Noah Fence Interviews Raymond Gorman of That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah

Noah Fence First off, Raymond, thank you for agreeing to let me interview you. Please tell me about growing up in Ireland, your musical influences. What led you to pick up and play the guitar?

Raymond Gorman Hi, no problem. I grew up in Derry in the north-west of Ireland – it’s the place where all the “troubles” kicked off. I had a completely loving and idyllic childhood until the age of 7, after that things became very turbulent and I witnessed a lot of violence, living through bombings and shootings in the city until I left to go to college at 18. 

I was sent by my parents to learn classical piano at an early age and took to it very easily. I could sight read and reached a pretty good level fairly quickly however my teacher was an epileptic and one day he had a proper fit and fell on top of me pinning me to the keys whilst I played. I was completely traumatised as a result (I thought he was dead) and unfortunately was unable to ever return to lessons. Bye bye classical. Hello pop music.

I first became truly besotted with pop aged 11 when we got our first stereo record player and I quickly amassed a vinyl collection – mostly 45s to begin with. The obsession was off and running. I loved Glam Rock most of all – T. Rex, David Bowie, Roxy Music, The Sweet, Glitter, Mott the Hoople  —

but I also absorbed Hendrix, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Small Faces, and of course all the great classic Black soul, funk and reggae I heard in the Top 40. The guitar was the most obviously glam instrument so I gravitated towards it. It seemed the best one to suit my personality.

There was so much great music around back then, I never could afford to buy all the records I wanted. We didn’t realise we were living through a golden age. Let’s not forget that during virtually very week of the 1970s you would hear some new music on a weekly basis that would make you go “wow”.

After Glam there was a kind of lull for a few years when radio became very safe and corporate and then punk blew the doors off once more. I was the perfect age in 1976 for it – 15 – and it really excited and inspired me. In fact, it felt like my life was finally starting for real. It was only then that I became semi-serious about playing guitar. 

What I liked best about punk was the idea of the “blank” generation – be what you want, reinvent yourself – not the nihilistic, negative side of it. I guess I loved the artier side of things. Before then I knew that I’d never be as good as Hendrix, which was dispiriting, but with punk, technical ability was no longer prized nor deemed necessary. I wasn’t ready to join a band just yet but I got a paper round to save up to buy a really basic guitar through my mum’s Kays Catalogue and taught myself from scratch using Happy Traum’s chord picture book. The electric came with a tiny 6 watt amp that had a lovely tremolo effect on it. I dearly wanted to be in a band now, but thought I wasn’t ready just yet. 

Around this time the Undertones would already have been playing around Derry and that was obviously very inspirational and exciting to watch them get better and better and then get signed by a major label and go on tour and play on TV. Plus, I already knew Damian O’Neill [guitarist for The Undertones] since we were 4 years old, as we’d been at school together. He would fire up my imagination with tales about being on tour with the Clash in America. When I went off to university I continued to practice, improving all the while and soon  I was playing along to Buzzcocks, Television, and the Ramones, of course. However it wasn’t until I graduated in 1983, and returned to Derry, that I finally joined a band and all at once I found two, as well as becoming a DJ. Everything came together, just as I’d almost given up on my dreams.

N.F. A common misconception about That Petrol Emotion is that the band was comprised of, or was formed by, members of The Undertones, when in fact, only two of the five members, John & Damian O’Neill, had been in the band, The Undertones. Can you tell me how the band came together? How did a band of Irish musicians end up with an American bloke as the lead singer?

R.G. The band really came about because of a club/disco, called the Left Bank, that we started in Derry from the summer of 1984 until the autumn of 1984, when we then moved to London. By “we,” I mean John O’Neill (Damian’s brother and fellow Undertone), myself and another friend Mickey Rooney. After returning from uni I had befriended John and we bonded over music, films and books. He was disillusioned after the breakup of the ‘Tones and wasn’t planning on doing more music, but his enthusiasm got reignited once the Left Bank got going. We 3 pooled our record collections and I spent every day searching the record bins for lost and cheap vinyl gems. We played a really diverse selection of music and took making our weekly selection for the club very seriously indeed. We would write out the order of songs to be played and it would be structured like a gig setlist with all of us taking turns to spin the records, do the light show or go out for a bop. I even wrote a manifesto at the beginning slating the moribund local scene! That’s how serious things were, as we felt that things were starting to slide again after the energy injection of punk and chart music was becoming very bland and corporate again. We wanted to push the emerging underground instead and did so. I was particularly obsessed with hip-hop and electro at that time but we played literally everything under the sun, so long as it excited and moved us. I have to say I have never been to a club as good as the Left Bank since.

