Interview :: The Xcerts

“You don’t want to write a record about being on the road.” – Murray Macleod (The Xcerts)

Before their show with Taking Back Sunday in Manchester, I caught up with Murray and Jordan from The Xcerts to talk a little about the tour, playing to an audience of Charlie Simpson fans, any future recordings and what one man from Plymouth did for twenty quid. You also get a deep discussion about fishing (thank god we’re retiring that question soon).

Anthony Barlow: Hey guys, how’s it going?

Murray Macleod: It’s good.

AB: So, you’re on tour with Taking Back Sunday. How has that been?

MM: Good so far. We’ve only played one show, but it was in our homeland. It was in Glasgow and we were pretty blown away by the response. There was a lot of people singing along, which is kind of unusual for us when we’re supporting a band. Taking Back Sunday were phenomenal last night and they are some of the nicest guys we’ve ever played with. That’s always a plus.

AB: Yeah, that’s always good. How did the tour come about?

Jordan Smith: Well, there’s kind of a Long Island connection: We did our record in Long Island last year, the guy that produced it is good buddies with them from way back and they got to hearing our record. Adam liked it.

MM: I think, at the same time our producer played it to them, one of their best friends, who we had met when we were in New York, also was plugging us to the band. So i think they were getting it from two different people in New York saying “take this band out on tour.” And then, from what we gather, Adam Lazzara bought our record, which is bizarre.

JS: We’re still so pensive about saying it, because it doesn’t seem real. He owns our record and he listens to it. It’s in his collection.

AB: That’s got to be pretty cool?

JS: Very cool.

MM: It feels weird talking about it. He was talking about us on stage and we were looking up listening to him talk about our band. It was like: “What is going on?”

AB: Do you think you guys are received well by the Taking Back Sunday crowd then?

MM: I think so. I don’t think we sound like Taking Back Sunday, but there’s definitely similarities, I think. There’s a lot of common ground there, from what they’re into and what we’re into. I think, from the crowd’s perspective, we’re probably not too far away, as a support band, from what they do. But it varies, in Nottingham it was a cold crowd. And I don’t think they warmed to us all that much. But we played in London and Glasgow with them and both of those shows were great. I don’t know, it’s a tough one. Depends on a lot of things, I guess.

AB: No one asking you to play Reuben covers then? *laughs*

MM: No

AB: *laughs* Just me then. You’ve been on some pretty big tours this year, the Charlie Simpson tour being the last one. It must have been hard on you guys dealing with that kind of crowd.

JS: They are an interesting crowd. Especially as Charlie has a lot to deal with anyway from fans of his previous incarnations and everybody’s at the show. There’s people there who’ve just heard the record, and people who know him as Charlie Simpson. To go up and face that kind of crowd, especially considering that none of them had ever heard of us before, definitely.

AB: You guys played acoustic for that tour too.

MM: Yeah, it was kind of stripped down. I mean, we had electric guitar and some drums and percussion, but it was nice to tour like that. It was a lot more laid back for us, not that we stress about full band shows, but we really want to play as well as we can every single night to whoever.

JS: There’s a lot more to worry about with full band shows.

MM: Yeah, on that one we were relaxed, which was nice. It felt weird, it kinda felt more like a holiday.

JS: It was casual.

MM: Yeah, it was casual.

JS: There was no gear. It was a really easy load in. It was good. We really got into it after two or three shows.

AB: Has it affected your fanbase being on these tours?

MM: Yeah, the Charlie tour was a resounding success, in fact. It was bizarre. We couldn’t really gauge it on stage, it was weird. I did a lot more talking on that tour. On our own sets or these shows I barely talk, because I just want to make noise. On the Charlie tour we did a lot more talking and a lot more interacting with people, which was really interesting for us. And we could only really gauge it by how many records we were selling at the end of the night. But we spoke to a lot of people, a lot of people have joined us on the social networks and that’s really the only big tour we’ve done this year. So it’s weird. We did the Rocksound tour, a headline tour, and Fu Manchu in Europe, but it’s weird that that was a big tour for us and we weren’t even doing what we usually do.

