The Bad Losers interview
There’s a certain element of both fans and musicians who feel that the Mersey, garage and freakbeat sounds of the mid 60’s were some of the best and most robust around, and with but a bit of tweaking, these modern renditions could stand resoundingly tall, coming across with a bit more strength style and lushness, aspects that were often overlooked when the genre was first laid down.
Jenell: I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me tonight. And I’d like to start by saying that your record has been rocking my turntable for the last couple of weeks.
John: That’s great to hear Jenell … it’s weird to think that an album we put together and recorded in a garden shed is making someone happy halfway across the world!
Jenell: You all certainly stumbled on a moniker, and I have a feeling that there must be an interesting backstory.
John: Not really, we just liked those negative, moody, brattish-sounding names of the US garage bands who were such an influence on us. We thought The Bad Losers fitted the bill nicely.
Jenell: Your music comes across as a group of individuals who where waiting to find each other, how did the band come together? And if you’d take a moment, please introduce your mates and what they play.
John: I got to know Iain (guitar) and Cliff (bass) when they were playing in a covers band, although they were a cover band with a difference as they only played Nuggets and Pebbles classics (Elevators, Third Bardot, Moving Sidewalks, Sonics) which was pretty unusual! I was singing in another band at the time and one day the guys got in touch to ask if I’d cover a few gigs as their vocalist was off traveling for a few months. It was an absolute pleasure for me but I didn’t realize that they were on the verge of splitting up. When they did, Cliff, Iain and I decided to continue but only on the condition that we ditched the covers and try and write our own songs which reflected our tastes. We then recruited an old friend of mine Pat Evans to fill the drum seat and The Bad Losers were born. We were not initially a gigging band, the sole aim was to write and record an album, and we made it up as we went along, with Iain taking control of the recording duties which was something he’d never done before. We did a few gigs and then kind of amicably drifted apart. The recordings somehow found their way to Equation Records in Massachusetts who decided they wanted to release it on sumptuous 12” vinyl and suddenly it was back on! Unfortunately, by this time Pat had moved on and was unavailable, but we remembered that when we did play our handful gigs there was a guy who ALWAYS attended and always hung around afterwards to pass on his compliments. It almost became a band joke … we called him our stalker … but he always made a point of telling us he played the drums! A telephone call later and we had Phil Ollerenshaw in the ranks. Not only a fantastic drummer but an instinctive harmonizer vocally which has given us a new dimension live.
Jenell: Most of my readers weren’t around during those hazy days when the Mersey Beat, along with freakbeat came about, what did you hear in that music that resonated with you today?
John: Where do you start!? Great songs, great attitude, a level of primitive creativity which to my ears has never been matched. Imagine being a teenager when the Kinks, Stones, Who, Byrds, Spoonful and the Doors were releasing a new single every three months! And talking of Mersey Beat, last year we played at the International Pop Overthrow Festival which is held at The Cavern (made famous by The Beatles) in Liverpool. Apart from the coolness of getting to play at The Cavern, though the original has long since been demolished, but an accurate reproduction stands directly opposite the original, we get a couple of days to explore some of The Beatles old stomping grounds. Liverpool is a great city with a vibe all of its own. We’ve been asked back again this year as well!
Jenell: You may slap me upside the head later if you wish, so let me just put it out there. Your take on those inspirational sounds is completely your own, while you certainly have a driving emphasis on the beats of the 4/4 bar, you come across without the harder edges, gathering and surrounding your music with a rock n’ roll lushness, bringing to mind the intoxicating version of “Midnight Hour” by The Flat Earth Society.
John: I never really thought of it like that! But I can hear the Flat Earth Society sound on “Running Away From Life” now that you mention it. Bear in mind none of it was too deeply thought about, Iain just gave what he thought was the most appropriate sound for each track, of course “I Want You Now” is the polar opposite, a complete racket with a nod to the early Pretty Things.
Jenell: As to your precisions and chord playing, it sounds to me as if you also shift into an 8/8 rhythm, with a probing bass guitar and crisp drumming, do you consider these time signatures while you’re writing, or are you just in that sort of head-space?
John: We consider everything. We are a four-piece which has its limitations live although obviously not in a studio environment. My favorite drummers have always been economical, Charlie Watts and Al Jackson, sharp, and locked in with the bass. This is not complicated music. In fact when Phil joined, because he came from a more traditional rock background, I nagged the poor guy incessantly for the first few months as he was accustomed to being a little more flash than we needed. Luckily for me he has a great temperament and eventually got the message. No one in this band is up themselves or prone to hissy fits if I suggest they try playing something differently. We are a band. We’re not four people competing against each other and trying to out-do each other.
