THE ORCHIDS INTERVIEW – DECEMBER 2005
Questions are answered by the following Orchids members; JH = James Hackett (Vocals, guitar), CQ = Chris Quinn (Drums) and KS = Keith Sharpe (Guitar).
Q1. How are you all now after all these years?
JH: Good, thanks.
CQ: Very well thank you. How are you? We do various things now that, if we thought about it during our time in The Orchids in the late 80s/early 90s, we would never have predicted it. But then it would be really boring if everything was predictable wouldn’t it?
Unless you’d predicted that you’d become part of a group that broke the mould and stuck rigidly to it’s principles but still managed to make it bigger in the world of music. The two things, unfortunately, seem incompatible. Just look at New Order (one of Chris’s favourite bands of all time) – they used to never release singles from albums but have just released their second or third singles collection. This illustrates that everyone seems to break. It’s a lot of pressure not to and is a sign of society in general, where you can’t really stick to what is and should be true without standing out alone and putting yourself in the firing line. Only trouble is lots of people think the same way as you but we’re all repressed by a minority who peddle their lies and myths.
Sorry, that was a fairly simple question and it turned into a bit of a rant - I was going to say it’s a sign of age, but it’s not – I think The Orchids have always been different. Never fitted in anywhere and we always ranted and believed passionately about these things. We were misunderstood by people (why I’m not sure, but perhaps we never projected our ideals enough in public). Without even thinking about it we built that mystique/enigmatic thing that Belle & Sebastian have perfected. Our affiliation with Sarah, indie music and the whole flexi disc/7” only battle against CDs didn’t help either but we may have got nowhere at all without that, so we can’t bite the hand that feeds!
Our beef wasn’t with technology or even with over produced guff that was played on mainstream radio. It was more of a political thing. When we released the 12” single it was a deliberate statement – we got some criticism for that but our view was a simple one - you paid (at the time) £2.49 for 5 songs on a 12” or £1.99 for 3 songs on a 7”. You work out the value. The reason 12” singles were slated was because record labels in the eighties had this awful strategy of “extending” the same shite and selling it for more money. It wasn’t the 12” single format that did that, it was the bands and the record labels.
However, saying all that sets us up for criticism about re-releasing our old stuff and we thought about it long and hard. We saw that there was a demand for it, and we didn’t want people spending loads on e-bay to get our stuff. We also knew that there will be people out there who have never heard of The Orchids, let along own any of our records, who would like it, so it was unfair for us not to let them hear it. It was a really difficult decision but we think we made the right one in the end, because the re-releases have allowed us to go on and produce some new music which is really important to us and we are still as passionate despite the passing years.
So that’s how we are, still fine, still ranting and still CARE!
2. When did you decide to play again together and put out new songs?
CQ: We used to joke that we never really “split”. The three founder members of the band have always kept in touch and we knew that one day we would feel the need to create music again. John, James and Chris hatched plans for forming a band from the age of 13/14 (that was in 1982) and we went beyond what we really expected to do with The Orchids. Our objectives were pretty simple at that early stage and they still are now.
We’ve talked about this for years – on a regular basis since the last gig in 1995 in fact. In summer 2003 Chris was made redundant from his job and had time on his hands, so used part of it to get organized and persuade James & John to reform. It took an awfully long time as we were all so busy with other things, but we got there, built the momentum slowly and are now at the stage of looking to record an LP next year. During 2004 we got Ronnie (who replaced James Moody on bass in 1993 for the last album) back on board, He was a family friend, so we were still in touch with him. Matthew was by this time relatively successful doing his own dance stuff and DJing so we enlisted the help of Keith on guitar. Keith was a friend of many years with similar musical tastes and he has fitted in well.
KS: My association with the Orchids goes right back to witnessing their live debut 20 years ago in a local church hall. At that time there were a couple of girls in the band playing keyboards and sax and I remember them finishing their set with a cover of “Me & Bobby McGee”. Over the years I saw the band live loads of times and became friends with them, although I would have been a fan anyway even if I didn’t know them. So I was really pleased to be asked to join the band.
JH: We always knew we had stopped doing something we loved prematurely. We just knew that some of us would start again when we were comfortable again as friends, and lovers of music. I missed being with my friends creating and sharing and having a beer afterwards
CQ: We started rehearsing again in November 2003 and have taken things (extremely slowly) since then. If you’ve ever written or created music then it won’t be hard to understand the buzz that you get when it goes right – there is nothing like it (although if there are any wives/girlfriends reading this, it comes a close second to the first day you meet, your wedding day and the birth of your children). It has just gone on from there. The LTM re-releases actually happened separately from all of this too. This kind of happened at the same time and we spent some time earlier this year organising all of that after being put in touch by our old friends The Wake.
