Interview with Andy Stennett

(NOT Andy Stennett)

I would like to thank Andy, first just for taking the time to track me down, and secondly for taking part in this interview. Myself and many others have waited many years for the opportunity to pick this brain.
Pictures - MP3 Page

1. First off, how did you and John Rocca end up working together?    

I worked in a wholesaler selling records over the phone. John Rocca was a buyer for an 
US record importer. He never bought anything off me but we got talking about music and he 
told me about his band. My enthusiasm must have come across: next thing I attended an 
audition across the other side of London with a Wurlizter EP200 in my rucksack which I 
had to carry on the tube train. The band were impressed with my determination: I passed 
the audition.

After a few rough months rehearsing below a barber shop I left to get a job. I was broke.
I watched the bands progress (called Freeez) with interest. The keyboard player had left 
to work in France. They had a top 50 in the UK. His grandma offered to lend him £3500 to 
record an album. John Rocca wanted to go for it. He persuaded me to take the plunge and 
join up again.

We had UK top 10 with Southern Freeez (1981), and a number 2 in most countries of the world 
(except US where we went Billboard dance charts no1) with IOU (1983). 

This was a bit of a rollercoaster for us. But to counter that there was this expectation to 
conform and supply more of the same. Pictures offered a real sanctuary, a lagoon where we 
could just do what the hell we wanted, no pressure to conform in return for giving the label 
we approached our publishing on Freeez.

2. What on Earth was going through your minds when you concocted this thing?

Andy: Everything was driven by sounds.                       

To explain, I had bought an Oberhiem OBXa, I had no idea how to get decent sounds from it. 
I remember particularly excruciating session when the producer wanted brass; I gave them the 
noise of gas escaping. Ironically, he liked that. But I knew I was out of my depth.

So I needed a sabbatical to get away to become a good sound programmer and get some half 
decent sounds out of this “monster”.

After some time out, I now had an arsenal of good sounds and ideas I had recorded. John being 
John, heard them, liked them just as they were, and went away and wrote his lyrics around them, 
which became the Pictures album.  

3. How about a bit of ellaboration on the choice of the name 'Pictures' for this album. 

For me each of the identities had very strong visual connotations. I told john about Mussorgy's 
"Pictures at an Exhibition" which had a similar framework. I could see his mind running riot. 

We were 22-23. We didn’t have any time for self doubt or the bullshit “doubting Thomas's” that 
pervaded the music industry. We were going to revel in Synaesthetic gobbledegook if we wanted 
and WE WANTED TO, and we didn’t give a shite.

4. Was Pictures intended to be a one-off project from the beginning? 

Pictures could have developed into more albums: we were never invited thats all. We didn’t 
exactly go platinum. However, its great to hear some positive feedback and I'm really pleased 
someone out there likes what we did.

5. Can you recall some of your own key musical influences during the time period leading 
up to this recording? 

Steve Reich Composer: used phasing of parts with an unusual number of beats per bar to create 
a timeless quality yet still rhythmic. I think that influenced me on 'Battle of the Leaves'.

Keith Jarret: Jazz piano: some of his more esoteric work had a pastoral quality which I 
tried to recreate in some of the tracks.

Yes: Close to the edge. Its an all encompassing and a totally absorbing experience.

6. THE COVER ART! INCREDIBLE. I still have the occasional nightmare due to these images. 
What, how, who and/ or why?   

The cover art was by John Roccas brother Danny. He was a very talented guy driven by Johns 
very precise idea of what he wanted to see. Punch and Judy in human form? I dunno, but for me 
I feel it encapsulates the weirdness in Nursery Rap through a victorian, puritanical and 
controlling perspective.

7. What IS the story with this phantom second Pictures album, which I have heard about 
but never seen proof of -- allegedly entitled 'Comic Strip Glitter'? Is this reality, an 
error, or a sick, demented fabrication/ prank on someone's part?                         

No phantom album, at least not to my knowledge, but if you see one please let me know. 
It sounds very interesting.      

(update: The album is by a different band of the same name)

I will list your album's individual tracks. Please provide anything you'd like for each. 
(recollections, inner meanings, favorite or not, etc.) Myself and my 2 bros will then 
ellaborate on a few of our personal favorites.         

I couldnt really do justice to the hidden meaning in many of lyrics so hopefully john will 
get in touch and will elaborate. However, I've put a few thoughts together.  

