WYNNTOWN MARSHALS veröffentlichen mit „the end of the golden age“ ein sensationelles Album und überraschten die ganze Musikredaktion. Ein ausführliches Interview war da unumgänglich.
by Leonard Mertens
C&D: What is or was the golden age for you?
Iain Sloan (lead guitar/pedal steel): Musically and personally speaking, the period at the turn of the ‘90s really shaped the musical tastes I have now, my guitar-playing, and also the direction my life ended up taking. In 1991, I quit my job and moved from a small west coast town with a population of around 5000 to Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. And I guess that was the start of the ‘growing up’ process for me on a personal level. Musically speaking, I believe that too many musicians fabricate their list of early musical influences so that they appear more ‘cool’. I’m not that type of guy! I know that I am not alone in admitting to liking a lot of ‘questionable’ rock music in my youth. But, around 1988-92,a lot of hard rock bands started to open up musically and the lines between different genres started to blur. I guess what people refer to as the ‘grunge’ movement opened my ears up to influences and artists from other genres. People like Neil Young suddenly appeared on my radar, and, ultimately – to cut a long story short, this led to a love affair with the likes of The Jayhawks, Big Star, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Teenage Fanclub, The Byrds, American Music Club, and so on. And, even now, this period in music is still where I find my fingers and eyes frequently wandering to when I am looking for something to play in the car…
Keith Benzie (lead vocals/ guitar): The ‘Golden Age’ of the album title refers to a golden age of coin-operated video games. I have had a deep affection for video game and I spent a lot of my youth in arcades in the late 80s and early nineties, playing games by the likes of Namco Bandai and Capcom. I have a lot of fond memories of that time. The music I was listening to at that time is really important to me too – like Iain, I’m not ashamed to say that I liked a lot of rock music. Specifically cock rock and speed/ thrash metal! At the moment I’m particularly enjoying revisiting the ‘golden age’ of 90s US indie rock – Pavement, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Yo La Tengo etc – but you can look back at key periods in loads of artists’ careers as ‘golden ages’; late 60s/ early 70s Stones, ‘Ditch Trilogy’-era Neil Young for example, but I also feel very nostalgic about 80s pop – my older sister listened to a lot of UK synth pop and New Romantic bands and I remember so much of the music of that time so vividly. It gets a really bad rep but I think there’s a lot to like about that era!
C&D: The new CD sounds like Tom Petty in his best years to me? Who are your musical role models?
Iain: Wow! Thank you for saying that. What a compliment! As a guitarist, I have always loved people who combine melody, individuality, and an inherent ability to always play for the song. For me, a band like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a great example of that. Mike Campbell is a fantastic role model to all budding guitarists. Is there anyone out there more adept at the art of simplicity, musicality, and how to be economic with your choice (or quantity) of notes. Gary Louris from the Jayhawks (in the band’s prime) was dazzling too. And Neil Young is a shining light. He is a total ‘maverick’ who always ploughs his own furrow, and his playing is instantly recognisable. From a less ‘country’ angle, I have always loved the guitar-playing of Ty Tabor (from Texan power-trio, King’s X), Alex Lifeson (Rush), and Bob Mould (Sugar/Husker Du) – all of whom play really interesting, unorthodox, often-discordant chord shapes with lots of open, droning strings. Ultimately, none of the guys I have listed sound quite like anyone else. That’s the benchmark for me. During that period in the mid-80s when the world was full of guitar ‘shredders’, an old friend (and early musical mentor) once said to me, “A great guitar solo never saved a shit song…” There’s my credo! Haha.
Keith: That is a real compliment! I like a lot of Tom Petty’s earlier stuff, but the album of his that I really remember and often go back to is ‘Full Moon Fever’. It was the first CD my dad got for the first CD player the family ever had, so it got a lot of repeat plays! In terms of musical role models I love some of the more ‘obvious’ influences like early Wilco and Olson-era Jayhawks, and I ’m a huge fan of Ryan Adams – he’s prolific, has a great way with a melody and lyric, has a really great voice and is a superb guitarist to boot. I saw him play in Edinburgh recently with his band The Shining and they were just unbelievable. I also love clever songwriters/ lyricists like Colin Meloy of The Decemberists and John Samson of The Weakerthans, and Stephen Malkmus of Pavement is a real ‘alternative’ guitar hero of mine. He’s experimental, but he also has a real ear for a beautiful melody.
