Transcript - Episode 642: Sean O'Hagan (High Llamas)

There are more than a few points when Hey Panda sounds like the work of an entirely different band.

The songwriting is sharp as ever, but Sean O'Hagan gleefully pushes the High Llamas into new directions.

It’s an impressive accomplishment in itself more than three decades after the band’s formed.

O'Hagan was already a music industry vet by the time he founded the High Llamas in 1990, having spent the previous decade sharing songwriting credits for Rough Trade act, Microdisney.

Sean O'Hagan  0:12  
The way I feel is that I've been making records for for quite some time. And the one thing that's happened in the last maybe 15 years, is I've had the opportunity to make records with different people. I've been invited as a collaborator, as an arranger, as a co writer. And I really do enjoy that process. So much more so than the actual idea of originating the work entirely yourself. And that's possibly because you you've, you've put pressure on yourself. And you set a bar, and you imagine an audience, or maybe an invisible, or a small audience, albeit judging everything you do. And it's a really silly way to actually it's a stupid pressure that you put on upon yourself. And it's a silly way to, to reflect on yourself on what you do. And when you do that with other other people with other collaborators, you don't think about that at all. And in fact, you do exactly the same thing. You contribute, you reach inside yourself, you respond to your internal instinct, and you contribute, you do exactly the same thing. And you do it without any, any any pressure, any tension. And it's a really enjoyable, it's a really enjoyable process. So I kind of tried to take that pressure off myself, and I will not commit to another artistic record after this. But I will commit to lots of collaborations. And some of those collaborations may actually be such that I'm the greater part of the collaboration, and it is almost like an artistic record. But, you know, I'm sick, you know, I'm 64, I'm not 54 I'm 64. I was making records in 1983. In, you know, when I didn't even know what I, I was, I was I was making records when the before before post modernism and irony had crept into into the whole process. When it was closer to you know, it was closer to their sort of the joy of hearing little Stevie Wonder then it was to the this idea of, you know, what's the next clever moves, so to speak? And that's a long time. And, yeah, I think I feel that I kind of, I know it sounds crazy, I Too Good To Go need to make any more records. But I, but I want to make music. Have you felt

Brian Heater  3:27  
that before? Yeah. Or does it always feel like there needs to be another thing?

Sean O'Hagan  3:32  
I felt that I felt that quote recently. I make them radon calls. I don't know if you heard radium calls, which was the solar alcohol they made in 2019. That was really, I love doing that. And I love doing that. Because I said right at so I'm going to walk away from today. And we're going to make a record very much on my own. I had the great, my God, I had the foresight and joy to actually call Carl coklat from and say, Do you want to come on the record and sing with me? And thank God I did. Because I don't know if you know, but he died a few few years later. So that was that was incredible. And the little moves I made on random calls. Were basically pushed me into the direction to make a panda. And the at the time, it was before I'd met Ben Garrett from friars who I really this guy is, you know, 3435 Maybe when I started working with him, he was 30 and he was uh oh, my God. He was a gift of a young fella to to hook up with because he basically brought me into a In a world that I've admired, but never thought I could participate in, and he basically brought me in and showed me showed me just some of the ways and the and the and the handles, that one needed to access to make a difference kind of music. And thankfully, I was I was able to make this record because of that, when I asked you

Brian Heater  5:29  
if you experienced it before, you know, you were really referring to the last few records. But have there been other points in your very long career in which it's felt like, there might not necessarily be another album? Sure.

