30 June 2011

OCTOBER

...is going to be a cool month.

Meet your favorite new comic book:

29 June 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Miho Hatori

28 June 2011

TO ME YOU ARE A WORK OF ART

I just got this: an original one-sheet for The Magus from 1968.

Despite being a crap film, I've always loved this poster design. So much, in fact, that I sent a jpeg of it to Jamie McKelvie when we were figuring out the cover for our Long Hot Summer graphic novella back in 2005.

I can't imagine something like this getting through marketing for a studio production today, but I found it to be instantly memorable. How we went from all the wonderfully imaginative posters of the '50, '60s and '70s to the artless atrocities designed to promote movies nowadays, I don't know. Everything seems to be based on pleasing the actors' (or rather, their agents') egos instead of actually creating something interesting...

27 June 2011

ESPECIALLY FOR YOU

Last week, I posted briefly about the new Kaiser Chiefs album, The Future is Medieval, but what I didn't mention was the marketing concept behind the record. Basically, they premiered clips from 20 tracks on their Website earlier in the month and offered fans the chance to create what is essentially the first Bespoke album. Out of the 20 tracks previewed, fans could choose 10, in any order, select the artwork and then actually promote and sell the album. And profit from it, too.


It's an interesting idea, and from what I've read, they've sold around 10,000 copies of the album this way so far. That's a far cry from the over three million copies they shifted of their debut album, but considering a standard CD edition is available today (featuring 14 of the 20 tracks) and the album's receiving much better word of mouth than their last two releases, I'd call it a fairly successful marketing stunt.


I actually found trimming it down to 10 songs somewhat difficult: No matter how I chose, several songs I liked didn't make the cut. Here's what I came up with, though:


1. Back in December

2. Can't Mind My Own Business

3. Cousin in the Bronx

4. Coming Up for Air

5. Dead or In Serious Trouble

6. Little Shocks

7. Man on Mars

8. Problem Solved

9. Things Change

10. When All Is Quiet


That makes for a pretty short album (under 40 minutes), so in a perfect world, I'd add three more (probably "Heart it Break," "If You Will Have Me" and "Long Way from Celebrating") to get it to a more satisfying listening time. (And a more satisfying listen, compared to the official track listing of the 14-track CD.)


Anyway, if you want to play along, you have but to visit kaiserchiefs.com to do so.

26 June 2011

SUNDAY'S PRETTY ICONS

Paul Weller and Kate Moss, as photographed by the legendary David Bailey back in 1997.

I think I need to do a post on all Weller's different looks, because it really is kind of amazing how he's transformed over the years. At certain points, he almost looks like a different person.

LAZY SUNDAY


Written well before mucking about on the Internet all day was one of the many options for indulging weekend laziness, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane's "Lazy Sunday" somehow still sums up days like these best. That's why it tops my list of top 10 favorite songs about Sunday...

1. Small Faces - "Lazy Sunday," (Ogdens' Nut Gone Glake, 1968)
2. Morrissey - "Every Day Is Like Sunday," (Viva Hate, 1988)
3. Etta James - "A Sunday Kind of Love," (At Last! 1960)
4. Velvet Underground - "Sunday Morning," (The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967)
5. David Bowie - "Sunday," (Heathen, 2002)
6. Harsh Reality - "Tobacco Ash Sunday," (single A-side, 1968)
7. Blur - "Sunday, Sunday," (Modern Life is Rubbish, 1993)
8. Paul McCartney - "Heaven on a Sunday," (Flaming Pie, 1997)
9. Sia - "Sunday," (Colour the Small One, 2004)
10. Madness - "Sunday Morning," (The Rise and Fall, 1982)

25 June 2011

SATURDAY

At the beginning of the week, I had the thought that I would do a top 10 list for every day of the week, based on the days of the week. Boy, is that impossible. While there are numerous songs written about the weekend – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and even a smattering of songs about Monday, the other days have apparently provided little inspiration for songwriters over the years. Tuesday comes out looking the best, but it's pretty slim pickings for Wednesday and Thursday. So, my plan wound being condensed to Saturday and Sunday, and these are my 10 favorite songs about Saturday:

