For a band with a long but intermittent career, punctuated by seemingly long periods of inactivity, an awful lot has happened to STOOR in the last couple of years.
First off the Dundee quartet – Stef Murray (vocals/bass), Ross Matheson (guitar), Scott McKinlay (drums) and Davie Youngblood (guitar) – started playing live with a degree for regularity for the first time in years then they followed up those shows with their debut self-titled album last year.
Ahead of the album’s re-release this Friday (28th) on Stereogram Recordings, I met up with Scott, Ross and Davie to discuss STOOR’s long and winding career.
First off we talked about the band’s origins and Ross, one of the founding duo in the band along with Stef, recounted how STOOR got started.
“I get this funny feeling that me and Stef went to see Broccoli in Bar Chevrolet. I knew some of the guys in Broccoli but Stef’s got a certain taste in music and he didn’t like Broccoli at all. I liked Broccoli fine.
“So that night he turned round and said ‘We need to form a band!’ although that was probably one of many occasions.
“So me and him got together first and he had old songs from years ago and I got a four track recorder from Scott in Grouchos. So the fledgling STOOR would have been recording on a four track in my bedroom.”
Stef, STOOR rehearsal, October 2016
Ross admitted that the band were less than technically proficient at this stage.
“We were so crap with technical stuff, it was a four track cassette recorder and you had to record two tracks on one side of the tape and two on the other. Then you had to bounce it down to one side but we never worked out how to do that! So some of the guitar parts were going backwards and sounded quite like an accordion. It was quite good but we didn’t mean it to be like that!”
The fledgling act then expanded their number with the addition of guitarist, Paul Esposito, as Ross explained.
“He lived next to me and I was jamming with him for a while but then the three of us got together. And Paul could turn his hand to some drums but he was always going to be the other guitarist. So Stef thought it was serious enough that we could go and play this stuff but we needed a drummer.”
At which point Scott entered the story.
“I’d been pals with Stef since we were about 18 but we kind of lost touch a wee bit. Ross and Stef phoned me and asked if I wanted to play some drums and we did!”
With Scott joining the band was now ready for their first live outing which Ross remembers well as it – was his first live show.
“The gig was with Man or Astroman and Paul was playing with Spare Snare and STOOR that night AND he promoted the gig. So he was running about like a headless chicken. And Man or Astroman were staying at his house so he was pretty stressed out.”
Also a little stressed out was Ross.
“We had ‘STOOR Theme’ at the beginning and I had this daft idea I was going to play this part on my own. But the rest of them could see my jaw was wobbling so they just got up and backed me straight away.”
That wasn’t the only pressure that the rookie guitarist faced that night.
“My brother, who’s a much more competent musician and played in loads of bands, and his mates were all standing and watching us. And they were all standing at the front and it was really intimidating! So if I looked out all I could see was my brother and all the guys in that band.”
Paul departed the fold before the band’s first recording venture with Chute Records and Ross explained how that had come about.
“I’d known Jan (Burnett) for donkey’s years and we used to play gigs with Spare Snare. At some point Jan asked it we wanted to record a single on Chute and we were ‘Too right, brilliant!’. So we recorded it in his house on the top floor.
“He just had these flat mics from Tandy which he just stuck to the wall. Scott’s drumkit was set up upstairs in this little bedroom with combed ceilings. It was mad but we were dead chuffed.”
Ross, STOOR rehearsal, October 2016
The band then set about creating their second record although Scott remembers that it wasn’t quite as successful as the first – for one simple reason.
“I don’t know why, but we never released it! We never got a lot of encouragement to do so I suppose.
“So we recorded it, paid to get it mastered, at Abbey Road, I should add, which was an excuse to get hammered in London for a weekend. Then we got it pressed and delivered … and we did nothing!”
Although the band didn’t realise it at the time their opportunities to play live were about to be reduced as Ross explained.
“We used to get all those gigs because we knew Broccoli but they were in that more hardcore scene. So we’d get all these mental punk gigs where we’d think ‘what were we doing here!’ We were just happy to play.
“And then it just tailed off. I don’t know why.”
Scott picked up the story.
“We all had kids. Bands like Broccoli split up, so some of that crowd disappeared and Spare Snare went quiet. So it was very on/off. We rehearsed occasionally but still had loads of songs.”
But if the gigs had dried up, Ross was insistent that STOOR were not living up to their name and were still very much a going concern – even if it wasn’t in the public eye.
“People used to think that we’d split up but we always met, always rehearsed, we always wrote new material and we quite often recorded. So it was massive fallow period for playing live but we were always being creative.”
Scott, STOOR rehearsal, October 2016
This period extended for years but fast forward a good number of years and the recruitment of a new guitarist just a few years ago was to coincide with the band raising their profile once again. Davie was happy to tell the story of how he completed the current line-up.
“I joined about 5 years ago, in 2011. I kind of got snaffled at some Christmas do, come for a pint sort of thing. I got interviewed – I’ve known them for 20 odd years! – and it was ‘do you want to join the band?’ And, I’m, ‘No, you’re taking the piss!”. But in the end I agreed.
“So I played my first gig in about 2012 in Clarks. It was kind of like a relaunch of STOOR and it was mobbed, we got 100-150 people.”
“Then we played with the Bucky Rage. There was only 40 people there but everybody was coming up saying ‘where did you come on from?’ What’s different now is that people have been enthusiastic about what we do. That enthusiasm breeds and you end up doing a bit more because you’re getting good feedback.”
The band have also managed to get other gigs as Davie recounted.
“We’ve done Edinburgh, Manchester twice and Glasgow twice. That’s us done the world tour!”