Sean O'Hagan  5:42  
I mean, when I before I started the High Lamas and Michael Disney finished. So I was very much the junior partner there. There was two of us, call Cochran and myself and Carl, and we both wrote music called Carl was the lyricist. And he was a very he was almost like, a literary character, you know. And I was, I was this guy who is, you know, regarded as the the music guy. But Carl was very much as much as these guys. I always. And, you know, when that ends, and you have to actually you, you, you literally use your own artistic voice, and literally, your own your own voice. That's a pretty that's that that's hard. And you could you there's so many bands that you could point to? And you'll say, oh, yeah, that was the time. And when that fella stepped out, you know, you know, this, you know, obscure, obscure artists, or my I'm thinking of like, you know, you could go back to the move, for instance, and, you know, Roy Wood and Jeff Lynn, they both stepped out, you know, and found their thing. And I suppose the big the big one would be, I guess, in recent years would be Nevada and David Grohl, and be bad. But that is a moment, that certainly is a moment. And it's a moment when you can just think, you know, this isn't me. But then that that that that changed. And the thing about the Highlanders that really, really changed from the very beginning, was really me, me hooking up with Tim gain from Stereolab. And, and I'm not talking about the sound here, I'm just talking about the, the, the, the attitude, the person that you are, and how you actually go into a studio. And I'd been through the 80s, where music making had been very, very professionalism and produced. And Tim, even though he had his time in the 80s, with McCarthy, when he created Stereolab, he, he created it as a as I mean, it was a band, but it was definitely an art project as well. And he had some, he had some, some basic ground rules that were very, very smart and very useful. And he sort of taught me how to kind of relax and loosen up and absolutely don't. Don't walk in to the studio with all your experience your production experience, leave some of it outside and be prepared to sort of loosen up and learn. So that's why that's how I'm wired. The highlight has changed, you know, from the very first record, which was sent by Loretta Gideon guy, that's why that change happened was

Brian Heater  8:57  
the High Lamas and art projects in some sense to you as well.

Sean O'Hagan  9:03  
I would say probably not, mainly because of the person I am. I'm a I'm a I'm a worker. And I say that as somebody who's struggled at school, I left school very early because I didn't realize it at the time, but I had, I had mental health problems, and I was dyslexic. I really struggled. And I didn't understand what was going on at school because I understood, I had ideas and I was creative. But I couldn't kind of I couldn't put it down on paper. And I was a massive academic failure. So I just ran away from that. And I worked in construction sites and car factories. And so to actually, you know, find yourself as a person in music. That was that was enough the idea of that being artistic didn't even occur to me it was like, but that was as foreign to me as an avocado was when I first saw an avocado at the age of 22. I said what the hell is this? This is this is have a card, it tastes really great. So no, I wouldn't have called it an art project, I would have called it, you know, making, you know, another band. And up, God, I'm lucky to be able to be to be able to do this. Because it's better than putting my hand in freezing cold water at six o'clock in the morning. There's

Brian Heater  10:35  
not a ton of value in dwelling on these sorts of things. But if you had come along 1020 years later, and the education was more in tune to such thing. Yeah. And teachers were paying closer attention, whether your experience would have been dramatically different.

Sean O'Hagan  10:55  
Would I have become a musician? Possibly, yeah, eventually,

Brian Heater  11:00  
but even just academically, you're obviously an intelligent person, it

Sean O'Hagan  11:05  
would have been very different. And I would have probably gone on to study at, you know, I got to college go to university, I would have probably discovered something that I really enjoyed. It might have been history, or it might have been architecture, because I love architecture. And yeah, I may never may never have made music because I was compelled to make music because it was the only thing I could do. When

Brian Heater  11:32  
did that switch flip for you? When was it clear that that it was something that you could do?

Sean O'Hagan  11:42  
Well, you've heard this from so many people in my generation, but punk rock was very, very important. I don't mean musically. You know, it wasn't that important musically. I don't think but, uh, but but culturally, it was hugely important. Empowerment. Totally. Yeah. And we're talking about, you know, 1977 7879 that, literally, I could literally feel the change were in 1976 or 77. You know, kids were listening to some smart kids were listening to know Neil Young arts, Steely Dan records, and the really smart guys were listening to jazz records. And then you had this other bunch over here who were listening to folk, you know, I Planxty and Richard Thompson, whatever. But it was, the whole thing was, there was everybody was insecure, because it was all about ability and technique. And punk literally, just allowed you to go into a room and not be judged. And that's, that's what happened. And it and it happened to for me, you know, likes something 998 It's 979 that's when it started. And by that time, things had moved on from the what I call the Rock and Roll part of punk. There was the rock and roll. Whether it's the Ramones or the pistols or, or, and then there was the the art school, which was like in, in the US, that would have been, you know, David Byrne talking heads and in the UK, it would have been gang of four and a beacons, you know, and secretly polity.

