Blanche Hudson Weekend
Caroline and Darren
The Blanche Hudson Weekend was one of the bands (with the Medusa Snare) that emerged out of the ashes of our favourite noisepoppers, the fuzz-wild and sadly missed Manhattan Love Suicides. If that band was prolific, the BHW share that characteristic, with three EPs in their first year of existence and a promise of a compilation CD (full of bonus treats) to come soon. Those garishly-covered EPs are, chronologically, the Letters To Daddy EP, the Rats In The Cellar EP and Hate Is A Loaded Gun EP (with ‘Rats’ released on Trev McCabe’s Odd Box Records, the others on Darren and Caroline’s Squirrel Records). We spoke to the charming Caroline McChrystal and the loquacious Darren Lockwood at Indietracks at the end of July 2010. (And apologies to Darren for including the namedrop that he asked me to omit but it was too good an opportunity for mentioning a legend!)
SXP: Can you tell us who’s in the band?
Darren: It’s Caroline (vocals), me (rhythm guitar), Sasha (lead guitar), Lee (keyboards), Chris on bass and Matt on drums.
Caroline: It’s a bit of a supergroup really for Leeds: ex-members of Real Losers [Chris], they’re still well thought of, Matt is from Random Number and he’s quite well known, and Sasha’s been in quite a few bands, and us. Well, we’re not really “super” but we’re known! So it’s like indiepop royalty!
Darren: If you may blow your own trumpet!
SXP: A year ago, the Manhattan Love Suicides were scheduled to play Indietracks and at the festival we heard you’d split up. Did you finish the Manhattans and start writing songs for Blanche Hudson Weekend or were you writing before the Manhattans ended?
Darren: A couple of these songs - certainly ‘The Noise and Fury’ and ‘Grip of Fear’ - were being worked up as Manhattan Love Suicides songs. We never got anywhere with these but we had the basic idea for these songs and thought it would have been a shame to waste them.
Caroline: The band split in July and then we just hung about sulking a bit, going “can’t be bothered with this music anymore, sod it”.
Darren: We went to Pete’s in October and we did about five songs in just a weekend: two of those songs were ‘The Last Ride’ and ‘Noise And Fury’. And we were also simultaneously working with Sasha and that’s where we put ‘Crying Shame’ together. Those came together to be the first EP. We thought we’d put it out there and see how it did – and it sold unbelievably well. We weren’t in any rush because the end of the Manhattan Love Suicides hit us quite hard, even though we felt that it had come to its logical conclusion. It was a strange break-up of that band – we all wanted it to happen, we all wanted it to end, but when it actually did we just thought: what the hell are we going to do now? Caroline filled in a little bit of that time by writing the lyrics and doing the vocals on the Ailsa Craig album. That was a complete departure from the Manhattan Love Suicides. I play guitar on a little bit of that album but I was nowhere near as involved as Caroline.
Caroline: It just grew into an album project and we’re going to be going live soon. So more busy times. Initially we just wanted [the Blanche Hudson Weekend] to be a studio project and then we started getting all these offers for gigs - and they were good offers. So we hastily assembled people we liked and knew we could work with.
Darren: It just makes sense to form a band with those people. ‘Cos Pete produced ‘Last Ride’ and ‘Noise and Fury’ and on the flipside of that single you’ve got Sasha who plays lead guitar and a little bit of keyboard on ‘Crying Shame’. Chris plays bass on ‘Crying Shame’. So when we came to put the band together, we wanted to invite all those people. We want Sasha, Lee, Chris, Pete, Matt, whatever the combination, to feel part of the band. Chris has just written a really great song, it sounds like ‘Crimson and Clover’, we have to record that!
Caroline: Everyone’s been a frontman in a band themselves. In theory, it should be really bad – all those colossal egos colliding - but it’s really cool as everyone knows each other really well so if anyone gets up themselves, we can say: stop that! And then they’ll say it to us.
SXP: The link to the Manhattan Love Suicides on the early EPs don't seem to be as obvious now. Are you making a conscious effort to move away from the Manhattan Love Suicides sound?
Caroline: When we first said we'd start doing some songs, we came up with the idea that there'd be a signature sound for [each] session. So we wanted to do some Galaxie 500 type stuff so that's the second EP [Rats In The Cellar]. The first one was the fuzzy stuff, the last one was the Nico one. We were playing with the idea that live we could do a different set, so you don't know if you're going to get the Nico stuff or the Galaxie 500 stuff or the fuzzy stuff but that's a long term plan. So it wasn't a conscious thing, these are the things we tried to do anyway in the Manhattan Love Suicides, we got stuck on the fuzz bit.
