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 


R.I.P VIC CHESNUTT

A beautiful tribute to Vic from Kristin Hersh…

What this man was capable of was superhuman. Vic was brilliant, hilarious and necessary; his songs messages from the ether, uncensored. He developed a guitar style that allowed him to play bass, rhythm and lead in the same song — this with the movement of only two fingers. His fluid timing was inimitable, his poetry untainted by influences. He was my best friend.

I never saw the wheelchair—it was invisible to me—but he did. When our dressing room was up a flight of stairs, he’d casually tell me that he’d meet me in the bar. When we both contracted the same illness, I told him it was the worst pain I’d ever felt. “I don’t feel pain,” he said. Of course. I’d forgotten. When I asked him to take a walk down the rain spattered sidewalk with me, he said his hands would get wet. Sitting on stage with him, I would request a song and he’d flip me off, which meant, “This finger won’t work today.” I saw him as unassailable—huge and wonderful, but I think Vic saw Vic as small, broken. And sad.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to listen to his music again, but I know how vital it is that others hear it. When I got the phone call I’d been dreading for the last fifteen years, I lost my balance. My whole being shifted to the left; I couldn’t stand up without careening into the wall and I was freezing cold. I don’t think I like this planet without Vic; I swore I would never live here without him. But what he left here is the sound of a life that pushed against its constraints, as all lives should. It’s the sound of someone on fire. It makes this planet better.

And if I’m honest with myself, I admit that I still feel like he’s here, but free of his constraints. Maybe now he really is huge. Unbroken. And happy.

Love,
Kristin

http://kristinhersh.cashmusic.org/vic/

NEWS: VIC CHESNUTT new album…

News DS

vic chesnutt

Great to come across the news that Vic Chesnutt has a new album due for release on Sept 21. At The Cut is the follow up to North Star Deserter from a few years ago and it is again a collaboration with  Silver Mt Zion and Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. That last record was a dark and intense set of songs so expect more of the same.

Aquarium Drunkard have a download available of the brooding and billowing track Philip Guston HERE.

REVIEW: VIC CHESNUTT & VICTORIA WILLIAMS @ Factory, Sydney (10/07/09)

IMG_2060

Reviewed for LiveGuide.

IMG_2033
Natalie D-Napoleon & Andre Hooke | photo chris familton

Vic Chesnutt and Victoria Williams have been recording and performing for two decades and they have both had their share of physical setbacks. Chesnutt ended up paralysed after a car crash aged 18 and, as an adult, Victoria Williams learnt she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. These conditions made for interesting and at times moving performances from the two Vics at the Factory Theatre.

Singer-songwriter Natalie D-Napoleon and Andre Hooke from Melbournians Khancoban warmed the fairly sparse crowd with their straightforward country folk music. Hooke in particular possesses an emotive voice that dips and soars while he peers at the ground and picks out tight melodies on his guitar. His voice is like a more countrified Glenn Richards from Augie March. D-Napoleon on the other hand doesn’t seem to have the same depth of emotion to her songs but she nails the key ingredients of country and roots music all the same.

With little fanfare Vic Chesnutt rolled his way onto the stage and, after making some minor adjustments to his setup, began to sing an improvised ode to warming up. From that moment he won over the crowd with his dark humour and the ability to mesmerise the audience with his sparse and fragile folk.

Chesnutt’s skill lay in the his voice, his lyrics and his guitar playing. His singing was grounded in pain and hope and was rich with rising notes in its weary croon. His lyrics had the ability to create laughter one second and then suck the air out of the room the next. He sang one song about all the different types of friends and you could hear a pin drop when he hit the line about “Everybody has a friend battling cancer, for the second time”. His guitar playing was as important as his singing. Frail, scratching and incessant, it held the songs together like an invisible spider web and in the less than full Factory Theatre the intimacy and closeness of the sound was a real highlight.

Victoria Williams shuffled onstage looking something akin to an op-shop mannequin with her quirky fur hat and Amish style clothes. Her MS means she has a shuffling walk and it placed a sense of doubt and hesitancy in her performance. Her first song or two were loose and unsure to say the least but after that she warmed to the task and some magic moments emerged.

Chesnutt shared the stage with Williams for her set and as well as moral support he added featherlite percussion and then towards the end of the set – guitar and vocals. The highlight came when the two of them duetted on ‘It’s A Beautiful World’. It was ragged and sung with warmth and empathy, devoid of the sunny cheesiness the standard sometimes attracts.

Williams shifted between guitar and piano, both of which she seemed to play in her own time zone. She had a unique way of stopping mid phrase, putting on a thinking expression and then resuming the song. It had the effect of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, anticipating the next line, wondering if she had forgotten where she was going. But when Williams opened her mouth to sing in her soft drawl or her bluesy squeal the crowd realised she had full control of what she was trying to do with the song.

A curious lack of set lists made for a tentative performance overall. It felt like the songs had to be coaxed out of the performers and the show felt a little too casual and the ice too thin at times. When both singers really got inside their songs though, you could see why they have earned the respect of people from Sparklehorse to Pearl Jam, Neil Young, REM and Lucinda Williams. It as a totally unique, raw and honest show, and it felt like one of those very special and intimate performances that don’t come round often enough.

IMG_2075
Vic Chesnutt & Victoria Williams | photo chris familton

IMG_2043
Vic Chesnutt | photo chris familton

Vic Chesnutt | Photo Chris Familton
Vic Chesnutt | photo chris familton