Sunday, 14 May 2017

Argonaut; "Self-determination is a really potent political part of punk".

Describing themselves on Facebook as ‘purveyors of female fronted alternative punk rock’ and citing The Velvet Underground, Psychedelic Furs, Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey among others as influences Argonaut evolved out of an original two piece of Nathan and Lorna releasing their first eponymous album in 2012 and then Try in 2015. Impressed by their set at Loud Women Fest last year and even more impressed by their donating of all profits from their EP Not Rich to DPAC an interview seemed well overdue...
Could you give us the backstory to Argonaut-why, how and when did you get together?
Nathan: It started as a love story - a practical excuse for Lorna and I to spend time together and share our innermost feelings! Long story. We first gigged and recorded as a two piece with anyone who wanted to be in a band and play bass guitar. Lorna actually played bass and synth for the first gigs and a cardboard cutout of R2 D2 presided over the drum machine.  We recorded about 100 songs, six self-produced albums in our basement flat in Camden. We then signed to a London based independent label and reworked our most commercial songs for the first album. Which is when Abby joined so we could play the songs live. Our good friend Paul joined us on bass and then Rob on drums.  
Have you had a fairly stable line up?
N: Apart from the rhythm section! Joules stepped in as producer for the second album and picked up the bass when Paul left to focus on his mail order record business. We had a moment of panic when Rob left - drummers are hard to replace - but through the beauty of social networking we found Omz, who is happy to commute from Aldershot. The rest, as they say is history!
Have personnel changes brought about musical changes?  
N: Not really, I always think of Argonaut as the drums at the back, Lorna at the front and some interesting fuzzy noises in between! Everyone has always been free to bring what they want to the songs and somehow it's always been pretty consistent.
How would you describe your sound? Eclectic indie pop/rock?
N: Dark indie rock. Female fronted indie rock. Post 1991 punk rock is my favourite at the moment.
Did you have a clear idea of the sort of music you wanted to make from the start?
N: Punk/ DIY mentality. Strong vocals, catchy tunes, interesting guitars and literate lyrics. My idea was to always try to make the music that I wanted to hear. To express feelings, thoughts and ideas in a cool and exciting way.
Who would you cite as musical influences?
Here goes!
Nathan: The Velvet Underground, Nirvana, Pixies, The Psychedelic Furs, The Chills, Manic Street Preachers, Mercury Rev, Mansun, David Bowie, Eels...
Lorna: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Doors, Madonna, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Suede, Nine Inch Nails.
What sort of themes and subjects do your songs deal with? Have they changed over time?
N: Love, death, the terrible things we do to each other, sci- fi books and films - parallel universe theory via Philip Pullman was a big theme at the start. Social media has crept in as subject matter recently, especially in relation to the side of their souls people are prepared to share.
If they have is that due to a changing UK or to changes within yourselves and your circumstances?
N: Both I guess - as we get older I think the lyrics become wiser - more consistent possibly and a bit less naive! Hopefully we are more original and less derivative musically, more carefully thought out sounds anyway - now that we can afford the guitars and effects we want.
As far as the UK is concerned my formative years were late eighties early nineties - Thatcher and Reagan - not much has changed politically or in the mainstream media. The UK has certainly moved on in humanitarian terms however, wiser, more tolerant, less naive I like to think.
You released your first album in 2013, your second Try in 2015,  and are about to start work on a third. Has your sound changed over that time?
N: Try nailed the Argonaut sound. 1990s alternative production at it's best, I always think of Nirvana, Mansun or Sonic Youth in terms of high quality, emotive production. Lately we have been really developing a great live sound/ feel which we want to try to capture on the next recording.
What can we expect from the third album?
Argonaut Forever!
N: We are recording a new album at the end of May. The plan is to capture the band as live as possible, playing in the moment without any overdubs, editing or manipulation.
We are booked into Bally Studios in Tottenham with London's answer to Steve Abini - Dotan Cohen aka The Sound Mechanic.
We aim to record new songs and some live favourites. The finished album will be a CD only release, probably limited to 100 numbered and signed copies.
Hopefully this project will capture Argonaut forever at our most honest and exciting! To mark the event we are also considering launching the Argonaut Forever CD, T Shirt or a combo package as a pre-order through a crowd funding website.
