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Interview: Scott Rinning of The Cinematics

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The Cinematics, an up-and-coming alt rock band from the Scottish Highlands, recently unleashed their second album, Love and Terror, onto the music scene. This new release has earned the group a barrage of positive reviews that praise the new, edgy, and darker material.

Love and Terror was created during a very transitional period for The Cinematics. Their label, TVT Record Company, had collapsed in bankruptcy, causing the band to be passed off to a New York based business. Also, the group had replaced their former lead guitarist, Ramsay Miller, with newcomer, Larry Reid.

Benefiting from an increase in creative freedom offered to them by the new record company and from the addition of new talent, Love and Terror is a collection of songs with distinctive character, pulsing energy, and intriguing moodiness. It is fueled by emotion and seems to flirt with Goth stylings, offering a sound that is organic and, at times, even sparse (in a good way). Many critics (this one included) agree that The Cinematics are on the verge of superstardom.

A defining feature of the band’s sound is the unique voice of the lead singer, Scott Rinning. He has a straight forwad style of delivering the lyrics and a beautiful, soaring upper-register that is accentuated by a slight vibrato when he brings his highest notes to a close. The songs from Love and Terror offer him a chance to show off the expansive range of his voice and his ability to convey a variety of emotions effectively.

For the past few weeks, Scott and the boys have been busy honing their musical craft and building their reputation as an exciting live act while on tour promoting the new album. Luckily, the frontman was kind enough to set aside some time to answer a few questions about the new album, The Cinematics, himself, and a few other more random subjects.

Since the release of A Strange Education in 2007, The Cinematics have undergone some major changes in label and personnel. Can you tell us a bit about those changes and what influences (if any) they had on the sound and overall mood of the new album, Love and Terror?

Well obviously a new member is going to have an effect on a band's sound, especially someone as crucial to the sound as the lead guitarist. Larry has a much rawer, let it rip and let the sound man deal with it if it's too loud approach to his guitar sounds, which I think stems from his love of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. He has also been a major contributor to the songwriting on this album. The collapse of TVT also had an effect on the album. It covers some dark terrain but not for melodramatic effect.

We haven't been living in comfort with celebrity girlfriends while still trying to pretend life is hard so we can mine a rich field of disenchanted youth who are hungry for some morbid music to cry along with. This is an album about four young guys living in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control while we worry about if anyone will ever hear the songs we're writing and whether our partners will still be there when we come out of the studio. It’s a real genuine honest album. The lyrics aren't hiding behind metaphors. They read pretty straight- from the yearning for a lover of "New Mexico" to the random pursuit of no string sex in "lips taste like tears". Its all from a real place, but it is still art — so don't read into it too much.

I notice that the writing credits for the new songs are pretty spread out across the band. Describe the writing process you guys undertook for Love and Terror. Did you write separately and bring finished work into the studio or was the material written during the sessions?

Writing is a mysterious thing. It comes to people at different times in different ways. People always ask me, "how do you write a song?" And I understand why people want to know. I want to know too. It's a funny thing. You want to record an album, so you book sometime in a studio at some point in the future, and then you just hope the magic- that is, the songs just fall down to you- happens before that allotted time. It's like getting a group of people together in a field with spades and cement and all the things they need to build a house, apart from instructions and any idea of how to build one, and then just hoping it will happen.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of hard work that goes into it too. It can be an incredibly taxing soul destroying pursuit that makes you question your worth as a human being, but at others it makes you remember why you do what you do, what you’re living for- and that's so rewarding. But the simple answer to your question is; we wrote together, we wrote separately, we had finished ideas before we hit the studio, and we just made it up as we went along. There is no process or repeatable pattern to describe. Every song is different.

On the subject of writing, the album notes state that you wrote
the songs "New Mexico" and "Lips Taste Like Tears". What inspired these songs, and how do you approach the task of songwriting?

