An innerview with Men on the Border
When Jumpstart from Men On The Border was released end of November 2013 we didn't suspect that the tracks would be haunting us for weeks to come. Slowly it dawned to us that this record was not just a simple collection of rock songs, but that there was a certain flow in the music, a well hidden concept that was the direct result of their previous album that solely existed of Syd Barrett covers.
We (FA) invited Göran Nyström (GN) and Phil Etheridge (PE) to Atagong mansion where we had the following, Guinness induced, conversation.
Why don't you listen to the Jumpstart album on Spotify while reading this interview? (A Spotify membership is probably needed, but this is free. There is no need to download and install the Spotify player, the music will (hopefully) play in your browser.)
An innerview with Men On The Border (1)
FA: Shine! was an album with Syd Barrett, so to speak, but Jumpstart is about him, right?
PE: Yes! Jumpstart takes over where Shine! left off. On that album we explored Syd's solo songs. It was fun and it gave us the appetite for more. Then we started to wonder: what happened next in Syd's life?
GN: We tried to send a message by the sequencing of our first album, telling a story of the period 1968-1972-ish and using a fair sprinkling of licentia poetica. On the new album we have stretched that poetic license much further. Jumpstart is all about Syd, but more of a fantasy, a speculation even. The premise is simple. What if Syd, at age 50, would have had an epiphany. A lightning strike, a jumpstart. A reverse perhaps of that electric shock he received in Santa Monica?
FA: Maybe all that Syd needed was a second electrical shock to get him on the rails again? Just like in the comics where the main character regains his memory by a second blow on the head.
GN: That's it. That's the Jumpstart. The kick in the behind. How we used to fix our old TV sets.
PE: Or how my school teachers used to fix me...
GN: The two Jumpstart songs on the album are the fantasy bookends. They speak of that very moment, the awakening in fantasy-land, anno 1996. In-between, 12 songs spread over four "seasons", telling the inner story of the years from 1972 till 1996. It speaks of the fantasy journey of a tormented soul and of reminiscence.
PE: We used only two of Syd's songs and the rest are not trying to be typical Syd songs either. They speak about him, or some sort of fantasy Syd. The song 'Jumpstart' is about fixing your heart, about kicking it into action again and about life over death.
FA: The first season, or song trilogy, starts with 'Baby Lemonade'...
PE: 'Baby Lemonade' is pure Syd of course. We wanted to give it a good solid punk rock drive with psychedelic sonic explorations - the elements that Syd did so well in his heyday. This is when we dive back in time to 1972, through Syd's own reflections on his life, which I found kind of shocking.
GN: And the starting point is the thematic Autumn. A new energy injected into that fading autumn. In the afterglow of a glorious summer comes a season of neglect and departure. In the inescapable poetry of Led Zeppelin: "Leaves are falling all around. It's time I was on my way. Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay. But now it's time for me to go." (2)
FA: And rain falls in gray far away... The next track 'Pills' really is a great track, instrument wise.
GN: Yeah. The guitar-work is Phil magic. Sinister. The song is about addiction and relapses. But also about love and hunger. It's all weirdly poetic and ambivalent. How to resist a temptation. A constant inner monologue, very much about pills of course and how that addiction is ended. “Your place by my bed, no more”. Or is it properly ended?
FA: In 'I Don't Want To Be Your Man' one can picture Syd who almost begs to the fans to be left alone, and who is slowly getting more and more angry about being disturbed all the time.
PE: Good point! And that theme appears in a couple of the songs. I think it's partly that but also memories of a time waiting outside a studio and really wanting to contribute. “No more waiting on your steps”. But what the fuck - reaching a conclusion that he never wanted it anyway. At the end it reverts to the question of 'Pills', those that keep wanting him back.
FA: The maniacal Floyd anorak in me also sees a certain lyrical familiarity to Gilmour's plea to the fans 'What Do You Want From Me', which was a more civilised way to show his frustration over the years than Roger Waters did who spat in the face of a fan. Or am I just over-analysing?
GN: It's about dependency and ending a dependency. Whether that is in sex or drugs or rock'n roll. All three components play into most of the songs on Jumpstart. But I guess you just took it one step further! The dependency between the artist and the fan base. Yeah, interesting.
FA: 'Have You Got It Yet', declares the cold winter in Syd's life.
GN: This is the start of the Winter trilogy. "I've felt the coldness of my winter. I never thought, it would ever go. I cursed the gloom that set upon us." (3) The title has an obvious Syd reference. We debated that for a while. In the end we wanted to bring out an element of anger and bitterness.
PE: Riding buses and going into pubs. Never quite able to drown out memories and thoughts. And quite a lot of debate over the title. There’s some tongue in cheek in the lyrics though. As a matter of fact it’s not all dark…
FA: I hear in the frantic guitar solo near the end a glimpse of what really happened between Syd Barrett and Roger Waters on that day he wanted them not to learn 'Have You Got It Yet'.
PE: Could well be. Who knows? Still, the starting point of this song is from a far distance.