AB: You say that, but would you have rather done that tour as full band?

MM: No

JS: With respect for Charlie and what he’s doing, to come on as full band and blow the roof off the place before he comes on and plays his really sweet, Bright Eyes sounding, acoustic music would have been a little inappropriate.

AB: You could have totally stolen the show.

JS: Yes. We could have.

MM: Only because of noise voice.

JS: Yeah, decibels.

AB: *laughs* You’ve said you’ve seen an increase in people interacting with you online and buying the record, do you think these people will now be expecting a new full length from you or something along those lines?

MM: I don’t know. I think the people who are just getting into us are probably excited about the fact that we have two records out.

JS: Yeah, they can go back and get into both of them.

MM: It’s seems like, from what people have said to us, they’re just excited to be getting into us now.

JS: It’s more the hardcore fans that are badgering us for new stuff.

AB: Well, you’ve released the cover of ‘Drinking In LA’. Is that the new direction? Is drinking in LA just de rigueur for you now?

JS: *laughs*

MM: Basically, we’re re-releasing our song ‘Slackerpop’ and we recorded four tracks stripped down, like we did for the Charlie tour, because a lot of people who didn’t see us on that tour were asking about it. So, basically, when you buy the flexidisc of the single, you get a code to download four stripped down tunes. As an incentive to get people’s email addresses we decided to do a cover and that one came up, and we’re all big fans of that song, and we thought we could do a pretty cool cover of it.

JS: It’s a cool song, despite the kinda nihilistic lyrics and stuff.

MM: The guy raps in the verses, so I didn’t have to rap.

JS: You rap.

MM: I do rap.

AB: You should totally rap.

JS: He’s got mad rhymes.

MM: We did contemplate it. The first take I just had a microphone, and we did it pretty raw, and I was like “should I rap?” I was like no “sing it”.

AB: *laughs* I’m disappointed you didn’t rap now. Aside from that you did release the EP in March, any plans for something like that again?

MM: No. We’re going to release this single, and then we’re going to be touring until the end of the year, with that. Then we’ve got some plans to keep touring in the new year and then we’re going to make another record.

JS: We’ll do the same as last time, just do it whenever we find the space.

MM: The first record lasted, basically, going on a year. This seems like it’s going to last longer, which is cool, because it’s going to give us time for the new stuff. When we went out to the States for the second record we kind of had bits and bobs and loose ends with us. I think this time we want to make sure every song is perfect.

JS: It’s better for you, because it’s such a classic scenario for a band that’s just on the road all the time. When they finish touring they have to record their album there and then, so they try to write songs on the road and maybe that’s why you get shoddy second records, or whatever, because a band has toured to death. They’ve got to rush out ten songs or whatever.

MM: You don’t want to write a record about being on the road.

JS: Yeah, no one wants a road record.

AB: Speaking of writing records on the road, you’ve got this new single coming out and you’ve been saying how your fanbase has grown so me, my colleague and Geoff Rickly from Thursday were wondering if we could get bands to donate a percentage of their profits from releases towards a Chuck Ragan fishing show.

JS: *laughs*

MM: Geoff Rickly?

JS: He wants Chuck Ragan to have his own fishing show?

AB: He said it was “his dream”.

JS: How much are we talking?

AB: Whatever you want.

MM: You’re going to be hard pressed to find a band with any record profits *laughs*. I would love to see Chuck Ragan on my telly talking about fishing.

Album Review :: Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground

“One minute he’s shouting his songs at the heavens, and the next he’s serenading the listener with soft and sweet ballads.”

If there was one man I could live my life vicariously though, it would be Chuck Ragan. I mean, the guy’s awesome: He tours the world relentlessly, he’s built houses and has a voice that can charm the birds from the trees. Thankfully, there needs to be no voodoo nonsense involved for me to achieve my dream. All I have to do is throw on one of his albums and I’m there, chopping down trees and beating up bad guys.* This trend continues with Covering Ground, with one slight difference, it’s better than anything else he’s put out.