Darren: The Manhattan Love Suicides recorded 56 songs, something like that. It’s all pretty much fuzz-noise, and it got fuzzier and noisier as it went on. And the last thing the Manhattan Love Suicides recorded was ‘Dirty Knives’. It’s painful to listen to on headphones - it can damage your ears! Whatever our intentions are to move away from that kind of sound, we’ll always come back to it in some way ‘cos that is naturally the kind of stuff we record. But on the latest EP [‘Hate Is A Loaded Gun’], we always wanted to do something like ‘So Sick’. That sparse sounding, there’s no guitars on there, not one. It’s just harmonium, and the rest of it is just the sound of scraping metal running knives down pieces of metal.
Caroline: Lee’s got a bicycle wheel with springs on it and he hits it with hammers, and it’s got a CD wedged in it that he scrapes with a violin bow, and the metallic sounds come from there. That was an accident as well; we went into the studio to do the recording session for that EP and there was a broken harmonium in there.
Darren: ‘Let Me Go’ [from ‘Hate’] is one of the poppiest things we've ever recorded, if not the poppiest thing. That comes from digesting a heck of a lot of those 1960s Girls in the Garage compilations and the quite lo-fi recordings. I personally just love all that kind of thing - apart from maybe the Velvet Underground and the Jesus And Mary Chain, I could ditch everything else in the record collection and just have those compilations and just continue writing songs forever! ‘Let Me Go’ was our attempt to sound a little like a 60s garage girl band. Because we're certainly not going to abandon all the fuzz and feedback but we'd like to expand it a little bit – some people accused us before of writing really good songs but burying them in too much noise.
SXP: You don't think pop is a dirty word, then?
Caroline: No, I love pop. As a kid I was really into Madonna, Cindi Lauper, Belinda Carlisle, Strawberry Switchblade, obviously Blondie, all those kind of bands. I've gone off her a bit at the moment but Lady Gaga, she's a brilliant performer. You can't deny yourself pop. It's not meant to be a big statement, it's just about enjoyment.
Darren: No, pop certainly is not a dirty word. I love noise and volume and power and feedback but there's a lot of bands who do the noise thing but they forget to write pop around it. If that kind of noise is married to a good pop tune they've got something. One of the saddest things you can hear when you go to a gig is a band that have got a hell of a lot of noise and but they don't have any pop to go with it. We can pretend to be experimental and go in different directions but it will always come back to the pop element.
SXP: You are quite a dark band. Do you enjoy it on stage?
Darren: It's a dark approach, but it's not forced, it's not studied in any kind of way. It's not like I put on the black to go on stage. It's just that is what we naturally gravitate [towards]. It's the imagery we use in the Blanche Hudson Weekend and the Manhattan Love Suicides, we're influenced by these kinds of films, actors like Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, the woman with the guns and the eyepatch, it all ties in. I can't speak for Caroline but certainly for me there is always a certain level of confrontation. We want people to like what we do but equally if people don't like what we do we want to repulse them. We're not going to be one of those bands who ever say "hello, hope you’re having a great time, this is a song about..." It's like you're on a mission for that 20-25 minute time you're on that stage, you're just going to give people exactly what you want to give them and if they like it that's great and if they don't like it then: get out! It sounds harsh to say that but there should never be any fence sitting: "I didn't really know what to think of that band". The short sets [by the BHW] are very much a part of that because how many times have you been to see a band and you think: I liked these at first but now they're really boring me?
SXP: So you ever take your sunglasses off?
Darren: No! I don't like my eyes. I'm like Roy Orbison! I've got really, really bad eyes from years of wearing shades. You have to have a certain level of twattishness to walk around in the dark wearing shades. I tripped over a stool in a club and I apologised - I though I was tripping over somebody! I don't want to namedrop here but when I met Johnny Marr he said: you’ll screw up your eyes if you keep wearing those Ray Bans. I said: too late, I already have! So that's why I always wear them. It's the price I pay for rock'n'roll! *gales of laughter*
SXP: Where did you get the name of the band?
Caroline: It's from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I've loved that film for a long time and whenever I used to go out I’d sign my name on bands’ mailing lists as “Blanche Hudson”. And I'd be: I want to be in a band called Blanche Hudson Weekend. And finally I've got my own way.
Darren: Caroline said, in that film they've got “the Blanche Hudson Weekend”, that'd make a great name for a band. It's actually a mistake because in the film they're showing a series of her movies on TV, a moviethon, and then when we played back the film there's never any mention of a Blanche Hudson weekend. There's a Blanche Hudson movie season but it's not a weekend. Yet the Blanche Hudson Weekend still sounded like a great name for a band.
Caroline: Film does encompass everything really: it's the band name, we write songs about films…‘The Last Ride’ is actually about a film, it’s about Lift To The Scaffold. I just totally ripped it off!