Interview: Ex-Blueskins man Ryan Spendlove relishing solo career

Former singer and frontman of The Blueskins Ryan Spendlove is enjoying going it alone. I caught up with him at his Gawthorpe home …

It’s 9.30pm on a cool summer night in Gawthorpe, a small village situated between Dewsbury and Wakefield. It has a population of nearly 3,000 and hosts the World Coal Carrying Championships every Easter.

I am sat at the dining room table of singer-songwriter, Ryan Spendlove, probably the village’s most famous resident.

The former Blueskins frontman is playing me a newly written song, entitled Not That Strong. Unsurprisingly it’s very good.

“This is another soppy one,” he warns me beforehand as he performs it with the same bluesy soul he offers on stage. He holds his guitar throughout the interview, occasionally playing small blues licks to punctuate his sentences or buy him more time while he thinks about my questions.

Two months ago he released his first solo album, Fable, through American indie label, CandyRat Records, and is spending his summer playing small festivals and one-off gigs, mostly throughout Yorkshire.

“It’s all been really positive feedback so far,” he says, “I haven’t had any hate mail or anything like that. It seems like the songs are appealing to lots of different people.”

Ryan is gifted with a friendly, generous Yorkshire charm,  pausing the interview only to make more tea.“I love tea,” he says. “I wish it got you drunk.”

Spendlove began performing in his late teens, singing on the street with friends.

“I liked the feeling of it and thought I’d better learn how to play the guitar,” he said. “I was 19 when I started the guitar and writing songs.”

The Blueskins tasted success with their 2003 single, Change My Mind, which was famously featured on an advert for Lynx deodorant.

The band finally broke up in 2008, for reasons he describes as one of those ‘musical differences’ situations and so decided to go at it on his own.

He sent demos out to a few small record labels. CandyRat registered their interest immediately.

“CandyRat got back to me the next day,” he said. “They asked what my plans were and then offered me an album deal. Three months later I was in Milwaukee.”

The resulting album is an open and raw musical display. The 12 tracks transcend blues, folk, gospel and reggae without ever giving up ground. There are no tricks or elaborate recording techniques, instead, he embodies a one-man-and-his-guitar way of doing things, writing and recording songs at home.

“It’s a tricky thing because, you know you’ll never force out a song,” he says. “You can’t just pick a guitar up and think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write a really good song.’ If it was like that, every artist would make a masterpiece every day or every week.

“I just keep practising and playing and playing. Most of the time I won’t come out with anything, but sometimes I do and it works out pretty well.”

In spite of the album, Ryan Spendlove is very much a working musician, playing gigs where he can get them and supplementing his income by selling copies of Fable to new-found fans after his shows.

“It’s a different industry now, isn’t it,” he says. “The Blueskins were signed just before the time when labels stopped giving advances and we were lucky that we got one. But as long as I can pay my way, I’m alright. I am lucky, I’m doing what I want to do.

“I’m aware that it’s not easy to play your own music and earn a living.”

As the interview concludes, inevitably I ask what the future holds for Ryan Spendlove and if there is another album in the works.

“Ask the record label,” he shrugs. “I’ve got, like, three songs finished, and another three I’m working on. We’ll have to see. I’m thinking about moving to York and getting a boat. I reckon that’ll be my next move, saving up for a boat, a place where I can just jam and not bother anybody.”


Watch the video below to hear Ryan’s latest effort, Not That Strong

Buy his album, Fable, and see Ryan’s bio on CandyRat Records site here


Interview: Alec Empire

In November I interviewed Atari Teenage Riot founder, Alec Empire, to discuss the reasons, politics and future of the band’s recent global resurgence. Here it is…

It is 11 o’ clock at night at Manchester’s Moho Live venue and my right ear is ringing and hissing violently. I’ve just been witness to an aggressive assault on the senses: A sonic boom straight to the medulla; a “fuck you” to the reptile part of the brain. For sure, an Atari Teenage Riot show is a hell-bitch of a thing to behold. But describing Atari Teenage Riot’s music is like being asked to describe sex: It’s just not the same as experiencing it firsthand.

In 1992, Alec Empire reacted to the growing sense of German Nationalism by breaking out the Atari 1040, recruiting MC Carl Crack and Hanin Elias, and making a great deal of noise. In 1999 the band was at its peak, but burned out. The growing tensions came to a head on the day of the infamous Brixton Academy show in May of that year. Hanin Elias walked out, leaving the remaining members to forge ahead. What resulted was a formless noise experimentation that divided critics and fans alike, and proved to be the band’s swansong. Until now.

It is ten years later and only Alec and long time collaborator, Nic Endo, are left: Carl Crack died in 2001 of an accidental overdose, and the rift with Hanin Elias never fully healed. But in spite of these problems ATR are very much back on the scene as a digital upgrade, occupying the same space that they vacated back in ’99. And I suppose that the biggest question is “Why now?”

“That’s a good question.” Alec tells me after the show, “It wasn’t really planned like this. Initially, we wanted to play one show in London because we felt as though we owed that to the fans because of the Brixton thing.”

