Death is not the end as The Late Simon Mastrantone proves with the latest project he formed with Grundy Le Zimbra: The Woe Betides. This is our first interview with the living dead…
Cat on The Wall: You started out with organising Songs in the Dark in 2003 which gave birth to your current band. Was it a natural step? How does the slipper fit?
The Late Simon Mastrantone: It was very natural. We met each other putting on Songs in the Dark and formed a friendship over a number of years. We both wanted to put on the same sort of artists and, along with Richard Dark, cultivate some sort of scene or collective. Our respective musical projects came to a natural end at the start of last year and we had been talking about jamming for a long time.
Both of us had songs that somehow didn’t fit with our previous incarnations, so we tried them out together. It was so fun and painless that I realised I had been making a chore out of playing music and that once you find the right chemistry, music can and probably should be effortless. We more or less had our set at the end of that first jam.
It was very romantic.
Grundy Le Zimbra: We enjoy long walks on the beach and holding hands.
COTW: How did the Play Dead EP come about? For someone who hasn’t heard your songs can you tell us about them? Do they have a story? Was the EP enjoyable to make?
GLZ: Play Dead happened very quickly, which is the way I like it. We had just started playing together and had a handful of songs, and a friend of ours at House of Strange studios liked them enough to give us some recording time. We went in, bashed them out and suddenly we had some great songs staring back at us. We knew we had something good on our hands, so went straight to work on getting it out there. And yes, it was great fun to make. House of Strange is a magical place! There was never any plan for the EP to have a common theme but once we’d stuck them all together and taken a step back, we realised that they’re all superficially morbid and masochistic which was an odd
result considering we’d had so much fun putting them together. And that, I guess, is the quintessential Woebie experience, hence the name Play Dead.
TLSM: The EP felt just like an extension of what we had been doing in our jams. We didn’t plan anything in advance; it all just fell into place. First the recording came along which led to people hearing it and asking if they could have a copy. Then came the decision to make the recordings available and all of a sudden an EP was there without too much fuss or stress. Just the total opposite of any other band I have been involved in.
COTW: Is there an album in the pipeline? If so, can you tell us about a bit about what we can look forward to?
TLSM: Yes, at some stage. We have about 30 new songs knocking around now and are deciding whether another EP would be a sensible next move or whether we should just go ahead and make an album. Lots of people want us to make one, but we wouldn’t want to force anything. It would be nice to dedicate plenty of time to making it, which at the moment is limited only by the fact we are self-financing and reliant on favours from lots of very lovely people whose loveliness we do not want to exploit.
GLZ: We certainly have enough material for a bloody great album. But timing is everything. We’re always thinking a few steps ahead but we feel that there’s still more to be done with Play Dead, more people need to hear it before we move on to the next thing. Rest assured that once we’re ready to make an album, we won’t muck about. We have a very clear idea about how we want it to sound; we can hear it in our heads. But I don’t want to give too much away at this point.
COTW: There’s been a lot of press recently about how hard it is becoming for musicians in terms of making a living. What’s your view on this?
GLZ: It’s just hard to convince people to buy records en masse now, which in the traditional model is how musicians made money. However, there’s more of a demand for music in its various formats than ever before. So it’s really just a matter of figuring out a different model, and that’s exciting because it won’t be the big labels who’ll figure these things out, they’re not in any position to. It will be the independent individuals who look after all their own affairs and understand their scene personally. It’s already happening. Nobody dropped a big fat cheque in our lap at any point along the way and we’ve achieved so much this past year on our own steam that I really can’t wait to see what we can pull off by this time next year. That being said, if anybody out there has any big fat cheques going, our laps are ready and willing.
TLSM: A lot of my friends in bands have recently started giving music up completely because they couldn’t pay the bills with it. If you work hard at something it would be nice if it helped pay the way, but part of me wonders why they would be giving it up if they really loved it. I didn’t start playing music because I thought it would make me money, I did it because I liked doing it and I felt it helped me communicate things I couldn’t express otherwise. I still love doing it and wouldn’t want to give it up just because it didn’t pay for my food.
Some of my favourite bands growing up were punk bands like Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion. Both of those bands stuck at it for years and years and years just loving their music and finding their audience through hard work and passion. It worries me that maybe artists identify too much with the model that the industry has provided over the last thirty years or so. That if you don’t sell a million records immediately your music is worthless. Or if your second album wasn’t as successful as the first, commercially you are a flop. It’s just ridiculous. It is really up to artists to stand up against it. It is happening in some places and if it takes off we could have a new musical happening akin what happened with punk in the late seventies.
COTW: Your current outlet also performs as ‘Woebies Play Your Favourites’. Can you explain the concept of WPYF to the readers? What gave you the idea for this concept?
TLSM: It was an idea that came from enjoying playing together so much. I had never liked playing covers before outside of family gatherings but when we started playing together we were so into it that we just tried everything. We were invited to a Madonna-themed party and ‘Beautiful Stranger’ came out of that. Then, like the sad little attention-craving beasts we are, we stuck it up on Myspace for people to hear and to take requests from fans. The response was good enough to make the project a regular happening, although recently we haven’t had time to add to it which maybe we should… any suggestions?
GLZ: When Simon first suggested ‘Beautiful Stranger’, I baulked. But as Simon says, we were willing to try anything. I love a challenge, and re-interpreting the song so that we identified with it was exactly that, made more so because we had about five hours in which to do it. And we’ve used that same model since: pick a song that we really shouldn’t be covering and make it sound like The Woe Betides. A friend of ours suggested ‘Sultans of Swing’ as a joke, but I knew straight away how it would sound, the song just popped right in there fully-formed. We won’t win any credibility points covering Dire Straits, but it’s an experiment. In the case of Dire Straits, the experiment was: “Can you polish a turd?” The answer, apparently, is yes.
COTW: Chocolate Ice cream or ham and mustard sandwich?
GLZ: If you’re going to mail it to us I’d go for the sandwich, the ice cream won’t last. Extra mustard please.
COTW: What are your plans for the near future?
TLSM: Next up is the online release of Play Dead and a little tour to help promote it. It’s out Monday 27th April on iTunes by the way. After that we have to check our bank balances and make the crucial EP/Album decision!
Visit The Woe Betides on Myspace:
Interview by Jo Whitby