The Total Rejection
In the Great Britain of today, here’s a group that have got to be like the truest secret music weapon that the city of Bristol – and in fact maybe even the whole of our piddly little island – doesn’t even know it has.
The sound of The Total Rejection is something that screams young, wild, energetic, hungry, dynamic and vital; even though, individually at least, one or two members of the group may not be all that young in years and may have, as they say, already been around the block once or twice. Of course this is all relative and is just what happens when our bodies move swiftly past the 25, 30, 35 … or even 40 years of age bracket ?!? yet still wants to be the eternal teenager, and still digs playing and recording in a (for The Total Rejection read soundly appealing) wild and crazy rock ‘n’ roll group. And why not, because without any shadow of doubt this would surely be the case if “your own” group sounded anywhere near as good as our friends in TTR do.
With a pretty diverse outlook, the overall sound, coupled with an individual approach and attitude, we witness a group that – and this is from listening to them quite intently and incessantly these past few months – possesses an effortless ability to successfully assimilate, amalgamate and consolidate all manner of those strains, tapers and strands from their (and our) most favourite mid-and-late sixties sounds, and somewhere beyond… and manages to pull everything into a magnificently swirling, occasionally fizzing, most definitely popping, and defiantly whirling vat of hypnotising sounds which comes across as, most of the time, completely of their own making.
Thus far The Total Rejection have made two highly attractive albums, each one buzzing with the kind of electrifying atmosphere that can capture the imagination, and indeed much of the essence and nuance of the era which they’re most fixated upon – the astonishing 1966-68 period from which came thousands of groups, of whom a mere fraction would make it from the garage, and stage, and on to the studio to record the kind of tune that might be selected for inclusion on one of those decade-or-so later compilations that many garage lovers adore and, which, realistically, might’ve even helped save some groups from absolute and total obscurity!
The Total Rejection’s sensationally-titled debut album, Wrapping Yourself In Silver Foil Won’t Save You From The Blast, appeared on the Raving Pop Blast label in 2018 – and somehow this totally unhip cat writing this rave notice on the group managed to utterly miss this as it was actually happening; but has now come to know and love it as one of the most ultra-fine musical deliverances of recent years. For those keen to check the group out further, they offer the type of eyeball-and-ear stretchingly wild garage mod-punk psychedelic mayhem that’s built upon an altar of fuzz, tremolo, wah-wah, screeching organ thrills, feedback trails and backwards taped guitars. In short a brain-frying assault on the senses, all anchored by a careening juggernaut of thundering bass and drums. …Silver Foil … features a wealth of top drawer sounds, including the knowingly titled ‘The Legendary Orgasm (Everything In My Mind Is Groovy)’, plus some tantalising mind rocking garage drones in the shape of their Hawkwind-into-Spacemen 3 style follow-on, the rather strangely-titled ‘Licking Furniture (You’ll Find Me On The Left Side)’. I only got to know about this totally out there white-hot collection of sounds just as their equally (or perhaps I should say even more so) monumentally brain-jarring follow-up LP Everybody Knows What You Don’t Know appeared on the horizon in the early summer of 2019. Both, coincidentally, resplendent in deliriously desirable cover art designs, significantly different from each other, yet both reflecting a group most definitely in thrall to the collision course of pop-art as it met head on with full-blown psychedelia. Sound and vision that helps create a perfect blend.
After many listens to this blindingly terrific, second smash offering – on vinyl as was the first, and both with their own CD version tucked inside – a nice touch for those post-midnight car journeys; it also stood out as a most intriguing and beautifully peculiar treasure, which has also now easily become something of a personal favourite as long-play experiences thus far in the year go. Just the way everything sounds so naturally erm unnatural, if you know what I mean, and the way each song has been constructed, with rushingly intense passages, and an eruption of hypnotic rhythms besides those other quite mindblowing accompaniments, yet, crucially, there’s also room for the songs to breathe, and to enable the little individual ideas to be transmitted to our brain receptors.
