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Progressive Rock Interviews

Pilgrim Speakeasy

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Roger Roge of Pilgrim Speakeasy from 2010
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of the group and your involvement in music?

I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, me and my brother used to make tapes of songs we made – he would play the guitar and I would play on cardboard boxes...but then, you know, musical differences!

Pilgrim Speakeasy has been a vehicle for my musical expression since 1999, from around 2003 it has been a solo project. Before that I was with the band in London - Pilgrim Speakeasy and the Playthings. The latest album is called Anarchitecture which followed the Moon Emperor album. I’m currently working on a new album entitled “A Ruff Guide To...Pilgrim Speakeasy.”

Now I play all the instruments on the songs, which can be a lot of work – I like to use a wide range of instruments and sounds like kora, strings, horns, thumb piano, djembe, etc., but my main instrument has always been the guitar. I’ve played lead guitar in a few bands over the years. I’ve enjoyed it – crafting solos and working off other people’s songs - but I love writing and expressing lyrics so I had to accept the necessity for doing so.

MSJ: Where does the name Pilgrim Speakeasy come from? Is there some significance to it?

Well, there’s a story there! I was in Hackney in London and I found an old organ being sold on the street – I bought it and when my friends were sitting around it trying out all its strange noises and lighting up the keys and foot pedals it kind of looked and sounded like some strange sonic shrine...we may well have been in an altered state at the time..however, it seemed to herald the dawning of a new age, the name of the organ was the “Speakeasy” which appealed to me because of the connotations of free expression and the reference to some illicit or underground  meeting place... a haven of openness. I thought as a moniker it needed some company so I added “Pilgrim” as a representation of search or someone on a special journey. Pilgrim Speakeasy, an expressive traveler! Which I suppose is kind of what a troubadour is. It seemed to fit the music very well.

MSJ: If you weren’t involved in music what do you think you’d be doing?
Self destructing, humming, whistling and tapping on tables.

Or making boats, landscaping, growing vegetables, or getting involved in renewable energy. Or perhaps an actor...

MSJ:

How would you describe the sound of Pilgrim Speakeasy?

Freakishly radiant monster grooves dipped in psychedelia.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
There are really so many. I was most influenced by others when I first started playing. Because I started off playing the guitar I would listen to a lot of guitar bands but I have to say George Clinton /Parliament/Funkadelic were some of the first major influences - but I like a lot of different artists and styles. I am a fan of African music, particularly Senegalese music - like Cheikh Lo, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo. Of course Fela Kuti. Also Jose Arroyo, Fruco y Sus from Columbia. I like music with roots, power or that is mixed up. Eclecticism appeals to me like Zappa or The Mars Volta. I also like psychedelic music like Pink Floyd but I gravitate to it more when it is on the groovier side, Outkast do it well but Funkadelic did it best. I appreciate lyrically expressive artists like Nick Cave, and Jarvis Cocker. The Smiths had some great songs, Morrissey has an ability to express the sublimity of emotion in such a beautiful and down to earth way.

Humour is also an influence.

There’s a whole range of one or two albumers and knob twiddling spacemen I could mention but I won’t, not forgetting Lee Perry. My own lyrical influence comes mainly from outside of music, I approach lyrics more like writing poetry, it can come from books or concepts or anywhere really. It’s either deeply inside and I have to dig for it, or it’s just a spark and then it develops.

MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
After this winter recording in the Speakeasy I would say arthritis!

Promoting the Anarchitecture album and finishing up recording the follow up.

Hopefully getting some players together (anyone interested?) for some gigs.

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

The whole P-Funk posse would be great to play with, Bernie Worrel and Bootsy Collins - hard to beat!  Queens of the Stone Age could be an interesting jam too.

But I appreciate any good players with feel, I’ll jam with anyone.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal 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?
In my opinion, in moderation  it is probably a good bit of promo, the first time people hear a song it has usually been for free – on the Internet, TV, radio, from a friend etc - and then after if they like it they may well decide to buy it or buy something else by the band later. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways of selling music. The more people that have your music the better.

Major labels are trying to exist on the old model of mass sales for few artists whereas now I think most people accept there are more artists being heard by a more fragmented mainstream breaking somewhat the monopoly. It’s not necessarily because there’s so much theft about, more likely people are less dominated – in music anyway- by large corporations and more widely influenced by the possibilities of the Internet.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Someone unconnected to the artist who sets out only to make money from someone else’s music  - is not the best scenario..

I don’t think a fan recording a gig or even sharing it with his mate is a problem but trying to get money out of it is different because you would be taking something from someone else, unauthorized.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Firstly Henry Rollins is definitely out, he’d be on my side.

Monotony might represent the antithesis of Pilgrim Speakeasy. But I’m not too good at keeping enemies, I don’t have the energy for that role play and with Rollins on side whoever it might be I’m sure I would be the last one standing!

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it and why?

Ginger Baker, John Fruscianti, Bernie Worrel, Vernon Reid, Jose Arroyo’s horn section, Sakari Kukko, Solo Cissokho, Betty Davis, Bootsy Collins, Ida Corr, Cheikh Lo...because it would be a great sound and they’re all fantastic musicians who would probably get on with each other!

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Captain Beefheart, Femi Kuti, Beck, Morrissey, Fishbone, The Mars Volta, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Saul Williams, Jose Arroyo, Cheikh Lo, Fantcha, Lee Perry, Masters of Reality, MIA, Dr John, Pink Floyd, Air, George Clinton and P-Funk All Stars with Bootsy Colins, Leonard Cohen, Outkast, Madness, and..and...

The festival would take place on a remote Scottish island on midsummer’s eve. At the end there would be a jam. Breakfast would be included.

MSJ:

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

I’m currently in the middle of trying to get some tunes ready for the new album so I haven’t really been listening to much else recently.

The last thing I listened to, for some reason was “Kinky Afro” from The Happy Mondays pills thrills and bellyaches album – maybe it was for a bit of mixdown mood cleansing!

MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Hiukka Rock Festival

MSJ: Do you have a musical "guilty pleasure?"

I try not to feel guilty about pleasure, life’s too short. I do like a bit of Shirley Bassey though.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Well, let me go through the rolodex...when I was 17, I was playing a gig with a Funk band which became overrun by bikers; we ended up playing Motorhead covers all night. “Win some lose some it’s all the same to me...”

Or...

Having recently joined a new band, I was encouraged to take part in promotional activities but when making contact with a record company I proceeded to introduce the band under an entirely different band’s name.

MSJ:

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Just to say that I see music not only as a medium for expressing the ordinarily inexpressible but also as a form in which ideas can be conveyed in a special way - together with the music, this is in my opinion what gives music its power and significance culturally, whether the sentiments expressed are agreed with or not, just the fact that they are there stimulates response, thought and feeling. I think these days there should be more discussion, interpretation and expression of how this world is being shaped. we are being overfed with concept but we do not digest enough.

..And everyone should try and grow something.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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