1. David Bowie - "Drive-In Saturday," (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
2. Elton John - "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)
3. The Specials - "Friday Night, Saturday Morning," (single b-side, 1981)
4. The Jam - "Saturday's Kids," (Setting Sons, 1979)
5. James Dean Bradfield - "On Saturday Morning We Rule the World," (The Great Western, 2006)
6. Emitt Rhodes - "Saturday Night," (The American Dream, 1971)
7. Nick Drake - "Saturday Sun," (Five Leaves Left, 1969)
8. Kenny Burrell - "Saturday Night Blues," (Midnight Blue, 1963)
9. George Harrison - "P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)," (Brainwashed, 2002)
10. The Marmalade - "It's All Leading Up to Saturday Night," (There's a Lot of it About, 1968)

24 June 2011

WALK ON

My friend and co-worker Branwyn Bigglestone is participating in AIDS Walk SF this year to raise money for Homeless Youth Alliance, and she's looking for sponsors. Branwyn knows firsthand that HYA does good work: She's friends with the Executive Director, and she knows people who have gotten off the streets because of the program.

Their mission statement says:

"Our mission is to meet homeless youth where they’re at and to help them build healthier lives. We strive to empower homeless youth to protect themselves, educate each other, reduce harm within the community, and transition off the streets."

Every dollar counts, so if you want to be a sponsor, just click the link below and follow the steps.

And you can find out more about HPA at
homelessyouthalliance.org.

GONE AWAY

Comics legend Gene Colan passed away yesterday. Along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema and John Romita, he was one of the greats working at Marvel during the '60s and '70s. He's forever linked to Daredevil, but he was also the artist behind Tomb of Dracula and his Doctor Strange was second only to Ditko's.

These are some of my favorite covers by the esteemed Mr. Colan...

23 June 2011

THIS BOY

Li'L Depressed Boy artist Sina Grace managed to snag this cover out of international superstar Jamie McKelvie, and man, is it a beaut. If you haven't already been seduced by the seamless storytelling of this series, I highly recommend picking up the first trade paperback collection.

Jamie's cover appears on issue #8, out in October.

22 June 2011

21 June 2011

LITTLE SHOCKS

Although I quite liked the first Kaiser Chiefs album when it back in 2005, if someone had told me at almost anytime in-between then and now I would be playing the hell out of their fourth album in 2011, I would have begged to differ.

But here we are in 2011, and I am playing the hell out of their new album, The Future is Medieval. "Cousin in the Bronx" may in fact be the catchiest thing I've heard so far this year.

This is the video for the first single...

19 June 2011

SLANG OF AGES

After connecting the dots from Father's Day to "Song for My Father" to "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," I figure the only thing left to do is tally up my top 10 favorite Steely Dan songs...

1. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," (Pretzel Logic, 1974)
"You can try to run, but you can't hide from what's inside of you."

2. "Hey Nineteen," (Gauch0, 1980)
"Please take me along when you slide on down."

3. "Kid Charlemagne," (The Royal Scam, 1976)
"I think the people down the hall know who you are."

4. "Thing I Miss the Most," (Everything Must Go, 2003)
"The days really don't last forever, but it's getting pretty damn close."

5. "Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More," (Katy Lied, 1975)
"Daddy can't get no fine cigar, but we know you're smoking wherever you are."

6. "Everything You Did," (The Royal Scam, 1976)
"Turn up the Eagles the neighbors are listening."

7. "Razor Boy," (Countdown to Ecstasy, 1973)
"I guess only women in cages can stand this kind of night."

8. "Almost Gothic," (Two Against Nature, 2000)
"She's pure science with a splash of black cat."

9. "Deacon Blues," (Aja, 1977)
"They got a name for the winners in the world, I want a name when I lose."

10. "Here at the Western World," (Greatest Hits, 1978)
"We got your skinny girl, here at the Western World."

SONG FOR MY FATHER

And today is Father's Day.

The first time I heard Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," I felt like I'd heard it before. Even though there wasn't a lot of jazz played around our house when I was growing up and it definitely wasn't on the radio when we were in the car, it just seemed incredibly familiar. It wasn't until I was in my 20s and finally giving into my appreciation of the sublimely subversive stylings of Steely Dan that I realized why: Steely Dan's 1974 hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was played around our house. And in the car. And everywhere, for years...

REMINISCING

Her name was Mrs. Thomas.

