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EARTHLAB


Earth Lab - Saviors of Space Rock


Interview By Dark Starr

One could look at Earth Lab as a spin off of Hawkwind. In fact, in many ways the group is. After all three members of the band have been involved in Hawkwind at various times in the band’s history. Their music certainly has plenty of musical ties to that legendary British space rock outfit. The truth is, though, there is more to the story than that. Earthlab manages to bring other elements into play to create a sound that is uniquely their own while still maintaining ties to the "mother band." Jerry Richards is the master at the controls of Earth Lab and I got to pose some questions to him about Hawkwind, Earth Lab’s CD and future and a whole lot more. The record of that galactic communication is presented here for the eyes and minds of Wormwood Chronicles readers.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: This band has several former members of Hawkwind in it. Can you tell us how the group got together?

JERRY RICHARDS:This particular project is one that I've had rumbling around in my subconscious for quite a few years, now.....It began as a follow up to a release that Alf Hardy and I did through Voiceprint Records, whilst I was a member of Hawkind. That CD is called Paradogs: Foul Play At The Earth Lab and is still available from Voiceprint and as a download from iTunes.

Principally, I wanted to put a concept album together...Retro, huh? Still, familiar territory for those fans of the psyche/space/stoner music market...So far, so groovy.I figured that the broadest base/train of thought for this would be to write something based around our existence, here on this little blue planet of ours. One way to represent the different themes that I came up with for the music was to divide the album up into four different sections,representing different 'snap shots' of terrestrial/human life/thought/ emotion/aspiration, etc. It struck me that there were four obvious vehicles that I could use to represent these ideas and musical motifs and they are what we see around us every day: The four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. I added an extra track to the album, eventually, to represent the mythical fifth element, Quintessence.

The album was originally going to be titled, 'The Earth Suite'. In fact it was Steve Swindells who suggested I call it simply, 'Element'.Because I'd constructed each song to be different in nature and flavour to the others, I also wanted a strong cross section of musical talent to help put it all together, so I turned to the people around me that I knew could best accomplish what I wanted, according to the requirements of each piece. For instance, fellow former Hawkwind frontman and bassist, Ron Tree was an obvious choice of vocalist for the comedic sneer of 'Digital Age', essentially a song about technology for it's own sake, but he also employed the compassionate side of his nature to great effect on '8 & 1', a more folk rock composition, alluding to Earth as the cradle of the human race. He was also fabulous as the pulpit preacher on the opening number, 'Separation By Skin', which talks about the hypocrisy of segregation and power, amongst other things.

Steve Swindells, who joined Hawkwind in the late seventies, subsequently writing one of the bands' best sellers, 'Shot Down InThe Night', I first met at the Hawkwstra 30 year reunion gig at Brixton Academy, London in 2000. It wasn't until the follow up show that Nik Turner organised at London's Astoria venue that I actually got to talk to him on anything more than a fellow musician/former Hawk level. We immediately got on like a forest fire! Steve was integral to the writing of 'Element', composing the lyric to 'Back Seat Angel', 'Thin Air', 'Liquid Crystal Clear' and 'Wheels Part 2/We Took The Car'. He's a fantastic singer and keyboard player and his voice fit those grooves hand in glove. The next Earth Lab album will also feature his very special and unique songwriting skills, I'm happy to say.

As for Simon House, former Hawkwind synth/keys/violin player....Simon's a man of great integrity and not just of the musical kind! I got to know him through his, initially, sporadic appearances with Hawkwind, whilst I was in that band and then more so when he joined us for the New Zealand and Australia tour we did back in 2000. I was thrilled when he said he'd like to play violin on a few numbers for the Earth Lab album. Simon can be heard ripping it up on the opening track, 'Separation By Skin' and also on 'Liquid Crystal Clear'.

If you're lying in the gutter, but you're shooting for the stars, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, then for a musical project such as this, I couldn't have hoped for better company to make that trip. As I say, if you need some help, then ask your mates. Luckily, these people are some of my best friends, so they couldn't really say no!

WC: What can you tell us about your time in Hawkwind?

JR: It was a labour of both love and loathing...The majority of us certainly weren't doing it for the money, that much is sure!One of the things about having played in Hawkwind is, I think, that,in US terms, it may be analogous to having been a President....! You are still 'Mister President', even when your term is through. There's no doubt that the tag still opens doors for me, as a musician, simply because the band has been so influential on so many artists over so many years. As fellow former Hawk, Harvey (Bainbridge) says, 'It follows you around'.