3. Did you know you gain a sort of legend status in the Indiepop world?
CQ: No. We looked up the meaning of “legend”, so definitely “NO”. If anybody does believe that then we cannot deny their perceptions but think it is probably down to us more not fitting in or refusing to be moulded in anyway. It’s not necessarily our music that makes us stand out, more our attitude. Our music is just music and I think that comes across – some people like that and believe the same thing. We have mentioned that in interviews before, how people who didn’t “fit” into what a marketing executive would call our “target market” actually really like us. The thing is we didn’t have a target market as we didn’t believe in any of that stuff and felt very uncomfortable as we got more successful and had to deal with those sorts of preconceptions and ideas.
Had we “made it” bigger back then I think we’d have probably stopped anyway as we would have been asked to do things we didn’t want to do. Some people also maintain that we should have left as it is and not re-released our back catalogue but we would never try to manufacture any sort of “legend” status either the way that some acts do. So I guess you can put that reasoning down as another “tick” against doing the re-releases – sorry you purists who believe otherwise, but we honestly don’t really care – it is our decision and our music, so don’t go getting all protective about it just because you happened to be lucky enough to enjoy it first time round!. Sorry, got off the point there again and these answers do seem confused, but I’m sure true Orchids fans will understand where I am coming from.
JH: No I didn’t know of any status of any kind, but I have been overwhelmed that people like yourself have done in giving us hope and encouragement, and keeping alive something that we had thought had gone a long time ago. Thank you.
4. I think you do not fit 100% into the Twee and C86 status what do you think about?
JH: Well, we didn’t fit in anywhere really. It would have been nice to fit in with the guys that managed to finance a long life in music, but you really have to be single-minded in your approach, we just wanted to have fun and we did - an awful lot of the time.
CQ: I think I’ve partly answered this in Q3, so just to confirm - nowhere near 100%. Our wide range of musical tastes and influences means that we don’t seem to fit in anywhere. Neither does our attitude. A lot of people back then probably saw this as aloof and arrogant but we just couldn’t be bothered with all of the falseness and crap associated with the whole thing. This wasn’t just of the “indie” scene – it would have been the same for any “scene”. One wee guy slashed his wrists in front of us during one of our gigs and we just wanted to kick his head for being such a twat. That seems uncaring but then so was he by his actions too. Not caring about us or anyone in the audience, you know? We hope he is OK now though because we’re not that uncaring.
Listening now to the first few singles and mini album you cannot deny there are elements of that “scene” in there and we probably shared a lot of the same influences. But we also shared other unrelated influences in equal measures, particularly as our song writing matured. Even on “Lyceum” there are excellent songs that are not “throwaway” at all. We also genuinely didn’t like a lot of those bands at that time either – sure there were some great ones but that is the thing with “scenes” – you seem to need to have one behind you to get any sort of coverage but the quality aspect goes missing. We found ourselves part of that simply because of the label we were on – as I said, we didn’t really fit but aren’t going to knock the success we had on the back of it either. You cannot have your cake and eat it – I wish more people realised that these days!
KS: I think it is pretty obvious listening to some of the band’s later stuff that they were drawing on influences like the dance scene that went way beyond the narrow definition of “indie” music. And now there are other influences in there, for example James has become a big jazz fan and that led to us recording with Michael Deans, who is an amazing musician who has recently been playing down at Ronnie Scott’s in London.
5. How do you create the music and the lyrics for your songs?
CQ: This has pretty much always been the same for us. Basically, James (it is now always James but in the earlier years could have been one of four band members) will come into the studio with an idea – some chords, a melody that he’s slogged on at home and we’ll work on it and work on it. Sometimes the idea is scrapped or becomes another song, sometimes it becomes a great song. We all suggest changes, arrangements to each others parts, you know – I really liked that wee bit you did there, why don’t you put it in each verse. We’ll then try to arrange and all contribute – e.g. bring it up there, pull it back there, lift the tempo, whatever. It eventually only becomes a final song when we record it.
