as we have been a proper band.

Are any of you in any other bands or have you released any material with anyone else?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Ben played in a couple of bands as a teenager and Phil used to be in a death/thrash metal band back in the day.  I spent years messing round with 4-tracks, guitars, samplers and sequencers and it was all pretty terrible but I guess that’s how you learn.

Where are you originally from?

I am originally from just outside Liverpool, Ben is from Birmingham and Phil is Isle of Man born and bred.

Was your home musical growing up?  Were your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved/interested in music?

I don’t think any of us are from particularly musical backgrounds but my parents were pretty young and like beatniks so I was exposed to lots of great music from an early age, although they also played the Eagles sometimes.  So nothing is perfect.

What was your first real exposure to music?

My folks used to have a red Volkswagen Beetle and I remember lying on the back seat for hours while they played loads of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, always Leonard.  Thing was I loved it because  so many of those songs are like stories or picture books, full of imagery and ideas and characters.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?  Why was that?

I have been kind of obsessed with music since I can remember.  Who knows why?  I think one of the main things that pushes you to make your own music is when there isn’t enough music around that is exactly what you want to hear.  Like, I want to hear a whole album like “Rain” by the Beatles, not just one measly track.

When and how did you all originally meet?

I was one of the two people who interviewed Ben for a job, exciting office IT stuff!  The fact that he mentioned he played the drums has nothing to do with him getting the job.  Ben and I played casually with a few people for years and then Phil just seemed to turn up as a gift from the lord and immediately learned all our songs and we were off.

What led to the formation of Cartesian Jetstream and when was that?

Back in 2010 I turned my garage into a magical rehearsal space and as a result we ran out of excuses not to play, practice and try to get good.

What does the name Cartesian Jetstream mean or refer to?  How did you go about choosing the name?

I grew up loving all those 60’s Nuggets bands like the 13th Floor Elevators as well as the bands from the 80’s who followed that up, like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.  The actual name is from a Lester Bangs article where he reviewed all these Count Five albums that never actually existed, he just dreamt them up.  I think Cartesian Jetstream was supposed to be their third album.  It’s a great piece and I love the idea of imaginary albums.  I’d quite like us to be a semi-imaginary band, maybe we’ll achieve that one day.

Where’s the band currently located?

We’re located in the Isle of Man, the deep south of the Isle of Man to be more precise.  It’s really not that deep though.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

There are people doing cool things but the scene is quite small and fragmented.  There are less than eighty thousand people on the whole island and they are spread across six or seven towns, villages and fields.

Are you very involved with the local scene where you are at now?

There are lots of nice people and bands who help us put on gigs, play gigs with us and come out to see us but I’m not sure if I could say I’m involved in a scene, I’m too much of an awkward outsider who wants to be off doing his own thing in a corner somewhere.  Ben & Phil are nodding vigorously at this point.

Has the local scene played a large role in the history, sound or evolution of Cartesian Jetstream?

I think strangely the lack of a thriving scene has helped us develop our own odd little thing at our own pace.  If we had been back in Liverpool I don’t think we’d have got off the starting blocks, there are way too many cool people.  Think I would have thrown myself in the River Mersey.

I love talking to musicians, I love talking about music and I especially like listening to music.  What I don’t like to do is label or classify people’s music.  I’m not that great at it to begin with and I just don’t think that these tidy labels and classifications are applicable all the time.  How would you describe your sound to our readers that might not have heard you before?

I came up with the label post-psychedelic; it was only partly a wise-ass comment on everything being post-punk, post-rock, etcetera.  Although I love proper full-on psychedelic music we’re trying to do something a bit different.  The idea is to be just noisy and weird enough that people who like freaky sounds can tolerate us as a break from their deranged psych and we’re just poppy and tuneful enough that people who like more normal stuff aren’t totally terrified and run away screaming.  There are loads of awesome noisy, freaky heavy bands out there but it can also be too easy to create a wall of effects-laden fuzz and convince yourself it’s godly.  I wanted to try and write weird pop music.  I think that’s why I love stuff where the weirdness is only apparent when you look more closely the most, like the Beatles, early Pink Floyd, Bowie, even later stuff like the Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen.  We also try to make it so you can dance to nearly all our stuff, you see too many bands at gigs plodding along like they’ve forgotten that stuff is meant to be groovy too.

What about some of your musical influences?  I can hear a lot of different stuff rattling around in your music and a lot of it seems like it falls outside of the realm of what most people would expect.  Can you tell us who some of your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than individually?

