At the beginning of the year, we said UK trio the Rayographs were a band worth watching. As mentioned then, guitarist/vocalist Astrud Steehouder conjures Grace Slick (or, to get more contemporary, Mira Billotte working with the Breeders) amid the band’s dark psychedelia. They had a great first 7″ then. There’s a great second 7″ out shortly. (Speaking of which, that first “Hidden Doors”/”Gold Light” single is up on iTunes as an EP with an extra track, “The Sea.”) We’ll have to wait a bit longer for a full-length debut — they’re recording it this summer — but I have both of the new songs after my conversations with Steehouder and bassist/vocalist Jessamine Tierney about what they do for work: Tierney organizes drama/media/music projects at the Roundhouse and Steehouder’s involved in music and DVD distribution/licensing. When we first spoke about doing the interview she said her contract was ending in a month (“Maybe I could start busking…”), but turns out said contract “just kept being extended,” so she’s still employed. Good news, but hopefully someone comes to their senses soon and signs the band so they can tour outside Europe, release that record, and take an extended vacation.
Astrud Steehouder, vocals/guitar
STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved in music and DVD distribution/licensing?
ASTRUD STEEHOUDER: I was working as a receptionist in an advertising agency and one of the girls there used to work in the music industry. Since I put so much time into music outside work I wasn’t sure initially if it was a good idea to work in music as well as do it, but a job became available at a music/distribution and marketing company called Pias in the International distribution department and I worked there for a 15 months I think. It was very much learn on the job, my background was music in general rather than licensing specifically.
STEREOGUM: Can you describe a typical day?
AS: My typical day is that I get in around 9.30 and look at loads of emails, then I process queries relating to orders and stock and put through some orders on specialized computer systems and do credit notes and analyze data. I’ve been reading this book about Phillip Glass and apparently he was a plumber and a taxi driver until he was about 40, so I’m optimistic. I have to analyze a lot of data and be really specific about my job — there’s basically a right way to do everything, which goes against everything my brain is idealistically set up for so I see it as good brain training if nothing else.
I work in a leafy and posh part of West London populated by pregnant ladies and casual upper-middle class eccentrics, so at lunch I wander down to the local shops where there are self-aware charity shops, the dresses are about £60 too expensive for me, a Sainsbury’s where I’ll get lunch and also a cool record store called Dada where the staff are cool. I bought Amy the Soul Jazz New York Noise book there the other day. And my Phillip Glass book, actually — so, yes, that’s a cool shop. I don’t really have lunch with anyone; I’m trying to perfect the art of reading while walking, but you need good peripheral vision and a book with large print unless you want to end up in a lamp post.
The rest of the day is pretty much like the first part and leave to get the train around 5.30pm.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned to me that your contract is up in a month. Where did you work previously?
AS: I’m temping for Paramount now, but before that I was working at [the previously mentioned] Pias (which used to be called Vital).
STEREOGUM: What went on at Pias?
AS: Pias is a sales, marketing and distribution company for independent labels. I was dealing with distribution in Europe, Japan and the US mainly. It was a great company for me to work for — I learned a lot about the music industry, met some really nice people and heard a different records nearly every day for a year.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get your job at Paramount?
AS: This job was through an agency.
STEREOGUM: Are you in an office with a bunch of people? What’s the company do exactly? And what music and DVDs are involved?
AS: This job is in Paramount Home Entertainment in big corporate offices where your Starbucks coffee is subsidised. It reminds me of a scene in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the way the offices are laid out. We do DVDs and occasionally we get to keep some — I got a MacGyver boxset the other day, which I’m very happy about. On my birthday they gave me the Twin Peaks gold box set, which is officially the best thing ever. Everyone’s actually in the cinema watching Watchmen right now … there’s a private cinema in the building. I find the corporate thing continuously mind-boggling. The website for the park is enjoy-work.com. I find this all a bit 1984. In the lifts they have these weird digital adverts with a picture of a man with his feet up on the desk and his eyes closed saying, in all seriousness, “This is the most dangerous position to sleep at your desk.”
I do miss the amount of music I soaked up when I was at Pias. And I made some good friends also. I discovered a lot of music while I was there, I think. Everyone would just fill the stereo with albums I’d never heard before, everyday. I don’t talk very much at Paramount, whereas I just chatted nonsense all day at Pias. So I expect my work colleagues here are spared that.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a background in literature? Just curious. Based on some emails and your reference to Murakami, etc., above.
AS: I’m reading another Murakami right now actually, short stories — Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. He astounds me. I love what I’ve read of his work. I love Raymond Carver and Rick Moody also. With all three, the simplicity of language elucidates a complexity of meaning; the ability to convey the sadness, humour and subtlety of human interaction, close up, if you know what I mean — that’s what gets me. Murakami seems to have a surrealist take on situations which is interesting. My background is sort of literature, but my degree is in philosophy. I used to be into algebra, trying to solve puzzles. I find some areas of philosophy and Murakami similar in that sense. Whenever I was studying a text in English Literature I would have a thousand notes on one page, but I always found it difficult to summarize an entire book. In philosophy the point is often the opposite — to break down arguments to see what they mean. I sometimes think it’s why I write simple, outwardly nonsensical lyrics. To me they are a plethora of personal situations and ideas but I don’t convey it through detail.
STEREOGUM: What are your current co-workers like? Do they know about your music making?
