Interview with Julian "Jazz" Pransky-Poole, formerly of Strangelove, and currently guitarist/keyboardist with Witness.
Interviewer: Dylan Harris, February 2000
"Xylophone tinkler sporting a wild hairdo not seen since Eraserhead" is how the Melody Maker once described you. Fair description?;-)
I suppose its as accurate as me saying "Melody Maker..try's to act cool and independent, but its secretly financed by Homes and Gardens magazine"
But yeah I guess it is a fair description !!..I tinkle on the X and I guess my hair is kind of out of control...That's what happens when you watch too much Seinfeld..it's that Cosmo Kramer !!
So when and how did joining Witness come about? Was it simply a matter of John Langley (also ex Strangelove) recommending you to the rest of the band?
It was a weird night I got the call as I had just got Quarantine and was listening to it all week thinking this is awesome... Then I hadn't spoke to John in ages and I was honestly seconds away from lifting up the phone to say hi and to tell him that I thought Witness were fantastic - BUT the phone rang and it was John saying "you know I said that if we need a pedal steel player".."well we don't!!, but we need a extra guitar/keyboard player"...
I was, to coin the phrase - Over the Moon !!
I had been listening to the Red House Painters last album 'Songs from a Blue Guitar' and Witness over and over and had been thinking how lucky John was to be working with such an incredible singer as Gerard...then I got the
I don't actually know what John had said about me to the rest of the band/management...I imagine it was words along the lines of "he's a tinkler sporting a wild hairdo not seen since Eraserhead" !!!!!
Was the initial plan for you to just help out on a live basis?
Yeah I think it was - I don't think they had thought about the long term aspect to an extra member at that point...All they knew is that they were having difficulty in recreating the songs live... I never did see them live as a four piece - but after having to play every instrument except the fluglehorn (there is still a chance !!) in their songs, it dawned on me that "how the hell were you doing this before "...."Very badly" was the usual reply..
Initially I also played on the recorded versions of Heirloom and My Own Old Song...
I hadn't played the piano hardly before that - I met them at the studio whilst they were doing the album - and a few hours later they asked me to put down some piano on this track they been working on which was Heirloom.
I'm sat there with headphones on and Gerard's doing a vocal take at the same time..so I've got this huge piano in front of me and I'm thinking "F#%K!.."should have learned piano..where's C again"..all the while I've got this 'send shivers down your spine' voice booming in my headphones, it was bizarre...I'd only just met them and didn't even know their names !!!..
Furthermore I couldn't understand a word they spoke !!..they said it was in F or C or was that G ??..they sounded so northern I was lost..that's why stop on the F in the chorus piano line - I'm thinking "what did he say ??"
I notice that you're credited with the co-writing of new track, "Zero Zero". Do we take from this that you are now a "full time" member of the band?
I wasn't part of the publishing deal - as I obviously didn't know them at the time..that is why it is credited that way.
How much input have you had into the writing of the new album?
I purposely have not been involved in the songs for scratch. The last thing they need is someone upsetting the balance of song writing within the band.
Yeah I could have gone to town with writing for Witness and I've got enough stuff to make an album that rivals the Pumpkins Siamese Dream..but that's not Witness.
Furthermore I don't want it to be seen as "jeeesus they were great until he got involved"..best to let the great song writing relationships within the band continue and grow.
I did demo one thing with Dylan and Ray and Gerard and I never heard them mention it again, which I STRESS is not a moan - far from it - they probably thought just that it was shit and were to embarrassed to tell me straight !!! Just like there is no point in planting seeds in the wrong season, there is no point in doing something if you know it ain't going to see the light of day - I could write so so so much for them but its a wasted effort as it won't be worked on - again this is not a moan - again far far far far from it... that is the mechanics of a band - there are embedded ways of song
writing in every band that are set from day one and that can never be remoulded.
You can pretend they are remoulded but then that's just a pretence before a split...Best to think - "if it aint broke" etc I have never enjoyed playing music more in my life than with Dylan Ray John and Gerard..they have something magical between them and I feel privileged to be involved.
I guess I shall hoard up all these ideas I have and one day unleash them on Witness and make a Witness meets Wilco meets Smashing Pumpkins album !!
What music did you listen to as a teenager?