Brian Heater  13:46  
Yeah, like what we would call post punk. Yeah, I

Sean O'Hagan  13:48  
guess so. Yeah. And it was that moment, where I just thought, wow, this is, this is, this is, this is something that I want to be part of, and, and you go out and you literally find your people, you literally find them and you literally find them on the street. And, and you make very quick decisions and you're in rooms making music very quickly. There's, there's, there's no big project planning. It's very, very instant.

Brian Heater  14:24  
That's the change. I like the way you phrase it in terms of finding your people. And it's, it strikes me that in a lot of ways for kids growing up now, it's sub culturally maybe a little bit easier, you know, with the internet to find out that there are other people who like the same things that you do. And you know, it, I guess, in some way, think the same way that you do, as well. And you know, I wonder if at any point prior to that, whether whether things really do did feel hopeless before he found that group?

Sean O'Hagan  15:02  
I yeah, I was, personally I felt very hopeless. And there was a kind of music was very important. Music was huge music was wonderful. But we were we were mere observers. And, you know, we were we were shy, kids. Our confidence was shot. And there was an awful lot in the music business at that time, whether it's, you know, whether it was like, you, Rod Stewart, sort of, kind of floating around London, or David Geffen getting his, you know, creating his vision of La music. It was these confident people, wasn't it? It was these, you know, and, and the rest and, and the rest of us out there. We were these. We were very much the observers. We were very much the audience, you know, and and I don't remember that as being like, good times at all. I do not. I remember it

Brian Heater  16:15  
probably was for Rod Stewart and David Geffen.

Sean O'Hagan  16:17  
It was fantastic, guys, guys. They loved it. They loved it. And yeah, I mean, we were fed, we had, we had jobs, and we were under and we could get the bus. And we could, you know, Saturday night was Saturday night. But I don't remember it being like, this fantastic time. And the one thing and this coincided with me going to back to Ireland, because I was in the UK working living in a car town and and my parents brought me back to Ireland. And, and I was in Cork City, which is a poor, very provincial, small city in the south of Ireland. And it was incredible. Because there was two things, there was this, the you know, the Punk had reached reached cork in this very strange way. And it was, but it was, but the participants were these were the poets. They were just amazing. They were just fantastic people. And but also, you know, Ireland was, you know, it was a it was disassociated with the 20th century in the most fantastic way. So I was blessed. And I asked when life really started for me, just those those early years in Cork making music can just breathing that air.

Brian Heater  17:48  
Where does Thin Lizzy and fill in it fit in all of this for you know, there's there seems to be a lot of ways in which he was a very great songwriter, very lyrical songwriter. And there are ways in which he was kind of carrying that. I think that Irish literary tradition. Yeah,

Sean O'Hagan  18:07  
he's a really interesting guy. I mean, imagine being a very tall, mixed race guy in Ireland, with an afro, and a massive attitude. Incredible, really, the interesting thing about Thin Lizzy was because, you know, they were reasonably well known in Ireland when they had these early singles, you know, and they were basically a power power trio. And they weren't, you know, Whiskey in the Jar, and all that was fine. They were just a novelty. But then when they made the, they made those records, which were Pop Rock Records, and very, very successful. And they, you know, they really, they brought people together. I mean, the UK, I remember being in the UK and seeing seeing them at a show in Hammersmith, and yeah, the UK audience loved these people. And remember, you were talking about a time when Irish people in the UK were like, not popular because of because of politics, you know, and when did he fit in? Very interesting is a really interesting guy. He I saw a picture of him the other day, and he had a t shirt. And it said, more blacks, more dogs more Irish. And, and that's a direct reference to if you if you were Irish in the 60s, and he went looking for a job or you went looking for a place to live, there'll be a sign say, no, no dogs, no Irish and no Blavity not apply. Yeah. Um, you know, more, more Irish more dogs. You know, I thought that was funny.

Brian Heater  19:57  
Were there any positives as far as the construction experience went, Yeah,

Sean O'Hagan  20:02  
I don't, I didn't think about them now, and then I didn't say, Oh, I'm the middle. I'm in the middle of these positives, I'm gonna take away the rest of my life. No, I was terrified. I was terrified. I imagined being 15 on a building site. And you know, you literally had two gangs. You had the Irish gangs, you had the British gangs and the British gangs were. And they were run by the gangsters and the Ganga basically, you know, ran this group and the Irish guy ran this group and I'm not talking about mafioso it's they were literally these guys that would be a concrete in gang. And this would be a concrete kick concrete and gang and you I was basically looked after by the guy called Martin Kelly from the from Tipperary, the Irish gang. And he was a very smart guy. He said to me, I had very ginger hair. He said to me, ginger, you don't belong here. Tipperary accent was morally gender, you don't belong here. And, and he realized that I was, uh, I shouldn't be I shouldn't have been there. You know? I mean, there were pretty savage places 1970s construction sites that were pretty savage.

Brian Heater  21:23  
Timeline wise. So you mentioned 1979 Being when a lot of the stuff started clicking for you. And I think Mike are Disney officially being founded in 1980. So it's it sounds like things once you knew where you want it to be. Things started coming together pretty quickly.

Sean O'Hagan  21:44  
That's right. They did. We call it and I was like, there was no opposition. We were there were a bunch a couple of bands in in Cork and they were like they were r&b bands. Basically, they were a regular blues bands. And

Brian Heater  22:03  
like pub rock, maybe pub rock. Yeah, yeah. And

Sean O'Hagan  22:07  
there's a lot of folk music and there was some incredible folk artists just, you know, incredible people. And Dublin was full of there was a lot going on Dublin, a lot going on in Belfast. And YouTube were just beginning to sort of happen as a band. But as I said, we didn't have any competition. We weren't like the we there was one other band called Five grand to see who were just incredible, who are like a like Beefheart. And but we were. We got on to every bill because we were organized and we thought about it and we wrote quickly and QA was magnificent literary frontman, we got onto every bill. We played it everybody anybody who came to our lives we played with them. Siouxsie and the Banshees the fall. You too many times. Taxis. Anybody who came Depeche Mode. We were we were the band. We opened. We you know, and so we you know that that was very, very, very quick. And it was in those days, it was mad, very fast, punky funky music didn't last very long. And after about two years, we basically said, right, everything has to change. And we just completely trashed everything. And just changed and became this kind of melodic, strange melodic duo.

Brian Heater  23:40  
What happened ultimately with the band with

Sean O'Hagan  23:43  
Micah Disney? In the at the end of 1989? We ran that we ran the course. We made three to three records with Virgin we made good on one record Rough Trade. That

Brian Heater  24:00  
that's a great run for a decade. Yeah.

Sean O'Hagan  24:03  
Yeah, we might. Yeah, we might just keep making records, made the record Rough Trade which goddess got virgin, wanting to sign us and we didn't stay with Rough Trade, basically, because we couldn't afford to because they couldn't, we didn't see could didn't have any money. And so we but we had very good people at Virgin and you know, we we made a record of Lenny Kay, which was an amazing thing to do. And and then we made the last album, and we just realized that we as people, we had run the course for that for that moment. And we were about to start to make a record with Don was that would have been amazing. But for

Brian Heater  24:52  
younger people can't really overstate what a big deal that would have been at the time

Sean O'Hagan  24:57  
that would have been incredible and you Yeah, we just realized that we had, that we'd grown up together, Carl and I grown up together. And we realized, artistically, we didn't have anything to share. And if we couldn't share, it wasn't worth doing it. And so we both decided to just stop it at that, that point, you

Brian Heater  25:19  
alluded a little bit to some of the, I think the way you put it with mental health problems that I really impeded your academic career. And, you know, to a certain extent, address kind of indirectly through, you know, this creative process and really figuring out what you wanted to do with your life. And actually, in terms of addressing them head on, was that something that had to come later?

Sean O'Hagan  25:49  
Yeah, I didn't, I didn't have a clue what was going on. But I had this crippling OCD, which basically, kind of

Brian Heater  25:56  
I was diagnosed with OCD during a pandemic, actually. So

Sean O'Hagan  26:01  
you go and did things make sense to you after that? Once you got that and

Brian Heater  26:06  
it's so funny. I, I don't I don't believe in astrology at all. I you know, more power to people who do have no no issue at all with it. But I, I compare it to sitting down and reading the most accurate horoscope of your entire life where suddenly everything starts to make sense, because you have this diagnosis.

