SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Suzie Stapleton

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience.

In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

Australian Suzie Stapleton has been living in Brighton in the UK for five years now, after the Sydney-raised musician spent the previous decade in Melbourne. Her long-awaited, self-produced, debut album We Are The Plague is set for release this Friday (July 31st) and follows her 2012 EP Obladi Diablo

If you’ve ever seen Stapleton live you’ll know she’s one of those artists who invests 100% in her music – emotionally and physically. There’s a darkness to her sound – a swirling, magical atmosphere that draws from post-punk, gothic rock and dark folk. Stapleton’s lyrics convey a bruised beauty and that, combined with her brooding, rich and raw voice and her evocative guitar playing, puts her in the same sonic territory as PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, Patti Smith, The Gun Club and Chelsea Wolfe. 

Ahead of the release of her new album, Suzie kindly took the time to give us an insight into what she’s been listening to recently, during these strange times. 


Vic Chesnutt – North Star Deserter (2007)

I haven’t left the house since mid-March except to buy food and go for long walks on the downs or on the beach if I can steal a moment there sans people – the only exception being the Brighton BLM protest. In this time my garden has become my sanctuary and escape. We live in a row of terraces and have a small concreted, courtyard garden. There are garden beds along the edges and two small trees on either side by the back wall that I sit between watching sparrows flit from one to the the other and the clouds float by overhead. I feel fortunate to have this oasis.

It is here that I have donned headphones and found solace in music. North Star Deserter is an album that has found it’s way onto my playlist during this period. Vic Chestnutt is such a visceral performer, his music and vocals hit you straight in the gut, his lyrics are great too. The band on this album are fantastic, tip toeing around him on the quieter moments and launching into full post-rock attacks on other tracks. It’s very well orchestrated.

I regret to say I only recently heard of Vic Chesnutt. I was turned on to him during a recording session in December with Crippled Black Phoenix. They invited me up to Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire to record some vocals and guitar on their upcoming album. Thrown in the mix for the album were a couple of covers – one of which is ‘Everything I Say’ from North Star Deserter (an amazing song) – sitting in the converted chapel listening to Crippled Black Phoenix bring it to life was a transportive experience. 

I wish I’d known of Vic’s music earlier – especially whilst he was still alive. But that’s the beauty of music too, there’s alway new worlds to discover.


Humanist – Humanist (2020)

Humanist is a project created by guitarist and producer Rob Marshall. The day it was released I sent Rob a text saying “Congratulations – Amazing album. I was hoping to win all the album of the year awards but you’ve fucked that right up”.

Where to begin… The album has a cast of legends singing on each track – Dave Gahan, Mark Lanegan, Jim Jones, Mark Gardener…  you can look that up. As impressive and as great as each guest is, it’s Rob’s guitar and production that really blows my mind. Especially knowing that he recorded the guitar and mixed the record at home with a very limited set up. 

There’s not a dud track on this record, but of particular note are ‘Ring of Truth’ and its sense of foreboding, the epic ‘English Ghosts’, and album closer ‘Gospel’ which has a phenomenal build-up reminiscent of Rick Rubin’s production.

I was scheduled to tour with Humanist in March which was rescheduled to September and has just been moved again to February. I think we’re only just beginning to see the fallout from this virus. We’re starting to hear venue closure announcements in the UK and I fear it’s just the beginning. I dread to think what lies ahead with European tours in further jeopardy next year as a result of Brexit. I’m preparing for a dramatically different landscape.

It’s going to be tough for musicians to make ends meet. Recording costs generally aren’t recouped from online album sales and nobody makes any money from streaming (that is the greatest scam going, but that’s another rant…). We rely on the touring cycle to get in front of people, and a lot of album sales happen on the merch desk. I urge fans that are in a position to do so, to please support artists through this time and purchase music online, donate to live streams etc. 


Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss (2015)

I recommend putting this album on your device, armouring up in a face mask, and going to run your errands. You may only be picking up some toilet paper, or grabbing a pint of milk, but you will feel like it is the end of days and you are preparing to fight the alien lizard people as they descend to finally take over the earth… 

Abyss is such a solid album. The fragile, ethereal melodies against the aggressive production are entirely captivating. This is a dense sonic landscape from start to finish. ‘Iron Moon’ is perfection, with ‘After The Fall’ and ‘Crazy Love’ also must-listens. 

I came to Chelsea Wolfe via Mark Lanegan’s cover of her song ‘Flatlands’ from Unknown Rooms, my other favourite album of Chelsea’s. Really I could have picked any of her albums they are all great. Her writing, vocals, and guitar complimented by Ben Chisholm’s production is a brilliant combination.