That could have been her entire name as far as I was concerned: I don't think it ever even occurred to me to ask what her first name was. I was eight at the time so, really, whether or not another name was somehow wedged in-between "Mrs." and "Thomas" didn't make much difference. All that mattered was that she was the most fascinating and extraordinary woman I'd ever met in my life up to that point.

She had dark brown hair, I remember, so dark you would have sworn it was black. And she wore it straight, not feathered, which was a bit of a novelty at the time, because in the late '70s, it was practically a prerequisite for every last member of the female gender to wear their hair in the style of Farrah Fawcett or Dorothy Hamill. Her hair hung almost to her waist, though, and she had bangs that immediately set apart from everyone else. But I'd be lying if I told you her hair was what I had my eyes on.

See, as much as I'd enjoy recounting a story about my first student/teacher crush, that's not at all where this is going. In fact, Mrs. Thomas wasn't even one of my teachers, she was a friend's mother.

His first name I knew: It was Robert, and we'd met a year or so earlier when we were in the same Cub Scout troop together. I don't think either of us lasted in Cub Scouts more than a few months, but during our brief dalliance with whatever the hell it is Cub Scouts is supposed to be did result in a friendship that lasted all through elementary school. And the fact that we shared the same teacher from second grade on up didn't hurt.

Nor did the fact that we both collected comic books.

I think I discovered that Robert was just as nuts as I was about comics at the second or third Cub Scouts meeting we attended together. We'd both been kept late after school in this particular instance (long story, best not entered into here, but involving our relentlessly insolent behavior while class was being taught by a substitute teacher) and we were late for the meeting, which was near enough to our school that both sets of parents had agreed to let us walk. When we got there, though, we were a) completely clueless as to what was going on and b) completely disinterested in finding out, so we just kept to ourselves and started playing with Hot Wheels or whatever.

Well, until Robert pulled out a copy of Marvel Two-in-One #22 from his school binder.

Marvel Two-in-One was one of my favorite comics at the time, mainly because it featured the Fantastic Four's Thing. The fact that he teamed up with other Marvel superheroes on a monthly basis was really just a bonus; the Thing was (and remains) one my favorite characters in comics. I hadn't seen this particular issue, but it featured the Thing and Thor in battle with Seth, the Egyptian God of Death, and what's more, it was part one in a two-part story. And hot damn if Robert didn't have issue #23 tucked away in his binder, too! He and I sat looking at the comics and talking about Thor, the Fantastic Four and all the other Marvel heroes until the meeting was over and our parents arrived to pick us up. There was some discussion between our parents and the Den Mother about our tardiness, so my folks weren't exactly pleased with me. We left in a hurry, with Robert trying to find out if I could come over to his house the following day. Another time, my dad said.

What he really meant was that I was grounded. For a week. And I wouldn't get any comics that weekend. Damn parents. They knew all my weak spots and just how to exploit 'em!

Robert didn't stop talking about having me over to his house, though, because he wanted me to see his comics. And the way he talked about them, there were hundreds of them. Actually, I was half-convinced that he was the most compulsive liar in the world, because when we'd talk about the Fantastic Four and I'd mention some of the really old issues, he'd say he had them.

First appearance of Doctor Doom? "Got it," he would say, as casually as could be.

"You mean you've got that Bring on the Bad Guys book, right?"

"Oh, yeah, I've got that book...but I've got the real comic, too."

This seemed unbelievable, I thought, so I figured I'd try another one – the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner (or Sub-Mareener as we all called Marvel's Prince Namor back then).

"Got that one, too," he said.

Right, I thought, and obviously he meant that he had an actual copy of Fantastic Four #4, not just the book that reprinted it. I gave it a little thought and decided it just wasn't possible. How could he have comics that old?

Well, as it turns out, he didn't. I did eventually go over to his house a week or so after my parents let me off restriction, and as I suspected, he didn't have a single one of the comics he'd told me about. We had walked over to his house on Steele Street, just about six blocks from school (and my house, incidentally, which was right across the street), and he kept telling me the whole way that he couldn't wait for me to see all his comics. I think he knew I didn't believe him, but he seemed to genuinely want to prove that he had the stash he'd been so busily talking up over the last week or so.