The group has an uncanny ability to leap from propulsive smash ‘n grab vintage mod-style garage punkers like ‘Bridget (Song For Billy Childish)’ and ‘Maureen, Maureen, Maureen’, to something that’s much more out there like more overtly psychedelic freak out material they’re fond of; that they seem to accommodate all this with unaffected ease is also a pretty high coin in their favour.
Some songs, as heard across both LPs, are obviously inspired by the work of mod-psych icons like the Creation and John’s Children, yet with equal effectiveness they can also switch things around to successfully occupy territory as set out by revered US teen punk groups: Standells, Elevators, Seeds, Chocolate Watch Band… there’s an edgy tone and mystery here, and a not quite knowing exactly what sound is coming around the next corner. A glut of cool, screeching organ, and extra waspy fuzztone is never far away; often partnered alongside a just-so rattling tambourine or impassioned scream. Everything comes together, skidding and careering into a molten sound void during their happening stop-start, bleepingly explosive freak-outs, for example ‘Take A Step Outside (Party 8)’. Occasionally too they head on off to spread some almost MC5-like damage with heavier rhythms and scorching wah-wah, which helps to properly assault the senses even more. A vast inhalation of Spacemen 3-esque modulation and feedback miasma is also present, alongside a drop of Jesus & Mary Chain-like aural carnage – all this can be viewed as either therapeutic / cathartic, or with a sense of spiralling unease depending on the listener’s state of mind, but can prove hugely effective in the pull that takes you deep into their world – “reject everything except The Total Rejection” reads their slogan / manifesto, and many of TTRs songs (especially such as ‘15 Miles Out Of My Mind’, ‘Reflections’, the mesmerising opener ‘Slip It To Me’ and title-track ‘Hawky (Everybody Knows What You Don’t Know)’ as well as the likes of ‘Tooth By Tooth’ and ‘Party 7’ from Wrapping Yourself In Silver Foil … are aided and abetted by a kind of casually flicked-out Pretty Things-style vocal – high disdain meets petulant insouciance – which can only ever increase their beat punk attitude and appeal.
We here at It’s Psychedelic Baby were delighted to catch up recently with the group’s lead singer, guitarist, songwriter and founder member Arthur Andrew Jarrett.
Lenny Helsing: When did the entity known as The Total Rejection come into being?
Arthur Andrew Jay: TTR started sort of by me messing around with some ideas on my own, two years ago-ish.
LH: Who, if you don’t mind the masks being removed, are the participants that make up TTR and what are their roles within the group?
AAJ: I got Tom to drum on some tracks (he’d been in Beatnik Filmstarsin the 90s with me, and done various other projects together)…then Stephen (Rocker) Wood, put some organs and stuff on, and I liked the sound of it so I released the first LP, not expecting anyone to like it and surprise, it sold well! So I asked Mark Wainwright and Pete Bowers to play guitar and bass for some live shows and then we made the second LP.
I like the line up as it is, and would like to see it last, but as everyone has other commitments, (family/other bands etc) it has from the word go, been on the understanding that, if I feel I need to do something and someone is unable to, they will drop out and be replaced, possibly just on a temporary basis. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but, you have to have a plan for these situations.
LH: It’s pretty much obvious that TTR are influenced somewhat by the surge of garage and psychedelic beat sounds that began around 1965… and some of the sounds heard on both albums Wrapping Yourself In Silver Foil Wont Save You From The Blast and Everybody Knows What You Don’t Know also suggests that some people have been listening to such as the MC5 and the likes of Spacemen 3… but what would be a summation of the group’s, or your own primary influences and inspirations.
AAJ: Garage punk, and the pop end of 60s psychedelia are probably my favourite kinds of music, even in the indie-pop days when I was in the Groove Farm, we were more into the Pebbles LPs & Barracudas, and Milkshakes, than The Pastels. We covered (badly) ‘No Friend Of Mine’. I think this was part of the reason, although we were popular, we were never totally embraced by the indie-pop world, which was fine by me, as I wasn’t really that keen on a lot of it. And yes I (we) like Spacemen drones, and MC5 / Stooges kind of wah wah rock too. I like a lot of stuff, we all do. I hate a lot of stuff as well!
