Russell Hiscox, the eternal teenage Shoegazer
Russell Hiscox is better known through his music blog, I was a teenage shoegazer. Online since 2008, this blog has amassed a very significant amount of quality material on, the 90's music, the 90's shoegaze and britpop scene, and many side stories of that era. Russell also reviews newer bands on occasion.
Many a time did I find a treasure trove of information on bands that I love but know little about. Many a time was I reminded of bands long forgotten, only to listened to their music again with great pleasure, some 20 years later,
When I decided to start Noise Artists, Russell was one of the first people I presented my project to for advice, and he was very kind to share with a newcomer some very useful tips of the trade.
So let me thank Russell Hiscox, the eternal teenage Shoegazer, for his help, for accepting this conversation, and for his patience:
- It was the first time he used Skype,
- We were interrupted over 10 times with the line going bad,
- Poor Russell had to do the interview in a closet, where his Wi-Fi reception was the best.
We both agreed that we had to say it: he came out of the closet at the end of this conversation :-). His wife and daughter will be happy to know that is was in the literal sense only.
As bloggers, we spend a lot of time writing, browsing the web, emailing, and there is little direct interaction. This “face to face” (or rather screen to screen) conversation, and being actually able to see each other was a very welcome change to our routine.
As we both share a passion for music, and more particularly Shoegaze and Britpop, our conversation went very well. We are also from the same generation and have seen My Bloody Valentine or Ride before they split up, have families, which made it very easy to relate to each other experiences. Needless to say, Russell experience in music, both as blogger and as a fan, is vastly larger mine.
It's talk time!
David: I am a big fan of your blog and have been following it on and off for some years now. I discovered it 4 or 5 years ago and have enjoyed many, many articles. The last example is the pieces on the Th’ Faith Healers that you have done lately. I am a big fan of this band, and "Don't Jones Me" has always been on my top songs' lists.
David: Tell me about yourself in the 90's
Russell. In the 90's I was part of that scene but not a big mover. There were a lot more people cooler than I was then. The most important thing is that I never grew out of it, whereas my friends now say, "I used to listen to My Bloody Valentine and then I moved on to ...".
Personally, I never moved on. I was a big fan. This is why I started the blog, to relive these experiences. I am the only one that kept the photographs, kept the tickets, and was not afraid to show that I did.
David: I understand very well and love the banner of your blog with the concert tickets. I have a few myself that I framed (Ride, Pixies...).
Russell: The sad thing is that when I moved around I got rid of a lot of things. Before the internet when you wanted to know things, you wrote directly to the bands or the labels and often you got a hand-written letter back and unfortunately, I got rid of them all. 5.30, Kingmaker were very good at writing back.
David: Did you do any Fanzine before starting your blog?
Russell: No actually. I decided to start after 2004, when I had a very bad accident and ended up in a hospital for 3 months. I had 3 months of wages in my bank account. I decided to buy a computer, mainly to make CDs and compilations.
When I was looking for music, I went to blogs to find things I did not have. There were some very good blogs at the time, and most of them are not around anymore. One was called Box Set Go, which is the same name that the High's song and they had very nice compilation and very nice write ups. One day I looked at my album collection and I said to myself "yes I could do this, I could write about my album collection". So that's how I started the blog in 2008.
David: Do you have a big record collection
Russell: Yes I do. It is a very big collection. It was so big that I had to put it by alphabetical order. For example, if I wanted to listen to something from the Stone Roses, before sorting them, I could spend half an hour looking through CDs to find it.
And then later, when I settled and my wife moved in, she also brought her CDs. She would listen to Phil Collins for example (laughter) and would put the CD back in a completely different case.
So what I did is I got all my CDs, and put them all on the hard drive of my computer and I boxed them all away, because I could not cope with this any longer. Now I mainly listen to them from my computer. I boxed away around 700 CDs. Of course, I have many more digital downloads. I also digitalized all my records and 12 inch singles.