The first album I ever bought was Never Mind the Bollocks..I had to get my dad to buy it for me as the guy behind the counter refused to sell it to a ten year old...My dad was as bit shocked by the title !!!...BUT I was too young to be hanging around in shopping precincts for the punk scene. - jesus I was ten I could hardly tie my shoes and the glue I was using was for Airfix models - I didn't fit in..but Steve Jones guitar sound on that album is still the greatest recorded sound of a guitar - Then I got into metal !!! I was heavily into the metal scene...As with most kids who have an older brother, I followed suit..GTR heroes like Angus Young, Van Halen, Jimmy Page got me into playing guitar - Bands I listened to were Van Halen, ACDC, Zeppelin that kind of stuff...early Van Halen is still fantastic.
But before all of that, I grew up on 70s DISCO...My mom ran a cocktail bar in a 70s 'Studio 54' kind of club - with the bar in the middle of a swimming pool !!!...and Travolta like colour tiles that change colour...It was awesome....guys in speedos and girls in bikinis still in platforms and afros!!..out of the pool on to the dance floor..the dance floor was a death trap So everyone's on the floor dancing to Chic and my moms behind the bar adding yet more blue eyed shadow to her eyes - and for all I know Hugh Hefner could have been there - seriously - it was a bizarre upbringing !!!
So I was really into all that stuff...and easy listening stuff like Bread - amazing group - David Soul !!!...Partridge Family...that kind of stuff too.
When did you decide to take up a career in music? Was there one defining moment or was it, like thousands of other teenagers, a childhood "dream" of becoming a "rock star"?
Yeah I guess it was just a dream that kind of came true..I followed a Degree in Classical music as I was heavily into classical guitar - I was featured in Classical guitar magazines around 1988 and represented the county of Avon
many times at international classical guitar festivals. I was really going that route - then Strangelove got signed and I thought well you only get one shot at it. No really defining moment - although when I put on Deep Purples 'Child in
Time' for the first time and that solo kicks in I'm thinking "man that beats homework"
What was it like and how did things change for you after Strangelove signed for Food/Parlophone in 1993?
It happened very fast for us. We were signed after our second gig. I guess it gave me the opportunity to live in Los Angeles as much as possible. If Strangelove weren't doing anything I'd go straight back. It was an amazing period in my life and its fantastic to still be playing with John... It changed dramatically once Parlophone came on board - we made a £75,000 video that got shown once and then left them over £1 million in debt !!!
What were the highlights of your time in Strangelove?
Recording for two weeks at Abbey Road studios, living in Los Angeles, an 8 week tour with Suede in Europe was incredible - an open air gig in an
amphitheatre in Granada Spain was the best Strangelove gig - played the Albert Hall that was a buzz.
..and the worst bits...?
Writing the best album ever with John that never got sung to, ...filed under dead letter office..
What happened after Strangelove? Did you immediately set about getting back into music, or did you consider a career change?
I realised that the only other thing I could be passionate about was design - I had designed all the sleeves for Strangelove and so I started an HND in website design. I still played here and there - I played and toured with a
girl called Astrid who was in Goya Dress on Suede label Nude...then John called me !!!
After joining the band did you find there to be an aspect of naivety towards the music industry amongst the members of the band who were experiencing it for the first time?
No not really - I think its the other way round - most industry types or companies are so naive of how bands work and think. However when Ray said he thought they'd sell 25,000 in the first week I did have to wonder!!!.. he then went on to add - "Isn't it normal to have ringing in your ears ??"..
Anyway they have the best management I have ever witnessed (no pun intended) and the band themselves don't have to debate things like royalty rates if Richard Claderman covers Quarantine or "locating mandolin strings in the
middle of the night in Austin" (Spinal Tarp!!)
Apart from the one headlining tour last year, the majority of your gigs have been as the support slot. Is it frustrating to play to a crowd that, in the main, are not familiar with your music?
Supports are far more enjoyable - you get the chance to win over a new audience and leave the show early if you are bored !!...you can soundcheck and then not have to move your gear before the show. As long as the band you are supporting is similar then it will work out great - if we were to tour with someone like Billie Piper then I can see problems even before we've left the gas station.
During your early gigs, Gerard built up a reputation amongst the music press for his "lack of movement" during live performances. This seemed to be down to nerves more than anything else. How do you, yourself feel up on stage? You seem to enjoy the experience and don't mind moving around a bit!
Funny people the press aren't they - Me and John were close to the rise of Oasis having gigged with them and I remember they got GREAT press for not moving around ???? How I play is simply how I play .. I like throwing shapes - I guess I do what I do...I am very aware that I move around far too much and from here on in I will consciously be stopping it, as it was fine to be jumping around like a lunatic in Strangelove or the Jazz Butcher but with Witness its its
-- well lets just say I'm sitting down at my piano from now on - I think I'm probably making a fool of myself....I'm going to leave it to Ray to throw shapes from now on - he can do a great windmill !!!