Sean O'Hagan  26:32  
Yeah. Well, you, you might have an insight. I think OCD afflicts most people to some extent. And, you know, most people have soup, I guess superstitions, but when OCD, literally prevents you from leaving the house, or sends you on a terrifying binge, so to speak, just to close down really, really weird thoughts, then it's, it's, it's very dangerous.

Brian Heater  27:14  
It's an interesting point. It's something that I didn't realize until I went through, like a lot of people, I was very hesitant to deal deal with a lot of these things. And the pandemic relief, sort of, you know, didn't give me a lot of choice. And it pushed me over the edge. But something that was surprising to me, in terms of psychiatry and diagnoses is that, at least with OCD, the way that they determine the severity is how much it impacts your ability to lead a normal life. Yeah.

Sean O'Hagan  27:53  
You get the sheets, and you, you check the boxes. And then, you know, you and you answer the questions, you know, more than one day, more than two days, more than one hour a day water and whatever. And, yeah, I mean, it's, and I realized that, that that's what was happening to me at school. So I went into exams and the, the, the anxiety of an exam would crank the OCD, which is punchy, and it would just shut you down. And you just basically stared at stare at our page, you know, and just walked out, leaving an empty page out of an example. Yeah, it's just, it's mad, mad stuff.

Brian Heater  28:41  
Obviously, it manifests its self in different ways, both for different people, but also, you know, within the same people, I find myself, you know, that it manifests itself in all sorts of different ways. And we, and there's a lot of what I've done and continue to do that I would chalk up to perfectionism as being one of the things that hampers my ability to actually to finish something. And, and that very much is OCD. And it's something that in art specifically, it's something that like, yeah, I can make some really great stuff, but can can also can completely shut the process down.

Sean O'Hagan  29:25  
Yeah. And if it shuts down a part of your life, namely that part that the social part of your life or the life where you are, you know, a collaborative member, a human being, you know, then it's, it's, it's not your friend. I

Brian Heater  29:43  
wonder if that's something that collaboration gave you early on, right? It's it's a double edged sword in terms of having this and collaborating with somebody in that, you know, difficult from the standpoint that sometimes you have have this very specific vision and you want things to be that way. And it can be difficult to compromise. But at the same time that person is there to really to shake you out of. Yeah.

Sean O'Hagan  30:12  
Without a doubt, I would say that with regards to sort of mental health, certainly that, yeah, I loved being in the room with other people. And I loved the process of collaboration, because it was, it was it was a refuge is absolutely a refuge. And yeah, I mean, yeah, collaboration is. It's a strange one, because a lot of people who may have worked with me would say, you are not a collaborator. They said, they said worse things than that. He said, I can't. You do not collaborate? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,

Brian Heater  30:56  
that's a very nice way of saying other things. Yeah.

Sean O'Hagan  31:01  
But God, I love, I love it when, you know, I do have those people with me because it's a refuge. But I but actually, in my older years, I can work as a as a solar Tree Maker. Now, basically, because I think I'm better and I'm through I'm through that very, that horribleness. And, yeah, and I can actually, absolutely, double down and kind of a, I wouldn't say, try to look for a perfectionism, I would say, get into, allow, allow, allow oneself to go down the rabbit hole for a little bit, and just realize that, wow, there's something extraordinary can be made here. Jacknife Lee told me that if you're, if you're working on an idea, and you're 10 minutes into that idea, and you haven't committed it, then then you should junk the idea, you should move away from it. And it he's just got this lovely idea that within that 10 minutes, the excitement, it's like the golden moment, it's when it's glowing. And if you can actually get it down, commit it to tape while it while it's in that, in that moment, you've got something very, very special. And obviously, you know, there's an extreme there, you know, you've it's, but But I think, to a certain extent, like, maybe if you're working on a, you know, a bass sound, or a bass riff or something like that, and you, you think you have it, I think he's like this, put it down in its input imperfection, you can go back to it, and just clean it up, put it down, while it's imperfect, and then move on, and then go back to it. There's

Brian Heater  32:53  
a lot of value, a lot of very underrated value in leaving something and coming back to it with fresh eyes as well, which this affords you. Absolutely.

