The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Chance-Taking: Stephen McRobbie Of The Pastels' Favourite Albums
John Freeman , June 3rd, 2013 08:53

With The Pastels releasing their first album in 16 years last week, original member Stephen McRobbie reveals the 13 albums that “defined his taste” and inspired his band


Maher Shalal Hash Baz - Return Visit To Rock Mass
In contrast to Kind Of Blue, this is this incredibly short, focussed Maher Shalal Hash Baz record [it’s an 86-track compilation box set]. The band is the work of Tori Kudo who somehow managed to persuade his friend Shinji Shibayama to release on his label, Org, on the condition that Tori would only agree to the record if Shibayama would release every single song that Tori had at the time. Tori comes up with a song a day – or more – so the project could have almost never finished. I think Shibayama must have called it off at some point or various musicians stopped coming to sessions.

It starts out with a really beautiful song called ‘Unknown Happiness’ that is probably one of their most recognisable songs. It has a really beautiful melody, weird instrumentation with a euphonium and a surf guitar style. There is a mixture of really fantastic musicians and absolute beginners and that’s what Tori likes – he wants a rough edge to what he does.

Tori is a really incredible pianist – a child prodigy who could play really complicated classical pieces from the age of five – and absolutely knows music inside out. He has no interest in playing with people who are as good as he is. He is looking for an amateur spirit and is a self-declared ‘king of error’. He started out in Japan making quite punky records and then did some no wave-type stuff, with his wife Reiko who would wail over the music, and then eventually formed Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which was this strange instrumental mix of euphonium as the main instrument – sometimes with a really good drummer of at other times with a beginner on drums. Tori was almost always on guitar and doing vocals.

When I heard their music, it was my friend David Keenan who discovered them for The Wire. Katrina and I were visiting David in London together and David said that he had found this group that he thought we would absolutely love. When Katrina and I heard it we were floored from the first notes of ‘Unknown Happiness’. It had all these elements that I love in music – great melody, a certain roughness, joy and sadness, intensity and a quiet power. It had vision.

Tori and Reiko were living in London at the time and after David did his piece and it was published in The Wire, they left a note in the Rough Trade shop for David as they had heard he also lived in London. They wanted to meet him and thank him for the review. David was moving back to Glasgow around that time so we decided to do a Maher Shalal Hash Baz concert. We put them on and it was about then that Domino had been saying that if we ever wanted to do our own label that they would support us and give us money to do it. So, we went in and said to [Domino founder] Laurence [Bell] that Maher Shalal Hash Baz was what we wanted to do and that our label would be based around them. He thought it was a bit wild, but his favourite group is something like Royal Trux, so even though he has released all these big records he loves wilder stuff and was up for doing it. So, the first release on Geographic was a Maher retrospective and we subsequently made a new Maher record in Scotland called Blues De Jour. They embody everything I love in music and I will absolutely love this group until the day I die.