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CATHODE RAY: SHINING A LIGHT ON THE CATHODE RAY, AS THEY LAY BELIEF ON ME  INTERVIEW BY CHUMKI BANERJEE
 
With their enigmatic mix of analogue and digital, sixties charisma, seventies style and modern day sophistication, The Cathode Ray endeared me from first note, so I was filled with excitation when they agreed to an interview. Now that I find they share many of my passions, including Bowie, Banshee, Blondie, Roxy, pasta, kedgeree, red wine and whisky, I am even more enamoured, so please read on and enjoy the exchange as much as I did.

Hello Cathode Ray, though your light reached my dimension many moons ago, sparking imagination, firing synapses with curiosity, I apologise that it has taken so long to travel to this interview. Also, I must admit to woeful gaps in my musical education; a classical introduction jumping several eons to land in Bowie, Banshee era, inspired in part by penchant for eyeliner and spiked heels; leaves black hole at its core, into which pours infinite stream of music, forever chasing history, my ride is often randomly and recklessly inclined, its trajectory uncertain. Luckily, there are seasoned time travellers, who sometimes guide my craft, with whom I hitch a ride, the estimable Vic Goddard being one, whose tail lights fortuitously led me to your door, when I reviewed your singles, 'Dispersal’:  ‘...tantalisingly tempting fusion of 'Rip It Up' Orange juice with Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Devo...coolly captivating...poetic lyricism.... saunters sunnily along, captivating my heart, refreshingly unpretentious yet clearly committed....’ www.myspace.com/thecathoderay and  ‘Train’/ ‘Around’: ‘...rock and roll sunshine intriguingly overcast with darker shadow... genius of a song which insinuates itself in crevices of the mind, with its catchy , sexy, sunny theme,  menaced by surprising twist.... the more I listen to Cathode Ray the more they slowly reveal, bursting into brilliance, mirror and smoke, things are not as they seem, classy classics remade, turned on their heads....’

CHUMKI: Firstly, the inevitable and possibly indefinable enquiry, ‘who are you?’Leaving aside the existential, who are the band members and what are your roles?

CATHODE RAY: We are: Jeremy Thoms: Songwriter; Lead Vocals; Guitar & Keyboards. Steve Fraser: Lead Guitar; Backing Vocals, il Baldwin: Bass, Dave Mack: Drums, Percussion & Electronics.

CHUMKI: You are all seasoned musicians, that much I know, what are your musical backgrounds and how has fate led you to this stellar ‘Cathode Ray ‘conjunction?

JEREMY: The band has been in existence in some form or other since 2005. My past endeavours include The Presidents Men; The Revillos; A Girl Called Johnny (with Neil); Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes; New Leaf (with Neil) and Skyline (with Dave). I’d known Neil and Dave for a while and played with both of them individually in the bands mentioned above. Steve was a new collaborator when he joined. I don’t know whether it was fate – maybe it was!

DAVID: In the 80s I played with Edinburgh Band The Twinsets and met Jeremy through a kind of Twinsets re-union several years later. Cathode Ray is the most recent of several collaborations since.

NEIL: TV21, The Bluebells, A Girl Called Johnny and New Leaf. Steve: The Belsen Horrors, Scars, Mike Scott and Jayne County amongst others.

CHUMKI: How many releases have you had as a band and for anyone new to you, what would you recommend they listen to?

JEREMY: So far, five singles and one album. Best place to start is with the album ‘The Cathode Ray’, recommended as a whole.

CHUMKI: How did each of you come to the realisation that music is your raison d’être and what paths did you take to realise your potential?

JEREMY: I think I realised at a very young age that music would be my raison d’être. The paths we’ve all taken I guess are explained above in our collective histories.

DAVID: As a teenager I got into music, started with a simple desire to be Charlie Watts. Nothing provokes an emotional reaction faster. Nowadays everybody is in a band; in the 70s it was much less common.

CHUMKI: What music did you each grow up with and how important was music in your formative years?

JEREMY: For me music was absolutely crucial from a very early age. Because I had two older sisters, I was introduced to all kinds of stuff as a kid. I listened mainly to The Beatles and Motown growing up, whilst my taste through the 70s was pretty diverse, including rock (Faces; Stones) pop (Elton John) glam (Bowie; Roxy) soul (Stevie Wonder) prog (Yes; Genesis) punk/new wave (Buzzcocks; Talking Heads) & post-punk (Wire; Magazine) to name just a few favourites.

DAVID: Stones, Beatles, Elton John, Floyd were the first things I consciously pursued. I wanted to look like the Stones as pictured in the Sticky Fingers sleeve liner.

NEIL: Music was everything – I played air guitar in my head before it was even invented!  I grew up with Glam, Pop, Rock, Space – Slade, Free, Bowie/Roxy, Hawkwind, Hendrix, Velvets, Kate Bush and lots in between.

STEVE: Syd Barrett; Scott Walker; Iggy Pop; Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, Roxy Music; Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Slits; Wire.

CHUMKI: Is music your full time occupations? If not, have you a plan to ‘make it so’ or, are you quite happy, as things stand? How often do you get together to play and are you friends, outside of the band?

JEREMY: Yes, music is my full time occupation, if you include DJing, which I also do. We get together about once a month (ideally it would be more often, but it’s all our various other commitments allow) and yes, we are most definitely all good friends outside of the band.

DAVID: No, I’m an architect in real life. Have no expectation of making it; too realistic/pragmatic/cynical to think that is likely. Don’t see the others much as I live 180 miles away but did see Jeremy often before we moved south.

NEIL: Not any more – I am a media manager for Shelter Scotland now. Good friends.

STEVE: Yes. Full time musician and guitar teacher.

CHUMKI: What have been your musical influences over the years, both as individuals and as a group, which have moulded the musicians you now are?

JEREMY: Once again, The Beatles would have to be the starting point for me, both as a songwriter and musician. I also vividly remember “Hot Love” by T.Rex inspiring me to make my first attempts at song writing aged 9! My next epiphany was “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart. Since then, artists that have had a definite impact on me include, in no particular order: David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Paddy MacAloon, Neil Young, Tom Verlaine, Scott Walker, Mark Hollis, Edwyn Collins, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Green Gartside, Kevin Rowland and Nick Drake. As a group, I suppose we put all our influences into the blender and we end up sounding like us.

DAVID: Started out being into musicianship as an end in itself. But over the years have come to value ‘the song’ and emotional impact much more - can’t stand shit/trite lyrics.

NEIL: Bass players include: Lemmy, Jim Lea (Slade), Andy Fraser (Free), Bruce Foxton [The Jam]. Also contemporaries like Peter Hook of Joy Division and Les Pattinson of the Bunnymen.

STEVE: 21 guitarists: Mick Ronson; John McKay; Robert Quine; Jody Harris (Contortions)Ricky Gardiner (born in Edinburgh: Low, Lust For Life); Joey Santiago; James Williamson; Carlos Alomar; Brian Setzer; Cliff Gallup; Lee Ranaldo; Thurston Moore; Bruce Gilbert; Glen Buxton; Dick Dale; Syd Barrett; Robert Johnson; Johnny Thunders; Tom Morello; Marc Bolan; Jonny Greenwood.

CHUMKI: I know choice of instrument is a very personal thing, from sound, to feel, to adaptability, to pedigree, so what instruments do each of you currently play and how did you select them? If money were no object, what would be your dream instrument or piece of kit?

JEREMY: I currently play Gretsch Electromatic, Epiphone Special II and Ibanez Silver Cadet guitars through a Fender Princeton amp. Plus I have a Fender Le Brea acoustic which I generally use when writing songs. I’m currently looking for either a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster, but my money-no-object instrument would have to be a Gretsch Country Gentleman through a Fender Twin Reverb amp.

DAVID: Kit on the recordings is a vintage American Slingerland jazz/big band type kit with cymbals picked up over the years and a few electronics now and again. Ideal would be a Gretsch.

NEIL: It was a practical choice – I lived in a small village in the Lake District of England and someone had a guitar – we wanted to form a band so I decided to buy a bass and the rest is history!  Dream kit – buying an original Baldwin bass guitar and getting my old Ampeg SVT bass stack back :-)

STEVE: Fender Stratocaster & Gretsch Electromatic electric guitars through a Peavey combo, plus effects board.

CHUMKI: I love your name; in a world of sharp focus uniformity it exudes glow of enchantment, sounds and visions emerging from shivering electron ether, excitedly vibrated; hug of snug analogue warmth in definitive digital days; a time when element of magical mystery, still invoked wonderment; inspiration fired by inconsistency and idiosyncrasy. How did you choose your name?

JEREMY: We wanted something that was retro/futuristic, plus, I guess, it’s a fairly obvious nod to both Television and The Velvet’s Sister Ray. Overall, the main criteria was that it sounded, looked and felt good. I think a band’s name is very important.

CHUMKI: Some people have really strong views, one way or the other, but I must admit equal fascination for analogue instrumentation and digital; electronica is a means of musical expression which entices me, except when it is used indiscriminately for fashion’s sake. What are your views and why?

JEREMY: I personally like a merging of the two. We record using a mixture of both which I think comes across in our sound.

CHUMKI: How did you arrive at your distinctive sound?  Is it something which evolved naturally or had you something in mind which you wanted to emulate or develop? I guess you keep on learning and experimenting, so what sort of ideas do you have which are yet to be realised?

JEREMY: The initial idea was a very loose merging of late 70s Manchester with late 70s New York, but once we started recording, our own sound kind of immerged itself. Ideas yet to be realised are the areas we will be exploring on our second album. Basically wider influences with a bigger, broader, bolder scope and probably getting further into that digital/analogue crossover sound.

CHUMKI: Some of your songs include almost cinematic touches, such as ‘Patience Is A Virtue’ with its whirring helicopter blade intro, sci-fi squeal and dramatic spaghetti western guitar. What inspires such illuminating instrumentation? How do you achieve such sounds? Do you make use of electronic technology to expand, explore, enhance, recreate, and integrate with more traditional forms of musical expression?  How do you bring an imagining of a sound into actuality?

JEREMY: The inspiration behind some of those sounds does come from cinema, as I’ve always been a big fan of soundtracks by the likes of John Barry, Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann. Sometimes the sounds are achieved by happy accident or by trial and error using old bits of gear, combined with new plug-ins on the laptop. Again, a merging of old and new – analogue and digital. I guess we do use the technology to integrate, as you say, with traditional forms.

CHUMKI: For me, your music; though incorporating many influences and infused with your own particular genre crossing style; quintessentially conjures earlier eras, the sixties, seventies, into New Wave, Avant-garde eighties, concocting new cocktail of intriguing essences. How would you describe your musical soul and the influences which fill and radiate from it?

JEREMY: I would describe it as eclectic – mixing up the old with new. You’re certainly right when you mention the 60s through to the more left field aspects of the 80s – it’s all there in the mix.

CHUMKI: How do you compose your songs? Is it a joint effort or is there a main instigator? Does the musical or lyrical idea come first? How do you develop the theme and instrumentation, so that everyone’s ideas gel into a coherent whole?

JEREMY: I’m the principle songwriter now. In general it’s the music that comes first or occasionally a title. I had “Creature Of Habit” kicking about just as a song title for a while. Once melody lines start to reveal themselves, I’ll write a lyric to fit. I initially record a demo, which I present to the rest of the band and then we develop it from there in the rehearsal room. I always like to take everybody’s ideas on board as much as possible.

CHUMKI: How do you keep your ideas fresh, without falling into a comfortable, formulaic rut?

JEREMY: Just a concerted attempt to not repeat ourselves. I’m very interested in rhythm (having started out as a drummer when I was a teenager) so tempos and rhythm are a very important part of the writing process. We haven’t done a song in ¾ yet so maybe that’s next!

CHUMKI: The sentiments expressed in your songs are highly observational of human nature and circumstance, such as “...nothing lasts for long... before you have to pay... here one minute.... gone the next ...ever fleeting... ephemeral... self defeating...” from ‘Dispersal’. What inspires your lyrics?  How do you express your thoughts so succinctly and poetically?

JEREMY: I write as honestly as possible, although not all the songs are autobiographical. Some are “story” songs. I get inspiration from all kinds of sources – personal experience, books, films, art etc. I work hard at the lyrics to make them flow well, as I think they are an important integral part to the whole picture. Some bands are happy with throwaway lyrics but not us.

CHUMKI: There must be many musical influences which have touched your lives, both separately and together, how do you integrate them into your own defined style? Do you consciously write to sound a certain way, or is it more freeform?

JEREMY: On our own, all our aforementioned musical influences might appear more obvious. But once they’ve been integrated into the band, in the context of the songs, with the four of us added our own individual inputs, something special happens. I might be partly conscious of a desire to sound a particular way, but overall, I would say that it was mainly freeform.

DAVID: Freeform I’d say.

NEIL: The style of music reflects the period we were starting out in the music scene – late 70s/early80s.

CHUMKI: What are the themes that spark your imaginations, both musically and lyrically?

JEREMY: I would say the extreme aspects of life that affect the human spirit or condition. Acceptance and alienation, hope and hopelessness, joy and despair, love and hate.

NEIL: Social justice, love, peace, hurt!

CHUMKI: How do you decide which songs to record and how do you construct the order of play?

JEREMY: Once they’ve gone through the demo and rehearsal process, most songs end up getting recorded. It’s during that stage that any weaknesses are usually ironed out. Live, the order of play tends to be dictated by tempo and feel, breaking up any songs that are similar to each other to avoid monotony. On album, it’s a similar process, although you can climax with a song like “The Race” on record, which might not work so well in the live context.

CHUMKI: What is your favoured recording technique and, with so many digital bonbons now available, is it tempting to manipulate a live sound, especially when faced with a well stacked, actual or virtual effects rack? 

JEREMY: First we record the drums as a ‘live performance’ in the studio, to which the rest of us play along with as ‘guide’ tracks. Once we have the drum tracks, they are imported into a laptop and we replace/add our individual parts. We treat individual instrumental tracks using both actual and virtual effects, depending on what sounds best in the context of the track.

CHUMKI: Though I love all your songs for the way they take traditionally captivating rock and roll riffs and licks, and somehow subvert them; for their succulent bass lines; their tantalising guitar speak: enticing effects; beguiling drums; creeping, leery vocals; touches of my heroes, Bowie, Bolan, early Roxy, Television, Velvets, Devo, even Bow Wow Wow and Blondie; the gritty, warped sound; sense of theatrical dramaticism, anarchism; the lyrical themes;  I am especially enamoured by the track ‘Creature of Habit’ for its Bowiesque feel; ‘Around’ for perversion of lilting love song, mesmerising, sashaying it into Sixties noire, with sinister vocal and rattle snake tambourine shake; and deeply languorous ‘The Race’, which runs thrilling shiver down my spine, with its lingering finger of Bowie.

What are the stories behind those songs? Do each of you have a favourite Cathode Ray song; which and why?

JEREMY: ‘Creature Of Habit’ started out as a simple dance track. A friend of mine asked me if I could come up with something along the lines of Modjo or Moloko - dance, but incorporating guitars. Nothing really came of that, but I liked the riff a lot so I added the choruses and took it to the band where we developed a 1978 Blondie/Stones/Chic disco feel. With ‘Around’ I seem to recall initially trying something with a ‘Loaded’ Velvets vibe, but once the track developed, that Spaghetti western ending and Steve’s solo took it somewhere else completely. By the time we came to ‘The Race’, I remember thinking we needed a slow song to close the album and something that was quite distinct from the other tracks. I guess Floyd and Bowie come to mind, but the stop/start breaks were definitely a nod towards the more prog end of the spectrum like Rush or King Crimson. The very quiet talking that you can faintly hear in the background during the solo was inspired by Faust, who incorporated all kinds of strange things like that into their work. I like the playfulness of it. My favourite songs are probably ‘Slipping Away’ and ‘Lost & Found’ for its slightly unorthodox arrangement plus instrumental and vocal layered production textures, but I’m really too close to the songs and it changes all the time.

