Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Sam Isaac is gradually making himself known as one of the country’s most promising artists. Recently garnering airplay from the likes of Jo Whiley on Radio 1, Sam has come a long way from his intimate living room tours and limited edition releases. With his debut album on the way, Neon Buzz caught up with him before his recent show at London’s Borderline to get the low-down on the latest happenings in the Isaac camp.

So, how’s the tour going so far?

Tour is going pretty great. We’ve got to go all over, we started with a few northern dates which were quite fun and then we’ve had some good shows in Oxford, Bristol and Tunbridge Wells so it’s been pretty good. I’m looking forward to playing the London date, which is the kind of important one.

Has there been a place so far that’s been the best, in terms of reaction or otherwise?

Bristol went really, really well. There was a really full room and really good support acts, and we got a really good reaction. All of our equipment broke on stage but we got through it.

How do you choose your support acts?

Generally, I choose my friends cos it’s always fun to go on tour with your friends and also bands that I think are great. I try and choose as good support acts as I can, like bands that I think are better than me, cos then they’re going to make me play better.

You just released the ‘Sticker, Star and Tape’ EP, which has a few new songs on it. Are they the ones that weren’t good enough for your album?

I’m just going to say yes. I’m really pleased with the songs on the EP but they’re released kind of bearing in mind what I was going to save for the album. I’m hoping people enjoy the songs on the EP but in my opinion the songs left over for the album are much better.

You’ve spent the summer recording your album, is it all finished now?

Everything’s done apart from the vocals. I got quite ill over the summer so when it came to doing the vocals, I couldn’t really sing. I’m actually going in to do them straight after this tour so we’re actually so close to being finished. Hopefully by the start of November it’s all going to be done and we’re really hoping to release it at the end of January.

Can we expect to hear lots of new songs when it’s finally released?

Yeah, it’s weird to me cos it feels like a compilation of the last three years but I guess to my fans there are four or five new songs, but to me a lot of it feels quite old. I think they’re definitely the strongest songs I’ve written over the last two years and with the old songs we’ve done a lot to make the whole thing sound together.

You played a lot of festivals this summer, is there one that stands out as your favourite?

Latitude by far and away was the best one. We played to about 2000 people, which is easily the biggest crowd we’ve played to. There were just so many people and it was just absolutely amazing. If I never play any shows ever again, I will be happy that I got to play Latitude this year.

Why did you start writing and playing your own music?

The first music I ever listened to was the Beatles, my dad bought me all the tapes when I was little, and obviously they have great songs and great choruses and I think that was embedded in me so when I started playing guitar, I always wanted to write my own songs and write them with really good choruses. That was always really important to me. I guess I started writing songs when I was ten years old and it’s just always been something that I wanted to do.
You used to lots of shows and tours in people’s living rooms. Have you got any plans to do more of those or are you too big for that now?

I’m definitely not too big for that. When I started doing living room shows, it was just a way of touring. I couldn’t get booked in loads of venues across the country but I wanted to tour so it was just a way of doing that but it was also quite special because there wasn’t a lot of people doing it and also the scale on which I was doing it, going on tour for two or three months just playing living rooms, was quite outlandish at the time. But now, every single acoustic artist ever is saying I’ll play living rooms and stuff, and also it’s been commercialised so I’m not sure… I mean, it is really exciting and I had a great time, and I’m sure it’s a good way for new artists to get out there but if I did it now it might seem like I was rehashing an old idea, so I need to think of something new to do. They were really fun but I’m not sure it’s something I’d do on the same scale again. Maybe when the album comes out, we’ll do a week of special living room shows or something like that.

Do you miss doing living room shows?

Yeah, definitely. You know when you watch A Night with Take That or something on ITV, and as well as the songs everyone asks questions and stuff? Living room shows always turned into farces, like I’d play a song and then there’d be maybe ten minutes conversation in between of really good banter cos everyone’s just there and wants to get involved. I miss that cos I just turn up at venues now and play my songs as well as I can, it’s quite formulaic whereas playing living rooms is completely different every night.