LH: I love that TTR have their very own artwork that adorns the LP sleeves, do you have a background in art college or are you one of those persons who has a way with colour and images and just has the knack to put a few things together that work?
AAJ: I hated school and I didn’t go to college because in my head I knew I was going to be discovered as some kind of ‘genius’… at what, I had no idea. At first I thought I’d be an actor, but I soon quit that idea, and music seemed the only thing in life that made any sense to me, and naturally, I’ve been starving ever since! I used to (at school) make little magazines, and fake LP sleeves and stuff…I was never more happy than cutting out stuff and gluing it back together to create things. So no training just something I enjoy doing. I fear being trained. For me I need to find my own way of doing anything. Just ask Mark about my guitar chords…I don’t know the names of a lot of the chords because I taught myself, so I write things like G to ‘fingers up’ which makes sense to me, but obviously for anyone like Mark reading it, he’s like “WTF is Fingers Up”.
LH: Can you tell us a bit about your label Raving Pop Blast and how and when all that came to be?
AAJ: Raving Pop Blast! came about when The Groove Farm self-released our first two EPs (1986/87), after the band finished, I co-ran Mobstar Records, it was the same set up, but we changed the name to escape any ties to the past, after that it became The International Lo-Fi Underground, and then I brought RPB back to life because it seemed the perfect label for TTR to be on. I think we’ve reached a point now where we might be able to move to a more established (but still small/garagey) label …but again, it’s hard for me to let go. I’ve had plenty bad experiences in the past! But you never know…we’ll see what happens.
LH: How is the feedback going for your Everybody Knows What You Don’t Know LP and I hope the positive reaction I’ve been seeing has also spurred people to find out more about the group, and check out the first album too?
AAJ: So far everything I’ve seen review wise, magazines, blogs, on-line chat etc, has been so overwhelmingly positive about the LP, almost to the point where you kind of start to think, how the hell are we supposed to make the next one any better! I guess that’s my hang up though, I always think the next one should be a step up, or a step in a different direction, but obviously many bands throughout history have proved you don’t have to do that at all. But we will try, and if we fail, well, it’ll be an interesting fail.
Sales have been great… I’m talking small l obviously, we’re hardly out there competing with the big boys, but for a small DIY label set up, we really couldn’t ask for more, and the first LP has re-sold on the strength of the second one. In fact we’re having to re-press it now.
I personally think it’s a very good record, but not quite as good as the reviews have claimed, but I think anyone who makes anything, music, or art, writing …whatever… always think they could have done it a little better, don’t they? There are two songs on the record, I felt didn’t quite reach their potential, but no one else seems to have noticed that.
And as I have a past littered with various bands and dodgy records, I can safely say this one is sitting at the top of the good pile.
I think we’ve probably reached a point where we could move onto a more established (but still independent and small) label, but I have issues stemming from bad dealings with some record labels in my past, and I guess it’s fair to say it’s turned me onto being a bit of a control freak.
My musical past has been littered with so many mistakes, and let downs, and out and out disasters, often over other people screwing things up for me. I kind of like having control over what we do.
But there are, at the moment, some great labels around who do Garage and Psych and that kind of thing, so ….we’ll see how brave I feel when the third LP is finished.
LH: No sooner has the group’s second LP been released and is receiving great reviews from certain quarters than the group are embedded in making the third album. Can I ask how the sessions are coming along for this one? And is it the same approach to preparation and recording the new one that you had in place for Everybody Knows… or is there one or two ways of the group getting their ideas down on tape that might be a little different this time around …?
AAJ: The third LP is almost done, I’m just finishing vocals. We try to not take too long, and everything is recorded in under three takes. Once the general backing tracks are down, I can take a bit longer to get the vocals on and any special musical overdubs just to give it that extra special zing…
I have to limit myself with vocal takes though, because I always pick faults with my own singing. But I’m sure everyone does, don’t they?