AS: On the whole I don’t speak much at work but turn up with my guitar a couple of times a week. Apparently the guy before me was the same, but he entertained the office. I’m working on some covers, but until then the prospect looks unlikely … A guy asked me to email him some tracks the other day and he said he was “impressed,” but on the whole I don’t think anyone’s that interested!
STEREOGUM: Where do you think you’ll work next?
AS: Hopefully somewhere in Soho. I love Soho. But jobwise I don’t know, some media or arts company undoubtedly. Jobwise, in this climate, whatever I’m offered.
Jessamine Tierney, bass/vocals
STEREOGUM: How long have you been doing programing for young folks at the Roundhouse?
JESSAMINE TIERNEY: I’ve been at the Roundhouse nearly two years, but the first year I was working as a part-time administrator for the outreach dept. I’ve been working as Community Participation Coordinator since last July.
STEREOGUM: What is your role exactly? Organizing events? Acting as the instructor?
JT: To give you a bit of background, if you don’t know of the Roundhouse, it’s a performance venue, so we have live music, theatre and circus performances in our main space. Underneath we have studios where we put on arts/music/broadcast and new media projects, plus we have subsidised rehearsal rooms/dj decks etc for bands and people to come and hire out.
We run a program of open access projects (they are generally 10 weeks long and anyone can join as long as they’re in the age range). I coordinate the community and outreach projects, which are slightly different. My job is basically to make sure that young people who are the least likely to come here independently have access to our projects. So I often make partnerships with community groups, non-mainstream education providers, local authorities, charities, hostels, other arts venues etc, who bring groups in or refer individuals to our projects. The idea is always that although people may be associated with a particular group when they come in, we encourage them to come back and access the projects independently, if they want to.
So, for example, some of the projects we’ve run recently have been a group from a pupil referral unit (which is a small school for young people who have been excluded from mainstream education) creating and recording a radio drama in our radio studio, and a group of disabled and non-disabled people coming in for a project where they used assistive technologies such as soundbeam and touchpads to create music. We run some training programmes too, we’ve been running one this year for people who aren’t in education, employment or training to train them in sound engineering. They train and then get the chance to shadow recordings in our music studio, and eventually some who stay on can get to the point where we employ them as sound engineers to record bands. We’re not pushy — if people want to come just for the enjoyment of doing something that’s great, but if they want to train and develop things further we support that too.
My role is to organize this, rather than teach it. So I’m involved in helping put in bids in for funding, all the logistics of putting a project on eg recruiting, budgeting etc etc and then evaluating it, reporting to funders and talking to people about what they want to do next.
STEREOGUM: Sounds great. What’s the average age range of the kids taking part in these projects?
JT: We work with 11 to 25 year olds, quite a few of the projects are age specific eg 11 to 14, 16 to 25.
STEREOGUM: What’s your background in this area?
JT: I didn’t have much specific experience working in youth arts or education, but I’d worked in arts and music. I started as an administrator and I did have a lot of experience of admin work so I expect that helped.
STEREOGUM: It sounds like what you do would be helpful in booking shows for the band. Do you take on this roll within the Rayographs?
JT: Not at all, I’m terrible. I often work late or if I’m not at work I’m still thinking about it! Astrud takes care of a lot of the bookings and logistics of things, which is great because if I was in charge we’d probably not even have played our first gig yet. I’m pretty bad at self-promotion too, so I don’t talk about the band much at work, unless people ask.
STEREOGUM: Where did you work previously?
JT: Right before my current job I was working as a researcher for two travel writers. Before that I worked as an assistant at Paul McCartney’s office, and before that I worked in membership and retail at a couple of art galleries. And lots of temping in between!
STEREOGUM: What are some of your favorite/most successful programs to date?
JT: A Roma group came in recently and recorded some songs in our music studio and then filmed a music video to the tracks. They wanted to film it in the style of a traditional Roma wedding and there were three or four generations dressed up in wedding gear, playing music and dancing just down the hallway for two days! There was a great atmosphere here, though there always is when it’s busy. I actually can’t really pick a favourite though, boring as that might be. I’m no good at doing top tens!
STEREOGUM: As far as funding for the arts, etc., goes — things are pretty dire in the States. How’s it holding up in the UK?
JT: I can imagine there might be a decline in corporate funding, but where I work our funding comes from different sources: some is public, some from trusts and foundations, some is individual and some is corporate. I’m sure there will be an impact from the economic downturn but it may be a while down the line until we begin to notice it. It’s a difficult one as it will probably mean demand on what we do will rise if anything.
STEREOGUM: Can you discuss a typical day?
JT: I don’t think there ever is a typical day at my work, it varies so much! It would depend on whether I have projects in or not on that day. If I do a lot of time will be spent on setting up and checking up on them. If not I could be writing emails, bids, reports, meeting with staff internally or with partners, or going out to see projects/partners. I usually forget to take a lunch break. Often I work late shifts or weekends too, as we all take turns working duty manager shifts out of normal office hours.
STEREOGUM: Have any of the other Rayographs ever gotten involved?
JT: No, not yet!
07/12 – Cardiff, UK @ The Gate #
07/21 – London, UK @ White Heat at Madame Jo Jo’s London $
07/30 – London, UK @ The Gramaphone %
# w/ A Hawk and a Hacksaw
$ single launch w/ Grave With No Name and The Big Pink (DJ set).
% w/ El Gran Chufle and The Oscillation.
[Photo by Tom Elkins; L to R: Astrud, Amy, Jessamine]