mercredi, juin 28, 2006

Regina Spektor

On the town

She sings of owls and orca whales - but it's the streets of her hometown that inspire
Regina Spektor. She takes Imogen Tilden on a tour of Manhattan

Friday June 23, 2006
The Guardian

'Oh my God. This is so weird. And exciting." Regina Spektor is standing on a corner in Greenwich Village, looking at a poster of herself. This is the first time she has come across her own face on a wall in her home city. She skips from leg to leg, and poses for the photographer in front of it, her expression alternating delight and wonder. "There's me, and there's the Mona Lisa drinking beer." A lager ad has been pasted adjacent to one for her new album, Begin to Hope. "It's so surreal." She considers the matter further and laughs. "I mean, what the fuck am I doing on a fucking wall in New York City?"

Spektor was born in Russia of Jewish parents, but her family emigrated to the US when she was nine, settling in the Bronx. Now she lives in Manhattan, and it's impossible to imagine her music - combining a childlike sense of wonder, and vivid, surreal images, set to an eclectic, often piano-led backing - coming from any other city.

"New York feeds me creatively," she says, during the course of an overcast June Sunday spent taking the Guardian round the New York locations that have informed her music. "A lot of my inspiration comes from walking in the streets. It's a kind of country of its own. This is the place that makes me feel more at home than anywhere else on the planet."

We meet for breakfast in her favourite diner. Black-and-white photos of actors line the walls. A sign reads: "Hot oatmeal served till 11am." The menu offers 80 kinds of omelette. Spektor arrives late -she was editing the video for her new single into the early hours. Despite the late night, she is strikingly pretty, with intensely blue eyes and a wide, engaging smile. She wears a tiny "R" on a silver chain round her neck, red hearts dangle from her ears and her nail varnish is chipped.

She tells stories from the minute she sits down - about a mouse she befriended in her old apartment, how she developed a passion for yerba mate tea staying in Barcelona while squashed like a sardine into a flat shared with Brazilian fire-dancers, or of coming to the UK to study for six months as a 19-year-old. "I got it into my head that it would be romantic to study Shakespeare in London. I went with two huge suitcases full of wool - woollen sweaters, woollen underwear. My parents said: "It's an island surrounded by water and wind. Colder than the coldest thing you've known in New York." So I get on the plane and sit next to this British guy who'd just been in New York, and he turns to me and says, 'These past five days have been the coldest in my life.'"

Between mouthfuls of egg (sunny side up on rye), she says she used to be vegetarian, but touring with the Strokes, who existed on a diet of steaks and burgers, put paid to that. "I have a whole secret food side," she says. "Russian stuff: tongue sandwiches, herrings, sauerkraut soup." She promises to take us to Veselka, a 24-hour east-European deli, where we can sample New York's best stuffed cabbage.

We walk through Washington Square. A band strikes up New York, New York. "No one will believe this," she laughs. We sit at the edge of an unused fountain. "I like that people can see each other as you all sit facing in. I come here a lot. It's peaceful." A group of people are standing around two huge easels. Spektor goes to ask what they're doing. "This is the interactive city," she says. "You have to try really hard to be lonely here. Just walking around you can't stay in a bad mood. Once I was feeling really lonely and sad, and then I saw two nuns Rollerblading in full habits, and I thought, 'All right, God, I get it! The world is funny, I should get over myself and laugh.'"

The Strand bookstore boasts 18 miles of new, used, rare and out-of-print books. "You can't ever really find what you're looking for but you find all kinds of other stuff," Spektor says. "I've read entire books here. I've come in, read for like a couple of hours, left, come back two weeks later, gone up the ladder, got my book, sat and read for another few hours." She picks out former army colonel James K Van Heet's po-faced 1968 Guide to Managing People from the $1 stall. She adds a book of Yiddish poetry, even though she can't understand the language, just spell the words out, haltingly.

"I've lost this four times," she says, spotting Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. "I keep leaving it in hotel rooms. I love his stuff but I can't continue to buy it. I think I'm never going to get to read the end." Taschen's enormous $200 Stanley Kubrick's Archives catches her eye. "Kubrick's work with music is amazing. In fact, Wendy Karlos - who did the music for A Clockwork Orange - lives just above here." She'd love to write film music herself one day, she says.

A musical influence from her homeland is the political songwriting of Vladimir Vysotsky, the singer and actor who died, aged 42, in 1980. What about the personal and political in her own songwriting? Her song, Uh-merica, for example, juxtaposes the image of a mother's kisses for her newborn with the comfort of "cuddling your semi-automatic". "I'm not a political activist. It would limit me," she says."I want to be very free. I guess if there is any agenda I have, it is to win back the rights of musicians to be more like the Greek chorus who stand outside and comment, almost anonymous and without boundaries. With that comes a certain way of being objective. Music suffers from being too personal - even just the fact that people assume my stuff is personal."

The fantastical stories she writes have more to do with the logic of dreams than any linear narrative or specific agenda. "I have characters and create stories, and then I move on to the next one and I forget that people are associating it with you. Sure I sing my heart out, but it's just not for myself or about myself. I'm singing about ideas I've had or things I've seen, people I've seen, things I've made up that might be real or they might not." On Hotel Song, from Begin to Hope, for instance, she sings: "Come into my world/I have dreams of orca whales and owls/but I wake up in fear." Across the record, her voice moves from breathy innocence to a raucous, sexy yelp with growls, purrs and screams along the way, somehow bringing all her fascinations together in three-minute pop songs. How would she describe her music? "I usually just say songs. People think I'm trying to be all smartass, but I just sing the songs I write, and they're different from each other."

We go on to Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village, where she played her first proper gig, aged 19. "I'd come here for the open mic night but never got picked. So I got the number of the booker and called him up. It happened a woman was covering for him that day, and so I lied to her, 'I had a show booked and I don't remember when it was. Would you mind checking?' and she looked in the diary and of course it wasn't there. 'He said he wrote it down,' I said, and so she put me down for a slot. I begged every single person I knew to come. The place was full of Russian adults. They did such good business they had me back, and slowly I started to have some real fans."

She inspires a particular kind of fervent devotion among her fans, who all seem to want to be her best friend or boyfriend. She's embarrassed. "That is so weird - I think I'm such a dork." On MySpace she has almost 68,000 friends (the Arctic Monkeys have 70,000), and they all seem to feel possessive about her; the possibility that Begin to Hope might be her commercial breakthrough has upset some. "People on my website are saying stuff like, 'I don't want her to be known. She's ours'," Spektor says.

