West End Motel is back with a new single, titled “New Wave Kid,” a wistful song that frontman Tom Cheshire calls the group’s “positive jam for dark times.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I released West End Motel’s first 7-inch via Ponce de Leon Records back in 2008; a four-song EP featuring “Oh I’m On My Way” and “There’s Gotta Be More To This Life” b/w “Under My Skin” and “Women Come and Go.”
Really, though, West End Motel is a much different band these days from what it was back then, and it has been for a good long while. In the beginning, Tom Cheshire and Brent Hinds played and recorded as a wooly and red-eyed pair of poets, songwriters, and troubadours suspended in the aspic of Atlanta when the sun goes down—a derelict version of the city that no longer exists.
West End Motel, however, was something different. Their weird and tender acoustic songs—as though they were discovering their sound during loose, late-night recording sessions—found both Hinds and Cheshire bearing their hearts and souls in disarmingly unguarded sentiments. The vocal and guitar melodies teemed with beauty, depression, elation, and wisdom gained from hitting rock bottom and pulling yourself back up to face the sun one more time.
Since releasing that original 7-inch, the group has released three albums, toggling between major label offshoots with 2011’s Don’t Shiver, You’re A Winner (Rocket Science Ventures) and 2012’s Only Time Can Tell (Alternative Distribution Alliance) before taking matters into their own hands and self-releasing 2017’s Bad With Names, Good With Faces. The group’s personnel has expanded as well, incorporating Hinds’ Fiend Without A Face cohorts—bass player Stiff Penalty and drummer Troy King, along with a few other players.
As the story goes, “New Wave Kid” was born when Cheshire and Ben Thrower went into Audio Oasis in Bristol, Tennessee with producer Matt Smile. Cheshire sang and Thrower crafted the song’s rhythms and melodies on an acoustic guitar. They sent the song to Jeff Bakos in Atlanta where Stiff Penalty added bass and King added drums. Will Raines added majestic keys from his home in Brooklyn. Then they sent it to West End Sound where Tom Tapley recorded Hinds and Brian Kincheloe’s guitar parts, and Ben Davis’ saxophone and bells.
The result is a sterling trip down memory lane rising from layers of lush pub rock melodies and what is, perhaps, the most evocative vocal delivery of Cheshire’s career.
“New Wave Kid” is a catchy number that’s branded with intoxicating musical motions that crystallize all of West End Motel’s influences—Pogues-esque punk and rock ‘n’ roll, The Band’s roughly-hewn stride, power pop, and blue-eyed soul—into a stylish hybrid that’s tailored to Cheshire’s husky voice, which telegraphs so much of the band’s character.
The song is part of a larger work in progress. The plan is to drop a new single at the beginning of each month for the next six months. After that, they’ll turn around the fourth proper West End Motel full-length album. In the meantime, “New Wave Kid” feels like a watershed moment for the group’s ever-growing movement from ramshackle magic to a deliberate and stylish sound and vision.
Young Antiques are at it again. Longtime friends and songwriting cohorts Blake Rainey and Blake Parris have convened with drummer John Speaks to craft Another Risk Of The Heart (Southern Lovers Recording Company), a new eight-song LP that’s teeming with phantasmal Southern power pop and rock ‘n’ roll storytelling.
Another Risk Of The Heart is the Atlanta trio’s first offering in nearly a decade, and it’s what Rainey calls “a love letter to the band.” Songs with titles such as “Euclid Creeper,” “Armies In The Alley,” and “’92”reaffirm the power and allure of the group’s hook-laden legacy. Guest appearances from Atlanta-rooted voices such as Kelly Hogan, Chris Lopez of the Rock*A*Teens, and Tom Cheshire, expand the group’s repertoire, while keeping each song planted firmly in the Atlanta music mythos. Rainey took a few minutes to talk more about the album.
“Euclid Creeper” feels like a powerful statement coming right out of the gate on this album. What did you have in mind when you wrote the song, and why you put this one front and center?
“Euclid Creeper” is about the band in our early days—roaming around Little Five Points and EAV bars and drinking and partying and “looking for a little light” outside of this neighborhood-rat existence, all of which kind of felt like living in a coal mine at times. It’s also about a return to form and doing this rock ‘n’ roll band again—albeit a little bit differently this time around.
I see Blake Rainey and His Demons’ 2016 LP Helicopter Rose as an homage to your early years spent growing up in rural Georgia, and the new Young Antiques LP, Another Risk Of The Heart, as a nod to your time in the city—Cabbagetown specifically. Are there parallels between these two records?
Personally, the parallel that I see between Helicopter Rose and Another Risk of the Heart is that both mark a turning point in my songwriting, as far as attention to detail and quality goes. I was proud of Rose at the time more than anything else that I had previously done, even though I could see its flaws like most of my albums. When I finished Risk however, and when we got the track listing in order, it was like nothing I’d ever accomplished before. It was quintessential ‘Tiques, in a nutshell, and to me the quality was steady from beginning to end, the band’s performances were much more together this time around, and with Risk I think we really hit on a formula for all of three us—John Speaks, Blake Parris, and myself. And today, we are already starting work on the next album.
When listening to your records, and even now, thinking about the stories and characters in your songs, my mind starts pulling threads about the landscape, neighborhoods, and how you fit into the environment. When you’re crafting songs do you feel particularly inspired by your surroundings?
I do. I can definitely look at something like an old run down building or a dirt road and think about what sound might accompany it. It’s an interesting thing to think about—writing music to describe something visually inspiring—like walking down the sidewalk and seeing a church steeple showing through branches in a winter sky. What does that sound like? Or noticing an old man on a park bench with a sack of beer at 9 a.m. These type of things can definitely help me paint a vivid picture in a song.
Tell me about the title, Another Risk of the Heart, and what it means to you?
On the surface, the title, Another Risk of the Heart, is akin to what Soundtrack To Tear Us Apart (the previous ‘Tiques album) was like: a description of where the band is or was at the moment. The overall theme of this album is a love letter to the band, like, “here we go again…” We’re here, giving this thing another shot. Getting back together, doing what we do best—having fun, making records.
And how about the songwriting that’s on display here; is there one song on the album that resonates with where you are right now?
“Questions” is my favorite song on the album, and with all of the frustration and fear that we have going on with authority figures at this very moment, it definitely resonates to me the most. The opening line is, “Yesterday I woke at dawn/With the police on my lawn/Never had they stayed so long until today.”
Even before the pandemic or the protests, it was the song that somehow brought everything together on the album and kept the pace where it should be. So far, it’s been one of the more overlooked tunes on the record, but I like how it serves a deep cut purpose. It’s also set in a quasi sci-fi future like “Armies In The Alley” is, and it’s a sister song to that one in many ways. There’s an authoritarian bent to both in the lines about showing your papers and your government tattoo and hiding out in cinemas from the authorities and all that. There’s also another cinema reference in “’92,” which is another favorite of mine. It’s a young love song set in 1992 about two high school misfits falling for each other over cigarettes and the cinema and skateboards.
Tell me about “Armies In The Alley.”
That one definitely feels Orwellian. A “lovely liberal in a dress” is new to town and is taken to the boulevard, even though it’s a risky move. The narrator is drawn to her because she is “without that fascist look.” The couple ducks in and out of alleys and the cinema to escape the oppressive authority outside—both literally and figuratively—while smoking and getting lost in film. To me it seems very close to reality or a past reality—just on the edge of science fiction. It also feels a little like what parts of Europe might have been like at times during WWII.
In the past, when writing about Young Antiques, I’ve dropped comparisons to Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. Over time, however, that seems like a pretty one-dimensional comparison. Who are some other songwriters that have influenced your writing and outlook on music?
I’m a big Replacements fan, no doubt, but I’m also a pretty big fan of rock ‘n’ roll and popular music in general. Right now, all I pretty much listen to is American jazz from the 1950s and ’60s. As far as songwriters go, I’m influenced by quite a few: Dylan, Ray Davies, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Jagger/Richards, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Strummer/Jones, Tom Waits, Bob Mould … I’m well versed in just about everything those guys have done. I’m leaving out a few, I’m sure.
How did you select the guests who appear on the album? Did you write songs with them in mind and approach them, or was it a more natural process?
John Speaks had been in the Jody Grind with Kelly Hogan and he was also old friends from that same era with Chris Lopez from Rock*A*Teens. Parris and I have known Tom Cheshire for years; he’s an old friend and a bandmate of mine (in the All Night Drug Prowling Wolves). So everyone involved is family in one way or another. I told Speaks, “We need a female singer on Goin’ Home.” He said, “Kelly Hogan.” I was like, perfect! We wanted gang backing vocals on “Euclid Creeper,” so I brought in Tom and Speaks brought in Lopez. I am a big fan of much of Chris’ songwriting, so that was extra special for me.
Chris and Tom came in separately and hung out all night and drank beer and sang their respective parts. It was amazing. Kelly had to do her part remotely in Wisconsin and the first time we heard her performances sent via the internet, we were like “Fuck. This is really good!”
Also, can you tell me what recording with this core lineup of you and Blake Parris teaming up with drummer John Speaks revealed about the songs or the chemistry that you share? I know that you and Blake have been working together since grade school. John, is someone who’s played shows with you, but hasn’t been in the studio with you, at least not for many years.
John is the drummer for the Young Antiques—no question about it. He joined the band in 2001-2003 and we recorded Clockworker with him and toured the Midwest to Chicago and the East Coast to NYC. That was the best time we’d had with any one drummer. When John left, we worked with another drummer, Kevin Charney, for a couple of albums before fizzling out. I moved on with two more solo albums with His Demons (Love Don’t Cross Me and Helicopter Rose). That band consisted of Joe Foy, Eric Young, and Aaron Mason (Nikki Speake and the Phantom Callers). Parris was performing with Volume IV and a variety of other bands around the city at that time. After that, John came into Boutique Guitar Exchange where I was working at the time and basically said, “You wanna get the band back together?” and Parris and I decided a reunion sounded like the right thing to do. So I put down the new solo material I was working on and started writing what would eventually become Another Risk Of The Heart.
I had no idea how comfortable or interesting we would sound when we got together. The time we spent bonding and performing in the early 2000’s has definitely played a big role in our overall chemistry today—plus we’re all better musicians individually at this point in our lives. It was the best decision we could have made.