Well, "New Mexico" was a song I wrote while touring in America. The person I was going out with at the time was living in Scotland, and I'd been away so long i think they started to question why they were waiting for me to come back. They took some time out to think about it and didn't call or answer my calls for a couple of weeks. The song is about being apart from someone and wanting to hear from them, about being able to sleep and looking up at the sky and knowing, despite the fact you're on the other side of the world, you're covered by the same sky.

It’s hopelessly romantic and cheesy, but it’s real. And to be honest, I write most of my songs as a kind of therapy. I think most artists do. So you’re really paying money to listen to their therapist’s old case notes turned into a musical.

So anyway, the said person in Scotland decided they didn't want to be with me when I got back. So I did what most ordinary people do when they feel a little heart broken,
go out and find other broken hearted people to hide from the world with. And that's what "Lips Taste Like Tears" is about. Why am I telling you this stuff??

What aspect of the new album pleases you the most? Anything you'd change in retrospect?

What pleases me most is that, from its conception to its creation, we didn't know if it would ever be released. Therefore, it was never tainted by record company demands or fears for how it would be received by the press. We weren't trying to appease anyone with this album. We made it exactly the way we wanted to and just had fun experimenting with sounds and ideas. To answer would I change anything in retrospect- no. This album is what it is. It is the way it had to be. We won’t write or record the same album twice. There are things we have learned, and the next album will be another huge step forward for us again.

Many of the tracks on Love and Terror" display some wonderfully written melodies. I can imagine that several of the songs would sound great "unplugged" and "stripped down." Any chance of hearing some acoustic material from The Cinematics on future releases?

Yes.

Tell me how the band came up with "The Cinematics" as a name?

Well, I once had an acid trip in which the whole world was turned into flickering black and white and my life became a film noir movie. The movie had a mysterious sound track that inspired me so I decided I should form a band to write the soundtrack to our lives and call it The Cinematics. I'm not sure if that's true, I might just have thought The Cinematics was a good name for our band. Pick the story you think feels right don't spoil your life with the truth.

You guys have always received a great deal of favorable reviews
from the music critics. However, some writers have accused the band of being stuck in the past and too derivative of bands like Joy Division or The Cure. What is your response to such criticism?

Has there been a big fence put around a large part of the human condition with a sign that reads, "trespasser's will be mocked with lazy comparisons to previous visitors"? Can we not write about the darker side of life without being compared to the few other bands that have had success there? The real question is are we pretenders or are we the real deal, carrying the baton of our genre forward? There are a lot of pretend gloom merchants out there. It’s for other people to decide who's real or not, but time will tell who really had something to say.

Could you briefly describe your background as a musician?

I grew up in a small town in the Scottish Highlands. There wasn't a hell of a lot to do. I could go out and play football in the rain with people I didn't like very much or stay in listening to records, playing the guitar, and dreaming of getting a band together so i could get out of the god forsaken place.

The Highlands is a beautiful place, but it’s a depressing place to live. There aren't any jobs and life is hard- especially for slight, fey musicians. There wasn't a music scene in my area. There weren't any cool bars with leather jacket wearing members to learn from. So, I listened to the music that I came across by accident. My friends and I all had older brothers and sisters, so we would steal their Cd's- things like The Smiths, The Cure, and whatever caught our attention. We'd then record it to tape and put it back before they noticed.

So, in this little town in the Scottish highlands, where most of the kids listened to euro pop/dance, there was this little group of skinny pale kids that looked like extras from The Lost Boys. We didn't think we were cool or not. we didn't know anything. we were in the middle of nowhere doing what we wanted to, and we were well outside the reach of the cultural homogenizing power of MTV.

As a vocalist, who has influenced you the most and why?

I remember my friend tapping on my window one night and saying he had this record that he'd nicked off his sister that I had to listen to. It was a Jeff Buckley record. He was still with us at that time, and I remember being blown away by his voice — it was incredible. I'd never heard anything like it before. Most of my favorite bands up to that point didn't really have what you would call great singers. When I listen to him now, the songs don't grab me as much, but his voice is still spectacular.