So John got inspired again listening to all this great music and when he saw me play with local legends, Bam Bam and the Calling, he asked me to join him in his new musical adventure. I couldn’t turn down his offer as much as I adored playing with Bam Bam, who were already fully formed when I joined and easily replaced me once I left. I would have loved to have continued playing with both bands, but John felt we had a better chance to get heard properly by moving to London. Ciaran McLaughlin joined us on the plane journey to London and now TPE had a drummer and we were three. Damian was already living in London at the time and at a loose end, so he jumped at the chance to play bass just to be involved, as he loved the songs we had written in Derry. I felt insecure for a time with Damian joining, as he is/was an amazing player himself, but he was perfectly happy to shore up the bottom end and instead tried to drown out both guitars by turning his bass cab up to eleven! Ha ha! Now we needed a singer…

We tried a lot of people, but couldn’t find one. In the meantime I was actually singing lead and enjoying it, but I needed to give total attention to my six strings. Steve arrived through a friend of a friend –  he had travelled around Europe and was working as a bus-boy in a pizza joint called Grunts in Covent Garden. He auditioned and John felt he was the one. The rest of us weren’t sure at first, but we couldn’t find anyone else, so he was in. In time, all doubts were cast aside – he grew into the role, found his voice and became a superb front man on stage. He still is.

N. F.  The band hit the ground running with its first couple of singles: “Keen,” with the fantastic B-side, “A Great Depression on a Slum Night,” and the second single “V2,” both of which established the band as a new fantastic guitar band. It seemed as though the band was influenced by Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley, Television, and Can, to name just a few. Can you speak about some of the band’s many influences and how that diversity strengthened the band’s sound?

R.G. It was just music we all loved so naturally the influences came through in whatever we played. We are all true music fans at the end of the day and remain as passionate as ever. On tour we all used to make compilation cassettes for the tour van and our tastes were always pretty eclectic. This eclecticism came to a head with our third LP “End of the Millenium Psychosis Blues,” which has aged pretty damn well, I think.

Some people said at the time that our diversity was maybe a fault, but Bowie never stayed in one spot and we thought that his was the spirit and tradition we had to follow, to keep us fresh and inspired. I don’t think we were ever capable of writing the same song twice either (a good thing).

N.F. I have always thought that with songs, such as “Big Decision” from the second album, Babble, and “Groove Check” from the third album, End Of The Millennium Psychosis Blues, the band was well ahead of the curve, embracing both dance music and indie rock culture. Did you find that these songs were well received by both fans of dance music and fans of rock music, or was there some flack from either of the cultural groups?

R.G. We were always about 12-18 months ahead of the pack. By the time the indie dance thing happened in the U.K. we had already moved on to a more classic kind of rock/pop, which then became the big thing thereafter with Oasis and Blur. We did take some flak at the time from some very conservative music types, but you’d never want those people as your fans anyway. For me all the innovation and originality usually comes from Black music and that was what we tried to incorporate in our stuff, along with our more formative influences. We actually wanted Curtis Mayfield to produce EOTMPB and it nearly happened.

To this day, our dance remixes are still highly regarded and played on dancefloors across the world. 

N.F. I have to admit that the band’s political stance went largely unnoticed by myself. I am not an overly political person. But the band’s politics were clearly displayed in the sleeve artwork of singles such as “Big Decision’ & “Genius Move”. Do you think that the band’s political message helped or hindered the band?

R.G. It helped maybe at the very beginning, because it was an angle journos could write about, but fairly quickly it became an albatross. We should never have spoken about politics so much in interviews, as it was counter-productive, we should have left the politics on the sleeves. It made us come across as dour and aggressive people (the reverse of how we are in reality), but we felt we had a platform and were incensed about the injustices we had seen and grown up with. The situation kinda became unbearable, as we’d always end up being asked the same questions in interviews and either people remained ignorant or just didn’t care about what was actually happening in Ireland. We are in much the same position now with Brexit looming – the Brit government still doesn’t give a damn about Ireland – they are willing to jeopardise a very fragile peace that took a lot of hard work to achieve. Makes me ill thinking about it. It’s a powder keg, a tinder box.

