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Progressive Rock Interviews


Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Litmus from 2007
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up a bit on your musical history?
Martin: Litmus emerged from the combined warped imaginations (and misspent youth and absence of anything better to do) of Simon and myself. We found a drummer and made two demo tapes in 2000 that we duplicated ourselves and gave away to anyone who wanted them. We got a new drummer and some synth players, started working on a new demo and it turned into an album – You Are Here, eventually released in 2004 by Space Music. Our second album – Planetfall – was recorded in 2006 and released by Rise Above Records earlier this year. Quite a few gigs and festivals along the way – some favourites: supporting Hawkwind Christmas 2002 and at their 2002 and 2003 Hawkfest festivals, a short UK tour with Julian Cope January 2005, Roadburn festival in the Netherlands 2005, Swamp Room festival in Germany 2007, Skull Club UK July 2007.

MSJ: I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe your sound?
Martin: We don’t mind if you want to pigeon-hole us, it won’t make us sound any different. We’re a loud rock band with songs, riffs, tunes, vocal harmonies, sometimes mind-numbing repetition, sometimes panic-stricken freeform jamming, and always a load of spacey synth sounds. Some people call it spacerock, which is an essentially non-existent sub-genre that I nonetheless have a fair degree of affection for.

Marek: I’d describe it as “Very, very BIG”. That doesn’t necessarily mean loud, though. It can be graceful at times but still B I G.

Fiddler: I’d describe it as psychedelic, song based, driving electric rock music. There are sections of jamming and general unplanned madness- but within the framework of a good song. It is important to ensure a strong connection between listener and band. I’d guess the point of it, if there is one, is to take the listener or whoever along with us on a journey into who knows where. And hopefully come back in one piece.

MSJ: Who do you see as musical influences?
Martin: Who we see as influences and what you might reasonably think we sound like are probably different things. Our collective tastes cover most kinds of music – psychedelic rock, punk, metal, electronica, folk, classical, blues, pop. I guess some of the more obvious ones would be Hawkwind, early Pink Floyd, Motorhead, Gong, Here & Now, Stooges, but despite the 1970s reference points I don’t think we actually sound particularly “retro” – there’s definitely a more contemporary edge to the sound.

Fiddler: Probably we all have many different influences which have shaped us individually ….In terms of Litmus, I guess Hawkwind have been a huge influence- particularly the early stuff with the jamming. Floyd. Zeppelin. Gong. But the point is that Litmus is not an attempt to recreate any of these things- we have our own sound and are moving forward…at an alarming rate!

MSJ: Where did the name for the band come from?
Martin: The name came from our old drummer Ben. He thought it was a good joke and we’re stuck with it now because to be honest we’ve got better things to do than think of a new one. If we ever see Ben again we will make him pay for what he did.

Fiddler: There’s the old "acid test" pun in there somewhere…

MSJ: What’s ahead for you?
Martin: In the immediate future we’re soon going to Germany to play at the fantastic South of Mainstream festival with Orange Goblin and Chrome Hoof. Then we’re recording a new album in October - hopefully it will be mixed and ready to go by the end of the year so that we can get it released in the first half of 2008.
Fiddler: Recording a new album is the main focus this year- we are very lucky to be experiencing lots of new ideas at the moment and we’re keen to keep the ball rolling- the last one was a bit of a learning curve and as a result took longer than expected to appear- this one wants to be out “on the shelves” early next year.
MSJ: Are there musicians you’d like to play with in the future?
Martin: Loads, but for the moment we’re concentrating on making Litmus music. Thinking further ahead there are a few possible collaborations on the cards - whether these are done as Litmus or under other names remains to be seen. Actually, the most important musician we’d like to play with is a new keyboard player (since Andy Thompson has left us for pastures new and proggier), but we don’t know who that will be yet…

Fiddler: Probably too many to mention…speaking for myself- anyone who has ever been in Hawkwind. Nick Rhodes.

