UK rockers Medusa are one of those provocations it is impossible to lose an appetite for especially when they unleash creative tempests as impressive as new album Headcase’s Handbook. The successor to their acclaimed second full-length Can’t Fucking Win, the new album is punk fired rock ‘n’ roll which explores a new maturity and inventive ferocity to the songwriting and sound bred by founder and vocalist/guitarist Julian Molinero. Having been seduced by the excellent incitement we were eager with thanks to Julian, to find out more about its breeding, recording, and look back over the history of Medusa.
Hi Julian and thanks for sharing your time to talk with us.
For those new to the world of Medusa can you first of all just tell us about the band and its origins?
We formed in 1998 in Blackburn, Lancashire as a punk band while I was still at school and over the years, it’s had a lot of different members and varied in style but the band is still as passionate and obnoxious as ever.
We all have a band, a song, or moment which makes music from something which is just there, to being as essential as carnal endeavour; what was it which flicked the switch for you?
Just the punk and rock I discovered as a teenager, I just absolutely connected with it and it made everything else make sense.
From that moment was a band always the destination?
There wasn’t a moment but I did gradually slide more and more down that path and it felt right.
Is Medusa the only creative adventure for you or were there other exploits before its formation?
Aside from a couple of jokey cassettes I made prior, Medusa was the first and only band I’ve ever been involved with.
I believe Medusa has been around in two parts with a couple of years as a ‘hiatus’ in between. What brought about the gap and in turn what sparked the band’s return?
I was living with the other members of the band and it all turned really horrible and eventually ended. The level of drama on a day to day basis was the absolute maximum imaginable. Up until that point we were a punk band and then I started becoming very interested in flashy guitar solos and also some heavy metal music, so for one or two years there was no active band and I was purely interested in developing as a guitarist. When we re-emerged it was with the debut album and that has a definite influence in there of the type of heavy metal I was into at that time. The fact it was recorded so fast, under very tight, difficult circumstances is what gives it its punk edge and I guess that combination makes it quite unique but it definitely wasn’t how it was intended to sound.
Was there anything different in your thoughts and intentions sound wise for the band when you resurrected it? Did you see Medusa as the same band as when it started second time around or something entirely new?
The new direction and debut album were intended initially to be a platform for my guitar solos but I wasn’t able to get my amplifier to the studio and my guitar broke beyond repair the night before going down to record so these factors sent the album in a different direction and, as I say, more like punk than was intended.
We discovered you guys with the excellent Can’t Fucking Win album, a striking attention grabber certainly for us. It in many ways was just the appetiser for your new full-length Headcase’s Handbook which came out a few weeks ago. How do you see the evolution and differences between the two releases?
Well, I feel I’ve developed more as a songwriter and it’s possibly more of defining album. It has the same kind of sound throughout so it’s less confusing to people as to what the band’s style is. To me though, I don’t think either of them is better than the other, they just have different appeals. Can’t Fucking Win has a more epic quality where the drama is greater and the songs are longer and then the new one is more simplified and concentrated. I see it as almost kind of patronising, like a ‘for dummies’ version.
It is easy to say and hear your previous two albums are not short on passion but Headcase’s Handbook seems to have tapped into an even greater fire in that aspect; what do you feel has sparked that new burst?
If that’s true then it’s something I’m oblivious to because if anything the dramas in my life that I was writing about were much less extreme and intense for this album. I see the albums partly as a continuing autobiography of whatever happened in my life at the time of writing. There were definitely things that I was really pissed off about for this one but I just remember the intensity being much bigger for the first two. Maybe I’m communicating it more effectively now or maybe it’s the production value… or the fact we were trying to make it more concentrated? Who knows…
I have also felt an intimacy in the lyrical side of your songwriting; what sparks that side more often than not, is it experience or observation?
It is honesty and my experiences but the focus is on emotion. The lyrics are only there to serve that.
Tell us about the new album’s title and is there an underlying theme across tracks?
Well, the theme is insanity and feeling lost. It does spread across the tracks, the album’s sub-heading in the liner notes says
“a guide to living for the confused, lost or mentally disturbed [those who see things as they really are]”.