She agrees that the album - her first for a major label - feels poppier and more mainstream than 2004's Soviet Kitsch ("More produced, certainly"). She worked with the Grammy-winning producer David Kahne. "I loved working with him so much. I looooved it." She lowers her voice to a whisper: "He, like, produces Paul McCartney." He helped her with her arrangements, fleshing out her recordings so they were closer to what she could hear in her head. "I would say 'I want this kind of a sound', and he would say, 'OK, I have this ...' and then he'd pull it up from his computer, and in the process we'd find five other sounds that were really inspiring. We'd start pulling on a thread and then pull more and more and get really excited, until my eyes were closing. I'd stumble home at 3am."

How would she feel if the album did make her a star, and she could no longer walk freely around her city? "With increased fame comes a weirdness. I don't think I like that stuff. I wouldn't want to be stopped in the street. But [fame] does grant you certain kinds of artistic privileges, and access to other artists and musicians who you wouldn't have otherwise. It really, really makes me happy when people know my songs or when my shows sell out. But when you're an underground musician you're only available to the very active music fans who really work hard. It's an awesome experience to have those fans, but sometimes you want to at least make yourself available to more people."

She returns to our earlier brush with her new presence in New York. "I'm gonna take all my friends to see the posters. We'll come across them, accidentally on purpose," she says with a grin.

· Regina Spektor plays Brighton Concord on Sunday, then tours. Begin to Hope is released on July 10

Related reviews

Regina Spektor, Manchester University
06.01.2006: CD: Regina Spektor, Mary Ann Meets the Grave Diggers and Other Short Stories
06.01.2006: We're jammin': Regina Spektor
17.11.2004: Regina Spektor, Bush Hall, London
04.07.2004: CD: Regina Spektor, Soviet Kitsch

Useful links

Regina Spektor official site


Sleater-Kinney Set To Split

Sleater-Kinney (photo by Ros O'Gorman)

by Daniel Zugna @ Undercover

June 28

American rock trio Sleater-Kinney have announced their break-up via a message on their official website.

The message read, “After eleven years as a band, Sleater-Kinney have decided to go on indefinite hiatus. The upcoming summer shows will be our last. As of now, there are no plans for future tours or recordings.

“We feel lucky to have had the support of many wonderful people over the years. We want to thank everyone who has worked with us, written kind words about us, performed with us, and inspired us.

”But mostly we want to extend our gratitude to our amazing fans. You have been a part of our story from the beginning. We could not have made our music without your enthusiasm, passion, and loyalty. It is you who have made the entire journey worthwhile.”

Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker formed the band in Olympia, Washington, in the 1990s during the height of the riot grrl movement, with Janet Weiss joining in 1997. 2005’s final album, ‘The Woods’, was their first to be released on influential indie label Sub Pop. No explanation has been given for the ‘indefinite hiatus’.

The band’s final show looks set to take place at August’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago.

Sleater-Kinney Final Tour Dates:

July 29 – Louisville, KY - Mellwood Arts Center
July 31 – Philadelphia, PA - Starlight Ballroom
August 01 – Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
August 02 – New York, NY - Webster Hall
August 04 – Chicago, IL - Grant Park (Lollapalooza)

Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips Lash Out At Richard Ashcroft

Flaming Lips (photo by Tim Cashmere)

by Tim Cashmere @ Undercover

June 28

The Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne has hit out at former Verve singer Richard Ashcroft for pulling out of a taping of the recently axed show ‘Top Of The Pops’, according to

“Richard is a pompous dick from my experience.” Coyne said, “We were supposed to record Top Of The Pops with him, but he cancelled at the last minute. Perhaps he sensed a punch-up backstage.”

The Flaming Lips were on the show to promote their latest album ‘At War With The Mystics’, while Richard Ashcroft was scheduled to perform a song from his third solo album ‘Keys To The World’.

lundi, juin 26, 2006

Cat Power live

Cat Power, Barbican, London

I got them back-on-the-wagon blues

By Luiza Sauma

Published: 25 June 2006

The first question on everyone's lips must surely be: is Chan Marshall going to have a meltdown tonight? The Atlanta-born singer-songwriter, who records under the name Cat Power, is infamous for all the wrong reasons. She forgets her lyrics, gives up on songs, sometimes even breaks down into tears. And for the second question: are we here because we want to witness a car crash, or an artist at the height of her powers?

There is a feeling of expectancy in the air. As she proudly declares several times during the show, Marshall is sober now, after years of on-the-road drunkenness. Not only that, she has one of the tightest backing bands on earth to prop her up - Al Green's Memphis Rhythm Band, including strings, horns and the saint-like Teenie Hodges on guitar - as well as a critically acclaimed recent album, The Greatest, which she performs almost song by song.

She takes to the stage barefoot, self-consciously waving away the applause, hiding behind her trademark fringe (which half of the girls in the audience are also sporting) and launches into the defeated, wistful album opener, "The Greatest". She's a beautiful woman, but she wears it like an old cardigan, with a shrug - dancing awkwardly on her tiptoes and jogging on the spot like a boxer. And then there's her voice: her recordings don't do justice to its girlishly smoky, seen-it-all timbre. With the Memphis Rhythm Band behind her, this tortured indie pin-up is transformed into a genuine blues singer - wringing the emotion out of her songs, as she wrings her hands.

Or, so I thought. During her solo interlude, the cracks start to show. At first, she grapples with a microphone stand. Then a cover of "The House of the Rising Sun" - which strips this most ubiquitous of songs to it bare, bloody bones - is sabotaged by her own anxiety. "I just wanted this to be the best show," she murmurs. "Shall I just get off the stage?"

Thankfully, this neurotic panto never goes full-blown, as it would have done a few years ago. For her encores (there were two), the stark "I Don't Blame You" from 2003's You Are Free, segues into a titbit from the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do is Dream", which, in turn, becomes "Blue Moon". Hank Williams's "Ramblin' Man" is given a ghostly, acapella treatment. But Chan never looks as happy as when she has her band around her - most notably, when they all huddle around the microphone for a cheerful rendition of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' Motown classic, "Tracks of My Tears".