And he did have comics. There was a stack of recent Marvel books on the desk in his bedroom, along with a few of the over-sized Treasury editions everyone seemed to have but me. The funny thing, though, was that he didn't even have Bring on the Bad Guys or The Origins of Marvel Comics like he'd said. So, in my eight-year-old mind, I hastily scrawling a mental note: "Nice kid, but never believe a word he says!"

Then his Mom came in to say hello.

Even with Cub Scouts and all that, I'd never met Robert's mother before. He'd never mentioned her, either, so I hadn't really given her much thought beforehand. I knew my Mom had spoken with her on the phone to make sure it was all right for me to visit, and I think I'd been instructed to be polite and not to ask for anything and all that other crap parents tell kids when they're going to a friend's house, but the fact that Robert actually had a mother seemed a tad irrelevant.

Right up until she opened her mouth, that is, which is when she uttered the magic words, "So Robert tells me you're really anxious to see my comic book collection..."

Had she told me that she was going to take me in the backyard, skin me alive and roast me on a spit, I don't think I'd have been more shocked. My Mom didn't have a comic book collection. Why the hell would Robert's Mom?!?

But she did, in fact, have boxes upon boxes of comics and even more amazingly, Fantastic Four was her favorite comic book, too. We spent a good part of that afternoon looking at examples of her collection and after a while, I felt more like I was hanging out with Mrs. Thomas than I was with Robert. And as I flipped through a copy of Fantastic Four #61 and marveled at how the Sandman could take on the Thing, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl all on his own – without the Frightful Four, whom I'd been introduced to in FF #177 – Robert started talking about getting a snack and then heading outside to play. I wanted to tell him to do just that and leave his mother and myself be, but before I knew it, the boxes were being put away and Robert's Mom had transformed from starry-eyed comics fan back into...well, Robert's Mom. She made us peanut-butter sandwiches and they were pretty great...but nowhere near as amazing as the simple fact that she – an adult, another kid's mom – collected comic books.

These days, more adults read comics than kids probably, but back then, Marvel and DC were still doing their damnedest to keep the 7-14 crowd enthralled in the four color fantasies they produced month-in and month-out. If older readers stuck with the series that captured their imaginations during their youths, that was fine, too, but comics – especially superhero comics – were still being created with mop-headed kids like me in mind.

Mrs. Thomas, I later learned, just plain loved to read. She liked science fiction and fantasy, and since she'd been reading comics since she was a young girl, she still enjoyed reading about the characters she'd grown up with. She'd didn't have quite the same level of fanatical enthusiasm for the fabulous F.F. and the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing that I did, but she still liked comics enough to know how I felt and, more importantly, why I felt that way.

Various people had told her it was "stupid" or "silly" for her to read comics, from the time she was a girl right up until she'd married and had kids, but she didn't mind. "Comics aren't just for kids anymore," she'd say, years before DC Comics actually started using that phrase as one of their many marketing taglines. I don't think she was referring to what would later become the growing trend toward more mature subject matter, though. Instead, I think she simply meant that the stories were fun enough to be enjoyed by readers of all ages. People thought less in terms of demographics and focus groups, then, so maybe it was just a different time.

Whatever the case, Mrs. Thomas made an indelible impression upon my young mind, so much so that when my parents would pester me about collecting comics in the years that followed, I'd often respond by mentioning Robert Thomas and his comic-collecting mother. And all these years later, I still think she's a pretty neat lady.

Even if I never did know her full name.

17 June 2011

I DIDN'T SEE IT COMING

There's a new Belle and Sebastian single on the way, which is always pleasant news, but given that it's taken from last year's album, Write Above Love, it's somewhat unexpected. It includes album tracks "Come on Sister" and "I Didn't See it Coming," the former reworked by Tony Doogan, the later by Richard X, and wouldn't you know it, there are videos for both. The single – available only in 12" format, apparently – is out 18 July.

16 June 2011

MISSED

I miss Warren Ellis.

I know, I know: He hasn't actually gone anywhere. He's still writing comics, still posting away at warrenellis.com and all the usual social media outlets.

But long gone are the days of the Warren Ellis Forum, Come in Alone, Bad Signal, Do Anything. Gone is the constant railing against the comics status quo, the clever instigation of grassroots comics activism, the never-ending pursuit of the next great idea.