It was British singers that had the biggest impact on me though. When I was growing up a lot of bands in my area were singing with affected American accents, and I hated it. I knew from the records my friends and I were listening to we had a great musical heritage that had been forgotten about in the 90s. So I looked to singers like Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen, Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds for my inspiration. Funny enough it looks like a lot of boys around the world were doing a similar thing doesn't it, ha ha.

What is your favorite part about working in a band? What is
difficult about it?

Most of my friends that aren't in bands are very jealous of my job. Larry often says they should be. There aren't many things about my job I would describe as bad. I think constantly living in a fish bowl, being under scrutiny, and being judged is difficult. The Internet is good for bands, but a bit bad for a band member’s mental health. Having reviews and interviews online for eternity is strange. I imagine it would be like having your work appraisals online for everyone to look at. I'm a very paranoid anxious person anyway so i could have picked a better job in that respect. The fact my doctor keeps my medical records written down makes me panic, so you can only imagine what the seas of stuff written about me online does to my health. The good things are endless though, and as I say, I'd be anxious whether I was in the public eye or not — so I can’t really complain. I'm doing what I want to do, and not everyone can say that.

The Cinematics have enjoyed an impressive amount of success in
a notoriously difficult business. Has this success (and the music business in general) changed you in any way?

I don't think in any particularly bad way. I might be a little more cynical than I used to be, but at the same time, I'm also a little thicker skinned too. Being in an industry like ours will effect you but the challenge is to make sure it makes you stronger not weaker.

Do you prefer working and recording in the studio or performing
live? Why?

They both have their merits, but I much prefer playing live — that's what it’s all about for us. An album is an advert for your live show. It always was and even more so now when no one actually buys records. A live show is a little break from real life for the band and the audience. I love going to gigs whether I'm playing or not. I've not lost my passion for live music. I think it’s the only way to listen to music. The record is just like a photograph — something to take home to remember it by. It’s nothing like being there.

You've had the chance to do a considerable amount of touring over the last few years and have seen a large part of the world. If you could have a second home in any of the places you've visited, where would it be and why?

There are lots of places I'd love to spend more time in. We don't get to see as much as you'd think. I could write a great traveler's guide to the bars and clubs of the western world's major cities, but that's about it. NYC was a city that occupied my imagination for a long time as a future home, and it may still be. But at the moment, we are all preparing to move to Berlin. It's right in the middle of Europe so it cuts down traveling times when touring, and it’s got a rich and vibrant cultural life. The city has only been unified for 20 years, so in away, it’s still young and, most importantly for artists, cheap. Where there is cheap rent there are artists. That is, until Starbucks arrives, and then it all starts going wrong.

What musical artist would we find on your iPod! that might surprise your fans?

There are lots of things on my iPod I think our fans would be surprised by, especially now — it’s been stolen. I suppose something like Julie Fowlis, a traditional Scottish singer, would be a surprise to people. It surprises me too, but it reminds me of home, and I'm not alone in my appreciation. Bijork and Phil Sellway of Radiohead are fans too.

Who is the most impressive person you have met as The Cinematics have climbed the ladder of the music business?

We have met lots of great people in our time. I've never met any of my idols though, and i don't think I'd want to. Our idols are idols because we don't believe they are really human, and I'd like to keep it that way. It’s like magic – we don't really want to know how it’s done.

Aside from music, what are your hobbies, and what do you do when you're not touring and recording?

I live in a great part of Glasgow over looking a park with a couple of my best friends. I like cooking, eating, and drinking when I'm not on tour. I'm a big fan of Stand Up comedy. Maybe it’s to offset my musical life, but if you find yourself in Glasgow your most likely to find me propping up the bar at the stand comedy club. I like reading a lot too. I'm a bit of a geek really. I'm reading The Stornaway Way by Kevin McNeil at the moment.

Going out to see new bands is still a big part of my life. I'm really into Wild Beasts like everyone else at the moment, but it’s been in my stereo for months now. I love their new album. His voice is both outrageous and brilliant. My flat mates are going mad now though, so I might have to put the headphones in.

Do you have any interest in recording a solo project at some point?

Anything is possible, but not anytime soon. My main focus is The Cinematics.

