Lisbee Stainton, girl on an unmade bed

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the goings-on here over the course of the last six weeks or so, you may have noticed that The Indie Handbook is in the midst of a transitional period. Where things are headed, I cannot say because I’m not entirely sure myself. Wednesday’s news that Paste would be ceasing publication of their print magazine further complicates things, raising the inevitable question of relevance once again. I won’t go into my answer here (read the new “About” page if you’re interested) but I do want to address one of the artists who led me to it.

Lisbee Stainton was first featured here about a year ago. Then again, her most recent album, Girl On an Unmade Bed, was released months ago and has been reviewed by publications far more important and, dare I say—relevant—than this one. Why, then, should I bother with it? Haven’t I missed the window? Well—no, actually; The Waste Land is 75 years old, but that doesn’t stop me reading it every month or so. And, while I’m not suggesting that Girl On an Unmade Bed is going to define the next quarter century of music, I do quite like it.

The album begins with a pair of waltzes—a new version of Lisbee’s classic “Red” and the title track—which, together, amount to about six minutes of harmonic seduction (oh, those chord changes!…), before picking things up a bit with “Is Whispering”. The second verse of “Underground” is easily one of the best moments of the album: The man said we’d be free to fight them on the beaches in the night / The shells fall on our shore, rubble, trouble, boil and bubble / Take my hand, oh take my hand and we’ll run to the underground / and hide here ’til the ‘all clear’ sounds.

Other highlights include the coming of age number “Just Like Me” and “Practice Room”, a song that seems to me proof that the lives of music students on either side of the Atlantic are not all that different. Take this, for example: There’s a prima dona in the room behind me / singing opera so that Rome can hear. I can’t say I didn’t become intimately familiar with that sound in my four years of fruitless “practicing”. And then there’s “Harriet”, due for release later this month as the next single from the album. I used to think it would be cool if someone were to write a song about me. Harriet did too, apparently—so cool, in fact, that she asked for one, quite frequently it seems. Harriet! Why did I say I would do this for Harriet / Just because she wants me to? / I’ll write a song all about you / Just to get you out my room. (I am beginning have second thoughts about having my own song.)

Perhaps the death of Paste Magazine is a harbinger of the death of indie music (the beardy-flanneled music genre, that is, not the DIY ethic) as people will undoubtedly be shouting from the mountaintops in the coming days, but singer-songwriters are in the midst of a solid run (about 800 years) and show no sign of letting up. Just like the best of those pioneering minnesingers and trouvères*, Lisbee is currently wandering Europe and the UK on her massive (and first ever) headline tour. And though her name will never be as fun to say as that of Walther von der Vogelweide, she is infinitely more charming and there are eight strings on her guitar. Add to that this brilliant album (which can be streamed, along with her first album Firefly, on her website) and it’s pretty clear to see why there’s no denying that Lisbee Stainton is going places.

How’s that for relevance?

*Technically, the traveling ones were called jongleurs, but I needed the minnesinger reference.

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Dimbleby & Capper: stage and studio

I first listened to the music of Dimbleby & Capper on the recommendation of the incomparably charming and immensely talented Lisbee Stainton (also a classmate of Laura’s from Goldsmiths College). I was so impressed (and conveniently London-bound) that I rushed to set up an interview. Over coffee in St. James’ Park, we discussed everything from production and influences, to performing and the London club scene.  Here is the first of a series of extracts.

The Indie Handbook: Do you think your time at Goldsmiths influenced your sound?

Laura Bettinson (D&C): Oh yeah, for sure. I started—oh, that’s a nice dog! Really cute. It looks a bit like my hat—When I joined Goldsmiths, I lived in the Midlands with my mom and dad and came straight out of doing my A Levels straight into uni. I didn’t take a year off or anything, and I’d been playing quite a lot on the Midlands singer-songwriter scene—Coventry, Birmingham, all that stuff—and I was taking a piano because it was just a voice and piano thing. And then I got to London and I tried doing that for about two months until it became obvious that I can’t take a full, proper weighted piano on the Tube. It’s a joke. I just wasn’t doing it.

TIH: I think I’d pay to see that, actually.

