Out today is the new album, Worhtless Music, from Yorkshire art-rockers The Scaramanga Six, aka brothers Paul and Steven Morricone, alongside Julia Arnez and Gareth Champion. Their tenth album to date, it’s out on their own Wrath Records imprint, and comes in the wake of a handful of singles; Horse With No Face, It Is The Face Wish How, An Error Occurred and Big Ideas.
Slowly moving towards a more alt-rock sound than their earlier Cardiacs like wonky punk (the late Tim Smith actually produced three of the bands albums), Worthless Music is full of muscular riffs and engaging melodies and harmonies, but there’s a sense of the weird and wonderful never far away, and that’s perhaps what makes the record so immediate.
On its days of release we spoke to brothers Steven and Paul on the record, and they’ve given us a brilliant insight into all aspects of it. Grab yourself a stream (there’s one at the bottom, but any will do) sit down, and find out the stories behind the record, here
P: This begins our very new album ‘Worthless Music’ in a bombastic striding way. I wanted to make our sound big and deliberate on this record, so we’ve dispensed with some of the subtleties and doubled up beats on tracks like this one.
P: We often have ideas well above our station, so this is what this song is all about – someone is always telling you to ‘aim lower’ whenever you have a grand idea. Often that person is yourself. So in this case I imagined a story of being told off by stern yet somehow alluring woman as my inner voice of personal scorn. Sometimes your biggest enemy is your own inner dialogue.
S: I suppose we’ve always had a penchant for the grandiose and dramatic, irrespective of any justification for such behaviour. Indeed, we were once described as being ‘like Hulk Hogan celebrating a win’, but some can see past all this nonsense, much like an album review we once had which simply read ‘Kimono My Arse’.
P: The album title has its own meaning. We figured that no-one really values the craft of music-makers anymore and like most things, expect your body of work to be free to access for nothing. Convenience is killing music and we are constantly surprised at how worthless it actually is to some people, even though they want all of it all the time. If you value it, buy it.
An Error Occurred
P: Hey Steve, wasn’t most of this recorded on a shit iPhone on Garageband on that out-of-tune piano you’ve got downstairs?
S: Yes indeed. I’m a complete Luddite when it comes to technology mainly because I have zero patience for any recording software/process. I want to be able to capture things as quick as humanly possible – sometimes the result of that rapid capture, no matter how crude, is where the real magic lies. We’ve done a lot of leaving large elements of demos in on this album. My old Joanna at home is about a semitone away from concert pitch – I got a tuner over to have a look and he pretty much condemned the instrument and ran away.
S: The main riff of this song seems to bear a striking resemblance to ‘Attack’ by PiL – this is completely subconscious of course. I think only the truly cynical intend to rip something off from the start. I talk to myself a lot whilst engaged in household chores – the words to this song are the result of editing a set of disparate sentences (again captured instantly on my phone) to form some kind of loose narrative.
Decade with No Name
P: Imagine something so indescribably bland and middle-of-the-road that you can’t actually think of a name to give it. That is the cultural swamp of the 2010s. A decade where no-one could actually think what to call it. It didn’t have a distinct style or look or even a sound – just a constant ‘mash-up’ of easily accessible things consumed by people.
P: I decided to attack my guitar at the beginning of this song, and didn’t stop until the bit towards the end – where it only gets louder and faster.
S: I readily identify with the concept of ‘sleepwalking’ into a situation, as I have been as guilty as many of enabling. That nameless decade was the vague and non-committal backdrop for the utter crapstorm we as a society find ourselves in now. You should never take anything you consider a fundamental right for granted.
S: On a technical note, this song demonstrates a musical device that we often fall back on – whereby all guitars (including bass) are occupying the same rhythmic ground and frequencies, so it acts more like a barrage rather than several distinct parts. In this case though, Julia’s lead part stretches out like a yawning cat over ours before it attacks the scratching post once more.