What does the future hold for The Cinematics? For Scott Rinning?

Well, we are already working on new material. We are going to really push the boat out on the next record. I really want to experiment more with my voice on the next record. I can do a lot more with it than I’ve been doing so far. So there is a lot of ground still to cover and a lot of great things still to come form The Cinematics. I feel we've at long last developed the confidence to start doing the things we always knew we were capable of, and I for one, am really excited about the future.

Lastly, here's a chance for you to give a sales pitch. Why
should everyone rush to buy a copy of your new album, Love and Terror?

Because its one of the best albums you'll hear until our next one. You should buy it now before everyone has it, so you can say "Yeah The Cinematics' new album — it's great — i got it ages ago. Where have you been?!"

*Scott Rinning on lead vocals, Larry Reid on lead guitar, Adam Goemans on bass, and Ross Bonney on drums make up The Cinematics. The new album, Love and Terror, can be purchased wherever music is sold.

Visit The Cinematics at their official website.

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About Jason Spraggins

Jason was born in Bells, TN. As a high school musician, Jason achieved membership in the All-West Tennessee Honor Band and, as a senior, received the John Phillips Sousa Award. He was also the 1998 recipient of the Joe Kincaid Memorial Scholarship for Musicians. He later earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education with an English minor from Lambuth University in Jackson, TN. As a student at Lambuth, he participated in and was a featured soloist for the University Jazz Band (playing first alto sax). He also performed with the school's Brass Ensemble (on tuba) and Wind Band (playing first sax and tuba). Over the years, Jason has served as a summer camp instructor for various high school band programs in the area and has arranged concert band, small ensemble, and marching band music for a variety of ensembles. As a church musician, he has served as pianist and has directed vocal and hand chime groups. He has also taught instrumental music privately since his graduation. In 2004, Jason wrote the script and songs for a two act Christmas musical entitled Beyond Bethlehem. The musical has been performed twice locally and has now been submitted for publication. He is currently preparing the scores for two new shows, Elizabethtown: A Musical Western and Adventures in the Closet: A Children's Musical, both of which he is co-writing with his long-time friend and collaborator, Andy Brown. The two are also busy developing a cycle of songs for a concept album entitled Garfield County. In addition, Jason is working on a musical, "Beneath the Surface," based on the John Wayne Gacy murders of the 1970's. Aside from these projects, Jason is also preparing a set of instrumental pieces for a solo piano album called Daydreams and Reflections that is to be recorded in the coming year. Along with his current theatrical projects, Jason is actively writing stand-alone songs to be pitched to publishing houses and studios and is working to earn album placement and the inclusion of his music in T.V. and film. As a writer, Jason has a variety of approaches when crafting songs. At times he writes alone, creating both the lyrics and music himself. He most often writes with Andy Brown, setting Andy's lyrics to music. One of their new stand-alone songs, "Yours," just received a glowing review and was nominated as "Best of SongU.com" (an online songwriting community/music industry website based in Nashville). Recently, Jason has collaborated on a number of songs with composer Matt Glickstein from Hawaii, providing lyrics for Matt's compositions. The very first collaboration by Spraggins and Glickstein, a song called "Ghosts," was also nominated as "Best of SongU.com" (an honor several more of Jason's works have earned) by an award-winning professional songwriter with over a hundred cuts to his credit by major artists in country, rock, and contemporary Christian music.
  • http://www.riddledphantasms.com R.P.M.

    Wow Jason, big ups on this for a few reasons. The preface to the interview is something I have been debating and wondering on should/should not as I personally have like 6 interviews that I have to publish.

    They are a pain going back and getting the words verbatim. To see the extent with which you took care to details, well that along with questions that mixed in the slow pitch softballs with hard Mariano Rivera sliders.

    Thanks for not just the insight into someone I have never heard of until you covered and for the thoroughness of the writing.

  • http://themoodymusingsmblogspotcom jason

    Thanks! This guy and the band are really fantastic. Check them out.

  • Nat

    The band is Dead T_T