SIMON: After 10-years of trakMARX, and some distracting health issues, I felt it was time to do something I could be proud of. Having watched many contemporary compadres reconfigure their pasts as some kind of mid-life therapeutic process, I thought I’d have my stab without actually reforming Domestic Bliss . . . which, to be honest, would have been utterly tragic! The Messthetics compilation series duly cemented our place in local history, and that’s where it will stay! Having said that, Domestic Abuse is a response to Domestic Bliss, the band, in that the album reflects my personal failure to respond to the middle-class cradle-to-the-grave path set out for me . . . and to be fair, fully realised by both John Henderson and Darren Guy, my comrades in domesticity back in the late 70s.
DICK: What other musicians feature on the album?
SIMON: The core nucleus is myself on vocals and guitars, John Archer on bass, Paul Johnson on drums, and Marion Fleetwood on violin, cello, viola and backing vocals. John and I have worked on and off since our punky waver days . . . he was in DB’s main rivals, the Fragiles, and once said in a local fanzine that I was a wanker, and that he’d nicked one of my guitar leads! Needless to say, the animosity was only ever temporary, and we later played together in the Suspects in the early 1980s. He was the first musician I approached when planning this blag. He is an awesome bassist, and a top bloke to boot. Paul Johnson runs Rhythm Studios, and I have worked with him since the early 80s and The Hop. He is a superb drummer, excellent producer, and the loveliest chap you could ever wish to meet. I met Marion through John and Paul, she is a local folk legend, and a multi-instrumentalist of some considerable talent, what she has brought to the sessions has irrevocably shaped my music for the better!
DICK: You’re spanning quite a musical ambit between the kind of high octane rock’n’roll that your 1970s punk combo, Domestic Bliss produced and the kind of considered singer/songwriter material that features on the new album – presumably this reflects how your musical tastes have changed over the last thirty years or so. Could you tell us a little about your journey through music that has encompassed punk, black metal and folk?
SIMON: Even as a young punk, I had mentors such as David Jones and Andy Beck tutoring me in the ways of Bob Dylan and the Beats, respectively, so I have always had wide-ranging tastes. Like most young punks, I have spent much of the rest of my life looking for the ‘next punk’! That conceptual Holy Grail has taken many forms over the last 30-odd years, some I’m not proud of, others, defiantly so! After punk, I swerved much post-punk, apart from the obviously unavoidable phenomenon, and got into garage rock, psych, folk, country, dub reggae, world music . . . and eventually, hip hop and acid house. Anything, in fact, that had ‘dropped down the back of the sofa’! I loved the No Depression era US stuff, and eventually started a fanzine called Cowboy Mouth in response to Dave Henderson’s Happenstance, which I loved. trakMARX accounted for the majority of the noughties, but by the end of that particular curve, I had realised that the extreme end of the metal spectrum was where most of the anti-establishmentarianism was hanging out these days, and that seemed to fit with the (by then) fairly depressed mental state I found myself in. Consequently, post-alcohol, and, pertinently, post-therapy, I have found myself able to enthusiastically embrace ‘the ambit’ you allude to in the question, and remain true to my heart and my taste, not that of others.
DICK: The production of the songs on the album lends them a high polish in comparison with he nascent acoustic versions that you played me at the start of the summer. Are you pleased with how they’ve turned out?
SIMON: Emphatically, yes! The album is about 60% done now, and it’s beginning to shape up nicely. Marion has played a massive part in that development, and I would like to move on down the country folk route further in the future . . . retaining the ‘fucked-up-punk’ lyrical perspective, indubitably! Using Rough Trade Records as a cultural barometer, I think Dylan LeBlanc’s ‘Pauper’s Field’ heralds a death-on-the-stairs scenario for all future attempts at ‘Up The Bracket (Part 347)’. I rest my case!
DICK: Do you prefer the fully produced versions to your intimate live sound?
SIMON: I have been playing out with just my guitar, and do love that aspect of performance. I plan to do shows with guitar, fiddles, stand-up bass and drums when the LP is ready to go . . . but, the honest answer is: I prefer the recorded versions. Collaboration has always been at the heart of the creative process, for me, and the essence of team-work and all that that brings to the rodeo is what keeps the wheels turning!
DICK: Many of the lyrics on the album are evidently derived from personal experience. Do you find songwriting a cathartic process?
SIMON: Very much so, yes . . . but, there’s also the concept of transferable-life-skills to bring into the equation, sociologically. As a human being, I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, and the things that have happened to said heart are obviously going to feature strongly, in terms of lyrical influence. There isn’t a song on the record that wasn’t written with the ‘pen-of-truth’, whether the song’s subjects themselves feel the same, I really couldn’t say.
DICK: Could you tell us a little about the backstory to some of the songs?
SIMON: As the LP’s title suggests, they are all about the pitfalls of the post-modern human existence, in some way. Subjects include autism, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, death, parental loss, unrequited love, requited love, social networking, social commentary and observation . . . songs about players, doggers, gold-diggers, users and their pimps . . . traditional small-town detail!
DICK: Do you find that performing material that has intensely personal content can be emotionally difficult?
SIMON: I have cried on occasion in the studio, especially when Marion has just added a particularly emotive violin phrase, but on a stage, resolutely, no way!
DICK: What would you say are the strongest influences, both musically and in terms of your lyrics?
SIMON: Lyrically, Elvis Costello, pre-beard-years, and, possibly, some of Billy Bragg’s naïve early charm! Right now, the best group on the planet, in my humble, are Okkervil River . . . and ‘Domestic Abuse’ could be viewed as my attempt to capture what they achieved with Roky Erickson on ‘True Love Cast Out All Evil’.
DICK: You’ve been playing a few solo gigs recently, how have these been going over?
SIMON: Brilliant fun, totally enjoyable. I have never had such a positive response to my music, ever! People seem to get that it’s coming from the heart, so I must be doing something right!
DICK: Do you have any firm gigging plans for when the album is released at the start of next year? If so, will these be solo shows or are you hoping to take a backing band on the road?
SIMON: It will be a mixture of both, depending on logistics and availability of staff! John Archer is big in the world of martial arts, Paul Johnson has a busy studio to run, and Marion is in more bands than Evan Dando! We will be making it all up as we go along!
DICK: Have you got any firm ideas or unrecorded material in hand for subsequent releases? Where do you see yourself going musically over the next year or so?
SIMON: I have the little matter of a second year of university studies for my BA in Social Work to consider, including months of placement, so, what with parenting, caring and studying, I think consolidation around this LP is where I’m at! When the unwritten future does finally arrive, however, I’d like to continue down that country folk path I mentioned earlier.
DICK: What’s hogging your turntable currently? To what extent is the music you’re currently listening to driving your creative output?
SIMON: Roky Erickson, Okkervil River, Trembling Bells, Black Flowers, Emily Portman, Caitlin Rose, Dylan LeBlanc, Mountain Man, Emit Bloch, Alasdair Roberts . . . and if I ever get fractionally close to the quality of the music that list implies, I will die a happy man!
DICK: Finally, if you were going to clout somebody with a wet fish, which would you select?
SIMON: I think a Rainbow Trout, for its high bone content. Fast and bulbous, tapered also!
DICK: Classy choice. Expensive, mind you. Cheers.
Interview by Dick Porter
Photo provided by Simon