LOL TOLHURST X BUDGIE X JACKNIFE LEE
(Play It Again Sam)
December 2018. Ex Banshees/Creatures drummer Budgie is passing through LA and meets up with old friend Lol Tolhurst. In the way that you do after a few drinks, they decided they should do some recording together, the difference being that unlike most of us, they actually followed through on it. After an abortive attempt using Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee's studio (drummers all seem to know one another!), they asked producer friend Garrett 'Jacknife' Lee for advice. He simply said "rip it up and start again", which with his help was exactly what they did.
"We made this album in a way that most people who been in a band or been a musician for a while don't do." advised Lol Tolhurst, speaking exclusively to Outsideleft recently.
"Normally everyone has their station, you know, 'I am the keyboardist', 'I am the drummer', 'I am the guitarist' and so on. We decided not to do that on this. Me and Budgie thought that although people know who we are and what we've done, we're not going to chain ourselves to our past. We went to Jacknife Lee's studio every day. Jacknife is a big audiophile and has 10 or 12 albums arriving every day to his house, all kinds of records, so we'd be sitting there talking about stuff and drinking coffee, having a chat getting to know each other better. Then he would pull out some obscure African record and put it on and almost by osmosis, we'd be sitting there thinking okay, well let's go and play something like this".
When the pandemic and subsequent lockdown intervened and disrupted plans they considered simply releasing it as an instrumental double album, but instead trawled through their address books and invited various musician pals to contribute. There is always the risk with any collaborative album of this type that it will simply be a smug, 'superstar pals messing in the studio', atrocity in the vein of the Hollywood Vampires. To my relief nothing could be further from the truth with 'Los Angeles'. The opener 'This Is What It Is (To Be Free)' with Bobby Gillespie on vocal duties sounds for all the world like a track straight from Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica', whereas title track and single 'Los Angeles' could have been lifted off any Creatures album if it had Siouxsie belting out the lyrics rather than James Murphy.
There is a long list of guests and collaborators on this for sure. Aside from Gillespie and Murphy, you also have U2's The Edge adding guitar to one track, Mark Bowen from Idles, Arrow DeWilde from Starcrawler, and Isaac Brock from indie rockers Modest Mouse, along with others. It makes for a diverse mix of sounds and you'd think that would be a confusing mess. In less experienced hands it possibly would, but we are talking some heavyweight and experienced musical big guns in charge here. Aside from Budgie's inventive drumming, honed to perfection in The Banshees and The Creatures, and Lol Tolhurst's experience in The Cure on both drums and keyboards, the critical secret ingredient is producer Jacknife Lee, whose production credits include Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’, U2’s ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ and the final two REM albums as well as playing guitar with Irish punks Compulsion.
The open, from-the-ground-up approach to recording the album gave Lee free rein to sculpt and re-sculpt to his hearts content, without worrying about having to work to a restrictive brief. “Starting with a blank slate is easy,” says Lee. “Fixing problems is more difficult. Once you’re starting from nothing, you can do anything.” That freedom shows and meant that despite the number of different inputs and ideas, the album has multitudes of fine details and clever tricks that give it a genuine cohesion, built of course around the rhythms generated by it's two star drummers, but drawing on Lee's arsenal of vintage synths amassed in his studio, samples, and processed and distorted 'slice and dice' sounds.
There is a unique quality about musicians who love what they are doing and have both the ability and resources to do it really well that results in albums like 'Los Angeles', so named because of the positive feelings they all expressed towards a city that they credit with picking them up and embracing them when they needed it most. Lol Tolhurst has even lived there since 1989.
Picking out highlights is difficult as the album sits together entirely as a whole and ebbs and flows seamlessly in a manner that underlines their history of creating albums that were intended to be played as such, rather than shared online as single tracks. The song 'bodies' is possibly the best example of that on the album, regularly flexing and shedding its skin through its length to keep your interest going from start to finish. 'We Got To Move' (another single taken from the album) is also a masterclass in studio songcraft, muscular and sleek. The weakest track on the album is probably 'Noche Oscura', which feels dragged down by The Edge's pedestrian guitar work. Recording the album also meant learning new things about each other. Talking to Outsideleft, Lol revealed, "I found out for the first time that Budgie is a really excellent harmonica player. I didn't know that until then. I did all kinds of things I normally wouldn't do. It was really an exciting process."
That they are still excited by the process is actually the magic factor on 'Los Angeles'. It's an excellent album, full of surprises and with a solid back story behind it. Where they go from here who can say, but one thing is for certain, this is a confident return to form that you simply can't fault.
Main image by Pat Martin
‘Los Angeles’ is released on November 3rd on Play It Again Sam.