D&C: Well, I did it a few times, but the thing is heavy. It’s just so damn heavy. So I took a little hiatus to figure out how I was going to put all this—all my songs—in a suitcase and be able to get around easily without having to have three men help me carry it up the stairs of Covent Garden tube station. So that’s why I started messing around with electronics. After that, I got into the whole looping thing and samples. At Goldsmiths, you had so many opportunities to perform and it’s a really non-judgmental environment for you to go Alright, I’ve only just started fucking around with this, so my apologies—and everyone gives you genuine feedback. The course we were on was so small with only about 28 people on it, but some amazing talent and the tutors are fab. And the facilities are good—I mean, they may not be the best ever, but that’s kind of the charm of it, because we’re all kind of DIY. And if you can’t do it yourself, then who the hell’s gonna do it for you? Which has almost become one of my mottos, that whole DIY-type thing—stick it together; see if it works. If it doesn’t, find some people who will help you do it.

TIH: So it’s more the sort of environment that fosters and encourages experimentation.

D&C: For sure, yeah. And it’s a popular music course, the one I was on, which is funny because a lot that comes out of it is not “pop”. I loved being at Goldsmiths but it’s a proper bubble, you know? You’re in that bubble for three years and you think I can do all this ridiculous conceptual stuff and everyone thinks it’s fabulous and then you come out and play it to normal people and you realise you’ll have to make a few more user-friendly modifications.

TIH: Have you done much listening to those more experimental artists—well, they’re standard fare now—but the avant garde performers of the 70s and 80s, like Meredith Monk or Laurie Anderson?

D&C: Laurie Anderson. Yeah, I do listen to Laurie Anderson, but only in the last year or so, since being at Goldsmiths. It’s very minimal in some ways, but there’s a depth to it. I do like Laurie Anderson but she gets a bit much at times. I can’t listen to it forever, but I can really appreciate what she does. And also someone said once that watching my growth through Goldsmiths is like looking through Cindy Sherman‘s back catalogue. Because, you know, the idea of reinvention…

TIH: Cindy Sherman is brilliant

D&C: and I like that. I used to take ridiculous photos on my Macbook. I used to dress up and my wardrobe is ridiculous—and I work in a vintage clothes shop now, which has not helped—so I can see the similarities there, the whole idea of characters is one of the strengths that enables me to do what I do, because otherwise I can’t do it, that whole personal thing. It’s no good, I wouldn’t be able to just sit there with a piano now, not for very long. I mean, what Lisbee does with her guitar—it’s just a different level of—I don’t know. It’s just a completely different approach to performance, equally meritable and brilliant, but I think I would find that very exposing.

TIH: I think that’s true of a lot of performers. I know it has been in my own experience. Without something between you and the audience, a rejection of the performance becomes a rejection of the performer.

D&C: It’s gets too much. Totally. It’s a funny old world. But like I said, if you’re going to do gigs like that—when you get bigger gigs and bigger audiences—if it doesn’t go down well and it’s just you, it’s like Oh, fuck. Whereas, I like stepping into something else. It is essentially me, just an exploded version, a bigger version, which can take the hit better than if it was just me.

TIH: So do you think that helps you to separate the performer—the you on stage—from the real you?

D&C: Yeah. Everyone always asks…well, you haven’t asked yet…but the Dimbleby & Capper thing, the name, wasn’t really thought about, but I just needed—the music’s really quite schizophrenic, you know. All the lyrics, I just kind of cut stuff up, you know? I don’t really sit down and think I’m going to write a song about waking up and eating breakfast. I’ll just pick out a word and think Well, that rhymes with that and I’ll just shove that together and we’ll go down that tangent. I fancy talking about cross-dressing. I’ll shove that in there. It’s totally cut and paste. I do some art—well, I say ‘art’—a lot of my ideas come from that collage kind of stuff. There are a few little bits of cut and stick where I just literally take body parts of people, animals, anything, myself—there will be a part of me in there somewhere: a face or a leg or something—and I’ll stick it all together. And I think that’s kind of the approach I take to Dimbleby & Capper. It’s a bit of everything: mish-mash, cut it up, stick it together, if it works, it works, if not…

TIH: So you don’t have, necessarily…

D&C: A method to my madness.

