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