Best known for her work with Crass founder Steve Ignorant, Huddersfield based Carol Hodge is a singer and pianist who has spent much of the last few years on keyboards and backing vocals touring with Steve’s acoustic project Slice Of Life. She was a lead vocalist in Steve Ignorant’s Last Supper, performing the songs of Crass on a world tour. Carol currently provides live keyboards and backing vocals for Texan rockers Ryan Hamilton And The Harlequin Ghosts, and makes occasional guest appearances on keys with The Membranes and The Ginger Wildheart Band. Carol is set to release her second solo studio album, “Savage Purge” on June 30th, and took some time out from lockdown to talk about the album amongst loads of other subjects.
Rather than begin with a negative and talk about lockdown, let’s begin with something positive, your new album ‘Savage Purge’. It looks stunning on vinyl! You must have been buzzing when you first saw it. With RecordStore Day usually falling in April and most pressing plants working round the clock to meet demand, how far in advance did you need to plan the vinyl release?
Thank you for noticing! I was so elated when I first held it in my hands. I didn’t realise the red vinyl would be transparent, or so heavy. It really is a beautiful thing. I’ve never had a solo album released on vinyl before. It feels very ‘proper’. I recorded the album in October 2019, and set the ball rolling with the pressing company in January. There was a bit of delay, of course, due to Coronavirus, but the turnaround from final files submission to receiving the vinyl was about 3 months, so not bad at all. I used Rotator, a company that is run by Irish punk rock legend Peter Jones.
The album cover sleeve itself is very striking. Who took the shot that made the cover, and does the image of you screaming go hand-in-hand with the album title itself?
I had an idea in my head of how I wanted the cover to look, and over time it fleshed out into wearing the long black coat, being in profile and really screaming! My stance and facial expression are definitely a physical manifestation of the album title. I didn’t want to look pretty and passive, as women are so often portrayed. I wanted a Marlene Dietrich theme to the aesthetic for the album, the famous Shanghai Express photo shoot she did with Josef Von Sternberg, that so influenced Freddie Mercury, with high key lighting and dramatic shadows. Luckily, photographer Mike Bennett is on a similar wavelength, so he managed to capture what I had in my head beautifully.
What was the gestation period of the album like?
The first solo album I released (Hold On To That Flame, 2018) was effectively a ‘best of’ five years of songwriting. I wasn’t very prolific in my output for a long time. After this album was released , I made a conscious decision to show up for my art with more regularity. ‘Savage Purge’ is about 12 months of songwriting, so a much faster turnaround.
‘Savage Purge’ was produced by the in-demand Dave Draper. Christ! He knows his stuff doesn’t he? The production is incredible! Was there any wait until his schedule freed up?
He is a man/myth/legend, for sure. I think we booked in about 6 months in advance. I wanted to set myself a target, and put a rocket up my arse in terms of songwriting output, so it worked well. Dave is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, he really does put the hours in. But it’s a labour of love with him, he has such a passion for what he does. It was an honour to work together again.
There is a lot of emotion on the album. How much did it take out of you?
I had a bit of a litmus test for some of these songs – if they make me cry during the songwriting process, then they go on the album. I dug deep, and have purged a lot of feelings and life experiences through the lyrics. Authenticity is one of the qualities I really pride myself on as a writer and performer.
Not only is ‘I Still Love Me’ a total banger, but it’s also such a strong, hopeful track. You really got your message across on this one.
Thank you. The lyric in the chorus is, “I love me, and there’s nobody else that I’d rather be, even if it means I have to put up with minimum 60% misery, I still love me”. I am a perennial proponent of gallows humour and self-deprecation, it would wound me if people took me too seriously.
The pacing on the album is crucial: the raw piano-driven ballad ‘In Case of Emergency’ stops the listener in their tracks, then ‘Magic Bullet’ will have them dancing with delight. Did the running order give you any headaches?
Always. It took me a long time to figure out the track listing. I wanted it to feel like a journey, most importantly with an uplifting ending. I’m a singer-songwriter who likes to experiment across genres, and I’m not trying to emulate a specific sound. Sometimes I feel like I’m difficult to pin down, and use this as an excuse for not being more successful.
‘Stop Worrying Baby’ has an incredible accompanying video which features Dominic Brunt (Paddy Kirk in ITV’s Emmerdale). Jesus he looks scary in it! How did you get him on board? The scene where you run down a grassy hill after him, for a minute there it looked like you were going to slip. Did you manage it in one take?
That was all acting, darling. Actually, I nearly went on my arse a few times during that shoot. It was a real coup getting Dominic involved. I met him at a gig last year, he’s friends with Mark Whiteside (One Sided Horse – beautiful songs, check him out) who I have played quite a few gigs with. I wanted to do something a bit Lynchian, with a strong dash of Fargo thrown in for good measure. I’m still not sure if his character is real, or in my head. Anyway, turns out Dominic likes my music, and was well up for it. He is brilliant to work with, as is Mark Richards, the videographer.
‘Stopped Believing in You’ has massive crossover appeal. Does it frustrate you that, as an independent artist, doors might not open the same way that they would if you had the weight of a major label behind you?
I’ve got to the point where I have zero expectations of how my musical career will evolve. The idea of working with a major label does not appeal in the slightest. DIY or die, baby. If Amanda Palmer can achieve all she has, as a completely independent artist, then there is a glimmer of hope I might one day be able to scratch a living out of my music.
Talking of labels, you provide live keyboards and backing vocals for Ryan Hamilton and The Harlequin Ghosts, who are of course signed to Wicked Cool Records owned by Silvio Dante himself: Steven Van Zandt. Ryan is one of the good guys, you must have been ecstatic when one of the coolest labels around signed the band?
I was super-chuffed for Ryan. He works so hard and is a really talented songwriter. It’s an honour to ride on his coat tails. Wicked Cool are a brilliant independent label. A little bit of wee definitely came out when I met Stevie Van Zandt.
Although the music business is just that, a business, apart from those at the top end it’s a struggle to make a living from music. It must be worth it though, when you hear your new material back for the first time and you get goosebumps? And then to watch people’s reactions when you play them live?
There is a real magic to hearing your own finished album. I listen intently to give feedback on the mixes, then a few more times to the finished product. By then I’ve moved on to new songs, and I don’t like to listen too much, as then I’ll notice further imperfections in my performance and suck the joy out of it! It’s really awesome seeing people enjoying or singing along to a song you have written. it doesn’t get much better than that.
It’s often said that there are only two types of music; good and bad, but in all honesty, every type of music is good to at least one person, so, what do you feel makes a great song? And is there such a thing as a guilty pleasure?
When I was younger, I was very tribal about my tastes, but now I’ll happily listen to anything, as long as I like it. Funnily enough, I was having this conversation with somebody else this morning! The idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music being unerringly subjective. I’m a big fan of authenticity, especially in a vocal performance. I care less about craft and sophistication, and more about feeling and honesty. I often recall the scene in Walk The Line (Johnny Cash biopic) where he is asked “If you’d been hit by a truck and your were lying in the road, and you had time to play one song, just one song, that people would remember before you’re dirt, one song that would let god know about how you felt about your time here on earth, one song that would sum you up”. That’s the goal I think, to write that one song that means something to me, and to other people.
In your opinion what makes a great songwriter, and who would you class as an under-rated songwriter? Alex Harvey has to be up there purely for “There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight”! He was a poet!
I adore Alex Harvey. He is one of the finest frontmen of all time in my opinion. He shifted character and intensity seamlessly, a true actor, absolutely mesmeric. He’s a prime example of what I love in a voice – under polished, but absolutely honest. Great songwriting makes you feel something, simple as. I’m a sucker for a good lyric, John Prine and Carole King are up there for me. I love a good balance of poignancy and positivity.
What inspires you at the minute?
Protest, fighting social and racial injustice with clarity and dignity. Enough is enough. Black Lives Matter, shout it from the rooftops. If you are not anti-racist, then you are racist. it’s a very clear cut situation.
Lastly, what’s your favourite children’s book?
I was honoured to be asked to read a children’s story for Youth Anthems in Leeds (they usually run child-friendly daytime gigs, but have been running live songs and stories on Instagram during the lockdown). I chose ‘Oh! the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr Seuss, which is an absolute banger of a book, and makes me well up every time I read it.
‘Savage Purge’ receives its physical release on June 30th, pre-order information here.
Interview – Dave
All photos – Mike Bennett