But I suppose that the overriding aspect to my time with Hawkwind has been the breadth of people that I've met, both during and subsequent to that time. It was always regarded as 'the people's band' and whilst that's not strictly true, certainly not these days at any rate, it does attract characters from all walks of life and all parts of the globe and maybe that's the real pay off, inasmuch that the whole trip enables all of us to experience, however vicariously, each others personal involvement in something that is a true passion: 'Music is the best', said Moon Zappa and I think she had a point. You never know who, or indeed what, you may bump into at a Hawkwind gig!

WC: Do you still stay in touch with that band?

JR: Hmmm...What, aside from lawyers, weddings and funerals? Seriously,not as much as we should, but as they say, it's good to keep in touch when you can. Mind you, they also say, 'Let sleeping dogs lie'.

WC: What about the non-Hawkwind alumni in the group. What previous groups have they worked with?

JR: Well, there's Alf Hardy, for a start... He and I founded a band called Tubilah Dog in the mid 80's, playing at just about every free festival in the UK for 5 years or so. Alf tours, these days, with former Spacemen 3 front man, Sonic Boom, as Spectrum and as EAR, mostly playing at Art House installations on the European festival circuit. I've known him for over 25 years, now and he's an integral part of the Earth Lab sound.

Drummer extraordinaire, Robin Hill, is also an old friend, along with his rhythm section bass playing partner, Barry Jones. Both incrediblytalented and highly inventive musicians whose former project, Paint,was one of the first bands signed to the now legendary Acid Jazz label, here in the UK.

Chris Aldridge, who played sax and flute on the new album, is a friend of Robin's and is developing a great reputation on the UK jazz scene and in session circles. Steve Taylor, who was drafted in to play bass on one of the songs on the album, I first met at the Strange Daze show of 1997, in New York state. As Hawkwind, we went out to play selected dates in the US,that being one of them. Steve was playing guitar with Nik Turner's band, a collective of US space rock bands, Pressurehed and Quarkspace, I think, at the time. He stood in on bass duties, along with Steve Hayes (synth wizard) the following year when we went back to do some more dates with Jim Lascko's Strange Daze trip and Ron Tree, Hawkwind bass player and vocalist back then along with band leader Dave Brock were refused entry to America, 'cos their papers were not in order...This left Richard (Chadwick, drummer) and I in the rather unenviable position of putting a Hawkwind show together, for the dates we had there, without our bass player and main voice/guitar/synth personnel... Not easy. Steve T stepped in and we scraped through the dates...I can laugh about it now, but it wasn't very funny at the time! Steve's new project is called Secret Saucer and you'll find them on MySpace.com/secretsaucer

Jon Moss is someone I met through collaborating with Steve Swindells...We have another project called Dan Mingo, (check out iSound.com/danmingo for more info) for which Steve is principal songwriter and singer. I think we have about 3 albums in the can awaiting a good mix and label deal. Oh yeah, Jon also plays drums for another band called Culture Club, of whom you may have heard.

Winston Blissett is probably, IMHO, about the best bass player in the UK at the moment. A lovely guy and a bass Buddha! He also plays in the Dan Mingo project and was a natural choice for the one song on 'Element' on which he plays bass, 'Back Seat Angel', as the bass line I wrote for it has a Massive Attack (UK band from Bristol, who are big in the dance scene) feel to it...And as he is also Massive Attack's bass player, I thought the song was right up his street.

WC: Are there still musicians out there you’d like to play with, but haven’t had the chance?

JR: Plenty of dead ones! Mozart, Hendrix, Miles Davies and Robert Calvert being a few that spring to mind. I'd like to play with Lemmy again, sometime...An experience that could, perhaps, best be described as an 'aural avalanche' and one that should be enjoyed as often as possible.

WC: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales – would you agree?

JR: Downloading of music is the future for record sales. The delivery system is not really adequate for it, just now, but in a few years we'll all have the opportunity to download full 44.1 kHz CD quality music, rather than the MP3 sales that they currently offer. The problem with the major labels is that they now operate under the misguided belief that all of their artists and bands are purely/merely products; vehicles through which to maximise their profit margins. They object strongly to any set of parameters which hope to circumvent that highly exploitative viewpoint. (The internet being one of them!) They are mostly old school lumbering dinosaurs that should, by now, have shuffled off this mortal coil, just as their Jurassic counterparts did. They were slow off the mark to embrace the internet as the cultural revolution that it has become and seem now, to me, to be jealously guarding what little jurisdiction that they can muster, very much to the detriment of new and emerging talent.Personally, I'd say avoid the majors and do it for yourself. Make your own label and get distribution together without the help from these vampiric parasites. They do not deserve our sympathy. Want an illustration of where their heads are really at? How's this: EMI were once partly owned by Thorn EMI, a WEAPONS manufacturer...They'll do business with ANYONE to make a buck. This is not the ethically guided future vision that I imagine for our little blue planet: Earth.

WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans taping and trading live shows?

JR: Don't have a problem with fans taping shows, myself. In fact I argued for years, whilst in Hawkwind, that we should set up a 'sound recording pit', like the Grateful Dead used to do at concerts, where people with sound recording equipment could stand and do just that. My argument being that those with the very best live recordings from any given tour would submit a copy of their recording to the band, be credited AND paid for it and then, in post production, have a really good blend of the 'live mic' and sound board sources mixed for release. You can't stop these recordings being made by those fans that are determined to make them...Just check out YouTube.com, to see what's actually out there. Much better to have some sort of 'partnership' deal going and get the best, most representational,product out on the market that you can.As for trading tapes of the shows: That's cool also. Just don't sell them for financial gain. 'Cos it's a bit selfish, innit?

WC: How would you describe your music?

JR: Musik Cinematique: A collision of film and music production techniques.

WC: What kind of touring plans do you have?

There are plans in the pipe line for some Earth Lab shows, here in the UK...Just got to muster the crew and find the right venues for it. Alf and I have done a couple over the past few years. We're very keen that they should be a multi media installation type of affair, with lights, poets and performance art all wrapped up in the music itself. Keep checking www.myspace.com/earthlab for future events. Aside from that, I'm playing bass with Nik Turner's Space Ritual band and there are lots of gigs and large festivals on the horizon for this year. Check www.spaceritual.org and also www.nikturner.com for more news.

WC: What else is on your agenda for the near (and maybe not so near) future?

JR: Apart from the new Earth Lab material that's under construction and a few film projects in the offing, through Redwood Studios in London, we're launching a web site dedicated to events of a paranormal nature. I'm involved in a research group called Team Spirit which has conducted several investigations around the UK, the findings of which are currently in post production for release on DVD. You can check it out at www.teamspiritonline.com and there are also some trailers hosted on YouTube.com, which give a flavour of the research we're publishing. Here's a URL code for a trailer: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Dc4HV-A-06g ...And may the spirit be with you all.

WC: These next couple we tend to ask of everyone. The first two sort of showcase musician as music fan. First, what was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?

JR: Well, I'll listen to just about anything, me. From Beethoven to the Beatles, Mongolian throat singing to Motorhead
and everything in between. There are lots of cool bands on MySpace, which I've come across through the network. Jet Jaguar are one that I really like and another electronic artist called Jihel. I guess I'm more of a subscriber to the 'cottage industry', do it for yourself, type of musician...Admittedly more difficult to be heard, globally, if you follow that route, but worth checking around the web for bands that promote their stuff there. I find it a lot more rewarding to browse around and find artists who don't have the kind of corporate hype that gets put out by 'The Business'. Just feels a bit more 'real' to me.

WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

JR: Well...Not sure about this question's answer...Cliff Richard was one....! And The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band the other. I was invited to see Cliff at Wembley Arena, in London, where despite my initial reservations about going to the gig (he's something of a 60's heart throb and Christian icon, here in the UK), he completely confounded my expectations and put on a fantastic show. Over 3 hours, I think. And no, he didn't do any bible punching whilst on stage! Don't know if you're familiar with his work in the the States, but he's been a major star, this side of the pond, for about 50 years and has sold millions of records around the world.

As for the Bonzo's...An utterly stunning evening of humour and music all wrapped up in a pill that, for those that don't know of them, encapsulates a trip reminiscent of vaudevillian Monty Python meets Spike Jones. Progenitors of a very English take on the concept that Zappa espoused; 'Does humour belong in music?' You bet it does. Listen to the Bonzo Dog Band and all of that is made abundantly clear within the first 30 seconds. There were jokes and sketches all carefully intertwined with the music. The band was ably fronted by all of the musicians, each having a part to play in the general 'comedy skit' effect of the show, with Neil Innes acting as compere and ringmaster. This was a reunion tour, as the band split back in the early seventies. Sadly, the original frontman and founder of the band, Vivian Stanshall, died in the mid 1990's, as did their bass player Denis Cowan, Greatly missed, by all of their hard core fans, of which I am one. Highlight of the evening for me was meeting Neil at the after show party. Curiously, he was as pleased to meet me, as I was him... It seems that The Bonzo's and Hawkwind, apart from being label mates at United Artists, in the early seventies, used to get stoned together with the then managing director at the company's London headquarters. Can't really imagine that happening too often in today's corporate record business, can you? He sent his love to all the Hawks, wherever they may be now...Most kind.

WC: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?

JR: Yep. Be nice to your fellow inhabitants of planet Earth, keep music live