The Total Rejection – ‘Off The Top Of Our Heads And Other Forbidden Pleasures’ | Interview
Listen up all you garage gonks, pop-psych heads, modernists and ravers and take a walk with the Total Rejection through a garden full of pop-psych dreams.
Whereas the last couple of TTR studio LPs have been decked out in primary colours – rich reds, vivid yellows and deep blues – ‘Off The Top…’ is imbued with all shades of sonic greens. There’s the bold back cover giving a clue then turn over to the front cover and, amid a sea of faces greeting you and the mass of hand drawn eyes watching your every move, is a pale green title.
‘Off The Top…’ is a maybe less brash LP than previous TTR releases but it retains the band’s keen sense of melody and the now familiar farfisa n fuzz, tremolo, distortion and wah. There’s a lot of movement in the songs – the result of a fleet footed melodic bass – and a more pop-psych than garage rock vibe. It’s more ’67 than ’65 if you like with a psych atmosphere and a touch of darkness ever present.
Let’s take a walk. Opening track ‘Degenerate Head Movie Turn On’ is stark and nervy, an off-kilter pop track laced with tremolo, distortion and wah and nestling in the foliage and long grass.
Just when you think this maybe TTR’s experimental LP, ‘Turn Your Head Around’ blasts in and we’re back in infectious pop-psych territory. It’s all skinny ’63-style pop with farfisa, dancing bass with a mangled and deranged ‘solo’ – all distortion and noise overload – welding it to the present and future. A heavenly pop hit.
Super-psych ‘Twitching And Jabber’ follows on with its atmospheric use of effects bringing to mind flapping bird wings and wind rustling through the trees. A chirping farfisa organ calls out its melody and the song sounds moody and troubled before it floats off into the distance.
‘Ten Minutes Off The Top Of My Head’ is up next with its fuzzed up riff lifted by a great brass part. It’s a hit single ready made for ‘Ready Steady Go’ and is an LP highlight.
‘Everybody Loves Grass’ is more eerie pop-psych with added ‘baba bas’, a punishing chorus and the band digging in behind reverbed guitar chords and an angry guitar line. An end wig out adds to the song’s manic energy.
‘Paul’s Eye John’s Teeth’ – the single – is a heads down rocker featuring an impassioned vocal. It’s all snarly, snotty and punk-rock, careering on the brink and almost outta control. It’s a wild trip man!
‘Garden Full Of Green’ follows on – possibly the LP’s key track – with its more hushed vocal, dreamy state and hazy, half lit atmosphere. It’s dusk in the garden and the track feels like a companion piece to ‘Degenerate Head Movie Turn On’.
‘Drive Me Home Or Don’t Waste My Time’ fabulously retains a cough at the start and adds a cheeky key change to its nagging 60s style pop.
‘She’s Making Money Off Me’ is filtered through a blanket of tremolo fog with sunlight peeping through a canopy of branches and leaves. The long repetitive ending suggests there’s no escape, two chords going round and round seemingly never ending, building the tension. It’s harsh and hypnotic and all manner of sound effects sit in the melee. Will it end? You want it to end but you don’t want it to. It’s safe in here. Protection.
This draining experience is followed – thankfully – by the magnificent, explosive ‘I’m Coming Home’ – a huge release and celebratory statement. ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright!’ A pile driving Who-influenced show-stopper, this final track is an invitation to put on your dancing shoes, throw away your troubles and delight in the sonic spectacle. Leave with a sore head, a smile, an increased heart rate and sweat on the brow.
But wait – the track isn’t over. It’s appended by two and a half minutes of come-down ‘Revolution Number 9’ style sound effects – voices talking and experimental sound effects – stretching out the finale and ending with the words ‘It’s a mind-bending experience’.
We’re back from TTR’s world of forbidden pleasures – a world imbued with a touch more spirit of ’67 than previous releases, with psych energy and rock n roll thrills a plenty and with the entire record drenched in perfect sonic greens.
‘Off The Top Of Our Heads And Other Forbidden Pleasures’ is the sound of The Total Rejection in full bloom.
The Total Rejection have been nothing if not prolific, in a recording sense, over the past few years. Since forming in 2017, the band have released five full length LPs – four studio and one live LP – and a clutch of singles, showcasing their psych-pop, garage punk/rock sound. The band have also managed to play a few gigs this year after the confines of the restrictions.
The latest TTR LP, ‘Off The Top Of Our Heads And Other Forbidden Pleasures’ signals a sideways departure for the band. It has a slightly darker, troubled feel in places, contrasting with the garage-punk and psych-pop tracks. It’s an LP full of character and singular vision.
I caught up with band leader and writer Arthur Andrew Jarrett for a chat:
How do you feel about the new LP compared with previous TTR releases?
Arthur Andrew Jarrett: For me I’m really pleased that so far, I’ve not gone off any of the records we’ve made, which is the sort of thing I tend to have done with past bands, I normally go off them and then it takes years and years to come round to liking them again. But with TTR that hasn’t happened yet, I’ve not got bored with anything we’ve done.