That’s not to say his past releases haven’t been good either. Feast Or Famine helped to establish Chuck’s signature style, Gold Country improved on the formula yet again, and Covering Ground does the same again. These incremental improvements have helped to create an album that rivals any other release this year. However, it still remains consistent with the rest of the Chuck’s back catalog and, from the opening chord of the opening song, there’s no doubt that this record is one of his. If that doesn’t let you know, then I think his voice might just give it away.

Chuck’s gruff, yet soulful, voice is better than ever. His gravelly vocal style never fails to impress me, especially as there’s so much range on each of his records. That’s especially prevalent on Covering Ground. One minute he’s shouting his songs at the heavens, and the next he’s serenading the listener with soft and sweet ballads. You don’t often get that kind of range on a record. Chuck’s also managed to compliment his vocals with those of his friends. Frank Turner and Audra Mae help to provide backing vocals, as does Brian Fallon. The Gaslight Anthem frontman plays a prominent role on ‘Meet You In The Middle’ – one of my favorite tracks from the album – his and Chuck’s vocals working really well together.

As always Chuck is joined by a plethora of instrumentalists, all of whom help to make this album what it is. Though all of those featured play an important part, Jon Gaunt is especially impressive here, his fiddle work adding that distinctive ‘country’ element to Chuck’s work that’s been a feature of each of his solo releases. His solo on ‘Nomad By Fate’ is infections and has me jigging as soon as I hear it. It’s clear that everyone plays an integral part on this record and, honestly, it wouldn’t be half as good without them.

Anyone who says you can’t be passionate with an acoustic guitar needs to take a listen to this record: Albums like this are the definition of the word. Chuck has outdone himself again. Covering Ground holds some of his best work, and there’s no doubt that this release is his best to date. If you’re a Chuck Ragan fan, it’s nothing new. Regardless, you won’t walk away disappointed.

*It’s unproven whether Chuck has actually beaten up bad guys but, let’s face it, he probably has. I know he’s chopped down a tree though.

Podcast :: Under The Bridge #26: “What The Fuck Is A Drinky-Poo?”

“Life begins at 7” – Ian Critchley

After a slight leave of absence due to Barlow being in Germany and our inability to record a podcast whilst Crazy Arm do a soundcheck, the Under The Bridge podcast is back. This week we’re joined by Lewis Bolland – someone you may remember from such episodes as: Episode #24 – and we’ve decided to change up the format a bit. After realising that doing a ‘news’ segment can really get boring, and that the show goes off the rails anyway, we’ve cut it in favor of one ‘main topic’ which, again, goes off the rails. Either way, it’s still your bi-weekly dose of obscenity and hilarity.

This week we’re talking about Leeds Festival…for about five minutes, until the topics of transexuals, Lewis’ listening habits and Barlow’s constant namedropping take over the entire podcast. The music this week comes from the, newly available, Chuck Ragan/Sam Russo/Jimmy Islip/Helen Chambers Split LP. You should totally head over to Specialist Subject Records and get one of those. In fact, buy two. That way you’ve got both variants. Also: Lewis and Ian perform a song at the end of the show, as is the case when Lewis is about. Enjoy!

Go on, have a listen: Under The Bridge #26: “What The Fuck Is A Drinky-Poo?” (stream/download or subscribe on iTunes)

Album Review :: Chuck Ragan/Sam Russo/Jimmy Islip/Helen Chambers – Split LP

“…when Chuck Ragan recommends you something to listen to, you listen to it.”

Not only is Chuck Ragan a member of one of the best punk rock bands of the last twenty years, but he’s also established himself in the,ever popular, acoustic scene too. Having toured around the UK as a solo artist many times, he’s crossed paths with a number of fantastic singer/songwriters. In Sam Russo, Jimmy Islip and Helen Chambers, he’s found some of the UK’s finest, and they don’t disappoint.

Chuck kicks off the record and, rather than use original songs or tracks from his forthcoming solo release, he’s decided to cover some of his favorite artists. Lending his voice to the words of Helen Chambers, Darren Gibson and Leatherface, he pulls each track off expertly and makes each song his own. Did you expect anything less?. The addition of backing vocals from, fellow Hot Water Music member, Chris Wollard are a nice touch and work well in contrast with Chuck’s main vocal. The strongest of the three is definitely ‘Not Superstitious’ (Leatherface), but I have a soft spot for ‘Stephen Patrick’ because I love the original and I can’t resist a Morrissey reference.

Taking on the arduous task of following Chuck is Sam Russo. Russo’s released a few records before this, but it’s nice to hear him on a more polished recording. Not only are they more polished than previous recordings, but there’s definitely more to them. Electric guitars and subtle percussion accompany his acoustic, making his tracks the most full sounding of the bunch. I’d go as far as saying, Russo is my favorite songwriter around right now, mainly because it’s hard not to relate to what he’s saying. His words are as simple and poignant as ever, and I don’t think there’s anyone out there who can’t relate to a song like ‘Tinned Peaches And Diamond Rings’ – “I pawned everything that I own/It wasn’t much but I should’ve known/that she’d say no” gets me every time.

Whilst Chuck and Sam went for the softer more heartfelt route with their tracks, Jimmy Islip’s additions bring in a nice change of pace. They’re the least folky, most upbeat and the most stripped down tracks on the record (aside from a few vocal effects). They feel more like punk songs played on an acoustic guitar. That’s no bad thing, and isn’t a surprise given that he plays in so many punk bands. With that said, the tracks aren’t overly aggressive, but they’re definitely tracks to throw your fists in the air and sing along to. ‘1990’,  in particular, is one bound to leave throats sore by the nights end.

After Jimmy’s selection of punk tunes, Helen Chambers’ trio of softer, heartfelt country songs provide the closer to this fantastic split record. Her distinctive vocal style sets her apart from any other singer I’ve heard in recent years, and she knows how to use her voice to her advantage. Her vocal range is incredible. ‘Speak Your Name’, a purely A Capella song, demonstrates this perfectly. Some might see it as brave for an artist to do something like this but, when you’ve a voice like Helen’s, why not? Not only that, but she brings two fantastic country/folk songs to the table too, the subtle extra instrumentation on those songs working really well with Helen’s acoustic guitar. Is there anything she can’t do?!

What I hope I’ve made clear here is that when Chuck Ragan recommends you something to listen to, you listen to it. Those coming to this for three new Chuck Ragan songs will be happy, as they’ll also have three new artists to listen to as well. These twelve songs are poignant, rabble-rousing and beautiful and, I like to think, prove that the art of good songwriting isn’t confined to a select few. In short, go and buy this. You’ll love it.

To buy this, extremely limited, split 12″ record, head over to Specialist Subject Records. Whilst you’re there, check out some of their other releases. You won’t be disappointed.

Interview :: Sam Russo

© 2011 Kieran Kelly

“You must travel twenty legues and farthing” – Sam Russo

Sam Russo is one of the finest singer/songwriters in the UK today. Having had trouble with touring in the past, the man now known as The White Wizard, embarked on a tour of the UK with, Plymouth punks, Crazy Arm. The Blind Faith Tour stopped in Manchester last Sunday, so we caught up with Russo to talk about his latest release, touring the UK and got him to shed some light on the Cory Branan situation.

Interview :: Jimmy Islip (The Magnificent/Milloy)

“Is touring hard for you because you’re in every band ever?”

If you’ve never seen Jimmy Islip play, you’ve clearly never been to a gig in the UK (seriously, he pops up in the oddest of places). He’s played with some of the biggest names in punk as the frontman of The Magnificent, has gone solo on split record with Chuck Ragan, Sam Russo and Helen Chambers, and has recently joined, Wakefield punk outfit, Milloy as their drummer. We caught up with him in Manchester shortly after The Magnificent had got off stage.

Podcast :: Under The Bridge #24: She Tricked Me With Her Vagina -or- Have I Got Enough For Bus Fare? (1st Anniversary Show!)

