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slow #4/autumn 2000

Dakota Suite are about as contradictory a band as you can hope to find. Having quietly developed in Leeds over the course of the past three years, they first came to my attention through their inclusion as one of the few British acts on the legendary Loose compilation – perhaps the definitive alternative country record of our time – but they wonít accept the tag. Guiding force Chris Hooson claims to love playing live, but his songs can at times be so personal, so desolate, that you feel guilty for watching. So not exactly chart material then, but their debut album Songs For a Barbed Wire Fence and a singles collection Alone With Everybody are well worth listening to. On your own. And you have to respect the individuality of a band that canít even fill my favourite hole in the wall, Londonís famous 12 Bar club.

The album seemed to take a year and a half to record. How come it took so long to put together?
Chris: We did it in our spare time. At that point we didnít have a deal so we just recorded whenever Richard (Formby) had spare time in the studio. Whenever we felt like it and when everyone was around, so thatís why it took so long really.

Had you been working as a band long before recording started?
Yeah, but not for that long – a year and a bit?
Andy Thrower (bass): I lose track now. We done three gigs and just kept recording really, on the off-chance that something might happen.
So were you actively looking for something at the same time?
Chris: Well Andy and I got together to work on some songs because we thought it might be a nice idea to do them, and we went to Richardís studio and just did a couple of basic sessions. Then Richard started playing a few bits and bobs here and there. And we had to do a gig at one point, didnít we? And we just asked Richard if he wanted to do it and he said yes and that kind of became our spin from then on. It wasnít intentional.
Andy: Itís one of those where it wouldíve been nice to put something out. We definitely wanted to record stuff, but whether it was going to be put out or not I think is another question. But itís really just a band for having a band really, because we had some songs and we wanted to play them.

Why have you gone for a kind of country sound? I mean itís not the most popular of styles.
Chris: I donít think itís country myself, I donít know where that comes from – all that "alternative country" thing. Itís just what I listen to; I listen to a lot of Tom Waits, and West Coast things. I think itís more West Coast than country. We just use what influences weíve got around. Somebody said to me once "Why bother putting a melody down with a guitar when you can do it with something different?" Itís like on the album – The Last Thing She Wanted on the second break has an oud because my sister had just brought an oud back from wherever she was, Malaysia or something, and we tried this and it was great. And so itís, I dunno, what was the question again?
Why country?
Yeah, I donít think itís country at all.

Does Richard actually play a full time role in the band?
Yeah. Itís me and Richard really. I mean Andyís a doctor now so heís not going to be around for much longer. Heís going to record with us but he wonít be doing any more shows, so itís just going to be whoeverís around really. I usually go in with the songs with Richard and we usually work something out, then Andy comes in and puts bass on it.

Are the photographs on the album cover really of concentration camps? I noticed the NME review really had a go about that.
Do you know what? Two days after that I had the Jewish Chronicle on the phone saying theyíd had some phone calls and were not happy about this. When they originally put the artwork in it – Iím going to have to tell this story a lot, so Iíd better rehearse it – when they originally did the artwork I gave them the picture of the front cover, and this is like barbed wire, itís fine. And the one at the back, which is obviously Berkenau, I asked them to crop above the chimneys. I donít want it to be an Auschwitz thing; I want it to be a barbed wire thing. And the guy that did the artwork didnít, and by the point at which I knew, it was too late to change it because thereíd been so many fuck-ups with it anyway. There was very much a sense of "Weíre not making any more changes." We like the picture but I shouldíve thought it through really. So I had the Jewish Chronicle on the phone on the Thursday saying "Would you like to tell us about this then?" because apparently thereís some kind of ĎDark Chicí going around, like apparently the Prodigy used a Goering quote on their album. Things like "is this part of the wider dark chic thatís going on about anti-Semitism?" and Iím like no, please no. So I said they could print my e-mail address so if people really felt badly they could e-mail me, so Iím really going to be in for it. But like I said we went there and it really had a profound effect on me, and we took the pictures and weíve used them. But I wasnít intending for them to be obviously pictures of concentration camps, because the front cover couldíve been anywhere. If Iíd known thereíd be this much trouble...
I noticed the back sleeve when I got the album, but it was only when this other article picked up on it...
Yeah, because itís not the one on the back, itís on the inner. I shouldíve made some kind of statement on it, because this article accused us and said no, if weíd thought it through and reported like this is not supposed to be offensive blah blah blah. But it was too late by then anyway, but this wasnít my intention anyway, so yeah – oops!
But if youíd done that youíd have drawn undue attention to it anyway.
Itís irritating isnít it? Like I say it wasnít my intention anyway, my intention was to have just barbed wire. Because you see I did all the initial artwork at home and everything, and itíd gone backward and forward so many times that the people were just fed up with it, because theyíd made so many mistakes on it.