Chan Marshall is that rare thing - a female singer who doesn't exploit her own beauty, but expresses herself in the most integral way: through her voice. On a night like this, it triumphs over everything, even her fear.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

samedi, juin 24, 2006

Music for Everyone

Music search sites that learn your taste

By Adam Pasick Fri Jun 23, 4:51 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - The boom in digital music has left a lot of iPods to fill and made millions of songs available online. But how to choose which ones? Music recommendation services are using tech wizardry to solve the problem.

It used to be so simple: Music fans discovered new songs by talking to friends or listening to the radio, then paid a visit to the local record store. But now, with online music stores like iTunes and Napster offering millions of often obscure songs, users are searching for a better way.

Two of the most popular services, Pandora and, take radically different approaches.

Pandora ( ) sets up a personalized online radio station based on a few favorite artists or songs, then adds new songs basing the selections on attributes of the music you've chosen.

For example, I set up a Pandora station of soul music ( ) with artists like Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway, which I then refined by giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to various songs while listening on my computer.

How are the songs selected? According to Pandora, I like songs that "feature mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, electric pianos, and subtle use of strings," among other things.

The idea that my musical taste can be so easily pigeonholed is slightly distressing, but the results are uncannily accurate.


If Pandora recommends songs based on their inherent qualities, ( ) takes a very different approach by relying solely on the power of social networks: If you and a lot of other music fans like one song, it's likely that you also have other favorite songs in common.

The concept is known as collaborative filtering, and it often shows up on Web sites like Amazon that offer recommendations stating that "customers who liked X also liked Y." works through two separate pieces of software: One that monitors the music you listen to on software like Apple's iTunes and another that streams a personalized radio station to your computer.

The Web site also allows you to search for a given artist and find similar music, as well as listen to 30-second samples of most songs.

The statistics on my listening choices were surprising -- Do I really listen to the Beastie Boys that much? -- but I liked most of songs the service delivered. also has grown into a large online community of music lovers, based on shared musical taste.

TO EACH THEIR OWN and Pandora are far from the only services vying to separate the musical wheat from the chaff. Other sites include Live365 ( ), which offers some 7,500 user-generated radio stations, and MusicStrands ( ), a comprehensive music recommendation and community Web site.

Live Plasma ( ) is a site that draws striking graphical maps that show the overlapping relationships between artists. Aretha Franklin, for example, is orbited by Teddy Pendergrass, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye and Barry White.

Despite the use of technology, musical taste remains an idiosyncratic matter for most people, so it pays to try multiple services -- and to remember tried-and-true real-world methods.

Mitch McAlister, a 30-year-old American living in London, has used and Pandora with varying results.

" is somewhat interesting to me, but I think Pandora kinda sucks all around -- for some reason they keep recommending Coldplay for all my music choices," he said. " has been measuring my iTunes plays for a while now. I think there might be too many options and too many different applications, but I don't get Coldplay over and over again."

In the end, McConnell said that neither service exposed him to new music he truly liked. For that, he relies on methods that involve little to no technology at all.

"I am a cynic when it comes to music. I go to shows and talk to people," he said.

jeudi, juin 22, 2006

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops axed

John Plunkett
Wednesday June 21, 2006
The Guardian

Pan's People, Top of the Pops
When the Pops was tops ... resident dance troupe Pan's People

Forty-two years after the Rolling Stones opened the first show with I Wanna Be Your Man, the BBC is finally calling time on Top of the Pops. The chart show, which made TV stars out of the likes of Noel Edmonds and Tony Blackburn, will run down its last-ever top 40 on July 30.

Audiences have plummeted since its 1970s heyday, when it was watched by 19 million viewers, and fell further when it switched from BBC1 to BBC2 last year in a last-ditch relaunch.

Successive presenting teams have failed to breathe new life into the format. In its latest incarnation at Sunday teatimes, audiences have fallen to little more than 1 million viewers.

The show has been under pressure from the proliferation of 24-hour music channels and the decline of the singles chart. The internet and the growth in music downloading helped boost single sales, but internet users do not need to wait for a once-weekly chart update.

Jimmy Savile, who presented the first show from a disused church in Salford on January 1 1964, said: "Top of The Pops as such is being axed but its place is being taken by at least 20 television channels banging away 24 hours a day on satellite TV. Early Top of the Pops was something nobody else had done. Radio 1 hadn't been invented. It was a life of constant excitement for all of us involved. It was a pop phenomenon."

The show is being axed as part of BBC director general Mark Thompson's Creative Future review. Long-running Saturday sports show Grandstand is also being axed as part of the same review.

The BBC's director of television, Jana Bennett, said: "We're very proud of a show which has survived 42 years in the UK and gone on to become a worldwide brand, but the time has come to bring the show to its natural conclusion."

The programme was moved from its traditional Thursday home to a Friday slot in 1996. It doubled its audience to more than 5 million when it was relaunched in 2003, but ratings fell away again, prompting its switch to BBC2.

Edmonds, who hosted the show between 1970 and 1989 and now presents Channel 4's Deal or No Deal, expressed dismay at the decision. He said: "I think it's a dangerous thing to throw out one of the most recognised TV brands. It's a tragedy when a broadcaster doesn't understand such a powerful brand."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

lundi, juin 19, 2006

Muse New Album

Earthbound asteroids, evil lizards and fans disguised as gasmen ...

Muse are on their fourth album - and still finding plenty to worry about, finds Alexis Petridis

Friday June 16, 2006
The Guardian

A counter-balance to well-mannered rock ... Muse

The past few days have been trying for Matt Bellamy. First, there was a press junket to America, where his band Muse are tipped to replicate their multi-platinum, stadium-packing, festival-headlining European success. The trip was not an unqualified triumph. It started well, with a helicopter ride around New York, but ended with the singer cancelling a raft of interviews. One persistent rumour claims Bellamy excused himself from any further Stateside promotional duties on the grounds he'd heard an asteroid was about to hit America and it was therefore imperative he leave the country immediately. Whether this was a genuine fear or merely the best excuse a pop star has ever come up with for avoiding the music press remains open to conjecture.

