Tuesday, 20 September 2011

"Good books and nice cups of tea" a chat with H Bird's Aug Stone

For part three in our series of email chats with acts from the Keep Pop Loud CD we sent the multi-talented Aug Stone a series of quick questions. As songwriter and founding member of H Bird you'll be aware of his excellent synth-pop creations that have been featured on Keep Pop Loud over the past year. But like the wider popscene there's a lot more going on that's just below the surface...

First off, for anyone who might not know, who are H Bird?

H Bird are Kate Dornan, Kasia Middleton and myself, Aug Stone. We’re a synthpop trio from London. We like good books and nice cups of tea.

How did the band come about and where is the name from?

I had been wanting to do a project like this for years, combining my lifelong love of 60s girl groups and synthpop. I don’t think I’ve ever publicly said where the name came from but since you asked, I’ll tell you. Back in Boston, MA around the year 2000, before Paris Hilton started using it, my friends and I were throwing around the word “hot”, usually to describe songs by Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. It soon got shortened to just “H”. “Oh, that’s H!” we’d say. Anyway, fast forward to September 2003 when I’ve just moved to London for the first time and I’m sitting at an internet cafĂ© in Kentish Town emailing one of my best friends back in Boston, Rick Webb. I thought it would really annoy my friends back home if I immediately started using British slang as soon as I got to London. So I’m sitting there typing and this gorgeous French girl sits down at the computer next to mine, so I typed to Rick “There is an H bird sitting next to me.” And Rick wrote back “H Bird would make a great band name.” I decided there and then that would be the name for this project. I like it because if I hadn’t told you that, you wouldn’t have any idea where it came from. It could be someone’s first initial and last name, it could be anything. And that’s why I like it as a name for a pop group – it’s enigmatic, open to interpretation, and it sounds cool.

So anyway, I wrote all these songs and I met Kate around that time because her band Fosca and my old band Lifestyle were supposed to tour the States together, but sadly that never happened. When I moved back to London in 2005 I was still writing and I asked Kate if she’d like to collaborate on some songs and I was hoping she would play keyboards in the band when it came together. I had no idea she could sing. You don’t think someone who can play every instrument will also have a great voice. I was really trying hard to find a singer at that point and I went to see Scarlet’s Well at Water Rats one night and Kate, as well as playing synth for them, also sang lead on one song and I was blown away. I knew she should be the singer of H Bird. I gave her the demo of “Pink Lights & Champagne” at the Luke Haines gig at the ICA later that summer and she came over and sang on that and a few other demos and then we recorded 4 songs with Ian Catt as sort of a sampler. Then Ian from HDIF heard “Pink Lights” and offered us a gig so we formed the live band. Kasia was the obvious choice as she was a good friend of ours and she also can play any instrument. We played every two weeks after that, writing “Violet” and “Allodynia” then too.

There's an element of H Bird's sound that rooted in early 90's British pop, why do you think no-one else is going there at the moment?

Hmm, I never really think of our sound as early 90s but I can see that, that’s when Saint Etienne started. Yeah, those years seem to have been skipped over and it’s gone straight to the Britpop revival, hasn’t it?

This may not have been how it actually was, but how I remember the early 90s was there was really a lot going on, a freer time before movements started to form again and the word ‘alternative’, and how can that possibly describe a sound?, came to label just about everything. It might’ve been different over here but this is how I remember it as an American who has always been in love with British music. ‘120 Minutes’ was great back then, more things were being given chances in the mainstream because, as usual at any given time in the music industry, no one had any idea what was going on. Then “Alternative”, then “Britpop” came along and more and more boring clones were getting signed and pushing the more interesting bands out of airplay slots. What I was listening to back then – the Jesus & Mary Chain (buying Honey’s Dead was a life-changing experience), Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chainsaw Kittens, Lush, Daisy Chainsaw, Smashing Pumpkins, Fishbone, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – I don’t really see a lot of similarities between. So to answer your question, maybe because there’s not as much of an identifiable early-90s sound?

Though Shrag, not to say they’re doing it, sometimes remind me of early Lush at points, which is great.

You've got your comic (The Beekeeper) too, what's your involvement with that and what prompted it?

