50ft Monster – Brian Futter and Neil Sims Interview November 2007

If the names Brian Futter and Neil Sims seem familiar, it’s likely that you’re a Catherine Wheel fan, and recognize the names from Catherine Wheel’s roster of talent. Brian and Neil are the guitarist and drummer from the band (and I say ‘are’ here on purpose, as there is really no indication that Catherine Wheel have officially broken up). While Catherine Wheel vocalist Rob Dickinson is pursuing a solo career while residing in Los Angeles, Brian and Neil have been banging away on their own material, with Brian residing in the UK, and Neil living in the southern States. A full-length CD called ‘Life After Debt’ was released earlier this year to modest reviews (I’m going to pipe up here and say Life After Debt is a fine CD, and that it has not left my stereo since I received it) and fanfare. Brian and Neil were kind enough to field a few questions via the web for inclusion in Fazer. What follows are
a few random questions answered by both band members.

Mike: Well sirs, I tossed this CD into my car stereo (the music melting pot for me – I’m a lazy-ass, and I tend to just let CDs cycle around in the car over and over) and I have easily played it through seven or eight times over the weekend now. I’ll be honest, and admit I expected to hear an average CD at best. I don’t know why I say this – everything Catherine Wheel has done is top tier – but somehow I expected an average disc. So. let’s just set the record straight. ‘Life After Debt’ is an excellent effort. I love the material on the disc. ‘Black Dog’ is a wonderful tune. All twelve songs show off some fine guitaring. My favourite track is ‘Killer’. It has a jolly little riff and a catchy chorus. A great track!!!
Brian: You expected it to be average? I’m sure you’re not the only one. I think this comes from the misconception that all the songs produced by any band can only be written by the singer… the rest of the band being mere serfs and without any real talent. This certainly wasn’t the case in Catherine Wheel. Neil and I have a lot of experience from writing Catherine Wheel songs. Life after Debt was never going to be a duff album.

Can you talk a bit about how the material came about? How long did you both hash out the 12 songs on ‘Life After Debt’?
Brian: We only really started working on the record as you hear it in 2004. I
was so disillusioned with music when Catherine Wheel stopped I didn’t even pick a guitar up for 3 years. I just felt all our efforts with the band had been a horrible waste of time and I wanted to completely erase the memory forever. Neil was responsible for getting me back into music. He sent me a cd with a drum track he’d put together. It sounded so good I just kept playing it over and over. In the end, I had to dig out all my recording stuff -  guitars, bass, everything – and put some music over it. Soon I had a vocal line and before I knew it we had a song, it turned into ‘Insane’, the first song written for Life after Debt. Rob heard it and asked me if he could use it on his record… I said no. I didn’t want to give it away. It was then Neil and I decided to get an album worth of songs together.

After that it was a constant process of Neil and I posting cd’s backwards and forwards slowly building each song. We never felt like giving up, we had no timescale absolutely no pressure… when we were fed up with it we stopped till we felt like carrying on again.

Did you feel any pressure laying down vocals after having Rob do them for so long? DId you just go for it?
Brian: We just made the music we felt like making. Obviously vocally its different from all but Ferment, the first Catherine Wheel album… Pressure? No, not at all. I certainly wasn’t trying to compete with anyone, that would have been ridiculous. I’m certainly not Mr Dickinson. Also all the music and vocals were recorded in hotel rooms. I felt too self-conscious to start bellowing out vocals in a hotel room with paper thin walls, so the softer singing was set by the circumstance of the environment.

I did most of the vocals watching the T.V., elements of which you can hear throughout the record, the incidental tv sounds seemed to become an integral part of the music, I even looped some of it.

After getting over the demise of one of my favourite bands – I now feel a bit spoiled. I have CD’s I like from 50ft Monster and Dickinson solo. It’s like it all worked out in the end. I feel I’m getting double the albums of quality stuff now. Rob has toured his solo stuff. Will you and Neil ever try to tour?
Neil: No plans to tour but we may do some videos/films if we can muster the energy. The same concept will apply… filmed across the ocean in separate locations.

On a personal note, I really enjoy how some of the material settles in like some of Feeder’s mellower moments. Mostly in the vocals. How has the new material been received in the UK? To my knowledge, it’s not available in North America at all (not legitimately anyway).
Neil: It’s only available from our website and I’m not sure what the exact split is between UK and everywhere else but it is close to 50/50… by the way Feeder are, in my eyes, shite! Sorry, I had to get that in.