The last LP (‘The Time Traveller’s 3rd Will & Testament’), the only thing I thought was it may have had one of two too many pop sounding songs, so when we started on this one, I knew I wanted to balance things a bit more evenly. We pushed some of the experimentations in the recording process andbrought a bit of the pop-psych side to the fore.
Was the intention to make a slightly different sounding TTR LP?
Only In the way I’ve explained. Just trying to adjust the balance slightly. And the production ideas, I wanted to mess about inventing sounds and stuff. Like the track where we recorded the backing onto a cassette, then screwed the tape up, and played it back to get a sort of breaking up, phased in and out sound. I like to come up with unusual ways to create sounds rather than using too many ready made effects. That’s my Beatles up-bringing brain kicking in. But it works well, and you don’t end up sounding like anyone else. I’m very much into The Television Personalities, and I always liked the way you could spot their influences, but they still managed to sound like themselves. So I was trying to channel Dan Treacy while making this one… a bit, ha ha.
The striking cover art, coloured vinyl, booklet and poster show a commitment to making the LP a complete work of art both sonically and visually. How important is the ‘whole package’ of art and music to you?
For me, I’ve always believed a record should be dressed to perfection. It needs to invite the person looking at it, to come on in, you can kind of already start to imagine what you’re going to hear just by using your eyes…It’s not just a sleeve to protect the disc within. It is part of the actual thing, the world that you are offering. I’m sure young people growing up with streaming and downloads don’t care. But I can remember buying records and studying the sleeves on the way home from town on the bus. The sleeve was as important as the music to me. Someone recently asked me why many of the TTR records use black & white, or don’t have full colour sleeves when it costs the same to produce. All I could say in return was use your eyes, look at them. You shouldn’t need to ask.
There seems to be an undercurrent of paranoia on certain tracks. To what extent would you agree with this?
Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me! Ha hahaha Yes, I’d agree quite a lot.
In my review, I described the LP as ‘drenched in perfect sonic greens’, compared with the vivid primary colours of previous TTR LPs. Can you connect with the record being framed in terms of the colour green?
It was odd because when you first mentioned this to me, I hadn’t actually thought about it, because…well, why would I have? But as I told you, during the end part of making of the record, I did have varying shades of greens in my head, while I was imagining the artwork, I could visualise green. I have no actual explanation as to why. Maybe it all stems from the track ‘Garden Full Of Green’ But I’m really not sure.
The first words on the LP are ‘I never know what I want’. TTR’s music sounds like you know exactly what you want sonically and artistically so to what extent are the words a reflection of something else?
It’s true though, I never do know what I want completely. I never have in life. I’ve skipped about from job to job, phase to phase, never really wanting to settle down. Music has been the only thing in life I found that has kept me interested, but even in that, I still never know quite what I want because my mind works in overtime all the time. So if today I tell you the next LP will be very psychedelic, the chances are tomorrow I’ll feel like doing a totally straightforward Garage Rock LP…
I think in my previous band (Beatnik Filmstars) you can see how we chopped and changed sounds and styles…it wasn’t in some daft attempt to try winning people over, it was because I love music of all types and I sometimes want to try things…It can be frustrating for the public I know. Most people like their favourite bands to stay the same forever.
When we started TRR, I remember talking to Tom (Drummer who also was in Beatnik Filmstars) that I wanted to be a bit like the Beatniks, but rein in the different styles, sticking mostly to the Pop-Psych and Garage Rock parts. I’ve ditched a lot of songs because they fell outside what I want the band to be known for.
The lyrics for this particular song were more about the desire to try things. Maybe some things you know are not that good for you, but the temptation to give in and try becomes overwhelming…and like most things in life you find the excitement, the temptation, the lead up to it, is way more thrilling than the actual thing turns out to be.
I’m not one of those who get’s hung-up on song words. I think too much importance has over the years been put on ‘having to write deep meaningful words’. Sometimes it works well, but sometimes it’s boring and sounds like a lecture.
When I did the demo of ‘Garden Full Of Green’, I had a few lines and the rest I just let words slip out onto the tape recorder, and I ended up keeping most of them. The line ‘She’s Feeding Me Cheese’ I was about to change as I wondered if it was too daft, but Mark (guitar) pointed out that the ‘free-flow’ style was exactly what Syd Barrett would have done, and he wouldn’t have changed it. And people wouldn’t have wanted him too either. I’m soglad we didn’tchange it. I don’t need songs to tell me how I should live my life or who I should vote for or how I should think. I also don’t need to know who the singer votes for or how he/she feels about the price of milk… In fact the less I know about the people who’s music I enjoy, quite often the better. Even though the words just fell out of my mouth, (‘On Garden full Of Green’), they still manage to make perfect sense to me. I listen to them and I know exactly what it all means. I can place myself exactly in the centre of the song’s story, and I’m sure others will too.
There seems to be an awareness of the inevitable end in some of the lyrics (‘I don’t want to be dead yet’, ‘I ain’t dead yet’, ‘Saw my death on statistic charts’ and ‘time chases everybody’s dreams into the grave’. To what extent is the speed at which TTR releases appear a race against time?