What has been your most memorable live experience with Witness thus far? Surely not the ridiculously early time you had to be on stage at Glastonbury last year?!
I think it has to be Jools Holland - that was the biggest buzz I have ever had...but that wasn't a gig in true definition - so I guess it was the most recent Amsterdam Paridiso show. The gig was so well received - I turned 30 as Heirloom kicked in and I thought "well this beats a cake and candles"...actually maybe just the candles, I'll keep the cake.
What were the recent Holland gigs like and why did you play just Holland? Anything to do with the countries 'relaxed' laws?!
I guess the previous answer answers this one too - the relaxed laws hardly changed the other 4..can they be more relaxed ???..I don't think so..they are so laid back they are horizontal. They should call the next album Coma.
Judging from the feedback I myself have received, you seem to be building up quite a steady fanbase across North America, despite not even having released anything over there yet. Are there high hopes for success after
the impending album release and tour over there?
Very high hopes..high apple pie in the sky hopes !!! I just hope Witness end up at the Madison Square Gardens and not at the Tic Toc Inn and Show Boat Casino down the road !!!
What is it like being referred to as a "Wigan" band, when in actual fact, Ray is the only member of the band to come from Wigan?
Are you sure that's where he comes from..I think the moon might be a better bet..this guy is so high - he's in orbit...
Do the constant Verve references tend to get annoying...as though you have to live up to their level of success?
Yeah I guess it does get annoying but I do find myself saying to people "yeah we're like early REM and the Verve"...
Obviously all bands get compared with something, at least we are being compared to the Verve and not the Dixie Chicks... I feel the Verve comparisons are beginning to fade, I hear the Counting Crows mentioned more now. I don't think any of us feel any pressure to live up to there success - and obviously success is measured in such different
ways...I think Witness songs are far more emotional than the Verve and that's success to my ears.
Was it disappointing, or at least surprising to not gain any nominations in the majority of the "end of year" polls/awards, especially after the amount of praise heaped on you earlier last year? I suppose it just demonstrates
the fickleness of the British press?
I think it demonstrates peoples lack of intelligence to get so worked up over these polls...even the Oscars mean little now - everyone knows its rigged....So what a surprise !! yet another Sony label band win the Brit awards, and the Brits awards is owned by - by - can you guess it - Sony !
Its all a bit Blue Peter "Here's one I made earlier".
Ignore polls - they count for shit unless Witness win one of course !!
So all the band live in Bristol now? You didn't fancy moving up to Wigan then!
Me and John were living in this Travel Inn in Wigan - It was the most depressing time of my life...It was so Alan Partridge...I actually did find myself walking down the dual carriage way to the gas station to buy something useless like windshield wiper fluid - just to kill time ...
I remember one week I had the same meal every night from the restaurant - "Yeah I'll have the Fish and Chips again" It was groundhog day - the only variety in the day was whether to have mushy peas or garden peas !!
I'd be in rehearsal in the daytime and find myself thinking "tonight I'm going to have the garden peas for a change "...it was so awful - beyond awful....I'd find myself sat in reception talking to the cleaner about UHT milk.... Without doubt the most depressing time in my whole life.
Also Wigan is not the place for someone in Bell Bottoms...there must be a Wigan Law that states "if you see someone in Bell Bottoms you must stare at them like a dog that's just been shown a card trick "... To quote Bill Hicks "in some societies, people are shouting for Revolution - In Wigan they are shouting 'EVOLUTION'.."we want our thumbs !!"...the family tree up there must be a stump !!!! (no offence intended!!)
How's the new album coming along?
Its sounding great...I think the right choice in producer will result in a classic.
Presumably we should expect plenty of new songs about farmers and combine harvesters now you're all West Country inhabitants then!
Yeah we are having real problems with the roosters laying eggs in the back of the amps...
Any plans to do the UK festivals again this year?
I'm sure will we be in a field near you soon - not for festivals though - for the rooster ranch we are going to need...
Can you see Witness being around for a long time to come?
I hope so..I think that over the course of 3 or 4 albums Witness will grow into a very influential band - Problem is these days its hard to find a label that is willing to devote development time in a band.. Music and music companies these days are more interested in teenagers and the fast buck of some kid who's saved up his pocket money to buy Billie.
