She's British, black, and released a successful debut album in the early '90s - then disappeared from the limelight. Now she spends her time modeling clay. You know who I'm writing about, don't you?
Well, yeah – her, too. But I was referring to Tasmin Archer. Here's a brief email exchange we had recently...
You've mentioned that "Sleeping Satellite" wasn't really an overnight chart success. Can you elaborate?
That track was released in the UK first and I was probably referring to the UK chart with that comment. What I meant was it didn’t enter the charts at number 1 or anything like that. It entered at a very lowly position and took about 6 weeks to crawl its way up to the top spot. A slow rise like that would be rare these days I think and it was still fairly unusual back in the 90s.
Your second album didn't fare as well commercially as your debut one did. Did you think it was as good artistically? Also, didn't you criticize your record company over the way it was marketed?
We were actually looking for a bit more depth musically with ‘Bloom’ and I think we achieved that. Of course it wasn’t as commercially focused as ‘Great Expectations’ but we wanted to try something different. We were hopeful that the commercial success of ‘Great Expectations’ would allow us a little leeway with EMI and they’d permit us to try something in a slightly different direction that would possibly appeal to a more singer/songwriter audience rather than a mainly pop audience. EMI supported us right through the making of the album and even after it was finished support continued and we made an expensive video for the first planned single ‘One More Good Night With The Boys’. However before the originally planned release date was reached there as a change of personnel at the top of EMI in the UK and the new guy wanted a more commercial album, probably the Great Expectations Mk II we were trying to avoid. So we embarked on almost a year of ‘discussions’. Our relationship deteriorated somewhat during that period of intransigence and we dug our heels in and refused to change the album. EMI eventually released it (in Europe only) but having experienced the level of marketing support we received with 'Great Expectations' it was pretty obvious that they weren’t backing it in that direction. It felt like they’d just threw it out to see if it would float. The delayed release also meant there was a considerable time gap between this album and the previous release, which was actually the ‘Shipbuilding EP’, so we had lost a bit of traction and this probably didn’t help either.
I’m still pleased with ‘Bloom' as an album. I still like the songs, it has some fantastic musicians on it, was superbly produced by Mitchell Froom and brilliantly engineered and mixed by Tchad Blake. Is that a plug? :)
Your third album was put out by you independently. How did that come about and what did you think of it?
Following the touring cycle etc around the release of ‘Bloom’ we started writing and recording demos for the follow up. We were still signed to EMI at this point and our relationship with the hierarchy was repairing. We were aware that we would have to ‘follow the party line’ more with the next album and we were, with a little reluctance, resigned to this until there was yet another change of personnel at EMI. Following that change we had virtually no personal connections within the company and because of the lack of commercial success of ‘Bloom’ little support. Fortunately we had arrived at an option point in our contract and we parted ways. At the time we had pretty much had enough of the business side of the music business. I felt like I’d been treat more like a commodity than an artist and it seemed like a good time to take a break. I planned a year away but for various reasons, including a dose of writer’s block, it turned out to be much longer.
When we eventually got going again properly with our writing we decided to record the songs ourselves. It had obviously become a lot easier to do this with the technological advances that had been made with DAWs etc and we didn’t need a label to finance the recording but there was still a lot to learn to achieve this. We planned to finish the record and then decide what path we would take to release it. We did talk to a few labels, no majors as we weren’t going down that route again at that point in time, but we felt it would be interesting to form our own label and use one of the very early label service companies that are more prevalent these days. It was a massive learning curve and pretty exhausting in the end but was very satisfying. We only had a tiny marketing budget so it was very unlikely to achieve any commercial success but we had decided long before we released the record that that wasn’t one of our main priorities.
When I listen to the record now there are some technical things that bother me a little but I still like the songs very much and I like the sentiment of the album.
I like the videos to your songs. Did they have the same director? Even your most recent independent single, "Every Time I Want It" is well done. That must have been tough without the backing of a record company.
I’ve worked with quite a few video directors over the years, I did a couple with Zana (US version of Sleeping Satellite, the original European version was directed by Lawrence Dunmore, and In Your Care). The other videos were all done by different directors. Jeffrey Levy, the independent film director, directed ‘One More Good Night With The Boys’ which we filmed at an old drive-in movie place somewhere in the valley in LA. The two animated videos we did for tracks from ‘ON’ (Effect Is Monotony, or Every Time I Want It as the single radio release was called, and Sedan) were done by a young animator called Matt Sandbrook (www.mattsandbrook.co.uk).
You mentioned having severe writer's block after your second album, which was slowly chiseled away by becoming a soccer fan and modeling clay. What was up with that? Also, it's been seven years since your last musical work. Why do long?
Well I’m not sure watching football (soccer to you US guys) had anything to do with clearing the block but it’s what I did with some of the extra spare time I had because of the block. The other creative outlets I used like modeling clay, very badly I might add :), meant I was finishing something creatively which was a real breakthrough as far as the writer’s block was concerned.
Is it really seven years since we released ‘ON’? Scarily it is. We’ve actually written quite a lot in the years since but other than record the demos so we won’t forget them we’ve only started putting together a new album properly fairly recently. There have been quite a few family things to deal with over the last few years too with aging parents etc and that has delayed things. I’m hoping it won’t take too long to finish but since there’s no real commercial pressure to get things out we want to take our time and get it right. We don’t have any delusions of grandeur that what we are now doing will have a massive audience. In fact the main reason we keep going is to satisfy our own creative needs. It’s great if people like what you do but if you don’t like it yourself it kind of defeats the object.