C&D: What is the big difference between your first record and „the end of the golden age“?
Iain: First of all, it’s important to point out that, of the current line-up of The Wynntown Marshals, only Keith Benzie (lead vocals, guitar) and I remain. And, even with that in mind, my role is VERY different to how things were back in 2009 when we were recording our debut album. Back then, I kinda saw myself as ‘overdub man’ or ‘texture guy’ as my role was to add rhythm guitars, electric 12-string guitar, and pedal steel behind Iain Barbour’s twang-y, Nashville-influenced lead guitar parts.
On “Westerner”, we were unashamedly a pretty pure alt.country/country-rock band and, to an extent, that was determined by playing to the strengths and musical preferences of the line-up of the band as it was at that time. Generally speaking, there was no great desire to stretch out too far from the blueprint laid out by the likes of Uncle Tupelo, Drive-By Truckers, early Wilco, or The Jayhawks.
However, as members have come and gone, the dynamic in the band has changed and the new guys (myself included) have brought in more diverse influences and very different playing styles. I am a very different lead guitarist than Iain. I always try to look for melodic hooks. I know that Keith and I certainly feel ‘freer’ in the studio environment much more than we did back when we recorded “Westerner”. Nowadays, all 5 of us can stretch ourselves a little and experiment more, but the fact that Keith, myself and Murdoch (bass, vocals) have now been together as a unit for over 5 years helps ensure that we still maintain that subconscious ‘core Marshals’ sound’ that we have come to be known for. As The Wynntown Marshals exists today, we are a lot more open to new ideas and virtually any idea will be given a try-out. If it works for the song, then it stays – regardless of whether it fits within people’s pre-defined expectations of what an ‘alt.country’ band can and cannot do.
Keith: It’s also worth mentioning that the way ‘The End Of The Golden Age’ was recorded and produced was very different to the process of making ‘Westerner’. ‘Westerner’ was produced in a studio over quite a long period and it was rather meticulously pieced together. I’m really proud of all our records but the new album was the second album we’ve made with our friend Andrew Taylor and both records were made a lot quicker and were more ‘organic’ in approach – Andrew’s great to work with, has a great ear and really knows how to get the best out of the band.
C&D: I love your cover artwork, but is this the end of the golden age?
Iain: Do you mean ‘Is this the end of the golden age of album covers as an artform?’ I, for one, certainly hope not. My earliest memories of really taking music seriously are of being around 10 years old, sitting with headphones on, playing my brother’s old Rush, Wishbone Ash, and Hawkwind albums, and poring over every detail of the artwork on those glorious old gatefold sleeves. When Keith’s old school-friend (renowned illustrator) Tom Gauld got involved with the new album and submitted his first 12cm x 12cm pencil sketch of the CD cover, Keith and I both jumped up and down like excited kids! I immediately spoke with Keith and said “Tell Tom that this NEEDS to be a gatefold! Can he do x, y and z please?” Then, when the final version was submitted in colour, a few of our fans started an online ‘pressure campaign’ to get Edgar (Heckmann, our Blue Rose Records label boss) to put it out on vinyl too. Then I got the bit between my teeth to have the sleeve printed in full 24”x12”gatefold too! Proper ‘old school’! ;o)
Keith: There’s no doubt that packaging and album art sometimes appears to be something of an afterthought in the digital age, but vinyl is also making a real comeback so I think there’s still plenty of scope for creative packaging using cool artwork like Tom produced for this record. Next time we’ll have to make a 7” ‘advent calendar’ sleeve like one of my sister’s Adam & The Ants singles from the early 80s!
C&D: If you could choose a band from the 60s, which one would you join in as a musician?
Iain: The Byrds. My Rickenbacker 12-string and love of vocal harmonies would feel quite at home there. Or perhaps The Beach Boys. I’d love to have been involved in the studio when the likes of “Pet Sounds” was being put together.
Keith: Tough question! Maybe The Kinks or The Kingsmen – singles like ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ were so raw and exciting and were more about attitude than virtuoso musicianship. Punk attitude WAY before punk rock!