Rather than putting Gerard's voice and lyrics on disk its like wait a minute..what's that pre-pubescent teenager saying over there ??..lets put her voice on disk so that it can't be erased for ever...Video killed the Radio Star and Major Labels killed Imagination
What are your main hopes and aims for yourself and the band in the future years?
I hope that we get to work on a Tarantino kind of movie or something like that...some American small town cult classic film that we can do the soundtrack too. Check out Dakota Suite as they are the most over looked band in the whole of musical history and if I was a film maker I'd have used them...they are magnificent....
Is Witness your main priority in life at the moment then or do you have time to pursue other interests?
Yes main priority at present..but...I am studying website design HND in Bristol..I did the Witness site and I am currently developing the site for Coalition
PR which is Robs company (the manager along with Tim) I have my own web design company called Kitty Litter Design...I hope one day
to float on the FTSE !!
What music are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?
Just got the new Pumpkins album which is fantastic !!
Still listening to favourites like (band - album)
Scud Mountain boys - Massachusetts
Nadine - Downtown Saturday
Josh Rouse - Dressed up like Nebraska
Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary
Whiskeytown - Faithless Street
As usual I can't recommend anything from the UK other than The Dakota Suite. Awesome band.
What do you think of the music scene at the moment and so called "lack of new talent"? Does it deserve all the negative publicity that its been getting?
Are you meaning the incessant warblings of Christina Aguilera and the "of course I'm straight" preening of 5IVE ??
The "lack of new talent" debate has always been there - I'm sure the jury was out on David Cassidy and the Brady Bunch but they both went on to get top ten hits. Teen sensations have always been there - unfortunately they now rule the music scene..
If you are meaning the lack of new talent in guitar bands then go find some new stuff and don't wait to be told what you should like..ever since the lad mag culture exploded people (I'm meaning men here, women are far more intelligent to make up there own mind) ..but ever since this lad mag culture people can not think for themselves..they have to be told what to wear - don't tell me - combats - how to look - what to drive - to like Gail Porter - and what to listen to...
Flippant reply yes - but not that far from the truth.
People got lazy all of a sudden and forgot the joy in discovering things for themselves... Lack of Talent - that doesn't cut it with me...There is so much talent out there you've just got to go find it yourself.
Is the internet the way forward for music? Will it finally lead to the downfall of the fascist dictators that are the NME and the Melody Maker?
These publications put together sell less than Beano !!!. Internet is not the way forward to music until a new compression format is found. The MP3 format is too big and too slow. When they develop a better format then YES the internet is the way forward and then everyone can have a record collection like John Peels !!!
And finally, a couple of questions from fans on the Witness mailing list:
What equipment do you and Ray use? (from Simon Rand)
On my pedal board I have:
Boss DD5 with tap tempo pedal
Diaz Sqaure Face Fuzz (custom pedal made by Stevie Ray
Ibanez TS9 tube screamer - (ex Gary Moore!!!)
MXR Micro Amp - the main part of my sound.
Boss NS2 - noise gate running a loop for the following
Ibanez AF9 - (without doubt one of the rareist pedals you could hope to find - took me about 2 years of web
surfing to finally find one in Arizona - mint in box. I've had pedal gurus in the UK take photos of it, as it is best example around - its an auto wah envelope follower.
Ibanez PT9 - the Ibanez 9 series from the 70's is the best series of pedals ever made and this is a great phaser.
The best source for vintage pedals.
I have a Pearl Octavia - regarded as one of the best vintage octave by pedal gurus as it can go 2 down and 1 down and 1 up and a mix of all three and original.
Finally I have a Diaz Tremodillo tremolo pedal with half time switch.
Guitars I use are a:
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Pro 1976 (ex Noel Gallagher)
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe 1980 with bigsby trem (ex Shaking Stevens !!)
Amp is a Vox AC30, used with a powerbrake soak
Ray uses a:
Fender Telecaster with Lace sensor pickups.and I think he is going to get -
A Gibson SG from the 60's with Vibrola arm.
A Tokai Breazer Telecaster.
He plays through a Mesa Boogie Maverick which is an awesome amp..
Boss DD5 with Tempo Tap Pedal
Boss RV3 digital reverb
Danelectro Daddy O overdrive
I think he uses some other gadgets but I think the biggest source of sound comes from what he inhales !!
Any tips on how to play the Audition riff?
(from William Browne)
Hold the plectrum close to the strings and pinch the string as you pluck so you get harmonic overtones. Other than that I don't know what to say - let the spirit of Chan enter your fingers !!
...and I'll finish by thanking Julian for taking the time out to do this interview.
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© Dylan Harris 2000