DAVID: Favourites are ‘Slipping Away’ and ‘Around’.

NEIL: ‘Slipping Away’ – it always sounds brilliant when we play it live – I enjoy its pulsing heaviness, contrasted with jaunty verse and the multiple melodic interplay going on!  I also think ‘Around’ is brilliant with Steve’s towering guitar line at the end!

CHUMKI: What music, apart from The Cathode Ray, are you each enjoying at the moment, or forms the backdrop to your lives?

JEREMY: I always listen to a vast array of old and new music. New bands that have grabbed my attention include Toy, Tame Impala and Pond, plus recent releases from Dexys, Spiritualized, High Llamas and Neil Young.

DAVID: Currently engaged by ‘Spirit of Eden’ (Talk Talk), ‘Heroes’ (Bowie), ‘The Lion’s Roar’ (First Aid Kit) and the first Petunia and the Vipers album.

NEIL: We Were Promised Jetpacks, Nick Cave.

STEVE: The Sexual Objects live; new Wire album.

CHUMKI: Are any of you involved in other music projects or solo ventures?

JEREMY: The Fabulous Artisans www.facebook.com/fabulousartisans

NEIL: I play bass in TV21 www.myspace.com/tv21official

STEVE: Bass in Dirty Harry (Blondie tribute www.dirtyharryblondietribute.co.uk  Guitar in The (legendary) Ettes. www.myspace.com/thelegendaryettes

CHUMKI: What is The Cathode Ray up to at the moment, musically and what plans do you have for the future?

JEREMY: We’ve been rehearsing new material over the last few months and have just started recording our second album. Plans for the future basically involve building on the inroads we’ve made with the first album, and hopefully reaching a wider audience.

CHUMKI: Bearing in mind two great passions of mine, music and food, what would be your desert island discs, those you could not live without and your last meal, before being abandoned to solitary contemplation?

JEREMY: Far too many to choose from, but some Desert Island Discs of mine would have to include: ‘Surf’s Up’ - The Beach Boys; ‘Witchita Lineman’ – Glen Campbell; ‘Dying Day’ – Orange Juice;  ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ – David Bowie; ‘Dead Souls’ – Joy Division; ‘Mandolin Wind’ – Rod Stewart; ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ – Scott Walker; ‘Cortez The Killer’ – Neil Young; ‘Northern Sky’ – Nick Drake; ‘Amelia’ – Joni Mitchell and ‘Marquee Moon’ – Television. Last meal’s a tricky one too – a well-made Lasagne with garlic bread and salad, washed down with a good red wine is pretty hard to beat.

DAVID: Meal would be a good kedgeree. Eight tunes at random might include: ‘Small Hours’ -  John Martyn; ‘On Saturday Afternoons in 1963’- Rickie Lee Jones; ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ - Joni Mitchell; ‘This Woman’s Work’ - Kate Bush; ‘Street Fighting Man’ - The Rolling Stones; ‘Wood Beez’ - Scritti Politti; ‘Babylon Sisters’ - Steely Dan and ‘Black Milk’ - Massive Attack.

NEIL: ‘Heroes’ - Bowie, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – Joy Division. Greek Mezees and Lamb Stiffado followed by cheese board – with a large glass of red and a vintage malt whiskey!

STEVE: ‘I Gotta Right’ – The Stooges; ‘The Idiot’(Lp) - Iggy Pop; ‘Complete Control’ – The Clash ; John Peel Sessions – The Slits.

CHUMKI: Finally, nosy as I am, how do you know the magnificent Vic Goddard and what do you think of his ‘Sect’? Have you ever joined forces or would that be A (fr) Ray in the Subway? (sorry, couldn’t resist)

JEREMY: I don’t know Vic personally, just through social media and he happens to be my sister’s postman! Been a big fan of his work ever since ‘Ambition’ – I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of joining forces at some point in the future.

CHUMKI: Thank you Cathode Ray for your patience, inspirational answers and forbearance in face of my impertinence. I look forward to listening to your choices and to receiving more broadcasts beamed from your time warp mother ship.

www.facebook.com/thecathoderay

Interview by Chumki Banerjee
Photos provided by the band

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