Swan Songs is out now on Hide & Seek Records.
I recently watched Lost in France, a wonderful documentary about the Glasgow indie scene in the 90s and the Chemikal Underground label that was at the heart of it. In a telling scene Stewart Henderson, chief of Chemikal Underground, described as “fucking heartbreaking” how difficult it is for a label to support a band through two or three albums to allow them to develop enough to create that one truly great album. Around the same time I first heard Swan Songs, the third album by Post War Glamour Girls on Hide & Seek Records. After a couple of very good albums on that same label it was immediately obvious they’ve now made a truly great album.
James Smith from the band took the time to humour us as we ambitiously asked questions about each and every track on the new record and his insights are completely fascinating. It doesn’t get much more in depth than this.
1. Guiding Light
Overblown: This track feels like a big, solid, call-to-arms style rock song. It’s also positive sounding with its offer to help whoever’s ‘world is falling down’ by being their ‘Guiding Light’. Is this a statement of intent type song and was it always going to be the album opener?
James: It’s definitely a statement of intent, it set the tone thematically for the rest of the album so made sense as the opener, though it was almost the ender at one point too. Pink Fur was all about thinking and feeling negatively. Feeling Strange was all about thinking and feeling nothing and Swan Songs comes about by being a record firmly driven by positivity. It’s a dangerous emotion to channel in art as it can come off as smug and smarmy, but that wasn’t what we were communicating with this. It wasn’t ‘I’m alright me, chin up you’, it’s more universal. Without being a fucking hippy about it, it’s not me saying I can help you because it’s not me singing and it’s not you listening. It’s everything and everyone communicating all at once.
O: This is the track that mentions the album title ‘Swan Songs’ and contains the refrain of ‘It’s only over when it’s over’. Swan Songs suggests a final performance, why was it selected as the album title? The lyrics carry a sense of doing your best despite efforts from others to stop you. Who is taking your medicine away and what is your medicine?
J: In regards to the title, it feels like we’ve completed our journey as a rock band. If we make another record it can’t be more of the same. Swan Songs draws a line under the 4 piece rock group Post War Glamour Girls. In regards to the medicine it’s about mental illness and the destruction of the NHS and the fact the fucking Tories are killing off the vulnerable and weak in our society and seemingly having a field day doing it. Cunts.
3. Gull Rips a Worm to Rags
O: By far the most pensive and sombre sounding song on the album in everything from the title to the guitar sound. It’s also a complex sounding song with no obvious structure. What’s the background to this song? Who are the people referred to by name in the lyrics?
J: This is one of my favourites on the record. It was written after I’d spent a lot of time listening to ‘Benji’ by Sun Kil Moon. I wanted to write a song where the guitar motif never changed but everything else evolved around it. Ben wrote the most incredible drum part for it and Alice’s bass is so fluid throughout. It also contains the most beautiful ‘solo’ from James Thorpe, which just moves so effortlessly toward it’s destination. It doesn’t draw any attention to itself, but simultaneously steals the whole show. All the girls names were from people I worked with at a call centre apart from Olivia which I put in for the sake of rhyme and rhythm. I’m surprised no one has clocked the title yet, because it’s the best one I’ve ever come up with.
4. Organ Donor
O: I love the sense of anxiety in this song, the slightly desperate whispery sound in the delivery of the vocals. However, I’ve read you describing this song as the closest thing to a love song PWGG have recorded. It certainly doesn’t feel like a love song, explain what you mean by that?
J: The vocals for this one were the very last thing we recorded for the album in Scotland. We originally recorded this before as it was going to be released on the Too Pure split we did with Menace Beach, but then we found we had time to use a track from the Scotland sessions so we sacked it off. On the original I was doing my usual trick of shout-shout-talk-shit and I was sick of it. I felt I was phoning it in by yelling and it felt stale. So i just started mumbling through the track bored. It’s a love song because the whole 3rd verse is a love letter to my partner. All the stuff about Hustlers Row and calling the cat Patti Smith because we can’t afford to look after a dog, that’s the love part of it. But again it’s skewered by our approach to anything we do because I can’t just sit there and sing passionately about what was essentially me asking her to move in with me and our imaginary dog, despite the fact I love her more than anything in the world. So that’s why you get me singing what are really sentimental lines filtered through the most bored sounding, can’t be arsed vocal take I’ve ever done. And it works!