I write The Beekeeper scripts and Steve Horry draws it. They’re free downloads on the site if anyone’s interested. I’ve gotten really into comics the past couple of years. I always loved Asterix and Tintin when I was growing up and whenever I’d read an interview with Alan Moore he’d always sound so right on. But it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve started reading more comics. I just finished Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which was amazing. I’m also loving Jacques Tardi’s work lately.

I had an idea for a comic and I was talking to Steve about drawing it and he suggested that since I was new to all this that we start slow and that I should write some short, 3 or 4 page stories before diving into something huge. A few days after he suggested that, I had a fever and couldn’t sleep so I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and wrote the very first Beekeeper story, which has nothing to do with my original idea and is really quite bizarre. I came to really love the idea though and I’ve written a bunch of scripts now, there should be a new one up on the site soon. I’ve got plenty of ideas for comics, have been working on a bunch of different scripts for other stories too, if there are any artists out there reading this.

So, it's 'A Millionairess In A Ruby Ring' that we've got on the Keep Pop Loud compilation. Is there any story behind this or anything that people might not know about the song?

This is actually an AUNTIE song (another project of mine), though I’ve not actually got around to finishing the AUNTIE version. Sean Drinkwater from Freezepop and Lifestyle covered it and we used his version as the theme to The Oxford Dons - (a comedy short film that Jamie Manners and I made - . I play an ex-CIA agent and Jamie is a professor of 18th Century Albanian Poetry. Together we solve crimes.) When we played the last H Bird gig before Kasia moved to L.A. we were going to cover it too as I always liked to make each H Bird gig special and play unique set lists, but we had to cut it due to time. We did cover Lifestyle’s “Are You Coming On To Me?” at that gig and we later recorded both of those songs for the Danger Makers EP, a free download from Corporate Records.

I wrote “Millionairess” at the time I was reading Ulysses and I always keep a running list of good song titles. Somewhere within Ulysses Joyce uses the word “millionairess” and he might mention a ruby ring too but it would take forever to go back and check ; )

14 A Millionairess In A Ruby Ring - H Bird by Keep Pop Loud

When I was writing the song, the lead synth line reminded me of something Sean Drinkwater would write so I put in a little homage in the lyrics as well, the “fly your spaceship into the sun” bit. Sean used to tell me that Duran Duran’s Seven And The Ragged Tiger would be the perfect album to listen to if you had stolen a space shuttle and were flying it directly into the sun. He even made up special cd which changed the track order a little and included “Is There Something I Should Know?” which he felt (and I agree) was wrongfully tacked onto the cd issue of their first record, when chronologically it belonged with SATRT. That has always stuck with me and whenever I interview a band now, my standard final question is “What would the soundtrack be if you had stolen a space shuttle and were flying it directly into the sun?”

The Danger Makers EP (on which 'Millionairess' features) was released as a free download, what stopped you from doing a physical release?

It’s tough doing physical releases these days, having to pay for pressing copies and then storing the inventory, especial if you’re just going to give it away for free. So much easier just to make it a download. I would love to have the H Bird stuff released on 12” vinyl, the covers would look awesome that way, but it just doesn’t make financial sense. I’ve put up almost everything I’ve ever released on Corporate Records (The Indelicates internet label), lots of it for free. It’s great.

You also recently put up the music you recorded with The Soft Close-Ups as a free download too.

I love The Soft Close-Ups stuff, I’m very proud of those songs. And it’s great working with David Shah. He’s a brilliant lyricist and has an amazing voice. Luxembourg were one of my favourite bands so I was really excited when we started working together. “In Retrospect” is a collection of everything we’ve done so far. And we’ll be recording a new EP in October with a full live band, I’m really looking forward to that. I think these new songs coming up are some of the loveliest pieces of music I’ve ever written.

I also put out an AUNTIE EP this year with two of my favourite singers each taking a song, Goolkasian from The Elevator Drops  and Mikey Georgeson from David Devant & His Spirit Wife and Mr. Solo. I think they’re two of my best songs and I’m thrilled they agreed to sing on them. And I’ve been releasing free downloads as Eiscafe of collaborations with different people. The plan was to try and do a song a week, I’ve got a ton of music stockpiled and am looking for people to write lyrics and sing them, but I’ve had TONS of computer and studio trouble this year and I’ve only just got that fixed so hopefully we’ll get some more out.