Back in Italy, where Bellamy lives with his Italian girlfriend, a psychology student, things continued tryingly. There was the usual round of Italian TV shows to promote Muse's new single, titled, with the kind of shy understatement for which the trio are renowned, Supermassive Black Hole. Muse are huge in Italy - a country where outré prog-rockers Van Der Graaf Generator once topped the album charts for 12 weeks was likely to find Muse's blend of Queen-like bombast, metal guitars, quasi-classical flourishes and apocalyptic sci-fi lyrics hard to resist - but the nation's unique take on music television remains a source of bemusement to anyone born outside its borders. Muse were spared the indignity meted out to Coldplay, who were required to perform, for reasons unexplained, accompanied by a septuagenarian female acrobat, but nonetheless, the shows proved as incomprehensible as ever to three twentysomethings who grew up on the relatively straightforward Top of the Pops and Later. "They set up a big outdoor festival in a square, and then you mime," frowns Muse's drummer, Dominic Howard. "You get all these cheesy Italian pop stars, then us doing Supermassive Black Hole."

Most troubling of all, yesterday Bellamy received a letter at his new home near Lake Como, an address he enjoys not merely for the exquisite scenery, but for its musical past. Perhaps uniquely among the current crop of alt-rock frontmen, Bellamy is famed for his love of classical composers (he may well be the first rock star in history to dismiss the suggestion that his band's music occasionally sounds a little over the top by referencing Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts Requiem) and is thus excited by the fact that Vincenzo Bellini, a celebrated but short-lived 19th-century opera composer and noted dandy, lived near his new house: "When I'm in playing the piano, I know I'm in the same place where a couple of hundred years ago some great music was being written." The letter was from three Muse fans, "saying they know where I live, and they'd found my address on the internet, which is quite scary. I just moved in, and I didn't realise you had to make yourself ex-directory, as in the UK, so I think they just looked me up."

One of the reasons he moved from London was to escape what he calls "invasive problems". That sounds like something a doctor might snap on his rubber gloves to examine, but turns out to mean the unwanted attentions of die-hard fans. He is not the only member of Muse to find the band's burgeoning fame impinging on his private life - recently, when dropping off his eldest child at primary school, bassist Chris Wolstenhome was startled to find himself mobbed by "a hundred fucking eight-year-olds", including a little girl who made the devil's horns sign with her fingers and told Wolstenhome he "seriously rocked" - but, as befits the band's frontman, Bellamy was attracting the attentions not merely of excitable pre-pubescents, but the kind of persistent Muse fanatics he once described as "berserkers".

He thinks he understands where their obsession stems from - "there's a lot of bands out there who will edit themselves to create a more generic type of sound, but we don't do that: you're getting quite an unedited version of who we are through the music, so the fans maybe have a feeling of being closer to us than they would to a band that's editing themselves" - but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants them turning up on his doorstep. "A couple of guys dressed as gasmen asked to come in and read the meter. I knew straight away that something was up because they were too young, they were about 16 or something. I asked to see some ID, and one of them blurted out, 'You've changed your hair colour, what's happened with your hair?'" he sighs, "which kind of gave the game away."

Nevertheless, as he sits in the lobby of a plush Milan hotel, Bellamy seems in good humour. His hair, once dyed blue and red and spiked in a manner recalling the alcopop advertising Judder Man, is now a more demure black. Any fears, real or otherwise, about imminent asteroid collisions seem to have subsided. "Oh yeah," he says, airily. "There's an asteroid called Apophis that was on a relatively close course to the Earth, but I think it's veered off now. I don't think it's due until 2030 or something, so there's no immediate concern." His face clouds over. "But if we were ever to stop something like that happening, there needs to be immediate action taken. There's no doubt that these things happen."

He is rightly pleased with Muse's fourth album, a record that, while more optimistic in tone than its predecessor Absolution - "well, I don't sing 'this is the end of the world' on the opening track if that's what you mean," demurs Bellamy - may be even more wayward, inventive and wildly, unashamedly extravagant. It numbers among its multifarious delights crashing orchestras, thundering horses' hooves, massed mock-choral vocals, deafening military tattoos, a burst of what can only be described as flamenco metal, and songs called Map of the Problematique and Knights of Cydonia, the latter named after a region on the northern hemisphere of Mars. It could be the work of no other artist: indeed, Muse appear so aloof from musical trends that Bellamy doesn't seem entirely certain who the lead singer of Babyshambles is ("Doherty," he suggests hopefully, "or whatever his name is").

Like Absolution, however, it seems destined to attract the kind of reviews in which praise for its originality is tempered by the use of such adjectives as ridiculous and absurd. "If you're sitting in an office with music on in the background, listening to the Strokes and then Muse come on, we probably sound pretty silly," concedes Bellamy. "But if you're listening to it on headphones on a plane going through severe turbulence, it would sound completely different. It's all contextual."

The trio formed Muse while at school in the Devon town of Teignmouth. They were barely out of their teens when their 2000 debut album Showbiz was released, to muted response from critics, who dismissed them as little more than a Tesco Value Radiohead; in contrast to the swift trajectory of the modern "firework band", their rise to massive success has been slow and steady. The band's relationship with Teignmouth, meanwhile, has proved a troubled one - after Bellamy made some disparaging remarks in the press, Wolstenhome remembers the town's mayor appearing on the front of the local newspaper, "throwing a copy of our debut single into a wheelie bin" - and, even now, several million album sales later, the three still carry the faint but detectable aura of the small-town outsider about them. Howard is polite but seems slightly prickly and suspicious: you get the impression he seldom ranks encounters with the press among the highlights of his day. Wolstenhome is an enormously affable father of three who has chosen to stay in Teignmouth while his bandmates have moved away, but feels Muse's torrid live shows, with their propensity to end in smashed equipment and physical injury, may be rooted in their past. "Maybe it's a feeling of all the shit you can't express in everyday life, or to people walking down the street or whatever. I used to be a lot more aggressive," he says. "I was always getting into shit at school." Did they get picked on? "Me less than the others, I had size on my side. Dom was always getting his arse kicked for having long hair."

And then there is Matt Bellamy. Over the years, he has developed a reputation as a bit of a fruitcake: perhaps an unavoidable side-effect of cancelling interviews on the grounds of imminent asteroid-related apocalypse and telling the NME you believe in the theories of Zecharia Sitchin, a writer who claims the human race evolved as a result of visiting aliens carrying out genetic experiments on apes. Today, he pronounces himself a fan of David Icke's recent book, Tales from the Time Loop: The Most Comprehensive Expose of the Global Conspiracy Ever Written and All You Need to Know to Be Truly Free ("the first few chapters give you a really good concise history of conspiracy theories, but the last few chapters are all claiming George Bush is the fifth cousin twice removed of the Queen, so he lost me a bit there"). He says that if he weren't in Muse he would "probably be a full-time conspiracy theorist", and launches into a lengthy and impassioned harangue about global finance: "It's absolute fucking corruption and enslavement and that's what we live in," he says, before checking himself. "Anyway, I'm starting to slide down the hill. It's a slippery slope, and before you know it, you're on about lizards controlling the world."