“I might just start selling my shit, like…One of your five a day” – Ian Critchley

Can you believe that, a little over a year ago, the idea of doing a podcast was just a passing thought? Oh how far we’ve come. There’s been times when we ran way too long, times when the audio quality wasn’t exactly the best and we’ve definitely offended every listener we have at least once. Despite all of this (and Ian’s original misgivings) we recorded 24 episodes of Under The Bridge.

It started off as little more than two, badly recorded, dudes getting drunk over Skype and talking crap about the latest nuggets of wisdom, bestowed upon us by the music industry. Today…it’s still the same, with Skype replaced by Ian’s flat. In all seriousness though, we’ve had some great guests on the show: Ben Marwood, Chris Farren (Fake Problems), Giles Bidder (Great Cynics) and Jeff Clemens (Gamerwok Entertainment), just to name a few. We’ve also crafted a much tighter, well prepared show. Yes, believe it or not a lot of thought goes into each UTB recording.

So, if you enjoy “the podcast that Chris Farren hates most” – hearing the “Frank Turner Minute”, our stories of woe and all our crudest moments – thank you. I just have one question…why? (Leave your responses in the comments). Anyway, here’s to another fantastic year of Under The Bridge. We’ve got some great stuff coming up that we think you’ll be into. For now, why not listen to Episode #24, or maybe you should watch it?


Go on, have a listen:

Under The Bridge #24: She Tricked Me With Her Vagina -or- Have I Got Enough For Bus Fare? (stream/download or subscribe on iTunes)

Or, perhaps you’d like to watch it?

Music – The Falcon – God Don’t Make No Trash -or- Up Your Ass With Broken Glass

  • Feed The Monkey, Drown The Worm -or- Goin’ Home
  • Look Ma! No Fans! -or- Do You Want Fries With These Songs?
  • I’m So Happy I Could Just Cry Myself To Sleep -or- The Routes We Wander
  • Building The Perfect Asshole Parade -or- Scratching Off The Fleas
  • Huffing The Proverbial Line Off The Proverbial Dong -or- The Blood And The Frog


  • Chuck Ragan collaborating with Jon Gaunt, Joe Ginsberg, Todd Beene (Lucero), Frank Turner, Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem) and more on new record.
  • Billy Bragg releases ‘Never Buy The Sun’
  • Henry Rollins touring the UK in 2012
  • Against Me! Talk White Crosses re-release
  • Frank Carter leaves The Gallows
  • Weezer announce cruise
  • Chuck Ragan/Helen Chambers/Sam Russo/Jimmy Islip split coming via Specialist Subject
  • Barlow & Ian (and Jon Snodgrass) name Austin Lucas’ new backing band


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The Podcast

Moon & Back

Interview :: Roo Pescod (Bangers)

“I saw Robson Green on an island, and his whole tent blew away…Chuck Ragan would’ve handled that better” – Roo Pescod

Readers of Moon & Back Music will know that we’re always out to deliver hard hitting interviews, so we made sure to quiz, Bangers singer, Roo Pescod on all the important issues. We caught up with Roo outside Retro Bar in Manchester, and talked about what makes the ‘Bangers sound’, their upcoming appearance at FEST 10, the meaning behind ‘Geeks & Pedophiles’ and pasties (because Bangers are from Cornwall).

Interview :: Helen Chambers

“MySpace scares me now” – Helen Chambers

Helen Chambers recently played an intimate show in Leeds with, our buddy, Austin Lucas. The York-based songstress had been recommended to us many times before and with good reason: She’s awesome! Before the show we had a drink and chatted about working with Chuck Ragan, getting her work out there and what happens when you google her name.

Interview :: Geoff Rickly (Thursday)

“My dream is to start a Chuck Ragan fishing show”- Geoff Rickly

Before they headed off to Belgium for the madness of Groezrock, Thursday dropped in on the UK to play three dates in support of, their new album, No Devolucion…kinda. Before the show at Manchester’s Academy 3, we chatted to, frontman, Geoff Rickly about working with Epitaph, the state of New Jersey, Chuck Ragan’s many talents and we even brought him some socks to help ease the perils of tour.