Nobody knows what Phil’s influences are, other than his intergalactic masters.  He’s the ultimate enigmatic bass player.  Ben and I share similar tastes, although he claims to hate the Beatles and if we ever make any money we will be sending him to a special Swiss clinic to have that fixed.  I think we dig all the stuff that your average music nerd digs, Krautrock, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Grateful Dead, Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Funkadelic, Miles Davis, Television, Love, Gong, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, REM, The Stooges, Prince, VU, Galaxie 500, Mutantes, Talk Talk, Echo & the Bunnymen and the 13th Floor Elevators; all the usual suspects.  The thing interesting thing about influences is that if I had managed to make a record five or ten years ago it would have been much more obviously influenced by whichever of the above I was currently digging the most, but I think now it’s all been mashed down like bugs and jungle to make a less recognizable sludge of influences.  One of my favourite records ever is Up On the Sun by the Meat Puppets, and one of the many great things about that album is that you can’t really tell from listening to it exactly what they have been listening to.  Even now, years later, I will hear a little phrase or sound in Yes or Rush or Talking Heads and suddenly realise that they heard that at some point and it went into the big mixing bowl and popped up in mutated form on their record.

Can you tell us about Cartesian Jetstream’s songwriting process?  Does someone approach the rest of the band with a riff or more finished product to work out and compose with the rest of you or is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas during practice?

I am a terrible control freak, so I generally record solo demos with words and music.  Then when we rehearse we can all fiddle with bits that don’t work and Ben and Phil bring their own feel and personalities to the music.  The quote that l live by is one from Johnny Cash about your limitations defining your music, I think you can get more interesting stuff that way.  I don’t think any sensible bass player would come up with the bass line to “Vatican City” but I love how it sounds.   As far as jamming goes I think it is harder to jam stuff as a three-piece unless you are all totally killer musician, and I’m certainly not.

Do you all enjoy getting into the studio to record?  I think most musicians can obviously appreciate the end result, there’s not a lot in the world that beats holding an album knowing that it’s yours and you made it.  Getting into the studio can be a little stressful to say the least.  How is it in the studio for you all?

We thought we were really prepared going into the studio but after the engineer and producer had spent five hours setting up microphones and taping wires to the floor we got a bit freaked out, it was ok the next day though.

Does Cartesian Jetstream do a lot of preparatory work before you head into the studio to record or is it more of an organic experience where there’s room for variation?

I’m not confident or wealthy enough to turn up at the studio without a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do.  You certainly want to have the song pretty nailed, although it can be cool coming up with little extra guitar bits or backing vocal stuff.  You read all these books about bands in the 70’s spending months noodling and       fiddling in the studio, basically playing around.  That would be heaven.  Maybe one day.

Let’s take some time and talk about your recordings for a second.  Your first album was the recent Sleep Over.  What are your memories of recording that album?  Was it a positive and or pleasant experience for you all?

The recording was great.  It was our first time in a proper studio and the people there were really pleasant and tolerant of us running around like excited seven year-olds on a school trip, crawling round under the recording console, licking equipment, etcetera.  Due to our own inexperience and naiveté we ended up messing around longer with mixing and mastering then we should have but now we know how everything works so it was a really good education.  I got a B-.

When was the material for Sleep Over recorded?  Who recorded it and where?  What kind of equipment was used in the recording?

The basic tracks were recorded at the Chairworks Studio in the UK.  They have lots of very nice analogue equipment, like Abbey Road style compressors, and a nice live room.  There are a few pictures of that stuff on our website.  We then came back to a small studio on the Island to do all the vocal and guitar overdubs and then went back to the Chairworks to do the mixing, where I eventually learned the art of not turning everything up to be louder than everything else.

I know that Sleep Over is getting ready to come out extremely soon, you are actually just waiting on CDs while I write this.  Who’s putting that album out?  Is that a limited release?  If so, how many copies?  When is the album scheduled for release?

The album is coming out on September 30th 2013.  It’s on a small Isle of Man label called Ballagroove, they’ve been keeping the flame of independent music burning on the island for years and they are good friends of ours.  We did an initial pressing of 500 CDs and if we manage to sell those we’ll do more.

What can our listeners expect from the Sleep Over album?