As with some of Muse's more florid musical moments or the more spectacular aspects of their live show - their last tour featured a giant keyboard-cum podium known as The Dalek that lit up as Bellamy played it - it's difficult to know quite how seriously you are supposed to take this sort of thing. On the one hand, Bellamy delivers it in an earnest, high-speed chatter. On the other, he regularly punctuates it with a high-pitched and rather mischievous sounding giggle: "Hih-hih-hih-hih!" He is clearly both fiercely intelligent and genuinely interested in what he calls "the massaging of information by governments and the media", but there is also the sense that he feels talking about this kind of thing is part of the rock star's job description, that he likes playing up to it a little -he took to the stage for the band's headlining appearance at Glastonbury two years ago clad in what looked like a nutty professor's white lab coat - and in doing so he provides a counterbalance to the massed ranks of well-mannered, dressed-down Tims and Toms prevalent in rock.

"I think that one of the freedoms I do have is freedom of thought," he says. "I'm allowed to have views of an alternative nature, whether some of them are a bit abstract or out there maybe. If you're in a nine-to-five situation it's difficult to entertain alternative thoughts because you're very entrained, by the people that are above you, to think and behave a certain way. Obviously most people, including me, are in debt to the bank, and that's a perfect way of maintaining a certain form of reality where you have to behave and perform certain duties to society. My aim in this band is to try to escape that. Through the process of doing that you start to develop slightly alternate ideas of reality. I think anyone would, if they could step out of it."

So he isn't bothered if people think he's a nutcase? "I'm not that conscious if there is such a thing as an image being portrayed of me out there. I think it depends what articles you read. It's in motion, it's not fixed. I don't think I'm quite as mad as David Icke yet. On the way though, hih-hih-hih-hih!"

In any case, he has other things to preoccupy him. He has vague plans for Muse to write and perform an extended classical-inspired instrumental piece. There are beserker fans to worry about, and a new live show to plan for. "I'm getting a piano this time that's on wheels, so I can wheel it on," he enthuses. "No, it's not going to move about when I play it. Well possibly it is." His eyes light up, his speech gets faster than ever. "It could skid a bit. They could wheel me out when I'm playing. That would be brilliant."

· Muse's new album, Black Holes and Revelations, is released on July 3 on Helium 3/Warners

Related stories
Muse, Earls Court, London
28.11.2003: Muse, Wembley Arena
19.09.2003: CD: Muse, Absolution

Useful link
Muse official site
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

jeudi, juin 15, 2006

Zappa still alive

Music Review

Zappa Plays Zappa: Best Band He Never Heard in His Life

By NATE CHINEN, New York Times
The bad news is that the band featured in Zappa Plays Zappa, the sprawling tribute that touched down at the Beacon Theater on Monday night, was upstaged by an opening act. The good news is that the opening act was Frank Zappa.
Billy Tompkins for The New York Times
Dweezil Zappa performs in tribute to his father, Frank Zappa.

No, he didn't materialize. But as the house lights darkened for some rarely seen video of Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the Roxy in 1973, the effect was more than a little séancelike. There he was, a study in lanky gravity, deadpanning about dental floss on "Montana" and developing a corkscrew guitar solo on "Dupree's Paradise." The video ran longer than a half-hour, long enough for the audience to feel transported.

The guitarist Dweezil Zappa, Frank Zappa's son, knew exactly what he was doing when he arranged for this overture. Mr. Zappa has described his touring production as more than the first family-sanctioned salute to his father, who died in 1993. It's intended as an argument for Frank Zappa's legitimacy as a composer and as an outreach to a new generation of listeners.

On Monday it was all those things, to varying degrees. (The outreach was the least successful effort; most of the crowd looked old enough to have been at that Roxy show.) Mr. Zappa led a sharp assemblage of musicians in a program complete with harrowing intricacies, inscrutable grandiosities and several of his father's alumni as featured guests.

Chief among them was the saxophonist and flutist Napoleon Murphy Brock, who handled lead vocals for most of the night. Mr. Brock sounded comfortable even with the music's most angular intervals. And he was deliciously goofy and sardonic, often bounding or whirling about the stage.

Those energies helped compensate for Mr. Zappa's demeanor, which was serious, even studious, in tone. His lone attempt at conducting doubled as a dose of audience participation and underscored his father's superior authority in both areas.

But Mr. Zappa's guitar playing was duly impressive — he imbued "Inca Roads" with the proper combination of spacey atmosphere and feverish technique — and his careful organization of the concert was evident. Moreover, his egoless approach cleared a space for Mr. Brock and the other guests, the drummer Terry Bozzio and the guitarist Steve Vai.

Mr. Bozzio's natural showpiece was "Black Page," a drum feature originally composed with him in mind, and he handled its notorious convolutions — what Frank Zappa once called its "statistical density" — with power and flair. Mr. Vai was equally gripping, and more musical, on a medley of "Montana," a bucolic "Village of the Sun" and a tricky "Echidna's Arf (Of You)."

But again, the biggest guest was Frank Zappa himself, who reappeared onscreen more than three hours into the concert. This time he played a guitar solo on "Chunga's Revenge," and his son's musical coterie supported him, so to speak, with unobtrusive passion.

The tour runs through June 24. A list of dates can be found at

dimanche, juin 11, 2006

Zappa 2006

Frank Zappa's Family Brings His Music to a New Audience

Published: June 11, 2006

IN the liner notes to the 1966 album "Freak Out!" by the Mothers of Invention, you can find the following things: annotations on the 14 songs, describing them variously as "very greasy," "trivial nonsense" and "what freaks sound like when you turn them loose in a recording studio"; an advertisement for a map that promises to reveal the "Freak-Out Hot Spots" of Los Angeles; and a hat-tipping list of 180 influences, musical and otherwise, that includes Slim Harpo, James Joyce and Charles Ives.

Michael Mesker

Dweezil Zappa in concert on the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, featuring former Frank Zappa sidemen, this year.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dweezil Zappa, left, with his father, Frank, in the mid-1980's.

