In the latest installment of Track Record, Brid O’Donovan catches up with Brendan Fennessy, drummer with Cork-based alt-rock five-piece O Emperor as he chooses and talks about a selection of his favourite and most treasured records – everyone from Curtis Mayfield and Tame Impala to Neu! and Harry Nilsson. Some taste on you there, Brendan!
Todd Rundgren – A Wizard A True Star
I probably picked this up a year ago. I had quite a lot of trouble finding it because there is no version in print at the time so I had to get it online. It was just a name I heard banded about a bit and I had heard of his band The Nazz he was in beforehand which he then broke away from. They were a really cool band. He produced quite a lot of people. He had an album called Something Anything. It was quite a poppy album and afterwards I think this may have been a statement afterwards. Just saying “Now I’m going to do whatever the hell I want” and this is pretty much a good way of summing that up because it’s completely insane. Everything just runs into one another and hops genres relentlessly.
The first time I listened to it I sat down here with a pint and I listened to the whole thing, both sides. I think my girlfriend was here and she probably left after a few songs. I stayed ’til the end and I just felt so confused afterwards. I said to myself “I think it’s good but I’m so utterly confused. I don’t know what judgement I can come to.” He produced it himself in his own studio and some of the stuff he was doing, production wise, I think was ahead of its time. Some of the sounds are really amazing and some of it is really super kitsch. He goes from something really edgy and full on and horrible sounding to something really smooth. He does a Smoky Robinson cover I think at some point and its really smooth, sort of kitsch almost. He could do that in the space of a couple of minutes. The whole thing is just jammed together.
Harry Nilsson – Schmilsson
The cover is wonderful. It’s just a photo of him in his dressing gown, in front of his fridge. You can tell it was last minute. He looks extremely hungover. He is this total off the rails character. There are some crazy stories about him. He was big part of John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” bender. There’s some story about the two of them being thrown out of an Everly Brothers Concert which is pretty funny. But anyway, I think John Lennon could have been involved in the making of this album. They always champion his stuff actually. I think this is his best album. The quality of the songs on it is so high. You can really hear his personality in it. There are points in it where he is just having a laugh and you kind of think is he just taking the piss out of you at times.
That song ‘Coconut’ which is on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack, is a really cool song and so weird. That comes right after song ‘Without You’, that one that Mariah Carey covered. It was originally written by Badfinger but he did a cover of it and it was really big. He never played live. I don’t know was he afraid of it or what but they used to do these fake promo videos of him where he is playing live but there is no audience. I don’t know was it as a result of that, that he was always used to that studio environment because the arrangements and the production are really interesting. They are kind of striking. The song may not be like totally crazy but some of the production stuff that is going on, and the orchestral arrangements are really unusual. For instance, the last song ‘I’ll Never Leave You’, there’s just some amazing string and horn arrangements on that. I got this a couple of years ago for two pounds in a shop, I think, in Brighton. I just picked it up. For two pounds that was a serious steal.
This is the first album by a German band Neu!. Someone just mentioned them to me before and I think it sounded interesting the way they described it and the fact that they were from Germany. I had never really listened to any German bands. I checked this album out and it blew my mind from first listen really. For the era it came out it did not sound, to me, like American or British records from that same era, that would be considered psychedelic records. There was elements but it was going through this German filter which was so cool because it opened up all these other bands that I had never heard of before. In terms of Krautrock, as a band, we all started listening to all this early seventies German music and it had a pretty big effect on us. We all started getting into it at the same time and we tried to take influence from some of the things they were doing.
Particularly the drumming on this album, for me, both the approach and the sound of the drums – I just really loved it. It was a big moment for me when I heard it. Just his overall approach and their approach to making music. It’s just two core guys who seem to have an unbelievable understanding. A lot of it seems improvised but its just worked out in this unbelievable way which is something really special when something like that happens. We try to incorporate a lot of that into our music and start making songs out of jams. That was inspired a lot out of these Krautrock bands, particularly Neu! We are all big fans of Neu!
The inside cover of this record is one the best band photos ever. It’s just an amazing picture that sums up their attitude so perfectly. The just don’t give a shit you know? Credit has to go to Paul (Savage, lead Singer of O Emperor) for introducing me to this. He put this on in the van one day and I had heard of The Stooges before but never really listened to them. It was one of those moments where I was like, straight away, what is that? That just sounds so badass. If I could just describe it one way it’s badass. They really kick the shit out of it. You hear rock bands nowadays and there’s forty guitars layered on this thing and the drums are really overprocessed and everything sounds huge you know, but it is fake huge.
These lads – it’s just four of them in a room just putting it down, warts and all. What comes out is just them and it’s completely badass. I would recommend listening to the whole album but the last song, ‘L.A. Blues’ is just five minutes of them making noise. Anyone can do that but when they do it, you’re just thinking “Yeah! Fuck yeah!”. Whatever way they are doing it, its just making noise at random and it’s the best kind of awful you’ll ever hear. I just really like the attitude. At the time I was probably listening to a lot of music that was quite plush, precise, layered and arranged and then this came along and I thought well, this is amazing and it’s just four lads ripping the shit out of it.
Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygene
I bought this record on a whim off a guy. It was a really strange one-off transaction from a guy in Donegal. I paid, like four euro for it. He had this big list of vinyls up but I just honed in on this one and was like “Give me this Jean Michel Jarre“. I think I have only ever listened to it once through, I should probably listen to it more. Even from the back cover he looks cool. He sounds to me like a bit of a wanker but he just gets away with it and aside from that, he uses really cool synthesizers and really cool electronic equipment. He sounds really up his own arse but I kind of like that. He sounds like he is into himself and it somehow comes across in his music that’s kind of proggy and wanky electronic music in the best possible way. I know they sound like negative adjectives but there is something about it is just really cool. I’m gonna listen to this some more. I forgot I actually had it.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
I guess this is a pretty obvious one but for me it is a defining album. I discovered this when I was about sixteen. At the time I was an intense metal-head, playing in hardcore bands and then I heard this and the first couple of times I listened to it I thought it was really poncey, I didn’t like it at all and I was telling my friends to turn it off. Eventually it started to sink in and it completely blew my mind. I just listened to it non stop. Many, many hours were spent, sitting in a garage with my friends listening to this an awful lot and other prog music that leant itself to that kind of activity. Everything about it musically, and probably for the other lads in the band as well, we probably took a lot from this album. The whole notion of the kind of scale that an album can actually be. As an album it’s the perfect package. The journey it brings you on and the potential that that can unlock for you as a musician or as a band when you are going to write an album, it’s pretty much a landmark album.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
I kind of got obsessed with this for a while. I really like the album before this as well so I was waiting for this to come out. When there is so much hype for an album, you are kind of afraid that it is going to be bad. If you like the band already and there’s this huge hype, you kind of want to ignore that hype. But this came out and it completely surpassed all of that hype – just completely amazing. It became hugely popular, deservedly so. It kind of goes back to The Stooges thing in a way. It doesn’t sound like The Stooges, but to me it really sounds like they are really doing whatever they want. Totally throwing all sorts of shit at a recording and just doing anything they want. It sounds grimy, you know. Everything is distorted and sounds wrong but in the coolest possible way.
There is a really huge scale to what goes on and there is a really big spectrum of colour on this album. In terms of the sounds of it, it was produced and recorded all by himself again. Importantly, it was mixed by Dave Fridmann who produced a lot of Flaming Lips and he used to be in Mercury Rev. He has this unique production and mixing style that he brings to records. Things sound wrong and messed up because that’s what he does in the most cool kind of way. I think he did that really effectively did on both the latest Tame Impala albums actually.
Curtis Mayfield – Curtis
This is the first solo Curtis Mayfield album and on the cover he is just doning this pretty fantastic yellow suit. I’m sure there are some comments I could make on some sort of social commentary. It’s a political album but I’m not going down that road because I don’t think I can hold up anything. The thing that holds up for me is just how great the album is. There is a really great energy captured on this recording – just natural musicianship. People who can just play in this really loose way and it comes across in these really great grooves and really great vibes on these recordings. Something like ‘Move on Up’, everyone knows that tune. That is just such a relentless groove. You can hear the horns making mistakes but it doesn’t matter because they are all getting down to it, creating these amazing grooves and amazing songs aswell. That kind of style of music is something that I’m really into. In terms of drumming I really like that good funky groovy drumming that is kind of loose but really funky and puts that across. It’s tight but loose at the same time. It’s kind of like a band like The Meters, they are all kind of loose and they are all on that same vibe but it comes across tight because they are all on the same wavelength. It’s one of those things you can’t really learn. These people either have it or they don’t.
Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads sung by Woody Guthrie
In contrast to the rest of them this is just really simple stuff. Mostly just acoustic guitar and singing. Really simple songs, really simple structures but really amazing storytelling. He starts singing and you listen and he conveys everything so well and so clearly. You could be in a room just chatting to him and he’s just telling you this story you know, and there’s something so refreshing about the simplicity of that. Sometimes I’ll throw that on after I’ve been listening to some insane prog or psychedelic stuff or really produced electronic stuff when I want to get back to something down to earth. Something that tells a really good story. He is hugely influential. I know that Bob Dylan would have always cited him as a pretty huge influence. Definitely worth a listen.
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across the Rooftops
The Blue Nile were this eighties indie band from Scotland as far as I can remember. This is another one I just picked up in a charity shop. I saw the cover and thought it looked cool so I got it. The first few times I listened to it, I didn’t dig it. It is a pretty eighties production and that would have rang alarm bells for me at that point. Maybe it’s just a stubborn thing when you go out and buy something, you put it on until you like it, you know? If it was an MP3 I got off someone or if I had gotten it for free I wouldn’t have bothered. I kept listening to it and to me, well it might sound like a really unfair interpretation but it sounds like a really poncey, art school, slightly up your own arse kind of music but again, I don’t know, I still like it even though I say all those things about it.
I got over the eighties production thing and thought well, there’s some really cool things going on here. I was just used to listening to mostly sixties and seventies music at the time and then the eighties happened and all this new technology happened and people over used it. There is something charming about that in itself. I think we (the band) all started getting into eighties records like eighties Bowie and stuff like that where is just got over the top and kitsch. At the root of it, a lot of those records are just fun. They are probably taking a whole bunch of cocaine and that probably comes across. But with this record in particular, it was a cool moment for me because it was one of the first eighties records with a really eighties production that I properly sat down and thought “Yeah this is cool”. If you are in the right mood it’s a really cool album to listen to.