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To mark the release of Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration, Mark Fisher talks to Futureman label boss Keith Klingensmith about the art of compiling 49 XTC covers. Then, in the associated podcast, David White, Mark Reed and Colin Moulding himself share their first reactions.
Mark Fisher: Where did the idea to do an XTC compilation come from?
Keith Klingensmith:XTC was my favourite band for years and years. Futureman has done a few tribute projects in the past, but XTC has always been in the back of my head. Once it came time to start a new one I put the feelers out to some trusted pals to see what they thought about taking the plunge. I half expected “you’re crazy, don’t do it”, but they were game so off we went.
Bob of the Pops has already covered The Loving – is Futureman a hotbed of XTC fans?
Ha! If Futureman is anything it’s the home of smart pop, and does any band slot into that category better than XTC? Just about every band on our label jumped at the chance to participate.
How did you choose the musicians?
I should mention up front that I have a solid core of regulars I trust completely. Beyond those though, I have a good sense of who would be good candidates (but admittedly I did check to see if the artists I hadn’t worked with before were already XTC fans on Facebook as it made the sell a lot easier). In between these projects I always file interesting bands in the back of my head. XTC cut across a whole lot of that mental list, and I had no problems at all recruiting. I actually pulled a couple in from the XTC pages. Seth Timbs, for one, wasn’t on my radar until he started posting the occasional solo piano cover in Chalkhills. Super happy we got him.
What kind of a response did you get?
Just about every artist I invited was excited to be asked and signed right on. There were a handful though that were such giant XTC fans they didn’t want to touch the songs. Which I totally get. I don’t think any artists involved would say these were easy songs to cover. And I will mention there were a handful of people that came to the realisation they couldn’t do the song they chose justice and wound up having to drop out. Again, I totally get that. Hated to lose ’em, but totally get.
My impression talking to musicians for What Do You Call That Noise? is that XTC are musician’s musicians – all kinds of players from across the musical spectrum take them seriously. Have you had the same experience?
Well Futureman is a pop label, we like guitars and big harmonies so that’s the world we inhabit and the artists we’re drawn to. But, as an avid XTC social media consumer, I don’t know if I could name a band that appeals across a wider swath of genres than our boys.
“For me, it’s a life-changing song”
– Anton Barbeau on Senses
Working Overtime in
Did you have a vision of how you’d like the album to work as a whole?
I just wanted it to be solid and have all eras well represented. I knew I’d have no worries about that first part, but the second part took some work. Once I had a double-CD’s worth of artists on board with songs chosen, I realised there were big holes in representation. Weird ones too. Nothing from Go 2 probably not a big surprise to most readers (though I love that record) but nothing from English Settlement and just one or two from Drums and Wires/Mummer/Big Express and Oranges and Lemons combined. So that’s what led me to just continuing on with the invites. A few of the later artists I invited I asked to choose from a specific record or era and we plugged the holes pretty quickly. Wanting to make sure we had every era covered is what gave us the great batch of digital-only bonus tracks that are included, so make sure if you guys grab a physical copy, you download the files too, loads of great stuff in the bonus section.
How did you decide who got to cover which song? Were there arguments?
We find these projects work best when I leave it up to the artists to choose the song they want to do. I didn’t have a list to pick from, didn’t have any suggestions (up to a point). The artist choosing a song that means something to them and that they think works for them is the best approach. I say to a point because there were a couple of bands I approached that I already had a song in mind for. Both of them did that song and both of them were perfect, but I left it to the artists in every other case.
How long did you have to wait for the covers to come in?
Man, we’ve been working on this one a long time. First started quietly asking a few key artists opinions on XTC as a subject back in October of 2018 and started ramping up soon after that. I do always like to take these thing slow. I know bands have a lot of other stuff going on and these things take a lot of planning on their end to do right, so I told them we wouldn’t need tracks until early summer of 2019. And as always happens, that deadline kept creeping back. But all delivered eventually and all so worth waiting for. Hope you guys agree!
