Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Voluntary Butler Scheme Interview

This man is Pure Genius. These songs will become the soundtrack to the life you wish you lived and have you combust into dance. I cannot praise it enough. Just bloody listen to him, ok?

Rob now plays as a one-man band, looping and multi-tracking all his instruments and vocals. And I’m so glad he made that change. Now, I know there’s a fair few people coming up and doing this, but having seen a wide range of what’s out there…Rob is the best. The Best. Timing. Lyrics. Poignancy. Fun. Riff. Charm. Truth. Beats. Rhymes. When I first heard him play, I felt like an empty void in my life had been filled beautifully. I hope you get that as well.

For this interview, I gathered an assortment of food and drink for Rob to match each part of his one-man-band self to.

Yep. Match each band member to what piece of food you think it would be, then eat them in order of preference.
So like, what the drummer in me would most like to eat?
What best represents them.
(Rob laughs. On reflection, I see this may have been confusing.)
Some of them are quite easy, like these pencil sweets. And lips and teeth…and lances.

Ah ha, so there’s a real answer?
No, it’s not a test. Just some of them could be obvious choices…like lips and teeth for voice. But you don’t have to pick that.
Well the pencils would be the drummer. I think they’d make good drumsticks.
(umms and ah’s, rummages through the pile. Rob chances upon the strawberry lances.)
For when you’re feeling Knightly.
Wow this is tough. Are those apricots?
Yep. And plums, satsumas, cherries, and a Danish pastry. And gin and tonics, premixed. In cans.
Ahhh. So I’ve got the drumsticks for the drums. How many band members do I have?
I dunno, that’s why I got a lot. You seem to play a lot of different instruments.
Well, I think these should be the ukulele player. (Picks up the cherries). Because they’re kind of Ukulele sized.
I suppose you could split it off- you’ve got a deep voice, a high voice….
I think these would be the front man.
The gin and tonics?
Yeah, because I think I need to loosen up a little bit. It’s quite rock and roll isn’t it. Err…this is tough isn’t it.
Sorry, it’s a little bit obscure. But I thought it would be quite fun.
I think these should be the guitarist, Hendrix style, you know (Teeth and Lips sweets), teeth on the guitar. Quite showbiz.
Oooo, I see what you’re aiming for here…loosening up, rock and roll antics…
Yeah, I’m not what I want to be at all. (chortle) Oh, these can be the piano player, like strings in the piano. (Strawberry lances) Can the fruit be as a whole?
Depends how many things you’ve got left I guess.
What have we done…lead singer, ukulele, piano
Drums, guitar…
Ah. I think the frog should be the deep singer. I can quite see a frog as a deep backing singer. (Freddo chocolate bar) It would be nice to have a backing singer actually. (looks quizzically at the Danish pastry.)
That could be the crash symbol.
Or the bass player. Druggy base player. So we’ve got a bass player now, that’s good. Who else do you have in a band? I haven’t been in a band for so long…(laughs)
Well this is your personal one man band.
Oh yeah. So I need a keyboard player.
Well what does front man count as? Because you might still have voice types…you’ve done deep voice, but you’ve got high voice left.
Lady singer. These are quite ladylike?
Are they? Are plums a derogatory term for breasts? They’re not are they.
I think it’s any fruit really. Peaches.
Ok. Well the plums can be the lady singer. Oh wait!
(Now follows a rummage in his bag, and then Rob produces some shakers shaped like strawberries and grapes)
Oh wow, those are brilliant!
I bought them yesterday. They’re great aren’t they.
I’ve got some of them but made from seed pods.
Oh really?
Those are better though.
So um…
Apricots. Apricots are a bit unpopular I think.
They’re just yoghurt aren’t they.
Just little specks of fruit.
So what instrument’s got yoghurt?
You haven’t done your kazoo yet…or harmonica.
What could I do for the kazoo?
It’s quite niche. Bit quirky, not everyone likes it.
That’s true. Like an apricot. Not everyone likes apricot yoghurt. So that can be the kazoo. Poor kazoo.
And this can be…
Satsumas. You’ve got the harmonica left. Everyone likes to try it, but not everyone’s good at it. But satsumas are quite a widely eaten fruit.
True, yeah yeah.
They’d match the guitar more.
It’s kind of like peeling them though isn’t it. Not everybody’s got the nails for it.
Like not everybody having the harmonica skills. Sorted.
Now you have to, in order of preference of all the things they represent, consume them.
Oh no. Hah. Can I do this after I’ve played?
Yeah. It’s not a vital part of the interview, it was just an excuse for you to eat them really. Do you not like eating before you play?
Not really. I don’t like being bloated. Do you want me to orderise them though?
You can do. You don’t have to eat them though.
I think I’d probably go for the swirl first. Tesco bakery.
I wanted to ask, right after you sing we listen to –something, I can’t make out what it is- on your mp3 player…
Oh, La Bamba?
Yeah, I could never make out what you were saying.
La la la la la la bamba, do doo do do. Yeah, it’s a good song.
Hahah. But in the next bit, ‘and I’ll tell you all I know, about stacking shelf upon shelf upon shelf upon shelf’, is that from your supermarket days?
Ah, no. I’ve never thought about that actually, that’s quite good. I was thinking about you know when you put things on the shelf, put it on hold, give it time…
That’s probably a bit more meaningful. Did you work in Tescos, is that why you like the bakery goods?
No, Sainsbury’s. If you go on my myspace page, in the top friends there’s a free E.P. that I made, The Voluvant E.P and there’s a song on there that talks about an aroman metro.
An aroman metro?
Yeah, it’s a car.
Oh, I’m not great on car types. Well, good.
(Rob does croaky laugh)
Do you like volauvants?