Sean O'Hagan  33:03  
I mean, Panda, was those ideas were in a dormant state for a while. And I kind of went back to it with very, very fresh ideas and, and, and very fresh eyes. And a little bit like you, you, you alluded to this idea that your commitment to perfection prevented you from finishing work, you know, and I understand that and I think I was able to put the distance between those ideas. And when I came back, I listened to those ideas. And it's weird, you listen to the you could listen to them as a as a as a fan as a this is this is great. What the hell what? This is great. I mean, there isn't much to do here. You don't have to do that much here. You know. It's nearly done. Whereas in the previous iteration of your relationship with that music, you were you were just you were just been sucked into the negativity of the I cannot achieve the perfection. Go away and come back as a fan and then see how you feel about it.

Brian Heater  34:38  
When you say panda Do you mean the song or the entire album?

Sean O'Hagan  34:41  
The entire album, in the entire record? What were some of those ideas fall off the mountain was that whole B section where it switches up into this kind of cod? cooling the gang It starts off with this sort of very, very electro rurality, I'd call it and then it switches up to this city cabaret dance music I that that whole, I had that B section was never there, it was just like, it was something completely was something much cleverer and much more, yes. Now, this will this is this is going to show them. And then I realized that, that, that, that continuing down that was the first part, the rural, the rural part, as I call it, the bubonic B, Part B colic part, actually needed to be contrasted against, you know, this, this very silly idea. And basically, and there was comedy in it, and I loved the fact there's comedy in it. I mean, the whole song is about sheep in Yorkshire, and it's basically about sheep observing the walkers and so you've got the walkers. And so maybe in your case, it would be going up to the Catskills. And, and you think the people who's going into the Catskills is? Well, it's probably, it's probably quite educated people who people with means It means and, and also, you know, you know, readers and educated and we know, we know how to live a good life and and so up in the Yorkshire Dales, it's, you know, it's geography teachers and all sorts of things in there. And the sheep are looking at these people and just saying, You don't belong here, look at you, you think you're dressed? You know, look at me, look at me, you know, I can survive up here. In the winter, in the snow, whatever, I'm fine, I'm made for this, you're not made for this, look at your shoes. And so they're laughing, they're laughing at these people and sort of thinking that, well, I'm a better person, because I've embraced the elements and I own I own the elements. And, and the sheep are saying, You don't know anything? You think you do we own it. That's what the song's about. And so, you know, when it switches up, you know, it's that it's that living my daughter doing that, that that very silly, silly, kind of, kind of posh rap. Speak.

Brian Heater  37:44  
You know, obviously, it's not out yet. So I don't know if anybody else has relayed this to you in a similar way. But, you know, I'm obviously familiar with with your work in the high Lama specifically. And I put the album on this morning, and I put it on prior to actually reading, you know, the press release or anything else around it. And I had a moment where about three or four songs in? I thought that LC music on Apple Music, and I thought that it had shuffled to a different to a different artist. Wow. It really, you know, and it wasn't until I read that press release, and realized what a big influence J Dilla had been that it started really making sense to me. So

Sean O'Hagan  38:30  
over the last, you know, 20 years. I kind of, I was, I was very admiring of so many artists. And J Dilla, was obviously introduced to me through, you know, listening to, I don't know, Dr. Dre and Ferrell and people like that

Brian Heater  39:00  
every every hip hop record for about a 10 year period. It seemed like

Sean O'Hagan  39:03  
yeah, and, but they admired this guy, and I, you know, I just, he basically sort of introduced this idea of first of all of the sweet just introducing the sweet, a sweet spot of harmony, a sweet spot of observation. matching that with the idea of pushing beats off the grid, you know? And it was just like, What an incredible impact that had on so many people. And, you know, I was quite quite and that basically pushed me into listening to r&b, which then I but I didn't take it as seriously as I shouldn't. was only after like my kids. You know, we're like listening to stuff and I just walk in the room and I'd say, what is this? What is this? What is this? And it was like, Oh, this is so orange dad. Okay, wow. Well, this is incredible who she collaborating with a guy called John Carroll Kirby. Oh, what, what, what? And what's this? And you know, no, I didn't even know who Tyler was, you know, when I made it, I made