The underground pop scene is pretty vibrant over in the UK at the moment, what's your favourite part of what's going on?

I like that people just seem to be doing stuff, like they get an idea and they make it happen. People like David Barnett, who allegedly retired from show business almost 2 years ago, has been on like 5 albums this year, we did “Slag To Love” together, and has been playing tons of gigs with different bands, and even has a new band where he’s playing new songs and old favourites. Or Trev Oddbox is always doing something, putting on and putting out records by bands he likes. You wanted to put out a cd and you’re doing it. It’s awesome. There’s a lot of great bands around at the moment, and the only one I can think of that has a proper record label behind them is Art Brut. But there’s a ton of good bands playing gigs and putting out great records and it’s awesome that I keep discovering more.

Are there any new bands that you can recommend us

My two favourite bands that I’ve heard this year are Pris and The Hall of Mirrors. Pris are set to take over the world, they’ve got the right idea about what pop should be. Their songs are fantastic, like a Kenickie-style burst of energy. And The Hall Of Mirrors make really lovely, dreamy pop songs. Both are all about huge amazing songs that that just make you go YES! Paisley and Charlie are excellent as well, their record just came out. They make Saint Etienne-esque pop like we do. Mary-Anne from The Kid, who were a great Swedish band, I once described them as “like New Order and Throwing Muses thrown into a dangerous amusement park ride”, has a new free download single out. With David Sundqvilst of The Kick who are also very good and have a bunch of free stuff out. May Roosevelt makes scary but beautiful electronic pop. Jonny Cola & The A-Grades know how to glitter up a pop song. And David Shah’s other project, The Melting Ice Caps, is really really lovely. I really like Hong Kong In The 60s’ spacepop as well. Gwenno from The Pipettes’ solo stuff is ace.

Who is your favourite pop star?

After finally seeing Pulp in July, after 17 years of trying, I think Jarvis is the best popstar in the world. It was just amazing to watch him perform. He had the moves, the energy, the intensity but he’s incredibly sincere about it all too, which really comes through and feels like it’s the most important thing. He’s really just himself. He doesn’t put himself up there to be idolized, he’s there to make everyone feel a part of and share this truly wonderful experience which is what pop is all about to me.

David Bowie too, for his incredible body of work, how he managed to move between styles and master them whilst also being enormously innovative.

Mikey Georgeson (David Devant & His Spirit Wife, Mr. Solo) is also an amazing popstar. A spectacular performer (literally) and fantastic, prolific songwriter. His songs are shining glimpses of another universe where everything is pure pop.

Cat from Pris is gonna make a great pop star, actually she already is. She’s got a very clear idea of what pop should be and the sass and style to pull it off.

Siouxsie is another of my favourite pop stars. How in every image of her, and there were tons, she always looked impeccable and evocative, matching the mood of the music the image represented. All her records were very physical visual artifacts as well as sonic ones.

Pop is a very special wonderland and a true popstar is a magician with the powers to bring you there.

What's next on the cards for you and for H Bird?

Kate and I did an Eiscafe song, “Apricot Lipstick”, back in February that I really love and we recorded another one called “Pale Green Eyeshadow” right before my computer and studio collapsed. But I just need to mix it so hopefully that will be ready soon. I think we’re all open to future H Bird stuff it’s just we’ve all sort of gone off in different directions for the time being, but no need to rule anything out.

I’ve got a ton of music written that I’m looking for people to write lyrics to and sing. There’s the new Soft Close-Ups single coming up and hopefully there’ll be a lot more music there. I’ve been doing solo gigs which have been a lot of fun. More gigs all around would be nice. Yeah, so there’s plenty more music to come.

Cheers! And good luck with it all.

So there you have it. H Bird's 'A Millionairess In A Ruby Ring' joins the rest of the amazing talent on the Keep Pop Loud CD. Talent that includes Pris and Glam Chops (which features Eddie Argos and Mikey Georgeson) that if you feel so inclined (and we'd be ever-so-grateful) you can buy from the KPL store.

If it's any extra incentive the artwork features cats! Look >>>

Keep Pop Loud

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