We talked about this recently – our song writing can be freer now because we don’t have any pressures like a deadline for a single or LP release or if we play it live for the first time then that becomes the fixed arrangement (too soon in the process sometimes). This doesn’t become a constraint anymore and the new songs are more interesting as a result.
Many people go on about this with us – you are better than so and so, but we had our opportunities, we also had talent but the other bands who DID make it bigger have something else as well. Sometimes it might be luck too but it’s not all about that, you need everything to come together and you always need to work hard.
JH: The real reason for our earlier songs being so gentle was, I was still living with my folks and would come home late and start an idea for a song and whispered, so not to waken anyone. Now it has just become a habit.
6. What are you doing now?
CQ: We all have full time jobs that keep us busy. Some of us are married, some with children. It would be boring for us to talk about what we did as people are only really interested in The Orchids – the music and the attitude. We are rehearsing hard with the aim of releasing a full length LP in summer 2006. We are recording the first part of that next month.
We plan to play live in February or March this year and then we’ll see what happens. We may go further afield if there is a demand for it.
KS: All of the band have got full time jobs and a couple of them involve unusual hours. Also some of the members have now got families so as Chris says it has been quite a slow process to get to this stage. But because we aren’t trying to make a living out of the band we’ve been able to concentrate on writing new songs and recording them when time and money allows
7. I think a lot of the new melancholic super bands (Keane and Coldplay) were contained in your music. What do you think about it?
CQ: We can’t say we are remotely like these bands. They may have similar influences at times but that isn’t our opinion. If that is what some people think then that is fine. Some of us like some of their songs but we’d never find the reference flattering. Nor would we dismiss how hard those two bands have worked and how talented they are to get where they are today.
There are too many people these days who seem to think “I could do that easy” without having a fucking clue how incredibly difficult it is to break through (just watch Pop Idol or the “X Factor” if you want my point illustrated). Even if they DO have the talent (which I’ve yet to see), these people will never last because they don’t have the guts and determination it takes. If they did have then they wouldn’t need to go on these shows in the first place, would they? People talk about luck, but you very much make your own luck in life and these whingers who go on about how talented (but ultimately “unlucky”) they are, really do my head in.
What I am glad about is that a lot of new good music is making it into the mainstream and getting the credit it deserves. This didn’t happen in the past enough and it’s perhaps down to the ease of technology now – it’s kinda like punk rock and everyone has an opportunity to make music and have people hear it. The big boys who used to control it all are really shitting it and we love that.
KS: Another band I remember being around the Glasgow Scene in the Orchids’ early days was Glass Onion, who of course went on to fame and fortune as Travis. But they had to move down to London and put in a lot of work to make it. I kind of liked the attitude of Belle & Sebastian, who stayed in Glasgow and didn’t really do many gigs early on, so their music spread by word of mouth. But rather than Keane and Coldplay, maybe a more meaningful comparison would be a band like the Trashcan Sinatras, who started out around the same time and funnily enough they also took a very long break before coming back with the Weightlifting album which is brilliant.
JH: They all make great music; I wish I could write a song like "Green Eyes" I can’t imagine how satisfied I would feel to part of such a song.
8. What is the story behind the reissues? Did you participate to the re-mastering or issue work?
CQ: We fully participated and enjoyed the experience. I met James from LTM several times and he was easy to work with.
KS: I was reading an interview with Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera recently, where he was saying that he was really reluctant to reissue their Postcard singles on CD because he wanted to sort of preserve their cult status. I think that is fair enough for a well known band like Aztec Camera. But a couple of years ago we noticed that the Orchids’ old singles were going for huge prices on E-bay and in fact John and I both ended up losing out to a guy who paid nearly 50 quid for one of them. That was obviously a barrier to people getting a chance to hear the band’s music and it is great now to see the interest in the reissues from Europe and further afield. LTM have got an amazing pedigree in reissuing material from bands of that era like Josef K who still sound fresh today and of course they have also done a similar exercise with the Field Mice, who were label mates of the Orchids on Sarah Records.
9. What are your plans for the next future?
JH: We will keep making plans for the next time we meet up and keep enjoying this with no pressure but to turn up on time, and if folk want to hear what we have been doing, I’ll be chuffed.
CQ: We want to make good music again and that what’s we are doing. That’s maybe too unassuming but I think people know what we are all about and it suits us. We are going into the studio in February to record the first half of what will become our fourth LP in summer 2006. I’m well chuffed too and I’m just enjoying doing what I love again, so in the future I’m going to make sure it continues.