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INTERVIEW – MICKO WESTMORELAND ON ‘VELVET GOLDMINE’ AND LIFE WITH THE MELLOTRONICS

Micko Westmoreland first came to the public’s attention as the enigmatic Jack Fairey in the star-studded glam rock fake biopic ‘Velvet Goldmine’, and since then has done everything from making electronica as The Bowling Green to the sharp edged new wave of his current project Micko & The Mellotronics. With that band on the verge of releasing their second single, a double A-side with the timely ‘Noisy Neighbours ‘and ‘You Killed My Father’ (featuring the late Neil Innes), he spoke to Gigsoup to tell all…

Starting at the beginning, you got your first break appearing in the film ‘Velvet Goldmine’…  Quite a baptism of fire!

Yep, I was fresh out of film school with little acting experience. So I did a ton of research, suspended all activities other than glam rock ones; late mornings, blurry eyeliner, became a kind of ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’, to quote Jean Genet. I did appear on set however with well prepared sleeve notes. Ziggy/Hunky and early Roxy had been teenage territory. Toni Colette really helped me during filming, showing me where and how to move and stand in frame etc. which I really wasn’t aware of and she was such a wonderful person to hang out with. Ewan McGregor was enormous in the 90s but treated you like a complete equal. I’ve acted the fiction of being a sensational rock star, my embalmed alter ego is now moth balled and hermetically sealed for posterity.

What do you make of the film’s recent re-appraisal – it was panned at the time but now it’s considered a cult classic

A lot of the film heavyweights liked it at the time and have consistently sung its praises over the last 20 years, which has contributed to its legacy, plus Todd Haynes is now seen as a 24-carat auteur. 1998 wasn’t ready for a kaleidoscopic pansexual odyssey. Velvet Goldmine truly tapped into a teenage hormonal feeling, so the audience is responsible for its longevity I think, people have grown old with it and new fans have discovered it.

You had quite a lot of success making electronic music as The Bowling Green but then switched tack to making more song-based stuff.  What’s the story there?

The music I was making was becoming increasingly filmic, so I moved into movie sound tracks for a while and did two film scores and a few documentaries with my brother; acclaimed director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, Colette). One of them, Echo Park L.A., won best drama at Sundance in 2006! I was becoming more attuned to a literary narrative and was listening to Dylan’s Time out of Mind and Beck’s Sea Change at the time – couple that with improvements in technology that weren’t so reliant on sampler and keyboard.

I started playing much more guitar again, my first love and now my primary instrument for writing.

You made a couple of albums under your own name but then formed Micko & The Mellotronics – your first ‘band’ project.  What was the thinking behind that move?

I was very much used to working on my own. I made a couple of solo albums, one which Terry Edwards (P.J. Harvey/Holy Holy) released on his Sartorial label called ‘Wax & Wayne’, and ‘Yours Etc Abc’, on my own Landline records imprint, which I believe was the main unconscious projection into putting a live act together. The person doing PR for it asked, ‘Who’s in the band?’ When I realized I didn’t have one, it made sense to look for folk to start pushing sounds around.

How would you sum up the band to someone you hadn’t heard you before?  Can you name us a few bands that have influenced its sound?

We get compared to the Buzzcocks quite a lot, I’ll take that.

I’ve loved Magazine since teenage, Television too. I also dig Serge Gainsbourg majorly and bands like The Silver Apples. I’m really into Iso Tomita, the 70’s electronic musician and of course Mr. Eno too.

People have commented that the double A side, soon to be released, is like early Genesis but I think it’s much closer to The Rutles. Patrick from R.O.C. said there was violence to the sound. I do pride the writing on an intricacy and eccentricity but without getting prog about it.

Talk us through the Mellotronics members and their individual flavours…

Nick Mackay a friend referred me to. He was playing in a two-piece called ‘Barricades’, and was clearly a very good drummer, real flare as a player/performer and had the magic ingredient for any band – he was a thoroughly decent chap you could spend a ton of time with.

Jon Klein is our very own rock star hiding in plain sight. He has a CV better than the rest of us put together: Banshees, Sinead O’Connor to name a few and of course his own band Specimen.

I lent Jon my amp when we were on the same bill. I gave him a copy of my previous album and he contacted me the next day, which I considered a big thumbs up. He’s very quick, obscenely talented and has revolutionized day-to-day working practice. In short a turbo charged V12 engine has been carefully placed inside a Hillman imp, with fresh brake pads added.

Vicky Carroll the bassist also came through personal referral, Haydn Hades who does stand up. At the time she was playing in a band the ‘Owls of Now’, a very bright lady indeed. She really got what the band was about and had great style.