P: A little while ago I was cycling along the canal paths near where I live and I suddenly saw something poking up out of the water. I stopped to see a small furry animal desperately treading water, unable to get out, and barely able to keep its head above the water. I pulled it out and it was a young dog – little older than a small pup. The poor thing was completely spooked and didn’t know whether to stand there or run away. Yet as I walked away, the little guy started to follow me and wouldn’t leave my side for ages. I reached some civilisation and managed to collaborate with a couple of lads who helped me calm the dog down. His owners were eventually tracked down – about 5 miles away. This guy would have drowned. That’s my heroic deed of the year done.
P: Musically, this is another example of how Julia utterly transforms us from a middling rock band to something magical. Just listen to that counter-melody on the guitar in the chorus. She’s my favourite guitarist.
S: To add a heartstring-pulling note, the arrival of this song coincided with a time where me and my partner were nursing our two extremely old, but wonderful family pet poodles in their golden years. Both were pushing the latter end of two decades and simultaneously went downhill in a heart-breaking spiral of dementia and lack of physical capacity. The very last few lines of this song where our Paul sings “That look of fear is in your eyes again, so go to sleep and don’t be afraid – goodnight boy” will forever be associated with the inevitable pain of THAT final visit to the vets for both of them. No I’m not crying, you are crying!
Horse with No Face
P: I wrote this song in my head whilst attempting to go to a Stephen Evens gig in Sheffield one evening. The rain was so bad that the roads were all flooded and I had to turn back. The thundering sound of the rain seemed to patter out a constant rhythm that reminded me of hooves. I couldn’t get the clattering clippy-clop beat out of my head so put some words that encompassed the utterly pointless journey I had just been on to it. This is the result.
P: This track typifies the approach we took to working it out as a band for this record. Due to the restrictions of lockdown, we just couldn’t get together. So we had to do a lot of working by proxy. I put a looped drum beat down as well as a load of badly recorded gongs and horse noises on an old version of Garageband. I then played along to it with Gareth, who doubled up the drums. Julia and Steve then layered in their bits afterwards. Throughout this album, many of the poorly recorded and weird scratchy bits are directly from the bad demos we were playing to and decided to keep in.
S: This was the first single we put out to try and reel people into our Worthless Music, and it baffled as much as titillated. I’m not quite sure where the falsetto vocal answer-parts in the chorus came from, but I suspect it was a ham-fisted attempt at replicating ‘Money’ by the Flying Lizards.
S: This song is essentially a dramatization of a man who strives to make big brave changes in his life, only to find himself stuck in a treacly quagmire of duty. Responsibility is something that will inevitably mug you, given the slightest chance.
P: I got to play around on a Wasp synthesiser emulator on this recording. It sounds like nothing else and gives us an other-worldly sound whenever it appears.
P: Julia is responsible for the loud sliding guitar noise on this. She didn’t have a slider so she slid the guitar neck up a nearby metal electric heater laughing hysterically.
S: The more astute listener may notice Julia ripping off the guitar line from ‘I Feel Voxish’ by The Fall in the chorus too!
P: I got some business advice from a networking guru once. He told me that if I wanted to raise my company profile that I should start vlogging and be seen as a ‘thought leader’. This man would regularly appear in my news feed on LinkedIn giving people helpful pearls of wisdom on how they can be successful. I cannot stress how much I despise people like this.
P: Young bands get to write songs about the joys of care-free oblivion. We have to put up with the drudgery of business networking and pretending to like people just to have a quiet life. Mind you, I’m writing this interview to get some publicity. So it’s true what they say: visibility + credibility = profitability.
S: The doo-wop middle section of this song reminds me of the one and only famous band from our hometown of Weston-super-Mare – the 70’s pop-glam stompers ‘Racey’. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or simply a product of our musical DNA coming through? Their drummer used to own the dark and dank ‘Hobbits’ nightclub, in which me and Paul certainly spent a great deal of our grubby teenage years getting stuck to the floor in.
Death Mask of the Unknown Lady of the Seine
P: I recently went on a first aid course and found myself mouth-to-mouth with a strangely androgenous dummy giving it the kiss of life. So I decided to write a song about the story of how this face came to be used on every resuscitation doll in existence. I turns out I was breathing life into a young Parisian girl, found drowned on the banks of the Seine in the nineteenth century. Such was the serene beauty on her face, some person decided to take a plaster cast of it. The mask became a fashionable ornament in middle-class homes until the poor girl was immortalised in first aid equipment, destined from that moment on to bring life to others in her death.