Being in Leeds, shouldnít you just be in an indie band like everyone else?
Leeds has no music scene at all really. It just doesnít have a live music scene, I mean we never play in Leeds. Well, we played ages ago. Thereís just no point, thereís no scene, itís just – yeah – indie bands. I hate indie music; I hate anything like that. Nobody likes indie music.
That was my era – indie kid.
Ha ha, I hate all that shit. You see at home I donít listen to, like with the country thing. I like a lot of Townes Van Zandt and that sort of stuff. The most stuff I listen to at home is like Arvo Part, all the ECM stuff, just all that. I listen to a lot of Kiss as well. I do, I really do! I listen to loads of Kiss at home and Iím not afraid to say it. But yes, itís usually instrumental music and stuff – Arvo Part and so on like that. Tom Waits. So yeah, indie music is shit. Allegedly. Itís funny – I was doing an interview with an Irish magazine last week and he said about comparisons with Lambchop and I went "oh, I hate Lambchop" and then went oh please donít print that because we donít want to get into the bitchy band thing and he went OK and the bastard printed it. Bastard. So I have to be really careful now. I should really write to him about that because I asked him, I said I donít want to get into slagging bands off. Bastard.
Has it actually gone in then?
Yeah. Bastard. Bastard. Mind you Iím getting used to it now – you read an interview and go "I never said that!" But I was a bit annoyed because I specifically asked him not to print it.

We mentioned this earlier, but what do you think of being absorbed into this alt.country thing?
I dunno, weíre not really in any scene are we?
Andy: I didnít know we were classed under that kind of scene.
Chris: I donít know really. Itís like when we go out and play nobody ever comes and sees us anyway, as we will witness tonight.
Donít say that! Iíve come all the way from Norwich.
Yeah, itís a real shame because weíve come all the way from Leeds. I hate it, I really hate it. We played the Loose night and it was great, really good, but itís just that I can never imagine us having any sort of pull ever. I can imagine confounding the locals and stuff, but I can never imagine us having any kind of pull at all.
Andy: Why do we bother?
Chris: Itís a shame because itís a hell of a lot of hassle. Andy works, I work, Richard runs a studio, and Johnís a session drummer so he just sits around. You know Iíll go into work at nine, Iíll get back tomorrow morning at four and then Iíll be up at seven for work. It is a bit depressing.
What do you actually do?
I work with kids in care, which is shit; itís really depressing. I canít think how or why we do it, so the kids will get short shrift tomorrow – "shut up! I donít care!" – oh dear, so itís a bit of a bind having to do this. When you think weíve spent a load of money coming down – why? Itís sad.
I think weíll always be an album band, first and foremost, so we can do it at home. The shame is I do like playing live actually. I was saying to Andy that itís going to be a Mark Eitzel thing where Mark couldnít afford to keep the band going, because itís a really expensive business. Weíre playing with Mark when he plays in London, so weíre going to see how that goes actually. Richard and I are going to come, and Colinís coming as well – the cello player – and if I thought that was working Iíd just never tour with a band again. Although I really like my own band I just wouldnít do it again, too expensive. We should be more like Shed Seven – we could have a bus and everything! With video games and lap dancers.

Does Richard produce everything on Amos (the label that put out Barbed Wire)?
No, nothing.
No? Because he did Triumph 2000.
He is Triumph 2000.
The records just say "Produced By".
Thatís his picture on the back. Thatís amazing really because he just does all that on a computer on his own. Itís really the antithesis of what we are, totally, because all that is built up on a computer, itís one of his live tools, really bizarre – heís a man of many talents.
Doesnít Triumph 2000 come from him spending too much time with Spacemen 3?
Youíd have to ask him that. Richardís very eclectic though, like me. I mean I listen to a lot of Coltrane or Arvo Part and he likes a lot of Indian ragas, and he likes drone stuff. I donít know whatís more him really, but he did spend a hell of a lot of time doing it, doing something. But he doesnít produce anything else for Amos. Well, Amos doesnít do anything else – that label was set up to do our first single.

I see that you wrote all but one song on the album – is this primarily your thing?
This album really feels that way. We were going to call it Bereavement & Loss forever until everyone said it was too depressing. I said after that album that I wanted the next one to be much more "bandy", and it hasnít worked out that way because we never get together to rehearse.
Iíve already written enough tracks for another album, but I donít know if weíll have another album. It depends if somebody wants to put it out. Weíve got the compilation album on Glitterhouse, and at that point we had two new songs which were put on because otherwise they might not get out. Every chance we get we might as well put everything on it because I just feel like I might not get to do another album.

 

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