D: Your writing is very documented. You are kind of an historian of Shoegaze and indie movement. So, you decided to write on you record collection. Did you keep that angle after, writing on CDs that you have rather than on new bands?
R: I mainly wrote on CDs, things I liked. Everything I liked at the time of the 90’s I write about. In the 90’s, I used to read the NME every week. And if there was a band that had an “indie” label attached to it, I used to go and see them in concert, regardless of if I have heard them before or anything like that.
It is sad but true. If any band was rated by the NME, I went and see them. Such was the power of the NME at the time.
D: Yes, we had the same in France with the “Inrockuptibles”. They were very good and was the only magazine dedicated to indie / alternative music. And I was buying the CD that had good reviews, went to see concert that were advertised. I understand well.
R: I went to see many bands; many I have not heard before I so them. Yes, it was a good time. Now, in the UK, as a new band it is more profitable to put your money to do a video in Youtube rather than to do an 18-day tour in small venues around the UK.
So, in local venues, it tends to be local bands. Back in 1992, I saw the Verve in Southampton Joiner’s arms. It’s a pub venue, with maybe a 150 people. They did not fill it at the time.
You probably know the band Sultans of Ping with a song called “where is my jumper”. I saw them, with Radiohead supporting, in a night club in Bournemouth with 50 other people. You do not see that any more.
There does not seem to be small nationally recognized bands doing tours anymore.
D: The format of the blog it has now, which is Wordpress. I noticed that the archives go back to August 2013. Did you not tell me that you stared in 2008?
R: Yes, I had a blog on Blogger, blogspot (google platform). I got a digital copyright association take-down notice. The blog got closed for copyright issues. Because they are a google company, the traffic was much better.
When I blog about the 90’s, I put up music that you could only get in the 90’s. You cannot find them any more in most cases.
If I go back to when My Bloody Valentine released MBV, I did a review of that record, and people wrote in “you have not posted links to that record”. It is a new record and I am not in the habit to ripping people off.
I only supplied uploads to deleted old material, not for new stuff. When I write about bands that are up and coming, I always post their Bandcamp links and things like that.
D: And how does your family feel about the blog?
R: My wife does not mind. I am very proud of my blog. I have people like yourself that want to interview me. I have university students that contact me. But my wife does not really understand. Sometimes I would like her to understand more about the blog.
My wife likes 80’s music. It was a bit difficult as I ended up going a lot to concerts on my own. What I do now is that I play the music, and if she likes it we go together. So, we are going a lot more concerts together now. We went to see Morrissey, the Wedding Present, John Spencer Blues explosion.
D: Do you have a lot of correspondence with other bloggers. I am asking because I have a correspondence with few of them online and they were very helpful, like Matthew Bedford, Jimmy Bannerman, Jairo Manzur, Joe Giangrave.
Also, the information you find on bands and CD’s is very good and detailed, your posts are very well documented. How do you get the information? Online, or do you write to bands as in the days of old?
R: I try to post once a week, unless there is a gig coming up, I do not promise anything. You made a bold move with your blog and the timing you gave.
D: Yes we’ll see. I have just started and discover many things, including timing the amount of time needed to plan, write and correspond. It is more than I planned so I may have to rethink things a bit and be less ambitious, unless I get other people to contribute.
You have been working on your own. Did you ever want to do collaborative work, or have other collaborators to do some of the things, or did you always want to keep the control of your blog?
R: I think by doing everything on my blog, it kept the voice the same, so people who enjoyed the blog became used to how I wrote, and they became used to me as a person. I wanted to keep a “John Peel” relationship with my readers so they would know me.
“I used to live in Bournemouth, I have a teenage daughter, …” and that sort of things, so they would be able to relate to me on a personal level. So that’s something I always tried to bring into my blog, it is a bit of a personal insight. The last post I did about Air balloon road was like that.
D: Yes, it is very good, and I had a giggle reading it. I could picture myself doing it.