You can also find a boxed credit, standing apart and alone, that says, "All selections arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Frank Zappa."

The confidence in that credit — along with a photo of the composer himself in sunglasses wielding an upside-down drumstick like a conductor's baton — signaled the self-possession that would guide Zappa, then just 25, through the 60-plus albums of his singular career.

Forty years on from that debut, a band led by Zappa's son Dweezil and featuring several of his former associates is seeking to illuminate the rigorous ambition and musical iconoclasm of his work. The Zappa Plays Zappa tour, which arrives at the Beacon Theater in New York on Monday after an extensive European leg, is the first memorial effort by his family since Zappa died of cancer in 1993.

"My overall goal in doing this is to present Frank's music to a newer audience," Dweezil Zappa, 36, said in a phone interview from the Los Angeles area last month, the day before heading out for the tour. "I think his music for one reason or another kind of skipped some generations that didn't get a chance to discover it."

He has recruited a roster of guests that includes the guitarist Steve Vai, the drummer Terry Bozzio and the singer-saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock, all of whom recorded and toured with his father in the 1970's and 80's. The tour has been a long time in the making. "It took me close to two years to get some of the stuff I wanted to get together," Mr. Zappa said.

Mr. Brock, speaking by telephone from Manchester, England, two weeks into the tour, said he remembered first meeting Dweezil as a small boy. "It's quite phenomenal that I would be able to be here with the son as I was here with the father," said Mr. Brock, whom Zappa discovered in 1972 fronting a dance band in Hawaii. "We're representing the authenticity of these songs."

As a cultural figure, Frank Zappa is in the odd position of being both relatively well known and artistically obscure. His name and face — with its trademark handlebar mustache and goatee — remain familiar to millions of people who would be hard pressed to name many songs beyond novelty hits like "Valley Girl" (which featured Dweezil's sister Moon Unit) and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow."

That is what Dweezil Zappa and his mother, Gail, hope to remedy with a tour that they envision as an annual event. "Hopefully people will understand that this music is alive and well," Gail Zappa said by phone, "and it's going to be around for a long, long time."

Even in the freewheeling era that formed him, Zappa was an odd man out — an abstemious aesthete who turned his withering satire on the counterculture as readily as he attacked the deadening conformity of public schools, government and social institutions in general. His lyrics could be absurdist or tender, scatological or philosophical, and they were joined to knotty melodies full of hairpin time changes and subject to gleeful mixing-board manipulation. He was also a political activist of a determinedly centrist stripe, calling himself a moderate Democrat and a conservative, arguing passionately for freedom of speech (most famously in Senate hearings on obscenity in music in 1985) and exhorting his fans to vote.

The set list for the tour includes some of his most adventurous and challenging pieces, like "Inca Roads" and the notoriously difficult "Black Page," which Zappa originally wrote as a drum solo for Mr. Bozzio (the name comes from the density of notes that covered the sheet music). Dweezil Zappa said he was especially drawn to the albums he remembers from his childhood in Southern California, from the era after his father dissolved the Mothers of Invention.

"He was blending rock and jazz and classical in the middle 70's in a way that nobody else was," he said.

Although the tour is at least touching on Zappa's earlier work — songs like "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" (the first track on "Freak Out!") and "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" from "We're Only in It for the Money," Zappa's sardonic response to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" — it is heavily weighted toward the middle of his career, the period that defines Zappa for many of his fans. (There is no "Valley Girl," but casual fans will at least be able to find "Yellow Snow" and "Montana" in the mix.) Response to the European shows in online forums has been largely positive. On the Zappa-centric blog Kill Ugly Radio, one fan wrote of the May 19 show in Stockholm: "This was my first chance to experience the music of FZ live in concert. And what a concert. Sitting there on the fourth row from the stage, I found myself with BIG smile on my face, laughing out loud at times."

Gail Zappa said feedback on the family's Web site ( had been similarly warm. "It's all age ranges," she said. "The older guys say, 'Oh, I saw Frank seven times, and now I'm taking my 14-year-old son who's a musician,' or 'my 7-year-old daughter who loves 'Freak Out!' "

Zappa's own children — Moon, Dweezil, their younger brother Ahmet and their younger sister Diva — were involved with their father's music in various ways from young ages. (Given Zappa's relentless recording and touring, it may have been the only way to bond with him; Moon has said she suggested the idea for "Valley Girl" via a note slipped under the door of his recording studio.) All four shared writing or performing credits on Zappa songs from the 70's and 80's. Frank also produced Dweezil's first album, "Havin' a Bad Day," in 1986, and released it on his Barking Pumpkin label.
The Zappa siblings have gone on to an assortment of show business projects. Dweezil has recorded another half-dozen albums, sometimes with Ahmet providing vocals, and has been host of shows on MTV and the Food Network. Ahmet, who married the actress Selma Blair in 2004, is currently working on a book, his mother said. Moon has acted on television and in films. Diva has also had small television and movie roles, and released a single with Dweezil in 1999 that featured Tipper Gore on drums. (Ms. Gore, wife of the former vice president, was a target of Zappa's ire during her decency campaigns in the 80's. But she subsequently became a friend of Gail Zappa, who supported Al Gore for president in 2000.)

But Frank Zappa's work has remained central to the family. Both Dweezil and his mother come across as fiercely custodial of that legacy, fighting against copyright infringements and advocating for the music to be played as it was written. "My job essentially is to protect the intent of the composer and the integrity of the work," said Gail Zappa, 61, who had been married to Frank for 26 years when he died.

Dweezil Zappa said that despite his years of experience on the guitar — he started learning when he was 12 — playing and arranging his father's music was a significant challenge. For one section of "The Black Page," he had to "completely change my technical style of picking to accommodate what was needed to play this accurately."

"That was probably a two- or three-month process of intensive playing and studying," he said.

Zappa's stature among a cult of musicians and scholars has continued to grow since his death. His works have been recorded by companies including the German chamber orchestra Ensemble Modern and the French woodwind quintet Le Concert Impromptu. Last fall, the Oregon Percussion Ensemble presented a double bill of pieces by Zappa and one of his idols, the French composer Edgard Varèse. He is especially well regarded in Europe: the former Czech leader Vaclav Havel has long proclaimed him an influence and a group of artists in Vilnius, Lithuania, erected a statue in his honor in 1995.