I don’t think it’s a million miles away from the second one in sound, but I do think that the songs are better, really quite special. It’s probably a bit …well I’m not going to say ‘darker’ because that gives the total wrong impression, but it’s less light than the colourful pop explosion of Everybody Knows…
I’d say if you liked the first and second LPs you’ll love the third one, and if you didn’t like the first and second LPs, you’ll still love the third one! And if you don’t like any of them, then you obviously don’t like garage rock or pop-psych so what you doing reading this?
LH: Can you tell us if there are to be any great big leaps forwards or backwards in sound, content, or in any conceptual ideas for this new one?
AAJ: The LP has a sort of theme, each of these songs is based on stuff from different times throughout life, and there’s even (assuming it makes it on) a song I made up when I was about 12. We’ve got a title in mind, but it’s a bit too early to set it in print.
But I don’t want anyone to assume it’s a ‘concept album’ ha ha ha!….that is certainly not the case! But so far, in it’s near finished state, I’d say it was the best one yet.
Tom does some drumming on a couple of tracks that could be the best drumming in the history of the world, and Mark does another of his one note killer solos on a track that just makes me feel that life is totally worth living, if only just for those moments. We’ve tested out a couple of new songs on audiences, and they’ve been met with a fantastic reaction, so we think we’re onto a winner.
We’re also putting the finishing touches to a fourth LP which is all live recordings. It’s too early at present to say if it’ll actually get released, but we’re thinking about it, maybe it’ll just be a limited thing as a special offer to the first couple hundred of the third LP sold, or something…I dunno, we’ll see how it works out.
LH: Without giving a blow by blow account can you take us through the basics of what The Total Rejection’s live show is like… for instance does the group play songs from both albums all the time, or is it more streamlined, what goes on…? Are there lights and any other visual attractions / distractions that we should know about?
AAJ: We don’t get to do as many live shows as I’d like, due to life stuff, work, family, financial etc. I love playing live these days, but I also hate the traveling part! Which is weird, as I never enjoyed playing live much in the past, but I liked traveling!
But so far we’ve all really had a blast at all the gigs we’ve done, with one exception (Bath, charity fundraiser). Hardly anyone watching and no one who was there really liked us. But that’s okay, it happens.
We don’t over rehearse, due to time restrictions, so there’s always an element of ‘it could all fall to pieces at any second’, but this adds an edge I think. I don’t wanna see bands being too perfect and sounding exactly like the records anyway. That’s all a bit safe and dull.
I think it’s all about entertainment, we’re really entertainers not musicians. I’m happy to give people a laugh, or make them dance, or just blow their heads off on a good night. I’ve been playing guitar for god knows how many years now, and I still don’t know half of the names of chords I play! I have my own way, so I say to Mark “It goes G to fingers up” and now he’s worked out what I mean by that, which is handy.
So I’m not officially a great guitar player in the normal way, but I tell you what, I’ve recently realised I can out play pretty much anyone, and I think Mark is the same, he doesn’t rate himself much, but when I say “just go for it”, he certainly knows how to go for it! And so what if there’s a few duff notes in a live show, if the energy, soul and excitement is there, well, that’s what I look for in a band anyway.
We’d like to do light shows and films and what have you, and we have got a few projectors and stuff ready when we get around to it, but we’ve not reached a level where we can do all that easily, and we’re also all pretty lazy, so for us right now, it’s more turn up, plug in, rock out.
Keep it basic, have fun, sell some shirts & discs, send the audience home with grins on their faces. Job done.
We’ve been playing songs from both the LPs, and recently started adding a few new ones which will be on the third. It’s always a good sign I think, when you have a half hour support slot as we recently did, and it’s a struggle to decide which songs to leave out. I think that kind of shows the strength of the songs, when there’s none you’re happy to kick out.
The reaction to us live has been really amazing, we’ve picked up some die-hard fans, and had comparisons to The Prisoners, Electric Prunes, Seeds, and last week I was told we’re the new Sonics…Only better! My work here is done.
– Lenny Helsing