Thursday 21 July 2016

5 Billion In Diamonds - New Collaboration from Butch Vig, James Grillo and Andy Jenks featuring Ebbot Lundberg, Damian O'Neill, Helen White and members of Spiritualized, Ocean Blue, Strangelove & The High Llamas...and more!

James Grillo, Ebbot Lundberg & Andy Jenks of Five Billion In Diamonds Photographed by Paul Slattery
Last summer when I interviewed ex-Soundtrack of Our Lives and Union Carbide Productions front-man Ebbot Lundberg for Retrosonic Podcast at the beautiful Slussens Pensionat on the west coast of Sweden, he mentioned that he was involved in a rather intriguing project entitled 5 Billion In Diamonds. He talked about an ambitious collaboration involving Butch Vig, the LA based producer of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and currently the drummer with Garbage. Although it all sounded very exciting the project seemed to drop off the radar in the following months as Ebbot busied himself recording an album entitled “For The Ages To Come” with his new band The Indigo Children. However, almost a year on from our chat with Ebbot news is finally, if somewhat slowly, starting to emerge. Firstly there was a low-key launch of a 5 Billion In Diamonds Facebook page followed by the release of a taster of some songs from the album available to stream on Soundcloud. So, first of all who are 5 Billion In Diamonds? Well, it’s actually a transatlantic musical alliance formed in 2012 when friends DJ James Grillo and Butch Vig decided they wanted to make music together. 

Ebbot Lundberg Photographed at Press Play Studios by Paul Slattery
After a productive first recording session in Los Angeles they swiftly recruited Grillo's DJ partner - producer and keyboard genius Andy 'Spaceland' Jenks (Alpha, The Flies, and White Bully) and began work on their eponymous first album which they wrote, arranged and produced together. As a tribute to the music that inspired them (including Jimmie Spheeris, Ramases, Linda Perhacs, John Barry, Krautrock, Milton Nascimento, The Free Design and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), 5BID have reclaimed the sound of a 100 lost albums that continue to shine from obscurity, reconstructing elements whilst weaving modern techniques and fresh music into an early 70’s sun-drenched soundtrack of rock, folk, and psychedelia. Recorded at both Butch Vig’s Grunge Is Dead studio in Los Angeles and Christchurch studio in Bristol, “5 Billion In Diamonds” features vocals by Viking rock god Ebbot Lundberg (The Soundtrack of Our Lives), Bristolian chanteuse Helen White (Alpha), The Ocean Blue's singer and guitarist David Schelzel and Sandra Dedrick from cult 60’s vocal group The Free Design. Amongst the project’s musicians are a stellar cast of collaborators including bass player Sean Cook and drummer Damon Reece (Spiritualized, Massive Attack and Elizabeth Fraser), guitarists Alex Lee (Goldfrapp, Strangelove and Suede), Pete Aves (High Llamas), Damian O'Neill (The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion and Retro Man Blog favourites The Everlasting Yeah), bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, NIN) and flautist Helen Whitaker (The Leisure Society). 

Andy Ramsay of Press Play Studios with James, Andy & Ebbot of Five Billion In Diamonds
We’ve been lucky enough to have had a sneak preview of the whole “Five Billion In Diamonds” album and I’m really happy to report that it certainly delivers on the promise evoked by this enticing mix of musicians. The first thing that struck me was how much this all sounds like a “proper” band. I mean considering the eclectic mix of styles of the various contributors, not to mention their different nationalities and geographical locations, it could have sounded like a cross-genre compilation album, or worse still an Indie Rock Super-group bursting left, right and centre with a battling clash of egos. But thankfully there’s none of that, what James, Butch and Andy have managed to achieve is to present a really satisfying and complete album with a unique sound that could come from a well established group that has been playing together for years. The second thing I had in mind, given the fact that there were three Producers involved and it is, initially at least, a purely studio based project, was that it could have been over-produced or full of this new-fangled auto-tune wizardry that would immediately date it or piss off the more traditional music lovers amongst us. Wrong again, even it does utilize all of their experience, technical expertise and state-of-the-art equipment, this is a surprisingly organic, often pastoral, sounding album that is packed full of lush strings, swirling woodwind and chiming acoustic guitars. 