R: I was going around Bristol, which a much bigger city than Exeter, and Air Balloon road is not in a nice area of Bristol, and I thought taking people through this, rather than just talking about bands was interesting. Also, when I talk about the 90’s, I talk about my own personal experience in the 90’s. I talk about going to the indie disco, and things like that.
D: I never know such a thing existed.
They did and they were great. I was a rite of passage for 18 year olds in the 90’s to go to the indie disco. Not many people write about that sort of things. The fashions of the time, you probably have seen pictures of me, long curtain hair, and beads, and things like that. They must have been scores of people that had this look in the 90’s, they did not write about is, but they all know it. Beads were very fashionable at the time.
So I keep the blog to myself, to keep control of the voice which readers could recognize. If you get more than the one person writing, you get different tones. And I think that one of the things that are nice about my blog, and when people comment on my blog. I have quite a few commenters that are multiple commenters because they know me through my blog and they know what sort of person I am because of everything I talk about.
D: That’s one of the reason I really like it and I asked, is that I would like also to have a consistent voice in my own blog going forward. We’ll see how it goes.
R: Also the 2 other blogs you mentioned, “When the Sun hits” and “It Sounds better with Reverb”, they have multiple authors. I was the only one that just one person. So, you know, I think I am the only person doing it as a hobby, because I do not make any money from the blog at all. It probably cost me money with all the records I buy.
The other ones, because of the size of it, I am not sure it is a hobby.
D: Jimmy, I do not know. He is on his own, and stopped now to focus on his young family.
R: Yes, I noticed he has not posted anything since January
D: When the sun hits produce a lot more content and you get a lot of information, which is great. The voice is not as consistent, but that’s the line they chose, which is a good choice too. They are a great source of information. Is there any other blog you could recommend?
R: There is a blog, which is sadly been not touched since 2009, but it was called “Because Midway ain’t Coming Back”. That was a great blog. It was a bit of an inspiration and a good one.
Really, all the blogs I liked are not running anymore. There was another one called Box Set Go which was on blogspot,
I think I cornered the market in writing about the 90’s.
My favourite blogs are in my blog roll
D: Yes, I had a look. Thank you for putting Noise Artists there. Really appreciate the vote of confidence. I hope I’ll live up to it. I had a look at others. Disarm, I did not know them.
R: They are really nice people. That was one of the people that I met through blogging. She was in a Scottish band I became friendly with her. She knows Jacqueline and Dave who do Disarm. She put me in contact with them, saying that they are looking for writers. But that’s where I found that I have difficulty writing for someone else. They are really nice people and we are friends.
One of the great things that has happened, I had a reader that contacted me and said “I really want a copy of the Lilys Tone bender, and do you have a copy and can you write about it. So, what I did, I went on Twitter, and I just put out a notice “does anyone have an MP3 version of Tonebender EP by the Lillies?”, and within half an hour, somebody contacted me and said “yes we do” and that was really, really nice.
The thing I like about twitter, is that you are able to talk to bands. Back in the 90’s, it was really difficult to get in contact with bands and stuff like that.
Facebook as well. One day on Facebook, I got a message from Sterling Roswell from Spaceman 3. He reached me and asked “do you have a copy of the Darkside’s Psychedelicise Suburbia”, and they were looking for a copy to remaster for the Darkside’s Boxset and he could not find one, so he wrote to me.
It’s great. John, from Ned’s Atomic’s Dustbin, I was interviewing them, so we were emailing, and things like that, so yeah, it’s great now with the internet.
Also, a few years back, a band from Ukraine, Ummagma asked me to help me advertise their music as they needed money to leave the country. During the 2014 pro-Russian events. I helped as much as I can. And thanks to this and other help, they left for Canada. We are still in contact.
D: About them, I completely forgot about them until you wrote about them not long ago, and listened to them again and rediscovered some of their songs. Thanks for that.
R: In retrospect, at the time Ned’s Atomic Dustbin were slated slightly for being a bit shallow, but when I listened to it know, they have really great pop songs. The same with Carter who I had a bit of a love/hate relationship in the 90’s, but when I listen to it now, I think it was really, really good.
But then, some things I listened to now have not worn so well, like the Farm. I listened to the Farm’s album Spartacus, that was supposed to be a classic. There was a couple of good songs, but the rest is shocking. So yeah, it is interesting to look back on things in retrospect now.
D: I agree. Also, one thing I was amazed when I began to listened a lot to new bands not so long ago, I was expecting to have loads of MBV or Ride “sound alike”, but Slowdive seem to be a wide spread source of inspiration
R: I would be weary of that, because when I was a young person in the 90’s, probably 1992 or 1991, you had the file “the Doors” with Val Kilmer in it, and at the time, a lot of people sited the Doors as an influence. But in retrospect you do not hear the Doors being an influence in many of these bands now.
It may be also a bit of a fashion thing, as Slowdive recently reformed, and will have a record out soon. So, it could be questioned if they are a major influence.
I must say, there are some bands from America, the Warlocks, and the Black Angels, and they have a really psychedelic, it’,s like a south America, Texas deep psychedelia music which is really really gritty. It sounds a bit like the Doors, but also like the Spencer Blues Explosion
I do not know if some band take the Shogaze / dreampop moniker just because they do not have vocals you can hear, and that sort of things.
With some guitarists, if they turn up the distortion high enough, you cannot hear the mistakes they make in their chords. So, I do not know if some people get on the shoegaze wagon so they can hide the mistakes as a band.
D: It is a very good point, and I can relate to that as it may have happened in a couple of our songs with the Smiling Marianne I was playing with. So, I see your point and agree in some cases. But other are doing excellent music as well with Shoegaze and Dream pop influences, and I love that, as I realized I was not completely has been with my musical tastes, as people now find that this scene in the 90’s was great influence and great music.
For the future, are you going to continue with the same format?
R: I am just going to continue as I am. Hopefully, someday I would love someone to phone and say “we’ve got a festival and need someone to compere at festivals, can you come up and line up bands”. Or just be invited to a few gigs and after parties. In the meantime, I will keep it going the same. I really enjoy it.
People quote me as an expert on the music of the 90’s. I never gave myself that title. I am just a blogger. But I have ended up with this title as “expert”, maybe because I have a page in this book (“What we wore”) about 90’s fashion, I am now a fashion icon as well (laughter)
D: Well I know I was uncool at the time … not that I am a lot cooler now J
R: Well I lived in the South Coast at the time. If I have been in London or Manchester, I would have been a lot cooler
D: Surely. People think you are an expert, and in many ways, they are right, because you wrote about so many bands, needing to think deeply about their music. That develops a sense of things. And, because through your career as a blogger you have accumulated so much knowledge of so much different bands I am not surprised.
I you look at the galaxy of blogs on Shoegaze, … I would tag you as being the historian of the lot, and definitely the expert on the 90’s.
R: Thank you very much
D: That’s true, and I say that with a lot of admiration for what you have done. I discovered or rediscovered so many things with your posts. Th’ Faith Healers for example, I always loved their LP Lido, but I did not know they did other things. You just wrote on them, and I am discovering much more.
R: The strange thing about the Th’ Faith Healers, is that they were always a supporting band. I must have seen them about 4 or 5 times, always supporting other bands. They were not a major mover at the time. Probably the last time I saw them was 92. They always seem to be on tour, but in small gigs as a support act. It is a really strange thing actually.
That’s one if the things I was surprised about, the amount of people that liked the Faith Healers. They were a perennial support band to me. I was quite impressed with them. I cannot remember what the lead singer called, but she had a great presence on stage.
They reformed not long ago and sold out a big venue, where at the time they were only in very small venues. They had a few big hits but I was surprised of the amount of fan support they got now.
D: They were not very famous in France. I got your CD after reading about them in the “inrockuptibles” All the people I shared the CD with really liked their music as well, so I am delighted that they were touring that much
D: Welcome to Julian were also very good and had good reviews from the NME. I was lucky to be the support band for them in Toulouse once. They were a very good live band. I met the guitar player years ago on Dublin where he was working actually. He told me that the drum and bass player were veering toward a more alternative rock, where him and the lead guitarist were more Shoegaze/ pop. That led to the unfortunate disintegration of the band. Their first LP was very good. In the 90’s, they were the only French shoegazing band that had some success outside the borders.
It was actually a big market. For example, it was rumored that the Pixies were more famous in France than in the rest of Europe at the beginning. Same thing for Divine comedy (that we supported in Toulouse), that was more famous in France than in the UK at the beginning. So a lot of bands came to France and I was lucky enough to see MBV, Ride, Pale Saints, Pixies, Boo Radleys, Sonic Youth and others.
But France did have loads of bands that were doing this type of music.
R: I always admired France because they do protesting very well (laughter)
When I was a teenager, I used to read the NME cover to cover, I used to listen to John Peel during the week, And now I listened to my 17 year old daughter and she tells me “oh I like this band” and I can just type on the internet and see what they are doing. There is not the mystique that there was in the 90’s when you had to work for it. Everything is so available. The youth culture is not as prevalent as it was in the 90’s.
I am a Tai chi practitioner. I studied for 7 years until my accident, time at which my balance did not permit me to continue the way I was practicing. I came back to it with more of a mindfulness approach lately.
The reason is that when I was younger, the world was a really big place. I really enjoyed Kung-fu films. I always had an interest in Chinese culture and history, especially I listened to Chinese pop music. It was quite soul destroying by the way. But I wanted to hear the language.
But there is a band called Carsick Cars, they are a chinese shoegaze band and their last album was produced by Sonic Boom from Spaceman 3, and it is actually fantastic. It is all in Chinese. So there is stuff around.
It is amazing, how a little scene, that started in the UK, in various isolated parts of the UK has spread out and influenced loads and loads of people.
D: I am a Tai chi practitioner myself, though irregularly.
R: Yes this is a full conversation in itself
D: Absolutely. Is there any bands you could recommend at the moment for the readers?
R: I am looking forward to the new Spiritualized album. I have always enjoyed their work. I first saw them in Glastonburry in 1992. I enjoyed their later work: the gospel, the orchestra and everything like that. Loads of people on my blog have commented that they preferred them in their 5-piece band. So yes, I am really interested in what they will do next. They flopped the gospel and orchestra to death so it will be interesting.
I saw the Flaming Lips in concert in 2006 and there was confetti, balloons, everything, but they started life as a garage band, a 5-piece garage band. People have said that they preferred them when they were that way.
I am looking forward to the new release by Ride. It may or may not live up to expectation.
D: I have seen Ride 4 times and live they were absolutely fantastic. I found that the energy they had live was not captured well on their LP unfortunately. I hope they do a good job on this new LP.
R: I agree. I am sorry I had to do this interview in a closet. I was just looking, and I look quite severe actually, as if I was going to ask you for money (laughter).
D: Well I am not sure I look that dashing myself. Listen, thank you so much for taking the time and having the patience for this conversation. I really had a great great time. Have a nice evening.
R: I was really glad to talk to you too. Good night to you.
Well, one thing is certain, Russell's passion for music is limitless. It is not just the what he says, but also how he says it: his eyes shine when he speaks his experience, his voice get excited when he remembers choice stories, his smile is proud when he talks about his blog.
It was an honour to talk to such a music fan and estimed bogger.
And I have one final thing to say, a call to action: bands, if you want to make Russell happy, please put him on your guest list, invite him to an after party, ask him to present your concert on stage and you will make one of the biggest fan of music around a very, very happy man. He does not his blog for the glory, or the money only to share this huge passion for shoegazing and britpop. So please bands, share a little back with him.
To complement this interview, you will find this week a "famous 5 playlist" designed by Russell. It includes songs that were important to him at some stage of his life and a few lines as to why. As you can expect, the taste is flawless. Enjoy the music!