5. Big Trip
O: It seems this song was inadvertently leaked on Radio 1 by Pulled Apart by Horses. What happened there? Where is it you want us to sail away with you to?
J: The Big Trip is literal and metaphorical and also about falling over as well as going on holiday. Tommy from PABH did the artwork for this record and was kind enough to tip it on air, giving us our first and probably last ever play on Radio Caroline. Again, as with ‘Guiding Light’, it’s not me talking at the end of this one, I’m not asking you to come with me on a ship. I’m not even there and I’m not talking to you. I never existed. It’s the sound of movement. Everybody moving all around at the same time. Apart from if you voted Brexit, in which case you’re probably sailing to Bognor Regis to ride the shitty donkey and sing ‘knees up mother brown’ while you wait for the redcoats to serve you liver and onions because we got our country back, didn’t we? Brilliant.
6. Pollyanna Cowgirl
O: This was originally released as part of the Live at St Austin’s record in 2016, it sounds wonderful, a gloriously punchy bassline pulling along a shoegazey guitar riff. Across the whole album the production sounds spot on. How was it putting it all together and how pleased are you with the results?
J: It was amazing to record the album in Scotland with Lee and Jamie, and especially living alongside Jamie’s mum and dad (Kay and Gav) who are just the most amazing, inspirational people. The key differences with this record being that we didn’t finish it before we went to the studio and that we recorded all 4 of us together in the barn and refrained from overdubs as much as possible. It feels raw and free because we didn’t over think it. We knew we had enough ideas to make something, but taking the risk of not knowing paid off and we gained from taking the risk of being underprepared, writing parts on the spot then recording them and knowing we couldn’t re-do them.
7. Golden Time
O: This is a great example of the sheer volume of words you use, there’s very rarely a simple verse repeated. Does lyric writing come easy and do you always have meaning within what you’re writing or are words often chosen for their sounds and syllables?
J: It’s a combination of everything. I love writing lyrics and I always keep journals full of wordplay and stuff. I also jot down anything I see on my phone that strikes me and save it in my drafts for a later date (I’ve had the words ‘A horse tethered to a post outside the Nuclear power plant’ on my phone since 2012 trying to get on a song with no joy) so there is always a wealth to chose from. Some songs are direct, some are abstract, some switch between two or three themes within the space of a verse but they always mean something to me. I would say that lyric writing doesn’t come easy to me, but at the same time, it’s my favourite part of writing a song and though I work hard at it, I never feel I’m struggling with it. ‘Golden Time’ was inspired mostly by MF Doom.
8. Sea of Rains
O: The words in this song seem to flick between 1st and 3rd person. I can’t make my mind up if it’s simply about wanting to get the hell away from this world or if it’s about the pain of a break up or a bit of both. More likely that I’m miles off the mark. What can you tell us about what this means to you?
J: Regarding the 1st/3rd person thing, it’s an inner monologue conflicting with itself. This is the oldest track on the record by quite a way, it predates Feeling Strange definitely. I wrote it for a solo record originally but it ended up being used within the band, it addresses a break up from years ago, so even though the original meaning was lost on me, it didn’t feel weird revisiting it because the lyrics aren’t too specific and I just imagined I was singing about the end of the world, rather than the end of my world instead.
9. Welfare by Prozac
O: This was originally released as part of the Too Pure Singles club in 2016. There’s a sense of anger and threat in the call and response style vocals between James and Alice and a brilliantly doom-laden rolling bassline. This song seems to have a religious theme to it, like looking for a greater power to come back and sort out the mess we’ve all made, to have someone pulling strings for a greater good. Is that the case?