Ebbot Lundberg Photographed at Press Play Studios by Paul Slattery
Think “Pet Sounds” and Serge Gainsbourg’s "Histoire de Melody Nelson" mixed with John Barry’s evocative film scores. On the other hand, if you can imagine strains of classic 1960’s Folk Rock and Psychedelia with an added dash of Mid-90’s Bristolian Trip-Hop thrown in for good measure then you may just get an idea of what Five Billion In Diamonds are about. Of course the album is boosted by some excellent use of keyboards and synths throughout but they are always sympathetic and at no time detract from the main theme of the album. Next, what really blew me away is the sheer quality of the songwriting and it’s no overreaction to say that taken out of context any of these songs could be a stand-alone hit single, if indeed there can still be such a thing these days! In fact it will be interesting to see which song they decide to go with as the lead single in the build up to the release of the album. So let’s have a brief song-by-song skip through the album track-listing…The opening song "Gravity Rules" is built around an insistent crystal clear guitar riff with Ebbot’s immediately recognisable voice melding with some stunning Beach Boys style vocal harmonies. It features Damian O’Neill on guitar and builds up nicely with some e-bow guitar at the end. 

Ebbot Lundberg Photographed at Press Play Studios by Paul Slattery
"Better If" with David Schelzel from The Ocean Blue on vocals, is an upbeat gem of a track that bounces along on a hand-clapping beat and a twangy Brian Jonestown Massacre vintage sounding guitar riff. "Travelling" features some breathtakingly beautiful singing from Helen White and with its flute and layered vocals it has an ethereal, organic feel to it. "Broken Wing" starts off with acoustic guitar and treats us to one of Ebbot’s best ever vocal performances underscored by Helen Whitaker’s flute. The track picks up speed as Justin Meldal-Johnsen's bass bubbles along and crackling synth motifs whizz across the speakers. "I'm Becoming" builds on a buzz of feedback before some atmospheric whispered joint male/female vocals from Butch and Helen that hint of Portishead and Massive Attack yet also remind me of "2000 Light Years From Home" or "Tomorrow Never Knows". "Moonbeams" starts off based around the piano and female vocals, a bit like Saint Etienne and with its rumbling timpani rolls and orchestral backing it would make a perfect James Bond theme. Next up is "Glider" a throbbing Electro-Pop song with some amazing harmonizing between Helen, Sandra Dedrick, David and Ebbot. "Lost" with David singing, features some great sparkling, cascading guitar work from Alex Lee which takes me back to one of his old bands The Blue Aeroplanes. "Paraphernalia" again is heavy on the beautiful melodies with Ebbot adding some impressive backing vocals. The Last track "Close The Door" with Ebbot on lead vocals reminds me of the deep layers of Psychedelia found on The Soundtrack of Our Lives second album “Extended Revelations” and its twanging Spaghetti Western guitar builds to an epic ending. 

James, Andy & Ebbot Photographed at Press Play Studios by Paul Slattery
So, as I said earlier it’s a thoroughly satisfying listen and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy on its release which is due early next year. The band must have been happy with the results as they have already begun work on a follow up. Ebbot was over in London for our Retro Man Blog gig at the Half Moon Putney (which you can read about here) featuring the debut UK appearance of his new band The Indigo Children. Damian, James and Andy came along to see the show and catch up with Ebbot and James kindly invited me and Rock photographer Paul Slattery to attend a vocal recording session with Ebbot at Andy Ramsay's (Stereolab) Press Play Studio in South London. By coincidence, Damian’s current band (when he’s not touring with The Undertones) are The Everlasting Yeah - who we also put on a gig for at the Half Moon earlier this year and who were the subjects of our previous Retrosonic Podcast special edition - recorded their stunning debut album “Anima Rising” at Press Play so it was great to get a look into the studio and have a chat to Andy Ramsay, while checking out some of the cool artwork and Stereolab tour posters. 

Andy Ramsay at Press Play Studios Photographed by Paul Slattery
The “Five Billion In Diamonds” album is due to be released early next year and then they will hopefully play some select shows in the UK, Europe and USA to promote it and its going to be intriguing to see how they pull this off. You can check out the official 5BID Facebook page here and have a listen to some snippets from the album at their Soundcloud site here. You can listen and download our Retrosonic Podcast special edition with Ebbot free of charge from here or subscribe at iTunes. If you are interested in recording at Press Play then please check out their web-site here.