tell him anyway, you know. And then I was getting calls from people saying, you know, this guy called Tyler the Creator, and he said, he loves that song. He wrote about Dorothy Ashby. And I went, Well, who is this guy? And, and it was only late. And then people were, and again, people coming in and say, you want the fact that you know who this guy is? And I've said no. And but because I was I was, I was, I was divorced from, from that. So long, from that for from the, you know, the early 20s, the 20 naughties, you know, I was listening to too many records by basil Kirshen, you know, and and then I was, I just started saying, what is Who is this? What is this? And then, wow, it's like, the then, you know, people like, catch up on a started making records, and I was no name, and then the, that whole bit group of guys from Chicago, Shmita, and Sabre, and they are what they call, they call themself pivot. And it was just like, Oh, my God, this is this, this, this, that and I and I realized that there was something very important happening. And what it was was a generation of musicians had kind of gone beyond this strange place that I was when we were well, my my cohorts were, we were very political in our music. And I don't mean, large P politics. I mean, small p politics, you know, we were tribal. And I just felt that there were a group of people making music that said, I'm going to make this music, which by over here, it's kind of loose Indian over here, it's very much, you know, r&b, and, you know, it's, it's over here, it's sliced down and over here, it's, I don't know, fell to the Smiths. And but that's also very much part of, of my current of me it and there was I believe there were people making the right choices. And there were people owning their, their owning the music business, in a weird way. Right at the time, when the music business was actually sort of falling apart. And it was becoming, nobody knew who owned it. Because because the platforms were being set up. And, you know, but in a weird way, in the creatively, they were owning it. When Steve Lacey said, I'm going to make a record on an iPhone, that's very much creatively owning, owning the means and the ways. So yeah, that was, that was incredible for me. It's

Brian Heater  43:43  
funny that you mentioned Sly Stone I've been reading I recently started reading his memoir. I don't know if you've had a chance to look forward to it. Yeah, I you know, I'm from San Francisco. Right. Okay. So yeah, it's a Bay Area guy. You know, he's very, very, very important. And I it's funny when you talk about this idea of having been really regimented in your approach to music, because this is very clear from him, his music, but it's even more clear hearing him talk or I guess, right about it, that at the time, it seemed like it was really important for them to not be regimented, that you know, that even back then and that he came up through the 50s and early 60s, and he was producing the Great Society. So he, he's talking about producing gray slick before she was, you know, really, really gray slick and it it seems like in a lot of ways that a lot of these sort of arbitrary distinctions that we put on ourselves are entirely self imposed. And a lot of them came in some ways per Perhaps after I think a lot about this from the context of, you know, I'm of an age that I, when I grew up, and I was listening to music to punk, specifically, this idea of selling out was very important. It was very important than 90. So that was your political moment. Yeah. Yeah. And it's gone now. And it's something that I think that doesn't even occur to, to younger artists. So there's a lot of artifice in some of these arbitrary categories that we put ourselves into.

Sean O'Hagan  45:33  
It's really interesting you say that because yeah, I mean, so in your your time, you would have had either forgotten the middleman and whatever that whole. And and those guys actually literally had manifestos, didn't they?

Brian Heater  45:50  
And McKay was very, yeah.

Sean O'Hagan  45:53  
And so today, these kids, they are political, because they're basically our belt. They're out talking about any you know, there's a lot of shit going on in the world. And they are referring they

Brian Heater  46:08  
don't have a choice. You can't you can't not be there's the Howard, the way Howard Zinn put it as you can't be neutral on a moving train.

Sean O'Hagan  46:16  
No, absolutely. But none of that is anything to do with Doremi Faso allergy door and where the bait falls, you know? Because, you know, it could be it could be, you know, Thundercat or twigs or even Taylor Swift. And they are politically very, very good. They're, they're, they're basically it could be anybody. Yeah, it could be anybody. It could be, you know, Thundercat of twigs. Or my freezing again, am I freezing again? I'm like, good.