Jenell: Your song “Easy” opens and defines the album, yet toward the middle, with “Don’t Start Crying” and “Want You Now,” you come to embrace a harder edge, bringing to mind the work my friends The Smithereens did … where you practically divide the album into three musical sections. Was this by design, or with 15 tracks, did you simply feel there was a lot of ground you wanted to explore?
John: To be honest Jenell we sent everything we recorded to the label and they stuck it all on the album in the order they saw fit. They were interested enough to finance the pressing and as a lifelong vinyl collector, the thought of having a proper 12” album of our songs was all I cared about, I wasn’t about to quibble!
Jenell: A peek into your creative process please, digital or analog? Is your music a collaborative effort? And while I’m on this path, do you develop your sound linearly, where what’s played is what’s recorded, or is it an assemblage of building blocks?
John: The album was recorded using both … we had access to an analogue studio for a brief period which we made the most of as we preferred the sound, the rest was digital in Iain’s shed. In the end the LP was an equal mixture of analogue and digital. As for songs, Iain is the riff man and when he comes up with something it’s up to me to build a vocal melody around it. To me the crux of a song is the chorus, if you can come up with a decent chorus or hook, the rest of the song kind of falls into place. It’s difficult, for every song that makes the grade, three or four don’t. When a song is worthy of inclusion we then spend a lot of time rehearsing it to the nth degree as we are first and foremost a live band, so by the time it comes to recording something, the arrangement has already been worked on well in advance.
Jenell: Not only do you have vocal harmonies, but your instrumentation is harmonic as well, which doesn’t seem to be an easy path to walk?
John: That’s probably the product of the music predominantly coming from Iain’s mind picking arrangements for instruments that are minimal and complementary. He has likened that process to how singers find harmonies.
Jenell: With that in mind, restraint is something many bands seem to lack, yet you all come across seeming to know not to let the needle jump into the red.
John: I refer back to your previous question. We are a band. If someone jumps into the red it will be a band decision because we feel it is necessary to make the song sound better. Everything is discussed.
Jenell: Am I correct, do I hear two distinct types harmonicas being played? And since we’re on this path, your harps are fluid, acting as emphasis and punctuation rather than being explorative [laughing] … in my experience, harp players are just dying to burst out of the box.
John: I am incapable of bursting out of the box! I consider myself an average harp player, more of the Bob Dylan, Jimmy Reed or Phil May school of wailing than Sonny Boy Williamson. Which I think is more appropriate for what we do anyway. I use the standard blues harps, Lee Oskar mainly and the difference you’re hearing is probably down to the fact I used a bullet mike on some of the tougher sounding songs to get that guttural sound you here on “Marlena” for example.
Jenell: Are there effect pedals you use? And to that end, is there any instrumentation that you’d like to bring to the table on your next outing?
John: At the time Iain was quite hung up on the purity and simplicity of just having a guitar plugged straight into an amp; so no pedals at all. He ended up building his own valve amps as well based on old designs in order to have something authentic retro. However, one of the new songs we have written has a Univibe pedal which is central to its psychedelic feel, and one day a fuzz is bound to appear.
Jenell: Who’ve you been listening to as of late?
John: Phew … how long have you got? These days I tend to hunt down great songs to exhaust. I work from home and during daylight hours I’ve discovered a great and totally random internet radio station playing obscure stuff . I’m currently loving a song called “Blood of Oblivion” by The Rainy Daze and “The Boy From Crosstown” by The Angels, they’re a real tough girl-group song that I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered! Left to my own devices it depends on my mood … some days I’ll be listening to old soul or R&B, though I also have a penchant for Honky Tonk country and rockabilly.
Jenell: I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the album artwork, just stunning in it’s simplicity with a nod to The Beatles’ “Help” single.
John: Thanks Jenell. I’m a graphic-designer by trade, so combined with my love of old vinyl it was too good an opportunity to miss! The cover is actually based on the template used by the British Decca label in the 60’s, it’s a bit of an affectionate homage, especially the blurb on the back, but I was really happy with the way it turned out. I run a design service for bands, venues and music promoters, so please visit if you want to see what I do: https://www.facebook.com/RockNRollDesignService/
Jenell: Is there anything I’ve missed, or that you’d like to add, and please, tell us were we can find you on the world wide web, tour dates, to order your fine album and download it for those more technically inclined.
I’d just like to say thanks for the interest. We now have enough songs ready for the follow up and we begin recording in the spring.
Our web page is thebadlosers.co.uk – you can order the album here (black vinyl, cream or splatter)
– Jenell Kesler
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