Warren Ellis was relentless in the development of new ideas. He gave us Planetary. He gave us The Authority. He gave us Transmetropolitan.

Ministry of Space. Red. Orbiter. Doktor Sleepless. Global Frequency. No Hero. Desolation Jones. Ocean. Strange Kiss. Black Summer. Fell.

If you wanted comics that reveled in the pure joy of creation, that reclaimed the term "all-new and all different" from the superhero factories built simultaneously on constant reinvention and the illusion of change, Warren Ellis was a true hero, one of the greatest and most uncompromising friends this medium has ever had.

And he was repaid for that dedication and friendship with the stubborn reluctance of comicdom assembled to move forward. So we continue to crawl along, still living by the three R's (Revamp, Relaunch, Renumber) and wondering baby, baby, where did the sales go.

New ideas are the fuel that keep comics fresh. Warren Ellis generated them like it was second nature. Warren Ellis challenged comics readers everywhere until it became clear many – if not most – of them really just wanted multiple versions of the same thing and Hollywood's shimmering stamp of approval on their favorite superheroes.

So he left.

I know, I know: He's doing Secret Avengers with Jamie McKelvie over at Marvel, and he's developing Half Moon with Mike Oeming. He has projects here and there, but it's not the same. His few remaining comics projects aside, he has taken his talents – and make no mistake, they are considerable – elsewhere. He's still here, but he's not, and there's a bloody great gap that isn't likely to be replaced anytime soon.

So, yeah.

I miss Warren Ellis.

15 June 2011

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Natalie Wood

14 June 2011

A DIFFERENT LIFETIME

Following on from yesterday's interview with Shirley Lee and my Spearmint top 10 list, I wanted to draw particular attention to the albums Spearmint recorded on opposite sides of the millennium, 1999's A Week Away and 2001's A Different Lifetime.

When I first proposed doing a graphic novel project based on Spearmint tracks to Shirley, my original thought was to do a book based on the A Different Lifetime. Tracing a relationship from beginning to end, that was my first introduction to the band and an instant favorite of mine. Suitably impressed, A Week Away was the next one I tracked down, and I love that as well.

"I think they are still our best two albums," Shirley told me when I bought the two albums up to him recently. "We revisited A Week Away to celebrate its 10th anniversary and to play it live in full, which we never did at the time. In fact, bands never do at the time, do they? Years of writing went into that one, and it was our best shot at our vision of a perfect Pop album. I do love it. I like the energy and the amount of ideas that are in there."

"A Different Lifetime will be 10 years old this autumn," he added. "This is my favourite album of ours - I think it is closest to realising what was intended in the writing. I am not talking about production here; I am talking about the final selection of songs and their levels of ambition. To me, A Week Away is a finished piece of work, but with A Different Lifetime, I feel there is some unfinished business.

"I slightly regret not making it a full-on double album at the time, as I think that some of the narrative sections are rushed through. Some of the songs I started writing for this album ended up on other records, like 'Start Again' and 'I Went Away.' I have toyed with the idea of presenting a 'director's cut' live, in which we would flesh it out a bit by including those songs and some that ended up as b-sides, maybe even a new song or two if needed. I would like to present it with live strings, and if it could also be accompanied by graphics for each song that would make it perfect!"

And that's saying something considering how excellent A Different Lifetime already is. So strange to think that it's a decade old at this point. Hearing it for the first time seems like such a recent experience, but the title is fairly apt: virtually nothing in my life is the same now as it was then. And adding a bit of prophecy to album opener "It Will End," the girlfriend who gave me the album as a birthday gift is no longer my girlfriend. A different lifetime, indeed!

Anyway, both albums are well worth seeking out if you don't own them already, but here's a taste from A Different Lifetime:

13 June 2011

UP IN THE SKY

Image has a new Jonathan Hickman series coming out in July – The Red Wing, with artist Nick Pitarra – and he got his collaborator on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. to do a special variant cover. Spectacular, no?

GOLDMINE

And just in case you need a primer on the wonderful world of Spearmint, here's a rundown of my top 10 songs by the band. I first encountered them in 2001, with the stunning A Different Lifetime, but they have yet to make anything even resembling a bad album yet, so literally anywhere is a good place to start...

1. "Stealing Beauty," (A Different Lifetime, 2001)
2. "The Whole Summer Long," (A Leopard and Other Stories, 2004)
3. "It Won't Be Long Now," (A Week Away, 1999)
4. "Scottish Pop," (A Different Lifetime, 2001)
5. "I Didn't Buy You Flowers," (My Missing Days, 2003)
6. "Start Again," (A Week Away, 1999)
7. "Best Friends," (Songs for the Colour Yellow, 1998)
8. "My Girlfriend Is a Killer," (Paris in a Bottle, 2006)
9. "Julie Christie!" (A Different Lifetime, 2001)
10. "The Beautiful Things," (A Leopard and Other Stories, 2004)

LISTEN TO WHAT THE MAN SAID

This week marks the release of the second Shirley Lee long player, Winter Autumn Summer Spring, and I managed to hog a few minutes of Shirley's time to ask some questions about the album...

ES: I've just been watching the video for "An Old Cricketer" – are those all your own records?

SHIRLEY: Yes, they are all mine. I noticed that my aging digital camera has a video function, so I wondered whether it would film for three minutes in one go, as if so, I could make a video for a song on it and not even need to edit anything. I was then thinking about "An Old Cricketer" and looking at my records and it just seemed an easy, appropriate idea for a video. So I just pulled out a big pile of albums, some because they are favourites, and some because they have great sleeves. Bridie held the camera and I just chucked each record in front of her until three minutes was up. It literally just took that long to make the video. She then figured out how to put it to the track. We didn't spend any time worrying about it or refining it, just kept it instant.

The song is about our great radio DJ John Peel, who died a few years ago. In many ways his passing coincided with an ending for rock music, I think. He was just so open-minded and enthusiastic, and he was always there, a guiding father figure for us all. He got us into so many different kinds of music, and now there is a huge gap, there is no other DJ like him. I didn't choose the albums in the video to relate specifically to Peel, but I definitely came to a lot of them via him.

ES: I think I picked out something like a third of those that I have myself, amongst many I'd still like to get, but the main reason I wanted to chat with you was about a record of yours I'll soon be adding to my collection, Winter Autumn Summer Spring. What lead you to do another solo album instead of a new Spearmint record?

SHIRLEY: The first Shirley Lee album in 2009 was a little strange in that it was very much made by Spearmint. After Paris In A Bottle, I started writing and it became apparent that the album would largely be a collection of personal love songs. So it seemed like a good idea to do it as a solo Shirley Lee record. I had always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to make solo records at some point as well as doing the band stuff, so this seemed like a good time. Also, we didn't want to flood the world with Spearmint albums - it can get a little hard to keep up if one of your favourite band does an album every single year. It felt appropriate to try something different.

In complete contradiction to this, we were all happy with the way the band was playing together and wanted to get in a studio again. We made the last couple of Spearmint albums on computers at home and in different locations, and I was pining to go into a studio again, as we had for the early recordings. So the album was made by the band in a real studio. It was a Shirley Lee album, made by Spearmint really, and is more of a band album than much of our actual band output.

I was left with the nagging idea that I hadn't really made a solo album at all, and I started to wonder what would happen if I tried to do the whole thing myself: write, play and produce something all on my own. We went on to do a batch of Spearmint songs for the A Week Away re-issue, and then I decided to have a crack at a proper solo album.

ES: Apart from the lack of actual other participants, how was working on your different from recording with the rest of the band?

SHIRLEY: Well, once I got started, I realised that I had complete freedom, especially to do the things that might normally get filtered out in a band situation. So I decided to let things like instrumentals and the little songs to come through. By the little songs I mean those simple one minute long pieces that sometimes turn up on b-sides or at the end of albums. These are often my favourites. Usually I can only get one of those away on a band album, but I was able to include quite a few of them here.
Once I started to develop a variety of ideas, it seemed natural to go the whole way and make it a double-album so that there was room for them to all co-exist.

The next album will be a Spearmint record and I am sure will be a more band-orientated single album - after doing something this ambitious I suspect I will want it to be quite concise!

ES: As with many of your Spearmint albums, Winter Autumn Summer Springfollows a story – can you talk about the development of the concept for the album?