What makes a good cover?
I’m super conscious of music being as objective as anything gets. So what makes a good cover for me might not make a good cover for you, but I am a pop fan. You dial up the pop and add some more harmonies and I am there, always. But we of course run the gamut from faithful to some pretty interesting reworkings. I’m personally not a fan of messing with the original song just for the sake of messing with it but luckily neither are our artists.
Who surprised you?
The ones I wound up personally surprised by were the artists who chose a song I didn’t love. We all have those XTC songs we just never clicked with. There were probably five or six that chose songs where I wasn’t that into the originals, but in every single case they were right to choose and made me see the original in a new light. An example being Coke Belda and El Inquieto Roque’s version of Standing in for Joe. Love their version and can now appreciate the original (as a matter of fact, I now realise most of the ones I’m referring to here came from Wasp Star, never my fave!)
With XTC, the arrangement and the song often seem to be one and the same, making it hard to imagine recording it in a different way. Do you agree?
I absolutely agree, but I’m glad there are artists out there smarter than me who were able to do just that. Cuz the handful we have that were fairly drastic reworkings keep things interesting. There would be no point in doing a record full of straight covers.
Of the songs I’ve heard so far, Gretchen’s Wheel’s cover of The Last Balloon, Chris Price’s The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, Bird Streets’ Dear God and Derrick Anderson’s Don’t Lose Your Temper are good examples of musicians making a song their own without deviating too far from the template. Is that typical of the album?
It is. I’ve worked with most of these artists before and we’re all of the same general mindset. We love these songs, but the way we show our love is by putting our own unique stamp on it, whether that’s our own brand of harmonies, the extra guitars we might not be able to live without or just a slight jigger to get it firmly in our wheelhouse. I know this might be tough for people as most of us grew up with these songs. It’s tough for some to hear any re-working and not dismiss it with a “what’s the point?”, but I hope everyone can go into this with an open mind and enjoy it for the celebration it was meant to be!
Did you lose any musicians along the way?
We did, including my own band. Some scheduling conflicts, some bands deciding they couldn’t do a song justice, some life events. We lost some of my faves, but the silver lining was it allowed me to pull up a handful of songs that were previously part of the “digital only” section up to the CD. I wish I had those missing bands here with us, but it all worked out.
Do you have a favourite and/or a moment of revelation?
I have some favourites but that just means a handful just hit my personal sweet spot. Hopefully everyone who listens is going to find a few that hit whatever personal sweet spot they have. I always have moments of revelation on these projects, but that revelation is mostly just how amazing these artists are, ha-ha. There are always a batch of versions on our tribute projects that I would consider mini-masterpieces, and this one was no exception. (A few personal faves though: My Bird Performs – Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club, Life Begins at the Hop – The Kickstand Band, and Another Satellite – Paul Melancon.)
What was your brief to sleeve designer Yamato Kawada?
Ha, so I had to go back and check. Here is the only thing I sent. <Something that sums up a legendary bands entire legacy haha.> But let’s talk about that artwork! When I got the first sketch back, I knew this was going to be more than I could ever have hoped for, but the full colour… man. Mind blowing. What a perfect encapsulation. I had been dragging a bit with the project because I couldn’t settle on a name or an artwork idea, keeping us in limbo. Pencilling in a name then putting it in Yamato’s hands was the best decision I made and reinvigorated me enough to drag this massive project to the finish line. Owe the world.
The album is called a “celebration of XTC”. Do you hope it will make people reassess the band?
I’m not sure this is the type of project that will lead anyone to reassess. This is more by die-hard fans for die-hard fans. I just want it to be a fun ride for people!
Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration is available exclusively from Futureman Records
More covers at XTC’s Limelight YouTube page.
Listen here for a discussion of the XTC tribute album Garden of Earthly Delights, featuring an exclusive interview with XTC’s Colin Moulding, as well as first responses from XTC fans Mark Fisher, David White and Mark Reed: