Interview: Vic Galloway of Check Masses chats about their new music and the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on the creative landscape

 

Check Masses recently released their light and summery sounding single ‘Lonesome Little Paradise’, the second release from their upcoming album Nightlife. It samples Rainbow Ffolly’s 1968 psychedelic pop track ‘Sun and Sand’, building on its infectious and thoroughly hummable melody to create a protest song in the guise of a sweetly chilled summer pop tune.

We caught up with the one and only, Vic Galloway (Backing vocals, Guitars, Bass, Glockenspiel, Percussion & Production) to have a chat about the song and the album. Unsurprisingly, our conversation ended up being mostly about the current Coronavirus situation and the impact this is having on Scotland’s creative life.

 

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Starting with the most redundant question of the moment. How are you?

Probably much the same as you. I’ve been going out for a run and walking the dog, and yeah. That’s pretty much it. I’m just trying to chip away.

The BBC stuff, thankfully that’s still going. All of my freelance work is gone for the foreseeable future. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but I can’t see it actually happening. A lot of my work outside of BBC is hosting events: compèring festivals, doing book festivals, you know, talking to the public, front facing public facing stuff. Or it’s interviewing bands, writers, authors. And, yeah, that’s just gone in a puff of smoke, much like everyone else who’s involved in the arts.

In terms of being creative, writing and recording music, this is probably not a bad time to just buckle down and make some stuff. It’s a bit terrifying really, but as long as the BBC stuff ticks over, I’m quite happy. Otherwise, like everyone else, I will have to apply for some government money to get me through. Aside from that: I live in Leith, you look out the window and it’s pretty much dead most of the time. I go for a run in Leith Links or maybe take the dog round Arthur’s Seat. But I work a lot from home, so in some ways it’s not that different.

Anyway, I’m lucky compared to some people. My agent gets me gigs and things, and he looks after Anna Meredith, BC Camplight and Kathryn Joseph – he’s got a big roster of artists. All of them have just got everything pulled. Anyone that’s on the road, anyone that’s doing festivals. That means all of his money goes, all of it. So he’s trying to put in stuff for later in the year. But then, who knows if we’ll be allowed out of the house in September, October, November? You don’t know.

K: I really hope so, because as well as frontline workers, the creative community especially has been hit by this. Is that right to say? I think it is. The creative community especially has been hit by this and will continue to be. It is great to have time for creating, but also a lot of people may not be in the right frame of mind for doing that. People are under stress, and not everybody creates well under stress. People don’t have deadlines that they usually have, people don’t have distractions or work during the day to have something to counteract against.

I think the economy is in serious, serious trouble from this. I think the government will plug the gap just now, but when everything evens out afterwards you’ll look at a lot of businesses going under. You’ll see a lot of companies just laying off staff to try and claw back money. And it might be completely ethically unsound, but business and corporations have never been ethically driven, for the most part anyway. So I think a lot of people will hit hard times, after it’s over.

But you never know. Maybe people will pull together. There’s definitely a sense of people looking at the bigger picture. I also see the polarisation in politics, you know that kind of hard left or hard right stuff that has been going on the last few years? People are saying that they reckon, once we’re in the clear, that a lot of people will just be like, “Let’s just be more pragmatic. How about how we stop screaming and shouting at each other, and let’s do this and live in harmony, man?”.

I hope so. It’s just been awful the last five to 10 years; people have slowly been going further and further out into their little silos and screaming abuse at each other, and it’s like, “Come on man, be decent”. Just because you have a different opinion on economics, or a political viewpoint. Please, you have to tolerate your fellow man, you know what I mean?

We’re being funnelled and divided by social media more and more, and that’s a big part of what’s created this polarisation.

