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

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