Suzie Stapleton’s debut album ‘We Are The Plague is out July 31st on Negative Prophet Records / Cargo Records

Pre-Save We Are The Plague On Spotify/Apple Music

Suzie Stapleton is touring the UK with Humanist February 2021:

6th – YES (Pink Room) Manchester

8th – PRINCE ALBERT Brighton 

9th – THE LEXINGTON London 


SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Romy Vager (RVG)

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

RVG have always garnered great reviews but they’ve hit the jackpot with the recent release of their album Feral, gaining stellar reviews locally and internationally. Romy Vager, the creative force behind RVG (Romy Vager Group) kindly took the time to give us an insight into what records she’s been listening to and loving over the last few months.

Read our review of Feral.

“On Feral, Vager’s dissection of how it feels to be sidelined and disenfranchised is treated poetically and ultimately there’s a sense of hope and resilience that rises from the near perfect musical backdrop.”

Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (2019)

“I’ve been forced to watch my friends enjoy ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude”. That’s a magic line, it’s a line Leonard Cohen could’ve written. The whole album is killer but those first three tracks, they’re like Harry Dean Stanton smoking bongs with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

I really also love the song ‘She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger’. I feel that one in my soul. Sometimes it feels as if some people are Eloi and some are Morlocks and there’s not a lot anyone can do about it. 

Daisy Chainsaw – Eleventeen (1992)

I’ve been listening to this again because it reminds me of a dear friend who passed away recently and who I always thought was the personification of this record. She liked this band and I feel the connection to her when I play it. Music’s good for that. I love how unhinged this record sounds. It’s like nothing else. I love the childlike language of it. It’s like a fucked up Alice In Wonderland but in a good way, not in a Tim Burton way. 

The Kinks – Face To Face (1966)

I keep thinking about when we were in London, we went to listen to Ray Davies in conversation at Rough Trade. You had to buy his new record to speak to him afterwards so instead we just stood in the corner and silently stared at him. We were in awe. I mean there was THE Ray Davies. He’s better than the fucking Beatles! 

Every Kinks record before 1974 is my favourite record but Face to Face is hitting me the hardest in quarantine. ‘Too Much on my Mind’ is the song I keep singing to myself in the shower. I love the simplicity of it, it’s beautiful and it’s true.

Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive (2019)

“He’s dead, yeah, he died. Can’t you remember? That’s what you’re here for”. I love that delivery. Adelaidians have a similar deadpan reaction to death as British people do. People from the East Coast are taken back by it. I guess that’s why they think we’re all serial killers.

This record has barely left the turntable since December of last year. One thing I’ve learnt about punk music, if you don’t have a touch of humility and tenderness then it’s just vanity and posturing. Unrelated but there’s a line from The Residents that says “ignorance of your culture is not considered cool”. I can almost hear that sentence in Jason’s voice. I love this band. 

SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Simon Sweetman

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

For episode two we’re very lucky to have New Zealand author, podcaster, music journalist and poet Simon Sweetman taking us through three albums that he’s been drawn to over the last few months. Simon has been writing about music for much of his adult life, he’s the man behind the long-running music blog Off The Tracks, host of Sweetman Podcast, which is now up to its 218th episode and in 2012 he published his first book – OnSong: Stories Behind New Zealand’s Pop Classics. His next writing project is his first book of poetry, due out in October through The Cuba Press and titled The Death of Music Journalism. He also recently made his first foray into e-books with Drummers You Just Can’t Beat a series of essays about favourite and influential drummers.

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Forces of Victory (1979)

Lockdown – in its various states and guises around the world – has done funny things to us and I first noticed that when all I wanted to listen to was reggae and dub music. This isn’t usually the case – but I found myself a fan anew. Returning to old favourites and desperately soaking up classic material that was brand new to me. I devoured the entire Bob Marley canon which included first listens to a few albums and I warmed my soul with the work of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell. Of their collaborations, this has always been my favourite, I guess it’s that nostalgia-thing of returning to the work you heard first. I hunted this album out 20 years ago or so after watching a documentary that was ostensibly about the poet John Cooper Clarke. And much as I loved it for that and soon immersed myself in his written words and worlds, it was the footage of LKJ that really impacted. Specifically his poem called “Sonny’s Lettah” – it’s probably my all-time favourite work of Johnson’s. And so Forces of Victory has been on a loop or me across the last few weeks. And, yes, I’ve gone through other albums by LKJ – his first handful all so magnificent that it’s almost a line-call – and Bovell’s production and DJ work outside of his collaborations with Linton. It’s all pretty special but Forces of Victory remains the one for me. It’s one of those albums where I remember instantly where I was when I first heard it.

Curtis Mayfield – Curtis (1970)

I was preparing a recent feature for RNZ where I talked about Curtis Mayfield’s life and work and played some tunes. That means I went deep – right through all the work, even though it was only a 40-minute program and I focused mostly on the soundtrack work and the diversity of his writing, from The Impressions through his own songs and several producing and writing jobs for other acts. But at home, in the build-up, I worked through all of the Impressions albums (fabulous!) and all of Curtis’ solo material. The album I kept coming back to though was his 1970 debut. I finally bought myself a copy for the turntable, but this was one of the first things I rushed out to buy when I got hooked on Curtis Mayfield about 25 years ago. The songs here, and the production, so vital and fresh and perhaps sadly so they are still so relevant. I mean take a listen to ‘We People Who Are Darker Than Blue’. That’s a movie in and of itself right there; that could be anyone else’s one and only greatest hit. For Curtis, it’s one of the ones you mention in a first or second breath.