From the outside it would seem like the “Brixton thing” was a shot out of nowhere, a freak occurrence that rocked the band into uncertainty. Alec, who is perfectly relaxed with this line of questioning, says different: “The thing is that Hanin very often did these kinds of things back then, and people don’t always realise: just not turning up for shows, sometimes for whole tours. With Carl [Crack] it was a different thing because the psychosis, sometimes he wasn’t able to perform, and that’s a different thing than just not being in the mood or whatever.”

When Carl died in 2001, it seemed that there was no way back for ATR. Alec and Nic Endo worked on several solo albums together, toured the world, and moved on from ATR, until Elias suggested a one off show in London: “For me it also a chapter that was closed, after Carl Crack died,” he said, “but then she called me, well, she contacted me on Facebook exactly a year ago, and I thought ‘Ok, she’s approaching us.’ “

The decision was made to play a warm up show in Amsterdam, before the big one in London. Though it became clear that Elias voice wasn’t what it used to be: “Basically there was all this arguing going on before the show because her voice is not really up to the task anymore, he said, “She was really against it, but still we thought maybe she shows up and we work something out.”

She didn’t. But the London show was a critical success. Nic Endo, who joined the band in the late 90s to run the sound at live shows, took the Hanin’s vocal parts, and American singer/producer, MC CX Kidtronik took Carl’s. “When we played London, it became clear that there’s something different with this union. It was this new constellation and it felt really exciting,”

In many ways Atari Teenage Riot’s music seems more relevant than ever in a post-9/11, post-recession world: “I think a lot of people are questioning governments at the moment, because you can really sense that they’re not helping or doing stuff for the majority of the people; instead they are kind of managing the population, you know? They work so close together with the financial system and the international corporations that’s become such a joke.

“A lot of people talk to us. And you can sense that in a lot of countries we go to there’s the same kind of view of what’s going on, and people want that reflected in music and nobody really does that at the moment.

“And I think that is what works for us at the moment: that there’s nothing else out there, not like a younger version of Atari Teenage Riot, or even an older version or whatever. So people want this kind of stuff, because every place we’ve been people are going crazy, you know?”

Atari Teenage Riot has since finished their tour. What is known is that the band will record new material for an album due out in the spring of 2011 on Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak Label. After that is anyone’s guess, including Alec’s: People always think we follow this typical plan that other bands have in mind. But, let’s see.”

Interview: Hans Montelius

I interviewed Swedish Filmmaker Hans Montelius after he won the 2010 Shine Short Film Awards at The 16th Bradford International Film Festival. His winning short was entitled The Man with all the Marbles and depicted the extremes of a sibling rivalry extended into adulthood.

I spoke to him about his award, the difficulties of negotiating the festival circuit and his future plans as a director.

Craig Shaw: As an independent film-maker how hard is it to get even short films made?

Hans Montelius: It is very hard to get short films made. But at least it is doable. We have a great team of dedicated professionals who put their souls into making the best shorts we can. The goal is of course to make features. And that is very hard without any funding from film funds or independent investors. It is hard to be accepted as a film maker, but an award like this goes on long way to make it easier for us to get funding for our short films and for our feature projects.

Craig: The festival circuit is notoriously difficult to penetrate; how much work goes into finding platforms for your work? And what was your experience with the Bradford Film Festival?

Hans: I have a database with most of the film festivals around the world and I spend a lot of time analyzing film festivals and calculating which ones to send my films to. It really is a science and it has taken me a while to figure out how to get the most for our money. If it didn’t cost anything to send to festivals and didn’t take any time, then of course it would be much easier. But you really have to be selective with which film festival to send to. I think I have gotten the hang of it. The Man with all the Marbles, that won the Shine award, has been screened at 28 festivals and won three awards. And our latest film, that was just completed a month ago, has already been accepted to nine festivals and won an Award for Best International Short at the Uruguay International Film Festival.

I really enjoyed the Bradford Film Festival a lot. It was really generous of the film festival to invite me to the festival and pay for the trip from Sweden and pick me up at the airport. I felt like I was given VIP treatment. I just wish I could have stayed longer and gotten to know more people.

Craig: What were the central themes of your Shine Award winning short, The Man With All The Marbles?

Hans: The theme of The Man with all the Marbles is rivalry between the underdogs and successful people in our society, as manifested by the rivalry between the two brothers fighting for their inheritance. In movies, but not so often in real life, the underdog wins.

Craig: You said that your next film is to be a feature, how will that film be different from your previous endeavours?

Hans: It is much harder to make a feature than to make a short. The really hard part is the funding. I am actually working on two feature projects at the moment, one in Sweden and one in Hollywood. And there are big differences. In Sweden it’s all about getting support from the regional and state film funds. In the US it’s all about getting private investors, production companies and studios on board. And most of all it’s about getting a star. If you have a great script that a star wants to make, the film will get made. It’s that easy. And I hope that’s what we have.