With more frequent live shows the band started to turn their thoughts towards documenting the songs on an album as Scott explained.
“We kept doing demos and some of them were pretty good. We always thought that we should do something with them.
“Then I had a little bit more time and I said to the band why don’t we try and do this? We’ve got some really good material and from the enthusiasm at some of the gigs and the feedback we were getting, quite a number of people seemed to like us.”
The album was assembled from existing recordings.
Scott: “The true story is that those are the songs that are on it because they’re the only songs that we could find masters for! Those eleven songs were probably recorded at 5 different places over quite a long time – some of them would be 10, 15 years old.”
With the material selected the band were faced with the problem of how to release the record into the world.
Ross felt that STOOR had finally gained momentum.
“It feels like it’s the right time now. You’ve heard how long we’ve been doing this and we’ve only just put an album out. We just decided that we need to do this.”
Twelve months on from the initial release and Ross reflected on the album.
“I’m glad it happened but because I was in the band, I can hear a difference between certain things. but other people have listened to the album and said it’s really consistent.”
Scott confirmed the band’s positive feelings about the record.
“I think we’re all chuffed to bits that we’ve released it but we’re really pleased that we’ve done it without any help from anybody. Nobody’s pushed us, we’ve done it totally on our own and for us.”
The reception that the album has received has surprised the band and Scott is still a little taken aback.
“All joking aside the biggest astonishment for us was where we came in all those polls at the end of the year. When you see some of the bands that were on there, there were some really good bands on those lists.
“The other thing is that our expectations are really low! We don’t really expect people to like us.”
Davie, STOOR rehearsal, October 2016
“That’s a really Scottish thing. We are self-deprecating but that’s maybe a safe place to be because you cannae get your hopes dashed when you’re starting from such a low base.
“I’m just amazed when people are hearing something in a song that was intentional, when someone else gets it, it’s wow.”
Despite the record’s positive reception, Scott still feels that it’s hard to reach even a fraction of the people who might like STOOR but a series of happy accidents has led to the record getting a belated leg-up.
“We were putting on a gig in Edinburgh ourselves – we can’t get arrested there, although we’ve tried everywhere.
“We were introduced to Jeremy (Thoms of the Cathode Ray and Stereogram Recordings) and they played the show. We went for a few drinks with them after the gig and it was like we’d known them for decades. We just got on great.
“We kept in touch and he asked us if we fancied releasing the album on Stereogram. And it was probably a nanosecond before we said absolutely!”
Ross is certain that the label can only help the band.
“They can promote it a bit more and can do things that we can’t do. We were going to go down that route with Paul in London but then the Stereogram thing happened.”
The Stereogram connection has taken the band to new audiences as Scott described with some wonder.
“I got a Facebook message from a guy, Ted Leibowitz and he’s got a radio station in New York called Soma FM. And he’s played us on the station! And something like 1,200 people have heard it.
“Whether they listened to the first note and switched it off, I don’t know. But we’d have never have been heard in New York if we’d just done it ourselves.
“It’s such a small thing we were all chuffed. Maybe if someone picks up the phone and asks us if we fancy a gig in New York then we might be winging our way. Although it strikes me that the likelihood of that is … not very high!”
Whilst the first album is about to get a second wind courtesy of Stereogram, STOOR are already well into its follow-up.
Scott: “We’re recording another 11 songs, a couple of old ones that we’ve had kicking around for ages and quite a number of new ones that we’ve played live periodically.
“We probably have about 50 or 60 songs so if you take two albums worth that’s only 22 and there’s still loads of unfinished stuff.”
Ross explains why the band have ended up in this invidious position – over and above their 20+ years of songwriting of course.
“What happens is you get new material and that’s always the most exciting. So you start to forget about the old stuff but then every so often someone comes in and goes ‘Do you remember blah, blah, blah’ and we’re like ‘That’s really good, we never finished that off’. So it’s quite nice to revisit stuff.”
The new album is progressing nicely according to Scott but its release isn’t imminent for a couple of reason.
“It’s got a fair bit to go. We’ve done all the drums and the bass.”
Davie added: “About half the guitars are done, we’ve got my guitars to do and then the vocals and mixing.”
Scott is very mindful of the fact that the band still owe a duty to Stereogram.
“We’re not in any rush because we’ve still got the first album to try and promote. I think it’s good enough for more people to hear and we don’t want to dilute that possibility.
“And then we’ll probably hang on until Jeremy thinks it’s a good time to go – if he wants to release it.
“But we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got to keep moving on. It’s actually quite nice because we’re on a bit of a roll after those years of hibernation.”
Scott has been instrumental in setting up the band’s next gig – supporting some legendary musicians in Dundee in the shape of Brix and the Extricated.
“I think the Fall are probably, over time, my favourite band particularly the Hanley era and the Brix era when they were absolutely amazing.
“So one time I was working in Preston and Brix had her book launch in Manchester at night so I went along. And I ended up meeting the guy who runs this Fall page.
“Turned out he had some involvement with the Hanleys, so he introduced me to them. And I joked that they needed to come up and play Dundee.
“Then coincidentally Andy (Wood – Cool Cat Club promoter and MPT contributor) phoned me and said he’d been offered Brix and the Extricated and I said he really needed to get them up as they’re brilliant.
“They play the songs that they wrote in the Fall and I think that’s the important part. It’s not some Fall tribute band.”
‘STOOR’ is re-released on Stereogram Recordings this Friday (28th October) on CD and download.
The band support Brix and the Extricated on Sunday 30th October at Beat Generator Live in Dundee. More info here.