Scarlet's Well are one of Britains hidden treasures and one of the few bands that can truly be described as original. Formed by Bid of the Monochrome Set fame, Scarlets Well is set in an imaginary village of Mousseron and takes in songs about jellyfish, shrews and old women. There's no denying the band are an acquired taste but take the time to read the following interview, check out the real audio samples on the website and you will fall in love with Scarlet's Well.
Q: Like a fine wine, Scarlets Well is an acquired taste. Where did you come up with the concept for this imaginary world that inhabits the likes of "Strange Letters", "The Isle Of Blue Flowers" and the latest album "Alice In The Underworld"?
A: Ok- a short little preamble, mainly because how I ended up with Scarlet's Well and the village of Mousseron idea was driven by practicalities as well as fantasy.
The original idea was to have a "band" where I was not the main singer, nor necessarily the main writer, but did have (almost) complete control over the project. Indeed, I was not scheduled to sing on the first album, but had to fill in when a girl pulled out at the last minute (there were originally 4 girls planned for Strange Letters). I also contacted many writers that I knew for song contributions, but they were either busy elsewhere or the material wasn't appropriate, so I ended up doing most of the writing. I've since contined to sing on the albums, as I thought that having a male voice balanced the sound a little, and have also ended up writing most of the material - though I may have persuaded Dickon to pen something for the next one.
Anyway, the idea of the "it's a village, not a band" thing came 'cos wanted a scenario that would allow for a change of singers, and for that to seem natural to the listener. I wanted the atmosphere/identity of the albums to be strong enough to allow these changes, without them seeming like samplers/compilations. Not being tied down to a particular group of musicians or singers gives the albums greater freedom- at least, behind thescenes.
Practicalities aside, the whole scenario is a vehicle for the atmosphere (whatever it is) that the lyrics and music hope to create. In my withered mind, it sits somewhere between Lear and Crowley, so it makes sense that the whole thing is set in some weird village, which could be on the coast of Cornwall, Brittany, etc.
Q: Lewis Caroll is a big influence. Do you prefer the imaginary world of fairy tales to the grim reality of life?
A: Hmm. Despite the title of the third album, Carroll's not one of the bigger influences- the list is quite long, and changes from month to month, though it includes Carroll. Lovecraft's Arkham may be a bigger influence, I'm not sure.
Yes, grim reality, blimey. Well, firstly, I've pretty much done "grim" (in a slightly surreal way, maybe) for nine MSet albums and (under other names) a few "avant-garde" projects, and I can't see a lot of difference between that and the fairy tale. It's all bollocks, really, so now I just write what I want - songs about jellyfish, shrews, old women, etc. Someone's got to tell their story, the poor bastards.
Q: Musically it takes in a variety of different flavours. I would actually say its more European or World music than British in its musical output. What makes up the Scarlets Well sound?
A: I do think SWell is very British, but a sound that's not been either heard or contemplated
here for some time.
You need to have good musicians, and a sense of fun. So, pick up whatever instrument is lying about in the studio and attempt to play it- that's about it. I used a bazouki on "Alice" 'cos Toby (the studio owner and co-producer) had just come back from a trip to Greece and been hood-winked by a canny shepherd.
Q: You've got six young ladies up front on the vocals. Did you always see yourself as the musical director in the background with the focus of the group on these pretty young things?
A: I partly answer this in (1). Yes, musical director is a good description. I don't get the girls 'cos they're pretty, you know- Lester (the guitarist in the MSet) is a teacher at a girls' school, they have a musical once a year, he send me a tape, I choose the voice.
Originally, I had planned to use more variety- e.g., old geezers, but it's been difficult finding people.
Q: How does it all work for the live shows or is it just a studio project for the time being?
A: Right now, it's just studio. It wouldn't be a problem to do live shows - I'd like that, but it'd take a little time and a little money. We may try to sort out something on the internet (for free, though).
Q: Its hard to believe that "Alice In The Underworld" is actually your third album under the Scarlets Well name. There seems to be a n underground pop market in London with yourself, Fosca and a whole host of others that seems untapped by the major players in the music press. Would you say this is true? And how does it affect getting your music heard outside the capital?
A: The printed press have always chased the public to the next party, but the public tend to stay at home now, so they don't know what to write about. Consquently, they just repeat what the companies tell them, and they're getting bloody lazy - lifting whole sections of promo blurbs to pad out reviews, etc. You have to go on the web to see what's going on.
'Course, the underground is selling less because the potential audience is less aware of its existence than 20 years ago, but I'm not sure if the size of this potential audience has shrunk. It's a shame.
Anyway, I knew when I started SWell that the nature of the biz nowadays is that it takes a *long* time for anything to filter through.
However (in answer to the last question), the spread of sales is much more international now than it was, largely due to the internet, I guess. I get e-mails from loonies all round the globe, only had one from London.
Q: There's so many opportunities when you're playing God over your little empire. Whats the future for Scarlets Well and how do you see this imaginary world developing in the future?
A: I don't know, I just sort of smell my way around. I just hope that SWell pleases some people who can't get those kind of songs anywhere else.
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