The artwork is tied up in it too and there’s a conclusion to it all at the end of the album, if you look out for it.
Headcase’s Handbook was recorded with producer Lee Batiuk, compared to Can’t Fucking Win which was partly with Romesh Dodangoda. How did the link up with Lee come about and what did he bring forth in your songs which you had not foreseen or imagined?
Only two songs on Can’t Fucking Win were mixed by Romesh, we didn’t really have a producer for that one. For the new one, I just eventually came to the conclusion that a polished type of sound is what the album needed. I was thinking about it in terms of the discography as a whole and that it would be good to have one album that had that obvious type of production that gives focus to the songs. Lee did have a few changes he put in place, to make the arrangement more powerful in places, for example. With him being a perfectionist and me being a perfectionist too, but in a totally different way, it really helped to refine it but it didn’t make it easy.
Tell us about the recording process of the album.
We travelled to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire to record it. It was tense but fun in places. We would drink beer and play cards at night and then fully focus on recording during the days. It was filmed on high quality equipment which will become part of a documentary on the band, at some point.
Are you a head to the grind kind of band in the studio or like to let things evolve in a gentler energy; is it possible nowadays to record without an enforced urgency because of time and finance restraint?
Well, I think the sense of urgency is needed for this type of music to work. We were sleeping in tents the whole time while recording and I absolutely hated it but at the same time, I planned it like that so it wouldn’t be too comfortable and I specifically wanted to be pissed off and at the end of my tether when doing the vocals, which I was. The vocals were done in two days, both ending early and in the morning before the first, it had rained so hard during the night, that the inside of my tent was soaking and my shoes fell apart like soggy paper on the walk to the studio. We had to get a taxi to a supermarket so I could buy some new shoes and socks.
There is an open eighties rock and punk inspiration to your sound as evidenced by Headcase’s Handbook. How has the sound shifted since those early days of the band?
I think on this album, it’s kind of gone back a lot more to how we initially sounded in 1998; simple punk songs. The eighties influence was definitely at its peak on the first one.
Has it been an intentional changing or simply organic?
Intentional but that was just the formula for this one album. I don’t see any need to make another album like this one, that would just be repeating ourselves. The current vision for the next one is something very different.
Before we do that, I just want to go with the flow of life and see what happens. I think it’s important for your life to be different and to have new experiences before you start working on a new album. We never use old songs from before that era when we do an album so that’s why I feel each one is a document of those years.
As with any album certain tracks stand out over others and hit the listener’s sweet spot. For us the pinnacle comes with the consecutive and distinctly different pair of The Sweetest Elixir and Black Snow. Can you give some background to the two adventures?
The Sweetest Elixir seems to be the song most people compliment at the moment. I think we just eventually found an arrangement that worked for it, mainly with the drum parts, which was really difficult. If we hadn’t found the right arrangement, I can just as easily imagine it being the least liked song on the album. As far as what that song’s about, as with a lot of the others, I already said way too much in the lyrics! That was one of the aims of this album too, to make it confessional and autobiographical in places, in a slightly more obvious way than the previous albums. Black Snow is a little bit different because that’s kind of about life after the bomb. I don’t know how obvious that is to people but if you look at the lyrics once knowing that, those references should be pretty clear.
Is there a particular moment or twist on the album which gives you personally an extra tingle of satisfaction or excitement?
Maybe but I view the album as more for other people so I think their relationship with the album is more important and hopefully the messages and ideas I was trying to put across, did come across.
I can assume Medusa will be thrusting the album out live at some point? Where can people catch you next?
We should be playing Nambucca in London, before the end of the year.
Thanks again Julian for sitting down and chatting with us. Any last thoughts you would like to share?
Our first music video to the Headcase’s Handbook album will be out in a couple of months, to the song Sid and Nancy and should be a cool video. We just cast 2 ten year old kids to play the lead roles.
Read the review of Headcase’s Handbook @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/medusa-headcases-handbook/
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The Ringmaster Review 17/11/2014