Andy Hollinden, a lecturer who teaches a course on Zappa at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, called him "my favorite writer of melodies ever." Zappa, he said in a phone interview, "is different from everybody else in my opinion, in that he was a composer who wrote for electronic instruments in the rock 'n' roll era."

Zappa has attracted other disciples — tribute bands like Project/Object in New Jersey and Bogus Pomp in Florida — somewhat to his family's dismay.

"People get upset with me sometimes when I say I've never heard Frank's music played correctly," Dweezil Zappa said. "If there were people out there playing it correctly, with the right spirit, with the right notes, I'd be the first one to get excited."

But Ed Palermo, a New York saxophonist who has been performing big-band arrangements of Zappa's music since 1994 (most recently at the Iridium in Manhattan), said Zappa was subject to inevitable recontextualization.

"I believe Zappa deserves to be known down through history as a musician of the caliber of Gershwin and Duke Ellington," said Mr. Palermo, who has just released an album of his Zappa arrangements called "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance."

"I know the Zappas are very protective, and it's admirable," he continued. "But I think they're looking at it from a classical point of view. I do what jazz musicians do, in reinterpreting the music."

Gail Zappa is not completely dismissive of anyone's efforts to burrow into her husband's work. "I think that people should attempt it, and somebody will get it right someday," she said. "But because they're not operating under the baton of Frank, or even Dweezil, you can only take it so far."

Mr. Brock, the singer and saxophonist, said that the only thing missing from the tour was the restless, irrepressible presence of Zappa himself.

"I think Frank would be smiling and dancing and playing and laughing," he said. "And making up some new lines for us to play."

vendredi, juin 09, 2006

Rob Zombie

Godsmack Team Up With Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie

by Daniel Zugna @ Undercover

June 9

Chart-topping Boston rockers Godsmack will team up with the king of musical horror, Rob Zombie, on their upcoming US tour.

Kicking off in Dallas on August 25, the tour is in support of the band’s #1 fourth album, ‘Godsmack IV’.

Vocalist Sunny Erna discussed Rob Zombie’s involvement, explaining the famed horror-rocker “will set the stage turning the house into a funhouse of mystery and madness as creatures walk the stage of pyrotechnics, smoke and mirrors. This is a no-holds barred show so hold on for the ride.”

Fans also have the opportunity to purchase special VIP ticketing packages, which include up-close seating, pre-show party, and exclusive Godsmack gifts.

Godsmack / Rob Zombie American Tour Dates:

Fri-Aug-25 Dallas Smirnoff Music Center
Sat-Aug-26 San Antonio Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Sun-Aug-27 Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Wed-Aug-30 Atlanta HiFi Buys Amphitheatre
Thu-Aug-31 Charlotte Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Sat-Sep-02 Washington DC Nissan Pavilion
Sun-Sep-03 Camden Tweeter Center
Mon-Sep-04 Darien Lakes Darien Lakes Performing Arts Center
Thu-Sep-07 Boston Tweeter Center
Fri-Sep-08 Holmdel PNC Bank Arts Center
Sat-Sep-09 Wantagh Jones Beach
Tue-Sep-12 Milwaukee Marcus Amphitheatre
Wed-Sep-13 Detroit DTE Amphitheatre
Fri-Sep-15 Indianapolis Verizon Wireless
Sat-Sep-16 Chicago First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Sun-Sep-17 St. Louis UMB Bank Pavilion
Tue-Sep-19 Kansas City Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Wed-Sep-20 Denver Red Rocks
Fri-Sep-22 Las Vegas Theatre Under The Stars
Sat-Sep-23 Phoenix Cricket Pavilion
Sun-Sep-24 Albuquerque Journal Pavilion
Wed-Sep-27 Seattle White River Amphitheatre
Fri-Sep-29 Sacramento Sleep Train Amphitheatre
Sat-Sep-30 Irvine Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Sun-Oct-01 Concord Sleep Train Pavilion

mercredi, juin 07, 2006

The Fall...

What Sven could learn from me

Mark E Smith

Monday June 5, 2006
The Guardian

Mark E Smith (The Fall)
Keep a full subs' bench ... Mark E Smith on management technique
Running the national football team is very much like running my group, the Fall. As a manager, you've got to maintain a certain detachment from your players, and it's the same with my musicians. When we're on tour, I sit at the back of the bus. We're friendly but the secret of it is never get too ally-pally. You can have a pint or two together now and again but you don't want to be going round their houses.

You don't want people to get too comfortable, because if they do, there's no way they'll be on top of their game. It's not a job for life. I see the Fall being like a football team with a two- or three-year cycle. There's always going to be a period where I'll need a new centre-forward.

I always like to keep a strong subs' bench of people who can step into the breach, cos you never know when you might need them in an emergency. [Smith is currently touring the US with pickup musicians, after a guitarist, drummer and bassist became the latest of around 50 "ex-players" who have sadly and suddenly departed from the Fall.]

You want a manager that's hard but not stupid. I met Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce on the transfer bus on the way to Amsterdam. He's a hard case. Some lads were going up to say hello, but he had this air of "That's all you're gonna get". I like Pearce but I couldn't stand Kevin Keegan. I saw him on telly once when City were playing Newcastle and he went up to the Newcastle fans, shaking their hands. The City players were looking at him, appalled. No surprise he never won a game against Newcastle or Liverpool.

The way the England team is now is ridiculous. A team of superstars is like a supergroup. It's like picking the best guitarist in Britain, the best drummer and the best singer, and expecting them to produce something that isn't prog-rock mush. It doesn't work: this England team will never work at the highest level. I know that. See, Sir Alf Ramsey [who managed England's 1966 World Cup win] - people never liked him for it, but he'd always have the full-backs from the second division. He took players and moulded them, like I do with musicians. Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper, was from Stoke City, who were bottom of the first division. They'd conceded more goals that World Cup season than anybody else. But it works. You want a goalie who gets bloody shot at every week! You don't want the Arsenal or Spurs goalie or whoever in any national team, because he's never got anything to do! He might pull off the occasional beautiful save, but he's never gonna be any good against a gang of Poles or whoever who know full well they're going to face the firing squad if they don't score.