I agree. I mean obviously we all use social media and we’ll continue to use it and so on, but I’m just old school. I’m as opinionated as the next person, but there used to be a time when, if you were in the living room, shouting at the politician on Question Time, it was between you and the other people in the living room. And then you’d meet your pals in the pub, and go “See that guy on the telly, he’s a prick…” blah blah blah. You’d scream and shout about that, and they’d all say pipedown, fucksakes. That would be it. You’d vent your anger, you’d have your rant, and about three or four people would hear it. Now someone can just put @ and that person’s name, and that person gets actually personally insulted. And then everyone else jumps on the bandwagon and does that kind of Twitter mob thing – pile-ons and stuff – and it’s just bullying; it’s wrong. You can’t police against it; people have got to start looking inside themselves and realising that there’s a time and a place. If it’s really, really, truly important then vent your spleen. But if it’s just a nasty little snide comment, keep it to yourself.

Yeah, absolutely.

 

 

With the timing of the new single, were you tempted to hold back on it a little bit and see what happens?

We talked about it, because it was all up with the DSPs (Digital Service Providers). We a digital music distribution service in Glasgow called EmuBands. You get the artwork, the track, all the details, and you upload it to them. They then distribute it around 120 different platforms: Spotify, Apple, Music, Deezer, Amazon, all of that stuff. Anyway, it was all planned. PR, the radio plugger and everything. It was just like, “We’re all prepared. Let’s just do it, let’s just do it. And if it disappears without a trace, then so be it.” But it was almost like: the music, the art has to continue even at these times of trouble and strife. The one thing I haven’t done is try and capitalise on ‘Lonesome Little Paradise’ as the theme to your self -isolation. We did think about it but then thought, nah that’s just tacky.

We thought that if people connected with, if they liked the tune and they liked the video, the artwork and the vibe, it might give them three minutes ten seconds worth of pleasure in their stressful day. We’ll probably do another single, but we’ll do the album later in the year, I would imagine. Like everyone else, we’ll wait to see what happens with COVID-19 and all of the quarantining. So, we did think about pulling it, but we’d put all this work into it. And another thing is, the album, we’ve been sitting on it for over a year, because there are some samples on it that we wanted to make sure that we cleared legally beforehand. If we were releasing a seven-inch vinyl with the single, or if it was an actual physical single, we might have sat back on it.

To be honest, I think the song is a belter and a total earworm. I love it and I really think the video is great. I love the artwork, and Philly’s vocal is just masterful. I remember when we recorded, it was about the second or third take, and it was just like, “That’s it, that’s the one. Bang!”

He’s got that croaky, soulful, husky tone of like Bob Marley or someone on this track, and I just think it sounds great. ‘Dripn Angel’ we had a lot of momentum with, because people didn’t know what to expect. With this, we just want to keep the momentum going. Obviously it’s inevitable that other people will have other things on their mind, above and beyond the new tune from a wee band in Edinburgh that no one’s ever heard of. So we don’t have massive expectations. But we want as many people as possible to connect with this song. And with this, with the album coming as well, we think it’s a total belter.

So you’re putting it out there, and it will just find its own way?

Like every other band. Like every other artist in the world. You’re trying to connect with an audience. You want to connect with as big an audience as you possibly can. But there’s a lot of people doing this. We’d love it to go massively viral and all that sort of stuff, and I genuinely think it’s a great little track. If it doesn’t, we’ll be disappointed, but we also know how much music is being put out there.

Any advice for bands and artists at the moment?

I’m not sure. A lot of people are doing live streaming from their front room or their studio or wherever. If that makes people happy and helps them connect with their fans, that’s great. It may even help develop new fans.

Have you seen Jordan from Neon Waltz? He’s doing these stupid things where he’s pretending to be a cod Italian opera singer. He puts a stupid hat on, or a towel around his head, or just anything that he fancies, and does a sort of silly warbling thing out of the window, to amuse his pals and so on. The Daily Record and all sorts of people have picked up on it and it’s kind of gone viral. It’s not Neon Waltz, it’s not serious music. It’s him making an arse of himself and being funny. Sometimes with things like that, you develop a little bit of a buzz and then actually some of the people laughing at his comedy might find a way to his music.