S: When we first completed the mix of this one, I recall Paul saying to me – “Nobody does what we do. Except the Stranglers”. Sometimes it’s hard not to wear your influences on your sleeves eh? Our Gareth on drums is particularly metronomic on this one. I don’t know how he keeps it up!
P: There’s no getting round the fact that we are a middle-aged band. We are always going to write songs from a more world-weary point of view. This song deals with the joyless act of reliving your youth. Some would say making a racket in a band is exactly that – but the fact is that we never stopped and still feel compelled to create noisy cinematic punk the older we get.
Even though we are old dogs, I still think we have plenty of new tricks. I think this album shows that – we will willingly go off in an unexpected direction and find a fresh approach.
S: I’m so pleased with the way this one has turned out. Sequencing an album is a really tricky task – getting the flow just right. We struggled to find a place for this one initially, but it seems to work perfectly as melodic and frank tonic after the dramatic epic before. It’s got the steady pace of someone attempting to trek across a wintery wilderness in snow shoes, scaling a few lofty musical mountains en route.
Stranger in your Own Mind
P: It is hard to admit mental frailty. You think to yourself, ‘this is someone else talking in my thoughts, not me’. But it’s okay. Embrace the strangeness of the situation this stranger puts you in. Let it fill you with energy and not fear.
This is very much a partner song to ‘Big Ideas’ both in subject matter and in the music. In fact, one song could have ran into the other as chapters. We decided to keep them apart on this record though. The eighties keyboards on this are another hangover from the crap Garageband demos we played along to. There are even some poorly played drum machine parts still left on for Gareth to play along to.
S: There is a sound buried in the crap demo backing that underpins this song, somewhere around the second chorus that sounds EXACTLY like my landline at home going off distantly whilst I’m in the middle of doing something else. Every single time it fools me into rushing to my feet to look for the phone handset in panic. Bastard! Perhaps it is ironic that this particular song is so easily able to unearth such a hidden anxiety.
S: This is somewhat of an anomaly for us – less guitar-heavy, riff-based sloganeering. Lots of percussive elements too finding their way into the arrangement including a set of latin instruments (maracas, guiro and clave) brought back from an enlightening trip to Cuba and even a springy doorstop! A squelchy synth is used as the primary bass instrument, even though we layered actual bass and the bottom end of a piano.
P: I think I used to drive an Ipso Facto years ago.
S: Yes, I recall you bought it off that car salesman with the hairpiece so obvious that we couldn’t avoid staring.
Kate & Cindy
P: Yes, it’s a tribute to the finest party band of Athens, GA – the one and only B-52s. But in name only. I find myself continually inspired by amazing pop music and this band thrill me every time I hear the intricate close harmonies and unison voices of Pierson and Wilson. It is the greatest sound in popular music. More broadly, this is a song about how all music you love is the perfect antidote to life.
It Is the Face Wish How
P: Many years ago in Leeds I saw this phrase scrawled on a wall. Then months later the same phrase would appear at gigs or in parties on stickers placed on toilet doors and lamp posts. Someone somewhere is behind this. Personally, I’d rather not know and use it as inspiration to write a cryptic description of what it means to me. It is the nether region of your hope, an unreachable place.
S: This seemed like an odd choice for a single, but then again it also seemed to pick itself. I think the mysterious matter of the song had developed a strange, controlling power over us!
Then I Met Joanna
S: When I first moved back to my home town down in Somerset, the house included this shonky piano, which is actually the ‘old Joanna’ that not only inspired this song’s character but also gave me an immense creative injection. I’ve always been a total amateur on the keys and never actually had a real piano to hand on which to tinkle. In getting to know this dusty out-of-tune instrument, I became helplessly enamoured and ultimately enslaved by it.
P: I like the Music Hall feel of this song. I’ve always felt that Steve could have a great career in light entertainment if he ditched the bass and kept to ticking the ivories in functions in old peoples’ homes. They are old and they are going to die anyway, so why not let Steve scare them to death. Steve wrote a song called ‘Half a Horse’ that we should try and end the next album with in a similarly plinky-plonky way.