James, Helen, Andy, David, Ebbot & Butch - Five Billion In Diamonds Photographed by Toby Amies
 With many thanks to Ebbot, James, Andy Jenks and Andy Ramsay and of course to Paul Slattery. 

Ebbot Lundberg Photographed at Press Play Studios by Paul Slattery

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children at The Half Moon Putney June 24th with The Galileo 7 and The Fallen Leaves

Ebbot Lundberg at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Ebbot Lundberg, previously the front-man of not just one, but two legendary Swedish bands, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Union Carbide Productions, is back with a superb and long-awaited new album "For The Ages To Come" and we were honoured to be able to present the first ever U.K. show for Ebbot and his new band The Indigo Children at our June Retro Man Blog Night at the Half Moon in Putney on June 24th. After all, the Retro Man Blog was initially set up solely with the intention to write about The Soundtrack of Our Lives and each band-member's various (and in some cases numerous) side projects and solo work. Also, the Blog was actually named after our favourite Soundtrack of Our Lives song from their debut album and no, it wasn’t because I am a nostalgic, retro-minded old git...honestly! So, the chance to get Ebbot and his band over to London to appear was a dream come true and with a stellar supporting bill featuring two more of the Blog’s favourite bands, The Fallen Leaves and The Galileo 7, we were all set for a great night of Rock 'n' Roll! 

The Fallen Leaves at The Half Moon Putney photographed by Paul Slattery
Opening the night were The Fallen Leaves who surprised me by unveiling a new bassist, Gareth Evans, who was actually in an earlier line-up of the band and stands in when regular bass player Matthew Karas can't make a show. Gareth was you might say, somewhat different to Matthew who is currently in the studio with his other band Glassglue. Whereas Matthew is a picture of studied cool, all suave in his velvet smoking jacket, cravat and shades - Gareth is more like a blonde Dee Dee Ramone, he's an energetic blur of scissor kicks and pogoing and it certainly adds a new dynamic to The Leaves' live show. Drummer Buddy Ascott of The Chords and The Moment is now bedded in very nicely and again adds an impressive visual presence behind his kit. The rhythm section may have been a bit new on the night but the two Robs thankfully remain unchanged.

Rob Green of The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
Rob Symmons of The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
Vocalist Rob Green, pulls out all the usual tricks to keep us entertained including waving a traditional stick-seat around, blowing impressive smoke rings from an e-cigarette and of course the now legendary thermos flask "tea ceremony". Guitarist Rob Symmons attacks his guitar with his stuttering rhythmic style, machine gunning the crowd mercilessly. The rarely played “Go Now” is a welcome surprise and a careering barely in control "Prodigal Son" almost blows the bloody doors off. The The Fallen Leaves will be having a launch party for their forthcoming vinyl compilation album "Punk Rock For Gentlemen" at the Hope & Anchor in Islington on Saturday July 16th and they will release a new studio album later in the year. Damian O’Neill from The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah was in the crowd to catch up with his old friend Buddy and Ebbot with whom he is collaborating on a new project 5 Billion In Diamonds (more about that very soon!).

The Galileo 7 photographed by Paul Slattery
The Galileo 7 just get better and better and the new unrecorded songs that feature in their set, particularly "Too Much Choice", are superb and crying out to their creators to get back in the studio pretty damn quick and get them committed to tape (or whatever new-fangled digital format it is these days…!).We know that drummer Mole is the Keith Moon of the contemporary Garage Rock scene and his energy seems to have lifted the others to another dimension. Bassist Paul Moss hauls his instrument above his head, leaping and jumping about, Allan Crockford attacks his guitar, leaping and jumping about and keyboardist Viv - while she doesn’t quite leap and jump about as much as the others - is a busy blur of activity behind the organ, taking over lead vocals on Shocking Blue’s “Send Me a Postcard”. I thought their performance at the Medway Legends Weekender in San Sebastian last month was as good as they could get, but they have taken it up another notch with tonight’s performance. There is something about the Half Moon that just brings out the best in bands – the superb sound helps. Get the band’s latest best-of-live-in-the-studio album "Live-o-Graphic" to see how they have captured the essence of the new line-up perfectly.