The dynamic of now the band get on and its chemistry is essential to longevity. Having a woman on board was important to us, so we really lucked out by finding such a smart cookie in Vicky.

So far, you’ve shared ‘The Finger’, your first single, and now two new tracks, which will (eventually) be released as a 7” single.  Talk us through ‘Noisy Neighbors’ and ’You Killed My Father’.

Noisy Neighbours came about from my experience with dealing with serial complainers whilst living in a housing co-op. We shot the video with filmmaker Ashley Jones (www.thechaoesengineers.com) in the next door location the inhabitants of the song were occupying, so we had to be quiet. Of course some complaints are genuine but most were more telling of the complainant than complainee. There are control issues, which come about as a result of trying to micromanage your environment beyond your own four walls. I wanted to make a witty statement about that without being over critical or condemning. Raising a single eyebrow over that type of behavior.

‘You Killed My Father’, the double A side was inspired by Neil Innes R.I.P. (Monty Python, Bonzo Dog, The Rutles). So of course I was thrilled when he agreed to play on it.

I was introduced to him through an artist friend Harry Pye. We inadvertly created a supergroup together called the Spammed and meet up once a year to record for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Last session Tony Visconti produced a cover of Bolan’s ‘Get it on’, for us. It comprises, Rat Scabies (The Damned), Horace Panter (The Specials), Neil when he was with us and actor/comedian Kevin Eldon on vocs, I play guitar.

The song relates to my childhood, growing up in Leeds and has a Shakespearean quality. I checked the prose with an expert to make sure I hadn’t over egged the pudding.

You seem to be able to attract some interesting names to collaborate with – Horace Panter of The Specials and the late Neil Innes recently, but also members of The Blockheads, Madness, Stranglers and Goldfrapp in the past.  Who would be top of your collaborative wish list?

I’d love to do something with Eno again. We became friendly during the mid nineties. I was tutored by him, whilst working on an art show called ‘Self Storage’ with Laurie Anderson but never made it into the studio.

A wild card like Wendy Carlos, famed for the soundtrack of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ would be great too.

Likewise, your videos have featured some interesting names from British comedy…  What do they bring to the party?  Anyone else you’d like to get on board if you had free reign?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDr7nkOQN9Q

All the comedy connections came from Kevin Eldon initially, a super bright and truly wonderful guy. He introduced me to Paul Putner at a Specials gig. Paul’s a brilliant bloke and really likes the band. He found the remarkable Suzy Kane for us. All three have taken excellent roles. Suzy had a lot of input in Noisy Neighbours, suggesting wardrobe and even shots to Ashley as we were making it; we really have had tremendous fun with our contributors.

Obviously, Chris Morris would be fantastic but I’m a little afraid to knock.

We hear the debut M&TM album is close to completion – what have you got in store for us?

A psychedelic mish mash of fable, sound collage and idea.

With the new single, 3 of the songs are now out there.

On a musical front Horace Panter out of The Specials has guested on a couple of tracks for us and of course we have one of Neil Innes’ last performances too.

I’ve written a song about Imelda Marcos, she seemed like a person who was way ahead of her time, a modern template for a highly manipulative battle-axe.

I have an author friend in his 60s who’s an eminent  psychologist, (Georg Eifert – Anxiety Happens) so I wrote a song called ‘The Fear’, with a lot of his theories in mind.

There’s also one too called ‘Sick and Tired’, it’s not about what I’m eed up about, but like Noisy Neighbours it’s a comment about complaint.

When writing I try to look at what gets talked about by everyday people and base some of the songs around those themes.

Earwig on phone conversations on buses, pick up discarded bits of paper, when you get into the habit you’ll be amazed what you find. So I get on the 38 and set my brain to record. There’s also a fair amount about growing up on the record too, which I hope all can relate to.

I think you have to start with a good idea, that’s on any level otherwise you’re unlikely to get far. From my art college days I got into the habit of noting things down, if you don’t it often escapes you.

It’s difficult to marry a multitude of ingredients and let’s face it the world is full of plenty, pair it down and make it resonate. Anyone who tells you otherwise is telling porkies.

To make something that stands the test of time is more difficult still. But I’m not afraid of the work and I enjoy ‘the doing’, for me that’s what it’s all about. I believe that as individuals we have a natural tendency to evolve, if we choose to see it that way and trust, it’ll ‘self fulfill’. If you’ll allow yourself to tap into that expansion creatively, you’ll always find inspiration.

Micko & The Mellotronics release ‘Noisy Neighbours / You Killed My Father’ on Landline Records on April 17 with the 7″ single schedule to hit the shops on June 27.

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