How does a song happen in Argonaut? Are you very collaborative and organic or is there a main songwriter?
N: Graham Coxon once described songwriting as alchemy and I thoroughly agree. Keep an open mind and pluck the song from the ether. My best songs are written in five minutes, the chords and lyrics just materialise. Bob Dylan composes lyrics whilst walking and that's often the case for me too. I live in London and spend a lot of time walking. I write most of the songs but often Lorna picks up a bass and instantaneously comes up with a note sequence, similarly a title or freeform lyrics. Again, the songs just materialise from this witchcraft! I will often record bass and drum machine demos and then everyone is free to interpret at will.
When you go into the studio is it with completed songs or are they still a work in progress?
N: Completed songs if we are paying or time limited. If we are recording at home then it's very much a case of capturing the song in its initial raw glory and editing and nurturing as the song dictates.
In 2016 you released an EP Not Rich with the proceeds going to Disabled People Against Cuts. Would you classify yourselves as a political band? Where would you place yourselves politically?
N: Labour. My day job is teaching. Yes, we are a political band. Self-determination is a really potent political part of punk. Nirvana are my favourite political band - the personal and political are inseparable, personal freedom is a political fundamental. Injustice is a huge creative catalyst and the best songs are protest songs. The Smiths are a great protest band, The Jam and Billy Bragg are great human rights and party politics bands. ‘Not Rich’ is a political song but also very personal and spiritual. We wanted to make sure any money made went to a good cause. It was We Shall Overcome 2016 week and DPAC seemed an often overlooked area of cutbacks and austerity.
You’ve been quite involved with Loud Women in London, how did that come about?
N: Abby is good friends with Cassie Fox who was always extremely complimentary and encouraging in supporting Argonaut. When we were asked to play the first Loud Women gig we were truly honoured - and went on to play loads more including the fantastic first festival and the album launch.
And how is Loud Women going? In fact how is the feminist DIY scene in London doing generally? From outside London it looks very vibrant!
N: I was very much into Huggy Bear and Linus when Riot Grrrl first surfaced - Loud Women is a worthy successor and we are really proud to have been included amongst the first wave. So many amazing groups and so many amazing people have been given the opportunity to perform in so many safe venues. It's a very important movement which the mainstream media can't ignore for much longer.
More widely, how healthy is the grassroots music scene. Is it coping OK with venue closures?
N: We had a monthly residency at the Rhythm Factory - then it closed. The Silver Bullet hosted amazing Loud Women gigs - until it closed. The first Argonaut Club acoustic night was at Bohemia - which then closed. Seems like a pattern forming but I don't think Argonaut are entirely to blame! The grassroots scene is never going to be able to compete with rents and rates and money and business. Which reminds me, on our honeymoon in New York Lorna and I frequented CBGBs and then.....!
However, so many people making so much good music will always find a stage and an audience - even if at first it's just each other. There seems to be a really healthy scene developing with bands putting on their own shows with like minded bands. We have met some amazing people doing this. So much love and positivity and so little ego - doing it because it is fun - and because not being in a band is simply not an option. Great gigs at venues like the Gunners - usually free. The promoter paying the sound person and any bar deposit for the privilege of hosting a great party. We do this at The Betsey Trotwood on our Argonaut Club acoustic nights and so far they have been a huge success. So yes, a very healthy scene - so long as no one expects to get rich or famous!
I caught you live last year and really enjoyed your set. Which do you prefer songwriting and recording or playing live-or are they complementary?
N: One of the best things about being in a band is the variety of creative outlets. So many ways to express and achieve, so many new skills to learn. I really do like all the aspects, they really are complimentary and each provides its own thrill. Live is great fun, especially for the last three songs of the set, and the beer tastes  especially sweet afterwards!
More generally what writers, thinkers, bands have you found inspiring and been influenced by?
Nathan: J D Salinger, Philip Pullman, Lou Reed, Kurt Cobain, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison, Morrissey, The Monkees, Marty Mcfly...
Lorna: Kathleen Hanna, Trent Reznor,  Pretty in Pink, Desperately Seeking Susan.

Palmer, J. (2015) ‘Argonaut-Uber Rock Interview Exclusive’

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