GN: Yeah. An alternative title was 'Have You Still Not Got It?'
PE: And we're back in the debate again!
FA: After the mild anarchy of 'Have You Got It Yet' 'The Public' really is a breath of fresh air.
GN: That song is sung by Phil. All other songs are from a Syd perspective, but this one is from the troubadour at the pub watching Syd. That's why it's a kind of Irish pub song, the sort you would hear at the pub. And different in style to everything else on the album.
PE: The lead character joins in for the second half of the last verse. That's the moment when it's becoming clear to him that he absolutely must leave things behind. A song partly about a pub existence, but definitely not Irish. Well, maybe London Irish. 'The Public' does of course carry a dual meaning and the middle verse should make that clear. I'm sure they don't even have public bars in London pubs anymore, but dual meaning was too good to give up.
FA: 'Old Friends' is also one of these earworms, a bit childlike with that 'El Condor Pasa' flute and the 'Effervescing Elephant' nod.
GN: Syd meets ABBA. You will note some sonic references to 'Wish You Were Here'. A song about how old friends always remain a support. Don't they?
PE: Benny Andersson was a conscious musical starting point for this, with the flute and oboe melodies in the middle and the end just a bit longer than you’d expect, typical for ABBA. Lyrically the song is miles from them though and at least for me was one of the darker moments on the album.
FA: I have always been enchanted by the ABBA song 'The Piper' that was the B-side of 'Super Trouper'. I even suspected it contained a hidden message for early Pink Floyd fans: "We're following the piper and we dance beneath the moon..."
GN: The dark side of that moon surely!
FA: 'Garden' is the place where one notices spring at first. Syd had a gardener's job once, given to him by an old Cambridge friend...
GN: 'Garden' is about finding solace. Walking with buttercups. Inner monologues. Dwelling on love lost. Rather despairing and probably half crazy. Botanical garden walks. Not gardening. This is also when he starts to realize how deep the love was that he walked away from. "You are the sunlight in my growing. So little warmth, I've felt before. It isn't hard to feel me glowing. I watched the fire that grew so low." (4)
PE: The mid-section with the focus on garden and garden walk is that moment of staring point blank at the essence of existence, the core of the brain of our lead character. The garden and the garden walk. One bite of an apple and then a long walk out.
GN: Or back in again.
FA: 'Destiny Today' is about Syd's long walks along the river Cam?
GN: That is true but it’s more than that. The river symbolises life, as it does in many Floyd songs, and the walk is about finding your destiny. And accepting the fact for what it is. It's a strange warm feeling of peace when you can finally come to terms with what your life became.
PE: And what remains, which is the killer. It's a turning point. Of the album too. This was one of the first songs we recorded for Jumpstart. It set the mood for a kind of reconciliation. Of coming to terms with life and to make the best of whatever it is that remains. Of accepting your destiny, and doing that today.
FA: I hope I don't embarrass you by saying that the atmosphere of this song reminds me of Gilmour's mesmerizing hymns, like 'The Blue' and 'Where We Start'.
GN: That is indeed a great compliment. David lived in his youth close to Grantchester Meadows. I was there in June 2013 and played an early demo of the song right there. Just by the river. To a friend who had been there at the time. It's that kind of soothing chord structure to it. Plus the repetitive lyrics. And Phil plays some of his best guitar ever on it.
PE: I'm blushing. Nah, just kidding. Everything on these two albums is my best stuff ever.
FA: 'Warm From You' starts like a warm spring day... but what is it about, a lost love or the growing expectation for Syd to finally do something with his life...
GN: Love mainly. The purpose of living, I guess. Live to love. It tells a story of first failing and then picking up again. The sun and that revolution can mean many things though. In the case of Syd, we fantasize that love and love lost continued to mean a lot to him. Shining through occasionally. How it "will always be a very special thing to me".
PE: Like most things in life there’s ambiguity throughout and that’s reflected in most of the songs actually. I unambiguously borrowed a bit from Jimi Hendrix on this and it was a real pleasure to have an opportunity to do that. The end has ‘Hey Joe’ stamped all over it. The sounds at the end are drummer Björn Hammarberg scraping a drumstick over his hi-hat - just a fun detail.
FA: So that was the tune that haunted me and that I couldn't place, shame on me. I also find that the intro has a certain French aspect, I can't stop thinking of Petula Clark's Coeur Blessé...
PE: And strangely enough that leads me to "pour encourager les autres", which is a nice reference a friend of mine used just the other day and possibly the title of a new song, unless it's already been done a whole lot.
FA: 'Terrapin' starts a new summer of love? Physical love or is it the love for music?
PE: The summer of love was very physical, and that’s what 'Terrapin' is about for me. It also reads like an acid trip, which was the other end of the summer of love. 'Terrapin' is also the only track on the album which doesn’t have a keyboard of any sort, only guitars, bass and drums. There are lots of guitars though. There must be a hundred versions of this song on YouTube, mostly live in someone’s bedroom, which says something about its popularity.
