Ally caught up with Mamas Gun frontman Andy Platts, talking about the band's evolution, songwriting, and their fifth studio album 'Cure the Jones'
The soul-driven five-piece group Mamas Gun are releasing their fifth studio album Cure The Jones which is arguably their best work yet. Having formed in the late 2000s, the group has undergone a few personnel changes over the years, but with Terry Lewis (guitar), Davie Oliver (keys) and frontman Andy Platts (vocals) staying constant. Cure The Jones follows on from the release of 2018’s Golden Days, with their latest record tracing a selection of themes, including love, loss, life, as well as staying with the tradition of much soul music with social commentary too.
To provide some context, Cure The Jones was written and recorded by Andy during some of the most stringent days of COVID-19 lockdowns, and the lyrics, title and songwriting certainly reflect this. “I think it's hard not to be affected by what was happening in the world at the time”, Andy tells me, “it is framed by that – the thing that we all share, the shared experience, we went through, and we're still going through, and if you go looking for it, you will find those themes that kind of unites the album as a whole”. Like the majority of musicians, touring and live sets were no longer available to the band during the height of travel restrictions. Andy explains that the album is a “written reflective commentary on what was happening. ‘Cure The Jones’ as a title means you're craving it - you're looking for that it's to be scratched. And I think that's everyone could say that have something over this period”. Cure The Jones is “just hinting at kind of living life again. And I'd like to think the whole listening experience is imbued with some kind of uplifting listen and hope as well", Andy says. We all bear the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic and what was lost, but there was a particular sense of irony in this statement, with Andy having, unfortunately, contracted COVID-19 himself for the first time when we spoke – thankfully, we were relying on a technology many of us have embedded in our lives over the past several years – Zoom.
Soul music has a rich history of commenting on the times, with figures such as Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and Gil Scott-Heron being leading examples. Reflecting on the juncture between soul music as an art form and social commentary, Andy suggests “Soul music is a place where so many musical rivers meet. You know, you have soul, jazz, blues gospel, it's all running into it. And, with that very rich palette, you can imbue a song with equal amounts of seriousness and importance as you can imbue it with a kind of joy and uplifted newness to have those kinds of tools and that vocabulary to draw on to present your compositions or tackle certain topics or put the full weight of emotion behind an intention. It's just a beautiful playground to spend time - there are so many colours to draw on”. For Andy and Mamas Gun, soul music is more meaningful than just being a language, it’s “life-affirming. It's not just fun as a musician... With soul music, it's everything”.
When talking to Andy, you get a keen sense of the authenticity, consideration and care that goes into Mamas Gun’s music, which is instantly recognisable as it evokes soul from a time passed, but with a contemporary feel to it. Drawing on this, Andy says, “Words like retro, nostalgia - I think the quiet convenience touchstones to go to help explain, intention or explain work, I think the 1960s and 1970s were chock full of so much creativity”. When pulling elements of this time into his work, Andy believes, “I'm drawing on all of that and join it on a vernacular drawing on their aesthetic, I'm drawing on the way they did stuff, it's the same thing”. Clearly, Andy and the group hold a dear fondness of 1970s songwriting, classing it as supreme, but do not simply copy the music of this time. Andy states that the Mamas Gun's music remains “very authentic. And, it's not, it's not pastiche, or, or we're not retro files in that way”. Chuckling, he says, “We're not grumpy old bastards who don't listen to anything after 1979…I'm not a snob like that”.
“I want to write timeless music”
Andy’s passion for songwriting is plain to see when speaking with him, particularly in his ambition to create music that lasts. “I want to write timeless music,” Andy tells me, “I don't want to write music that will disappear like a sugar cube in a teacup by next week, you know, I don't care for that...I'm not looking for massive crossover success. I just want to be able to make more records. But the important thing is that, to me, I want to try to make stuff that stands up for the very best that's ever been”.
A common trend, certainly within the alternative music world, is a turn back to analogue recording practices, with recent examples including Kit Sebastian, or even the Night Dreamer label (Emma-Jean Thackray / Sarathy Korwar / Maisha & Gary Bartz). There are a number of reasons for doing so, one of which is creating a certain feel to recordings, as well as not constantly re-recording lines. For their latest record, Mamas Gun decided to turn to analogue practices too, recording the vast majority of the project on tape. “The idea with tape was to facilitate the process of bearing the most fruits from the session and ensuring that what we were doing was of the highest quality possible,” Andy says, “When you are a musician in a session, you see that tape rolling and you know that tape isn't cheap. And, there's no endless reruns - you bring your A-game”. To be able to trust one another and get the results you are collectively happy in a group, you need to trust each other implicitly, particularly when you self-produce a record as the group did. “So, we've really fostered this kind of family thing between us. And that was just stronger and richer on this on this time round”, Andy reveals, “it's like this thing that really drives you that you can't get quite addicted to shaping stuff and choosing the path to a sound or to a presentation of a song”.
Being such a devoted songwriter, it was interesting to learn from Andy that his songwriting lust is ignited through particular moments in his life. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a key reason for this, he uncovers that “the event for me kicked off all the writing [of Cure The Jones] that opened the doors blasted the doors wide open was the day that Bill Withers died”. Placed just at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Bill Wither’s death shook the soul and R&B worlds. Andy openly admits, “the day he died hit me quite hard because I've put him up there in terms of one of the greats had this skill of writing songs that seemed so simple in kind of everyday speak, laced with bits of poetry, that seemed to extract the full meaning of what he was trying to say”. In response to this moment, Andy wrote ‘Looking For Moses’, which then spurred on putting together the full project.
Thinking about the entire work, Andy believes the new project is “our most realised piece of work in terms of an intention, in terms of what you were standing at the start of it, deciding what we want to do and actually realising it, I think they're quite close”. Listening to Cure The Jones, it comes across like this – it’s confident, lined with clear messaging, but is not brash, something which Andy confirms. “So, we want Cure The Jones to dig deeper, feel richer, have more weight, be more emotionally resonant - all these things, than its predecessors... it's just confidence to kind of dig down deeper. To explore where we were further trying to open up seams that hadn't been available to us that we've not explored. So as a result, there are a few genes on this record, the kind of tunes that we'd never done before and that we really enjoyed exploring”.
Mamas Gun, as a group, has gone through quite a journey over the years and has become internationally known for their brilliant live performances and uniquely soulful sound. Taking a look back over their career to date, Andy suggests there are some key takeaways, “Life teaches you things when things go wrong, or doesn’t go your way, or they go your way with every success and failure. I’ve learned, and we’ve learned as a unit...is to listen to your own voice. Have confidence in your own voice. Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re going against the grain, sometimes you’ll feel like you’re the only person with that viewpoint. But, you’ve got to stick to that viewpoint – fearlessly. And if you believe in that, stand by it - live or die by that. It’s only then – if you give it that much dedication – it’ll have a chance of doing something or meaning something”.
'Cure The Jones' is out via Candelion on the 1st of April 2022.
Mamas Gun personnel:
- Andy Platts (vocals)
- Terry Lewis (guitar)
- Dave Oliver (keys)
- Chris Boot (drums)
- Cameron Dawson (bass)
Keep up-to-date with Mamas Gun via their socials and website below: