Time has a way of moving to its own rhythms, sometimes it seems to drag by slowly, driving you to find imaginative new methods to kill it, at other points it flies by, utterly unanchored (writes Andy Wood). It’s difficult to grasp the fact that the Electric Sugar Children will be playing their first gigs in their home land in twenty or so years in support of their debut album Tumbleweed. Where the Manic Street Preachers once promised to release their debut album then split up forever then broke that promise, Tumbleweed will be the first and final album by The Electric Sugar Children. Unless of course, they lied to us as well.
It’s a bit hazy now trying to recall how I first came across these rapscallions. Somehow I’d got involved in a night called The Oblivion Club in Perth. It was the successor to a night ran by a band called This Poison! who had recorded two fine singles for the Wedding Present’s Reception label. They’d set the bar pretty high with shows by the wonderful McCarthy and My Bloody Valentine amongst others. It was held in the function room of a pub called the Riverside Inn. The venue was like a cross between a converted barn and a 70s working man’s club, high ceilings, faded flock wallpaper and the tiniest of stages. I’d D.J. perched on a balcony above the action where I could watch the nights unfold from my eyrie. Lead singer, Sandy was one of the organisers of the nights along with Graeme Morrison. Everyone seemed to be in a band in Perth, sometimes in several bands. It was hard to keep up with the changing dynamics. Pretty incestuous but pretty much like any other young scene.
Sandy and his brother Edd played in the Electric Sugar Children who at one point were also called Pure. They stood out a bit from some of their predecessors and peers. Not necessarily musically as their influences, the Velvets-Mary Chain-indie-punk influences were worn on sleeves and in song titles as well including ‘Velvet’ and ‘Stephanie’ but in that, on stage (and occasionally off-stage) they displayed a cocky arrogance and confidence. Where some bands would apologise or look nervous for their mistakes or lack of competency, Pure/ESC would rub it in your face with sets climaxing in a mess of feedback and chaos with the vocalist rolling round the floor. They could rub crowds up the wrong way but I liked them enough to put them on in Dundee a couple of times. Perth folk always maintain that there’s a massive rivalry between their home town and Dundee but I never really got that and they went down as well (or badly) as they did anywhere else.
Time moves on, we lost touch. A few dusty demo tapes, old flyers, fanzines and letters were really all that remained of that scene. Then a few years ago Sandy got in touch via my previous band to ask if we’d like to consider contributing a track to a charity compilation that he was organising. Sadly that band had stumbled off to oblivion but not the Perth night some time ago and, in the parlance, I was between bands. We loosely kept in touch over time and I learned that the Electric Sugar Children, despite being dispersed around the country had decided to reform pretty much just for the sheer fun of it. And why else would anyone want to be in a band anyway? In the meant time members had found their way into other bands such as Greenheart, Aspidistra and even drumming for the legendary Long Fin Killie.
A handful of gigs occurred in England only due to those aforementioned logistical problems and a limited edition single The Cowboy E.P. was released on a Peruvian label. The band began recording an album with Tony Doogan. The resulting album Tumbleweed is, ahem, a more mature work, featuring a series of pretty strong songs. They aren’t a million miles away from the style of the original line-ups but feel stronger, more cohesive. The songs still mix upbeat melodies with a sense of melancholy reflection but the playing is stronger, more varied and there’s a good energy between the individual members along with guests such as Belle and Sebastian’s Chris Geddes, Stacey Sievewright from The Moth And The Mirror/Arab Strap and Elizabeth Bracey Nelson of The Paranoid Style adding organ, cello and backing vocals into the mix.
Some of the songs really blast out at you. The opening two songs ‘The Girl Of Gracious Ease’ and ‘Fake’ are a pretty feisty introduction while ‘Cherry Long Gone’ is an infectious blast of pop with it’s infectious, catchy chorus that sticks with you for ages afterwards. ‘You don’t sit down in Cougar Town / The past is the past is the past’. Indeed, any song that opens by name-checking the actress Sherilyn Fenn is a winner in my book.
There are mellower moments as well which gave the album great balance. My favourites are the bittersweet ‘Puppet’ with the cello giving the song a graceful, eerie air before the paint scraping guitars burst in and the haunting/haunted ‘She Wears Curses Well’ which is as close to the album gets to the Americana of its title and sleeve with a deeper, almost spoken vocal full of references to bars and belles. It’s pretty much my favourite song on the album, dark and elegant. Overall, it’s a rather lovely record, both a proper get to meet you and a requiem. However, now is not the time to be sad but to catch the fiery star of The Electric Sugar Children before they burn out leaving only this album as a rather special artefact.
Sandy Fyfe answered the questions for this round of the Manic Pop Thrills inquisition.
AW – Can you briefly tell us who the Electric Sugar Children are and how you came to be?
SF – We were four kids from Perth, lots of added sugar and impurities; we evolved into five Perth lads as Pure, who were a Velvet Underground/Mary Chain/Pastels/Smiths influenced band in late 80s, early 90s. We all went our separate ways in 1992 but stayed involved in music in different ways to greater or lesser extent.
AW – You are about to release your debut album Tumbleweed almost two decades after forming. Why did it take so long?
SF – Well we didn’t play together for about 18 years!! No fall-outs, life just got in the way. But we all got together again a couple of years ago and recorded 5 songs for a couple of EPs to get something out of our system. We enjoyed the creativity so much, and each other’s company, and we were offered the chance to do an album, and we all looked at each other, and we realised it was an unfulfilled ambition for a couple of us, so we started writing more new songs!
AW – What was the motivation for getting the band back together after such a lengthy hiatus? Particularly as it seems like a potentially logistical nightmare with members split between Perth and London.
SF – Well, it just seemed to be fated really. I did an interview about the old band with the Cloudberry blog, and the final question was about whether we would play together again. I mumbled something about never saying never. And we got an offer to put some songs out on Edition 59 in Germany if we did, and so we all decided to have some fun, not realising it would end up being such a large undertaking!! It has been logistically tough and everyone has made huge commitments in different ways. But we are so pleased with the result.
AW – The response to The Electric Sugar Children getting back together has been pretty positive. How do you feel about that?
SF – We were surprised! We always thought of ourselves as enfants terribles, and we did have a terrible attitude when we were young!
AW – Do you think it is easier now for bands to get their music out in to the world via the internet etc. or does this create its own problems?
SF – It’s definitely easier, and music has changed from top to bottom. We are a real band, despite logistical difficulties, we will practice together in a rehearsal studio, and play out when the right show comes along. I think there are a lot of bedroom bands, who get their music out now, and that’s no bad thing, but they are missing out on that great experience of truly being in a band with your mates. Even as old guys, we know that!
AW – Can you describe the process of writing and recording of Tumbleweed? Was it quite straightforward or were there any pitfalls or hiccups along the way?
SF – As we had five songs in the can from the EPs, there was brief consideration of the album being 5 new songs plus the 5 we had just recorded. I was against this, as if we were to do an album, and perhaps only one, I wanted it to be a body of work that sat together, a true album, even in the ipod shuffle mode age. The process was actually quite easy – Edd, Gogs and Kenny would work up ideas, record them roughly, and I would set lyrics to them. Sometimes I would start with a lyric and say I needed music in a certain structure or style.
We did the ten tracks on the album in two sets of five. They were recorded in Glasgow over two weekends with Tony Doogan (LEGEND!), and he made the process much easier for us I am sure.
Each batch of five had one problem song when we came to record it (we messed around quite a lot with arrangements at Tony’s suggestion), but equally each time we had a one take wonder!
AW – How does it feel to have the album due out shortly?
SF – Great, being a fan of music as I have always been, it’s a little bit like a dream come true. It’s good because I am so proud of it and so proud of my bandmates and the commitment everyone made to make the album.
AW – One of your songs is called ‘Lead Singer Syndrome’. How does this syndrome manifest itself and is it curable? Do lead singers necessarily crave more attention than other band members?
SF – Ha ha – that’s definitely one for my band mates to answer. I will close my ears! It’s a very self-deprecating look at myself, courtesy of some hints from my bass player! But it’s also a plea for them to understand me. It’s one of my favourite lyrics.
Gogs interjects – I need say nothing; everyone will see exactly what I mean if they come and see us live!!
AW – My sense of the original versions of The Electric Sugar Children / Pure was that you were quite a chaotic proposition, always on the edge of falling apart (like a lot of young bands I guess). I recall putting you on in Dundee a couple of times and the name changed between gigs. What have you learned from those days and what advice would you give to your younger selves?
SF – Your memory is excellent! I think we didn’t have too much self-confidence, we thought playing was all that mattered, not how we played, and that if we played we would get girls! (in my case one in particular who I was always showing off to – a fox, muse, a girl of gracious ease, a mad hickie dispensing teen love of mine, and so we made the album sort of about the evolution of what that great lost love might have been like – ups and downs).
We also didn’t care how drunk we got before we played, often a mistake. When we played The Borderline with The Jasmine Minks last year we had a self-imposed no drinking rule before we played, and we astounded ourselves at how good we could sound. I think our younger selves were an indie art movement, obsessed with scene and being seen more than our true selves; now we are storytellers, entertainers and musicians. I think in short, now we want to be liked, we used to revel in not being liked!
AW – What does the future hold for The Electric Sugar Children now that Tumbleweed is ready for release?
SF – Well, we are playing these three nights in Scotland, our final gigs here, – Edinburgh, Dundee, Strathaven – with our musical friends. And we may play a final London show. And then we are reprising 1992 but with a greater deal of satisfaction (as Gogs is emigrating to New Zealand and we truly are a band of brothers, each constituent part irreplaceable in the eyes of the others). I am sure we will all continue to be music enthusiasts and perhaps involved in different ways.
AW – Anything that you would like to add?
SF – I sometimes see the flickering of that box in the corner of the room and realise chefs seem to have become the new rock n roll stars. But I hear them say a word often, and that word is ‘provenance’. I think people should look much more to the provenance of their music. It should be from the heart, tales which must be told, it should mean so much, it should not be a production line talent show fifth place loser commoditised famous for three and a half minutes product.
Finally, being in a band is glorious. But there would be no bands if there were no people like you guys. Keep up the great work of keeping music’s heartbeat beating.
The Electric Sugar Children play the third night of the Cool Cat Club on Friday 7th September alongside Edinburgh School for the Deaf, Vladimir, The Paranoid Style and Hookers for Jesus. Tickets are available at £4 in advance from Groucho’s (stbf) with entry £5 on the door.