Photo by James Birtwhistle
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“I think the mixing and choice of sounds in everything Patrick Cowley has done is flawless,” says Hey Colossus’ Chris Summerlin. “Especially the instrumentals on School amazement – you can imagine where they are, what planets they are on, and I think that’s a good approach to mixing any type of music.”
I’m sitting in my kitchen talking to Summerlin and Joe Thompson about their band’s gigantic, almost album-length cover of “You Laugh At My Face” by Catholic by Cowley and Jorge Socarras, commissioned by The Quietus for Sound + Vision subscribers. Coming from a band like Hey Colossus, known for their particularly heavy brand of heavy rock, a cover of an obscure synth-pop collaboration featuring pioneering hi-NRG savant Cowley may sound far from left field, but Summerlin doesn’t. not necessarily see it that way, not entirely.
“I think as a quote-unquote rock band, you can take things from [Cowley’s approach]: your choices on how you mix something, to create this little sonic world like it does in every mix. It’s daunting to cover something like that,” Summerlin continues, “but at the same time, it’s liberating because you can do anything. I did the mix on it, and I really enjoyed doing it – even though it was pretty terrifying. »
The result is the last high line of the group. Over its nearly 22-minute runtime, Hey Colossus makes the song its own using an extensive arsenal of dub-like tactics. Except for a blunt surprise near the end of the track, their “You Laugh At My Face” is a truly gorgeous psychedelic exploration of Cowley and Socarras’ original.
“It’s tough — we’ve been in this time of lockdown, and it’s very freeing to suddenly be able to do things again,” Summerlin says. “But actually, it’s quite difficult. It’s the first thing we’ve done since the last record, and we did it, what, three years ago? It feels good. I’m really grateful that The Quietus asked us to do it.”
Thompson chimes in: “It could have been a disaster.”
Why choose this title from Cowley and Socarras?
Chris says: “I’m a huge Cowley fan. Paul [Sykes], our lead singer, sent me the Catholic record. He works for a record distributor, and when Dark Entries reissued it, he got a copy. He knew I liked School Daze and the more energetic Patrick Cowley stuff. I really liked Donovan’s cover on Catholic. They cover ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’. I think Paul passed it on for that, but I remember thinking when I first heard “You Laugh At My Face” that it sounded a bit like the way he sang. Had a similar quality to this.
“I bugged the rest of the band to cover it up for ages. Everyone was like, ‘Ah, how are we going to do this?’ But I thought it was an interesting choice for a band like ours, which is supposed to be a – I don’t know what we are, but we’re a “rock band” of guys in their 40s. I think our interests are perhaps a little broader than is sometimes believed. This song in particular is a beautiful song.
Joe adds, “Also, I think being in this rock band for as long as we’ve been in it, which is almost 20 years, you don’t really listen to a lot of rock when you’re at the House. You dig elsewhere for your sounds.
Hey Colossus is known to be a record collector, or at least Joe is anyway, thanks to the Wrong Speed Record interviews he posts on YouTube.
He explains: “We all are. I have said it several times. We basically play in places that have good record stores. Yeah, we’ll get there early to go to the record store. And we are all the same. So I don’t have all that on me.
It had been tempting to assume that the selection of this song was related to this trend. There is darkness on the track. Even after the re-release, it’s still a crate dig. Insofar as it’s fair to ask if there’s a bit of record-collecting flex here?
Chris says, “I have to defend myself and say I don’t have the record. So if it’s a bit of a body-digging flex, it’s not about ownership. I just thought the track had emotional content. I answered it the first time I heard it, and I thought we could do a good job. I still think a little that we could have murdered him. But you’re supposed to think that, aren’t you? Supposed to think the original is better than the cover? But I don’t know if it’s a flex record collector? Maybe it’s an asshole thing, not a record collector thing.
Joe laughs and adds, “But the thing is, we wouldn’t even be aware it was a flex, and that’s a sign that it probably is.”
Their rendition of ‘You Laugh At My Face’, in all its glory, is nearly 22 minutes long – much longer than the original. This begs the question of how this happened.
Chris says it was due to panic: “[It’s] because we said we would six months ago – and we kept going to recording studios trying to come up with ideas for a track. Am I being too honest here, Joe?
Joe responds, “Last time we were there, we booked a studio to go in and record something for the track. At that time, it wasn’t the Cowley cover. In fact, we have released four relatively normal-length songs that are going to be on a future album instead. And as we drove home that day, it was like, ‘We ain’t fucking done it anymore!'”
Chris laughs: “We forgot! Shit!” It was like, ‘What the fuck are we doing?’ It was a difficult period. And we were really excited about the things we were offering, and then we all messaged each other on the way home. ‘Shit! We forgot that fucking Quietus thing we’re supposed to do!’
Photo by Julie R Kane
“So I think it’s because there’s something metronomic about it – it’s not really dance music, this song – but there’s a metronomic thing about electronic music that allowed us to do it remotely. Everyone just threw their ideas at the frame of the song. Then we mixed it as if it were a dub mix – switching on and off things when we felt like it was going to work. And time constraints made it great for me. We finished it Tuesday night, and John [Doran]request Wednesday morning. So it’s nice, you know, to have to make those decisions pretty quickly. Maybe if we had worked on these decisions, we would have made the situation worse.
Everyone at The Quietus thinks the track turned out fabulous, and there’s something of a lighter touch going on there. I was listening to it this morning, and my wife came over with her cup of coffee, you know, and asked if that was one of the Peel sessions that they added to this Yo La Tengo reissue. I can hear the heart beating as one.
Chris is disarming: “I readily admit that I’ve never had an original idea for a guitar in my life. Everything comes from this disc. I don’t own any other Yo La Tengo records – I own this one, and I really like it. And weirdly, I play in another band, and all the people that are in that band, the only shared album that we all love is this record, even though we don’t own any other Yo La Tengo records. This record, for some reason, it remains. The atmosphere of it. You don’t feel like they overproduced it – it looks like the textures are in the room, but they’re pretty cool. There is also a little My Bloody Valentine touch in some of these albums.
Joe adds: “Elisa and I, when we got married, the song that we walked down the aisle to, although there was no aisle because it was a record office, was a Yo La Tengo song – ‘Our Way To Fall’ So that’s my Yo La Tengo story.
Chris concludes, “But we’re not Yo La Tengo fans, are we? [laughs] We’re not obsessed fans, but still, hang in there! He’s the secret liaison for everyone in our age group.
In some ways, this cover seems like a spiritual successor to “The Mirror,” the track the band did with Mark Lanegan; but does the band think about it that way?
Chris says, “Maybe? I guess the voices are rendered the same, right? We had just made an album during the lockdown period that was going to have Lanegan as a vocalist, and maybe that kind of came off of that, because we were making music for him to sing.
Joe says they provided the singer with 14 or 15 instrumental tracks.
Chris says: “We sent them all to him, but we didn’t hear from him for a week. We were like, ‘We screwed it up.’ Then it turned out that he was dead. It was horrible. And we made this record for him.
Now we are trying to figure out what to do with it. And I think there’s a bit of a hangover there, where we’re maybe making music with a bigger voice in mind. Not that we don’t normally, but Paul knows how to adapt very well to whatever is given to him. He doesn’t ask for a platform to sing, but he will always find one. But I think on the stuff that we did, thinking Mark was going to sing it, we definitely have verses and choruses. Fuck knows what we’re gonna do with this.
Joe intervenes: “I really hope [this process] kicks our ass to finish what was supposed to be in Lanegan. I hope this will make us bend and twist for this to be over. But yeah, you’re right, it was probably the hangover.
And – apologies for the spoiler – ‘You Laugh At My Face’ turns into The Fall at the end.
Chris says: “The idea was that there were two songs. We were looking for the lyrics to ‘You Laugh At My Face’ and the thing that came up was a garage rock track called ‘Laugh In My Face’ [by The Apolloes]. [Robert Davis], the other guitarist of Colossus, also makes a band called The Mute Servants – like Billy Childish, The Fall. He was like, “I’ll cover this.” So he did, and then it was like, “How are we going to integrate this?” We stuck it at the end with a lot of reverb like it was a mistake. I think it almost sounds like a Lee Ranaldo Sonic Youth song. When it arrives, I keep thinking it’s “Mote” by Goo.
Joe adds: “Like the kind of stuff that Guided by Voices used to do and Sonic Youth used to do, you used to have the next song or the first song from the next album fade in at the end.”
Chris says, “Yeah, that means our next album is just going to scream about stuff.”
Joe concludes with a laugh, “Maybe it’s good!”
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