Brian Heater  46:51  
The video is the audio is fine. I'm going to I'm going to turn off my video camera and you could if you want to turn yours off. Yeah, we don't need the video. Yeah, we'll probably there we go. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, that's

Sean O'Hagan  47:04  
definitely Okay. Now. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, it's any of these people, whether it's under cat or twigs or, or Taylor Swift, you know, huge difference between them. But they're basically they're on this politically, they are talking about real politics. And I think the politics that we got, certainly as a kid in, you know, we were making judgments about people because of, because they weren't part of the tribe, so to speak. So, I yeah, they're making musical decisions, which are their decisions and owning their musical decisions. But politically, they're still in there, the and the and, and the politics is real, it's not pretend it's absolutely real. It's so real, that you know, some idiots going to drive a car into your, into your friend and kill them. You know, in

Brian Heater  47:57  
a lot of ways, though, you know, you were very much pushing yourself outside of your out of your comfort zone. And I think in this specific instance, you know, you're talking about having this awakening almost through a future through through Tyler the Creator Yeah, a lot of people your age or even younger, you know, even people in their 40s I think 30s would be hesitant to move so dramatically in such a contemporary direction.

Sean O'Hagan  48:27  
Well, it's it's it was it was quite I found an affront really that people of my age or my cohort would would literally not share any enthusiasm for for exploring, and they would under this ridiculous thing, and it's and it's my generation they believe they said, Look, we live we were we went through punk. Yeah, we had punk we had prints we had Baba Baba, everything else is just a new iteration of the great stuff that already happened. So there's no point listening to how many times have you met people who have that attitude? You know, it was all it's all been said and done says no point. And, and they're almost proud about because I've got, you know, my grandkids they love Hendrix, you know, which proves the point, you know, my grandkids listen to Hendrix. So it proves the point. It's, it's so it's, it's, it's, it's almost embarrassing. It's almost embarrassing. And I look, I can't I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be invited into a room when I can, you know, Archie can cruel, you know, and to do strings. You know, it's just incredible. It's just wonderful. But I think

Brian Heater  49:46  
I think will Oldham was a big part of this record. It sounds like absolutely,

Sean O'Hagan  49:50  
yeah. What will and I were we would talk to each other a little bit about gospel music and We both decided that, you know, wide way in our men go to clubs when they should be going to churches, because that's where there's some really interesting music happening. And we said, you know, we should try to write together. And obviously, we go back a long way to the palace. Hope, you know, because obviously, you know, that record. And so I just said, Yeah, send over a set of lyrics, and I'll, I'll try to do something with a gospel push. You know, let's try to expand on this, this, this shared admiration we have. And so yeah, and those, and I'm telling you, when you get a lyric, like, like, the hungry span, you know, it's, it's, it's incredible, it's like getting a lyric from Johnny Cash or something is just amazing. And I, you know, I really enjoyed that process of, because when you get a lyric, normally, when you write a lyric, you have got some kind of geography of how that how the words will flow, you know, there's, there's a, you know, there's the side of the mountain, there's the top of the mountain, then there's the other side, and you've got some kind of, and this stops and starts, but, you know, I was given these lyrics, and I was given the choice to just completely create that geography that adulation, which I chose to do, driven by this kind of gospel, the piano and then just basically just pumped in all of this contemporary stuff. And I tuned my voice and I sent it to Well, uh, Wilson, how come? My voice isn't tune? I said, Okay, I'll tune your voice. And so, so that'd be waiting for somebody to do that. For years,

Brian Heater  52:02  
we started the conversation by discussing again, this this quote from the press release about having one word artistic record, yeah, left in you. Yeah, whether or not this this was that record. But to me listening to you discuss this, as we're winding up the conversation, you sound so excited about music right now that it seems like it would be silly to let that go to waste.

Sean O'Hagan  52:32  
Yeah, but you know, I can, I can work with other people, you know, I can be. And as I said before, when you're when you're in that process, when you're in the room with somebody else, and you're just finishing a job, you might do your greatest, your best work in that situation. And I'm quite happy for that to be the case. And, you know, I mean, I'm, this, yeah, I am excited, you know, I feel like I, we were we were, we were, you know, flicking through things I came across this guy bed the other day, ba, ba, IR D. He's just incredible. And it's just like this stuff is this this track called something, leave it on the skin, or it's basically a track about falling off your bike or falling off. You know, just riding your bike in the neighborhood of falling a lot. And it's just skin on the ground. It's, it's incredible. And I just thought no other generation could make that tune. It's this generation that can make that tune. And the other thing I say to my cohorts is stop talking about Well, was it the late 70s, the early 70s, or was it late 60s? Stop talking about that because it just might be the Golden Age just might be now and if you keep talking about what went before you might miss the golden age. I really believe that