J: Religion and spiritualism are actually pretty key themes on this record, which I didn’t notice until I listened back to the whole thing. I don’t believe in God and relish the opportunity to answer the door when the Jehovah’s witnesses comes a-knockin, but I do believe in something bigger than us, some universal spiritualism shit, I don’t know. There is an energy in the atmosphere that we can sense, but not with any of our known senses I reckon. I dunno, I just don’t believe in an almighty God pulling strings and making us suffer for the sake of it. I think faith is a good thing, but the church is a bad thing basically. People take it literally, they use religion as a scapegoat, but whatever helps you sleep at night really, I’m not gonna be a Dawkins about it barking at people all the time because they don’t think like me…
10. Devine Decline
O: Lyrically this song starts like a PWGG manifesto, a reaction to the greed of those in power and the lack of empathy with those in need. As the song builds the lyrics descend into a rage about being a better person and a horrific sounding personal account of an attack outside the Trades Club. There’s guilt and self-doubt but overall there’s determination to ‘be a better person’. What brought these very different elements of the lyrics together into the one song? Also, the key element seems to be the phrase ‘Love and Hate stem from the same cell’, is this the core idea to take from the song?
J: All the themes culminated pretty effortlessly on this track, it gives clarity to the conflicting themes on the album. Love and hate stemming from the same cell, and the ever expanding spectrum of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is pretty vital to understanding how humanity functions, for me anyway. There aren’t good people and there aren’t evil people… though it’s hard to see any good whatsoever in Murdoch or Trump or May or Putin or whatever, they’re clearly just fucking psychopaths right?
But you kind of get the point. Money corrupts, religion corrupts, power corrupts and we know all this. It all stems from trying to find purpose in life I think… as humans we’re not content with the simple, animalistic idea of existence. Money is an easy aspiration to have because it’s measured on a scale that we can understand. People think you’re doing well in life if you have money. One of the first questions people ask when they first meet someone new is ‘what do you do for a living?’ and that’s a depressing question because what we do for a living rarely gives us character.
Despite this not being my paying job, I’ve started to get a little more comfortable as I’ve gotten older telling people that I’m a musician or a writer even though I don’t make a living off it. Artists are often made to feel they’ve failed if they haven’t made money from their work, but that’s just ridiculous. Sharing ideas is important, selling them, not so much… Money keeps us tethered to a post. If you earn less money, it stops you from pursuing what you want to do because you have to work really hard for pittance just to keep yourself fed and sheltered and that consumes all your energies. Yet with higher earners, the more money you earn, the more you cling to that lifestyle, the more fearful you are of losing it. A lot of people think the answer is more money… and holding on to that money…
Religion is a weird one because I think there are benefits to it, and some religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have some alright morals and ideas going for them… The idea of a vengeful god, or heaven and hell dependant on if you do or don’t behave yourself though? It doesn’t sit right with me, but I understand why it could help people sleep at night… a purpose to work toward y’know.
Power is the worst, and that’s what the album comes down to really. It’s about a collective power, giving power back to the people, outside of the institutions. Peace, Love, Understanding. It’s something you can’t buy and something the powerful can’t take away from us, if we all work together.
I work pretty hard on myself. I want to be a better person, but it’s not a box ticking exercise. I know me and people that know me, know I’m not a bad person, I don’t feel I have to justify to anyone whether I’m a good or a bad person, especially not through my art, but I do feel it’s important to work hard on who you are and what defines you.
It’s dangerous to be content with your character I think. The kind of people that say ‘I tell it like it is me…’ and are proud of it… They probably don’t assess themselves very often. They’re too sure of themselves, they’re selfish people and they don’t tell it like it is, they tell it like they think it is… Yeah, thinking is important. It’s dangerous to be content with who you are. Always try to understand the other person’s perspective, take each day as it comes and do what you can within your community and the wider world to look after each other. If everyone does that… I dunno.
Like I say, I never said I had the answers, I don’t want to tell anyone how to think, people are smart when they’re in the right frame of mind, when they aren’t feeling threatened. Just give as much love as you can, don’t be fearful and don’t hurt anybody. Try really hard not to hurt anyone indirectly through your actions either. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the question. I couldn’t give you an answer either way…
Check out the full album stream on GoldFlakePaint.
Post War Glamour Girls release Swan Songs on Fri 21st April 2017 on Hide & Seek Records. Ltd White Vinyl and other formats available here