Grace Jones – Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1998)

This two-disc anthology covers the work Grace Jones did with Sly & Robbie in the early 1980s. Phenomenal music that had a massive impact on me at the time and continues to – I feel like I’ve never not been a Grace Jones fan. As a kid she was just intriguing: turning up on TV and in movies, making these great pop songs and then finding out she was a model, artist, celebrity. The music is the thing I’ve always cared most about with Jones and this time around it was as much to do with loving and studying the work of Sly and Robbie – all timed and tied up with my reggae fascination I guess. The signature Grace Jones hits are here – ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, ‘Walking In The Rain’ and her magnificent covers of ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Love Is The Drug’. (In fact she’s just a covers machine here: ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Use Me’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Demolition Man’ and of course the title track – ‘Private Life’. Again this sounds so fresh and inventive close to 40 years on and the mix of dub and long versions, demos and originals paints a picture of the studio genius of Sly and Robbie as players and producers. 

SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

First up is Darren Cross, he of Gerling and Jep and Dep fame who has most recently been releasing solo material as D.C Cross. Under that moniker he’s created two excellent albums (Ecstatic Racquet (2019), Terabithian (2020)) that blend American Primitive guitar stylings with arcane English folk picking and immersive washes of new age-inspired drone and ambience.

Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

When it’s cold near/in winter time, I love to listen to depressing music. I don’t know, it’s just the way it is. One year, in the coldest house I have ever lived, Jack Elias’ Chopping Board was the winter breakfast album in our Alaskan house kitchen. A local songsmith, influenced by Cohen but even bleaker than Cohen, the half Lebanese guy Elias really hits you were it hurts.

Songs of Love and Hate has been flipped on the record player many a time during this Covid time. Its weird, I watched the Cohen documentary Bird On Wire for the first time recently. It’s about a 20 date tour that ended up in Israel in the 70’s where Cohen and his band are tripping balls on LSD and he is crying during his performance of S’o Long Marianne’ – mind blowing!

The guitar on Songs of Love and Hate is astounding – highlighting what Cohen calls “his chops” – his distinct picking style. This album is tender and angry and evil all at once… and the sentiment is perfect for a heartless winter.

Trumans Water – 10X My Age EP (1993)

When I was a wee lad in the 90’s, Trumans Water really blew my mind. Hailing from San Diego around the time Pavement appeared, (before Pavement ended up sounding like the the Verve) Trumans Water were deconstructionist – dismantling pop-grunge-math-rock that sounded like Captain Beefheart playing the angriest parts of Sonic Youth but 10x angrier, while collapsing down an eternal staircase to infinity.

I bought this 10 inch as I just had to hear these songs on vinyl. I mean one song is just a lo-fi recording of the drummer trying to learn the drum beat (bit annoying) but tracks like ‘Empty Queen II’ and ‘Enflamed’ still impress the hell out of me.

I recently found a rad doco about the San Diego punk scene called It’s Gonna Blow!!! – San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996 – which was unfindable online until recent times. I am pretty sure the title of the film comes from the Trumans Water anthem ‘Aroma Of Gina Arnold’ which is another of my favourite Trumans songs. Hunt this down. Such a great band. The artwork of the albums was really inspirational as well, long before collage and dadaism became a hipster staple.

Liquid Mind – Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus (1994)

Being a restaurant DJ and working on Saturday mornings as a thrift store sorter (go through the garbage, mould, urns of dead people, to find things to sell to rich people in rich areas) was playing havoc on my sleeping patterns. DJ’ing until 3am (playing ‘Thriller’ to 20 year olds on MDMA) then getting up to work and sort through the junk was really whacking me out (so I quit the sorting job). Not being able to sleep led me to those YouTube ambient music sets of three hours of buzzing electronic drone sounds that hypnotise you into sleepy slumberland submission. Luckily for me I really love those sounds and dug a bit deeper and found Chuck Wild, the godfather of 90’s ambient music.

Chuck Wild’s Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus (1994) is probably my favourite and it seemed really fitting, during these Covid times, to reach for this CD and sail away on cloud Chuck.

Chuck Wild went from doing the music composition on that crazy, ground-breaking 80’s, MTV-loving TV show Max Headroom, to a nervous breakdown where he stunningly chose meditation over medication and help invent 90’s ambient music.

The first track, ‘Zero Degrees Zero’ goes for over 28 minutes and like the most of this album, creates understated wooshes of pure 90’s ecstasy drone candy. This album has made me fell less anxious in this really weird and eerie time of self-isolation.

Coffee. Sleep. Sitting on the couch. More sleep. Trying to forget I can’t travel overseas to see my friends in Europe. Play guitar. Beer. Forgetting Covid – Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus – Suits my many moods. Repeat. Repeat.