by Wade Millward
The Wave Pictures may be an indie band, but they’re not an indie band.
That’s what Franic Rzycki wants critics and listeners of his Wymeswold, England, pop rock trio to understand. He says the band, now touring the U.S., is more influenced by the classic rock ‘n’ roll of Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and early Fleetwood Mac than any safe, modern rock band.
What’s more, the bassist boasts about the group’s instrumental prowess. Knowing how to play your instrument is distinctly non-indie, Rzycki says. Rzycki is disappointed by the snobby hipsters his band attracts, especially in the U.K. He rejects bands such as alt-rockers Coldplay, who are “pissing away time and money for something mediocre.”
“That music doesn’t interest me at all,” he says.
Instead, Rzycki and his bandmates — drummer Jonny Helm and singer-guitarist Dave Tattersall, Rzycki’s friend of more than 20 years — prefer to entertain crowds with a musicianship overlooked from the group’s prolific collection of albums. The Wave Pictures’ twelfth album, Long Black Cars, was released April 17.
Rzycki says he and Tattersall are known as the group’s curmudgeons by drummer Helm. Though Rzycki considers Helm’s rationality grounding for the band, he finds his and Tattersall’s complaining justified and an important perspective for living.
“If you don’t dislike something, how can you fall in love with something else,” he reasons.
He speaks from Austin, Texas, while his mates enjoy an outdoor pool fueled by the Barton Springs. The band is taking a break from its April-May tour with pop quartet Allo Darlin’. Rzycki says attendance for the tour has been on and off. The bands sold out a show at New York’s Mercury Lounge while a gig at the Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge, La., only attracted about 10 people.
Crowd enthusiasm is key for a Wave Pictures show, as the band doesn’t use setlists. Frontman Tattersall picks songs based on how he feels in the moment.
“I think it’s important that when you go to a live show,” Rzycki says, “you see something that’s different.”
Despite the band’s mixed reception, the 29-year-old says the Americans he’s met are “very polite.” He considers this tour much more successful than the band’s previous one in North America, which Rzycki called “disheartening” for its poor organization and poor promotion.
“We got the worst impression of America,” he says. “This tour is really changing that.”
Rzycki says the best audiences are in Spain, where crowds go wild with partying and drinking. The craziest fan encounter he’s had while touring was with a Spanish girl who offered to sodomize him.
“She was kind of shy about it,” he says. “You don’t get offered to get sodomized every day.”
In the band’s native U.K., audiences are colder. Rzycki says this is because the band attracts a crowd of indie snobs turned off by the band’s non-indie appearance and most certainly non-indie guitar solos.
Rzycki expresses disappointment at how the band’s rocker side is ignored by critics and reviews. He says the problem with indie crowds is they frown on instrumental ability, such as his beloved soloing. He names New York act The Wows, French act Coming Soon and Stanley Brinks as artists whose live shows actually impress him.
The Wave Pictures have existed for 14 years, but Rzycki met singer Tattersall when they were 4. They’ve played guitars, moved to and from London and got a record deal together.
The difference now that the band is a career is worrying about making money and compromising with necessary evils instead of playing purely for pleasure.
“It’s not 100 percent fun anymore,” he says. “But it’s still a fantastic job.”
The evils the Pictures deal with concern their needed Internet presence. The amount of time Rzycki must spend on online promotion frustrates the bassist, particularly the emphasis on social networking and making music videos. He runs the band’s website while a friend maintains its Facebook page.
The process of making videos is a “pain in the ass” to Rzycki for its slowness. This contrasts with the band’s work in the studio, where, to capture true rock ‘n’ roll spirit, it records and produces music as quickly as possible.
“It’s hard to understand how some bands are very slow, unproductive,” Rzycki says.
Yet he recognizes that the band’s most popular songs are from videos and special online releases.
“We’d be screwed without it,” he says.
Even as career musicians, Rzycki and Tattersall make sure they get in a game of pool at every town and in every venue they play. Rzycki, addicted to the game since both men got cheap, foldout pool tables as boys, says they can play for 3 hours straight and into the wee hours of the morning.
After the spring tour, the Pictures will play festivals, including NYC Pop Festival and Green Man Festival in Powys, U.K. Rzycki doesn’t look forward to this leg of the tour. He much prefers local venues and smaller festivals — such as End of the Road in North Dorset, U.K., and Indietracks in Derbyshire, U.K. — to “unenjoyable,” “depressing” big-name festivals, where the sound quality is poor and the stage separates and disconnects the band from its audience.
And despite the “indie” mislabel, Rzycki likes the positive traits that come with the scene. He says nothing’s more punk than people becoming artists through home recordings.
Not that the Pictures stay at home or are glued to their computers. In addition to the ongoing tour, Tattersall has a solo album coming out, and he and Rzycki will put out an album as the Lobster Boat Band, a rock ‘n’ roll act featuring Coming Soon.
While the best punks can be the most crotchety, Rzycki shares some satisfaction hiding behind his cynical demeanor.
“Even if I complain about a lot of stuff, the truth is I’m living a great life at the moment.”
The latest from The Wave Pictures...
And for some perspective..an older video...