Well, I never realised that either! I just like making records, If I could, I’d make several a year, because it still gives me a thrill. Obviously age can’t be ignored, and none of us will be here forever, but I hadn’t realised the extent of death references on this record! It’s a bit worrying isn’t it. The kind of record people will say ‘well he predicted it’ if I should shuffle off anytime soon! But I hope that doesn’t happen I’d like to be here for a long time, mostly to annoy all those people who’d rather I wasn’t. Aside from my ambition to ‘Never watch a Star Wars Film’, my only other ambition is to ‘Live as long aspossible, as my existence seems to annoy so many people.
Some of the lyrics deal with issues of the mind – ‘I’ve got trouble in mind’, ‘Don’t tell me anything my fragile mind can’t take’, ‘My mind is all inflamed’ and ‘I need fixing’. To what extent does a creative process help or hinder with mental health?
Yeah, mental health issues are tricky to talk about, and yeah, I’ve had problems that will never fully go away, but thankfully, things are better these days, and I can manage with medication and also from learning experiences, how to cope better…
The creative thing, well It can be a blessing to give the mind something to focus on and the body something to do. But it can also drive you insane, because for me I can’t switch off my mind. I don’t sleep very well. There’s always something to be worried about.
And with the songs, it’s like a battle inside my head trying to get them as perfect as I can.
By perfect I don’t mean, like ‘perfectly technically made records’ I mean perfect in the way I’d like them to sound, which could be by recording it on a Dictaphone hanging outside a bedroom window while the band plays under the bed sheets…
So yes, it works both ways. I’ve been trying over the years to not get so emotionally involved in the songs or recordings, and to know when enough is enough. I’m the sort of person who will listen to someone else’s records and think, wow, that’s so raw and messy and perfect, but as soon as it’s me, I start to pick it to pieces, always feeling, I can do better.
I’m lucky to have the people around me who will strive to get my vision as close as they can, and also be very positive about what we do. Mark will say “That guitar is perfect, it doesn’t need re-recording” If I’m worrying about a tiny blip.
Or Pete will tell me how the songs have really come alive, and how they make him feel…and it’s great to have people like that because it helps me to keep the spontaneous feeling in the recordings.
I love the line in ‘Paul’s Eye John’s Teeth’, “I got my head kicked in over Shang-a-Lang”. Is there a story behind the song?
Yes, that’s when I was in Devon, near where I grew up, and a group of lads saw me, and I had something like ‘The Barracudas’ or ‘The Jam’ some name of a band I really loved, scrawled on my duffle bag, so they started taking the piss. I knew I was going to be beaten up, so I thought I’d still wind them up. When I said “what do you like then?” And one of them says ‘Led Zep’… I said “Really? I’d rather listen to ‘Shang-A-Lang’ (by Bay City Rollers) Than that old shite!! ..And yes, I got beaten up! But I still stand by it. I’ve never got the screamy vocal style of the Leds (as no one ever called them). I spent a lot of my youth getting beaten up, Ha haha! In fact there’s a tiny dent in my head from this very incident.
The LP starts with a song saying I’m going home’ and finishes with one stating ‘I’m coming home’. What does ‘home’ mean to you and how important is it?
Ha ha Maybe that’s just me all over… confusion!! Home? I’ve never really thought about it. I guess like most people home is where you feel most safe. Where the world can’t get at you. I like to spend time alone, and I think it’s good for me, but I also like the feeling that I have friends not too far away, that if I needed them, they would be there. I think in the songs, I just mean getting away from the madness that’s surrounding me.
You recently played live in Sheffield, Preston, Bristol and Taunton. How were the gigs been for you?
Sheffield I loved because I think the people there are ace. Musically, we were, it’s fair to say a bit of a shambles, our guitars were just breaking strings like you’d never believe! We ended up playing the last song with about 5 strings between two guitarists, so it must have sounded shocking. But it was a lot of fun, and The Mourning After who invited us up to play, were excellent, so kind, and wow, what a great band they are! Preston I had raging flu, and was really Ill, but I loved playing and again the crowd were ace. Really welcoming. And I think we played good too, which always helps. We saw a few really good bands play as well. Bristol, was great. I think we played pretty good. I very much enjoyed myself. Bristol I have always had a love/hate relationship with. I love it, it hates me! Ha ha ha…Never really felt a great deal of anything from the music scene here, but maybe that’s my own fault, maybe I didn’t get involved enough. I always looked further than the end of the road. But I think this was the best time I’ve ever had playing here in any of the bands I’ve ever played with.
And Taunton was also just brilliant, great club, great people, lovely welcoming feeling and again, I felt we put in a good performance.
I’ve always struggled with nerves playing live, but over the later years, I’ve been finding new ways to control the nerves. Also realising that most people in audiences don’t actually hateyou or want to kill you helps. Ha ha! It’s only taken me my whole life to realise that. They generally come to see you because they like you!
What’s next for TTR?
I’m putting down little song ideas for the next record, and we’re soon about to start some new recordings. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that people will give ‘Off The Top Of Our Heads’ a fair listen, so who knows. We might have to go into hiding. I think the next record, if we even survive that long to make it, will be once again different from this one. I’m hearing more warm fuzz sounds right now.
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