Mind you, I shouldn't be talking about England. My wife's Greek, and when Greece won their first game in the [2004] European championships, I said, "Put a bet on now." We didn't put the bet on, but I know these things. Two of my mates put £500 on at 250-1. When Greece won the tournament the wife went crazy, absolutely mad. We even ran a Greek flag up in the front garden. We were very popular that week"

· Mark E Smith was talking to Dave Simpson.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

samedi, juin 03, 2006

The Sugababes

The new babe on the block

The Sugababes have undergone several changes in personnel. Will the latest recruit go the distance?

By Fiona Sturges

OK, I admit it. I'm scared. An interview with the Sugababes isn't something to be approached casually, given the trio's reputation as pop's most notorious mean girls. If the gossip magazines are to be believed, these über-bitches are liable to scratch your eyes out if you look at them the wrong way.

You want evidence? Just ask Siobhan Donaghy, the Sugababe-turned-solo artist who fled the band five years ago in the middle of an Australian tour and got the first plane home. She claimed that her time in the band was "terrible", and did nothing to dispel rumours that the bullying had pushed her over the edge. The stories persisted after the arrival of her replacement, the former Atomic Kitten Heidi Range. A ruck between Range and Mutya Buena snowballed into all-out war before a gig in Dublin, which was cancelled at the last minute.

And now another Sugababe bites the dust. At the end of last year, Buena, a founder member best known for her pathological inability to crack a smile, suddenly quit in the middle of promotional duties for their latest album, Taller in More Ways. She had recently had a baby, but the suddenness of her departure was still a shock. Everyone asked: did she jump or was she pushed? Had she fallen out with her childhood friend Keisha Buchanan, or had Range got her revenge?

Whatever, the new line-up - Range (23), Buchanan (21) and new girl Amelle Berrabah (22) - is putting up a relentlessly cheerful front. They grin, shake my hand and ask if I found the studio all right. Buchanan compliments me on my jacket and tells me she's been looking for one just like it. I'm now more nervous than ever.

Only two weeks passed between Buena's departure and Berrabah, a gorgeous brunette of English and Moroccan descent, becoming a Sugababe. Before joining, she was living above a kebab shop in Aldershot, desperately trying for a record deal. "I got a call from Mark Hargreaves [the Sugababes' manager]," she says. "He'd seen me in an audition four years ago and remembered me when Mutya left. So he asked me to put three tracks down and gave them to the girls for a listen. They liked it, and we met up."

Berrabah admits to some unease. "I'd read a few things and I thought they were going to be absolute bitches. I had a lot of fear at the start. It's just proves that you don't know anyone until you meet them because they're lovely girls and I feel settled now. I was scared about the fans as well, but everyone's been really accepting and welcoming."

Hargreaves decided they should re-record the album with Berrabah singing Buena's parts and re-shoot the packaging. In the end, Berrabah was only able to record four tracks, one being the forthcoming single "Follow Me Home". Listening to the two versions, it's hard to hear the difference; good news for Berrabah, but perhaps uncomfortable for Buena.

After sealing the deal, Berrabah quickly packed her bags and moved to London. She was put up in a hotel for six weeks, after which the band went on tour and then joined Take That for their comeback shows. Now she's got her own place. The lifestyle suits her, she says; she likes the attention and enjoys the free clothes.

Berrabah is, by all accounts, a bit of a motormouth, which is probably a good thing if she wants to hold her own. Range and Buchanan insist there was no doubt in their minds that they wanted to carry on after Buena left. Both say they had "a good feeling" about Berrabah when they listened to her vocals, an instinct that was confirmed when they met her.

And Buena's reasons for leaving? "People thought it was because she'd had a baby, but it was nothing to do with that," Range says. "I think it was because she's been in the business since she was so young and had got to the point where she wanted to do something else. It was clear she wasn't enjoying herself anymore. It can be a tough life. I wouldn't be doing anything else, but it hasn't been the easiest of rides."

Buchanan says: "We've been through a lot, but that just makes us more determined to keep going and be successful. Amid the speculation of falling out and bullying, and all that rubbish, we've had to keep coming back and proving ourselves."

Few could have predicted the Sugababes would last so long. They've had three triple platinum albums and bagged a truckload of awards, among them Qs, Brits and Mobos. Crucial to their longevity is the quality of their music. The tone was set with their first single "Overload", as informed by R&B and hip-hop as it was fluffy pop. Similarly, their four No 1s - "Freak Like Me", "Round Round", "Hole in the Head" and "Push the Button" - appealed as much to adults as their offspring.

It's worth noting that the Sugababes were far from manufactured; the original members didn't go to stage school or meet via the back pages of a teen mag. Buena and Buchanan were friends from primary school who decided to form a band after they met Donaghy at a party. Buchanan was 14 when she signed her first record deal and 16 when the band released its first single.

Buchanan is now the only founding member left. Doesn't she long for a change herself? "Sometimes I get a little frustrated," she shrugs. "But on the whole, I view this as a team effort, and that goes from us down to our stylists, make-up artists and everyone. I'm just so proud that I've been here since the beginning and seen it all develop. That's very special, and I'm not ready to give it up."

It's possible that age has mellowed the Sugababes; that, or a hefty dose of media training. They've certainly mastered the art of saying a lot in interviews while revealing very little. When I ask how the rumours started about their fighting, Buchanan puts it down to their reluctance to smile. "I can see why people might think we're moody. In videos and photo shoots we always look miserable. I look at the early stuff and think 'Come on, Keisha, you can do it. Just smile a little!' But we got this reputation and we're stuck with it."

What of Siobhan? She said she'd had a "terrible" time. "You know what? We've never ever said anything bad about Siobhan - and we were in a position to do it," Buchanan says testily. "I say it's karma. What goes around comes around. I see us continuing to be successful after she left. As far as I'm concerned, that's good karma coming back to us because we didn't say anything bad about her. I don't worry about her. I don't think about her at all, in fact."

Word is that Buena is to launch a solo career, which rather blows holes in Range's claims that she'd grown tired of the lifestyle. Buchanan says she and Buena are still in close contact - "She's like my sister. I saw her last week" - though Range is silent about their relationship.

Range and Buchanan tell me that, despite the rumours, being in a band has taught them a lot about tolerance and working as a team. "I think I've become a better person," Buchanan says. "It's made me more accepting of people in general. I've also learnt that some things are better left unsaid."

"Plus, we know exactly what goes on between us and we know that 99 per cent of what's said about us isn't true," Range says. Glancing at her sweetly smiling face, I'm almost convinced. Almost, but not quite.

The single 'Follow Me Home' is released on Monday

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited