© Gina Nicole
Ever wonder what LA was really like for rock and roll indie bands back in the day? To find out, Third Outing caught up with John Girgus, co-founder of pop outfit Aberdeen, and talked about Sarah Records, Indie music and Aberdeen's latest compilation.
3rd: Aberdeen, the first time we heard your music was via a Sarah Records compilation. We knew a few other bands from the label like The Orchids and The Wake, we thought, 'Aberdeen' who's this Scottish band? Turns out you're from America. How did you end up on Sarah Records and with the name Aberdeen?
John: That is pretty great company to be mentioned in, even with the label connection. We were both fans of the label first, which is how we ended up there. Beth started writing letters to Matt and in one, sent a tape of some recordings we'd made at home. I remember getting the call that he was into it, while working a dead end job in the town we grew up in. It wasn't exactly 'goodbye small town' but it felt great that the people we so identified with got what we were doing as well. Hope...
The name came from a song we used to do in the high school version of the band, which had a few other members. It was a song we had written towards the end. After they left, I started playing with a drum machine, and we carried on on as a duo. Beth suggested it. I remember thinking it was spelled 'Aberdine', but it sounded nice so...Beth had been to the Scottish town to visit some pen-pals of a friend a couple years before and I think it was just an association thing. A fondness. It was a world away from where we were living. I think it was based out of a longing to leave home.
3rd: Even though you signed on the label quite late and were based in America, we feel like you were a true Sarah band in terms of spirit. Are we right? How did you feel back then? Do you still see Byron as garbage?
John: I'm really happy you mention that. I used to say that because I felt constricted by the manner in which it was recorded, mixed, my inability to communicate what I wanted at the time, and my hopes for the tune's potential. In retrospect, I think it's very disrespectful to the engineer Jamie, who is a noted professional, and did an incredible job with the resources he had to work with. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in two days on a budget of $300. That became evident after I went back last year and remixed it for the 20th anniversary of the record. It was nice to set the effects right, and get the darker, dreamier sound I had been looking for, but it wasn't easy, and in many ways, his versions are superior. More importantly, they've held up this long.
Were we a 'true Sarah band'? I don't know if I can really make that call. What I can say is that I am and will always be a fan, and that was the first music I was truly able to identify and feel confident creating. I'd listen to the Bunnymen, The Cure, New Order, all that, but I couldn't make it. I didn't even know where to start. When I heard Blueboy it was... 'this is what I do!' It was easier after that. I felt it, and still do.
'I kinda hate what indie has become in America for the most part. The term Indie Pop is even in a state of defamation these days. I've worked with more than a few younger folks who want to exist in the genre but are completely oblivious to its history'.
3rd: Third Outing is based in Scotland. In your upcoming release, you cover Scottish legends The Pastels Baby Honey. It's a great cover! Amongst all Sarah bands, which one do you think have been the most influential?
John: Thanks! Another Beth idea from back in the day. She was a bigger fan that me, but I always dug the sort of droning psych-out nature of the tune. I think it would be unfair to name only one. The Field Mice are an obvious one, Blueboy, as I mentioned earlier. The first 7" from the label I bought was Gentle Despite's Torment To Me. The Orchids were adventurous, almost a major label band to me. Eternal really stuck with me. Since the comps always resonated with me, nearly all of the bands involved had an pretty equal effect at times.
3rd: After Sarah Records you carried on as a band and released Homesick And Happy To Be Here and reformed the band with a different line up. Do you want to tour again at some point? Many 80/90's bands such as Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Luna are back together now.