No, not really.
They remind me of my childhood. The ones with mushroom in them…the idea of it was really appealing like ‘mmmm mushroom’ then you’d taste it and the pastry was all like defrosted and then cooked…horrible and tasteless. They weren’t good times.
So what would come next after the pastry?
Oh, umm..probably the pencils.
So is this what you prefer to eat, or what you prefer playing?
Oh. Well I better rethink this. Probably my least favourite thing in public is being a singer. (laughs) I really like singing, but I’m pretty new to being a singer.
But you’ve got a really good voice?
But it’s kind of more like being a vocalist isn’t it.
You’re putting yourself out there a lot more.
Yeah, exactly. I used to play drums in a band and so I’d be at the back. But I’d never get nervous before playing a gig. It’s quite nice to get nervous now. Like, ‘ahh, what’s going to happen’. So yeah, I think my least favourite thing would be singing, and my favourite thing is the guitar. No wait, drums first.
The pencils. They’re the best sweet too. And the blue ones.
Yeah exactly. So bass above singing. No, bass is probably last.
What about if it’s funky bass….
Yeah funky bass, that’s true.
Bass players nationwide get angry.
What were these again? (picks up the cherries)
Oh yeah, I quite like that. That’s after drums. Harmonica’s fun. What were these?
You’ve got a good memory going on there.
It feels like a game.
These were…
Lady voice.
Oh yeah (laughs). I like deep voice, although it’s hard to do. So deep voice next. Then lady voice. Oh piano, I really like playing the piano. So piano just below the drums. Let’s go drums, piano, ukulele, guitar, deep voice, lady voice, harmonica, bass, then singing at the bottom.
You’ve missed out the kazoo, shit.
Oh. I’ll put it in at about number four.
Have you ever heard of the Spinto Band?
Spinto Band? Yeah!
They do kazoos.
Do they have kazoos?
Yeh, they have a whole song with them.
I haven’t heard anything about them in ages actually. I saw them in Norwich…maybe supporting the Mystery Jets?
I think they probably did, yeah.
That was like two years ago… I don’t remember the details much. But they were on Jools Holland the night before the gig.
That’s the thing about support bands, you often don’t pay much attention at the time but afterwards you’re like, ‘oh, it was THAT band’.
That was the thing about Tuesday (Joe Lean gig) you and Beggars were both so so good, I couldn’t forget it.
Did you get the Beggars vinyl?
Yeah, but the stick thing on my vinyl player has broken so it skips.
The drummer’s wicked. I’ve made really good friends with him.
Yeah they were lovely. I mean, opening with a cover of Leonard Cohen, and releasing it as a single, is no mean feat. I thought they did it really well. Right. I’ve got some questions as well now if that’s ok. They’re a bit all over the place, because I did them on limited information.
If you were volunteering to be a butler for anyone, who would it be?
Luis Prima. He sings the ‘I’m the king of the swingers…’ (jungle book)
Oh yeah!
His records are really really good. There’s loads of songs on there, like ‘please don’t squeeze a banana’. Me and my mate love it ‘I won’t squeeze on a grape’ (sings in contralto).
Like when people are buying fruit and are testing it for ripeness.
It doesn’t make much sense. It might make sense to him…
Well sometimes when you’re singing a song you can just get carried away and sing anything.
Yeah, I like gibberish. I’ve got loads of gibberish in my songs. (sings)Doomba doomba doomba day…(chuckle)
I love your lyrics. I was going to bring you a broccoli with a face drawn onto it. Hahah.
They seem to come out as warped love songs.
Have you ever unravelled a jumper for someone?
No (laughs)
You should do. I like that. What is your favourite jumper?
I got it in San Francisco actually. It’s yellow black and grey.
Yeah, really really stripy. I didn’t bring it on tour actually, I should have done. It’s really colourful, it’s got black, yellow, red…I don’t know how to describe it, it’s sort of woven.
Yeah, it’s wool. That lyric came from this time with my old band when we were playing in Leeds, and afterwards we slept on this girl’s floor, and I was sleeping in this jumper because…
You wanted to?
Yeah, because I wanted to, and I was on the floor. And my mate was closer to this bottle of water than I was and he was like ‘can you pass me that bottle of water’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah, just wait while I unravel my jumper and lasso it.’ And then the next day I was trying to remember the line in my head.
So have you been writing these songs for a long time, or just storing the ideas?
I don’t know, I never really spend long doing it- they’re all sort of half an hour songs. I write things down in my little book, and then when I’ve got a tune I’ll just look in the book and try and find the words that fit.
That’s a good way to do it.
I only stopped playing in other bands in February, and then doing this I only played my first gig in October, and I only had about twelve songs and they were all really rubbish (laughs). So all of a sudden my aim was to write some really good songs…so I ended up with about thirty.
