“I’m not very good socially. I find it kind of a waste of time. I like making music and if I can do that with people and I want to be in a room with somebody, then that’s great.”
Matt Catchpole talks to award-winning producer Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee about working with REM and U2 and his new collaboration with fellow Irishman Cathal Coughlan, of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions.
Zooming from a damp and dreary London, I’m confronted by the sight of a blue-haired man in his 50s dressed in T-shirt and shorts in a room packed to the rafters with vinyl.
It’s some ungodly hour in LA and Jacknife Lee is just getting up, but already there’s music on the turntable.
“Some guy from London called Alabaster de Plume,” he says by way of explanation, “I think he plays like an alto sax – beautiful, jazz is kicking off!”
It’s the first of a bewlidering array of artists, he’ll go on to namecheck during our chat and it becomes immediately obvious why the likes of REM, The Killers and U2 want to work with him.
The man is just obsessed with music and finding new sounds – ‘fresh’ is a favourite word – and his boundless enthusiasm is both disarming and infectious.
We’re here to talk about Telefis, his new project with Cathal Coughlan, frontman of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions, who’s riding high off the back of an acclaimed comeback solo album.
And boy can he talk…. my first question illicits a 20-minute response and I wonder if I’ll get another in before the 35 minutes originally set down for the interview is up.
But he’s generous with his time and we end up chewing the fat for the best part of a couple of hours.
Jacknife admits to being a ‘ridiculous fan’ of Cathal’s since seeing an early incarnation of Microdisney support Siouxsie and the Banshees as a wide-eyed 11-year-old in Dublin.
“It was amazing, like angry [Captain] Beefheart. You know, that strange Cork thing that was going on. He was pretty brutal.”
Jacknife would go to support a two-piece Microdisney himself as a teenager and saw Cathal as a figure to look up to on the Irish music scene.
“His music was on in our house all the time, and we’d go and see Microdisney every time they played, so his voice was just always there and he seemed so much smarter and wittier than anybody else and he knew things no-one else seemed to know about the world.”
As their respective careers developed, the pair lost touch, until recently when they were reunited by Luke Haines, of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder.
“I work a lot with Peter Buck from REM and he’d made a record with Luke and I was just mangling it up, re-imagining it. I did something quite outrageous to it and I’d heard Luke was quite difficult to please. But he liked it and it’s coming out in April.
“Luke had played on Cathal’s new record and told him he’d been working with someone who knew him, which was me. I said: ‘Please get me his email!’.”
The email led to a call and Jacknife “reverting to a kid again, just blurted out that I wanted to make a record with him”.
“He’s just an extraordinary artist, one of the great lyricists, and really underrated. Somebody like Nick Cave, and Nick is great, knows how to brand himself. And I don’t know if it’s an Irish thing, or just a Cathal thing, but he doesn’t.
“He almost does a thing that I did for a long time, which was sabotage myself. There was a bit of that in Microdisney and certainly a lot of that in Fatima Mansions. Just when it looked like something would break through, he would deliberately set fire to it. So he never really gets gets the accolades he deserves, but maybe he doesn’t want them, I don’t know.”
Though separated by thousands of miles, the pair quickly bonded over their shared Irish history, having both left the mother country at around the same time.
“We both left in the ’80s and it was shit and it was like it was like surviving something. It wasn’t that traumatic, but it was like: ‘Fucking hell, that was mental, wasn’t it?”
Gradually a loose concept formed around the idea of media manipulation and the arrival of public service television to Ireland in the ’60s, when the Catholic church and Irish state were inextricably aligned.
“The president at the time [Eamon] de Valera knew that television was a powerful media and likened it to nuclear power. And there was this guy called Archbishop [John Charles] Maquaid, who knew it was a very useful tool of cultural civic control.
“He got priests and nuns to go to the United States to learn how to use the technology. They were trying to establish an identity of Ireland and Irish television that wasn’t British. it meant that the TV shows were either American or eastern European, but with this weird combination of religious imagery and religious TV shows.”
Cathal and Jacknife never met while making the record, but this rough concept quickly took shape with the pair exchanging files and developing a strange cast of characters and historical snapshots. References include Irish showbands, Danny La Rue and even the tragic gold rush stampede which followed the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia.
Jacknife says he pushed Cathal, known for his polished Scott Walker-esque vocals, to use his voice in a whole different way on this record.
“I use a lot less harmonic information than he’s used to,” he explains. “With songs like Falun Gong Dancer, there’s almost nothing going on, this wisp of a song. There’s not the obvious chord change to pivot the narrative, so he has to do more as a singer.
“He really did well and when I got stuff back from him, sometimes it would make me laugh out loud – like I couldn’t believe either its brilliance, or just how weird it was.”