John: Aberdeen has halted activity a number of times over the years. If it were up to me, I would have been playing consistently the whole time. It's what I love to do. Admittedly, the first break-up was emotional, and stupid in many regards. The relationship being involved made it a complete mess, and I absolutely take a huge responsibility in that. However the last one in 2011, was a surprise to me. I remember getting a call from Johnny after our LA and SF shows that they wanted to 'end Aberdeen on a high note' canceling activity for the foreseeable future. They had all very obviously gotten together and reached this decision without me. We had festival shows booked, the promoters had flyers printed and all. I finally realized that my efforts towards this project would always be subject to the same weaknesses which would cause it to fracture in the first place. It became a pattern, and I finally recognized it as such instead of beating my head against the wall as I had been doing for years. I don't really know how else to say it. There is nothing that would make me want to go through any of that again. I had considered trying to carry the project on with new members, but that didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense either. Or rather it was an idea too late. Right now, if you want to see Aberdeen songs live, I'll be playing them in my 'solo' project. I will never work with any of the former members of the project in any capacity as I've finally found the confidence to carry on with my work regardless.
3rd: Tell us more about this new compilation then? The first song entitled Bilinda, is it for Bilinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine?
John: That is correct. I was sort of embarrassed by that for a time, but that is the name of the song as it was recorded! The song is what would go on to evolve into 'Kyoto Death Song' which is the last song ever recorded by Aberdeen. Seeing as there's a band out there shamelessly paying homage, I figured why the hell not. It was written and recorded in 1992! That's what the compilation is about. I've been carrying around this box of tapes for 20 years now. This was always work that meant a lot to me. It was how I learned to write and record. More than Aberdeen being a band who would meet, rehearse, play, record, it was me with a guitar, a drum machine and a 4 track recorder. I'd record ideas a few times, and as songs developed, I'd give tapes to Beth who was living in LA at the time, and we'd track on visits. We'd give comps to friends and of course Sarah. The reaction was great, still stays with me. There was always something special about these very versions of the recordings. As tapes are deteriorated, mixes disappeared, going back to properly document them was always a goal of mine; it was the means that were a little too expensive or unrealistic. I found a nice 4 track at a pawn shop last year, and home recording technology have evolved incredibly over the past 5 years meant I could afford to restore them the listen-able quality they deserved. Rather than rely on 3rd generation dubs for documentation, I was able to work straight from the multi-tracks. I tried cleaning up a few for fun and just sort of got on a roll over the course of a week or two. After that, I brought them to Uly at The Laundry Room, who graciously and professionally spent good time and attention on final mixes and mastering. I'd been giving away other archived recordings through Bandcamp for the past year, but this being of much higher quality deserved more attention. Cassette just seems appropriate in every way.
3rd: You've been making music for more than 20 years now. What do you think of the current indie scene in the America and the UK? What advice would you give to new bands?
John: I know, I'm old right?! I kinda hate what indie has become in America for the most part. I've worked with more than a few younger folks who want to exist in the genre but are completely oblivious to its history. They want to use it as a stepping stone to fame it seems. The term Indie Pop is even in a state of defamation. You see fucking Imagine fucking Dragons getting the description. Whenever I #indiepop on social media, the bands it attracts is absurd. I'm not going to get all bitter though. There's great stuff carrying the torch. I like Best Coast, Ariel Pink, I like Future Islands, the whole Captured Tracks thing, plenty of great bands on Slumberland, Shelflife still get it just fine. Sadly I'm a little behind on my UK bands too. I've sort of been focused on the making of the music to where I'm not really following bands like I used to. I hope I don't sound like a wank, but I am pretty sure I like Catfish & The Bottlemen. I finally checked out Fat White Family and that was great too. I don't think I would give new bands any advice. I don't think I'm qualified and they wouldn't listen to me anyway!
3rd: What's on your record player these days?
John: My record player is in storage. When I buy music it's been on CD again. I still love to flip through the used bins. The last time I did that I grabbed an Adrian Sherwood compilation, Future Sound Of London's Dead Cities. The last new albums I bought was the Scott Walker/Sun 0))) collaboration Soused and Wilko Johnson/Roger Daltry's Going Back Home. I listen to FM radio in the car. LA has great radio.