What are your plans for the rest of the year, apart from finishing the album?

At the end of November I’m going to Sweden to play some acoustic shows, which is going to be really fun. Also, I’m doing another tour with the band of NME club nights and then we’re going to Germany to do a tour before Christmas, so a lot more touring I suppose and getting things ready for the album.

Rhian Daly

ALBUM: Marnie Stern - This is It and I Am It and You Are It and So is That and He is It and She is It and It is It and That is That (Kill Rock Stars)

Like the title hints, this album shows Marnie Stern to be about as obsessive as you’d expect a girl who practiced 4 hours a day to perfect double-handed finger tapping technique that could scare the shit out of Eddie Van Halen. It’s hard to decide whether the admittedly pretty sick guitar work makes the album good or bad. On the first listen it comes across as making the album difficult – opener ‘Prime’ sounds like a lesson in song deconstruction that tries to explain what happened to the rest of the album (especially on ‘Clone Cycle’ where cryptic banter about triangles makes it sound more full of shit than These New Puritans). But then when you listen to it again the hooks are easy to spot and the guitar lines are almost hypnotic. Part of the problem might be the over-reliance on mental guitar solos without bothering with any bass on some songs so there’s nothing to propel them along and they sound like beached whales spasming helplessly on the shore. The album’s definitely at its best when the songs resemble actual songs rather than jam sessions, like ‘The Crippled Jazzer’ and ‘The Package is Wrapped,’ which manage to be exciting and interesting while remaining listenable.

It’s not all that reasonable to expect experimental rock to be easy to listen to, and ‘This Is It’ wouldn’t be at home in an elevator – it demands more careful listening because of how carefully it was crafted. Still, some cuts are so brilliant, like ‘The Devil’s in the Details,’ make it worth giving it the time.

Standout Track: The Devil’s in the Details (or The Crippled Jazzer)

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: Mr Beasley - Right As Rain (Bad Sneakers Records)

‘Right As Rain’ sounds like what Bjork was really going for on ‘Volta’ but sort of missed – an inventive but more pop structured sound for her voice to go mental on. The song’s glitchy electronica and stomping bass riff seem to be begging you to do the robot while Sarah’s vocal acrobatics nail you in place – it’s arty and interesting but still danceable to. If you’re not into your Bjork and her relentlessly wandering singing this might just sound like another elf on acid but for anyone else who wishes she could stop trying so hard to be weird, ‘Right As Rain’ is a wish granted.

Ollie Khakwani

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

LIVE: Frightened Rabbit. Concrete and Glass, Hoxton Bar and Grill. Thursday 2nd October, 2008

There’s that age old problem in music of how to make a brilliant record translate into an equally, if not more, fantastic live show. For some bands it seems effortless, like there’s nothing more simple and natural in the world, but then for others it takes that little bit more graft and patience to get it right.

Such is the case for Frightened Rabbit tonight, enjoying an increase in hype and popularity off the back of their latest full-length record ‘Midnight Organ Fight’. On paper, this is set to be one of the highlights of the Concrete and Glass festival, a sort of more cultural take on Camden Crawl. In reality though, it’s a meandering journey through sub-standard, stumbling versions of all the songs we know and love. Of course, the lyrical brilliance and musical ability is still there but there’s something missing, that certain je ne sais quois that has been getting everyone so excited all summer long.

‘Heads Roll Off’ is by far the highlight of the set, but still lacks that spark that would transform it from dimming torch to incandescent, luminescent firework. ‘The Twist’ and ‘My Backward Walk’ go down well with the packed out room but you can’t help but feel Frightened Rabbit have missed a trick here. Perhaps it’s the addition of an extra guitarist that is to blame, with the induction being only a recent one, or maybe the Scotsmen are just having an off day. But whatever it is, they have the potential to be a moving and breathtaking live band. They’ve got the songs, now they just to find the stage presence.

Rhian Daly