Possibly my favourite record ever is Forever Changes by Love, probably one of the finest pieces of art in the 20th century.  So I’m not going to compare our scruffy little record to that one except that the first few times I listened to Forever Changes I liked just a few tracks, and then a couple more and basically you start to get into their headspace and notice how strange and twisted the lyrics are and how the whole thing is ‘of a piece’; it’s more like a place than a record and if nothing else I think we have that.  So basically our record is just like Forever Changes but only about six-percent as good, but then I would take six-percent of Arthur Lee over eight-nine-point-five-percent of most other bands any day.

Does Cartesian Jetstream have any music that we haven’t talked about?

I am about seventy-five-percent done writing the next album but none of the songs are totally finished or set in stone.  In my head it has to be like Led Zeppelin II compared to their first album or Easter Everywhere compared to The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, both of which are basically browner then their predecessor.  People everywhere are looking at me and shaking their heads sadly, but you go and listen to those four albums and it will all make perfect sense.  And, in any case, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Are there any other releases planned or on the horizon following the release of the recent album?

We’ve got a few tracks that we recorded at the same time as the album that we want to put out as a single or an EP in the next few months.  I like the idea of doing a 7” single.  They’re such an archetypal and iconic thing.  If we do one I’m going to put copies in with all the old piles of 7”s at the local charity shops along with all the Perry Como and Doris Day singles, like releasing them back into the wild.  Circle of life.

With the insane international postage rate increases where’s the best place for our U.S. readers to pick up copies of your music?

You can download the album from iTunes and Bandcamp where you can also buy the CD from Bandcamp.  For the CD we’re trying to make the amount we charge for postage as low as possible, it’s still crazy though.  If you live really far away just buy a copy of the CD and burn a copy for your friend or lend it to them.  Somehow that’s much better than just illegally downloading it from somewhere.  When somebody used to tape a record for you and they would handwrite all the song titles, may do a little doodle, nice, personal.

What about our international and overseas readers?

As stated above, pretty much everybody in the world is international and overseas to us.

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news from Cartesian Jetstream like upcoming shows and album releases at?

Our website is probably the best place to go.  We are on Facebook and Twitter but I like having our own website, it feels like it’s more a part of our own little world without all the extra noise and icky stuff you get with Facebook etcetera.

Are there any goals that Cartesian Jetstream is looking to fulfil in 2014?

Regardless of how our first record does I want to get our second record out in 2014.  I feel like we’ve learned so much doing the first one, I want to get this next one absolutely nailed and out there.  I think that unless bands are either totally genius or utter rubbish it can be hard to fully get into their world on the basis of just one album, so it would be nice to have more of us out there.  I also want to get the next record out so I can work out if the third album should be the big commercial sell-out record or the crazy, experimental free-jazz krautrock space-opera.  Of course the ideal solution would be for it to be both.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?  What about next year?

We have a few more local gigs this year, then next year we want to play some interesting gigs away from the island.  It would be great to play at some festivals, get out to Europe or beyond.   We all have jobs and stuff so any touring would have to be instead of a holiday, so ideally we would need to go places that sell ice cream and straw hats.
Do you enjoy touring?  Do you all spend a lot of time on the road?

We’ve never done any real touring.  It’s impossible to spend a long time on the road where we’re from unless you drive round and round in circles.  Maybe we should do that to practice.

Who are some of your personal favorite musicians that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

We’ve mainly played with friends, real proper musicians are freaky and scary with their giant articulated fingers and their weird secret language with the dots and the lines and the squiggles.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live performances that you’d like to share with our readers here?

Our fourth ever gig was at an outdoor summer festival on the Isle of Man.  It rained, it mostly rains here.  So I’d just got a brand new beautiful Vox AC 15 amp, the expensive hand-wired one, and it is cream coloured.  So when they eventually let us in my amp got dumped in some muddy trailer that went off to some demolition derby and was then sat in the mud while we waited to go on stage.  Then as we were sound checking our mate is trying to fix a rip in the marquee roof with gaffer tape as water drips around the amps.  After that the power went out and we stood staring at the crowd for fifteen minutes as half of them got bored and went off to see the Ska band Bad Manners who were playing next door.  So next time we play at a festival we want to be choppered in and out like the Stones at Altamont.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

I reckon it would be cool to tour Europe with the Grateful Dead in 1972, hanging with Jerry and Phil would be fun but a bit mellower than all the groupies and sharks Led Zeppelin type stuff.  Or maybe the Moscow State Ballet, hanging with loads of crazy ballerinas who can only speak broken English, bandaging their toes, darning their stockings, folding their headbands.