Aside from music, what have you and Neil been filling your time with since 2000?
Neil: I work in Houston Texas as a Business Manager and father of two. Brian is an Electronics Engineer, master of the fret board and father of one.

The last time I saw Dickinson live, he regaled the audience with how easily Brian could bust out the guitar riff for ‘Spirit Of Radio’ – leading into the eventual cover of the song for CFNY here in Toronto. Are you Rush fans?
Neil: Both of us are. I just took my son to see them in Houston… great night in many ways.

Any other bands you would cite as influences in your musical styling?
Neil: Queen, The Clash,Led Zep, Tom Waits, ELO, Miles Davis, Talk Talk, Joy Divison,The Strangelers, Tom Petty, MBV.

In Catherine Wheel, and even in 50Ft Monster (I’m thinking ‘Bad Soul’ here) I tend to hear some Talk Talk. You must be a fan?
Neil: Absolutely.. .it was such a dream to work with Tim Freise Green throughout our recording career

Can you pick a moment from Catherine Wheel’s past that stands out as a high moment for you? A time where you were really chuffed?
Neil: First time we did a gig after ‘She’s My Friend’ was released also, first tour for Adam and Eve. we played it start to finish every night. It was great to play….our best record and tour in my mind. I filmed a biographical short nearly everynight and kept a diary for the enter tour. I haven’t read it or watched it yet!

My favourite CD from Catherine Wheel is Adam And Eve. I think musically and writing-wise, it completely works from beginning to end. It’s the Catherine Wheel CD I seem to play the most, even now. Where would you say your finest moment has been with the band?
Neil: You got it… ‘For Dreaming’ or ‘Thunderbird’

WIll you revisit Catherine Wheel material down the road? With so many fine songs, it seems a ‘Best Of’ collection is a no brainer. 

Neil: Might it happen down the road? Rob will most probably release a CW acoustic record with his next release. It’s made up of a bunch of out takes and radio shows.

What are you listening these days? Is anything working for you either on the charts or off the charts?
Neil: Teddy Thompson, Editors, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright.

What do you make of the music industry in general. You suffered through some label issues in 2000. In the past seven years, I’m hearing more and more bands trying to distance themselves from signing long-term record deals and trying to keep their material from getting leaked online for the masses to steal. Where do you feel the industry will be in the coming years?
Neil: Healthier by the year! Long live independance.

Will there be more 50Ft Monster material in the coming years?
Neil: We have started on the “difficult “second record!

Could you talk a bit about some of the fine bands you have toured with in the past? I believe I saw you with Slowdive a few times, The Charlatans, The God Machine and The Pumpkins on their final round of dates for Wishville. I’m reading online that the band did dates with both Buffalo Tom (another great band) and Jeff Buckly (Amazing).
Neil: Many were good people as well.Touring with Jeff Buckley remains one of the favourites of mine. Such a great guy and brilliant talent. I was so privileged to watch him every night let alone spend time drinking, smoking and talking with him. His band were all great players especially together. In the end we did our last shows with the Smashing Pumpkins. Our last show was with them as theirs was with us… or so it was to be until they reformed! 3 nights together at Wembley Arena… I can still remember it as if it was yesterday. The best show we ever played… with the worst audience. Ah, such irony.

What were your expectations when you released 50ft Monster? Did you care if anyone grabbed onto it? Were you hoping for radio play? World domination? Or was it just something you wanted to do yourselves?
Neil: We had no expectations really. Have some fun, get it out and start to make another one as soon as possible!

There is a stop in the song ‘Mary’ where you go into an interesting ‘rolling guitar’ bit, it’s not really a solo, but almost a sample of a guitar noise you were playing with. It’s interesting, and it fits in with the song quite well. It’s a neat choice for the final song on the CD.
Neil: I had no idea Brian was going to write Mary. When I first played it I cried.
Brian: Its dedicated to Neil’s first daughter who died in his arms shortly
after being born, a terrible time for him and his wife, the whole band was devastated. Neil, of course, was at home, but the rest of us had a US tour to finish. We tried our best but we were all in shock really. The song brings it all back, and was very tough to record.

Are you and Neil holding back a few songs? Stuff for singles or b-sides maybe?
Brian: No we are starting again!


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