TIH: Not exactly the term I was looking for, but…

D&C: Yeah, that’s my approach. Pretty much everything I do in life has got to be, like, instant, even food. If I can’t have food in five minutes, I’m not gonna eat. It’s like music. When I get my stuff mixed, my boyfriend—he’s a sound engineer—when he gets hold of my sessions, he’s like What the fuck? What have you recorded this at? It’s distorting and it’s awful! But that’s just me. That’s how I do it. That’s how I got that sound. You’re gonna have to work with it. It’s not particularly the most orthodox method, but it works for me. No complaints yet.

TIH: Well, I think it sounds good.

D&C: Thanks. The only problem is, though, you never remember how you got there. Recently, I was trying to remember: Why do the vocals on ‘Slick Maturity’ sound great and I can’t recreate them on any of my other stuff? And it’s because I haven’t got a fucking clue how I did it. I don’t know what settings I was on, nothing, which is pretty irritating. I really should start writing stuff down.

Si & Lisbee

goldsmithsHello, lovely readers. Before I begin, I want to let you know that from now on, Eric and I will be posting THRICE a week (I have been looking for a way to work the word “thrice” into my everyday conversation for so long) instead of four times–once me, once him, and once either a guest post or Follow An Indie Band Wednesday highlights. Don’t despair, because three times a week will be perfect for all of us! I would also like to let you know that you, my friend, YOU are perfect for a guest submission. No seriously, you are, so send them along: the.indie.handbook@gmail.com. On Wednesday, we’ll be posting from Dan Holloway of Year Zero Writers, who is heading up the Free-e-day we’ve mentioned before, and will no doubt keep mentioning.  We’re trying to convince Libby of the Poptimist to write us something, but she’s being really slow about it (Libby!).  So, get excited and make sure to tune in on Wednesday!

Tonight, I’m focusing on two artists who both attend(ed) Goldsmiths College in Southeast London. The only way I can think to describe Goldsmiths for readers in the States is as a cross between the top-notch, cutting-edge musical training one would experience at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and the free thought and open-minded discussion one would find at the New School in New York City. With this combination, it’s no surprise that incredible young artists emerge from Goldsmiths every year with a strong grasp on the technical aspects of their art as well as the deep philosophy, history, and emotion behind it. I love listening to artists from Berklee and from Goldsmiths for just this reason. Si Cliff and Lisbee Stainton are no exceptions.

We’ll start with Si Cliff… Si could be classified, I guess, as acoustic rock, and while I can’t decide if my favorite thing about his music is his seriously brilliant technique or his honest lyrics, they definitely lend well to each other. It isn’t often that you come across a songwriter so quick to offer vulnerable and personal lyrics, be it through storytelling or just plain confession, to the point where you as a listener hear your own story is being told. On top of that, and probably due to a combination of fantastic training at Goldsmiths and an abundance of talent, the structure and sounds of each song are incredibly well-crafted, and Si’s guitar-playing is excellent. There’s a lot of pure goodness here. My favorites from his recordings are “Memories”–especially with the awesome instrumental solo in the middle–and “Start Again.” Oh yeah, and did I mention he has a great voice and a great accent? Well, consider it mentioned.

And gee whiz, speaking of honesty, can we get some more? Lisbee Stainton my other recently-discovered Goldsmiths singer/songwriter who also seems to be really in tune with…I don’t know, life?…and seems to be more than willing, as I always want artists to be, to share her thoughts and feelings and cares. Artists like this make me feel more okay about being who I am and living my life. Anyway, on her myspace, I cannot pick a favorite song…at least not based in any kind of objectivity. I love “Just Like Me,” because, well, do I really need to talk about my twentysomething confusion again? It resonates. Also, “Girl on an Unmade Bed” is quite beautiful. The thing is, the Miss Lisbee Stainton brand of folk rock will charm you with its absolute loveliness and honesty–and can you deny that you’re looking for more loveliness and honesty in your life? No. Don’t deny it.

Listen and love it. Also, if you’re from Goldsmiths or Berklee or some other place and you want us to listen to your music, we totally will.