Tasmin Archer Music Videos...
In Your Care
Lords of the New Church
One More Good Night with the Boys
Effect is Monotony
Thanks to Jeff Ross, who puts on the Santa Cruz Film Festival, which he was nice enough to get me into late last year. The movie I caught is called Thursday's Speaker, which is about a revered motivational speaker at Alcoholics Anonymous who is a closet drunk. The film stars Del Zamora as “Thursday's Speaker”, Ashley Ledbetter as his stripper ex-girlfriend, and Andrew Shea as the stripper's son. It's won several awards at other film festivals and was made by the husband and wife team of Gary Hebert, who directed it, and Lisa Stacilauskas, who was the director of photography. Here's a brief chat with Gary...
True story: On Thanksgiving I watched your movie on DVD with my friend. I
was impressed with Del Zamora, the lead actor. Then we watched a 1985 episode of "Hill Street Blues" titled "What Are Friends For?" I had written about it in the Herald and mentioned what a powerful scene it had where a character, Detective Rodriguez, begs for his life before being murdered. For some reason, a few days later, I went online to find out who portrayed Detective Rodriguez. It was Del Zamora! I don't think it was his more youthful appearance that had me not make the connection - it was the versatility of his performances. He is an actor who should be well-known. How did you find him? Also, the rest of the cast is relatively unknown. How did you find them?
Del Zamora is brilliant! He is one of the great undiscovered actors. I didn't know Del until he came in and read for us. I looked at his reel and thought he was great so I had him come in. When he read the part, I immediately knew he was the guy. He had just the right touch of lightness. The character has a comic side, a buoyancy that just keeps him from sinking. Del had that from his first read. Most of the other actors went really dark, right away. They didn't get the humor in the character. I couldn't imagine anyone else doing the part after that. We really lucked out when we found Del. The rest of the cast was a mix of actors we'd worked with on our previous short films and people we found through casting. We found Ashley Ledbetter (April) through casting and the same with Andrew Shea (Sam). I really liked Ashley because she had a similar humor to Del. That was an important aspect to her character, that she lived in this dark world, with the stripping and everything, but it never penetrated her. She's kind of oblivious to the darkness. Andrew was great because his acting is so natural. It works in the film because he is stuck between these two kind-of-odd characters. I feel like the one thing we did the best job of was our casting.
I visited the Kickstarter site. Did you really make this movie for
No. We did a Kickstarter to pay for post and our film festival entry fees. Our budget was closer to $100k. Even raising 10$k on Kickstarter was difficult. I don' t know how people raise so much more than that. I don't think I'd do it again. I don't like begging my friends and family for money.
Hey, Del – you're a good actor, you seem like a nice guy, but what's with these wacked-out conspiracy theories (If Bush got a third term there would have been debtor prisons, etc) you're spouting on the Internet? I think you're hanging out with Alex Cox (the guy who directed “Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy”) too much. Just lookin'out for ya, Del Baby. Keep up the good performances, though.
Scenes from Hill Street Blues with Del Zamora
There's a couple of recent Almost Famous columns by Kimberlye Gold, which were online-only so you probably haven't read them. There's writing about Carole King: The Musical, Lynyrd Skynrd, Bad Company, The Doobie Brothers, Rita Coolidge, The Stages of Sleep, and more!
Also on SanFranciscoHerald.Net, Remembering Karen Black by Lana Alattera (which ran recently online-only, so we're plugging it here since no one read it.)
Check out an online-only Good Clean Fun comic from 2009 (or thereabouts) called Montecito Waltz, where Wembley meets Opus the Penguin. All ya gotta do is log on to SanFranciscoHerald.Net.
Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonestown:
“Drink the Kool-Aid” has become a popular expression, though most people under 50 don't know where it came from. Ironic, as it's related to the largest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act before 9/11.
I remember reading about the mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978. As a 13 year old kid in New York, I figured it was just some freaky religious cult in California that went amok. But the mass suicide was really mass murder. And this wasn't just some obscure cult. It had tremendous political sway in the City by the Bay.
Though the infamous event just had its 35th anniversary in November, it's almost forgotten. Keep in mind, this disaster happened about a week before the mayor of San Francisco - George Moscone - along with Supervisor Harvey Milk, were assassinated. And it was arguably a bigger San Francisco news story of 1978 than that. Actually, it wasn't a disaster. Or a tragedy. It was an act of evil. And according to Les Kinsolving, the journalist who tried to warn this town of the cult, it was enabled by politicians (including the aforementioned Moscone and Milk), clergymen, and journalists – many whom are still very powerful. Shamefully, some deceased supporters (and friends) of Jones even have streets named after them: Carlton Goodlett (publisher of the Sun-Reporter) and Herb Caen (SF Chronicle columnist).
In today's digital age, the true nature of Jim Jones probably would have made its way to the public regardless of the corruption and cowardice of government and media.
Kinsolving covers the saga from the beginning, where Jones the atheist infiltrates the church to spread his Marxist ideology. The preacher and his congregation leave his native Indiana and move to Ukiah, San Francisco, and ultimately Jonestown (in Guyana).
Make sure you read “Jonestown Remembered” on SanFranciscoHerald.Net. Keep in mind, if you have heard of the mass death of Peoples Temple – according to Kinsolving, almost everything you've heard is probably wrong. (Whether it's the official news narrative or the usual pedestrian conspiracy theories.)###
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