With all of the various methods of release available to musicians today I’m always curious why people choose and prefer the particular mediums that they do.  Do you have a favored method of release for your own music?  What about when you are listening to and or buying music?

At the moment we’ve just done a CD with a digital download.  I would love to do vinyl but it’s so expensive and I cleverly managed to make our album just long enough that it would need to be double vinyl.  Thing is, if you are doing vinyl you have to do a gatefold sleeve, that’s almost the entire point of the thing.  You open the sleeve and there’s like acres of space.  You can literally put your whole head in there and then you’re actually inside the album.  And I love those gatefolds like Jefferson Airplane Volunteers where one side is a giant slice of bread with peanut butter and the other is one with jelly on it and then After the Gold Rush, the Doors Soft Parade, lousy album, great gatefold.  Anyhow, saying all that, I still buy mostly CDs now because downloads aren’t real but vinyl is just too inconvenient for day to day stuff.  We at least tried to make our CD look like a little album with the cardboard gatefold sleeve, in some ways it is even better ‘cause you can pretend that it’s an LP and you have turned into a giant; “Ho, Ho, Ho, what is this puny human music?”  It would be cool to release an album in a 4’ by 4’ sleeve so then it would be like you had shrunk!  Your mates come round to your house and you hand them this giant LP, then maybe give them the little CD sleeve, maybe tea from tiny cups, giant spoons…  Nobody comes round to my house much anymore.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

Been collecting since I was a pre-teen.  Lots of vinyl but then I switched to CDs which I’m weirdly ashamed of, but it just meant I could get more music and listen to it more.  I’ve got a few vintage and rare things but I always took the stance that I would rather have three or four reissued LPs in replica sleeves rather than spend the same money on one original 7” from the 60’s.

I’ve got a ton of music at the house.  There’s something about physical music that is almost magical to me.  Having an album to hold in your hands, liner notes to read and artwork to look at.  It provides a rare glimpse into the mind of the artists who created it and, at least for me, make for a more complete listening experience.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Ok, I would go further and say music is not almost magical.  It is magic, full stop.  Magic works best if you have a physical link between the person casting the spell and the target, like a witch stealing a lock of your hair, having a big old LP sleeve with all those pictures and magical symbols and then the big black disc that you can stare into as it spins hypnotically.  A CD’s not quite the same but at least it’s something.  I’m amazed it hasn’t been outlawed.

I love my records, CDs and even my tapes but I cannot deny the ease and portability of digital music.  When I was a kid the idea of making a mixtape was really popular and it seems like they’ve just repackaged and re marketed that idea in the digital era.  The real game changer was the internet and I don’t think any inside the industry saw the threat coming; they had their heads buried way to far underneath the sand for that.  There’s always good and bad in any situation but with digital music at least it seems to be levelling the playing field a little bit for independent artists willing to put in the extra time and effort to promote themselves and keep up an online presence.  On the other hand as I touched on a little bit before, it seems to be destroying what little was left of the music industry; at least as far as we know it.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era what is your opinion on digital music and distribution?

It’s made it easier to get your music heard more widely, we probably wouldn’t be talking to people like yourself if not for the net, but as with the demise of physical copies we’ve lost something.  I like to think it is just a phase.  In the near future we will all be sat around on our hover airbags listening to 5D psychedelic sounds, holding perfect dusty stained gatefold LPs with holograms of the band playing live on the sleeve taking requests.  You could make Neil Young play nothing but “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River” all night, every night.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can and a lot of the best tips that I get come from musicians such as yourself.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

There are a few local bands who look like they might do something interesting but nobody else has really done a proper release yet, we’ll see.

What about nationally and internationally?

That’s too hard knowing that you and your readers are all going to be fairly hard-core music geeks who will probably have heard anything I suggest.  As I drift further into total senility I do find the greatest pleasure in going back to stuff I already love and finding new things to appreciate, details, sounds.  Like for example the 13th Floor Elevators.  I got the box set they did a couple of years ago and became a bit obsessed with the sound of Stacey’s guitar, especially at the start of the live versions of “Reverberation” and that unreleased track “It’s You”, that goes “I don’t ever want to come down”.  And if I’m honest my favorite current band is Thee Oh Sees so I’m kind of a hopeless case.

Thanks so much for doing the interview, is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

Thank you for letting us ramble on.  I could say more but I think I’ve already said way too much.

(2013)  Cartesian Jetstream – Sleep Over – digital, CD – Self-Released (Limited to 500 copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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