N.F. Around the time of the third record, founding member, John O’Neill, decided to leave the band. Can you tell me how that affected the recording sessions for the third album, End Of The Millennium Psychosis Blues?

R.G. Dreadfully and adversely, as he told us the night after we had arrived to make the record. It put a lot of strain on the sessions to say the least and it’s a miracle that the record actually turned out so well. It’s all in the past now and I understand his position much more now than I did at the time. He had to put his family first but it would have been so much better if he’d waited until we’d finishing recording before telling us. Maybe he thought it was more honest to tell us straight away… I dunno…anyway it’s all water under the bridge as we managed to regroup and flourish.

N.F.  In the wake of John O’Neill’s departure, to my ear, the band seemed to embrace a more straightforward, guitar-driven sound. The fourth album, Chemicrazy, seemed more cohesive than the prior album. Was this a conscious decision on the band’s part, or do you think it was just a natural result of band members and their dynamic, when playing together?

R.G. I think we were stung by the criticism of EOTMPB, as well as wanting to make a more cohesive and commercial sounding record – we were greatly influenced by the Pixies’ Doolittle at this point and wanted to cut down on overdubs and overplaying / overcomplicating. We were also under a certain amount of pressure to come up with hits. Damian moving to guitar made us sound like a new band again – it freshened things up and we meshed together so well immediately. It was a happy time. John Marchini’s bass didn’t get in the way of the guitars and everything seemed lighter, more enjoyable again. The music moved from implosion to explosion, the songwriting became more focused thematically and Damian was allowed to shine on his true instrument.

N.F. I had not given it much thought at the time, but in preparing for this interview, I noticed that band had released albums on several different labels, Demon Records, Polydor Records, Virgin Records & Rykodisc Records, to name a few. I have to imagine with each change of label came an expectation of success. Can you speak to how these changes behind the scenes may have affected the band?

R.G. I dunno if it affected us really, but it has made it a nightmare now to compile a best of, due to licencing issues, which is a crying shame. It hurts so much that there is no boxset for TPE, or any kind of posthumous recognition. We have been totally forgotten. Zero profile. 

We made a lot of mistakes or rather a lot of mistakes were made on our behalf – example: we went to tour America after Babble – it was Rolling Stone’s record of the year, but we were no longer on that label – so they had no reason to plug it anymore and the new label had nothing to promote either so guess the rest. No label really ever knew how to market the band, which is weird, as we weren’t some avant-garde outfit. 

We badly need to have our reputation restored somehow, but I’m not sure how it could happen. I looked on Pitchfork recently and they have nothing on the band whatsoever. Not a jot. I’m not mad about their style of criticism particularly, but the fact that for them we never existed rankles, especially when I see bands on there, who I know loved us and name-checked us, and who were inspired by us, like Radiohead and Blur to name but two.

N.F. After the release of the band’s fifth album, Fireproof, the band decided to break up in 1994. After being in a band for so much time and devoting all of your time to music, was it a difficult change from being a musician to a regular bloke? What did you do after the band broke up?

R.G. It was a poor and ill-fated decision to break up at the time; however, it has to be said that we were at such a low ebb. We thought Fireproof was an improvement and even better songwriting than Chemicrazy. A much anticipated Australian tour literally fell apart the night before we were meant to go and that proved to be the last straw for a few of us – it seemed like we were forever doomed to fail or somehow be jinxed. We’d made two in a row, as we thought, great albums that failed to break through and in England we were considered to be washed up. Things still looked promising elsewhere all the same. I wish we had considered the bigger picture. Really we should have taken six months off to reconsider and weigh things up before quitting so rashly. People don’t realise that when bands end it takes a lot of time, effort, energy and enthusiasm to get going again and most times that proves to be almost impossible – especially if you have no money to fund recordings and are no longer in your twenties.