Anything else?

I would love to say, put tonnes and tonnes of content out. If you’ve got content, if you’ve got singles and live performances, videos, anything like that, well, why not? Stagger it, put something out every week, or every couple of weeks, or every month, or every couple of months. Just try to keep people clicking on your page and finding your music that way.

Everyone’s in a tight situation financially, so constantly trying to sell stuff to people is a bit tough. But if people really like your music and your art, then why not try and guide them towards your merchandise? Vinyl, t-shirts, hoodies, whatever you’ve got. Get creative!

Personally, I’m still doing bits and bobs work-wise, and trying to tidy up my house at the moment. But if we’re in lockdown for weeks and months, then I’m going to try and get creative and actually write new music. Because often you get pulled into that world of doing gigs, doing interviews, rehearsing, and not actually doing the creative side where you need that bit of time and space to come up with new ideas. I think if anything good is going to come out of Coronavirus, then that is what people should be doing.

Get busy, get on the case. Get your guitar into the little spare bedroom, or wherever you make your music, on your laptop with your headphones. Even if you’ve got flatmates or partners, just shut the door and get busy for a bit. That’s what we should be doing; trying to write, create, so that when it’s safe to go out there then you have stuff to work on. You’ve got stuff to go down to the rehearsal room with and batter out.

 

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Is that what you’re planning to do then?

I can’t even record with the boys at the moment because we’re not allowed to be in each others’ company. So I’m hoping to make as many backing tracks as I possibly can ready to go, so that Philly can come around mine and start doing some vocals.

The way we work as Check Masses is that Andy does a beat, a loop, a sound collage, a sample, something like that. He’ll put a load in Dropbox, and I then pull that into my home studio, and I layer up guitars, bass, keys, percussion, whatever I fancy. Then Philly comes around, and we batter out a vocal melody or a song out of it. I work on it a bit more and send it back to Andy, and he mixes and produces it, tightens it up so we can do all the digital stuff.

You seem to love being in the band. You’re obviously passionate about it. So I guess that’s what’s going to keep things moving?

The thing with us is that we’ve all made music previously, for years. And yes, we’re all a little older, we’re not teenagers or in our early 20s any more. But you don’t stop making films, or stop painting canvases or whatever, and so you don’t stop making and writing music.

I’ve always made music behind the scenes. I’ve been in loads of bands, before I was even on the radio. But I’ve not put anything in the public eye for a long time, because I just thought, there’s a lot of music out there. You need to be as good if not better than anything else that’s there; it needs to stand out. It needs to be extraordinary in its own way. Once we’d built up a body of work with Check Masses, we looked at it and we had 17 or 18 tracks, and we’re like “Shit, we’ve got something here. We’ve definitely got something!”

 

The album’s got a good cross-section of things. With ‘Dripn Angel’, the opening track, and actually ‘Lonesome’ later on in the album, there’s some darkness on there. There’s some acousticy based songs, and there’s also lots of beats and bleeps and so on. I think it holds well together and it’s a nice piece from beginning to end.

I love being on the radio, I love writing books, I love doing book festivals and interviewing people. I love all of the things that I earn a living doing. I genuinely feel blessed to be able to do what I do. But, I love making music more than anything else. It just gives you a buzz. It’s a cliche to say, but making the stuff is the best part of it. When it’s done you feel proud of it, but you’re almost like ”Next. What’s the next thing?” It’s such a good feeling. I would say the same about making a documentary or a radio programme, or whatever it is.

There’s that creative buzz that you get from it. It’s the planning. The executing. And the delivery, and then looking back and going “Yes, I did that.”

Check Masses single ‘Lonesome Little Paradise’ is out now and the album Nightlife will be out out in 2020 via Triassic Tusk Records.

You can listen to/buy the singles and pre-order the album on the Check Masses Bandcamp page.

 

Interview first published in the April/May 2020 issue of SNACK…IN

 

 

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