GN: "It is the summer of my smiles. Flee from me, keepers of the gloom. Speak to me only with your eyes. It is to you I give this tune." (5) It’s an essential song in the Barrett cannon. It speaks of love very directly. We wanted it to be euphoric rather than subdued. It's the moment of calling out for what all that yearning was about.
FA: But 'Something For the Waiting' is rather introspective again... with a glimpse of misery and despair... begging to god to invent "some kind of help to carry on"....
GN: It was the last song we added. I am not 100% sure if it is a happy or sad song. Obviously it is very desperate. But it also shows a realization and stamina. That there is something worth the waiting for. Unfortunately, as the song goes, the rights to happiness “fell into the hands of Paul McCartney”.
FA: It's the Men On The Border's 'As Tears Go By', so to speak?
PE: Yeah. Olle Ljungström has never given me happy vibes, so I’d go with sad.
GN: It's not a very faithful cover though!
PE: Göran was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t like this when he sent me the acoustic demo, but I loved it right away and it fits. Working on the arrangement was a blast. I used a thumb piano (a birthday present from my sister) at the beginning of the song. I started out playing a sort of non-tune, but Göran suggested the song melody, which focused the whole thing. I also got to use the string quartet idea (Lennart Östblom doing a number of overdubs) which Göran thankfully vetoed on 'No Man’s Land'. This will be more electric live and we’ll debut that in May.
FA: And that is when 'Let's Party' kicks in... which is (for me) the highlight of the album...
PE: That’s great to hear! Jan Stumsner from P-Floyd makes a much appreciated guest appearance on this track. Göran and I each wrote our own parts for 'Let’s Party', basically two separate songs which we melded. Göran’s lyrics are mostly poetic, whereas mine are more about realism, like in 'The Public'. In this case the scenes were experienced by me in 1973 courtesy of Eich Erzmoneit, a German drummer I was playing bass with at the time, who did enjoy his acid and beer.
GN: In the context of the Jumpstart story, this is when Syd in the end is shrugging his shoulders. Saying fuck this and let's party. It's the best we can do. Something like the conclusion of the book 'Candide: or, All for the best'. Playing the cards we are given. It's also a sort of nod to the art rockers saying that there is real life to be enjoyed behind the eyeliners and pretence. Voltaire concludes with Candide saying that "we must cultivate our garden". That garden link again. The heart at the center.
The Next Year
FA: So that wraps up the Jumpstart journey then? Bringing it all back to the Jumpstart moment with a reprise of the first song and full speed towards the future? Can I bore you once again with a quote from someone else: "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside! Come inside!" (6)
GN: Indeed. Supersonic fighting cocks and all. You have an inner view now. And who knows what the future will bring. One thing is clear, Men On The Border was always about more than the music. We wanted to bring back that old fashioned album experience. That is probably something we will explore further in the future.
PE: Kajsa-Tuva Henriksson (now Werner), did the previous cover and made justice to the Syd Barrett early story in an amazing way. You can read many things into that picture. She also contributed with an original piece for Jumpstart, that takes the earlier picture – that life of Syd – into the tumbler. It is a fabulous illustration of a Jumpstart, and of a broken but vividly red heart at the center.
GN: Yes indeed. We were also thrilled to have Ian Barrett on board, Syd's nephew and by now a good friend. He contributed to the whole concept in no small way. He took the whole thing one step further by adding the symbolism of Syd’s mirrored guitar and reflections.
PE: That concept is so perfectly in tune with the whole idea of Jumpstart, which is really a concept album about reflections and new energy, and about Syd of course. Maybe that electric bolt in Santa Monica that we started out discussing?
GN: Yes! Maybe that's where that guitar originally got lost? Burnt out by the electric shock? And now we bring it full circle.
PE: Ian made a linoleum cut of those guitar mirrors and then painted this in the famous floorboard colours. He actually made a whole series of prints for us.
GN: We then used the idea of mirrors and reflections and energy in a little photo session we did, courtesy of David Parkin. Our combined photographer and bass player! We are forming a live band now. Band On The Border!
FA: So what is going on with that? What happens next?
PE: We will try out some live gigs and see how it goes. Rehearsals have been ongoing for a few months. It is all very fun and energizing.
GN: Ideas are developing continuously. Check out our Facebook site to be updated. If all goes well, and there is a demand, there could be something unique in the works. It feels like we can see pieces of a big puzzle, a collage if you will.
FA: A collage?
PE: Hey Felix, do you have any more of that Guinness?
© Birdie Hop & The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit, 2014.
Many thanks: Ian Barrett (Ian
Barrett Art), Phil Etheridge, Göran Nyström.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥ Birdie Hop ♥
Notes and quotes
(1) During the immensely difficult negotiations to have this interview ("Do you mean any colour you like, except blue M&M's or only blue M&M's and no others?") the word 'interview' was wrongly written as 'innerview' on one document, but it stuck. Back to text.
(2) Led Zeppelin - Ramble On. Back to text.
(3) Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song. Back to text.
(4) Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song. Back to text.
(5) Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song. Back to text.
(6) Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Karn Evil 9, 1st impression, part 2. Back to text.