I didn’t mind becoming a regular bloke again up to a point – we were never starry people – but we were not that well known either. I had just gotten married at the end of the band’s existence so I was keen to get a job but very quickly I realised that I wasn’t cut out for 9-5 or working in an environment with ambitious, back-biting, two-faced graduates ten years younger than me. I quickly formed another band, Wavewalkers, with Damian and Brendan after leaving the job and though the beginnings were very auspicious the project ran out of steam fairly quickly, due to lack of focus and proper resources/support. I got loads of material out of the experience all the same, but we missed an opportunity to get signed by Nude Records. I’m not even sure we were all on the same page about what we wanted which was a shame. I was actually more upset at the time about Wavewalkers ending than TPE. Since then I’ve always been writing music and lyrics, but once you’re doing a full time job and kids come along your time becomes more precious and making a record seems like almost a herculean task. 

Music is, was and always will be my passion all the same and I desperately miss playing – being on the road, the travel, the camaraderie. I have felt like yesterday’s man on more than one occasion and time is passing quickly however I still feel I/we have something to offer. The Everlasting Yeah hopefully proves that. 

N.F. In 2008 / 2009, That Petrol Emotion reformed and played  a handful of shows in Ireland, England, and Austin, Texas. Can you tell me how this came about? And also, assuming the shows went over well, why did the band not continue on and make a new album?

R.G. The TPE reformation gigs were tremendous fun and a welcome shot of energy for me. However, yet again due to a lack of focus and not seizing the moment, we couldn’t properly capitalise on the good will generated by the initial gigs we played. We prevaricated and waited and then didn’t plan things properly – publicity was problematic, few people were even aware we had reformed. The actual shows were great and we played better than ever all the same. Look on Youtube. Plans were made to record in 2010 but then at the last show in Brooklyn December ‘09, Steve told us that his wife was pregnant and that he didn’t want to be travelling anymore. Again it’s understandable, but he had been the one cheerleading for the initial reformation, so the rest of us felt let down a bit naturally. However, having enjoyed playing together, the four of us agreed to keep going under a new moniker – The Everlasting Yeah.

N.F. In the wake of the band’s reformation, four members of the band (minus singer Steve Mack) formed the band, The Everlasting Yeah, who released an album, Anima Rising, in 2014 on their own label, Infinite Thrill, using the internet advantage of crowdfunding to cover the costs. Can you tell me how the record was received by the general public? Did it sell outside or beyond those folks that pledged money to get a copy? It’s a fantastic album, I hope the word got out somehow, with record reviews or radio airplay.

R.G. The general public probably don’t know about Anima Rising! It sold well amongst those who did get to hear about it through the crowd funding and beyond. We sold out the original run of 1000 cds due to a deal with a Dutch company and a U.K. label called Occultation did another run which continues to sell slowly but surely. We pressed a 1000 vinyl copies, and they did pretty well also and we should sell more when the second LP comes out once it’s recorded (hopefully this year).

Word didn’t really get out about Anima Rising– no review in the music monthlies here. I could go on a rant but I won’t! I dunno what the problem is – I get quite upset about it, as i thought the song “a little bit of uh-huh and a whole lotta oh yeah!” would crack radio. Thank goodness for good folk like yourself, Noah, who DO play it!

I’m hoping Anima will still sell over time – I think the problem is getting people to hear it more than anything. The crowd-funding PR was hard work. I’m not sure I could do it again as Facebook have now made things more difficult to reach your base.

All the music we make is for the ages now – I think one day we will get rediscovered, but probably when we are no longer around !

N.F. It has been a while now since the release of Anima Rising. Are you working on music for a second album by The Everlasting Yeah? If so, with the recent bad news regarding the crowdfunding website, Pledgemusic, what are your plans regarding the release of new album?

R.G. The reason for the gap between records is that a couple of members fell ill with quite serious health problems and we basically were forced to go on hiatus for a few years. Happily they are both now recovered, but with work and family the music can never really be a priority, so we do what we can when we can. The plan is to go into the studio very shortly all the same and knock out the songs quickly. They are all ready to go and I promise that the record will be a great and memorable one. Pledgemusic went tits up a while back and owing a lot of money so I’m glad we dodged that bullet. There are still some alternative means to put out records so we’ll see what’s on offer when everything is done and dusted. It would be great to get some American distribution for our stuff and to go play there again. That would make me very happy indeed.

N.F.  Thank you once again for taking the time to answer my questions. Admittedly I am a big fan of That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah, and look forward to hearing new music from you in the near future. 

R.G. Thanks, Noah. Take care man and keep on giving it the message!

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