The music, which Jacknife describes as post-punk in attitude, is actually a huge mishmash of styles from icy Kraftwerk-style electro to dub, pop, funk and even disco.
It’s a fruitful collaboration, that Jacknife reveals has already yielded enough songs for a second album, which will feature more contributions from special guests like Jah Wobble – who features on a dub remix of Falun Gong Dancer.
The duo are already in talks with Scottish experimentalist Thomas Leer and post punkers A Certain Ratio about joining the world of Telefis.
While the first album a hAon,(Gaelic for number One), concentrates on the monochromatic, heavily censored, early days of Irish media, the second will see the dawning of colour, both in a literal and metaphorical sense.
“The next record pivots to entertainment and what it means and stuff like that. We are walking a tightrope in Telefis between super seriousness, frivolity, flippancy and pop. It has a kind of a wit to it, but it’s also deadly serious, which is the way we like to do it,” Jacknife says.
“The original idea was to do a single or EP, something like that. So it was like three or four songs. And then it seemed to work so well. We got the imagery together and then it just seemed to flow straight from album one to album two. It’s been kind of fun and easy and a great opportunity to rekindle a friendship.”
Throughout the conversation, Jacknife leaps from topic to topic, going off on elaborate tangents and asides.
It’s a good insight into how he works as a producer, making musical and artistic connections that can breathe new life into the work of his collaborators.
Confessing that he rarely gives interviews, he’s at pains not to be seen as “snotty,’ or bad-mouthiing anyone.
“I’m not very good socially. I find it kind of a waste of time,” he admits. “I like making music and if I can do that with people and I want to be in a room with somebody, then that’s great.”
Mischief is a word he uses a lot and he admits to using disruption as a tool to get artists to think about new ways of working.
“I’ve got kids and they’re kind of curious as to why they’re the way they are, why I’m the way I am and then and I see people of a certain age, and I’m curious as to why they’ve turned something off – where is the mischief?” he asks.
“Mischief is really powerful as a tool for sanity and as a political tool and as a way of defiance and, you know, it’s underused as a weapon of fun.”
He goes on to cite John Peel favourite Ivor Cutler as an inspiration, segueing into an anecdote about an abortive attempt to get the late Govan-born poet, singer and humorist onto a Snow Patrol album.
He’d also planned to move into a caravan with Ivor, recording him speaking about his life and setting it to music.
It’s typical of his tireless search for new approaches, ways to shake himself and others out of their comfort zone, to avoid routine and repetition.
“I got into music at a particular point, where each record would be very different from the last,” he explains. “Take The Cure, they went from Boys Don’t Cry to Love Cats in such a short period of time. Siouxsie and the Banshees too, all these bands, they made such huge leaps record on record. Kept it fun. I’ve noticed artists are less willing to do that now.
“I like to cause trouble in the marketplace, and anomalies are what I’m interested in. I like things that make me go: ‘Fuck!, what the fuck is that? Things that upset the apple cart.”
He quotes The Neptunes and Christopher Nolan‘s blockbuster Inception as the type of disruptive influences that grab his attention.
“It’s something that instantly feels good. This is the purpose of pop culture,” he explains. “That’s what pop music is, but when you start trying to do it again and again, it becomes rote, utilitarian, functional. It loses its essence.”
Working with new bands, he describes as like ripping the foil off a carton of coffee, a smell, a sensation you’ll never get again – and that’s the challenge he faces when trying to get a fresh sound out of an established artist.
“My goal is to encourage bands to just expand their arsenal a bit. That’s what my role in life is, the reason why I have blue hair, the reason why I’ve got so many fucking records and all this kind of thing, is because I don’t want to become complacent.”
Initially he says he carved out a niche for himself making a certain type of record – but he now finds that self-limiting.
“For years I did the sensible thing and I made functional records and they were fine, but now I know I’m making good records. [Whereas] before I always hoped they were good and they satisfied the marketplace and all that.”
As he points out, he can hardly expect bands to make the leap, if he doesn’t do it himself.
But he admits it can be a hard sell.
“It’s more difficult for the band, they’re going to have to get up on stage and deliver a new idea, when the audience wants to hear the big hit. There’s a possibility of humiliation there, it takes bravery.”
While he’s not afraid to get even the biggest name artists to push the envelope, he does confess to being awe-struck by some of the people he gets to work with.
“When I was working with Patti Smith, or now with Lonnie Holley, who’s an extraordinary character, it’s like how the fuck could I get into this room?
“It’s not like I have imposter syndrome, but when I get work in its raw form initially, I go: ‘Oh my god, this is so good!’ – I’m afraid of it in some way. But then I have to be practical, I’ve got to chop the fucking thing up. But there’s a few minutes, where I kind of can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe my name would be on it.”
Working with REM on their last two studio albums, would you imagine be just such a pinch yourself moment.
The band were coming to the end of their working relationship, but Jacknife did not detect any tension within the group, though Michael Stipe and Peter Buck worked very differently.
Peter was fast and could write 40 songs in the time it took MIchael to finish the lyrics to one song, so Jacknife took steps to ensure that neither member was adversely impacted by the other’s process and no undue pressure was placed on the singer.
He was never told the group would be disbanding after Collapse Into Now but he was invited to share in their final hours together.
“There was one moment where we were in Nashville and Peter said: ‘Let’s go and look at the stars’. And we went out looking at the stars, four of us, and it was a silent moment, it was beautiful.
“That was the last moment they were going to be together as REM. I was lucky I was invited to share in that. I didn’t know then that’s what it was.
“Now looking back at it almost makes me tearful, it was such a beautiful thing to do. It’s like ah, so that’s why Michael didn’t want to leave the studio that night.”
Working with U2 presents a different type of challenge, because the group is so open to new ideas.
“They are all about curiosity, what would happen if we did this? What if we take something of that? And this is where problems sometimes begin, because you might have 10 versions of the same song.
“And then it becomes: ‘How do we Frankenstein this fucker together, because there are so many good possibilities it can cause paralysis with a multi-producer record.”
Knowing when to let go is one of the biggest problems a producer faces.
Jacknife likens it to a documentary he saw of the artist Gerhard Richter, who paints over and re-works his compositions many times, scraping away to find sections of prior versions beneath, until he instinctively knows when it’s finished.
“I know that I trust myself and I trust my choices as I go,” Jacknife says. “Sometimes I can’t go back [and replace something] because my process is destructive, but then I have to trust that as well, to know I can make something from this.”
He retains an endless curiosity about music and deliberately works with a broad spectrum of artists – his credits range from Taylor Swift and Neil Diamond to Crystal Castles.
While as a young musician, he admits to taking potshots at others – largely as a defence against his own insecurities, he’s now refreshingly positive about the current music scene.
“The last few years has been amazing for music. It’s been really amazing – from the new jazz things happening, hip hop, African electronic music, it’s just insanely good.
“People complain about the state of music and if you do look at the Spotify Top 50, yes, it sucks, totally sucks, I get it. But if you look beyond that it’s so diverse and there’s so many great ideas happening and it’s fresh.”
Telefis’ debut album a hAon is out on March 4 via Dimple Discs. pre-order CD and Vinyl here, use thislinkfor downloads.
Some things in life are inevitable. For a while, that inevitably was a new Shrek movie with an updated pop cover like “I’m a Believer” from Smash Mouth. These days it’s a new Despicable Me movie, this time in the form of spinoff Minions The Rise of Gru. And just as we all predicted, the new Steve Carrell led film comes stacked with a loaded soundtrack headlined by St. Vincent.
For her contribution to the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack, St. Vincent covered “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. Her version was produced by Jack Antonoff and continues a run of luck for the musician that earlier this year saw her win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
Antonoff also gave St. Vincent a shout-out for her album Daddy’s Home when he won Producer of the Year at the Grammys.
Announcing the release of her funky cover, St. Vincent took to Twitter and wrote, “Excited to say the @Minions (including @jackantonoff) and I have just released our version of ‘Funkytown’ from #TheRiseofGru soundtrack. Shout out to Gru and them…” Included with the post was a graphic of St. Vincent as a minion.
Joining St. Vincent on the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack are Tame Impala, Kali Uchis, Brittany Howard, Thundercat, Caroline Polachek, Diana Ross, and Weyes Blood, just to name a few.
The album will be released on July 1, coinciding with the film’s theatrical release. You can listen to St. Vincent’s cover of Lipps Inc. “Funkytown” below!
Back in October of 2021, Parmalee released ‘Take My Name’ as the second single from their third studio album. It was written with and produced by David Fanning, producer of the massive hit ‘Carolina’ that introduced me to the band back in 2008, Ashley Gorley and Ben Johnson. Robyn Collins of ‘Taste of Country’ described the song as “a musical marriage proposal” and lead singer of the band, Matt Thomas, says it was inspired by the marriage of brother Scott; he says “it made me think about what I would want to say to my future wife.”
Some songs almost become bigger than themselves when they tap into the lives and moods of everyone and this is very much one of those songs. It’s not difficult to see why this song has been adopted by fans all over the world irrespective of their taste in music; its words conjure all the romance and love that you’d hope to feel when you ask someone to marry you. It’s lyrically a shopping list of everything you feel at the moment you realise you’ve met the one, even if that’s after only a short time. I remember proposing to my wife after just 8 weeks and if I try to remember what I was feeling at the point I proposed and tried to put it into words I would hope it was very similar to this song. Now over 31 years later and still happily married I listen to this song and it brings all those feelings back in a rush so why wouldn’t it be the perfect song to overlay a proposal, sing at the wedding or just be part of the moment; it’s how I’d love my sons to feel when they propose to their partners.
