Words El Jefe.
Based in Sweden, but drawing members from the States, and France as well as Sweden, Blues Pills present as diverse a lineage as their musical influences. Bassist Zack Anderson took the time to speak to me about the new LP, Lady In Gold.
El Jefe: Could you tell me a bit about the new record, recording experiences around it and how you approached it differently to the first LP?
Zack Anderson: The first one was a bit easier due to the fact that we already had the songs written. This time around, we were touring all the time and didn’t have many opportunities to stop and write. Because of this, we also had to work a lot harder to get it together. So the writing process was a lot slower. We’d go into the studio and put a few things down at a time and gradually add to it. This was done over about two years. But the actual recording process was much the same as the first record. We used the same studio and engineer, just spent more time writing and recording. And because the songs were a lot more diverse and had moved away a bit from the late ‘60s / early ‘70s blues rock of the first record, we were a bit worried about how this one would be received. We’ve introduced a lot of soul and Motown, and even folk. Elin (Larsson – vocals) is a huge Aretha Franklin fan (no surprises there! EJ) and added a lot of this into her vocals. So far, everyone has been really positive about it.
EJ: There’s a lot of warmth to the sound of this record. How was that achieved?
Zack: The studio is all analogue, no digital equipment. Digital is ok; it allows you to edit easily and fix or change anything you want, but analogue suits our workflow a lot better. It’s just our preference for recording.
EJ: How does the band approach the songwriting?
Zack: Elin and I usually write the lyrics, but the band as a whole contributes to the music. We just start with a rough idea and build it up from there. This was also the first record with Andre (Kvarnström; the new drummer who joined in 2014 and replaced Cory Berry, who is also Zack’s step brother).
EJ: What’s your fave song on the new record?
Zack: At different times every song on it has been my favourite, but I think ‘Burned Out’ or ‘Little Boy Preacher’ would be my two favourites.
EJ: What are some of your more diverse influences musically?
Zack: A lot of ‘60’s psych-rock. Bands like the Sacred Mushrooms and I’m also a huge Blue Cheer fan. Also Motown and anything Norman Whitfield was involved with. And the old Australian band, The Masters Apprentices were a big influence. It’s been really good to see a lot of older bands reforming and raising the awareness of what they had done. Bands who I was discovering when I first started to buy vinyl, soul and funk stuff.
EJ: Do you remember who you were listening to when you decided to play bass?
Zack: No, not exactly. It just happened gradually. I’d played both guitar and drums growing up, and just watching a lot of music videos with Cory, things like The White Stripes. We were jamming a bit, and when I was about 17 we joined Radio Moscow and I started playing bass.
EJ: Do you have plans to tour Australia again soon?
Zack: There isn’t anything booked yet, but I’m sure we’ll get back there really soon once the new record is released. Our first LP was only just out when we played Australia the first time and I don’t think there was much awareness of the band so hopefully will be different the next time.
It’s difficult to know where to start. This record is brilliant. Flat-out fucking brilliant. From the opening (title) track, ‘Lady In Gold’ through to a killer cover version of Tony Joe White’s (of which I’m sure Tones would approve) ‘Elements And Things’, it just doesn’t let up. Draws you in, and engulfs you. End of story.
The debut LP from Blues Pills was an amazing record, a stone-cold killer. It had the lot. Or so I thought. Just two years later, they slug us with this one?!?! Yeah, they were just getting warmed up beforehand. But now it seems, it’s no more Mr nice guy!
Blues Pills were drawn together from all the corners of the universe; France, Iowa, Sweden. French guitarist Dorian Sorriaux was just sixteen when he hooked up with Elin, Zack and Corey (who has since been replaced by new drummer Andre, who also played on this record). In an all too rare instance, their (combined and individual) talents were quickly scooped up, and they were able to tour regularly and make records almost straight off the bat. And hone their songwriting and playing skills. To a razor-sharp point!
‘Lady In Gold’ is a cool choice for the first song. Catchy, slick and sexy. Works its way in gently, but it’ll grab ya by the throat quickly enough, make no mistake. ‘Little Boy Preacher’ is shot fulla some excellent gospel bv’s that give it a unique twist.
On ‘Burned Out’, Elin unleashes her best dirty jazz rasp to punctuate her words. Eerie slide guitar and some driving organ fatten this tune out in fine style.
Layered vocal tracks from the phenomenally talented Elin Larsson, whose huge pipes have grown considerably since their debut (she was no slouch on that one; seriously, fucking incredible!) give LIG huge depth, and lend a cool “gospel from the apocalypse” vibe. Zack and Andre are as knitted a rhythm section as you could hope for. They have a mighty groove that never quits. Fluidity, and chops. Power out when they need to, and skulk in the shadows when the time comes. The guitars and vocals may be the “unique selling point”, but these dudes allow the band to breathe so perfectly, and hold it together so well it could be easy to overlook their influence on the sound. And let’s not forget the guitars. Dorian walks a fine line with his playing. Music is all about balance and teamwork. But this guy can flat-out fucking play!
‘I Felt A Change’ has some shades of Carol King to it, all electric piano and those soaring vocals.
‘Gone So Long’ is just slightly creepy and sinister, and cruises along on a martial drumbeat and some borderline tuneless slide guitar so deftly handled that it works. It just hangs you over the edge, and leaves you out to dry. ‘Bad Talkers’ is just a rockin’ blast through Motown. Love the hand claps in the breakdown too. ‘You Gotta Try’ has the same kinda smokin’ feel to it.
The Zeppelin-esque ‘Wont Go Back’ pumps it out hot, hard and heavy. Relentless and deeply soulful. ‘Rejection’ has some classic organ coursing through its’ riff-heavy veins. It’s a great, great rock tune. ‘Elements And Things’ is heavier than the original, but retains much of the blues-raunch vibe.
Blues Pills have always set the bar impossibly high, but this release will eclipse all their previous releases. The songwriting is flawless and inventive, the playing and vocals more than just astounding. The band certainly didn’t hold back, and have hurled so many elements into this that it’s sure to be a gift that keeps on giving. Blues-rock, funk, soul. It’s a huge melting pot, but they also know how to cook.
Lady In Gold may well be my fave release of the year too (although Wo Fat’s Midnight Cometh will give it a good run for the money), and SHOULD raise Blues Pills profile considerably. They get my vote. Should get yours too! You Gotta Try!
Blues Pills new LP Lady In Gold is set for release on the 5th of August through Nuclear Blast. Order HERE.