By Wade Millward
Steve Barton fondly remembers his dad as an upbeat clown. Barton’s dad would blow kisses at people when he walked into a room. To him, things weren’t just good—they were “fantastic.” He referred to a cramped apartment Barton once lived in as “chic” and “Parisian.” Barton’s fondest memories are of when his dad, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, would take him out to lunch and then to a film screening at the academy.
Not long before Dan Barton died in 2009, he told his son he loved him and gave a piece of advice that the guitarist still carries with him.
“Just remember, have fun,” Dan Barton said. “Just have a good time.”
Steve Barton says he’ll stay positive for his next album. For now, the 57-year-old is still figuring out his next step for Projector, a 13-song personal document of his life just after his dad’s death almost three years ago. The album was physically released on CD April 10. Additionally, the Los Angeles resident is getting the word out on Big Green Lawn, the first album released by his rock band, Translator, in 26 years.
And Barton is looking forward to working on another album with his regular band, The Oblivion Click. All these projects keeping Barton busy has led him to dub 2012 “the year of Steve.” Projector started as 18 Tom Waits-esque demos played for Barton’s friend, Marvin Etzioni, co-founder of country rock outfit Lone Justice.
Etzioni, who produced the final product, suggested Barton play all the instruments heard on the album to keep the project personal and record on tape to maintain a warm and immediate feeling. Barton also used the Guild X50 guitar given to him by his grandfather, and the music video for the song, These 4 Walls, was filmed in his childhood home.
“It’s very honest,” Barton says. “It’s the most ‘me’ sounding record I’ve ever made.”
His touchstones for the lo-fi album were The Beatles’ White Album, John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and David Bowie, who’s name-checked in the song Bowie Girl. Barton compares recording on tape to tightrope walking. He says he needed “laser-beam focus” to minimize mistakes during editing because recording on tape is expensive.
But recording wasn’t the stressful part of the project. Instead, Barton was strained by the constant reminder of his dad. The emotional duress was so bad, he experienced migraines in the studio. While not all the album’s songs are directly about Barton’s dad, they were written while he was sick in a hospital and up until a month after he died. Inside the CD is a picture of Barton’s dad at age 17, when he was just starting a career as a voice actor for radio.
According to a Variety obituary, Dan Barton died Dec. 13, 2009 at age 88 of heart failure and kidney disease.
Steve Barton says Projector only took five days complete, due to extensive pre-production planning, and was released online in 2010.
“I find the record very hopeful,” he says. “It’s such a personal statement about loss. Maybe it can be helpful for someone going through that.”
This was the second time Barton’s used music to deal with the death of a parent. After his mom, actress Anne Barton, died in 2000, Barton recorded the album, Charm Offensive, with his regular band, The Oblivion Click. He’ll bring the band back for his next album, of which half the songs are already written.
He says he only recently noticed that the 2000s decade was bookmarked by the deaths of his mother, who had roles in plays, films and TV shows including The Twilight Zone and Perry Mason, and his father, who performed on radio, TV and stage and did voiceovers for political ads. They were together for almost 50 years—they met while Barton’s mom was acting in a stage play and married in between performances.
Barton wants to do a Projector tour akin to English alt-rock singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey’s White Chalk tour. Like how Harvey just performed with her piano and guitar, Barton wants to give audiences a stripped down, emotional performance. Barton says his attention is also on getting a tour started with Translator, his San Francisco four-piece.
Their latest album, Big Green Lawn, is the first music released since the band went on hiatus in 1986. The album includes all original band members—guitarist Robert Darlington, bassist Larry Dekker and drummer Dave Scheff. In the 1980s, Translator’s big hit, Everywhere that I’m Not, got the band shuffled under the catchall “new wave” category. But Barton says he always saw the band as a Beatles-meet-Cream crossover of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll.
Barton says that despite Translator’s inability to break out and his wish that they’d played Europe during their peak, he’s proud of his group’s music and the loyal fan base they’ve garnered. He says fans are concentrated to the group’s base in San Francisco, where Translator played a sold-out show in 2009, pockets of the East Coast and, surprisingly, the Philippines. The last performance Translator did was a secret show in San Francisco. All the members happened to be in the city at the same time so they played a private show for friends and invited guests.
Barton says the performance was casual, not a rock show, just how he’d like the band’s tour to go. He says he’s so close to the band members, they were able to pick up right where they left off in 1986. The only difference was Barton had a smaller amp.
“It was like no time had gone by,” he says. “It’s a part of our DNA, in a way.”
He says that, even though the Internet makes seeking out music easier and more immediate, the importance of live performance hasn’t changed. He considers that Translator’s forte. Barton considers his bandmates his brothers. At the memorial for Barton’s father at L.A.’s Silent Movie Theatre, they played Super Fantastic Guy. The song, from Barton’s Projector, was named for his dad’s descriptor of choice.
Even with all his projects, Barton says he thinks of his dad all the time. He’ll feel his eyes “well up” occasionally when watching a movie. He says grieving is personal but offers some advice for those going through a tough loss.
“It actually does get better,” he says. “It changes into a kind of part of your life.”