MSJ: Do you think that 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?
Martin: I think that the heart of the problems the major labels are having is that they are releasing a lot of s**t music. If you want our music you can buy it in a shop or you can download it legally or you can download it illegally and I don’t suppose that anything anyone says is going to influence your decision. Some parts of the industry have undoubtedly changed, but it seems to me that if you offer interesting, original music with good artwork and packaging at a fair price then there’ll always be quite a few people who will buy it. The availability of downloads can potentially help to get a new band known, but there is such an overwhelming amount of new music on the internet that it can be difficult for people to find the good stuff.

Fiddler: Music downloads are a form of media- no different to records, tapes or CDs. I would suggest that the reason for lower sales is the fact that CDs are vastly overpriced - who can afford to walk into a store and take a chance on something when it’s the best part of 20quid? Whether this is greed on the part of record companies or retailers or whoever, I don’t know- certainly the artists are not getting huge returns.

MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Martin: I’m delighted that anyone thinks we’re playing something worth recording. Audience recording and trading has always been an important part of the underground scene, and long may it continue. In relation to the previous point it also helps bands to reach sympathetic audiences around the world. All we ask is that people don’t make any money from it, and that they send us a copy so we know what’s out there.

Fiddler: If fans are willing to put in the time and effort to record a gig and share with others, that makes me feel very happy indeed.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Martin: The last thing I bought was the first two Tangerine Dream albums – really interesting, and very different from the later albums that made them an international household name. As for what I’ve been listening to lately, there’s always so much of it – last night it was: Melvins (The Maggot), Boris (Akuma no Uta), Kyuss (Blues for the Red Sun), Slo Burn (Amusing the Amazing), Revelation (Frozen Masque), Oversoul (Seven Days in November) and Asbestos Death (Dejection Unclean). Yes, we had a joyously doomy evening.


Marek: I bought Alpha One-Three by Jah Wobble. He’s always been a fascinating listen and this one is no different. I tend to shove everything I buy into my I-Pod then “shuffle” it all – I love the jarring juxtapositions created as the poor apple tries to juggle all the weirdness I’ve got in there and make sense of it. Klaus Badelt followed by Jason Lowenstein etc.


Fiddler: At the moment, I am listening to a South London based band called “The Bitter Springs”. In fact I am quite obsessed with that band right now. They have, in my opinion, crafted perfectly melodic songs with incredibly dark and funny lyrics, combined with something of a punk rock attitude and totally unpretentious delivery.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Martin: It was psych-prog-disco-doom lunatics Chrome Hoof when they last played in London. There’s nothing quite like seeing a ten-foot tall metal goat wading through the crowd at the end of their set.

Marek: The last gig I went to was Cymande All-Stars at the Jazz Café in London. DJ’s out there will know it. It’s deep calypso-influenced heavy funk – about as far away from Litmus as you can get! Also, indelibly engraved on my psyche is the Einsturzende Neubauten show a little while back at Koko, London - sublime.

Fiddler: Think it was Motorhead.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Martin: Well, we’ve all got lost backstage from time to time. No exploding drummers, though god knows we’ve tried. Not exactly Spinal, but a pretty bad moment was half the band missing the ferry on the way to Roadburn 2005 and having to drive 160 miles across Europe in two hours before getting straight out of the van and walking onstage. Then there was our set at Swamp Room 2007, which got delayed until 6am – it was already light when we went on stage, but we still played for two hours (before the organisers made us stop so they could have a break before the next day’s bands began…)


Marek: My favourite was at a gig in Skegness (actually, I could stop there and it would still be funny) – we start the set and I look round to see the keyboard player eating pie and chips and beans from a tray on his lap.


Fiddler: I got lost backstage at The Standard…

MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?
Martin: Thanks very much for the interview. If any readers are interested in hearing our stuff please check out our Myspace page or better still, come to a gig if you get a chance.

Marek: Yes, live is where it really happens. Proper jams from a real band. Something those major labels don’t tend to dabble in.


Fiddler: Thank you very much for the interview. Take care and hopefully we will catch up at a gig very soon. Cheers!

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