Parmalee are very aware of their fans needs and were quick to record a wedding version for such occasions with a less catchy percussion and a softer piano focussed vibe than the original version. There have even been brilliant occasions where the band has turned up to “crash” a wedding and sing this song to the happy couple reminiscent of Maroon 5 and their song ‘Sugar’. None of those guests will forget that wedding in a hurry!
With all the interest in the song and the brilliant videos and messages the band have received, they felt the time was right to make their own narrative video to accompany the song as an addition to the previously released visualizer. The ‘Wedding Version’ video of the romantic song was filmed in Gallatin, TN and directed by Shane Drake. The heart-warming story follows the journey of the protagonist through middle school and all the way to adulthood featuring kids from a local school, an original 1968 Mustang Shelby GT350 and appearances from the band with the lead being played by frontman Matt Thomas.
“From the jump, the fans have really latched onto this song in such an amazing, life changing way- our fans have been the reason for so many of our own major milestones, so it means that much more to us that folks are using our song for their proposals and weddings and allowing us to be a part of those major moments in their lives. We wanted to pay tribute to the fans who have been on this journey with us since the beginning so in the music video you’ll see a story of love and loyalty unfold across the years-but don’t expect to see any weddings or proposals – the fan created videos far exceed anything we could depict. We love watching them.”
With over 135 million global on demand streams, the song has raced up the Country charts, outpacing the band’s previous single, the multinational Number 1 smash ‘Just The Way’ with Blanco Brown and has been popping up all over TikTok with creators playing the song over proposal and wedding videos and even sparking a trend of using the sound of the song and writing “if your man doesn’t make you feel this way then what are you doing?” over the video.
Coming from their recently released album ‘For You’, an album that has garnered critical acclaim with American Songwriter calling it “authentically real, genuinely inspired” and Billboard saying that “Parmalee find itself in the enviable position of being able to tap into multiple audiences”. What is very clear is that Country music is slowly starting to find a new, younger audience in the UK to stand alongside the existing fans of the genre. Zack Bryan has recently found himself high on the Spotify album charts and UK stars like Ed Sheeran have appeared alongside Country stars like Luke Combs at the Country2Country festival. Even Tom Odell has found himself headlining the British Country Music Festival in the Summer. Parmalee may be the band to really break down the barriers between Country music and the UK Charts with this song as the musical genre of this release is far less important than the honesty and emotion of the lyrics and Romance will always break down all of the barriers, or at least I would hope it would.
‘For You’ is out now and can be streamed and downloaded here. Find out more about Parmalee and their music online on their official website.
This Copenhagen DIY pop artist has managed the difficult task of mixing her soulful voice with vibrant dreamy production and lyrics with real streetwise attitude. The result is something that has given her the hit single ‘Obvious’ which Danish radio loved and the internationally acclaimed single ‘Back to Business’. Now she is releasing the excellent lead single ‘Summer’s Already Gone’ which sounds very modern Bond in its lo fi production but tells an unusual love story. Not a story about falling in love with a person, but about the love affair that always ends; the affair with Summer.
“I wanted to write a song that could represent both the fearlessness of the magical Summer days and the truly blue sadness of the re occuring love story it actually is when Summer eventually comes to an end. I know it’s a heartbreaking, melancholy feeling but it’s also everything I love about Summer.”
The song was written in Mercedess’ living room with Danish indie superstar Goss and the guitarist Søren Breum and is produced by the critically acclaimed artist Vera. It allows the velvet of the artist’s voice to tumble over the muted trumpets, break beats and flirty acoustic guitars and strings bringing to life the seasonal heartbreak.
The fact that it is about the love and anticipation felt for Summer is almost more poignant this year as we embark upon the first free Summer for a few years. The affair with Summer this year promises to be a torrid passionate affair as we’ve been apart so long but the heartbreak of its end will be felt more keenly. This song will be the soundtrack to the affair for sure.
The single is released on the same day as the debut album from this exciting new talent. Mercedess says of the album: “Casa Fantasia is an album about longing for closeness and honesty. These songs are an escape from reality-a place to feel free and be yourself. Writing it was a personal journey and process to me that hopefully will make space for creativity, art and emotions for others too”
The album promises to do just that with the artist’s melancholy and yet warm and dreamy vocals and marks an exciting new chapter for an artist destined to find international acclaim with this collection of music. Summer may come and go but I’m sure the appeal of Mercedess will be perennial.