Saturday, 27 May 2017

KBPS Interview: The Pocket Gods

The first single from The Pocket Gods’ forthcoming album ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’, “The Perfect Blue” is a punk pop summer anthem - think the Ramones meets Teenage Fanclub.  They were discovered by the late John Peel and have been championed by the likes of Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson.   They are also featured in the current Guinness Book Of Records alongside Justin Bieber for their 100x30 album which holds the record for most tracks on a digital album and was featured in Billboard, TV, and BBC Radio 6.

We spoke to Mark Christopher Lee about their new single, his world record and ghostly encounters…

So you’re the 3rd biggest band in your village. Is it great to have such musical heritage?

Yeah! I used to think that I was in the most famous band! It’s a small rural village I live in in Hertfordshire and I thought, as John Peel discovered us, we must be the most famous band in our village. Then I found out that the drummer and the bass player from sixties band The Zombies live here and then up the road, around the corner, is our neighbour, a guy called Dappy who when he’s not being arrested is making music! He’s actually my neighbour [but] I don’t see him much!

Is there something in the water where you live then?

It’s just quite a nice play to do music as you’re on the outskirts of London but it’s quite a nice place to live. There’s woods, and fields, and stuff like that. I’ve got my studio in the garage. But London is only half an hour away to do music.

Your new single is ‘The Perfect Blue’. How would you describe it?

It’s like summery, punky pop, like the Ramones meets Teenage Fan club. It’s a feel-good song with loads of energy. It’s got a lo-fi vibe to it. We think it’s one of our best and poppiest track, which is why we chose it. It’s coming off our album which is out in July, our first one through a major label – Warner Music. We’re actually pressing vinyl for this one, which is interesting and the first time we’ve done vinyl.

Are you a fan of vinyl?

I have a couple of record players. It’ll be really good to have something that we’ve done on vinyl. It does have a different kind of sound. It’s nice having the artwork and looking at the credits, things like that. It’s nice to have instead of mp3s or streaming.

Your new album is ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’. How was that like to record?

It’s a collection of songs; some old, some new. It’s all recorded by myself and David Goodall at my own studio. We’ve got some great musicians in the band. We’ve got Noel Storey who’s been in the band since the beginning 20 years ago; our drummer Scott Ottaway who, as well as playing with us, plays in sixties band the Searchers so he’s obviously quite busy a lot of the time, so getting him to come and record and play gigs [is great]! On the single ‘The Perfect Blue’ my wife Claire plays the bass; she’s a one-time Pocket God as well. And her cousin sings backing vocals. On the album we even have pedal steel; there’s a country twang as well if there are any country fans about!

How did the title of the album come about?

It’s a long story. I wrote a song about my experience as I played bass briefly in the Scottish morose indie band ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’ and the song I wrote is about my experience, and is an epic six minute song, and tied together everything really: the history of the Pocket Gods, me doing music. One of the songs was about how I wanted to give up but I’d got this far, and then don’t get any further, then John Peel discovering us then dying a couple of months later.  It was strange goings on and the album kind of reflects that.

A track on it details the never-ending love affair with the paranormal and esoteric matters. Have you ever seen a ghost or had a close encounter?

We have had paranormal experiences in the houses that we’ve lived in! Things have moved and coins have appeared. There was an incident where we wife had her hand on the bed and three coins just appeared from nowhere, and something like that couldn’t just be contrived or faked or anything like that. We’ve seen strange apparitions in the house and things like that. There’s definitely something out there. I don’t know what it is or how to describe it, but it’s probably something not known to conventional science but it’s yet to be discovered. I’m a researcher into UFOs and things like that. I guess most UFOs can be identified but there are certain ones…

West Yorkshire has got a big history of UFO sightings especially down over Todmorden and Hebden Bridge way.

I have to admit I dabble myself and I am a subscriber to the Fortean Times…

Oh I love the Fortean Times. I’ve written quite a few songs about articles I’ve seen in the Fortean Times; things like that inspire me.

You also hold a Guinness World Record?

Yeah, we did an album that was a statement against the lack of decent royalties from music streaming services for artists, for instance services like Spotify or Google Play who pay out a royalty of 0.07p every time someone streams a song, and they pay out the money when the track hits 30 seconds and then no more. The track could be 30 seconds long or 13 minutes long – a prog-rock epic – but you’d still get the same rubbish royalties.

Then I had an idea! Why not write 30-secnds songs; why make them any longer? Let’s change the way we write songs and make them shorter, and then I thought – best of all, why not put 100 of them on an album, and maximise the royalty rates, and then when someone goes on Spotify and plays your album it just goes through the 100 tracks at 30 seconds each. I didn’t know at the time it was a world record. I got a call from the Guinness World Records asking us to send in a picture and details – as we’d just broken the number of tracks on an album. I said ‘oh wow, thank you’. So we’re actually in this year’s edition. If you check it out you’ll see a picture of Justin Bieber and then underneath is the Pocket God’s album, so hopefully all the Bieber fans are picking up on the Pocket Gods!

I do see both sides of the argument. What Spotify and people will say is whereas, in the past, someone can play a CD or a record over and over again, and have only paid one fee at the beginning, whereas with streaming if someone plays a song 100 times you get royalties each time. There are arguments for and against, and Spotify and all the others are great tools in finding new music, but the way it’s funded and operated is not great for artists. It’s OK if you’re in the charts and you’re getting two-million streams; you might get some money back from it. But for undiscovered or up-and-coming new artists it’s quite hard to break through.

And it’s much nicer to own a record…

Yeah, absolutely. It’s physical and tangible. I know you can’t stop progress, I’m not a Luddite. This is the way it’s going. And it’s good that vinyl is having a resurgence, and the fact is, you’ve got kids now going to record shops to buy vinyl. They might be getting One Direction or whatever but they’re still going into independent shops, which is great!

Have you got any live gigs coming up?

Yes, we have a few. Every fortnight we play an acoustic gig in the village we live in, so we’re doing that [next] on the 30th May. Maybe one day we’ll get back up to Yorkshire. We’re originally from Huddersfield but we haven’t played there in a while. It’d be good to come back up and play some venues. We used to play in Leeds a lot, places like Joseph’s Well and the Cockpit. Huddersfield had a good few venues as well.

Finally what are your ambitions for the rest of the year?

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Pocket Gods. I’m just hoping we get the next big breakthrough and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. We’re a great band, have some great songs and we put on a good show live! Live we do a mixture of 30-second songs and full-length songs. I think we deserve a bigger platform, and thanks to people like Seymour Stein, who’s President of Warner Music. He’s the man who signed Madonna and the Ramones, who are one of my favourite bands, and thanks to him we have this deal and we go through distribution of ADA, so hopefully that will give us a bigger reach. We’ll see what happens!

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