I don’t know if this is a good thing to do or not, but I think it was Bob Dylan who said if you’re writing songs you should aim to write ten a day, one of which you keep. But I like keeping everything…hahaha. And I wouldn’t be able to write that much anyway.
Do you play music then?
Yeah I do. I’ve been thinking actually, since listening to your music, that you are living the dream. I’d love to learn how to multi track, I play pretty much the same instruments as you except the guitar, and add saxophone and clarinet. But I’m always thinking of ideas that need multi tasking to the extreme. So yep, you’re living the dream.
It’s really quite simple! But you know, every time I play a gig with a band there’s always one band member who wants to be playing more than they are.
Well most people are multi-instrumentalists. You know, if you’re interested in music you will probably have tried out lots of different things.
I often feel pressurised to do things with other people but I’m trying to stick to my guns.
Yeah, like with that song you were playing earlier (Split) I was thinking how good it would sound with a girls voice in certain places, but then I thought how stupid it would be because it would take away the whole essence of what you do.
A girl’s voice on the loop part, or simultaneously or what?
I don’t know, it just sounded like with the deep voice and guitar at the start, quite traditional… um…
Like 50s doo-wop sort of thing?
Yeah, and you could imagine a sort of girl-boy swap over. But you could do that with your own voice, or different pitched instruments or whatever. But I was like poising my mind to expect to hear a girl’s voice come in…but then you finished. Haha.
Yeah yeah, I was just testing a few different bars at a time. I can never be bothered to play songs all the way through on sound check. You don’t really need to when you’re on your own; you just need to check that everything works.
The sound people would probably get pissed off as well.
Yeah. Some bands do go through the whole set…but it kind of takes the fun out of it. If you’re doing it on your own, once you’ve done it once that day…
Exactly. And there’s not really an atmosphere to be playing to. Just a dark room.
I feel at more and more gigs that I just want to piss around instead of playing the songs.
Well that’s just what you’re going to have to do.
I looked up where you lived…it’s an exciting place. And I don’t actually mean that sarcastically. I live in the middle of nowhere. But, I thought that Stourbridge seemed to epitomise the archaic stereotypes of childhood dreams.
(Laughs) That’s not how I’d picture it...
But you’ve got Railway trains…that’s it really….(chortle).
The railway’s miles away though.
Really? I suppose I didn’t actually look at the map…I’m not really a big map reader. I was wondering if growing up there had any effect on you, because I kind of thought that the thoughts you seem to have are kind of childlike in the way that they are like how a child’s mind would work or look at things, that imagination, but for adult experiences, like love, because you’re an adult.
It is really nice. You know what, I do hope to leave there, but I still haven’t got in a position where I could leave there and err...
Yeah, I suppose survive is a good word for it. (chortle) There’s like a really small part of it that’s really nice, I’d like to live there.
Could you not move there?
Not really. There’s a couple of little centre points, like there’s a really nice gig called Patti Piestellos which I love to play, the people down there are really cool. But apart from that it’s sort of small town, white shirts Saturday night….But anywhere you are you have to look for the good bits.
Well kind of related to that, seeing as there’s so much to do there…if you had to spend a day there, what would you do? I’ve got some options for you that you can choose from. You can…Go check out the steam trains, have a ride.
Yeah! (Sounds enthused)
Or go to the non-stop sponsored Bible reading that’s happening next month…
That sounds great, wow.
Ballroom dancing classes? The international festival of glass. Or counselling.
I think I’m good for counselling. Glass…I forgot about that actually. My friend’s a glass blower. People move down from Australia just to do the glass blowing. I’ve never been there, so why not? Then maybe we should ignore Stourbridge. Forget it exists.
I don’t know, there’s a lot going on. Talking of embracing society, if you could then make your own activities club, what would it be? And you can’t say butler training.
I think I’d put together an army to knit some jumpers.
I’m knitting a scarf at the moment. It’s red, green and brown.
I used to love brown. I’ve gone off brown in recent times (sounds perplexed).
I can imagine it suiting your colourings. I do prefer brighter colours though. That’s my dream, to knit a big scarf of ALL the colours. Hahaha, ‘my dream’. I had to stop knitting this one because I realised I was concentrating on the scarf, not my work, and this scarf was going to emerge that would be representative of my failure in life. So you’ve got one member of your army down.
It’s going to be like a sweat shop.
Not leisurely?
No, no, leisurely. Just like ‘come in here for twenty minutes’.

Interview & Words- Ali Hewson

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