Listen to new Check Masses single 'Lonesome Little Paradise'
- Arusa Qureshi
- 14 April 2020
credit: Laura Meek
As they release the second single from their upcoming debut album, the Edinburgh band tell us more about its nocturnal themes and stories
Born out of a fruitful collaboration between old friends, Edinburgh band Check Masses emerged from the shadows early this year with their debut single 'Dripn Angel', a soulful indie-blues number that draws on varying genres, highlighting 'Philly' Angelo Collins, Vic Galloway and Saleem Andrew McGroarty's range of influences. With their debut album Nightlife due later this year, the trio have just released their second single 'Lonesome Little Paradise', a track that explores themes of slavery and abandonment, with lyrics that draw on Philly's own family's experiences as slaves that were imprisoned and taken from Africa to the Seychelles. We catch up with Vic Galloway to find out more about the new track, as well as future plans and Check Masses' journey so far.
What is the story behind Check Masses? How did the three of you come together as this unit?
We started experimenting in 2016, recording music with Andy's production and my instrumental music, then Philly got involved towards 2017 and after a year or so we had around 18 tunes recorded! We were in no rush, but we realised we had something special and decided to put 10 tracks together for the forthcoming album, Nightlife. We are all based in Leith and we've known each other since the 90s … unbelievably! I think Philly and Andy have known each other since before … the late 80s, when they were teenagers perhaps?
Musically, I'm from a more garage rock'n'roll / indie / punk background, as well as having played a part in the Fence Collective. I work as a BBC Radio DJ, journalist and author, which some folks will know me from. Andy has been DJing in clubs and making hip-hop for years, including having had a track featured on the legendary Mo' Wax compilation Headz, and he also works at the Underground Solu'shn record shop, as well as producing tracks for Joseph Malik and others.
In the past, Philly made acoustic soul music and was signed to EMI, working on his own stuff, writing with Graham Gouldman of 10CC and singing backing vocals for Macy Gray, amongst other things. He's been out of music for a wee while, but he's back and his vocal is the central focus of Check Masses.
Although quite different, the three backgrounds have actually prepared us all for this band in many ways – it sounds like all of those previous influences and experiences have been manifested in the forthcoming album. In the live band we are joined onstage by Jack Dorrian (SKJOR, Riley, Dlu) on bass and Craig Somerville (The Merrylees, RITUALS) on drums. Those guys are brilliant musicians, great guys and bring the tracks to life onstage.
How did you find the response to your first single 'Dripn Angel'? And why was that song chosen as your debut?
The response to the debut single has been extremely positive all round, to be honest. It was the first track we worked on together as a trio and still stands up as a banger! It opens the album and I think is something of a mission statement … it jumps out of the speaker and grabs you. We hoped it would have that effect when we released it as our first single. With Andy's production, my instrumentation and Philly's awesome lead vocals, it conjures up a certain atmosphere, which is nicely complemented by the lovely psychedelic lo-fi video by Gareth Goodlad. So far, people who have heard it seem to have liked it … I hope that continues with the album as a whole.
Can you tell me a little more about 'Lonesome Little Paradise' and its accompanying video?
This started as a simple 60s psych loop of Andy's, and progressed into this almost tropical sounding, bittersweet lament once I'd added instruments and a basic arrangement. Philly's vocals are stunning on this track I think, and the lyrics are quite personal, as he explores harrowing themes of slavery, loss and abandonment within his own family who were trafficked from Africa to the Seychelles. It explores the duality of a protest song and a love-lost ballad within the lyrics. We immediately felt it shared ground with something Bob Marley might have written. It's simple, pure and straight-forward, but has an aching heart and a universal theme at its core. The video was shot on a beach and hopefully captures the soul of the song too. Again it was shot and directed by Gareth Goodlad, who has done a great job on both films. With 'Lonesome Little Paradise', we referenced Jim Jarmusch and Akira Kurosawa for the cinematography. Philly takes centre stage in the film and it definitely has the right vibe. We hope people like it.
You've got an album coming out later this year. What are the main themes behind Nightlife and what are you hoping people will take away from the record?
Nightlife the album is a mash-up of different styles that reflect all our varied influences and loves – hip-hop, psych, soul, dub, rock'n'roll and classic songwriting. The album is eclectic but hangs together nicely as a complete piece. There's darker, harder tracks, lighter pop moments, some crunchy beats, acoustic textures, dubby bass and twangy guitars throughout. Philly's vocals sound brilliant on all the tracks and show him as a unique and soulful vocalist. We're really proud of the record! Lyrically, there are themes of darkness and shards of light throughout – our previous 'night-lives', love, lust, paranoia, relationships, family tragedy, city life and even some politics. It's a personal record, but with some truly universal themes.
What have you been doing to pass the time during this period of lockdown? Any tips for folk bored at home?
I've been listening to lots of jazz – Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Matthew Halshall and others. I've also been watching various TV documentaries, trying to tidy / organise my music room / study (which I haven't done for over a decade!) and getting ideas ready for new Check Masses material. Luckily, I have been able to keep presenting my weekly BBC Radio show, so I've been listening to lots of new music too.
What are you most looking forward to doing once the restrictions are lifted and things are slightly more normal?
I'm looking forward to seeing my family and my friends, like everyone else. Going to the local pub or just wandering around aimlessly has never felt so exotic! But eventually, travelling further afield will be great too. I've missed trips to London and Portugal recently. All the Check Masses forthcoming gigs, festivals and launch events have been postponed / cancelled too. Hopefully we can get out and start playing shows again soon. The live band is sounding great and we wanna bring it to people, wherever and whenever we can. Also just going to a live show as a punter will be great again too.
Nightlife is out in 2020 via Triassic Tusk Records.