Craig: Do you think that the European, (and specifically, British –if you have an opinion) film industries nurture up-and-comping film-makers, such as yourself?

Hans: I think the film industries in Europe try to nurture up and coming film makers the best they can, but I think there needs to be a greater emphasis on the script in Europe. As I said earlier, if you have a great script in the US, you can get your film made. We’ve got to learn to recognize, appreciate and reward great screenplays and great screenwriters in Europe. I think the Danes are very good at this.

For more info on Hans Montelius and the Cinemantrix team, please visit their website

Interview: Marco Zaffino

I interviewed Huddersfield-based indie film-maker Marco Zaffino, who for 10 years has written, directed and produced several films on budgets that the word ‘modest’ doesn’t even begin to express.

Huddersfield film-maker Marco Zaffino is to be honoured with an award at the Honolulu International Film Festival next month in recognition for directorship on his esoteric examination-of-cinema feature Kino.

The 100 minute film, shot in and around Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, will earn the 37 year-old writer/director – who co-owns and runs the Doodles Out of School Club with his wife Becki – the Gold Kahuna Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. The news may come as a jolt for many, Marco included, not least because of the hefty financial disparities that exists among the other winners; disparities that in some cases extends into millions of pounds.

“[In monetary terms] the list of the Kahuna Award Winners goes; six million, one thousand-five-hundred, three-hundred-thousand, one million…” Zaffino said, “So the ambition was to use ‘no budget’ as a pallet and to rank up with budgeted films. That is, one, very difficult, and, two, seems to have happened, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

It is with a keen slice of providence that finds Kino, filmed on a budget of £1,500 and starring only friends and amateurs, positioned alongside the likes of $6 million gangster flick, Charlie Valentine –which stars seasoned actor and Platoon veteran, Tom Berenger.

“Is it hard to keep up with the bigger boys? Absolutely.” said Zaffino, “People just say, ‘Ah, put in the Sundance Film Festival’, or, this, that and another, but, you’re competing against people who are backed by, at the least, film councils, never mind the likes of Miramax and everything else called ‘Independents’ outside Hollywood.

“To get in to any festival without famous people; just using amateur actors and crew, and still having the sort of momentum to try and make something as great as you can with what you’ve got; so to even get Kino in a festival is a huge achievement.”

Not that his success substitutes talent with novelty or luck; Zaffino knows what he’s doing. Having been involved in the art community for a number of years, he cut his teeth in photography and literature, before fateful circumstances forced the nursery-owner, by default, to the helm of his first feature, The Veranda, in 1998.

What followed was a lesson in steely determination that inspired his friends, family and casual acquaintances to alight themselves and work without money until the job was completed. In many respects, the against-all-odds, guerrilla style of film-making has become part of the narrative and auteurship of Zaffino’s films, just as his home town of Huddersfield, where the majority of filming occurs, has evolved into the role of a supporting character.

The early but small success of The Veranda, which was awarded Best Foreign Feature at Los Angeles International Film Festival in 2002, added a sense of achievement to proceedings and provided a much-needed dose of morale-fuel. Fresh off the back of his festival recognition, Zaffino embarked on two more projects –the festival-less features The Vendetta (2003) and Spoken by Crowds (2005) — before he garnered attention once more with his latest endeavours, Kino and short film The Faery Tale of Rose and Magdalene.

But even these minor achievements have, for the most part, been too sporadic and too far out of reach. For Zaffino the film industry is still a closed shop; a constant battle against industry nepotism and near-sightedness. “Distribution is very hard. It’s the same situation as getting into festivals or getting an agent, anything like that; usually you have to be solicited, you have to be known.”

Kino is very much inspired by Marco Zaffino’s 12 years as a director/producer; not biographical, but a self-conscious, existential piece of cinema, Kino critiques the inner-workings of an industry which Zaffino has only observed from the perspective of a man on the outside looking in. Yet in spite of the hardships Marco sees beyond the doom and dread and admits that his non-dependent ethos can also be liberating.

‘On the last two films, […Magdalene and Rose and Kino], I really wanted to enjoy myself a lot more –and I did – whist keeping that no holds barred on the creative side. There are no executives with strings above me, no-one telling me what to do and I just decide to enjoy that [freedom] and push whatever creative ideas come to me.”

“The future? Well, my ambitions are to push onto budgets.” said the director, “I have scripts set internationally in L.A, New York, Helsinki, Rome; just in case I only get that one chance, I’m going to make that one film with five beautiful countries in it, definitely!…”

Sometime during the month of April, the small, remote island of Hawaii will recognise Marco Zaffino’s achievement as a film-maker. Marco himself won’t be there to collect his award –he’s unable to afford the airfare –but that is beside the point. The larger issue is that genuine, non-dependent film-making financed by drive and passion alone is a luxury that British cinema is unwilling to entertain, except occasionally on the festival circuit.

So Marco’s story is largely untold because it remains unfinished. As of yet, there is no grandiose finale, no success story to complete the third act. The tale just continues and people like Marco keep making films. Because it is what they have to do.

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