SHIRLEY: I watched a documentary called The Bridge a few years ago and aspects of it stayed with me. The film covers the number of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge and its lure as a destination for "jumpers." It is also a very beautiful ode to the bridge itself. I re-watched the film and read the piece in The New Yorker which inspired it. I discovered that it's the number one suicide location in the world, but that Beachy Head, which is a harshly beautiful cliff with a lighthouse a few miles away from me as I write this, is not far behind. There is also a forrest in Japan which is very popular with lovers who wish to commit suicide together.
The idea that people would travel long distances to end their lives in a specific place fascinated me. It seemed a way of joining other like-minded people, even though you were planning something completely lonely and isolated.

In the film, they interview people who survived the jump, which is quite a small percentage. They seemed to be saying that they changed their minds on the way down, and then were so glad to survive. I wondered whether most people in fact change their minds on the way down, but then don't survive. This then seemed a powerful argument for dissuading people from jumping.

The images in the film of the bridge itself also stayed with me. There is something about the scope of it and its "unchangingness" while the world around goes about its business that has an almost spiritual power to it – the story of how Joseph Strauss built it in the '30s is such a tale of scale and determination.

ES: That all sounds quite dark, but the album itself is actually very uplifting and features a fair number of love songs...

SHIRLEY: When I start writing an album I usually go off in one direction, knowing full well that I will end up somewhere else, and that is part of the appeal for me. I started writing about Strauss and the bridge. These songs didn't make it through to the final album, though I do think it is a fine topic for a film, or an opera maybe? I moved onto writing about the calling to travel to a place to end your life, the journey, and the final indecision when you get there. That indecision at the end is another thing that comes through in the film: people pacing up and down the bridge waiting for the impetus to finally jump.
I knew that as people changed their minds on the way down, this would ultimately be a hopeful message, that there were better alternatives to ending it all.

At the same time, I was writing love songs to Bridie and also various other songs based on reminiscences from my youth, as well as having some fun trying out different approaches to writing. One of the love songs is a the idea of just running away in secret to San Francisco and getting married, finding a stranger to be a witness and to take the photos.

And there it came together: Somebody is travelling to San Francisco with the intention of jumping from the bridge. We are travelling to the same place at the same time with the intention of getting married. We walk to the middle of the bridge to find a random stranger to be our witness. It turns out to be the would-be suicide. We persuade him to come with us. Later that day, we all talk about the past and how we came to this point in our lives.

I can imagine that story as a film (an art film!). So that is the arc of the album and it does end with a message of hope.

Having said all that, I don't want the concept to be restrictive. The idea of the characters talking and reminiscing meant that all kinds of other songs could be included. In fact, you can ignore the concept completely if you want, and that's fine. After all, most concept albums are actually quite loose: How many songs onZiggy Stardust or Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band are genuinely about the concept? Maybe three or four on each?
I do like an album to have some kind of theme, though, both as a writer and a listener. It just gives you a bit more to get your teeth into...

ES: Well, one of the things that's always appealed to me about your songs is the narrative quality of so many of them. Whether taken as part of an overall concept or on they're own, so many of them are these fully formed little stories. With that in mind, what did you make of our graphic novel anthology This Is a Souvenir, and how your lyrics were adapted for that?

SHIRLEY: We LOVED This Is A Souvenir! I mean, can you imagine the thrill and honour of somebody putting together a book interpreting your work? So, thank you, it is one of the nicest things that has happened to the band.

The day a copy of the book arrived, Simon was round at mine rehearsing harmonies with me, and we sat on the sofa in the fading summer evening light and read through all the stories. It was great, and really funny for us, too, to see how certain characters in the songs had been drawn, when we know how they look in real life.

Some songs are spot-on to the meaning we originally intended, and some go off in their own direction. Of course, interpretation is what it says, and I am always comfortable when people get the wrong end of the stick listening to our songs and put their own meaning onto them – that's part of the fun with songs, isn't it? – and I often prefer the words I come up with when I mis-hear other people's songs; words that suit my own meanings.
Of course, I prefer some of the graphics in the stories to others – that's just taste. I won't say which are my favourites and which aren't!

The main thing I got from the book is the huge range of possibilities around mixing graphics with songs. I would love to do an album where the graphics are created in tandem with recording and are then built into the album artwork and a live show. I would also like to do a live version of the book, where we would play the songs and the illustrations would be projected.

All in all for me, as the band's lyricist, it was a very happy project.