“We cannot stop, and we will not stop” – An Interview with The Scaramanga Six
The Scaramanga Six have been making music for 20 years now, and have eight studio albums and a long list of EP’s to their name. Yet despite this, and even though the underground music sites have been championing their dramatic pop rock for some time, they have yet to find themselves basking in the public adoration that they’ve long deserved.
With the release of album number eight The Terrifying Dream maybe that could all change. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Morricone, one half of the twin brother axis around which the band revolves, talks dreams, musicals and forcing the band’s music into the centre of your attention.
So, The Terrifying Dream is album number eight. Tell us about it, it’s essentially a concept album, correct?
If you listen to this album from start to finish you should go through a journey, that’s the intention. These are pop songs that deal with a series of episodes based on the kind of dreams and distorted feelings you might get in a night of unrest. Sometimes your unconscious mind will exaggerate your worst fear or greatest desire, then in a second jump to a completely different place. You wake up bewildered with fragments of memories of everything you dreamed then it all disappears, leaving only an unnerving silence. That’s the concept of this album.
You decided to release three EPs alongside the album. Do you think since the age of digital, EPs are an underloved form?
We didn’t set out to release any EPs actually. We were aiming to record a double album and just went into the studio with a big load of songs and ideas to see what would come out. As it turned out, we played around with all twenty or so songs we put down in this session and couldn’t get a good cohesive record together so we decided to split things up into a single album and a number of EPs.
It actually worked out for the best – each of the three EPs seemed to become a well-rounded piece of work in themselves, and the album then shaped itself. The digital age is irrelevant to the craft of an album or an EP – you should just see each release as a body of work that has been considered and intended for listening in that order. Whether it is a physical or digital release should make no difference.
What goes into the writing of an album for The Scaramanga Six? The music always has an air of intensity to it even on the softer numbers, is it an intense experience?
Each album we have recorded seems to be a completely different experience. We often impose rules on what we are doing or add an extra member or two to change things. The rules for our previous record Phantom Head were this: let’s have two drum kits playing exactly the same, one in each ear. Let’s play everything live and not put anything on that we can’t play live. For the current album it was different – let’s play as a four-piece, then attack sections of songs with as many layers as possible until it becomes unbearable.
We are already writing for the next album and the current general idea is to make the record insanely uplifting. One thing is certain though – once we start, things are very intense. I generally can’t stop doing something until it is finished. I can’t bear to leave things half-done and cannot think of anything else until it is complete. I’d like to think that when you hear one of our albums this intensity is evident and that once you’ve reached the end of it, you’ll be as relieved and exhausted as we are.
Our songs are only considered intense by some as they are designed to hold your attention and never to be in the background. Some listeners can’t stand this, but they generally have Radio 1 or similar on in the car at a very low volume because they ‘like the company’. I don’t want a background hum, I want music to force its way into the centre of my attention where it belongs.
Lyrically you’re very dark, what inspires your lyrics?
A lot of our lyrics are based on observation of human nature. The matter within the songs contain stories based on a lot of everyday life, which can sometimes be desperate. The dispassionate way some people approach things is often the darkest thing about humanity. That’s why many of our songs are actually based around the mundane and dreary even though the song may be quite upbeat.
I listen to Lou Reed’s Berlin and get both sickened and amazed by how off-hand and casual some of the words seem. He sings in first person lines like “I’m going to stop wasting my time. Somebody else would have broken both of her arms” and this is pop music. Utterly chilling, but strangely compelling.
We tackle subject matter in a similar way, and sometimes listeners get a little confused that we may be singing from the first person perspective of a murderer or sociopath. But this is no different to prime time crime drama, why should pop music not be allowed to use the same grim fascination as a weapon?
The releases always have fantastic artwork, how important is the visual side of things to The Scaramanga Six?
Each release is a piece of art in its own right. The music contained within the album is as important as the imagery that accompanies it, and the name you give it. I’ve spent years listening to a record and gazing at the sleeve deliberating and fantasising about what the artist or band was thinking and doing at the time.
We usually have a very clear concept on how the album is going to look and sound. Making sketches and designing layouts are a necessary part of the process, it’s all part of the craft and the fun. I am genuinely very disappointed when I see a shoddy or badly executed album cover – this is your chance to give someone a lasting image to go with your music, it should be a major priority. I want people to paw at the front cover or rifle through the booklet in the same way I always do.
We’ve also had the pleasure of collaborating with some great artists and designers over many of our releases, and their input into imagery is just as valid as any of the people playing on the record.
On your Facebook page you recently posed the question “Who thinks we should make a West End musical based on our songs and if so, what would be the plot?”. Now, I’m not sure if that’s a joke, but it really shouldn’t be, I think a big production would work perfectly with The Scaramanga Six’s music. Is it something you’d like to do one day?
Me and Steve have talked about this quite seriously many, many times. A lot of our songs are extremely narrative, so we are convinced we could create some kind of overall plot to house a set of our songs. We’ve even tried randomly selecting ten songs from our entire repertoire and then concocting a story that links them together. We would love to hear other people’s ideas, and I can guarantee you any one of them, no matter how ridiculous and tenuous, would be a million times better than the plot to Mamma Mia. Our songs are already big productions of course – all we need is a storyline to shoehorn them into.
Your fanbase is relatively small, but rabid, as confirmed by your recent Pledge Campaign. How do you sustain such prolific recording output without falling into crippling debt?
We are not in debt. We are infinitely rich – every new person who listens to our work and enjoys it makes our music and our need to make more music richer. We are fuelled by this and get paid in devotion and enthusiasm whenever we play regardless of the size of the audience.
How have you found the Pledge Music experience?
We had pondered on the notion of crowd funding for quite a while. I was a little sceptical at first as I didn’t feel comfortable in asking people to help pay for something like it was some kind of a charity. There are plenty of causes out there that are far more worth your money than a band deciding that it would be nice to make a record.
Then we saw how our contemporaries were working with Pledge Music and realised that people who pledge are not simply giving you money, they are supporting what you do, and actively willing you to do it. That is a truly fantastic feeling. We jumped right in with the campaign for this current album and found that the whole thing was a wonderful way of engaging with the very people we were making music for. The whole thing has been really humbling and very lovely. Thank you everyone.
You’ve worked with Steve Albini and Tim Smith on previous albums. What was it like working with these two highly respected, but extraordinarily different producers?
We have never worked with a producer in the traditional sense. A producer is hired to control the creative production of a record and can often get involved in the songs, the material and the very sound of a band. We have only ever worked in studios with people who have recorded us at that time. We have always been the producers.
Steve Albini is of course an ‘engineer’ by his own definition, and allowed us to do what we did whilst skilfully capturing sound in his own way. We ended up with a record that sounds like something he has worked on of course, which was the intention all along. Tim Smith would sit there, often sobbing or cursing, putting up with whatever ideas we threw at him. Alan Smyth who recorded The Terrifying Dream and Cursed would work in a similar way. Both would record us, then, whilst we weren’t looking, fiddle about with everything to varying degrees of strangeness hoping we wouldn’t realise. The end result is always a sum of the parts of course, and each album is different for that reason.
What’s next for The Scaramanga Six?
We may well be having a break from physical gigs, and will instead start the feverish writing process. This means that there will be another release along in the future. We have no idea what it will look or sound like as yet, but will be both different from before, and indelibly us. One thing is for sure – we cannot stop, and we will not stop.
So there you have it. The Scaramanga Six aren’t stopping for anyone, so you might as well come along for the ride. You can start by going to see them at the Clevedon Tides Festival on 19th September then buying yourself some lovely music at www.thescaramangasix.co.uk