Allan Crockford of The Galileo 7 photographed by Paul Slattery
Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children photographed backstage at The Half Moon by Paul Slattery
The Indigo Children took to the stage wearing their long military style tunics and colourful floral garlands in their hair to celebrate it being Midsummers Eve, a tradition they still take very seriously in Sweden. The Indigo Children are actually the young Stockholm based outfit Side Effects who have had strong links to The Soundtrack of Our Lives over the years and have often been dubbed a "mini-TSOOL". However, that is probably doing them a disservice as they have released two quite stunning Psychedelic Rock albums in their own right which are well worth checking out. You can hear all about how Ebbot recruited The Indigo Children in our special Retrosonic Podcast interview here. Tonight Side Effects members Billy Cervin on Guitar and vocals, Elias Jungqvist on Keyboards and vocals and drummer Hugo Mårtensson are joined by bassist Oskar Nylen who was standing in for Joacim Nilsson who couldn’t make the show. Completing The Indigo Children line-up is Rebecka Rolfart from The Hanged Man and Those Dancing Days, so there’s certainly a fine pedigree and their youthful enthusiasm and mind-blowing musicianship has certainly given Ebbot a real shot of energy.

Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
The band strike up a familiar intro and I realise it’s the Union Carbide Productions classic “Golden Age” and a shiver goes down my spine. Ebbot appears to rapturous applause and cheers and the atmosphere throughout the Half Moon is positively electric. Ebbot exudes a glowing aura of charisma, there’s a mischievous twinkle in his eyes that can sometimes switch suddenly to a hint of unpredictability and danger which is utterly compelling. It’s something that always marked him out as one of the best ever front-men of any musical era or genre. “Golden Age” is definitely one of my all time favourite tracks and it’s often cited as the musical bridge between the more frenetic Stooges influenced Punk Rock of Ebbot’s first major band, Union Carbide Productions to what followed next with The Soundtrack of Our Lives’ as they delved into richer Psychedelia. Next up is a track from the new album “To Be Continued” which is an up-tempo melodic delight packed full of wonderful harmonies. “Here I am again, here I am the only one…” sings Ebbot, staking a claim that he is now back on his own terms, freed of the constraints of a long-term, extremely close-knit band and freed of major record company contracts. “This is Hugo, he’s the boss!” Ebbot says as the drummer kicks off the intro to The Indigo Children’s debut single “Backdrop People”. It’s a stonewall classic that stands up alongside anything from Ebbot's impressive back catalogue.

Ebbot Lundberg photographed by Paul Slattery
Elias and Billy of The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Ebbot jumps down into the crowd, he’s up close and personal, physically barging into people, demanding a reaction. He has always thrived on that interaction – whether it’s winding up and antagonizing an indifferent crowd or feeding off the positive energy of an audience that really dig it and tonight, thankfully the crowd at the Half Moon certainly dig it. People were amazed after the show when I explained that Ebbot had actually soldiered on with a broken collarbone! You would never have believed it to witness his performance. There’s another treat for die-hard fans in the shape of Union Carbide’s “Chameleon Ride” which, as the title might suggest, takes us on a crawling lizard-like journey before slamming in hard and fast on the chorus, it reminds me of “Sick Of You” by Ebbot’s beloved Stooges. From a track influenced by one musical hero to an actual cover of another – this time Syd Barrett, and the band launch into a blistering version of Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne”. It’s breath-taking but there’s no let up as Hugo slams the crushingly powerful jack-hammer drumbeat to Union Carbide’s “Glad to Have You Back” which is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night. Next up is another cover version, but one which The Indigo Children have pretty much made their own. "Calling From Heaven" is a remake of Los Pekenikes "Cerca de las Estrellas" which is an intriguing mix of Arthur Lee and Love styled Psychedelia mixed with Latino and Tex-Mex flavours.

Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Oskar of The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
The new album’s excellent title track “For The Ages to Come” highlights Ebbot’s rich baritone and gives us a bit of a breather before Ebbot is down in the crowd again during the crunching take on “Don’t Blow Your Mind” from Alice Cooper's 1960’s Garage Rock outfit Spiders with a freak-out ending that throws in a bit of Union Carbide's "Ring My Bell" for good measure. With Ebbot down in the crowd, Elias spots the gap at the front of the stage and leaps out from behind his keyboard with a mic to take over lead vocals and there’s a nice moment when him and Ebbot duet together, Ebbot down in the crowd looking up admiringly at his young band-mate who affectionately pats him on the head, before helping him back up on stage! Considering this was Oskar’s first gig with the band on bass it was a stunning performance. Half hidden behind his floppy dark fringe he played his cool black Rickenbacker bass to perfection, nobody could believe it was his first show and he did regular bassist Joacim, proud. Rebecka on rhythm guitar adds some wonderful texture to the songs and later on Ebbot was particularly full of praise for how she had fitted in with the band.

Rebecka from The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Rebecka charmed the crowd with her floral garland and easy smile and certainly won a lot of admirers. Lead guitarist Billy had free reign to impress the crowd with his immense guitar work, leaping around the stage with a confidence that belies his youth. He also adds some wonderful backing vocal harmonies throughout the set and is an undoubted star. Behind his drum-kit Hugo reminds me more of a Jazz drummer than a straight ahead Rock drummer just thudding his way through the songs. None of that for Hugo, he has an instinctive grasp for what runs through Ebbot’s often spontaneous mind and steers and adjusts the songs expertly. Actually, come to think of it, all three drummers were exceptional tonight. Keyboard player Elias has a huge smile and clearly thrives being on stage – grabbing every opportunity to break free of his keyboard and join in the action at the front, bashing a tambourine, clapping and singing along. It’s this dynamic stage presence that takes your breath away, despite the new album being more akin to the early pastoral Psychedelia of TSOOL’s “Extended Revelations” album, live the band are a completely different proposition altogether. People are almost pinned back against the walls of The Half Moon as the band do what all good Vikings should do and invade our territory!

Elias of The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Billy & Ebbot photographed by Paul Slattery
The sheer force of energy takes me back to those immense Soundtrack of Our Lives gigs where the combined visual assault of The Who and The Clash were packed into that glorious Swedish six-piece. Just like TSOOL, each of The Indigo Children has a distinct personality and it is credit to Ebbot that he allows them to flourish; this is a proper band not just a collection of session musicians backing a solo singer. "I See Forever" has become a firm favourite ever since I first saw it performed for the first time last year. It’s a beautiful song and if it has a few familiar strains to it that’s probably because it is actually an old but previously unrecorded song written by Ebbot together with his old band-mate Björn Olsson. The set finishes with The Soundtrack of Our Lives latter day classic “Second Life Replay” from the “Communion” album, a complex track that builds to a crescendo and it is a perfect ending to a stunning set. The encores bring two more TSOOL tracks and the mood shifts to take in the heart-wrenchingly beautiful “You are the Beginning” and the equally emotional “The Passover” which stretches to a ten minute sing-along that leaves the crowd with a few tears in eyes and lumps in throats and baying for more.

Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Thanks to all three bands for their great spirit and stunning performances, to Carrie, Anastasia and James at the Half Moon, James in particular for the superb sound on the night. Thanks to Hasse and Liselott, Paul Slattery, Marc Riley at BBC 6 Music, Alf Olofsson and the Breakfast Club! You can check out our various Retrosonic Podcast Episodes with Ebbot, Ian Person, Fredrik Sandsten and Mattias Bärjed and lots of other TSOOL related stuff in the Blog archive including exclusive Paul Slattery photos of the band's last ever London and Slussens Pensionat shows. There are lots of videos up at the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel and more photos from the show at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here. Here's our Podcast with Ebbot, free to listen and download below:

Here are some more of Paul's excellent photos of the gig, all copyright Paul Slattery 2016. 

Ebbot Lundberg photographed by Paul Slattery
Gareth from The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
Viv from The Galileo 7 photographed by Paul Slattery
Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children photographed by Paul Slattery
Damian O'Neill & Rob Symmons photographed by Paul Slattery
Ebbot photographed by Paul Slattery
Don't forget our Soundtrack of Our Lives fans group on Facebook where you can share photos, videos and memorabilia and keep up to date on what all the band members are doing. You can join up here. See you back at the Half Moon on Friday September 16th for Graham Day & the Forefathers with The Len Price 3. Advance tickets available now from the Half Moon here.