SIDE ONE ----- 1. Lullabye When your in a tent and you can hear the rain pattering down outside, its a comforting safe embryonic feeling. Lullabye hopefully captured a similar feeling of being safe and protected in the eyes of a young child.= looking outwards. 2. Nursery Rap Explores parental external control and oppression. John opened my eyes to the idea that many nursery rhymes were malevolent, even racist. It can be quite an eye opener when these source lyrics are analysed. 3. Dancing Mind To Mind As well as the OBXa which formed the basis of all tracks, this track featured a Simmons drum pad with a long decay setting that starts at a certain pitch and then starts rising. It created a disturbing effect. 4. Skrahs You're right about the Sharks. The vocal was reversed across the track. A special morrocan drum was used for the percussion. That weird bass thing was the OBXa programmed to have a pitch "decay" (fall in pitch) broadly in sync with the amplitude decay (volume). 5. Battle of the Leaves This is my favourite too. I can imagine people chilling to this one. It comprises a pattern of 10 half beats (OBXa), a theme with two pulse waves whose comparative detuning is finely and slowly modulated (OBXa), and sample and hold sound where the S&H open and closes a filter of white noise create the impression of raindrops. (OBXa). SIDE TWO ----- 1. Black Tiger All tracks recorded and mixed in the UK except this one, mixed in New York. I liked that aggressive synth lead at the start. 2. Loneliness Another personal favourite. Why I like this it because it captures that detached feeling you get when depression can sometimes set in. The TV in background is soft focus: You know when someones saying something, but you can’t really hear it as distinct words. We’ve all been there, eh? I remember we chewed on the idea of what would happen if one was to grow up exclusively in a confined space and the ramifications of having none of the outside world to benchmark against. I found the welding noises particularly chilling. 3. Child In a Sweet Shop The odd one out here because its got a dance beat, but hopefully its sufficiently disturbing NOT to motivate anyone to strutt to this. 4. Adventure Lost (couldnt get anything out of him; one of my 3 favorite tracks, however) 5. Voodoo Very disturbing this one. I’d forgotten how much
8. THE BATTLE OF THE LEAVES: a. Do you have any idea how many times 'Battle of the Leaves' has been played, especially in certain cars and trucks, out in the middle of f**king nowhere and/ or late at night? Andy: I do now. Thanks. b. Have you tried this? Andy: No. But i love the vibe of this track and the space it creates inside my head. c. What is the origin of what the ghostly voices are saying? Andy: Not sure. (Here are a couple of 'Battle' questions from Frank:) d. What is the opening cluster chord? Andy: It's a grandfather clock e. What type of keyboard is used in the background (panned right?) to oppose the main underlying theme during the large middle section? (I am speaking of the side other than the smoother 'Electric Piano' sound) Andy: It’s the phased pulse wave I talked about earlier. Its from the Oberhiem.OBXa. The oscillators were quite unstable, even when new, and so emphasizes the detune. 9. SKRAHS: a. 'Skrahs' is a piece of music unlike anything I know of, before or since. (from Rod:) How was 'that hideously wonderful sound' created? (see commentary above) b. Another 'did you know', this also from Rod: 'Skrahs' was once used as an early- morning retaliation for a neighbor's late-night Jimi Hendrix antics. The difference was, Rod used 2 - 4 X 12 guitar cabinets to ensure unmitigated revenge. (not really a question, but feel free to comment) Andy: Sometimes neighbours do need feedback! :-) c. Is there any relevence to the fact that the title is the word 'Sharks' reversed? Andy: Just that much of the vocals are reversed. Interesting that how, by reversing them they sound as though they are from a middle eastern country. However the way these were reversed was unusual: John wrote out the words and then physically worked our what they would have sounded like in reverse which he then spoke it as though “back to front”. When he recorded the “reversed” words, the tape was running backwards also. The question on our minds was if we then righted the tape, it should sound normal but it didn’t at all. With some reverse echo, the words sounded haunting and we kept it. 10. Nursery Rap. Truly disturbing, and pretty well cutting edge in terms of the 'Rap' element. I'm guessing that this genre was pretty much in its infancy at this point, no? Andy: I think Rap was more a play on words: rap as in "I'll rap your knuckles" from a chiding parent though I cant say for certain.(see comments for what I thought was the idea behind this track). 11. Can you give us a brief rundown of each of your contributions to the album? (instruments played, vocals, writing credits, etc.) Andy: I did all keyboards, assorted monkey noises, and effects. John did all the vocals and percussion. We shared all of the writing and production. (PS I nearly gave John and the engineer permanent stomach pains with my monkey noises as they were clutching their stomachs, howling with laughter when I recorded them). 12. John Rocca: whereabouts? in contact? Andy: We seek him here, we seek him there!!! I'm not sure, where he is really. It would be good to catch up him if not least to ask him what he actually meant behind some of these tracks!! 13. What of the rights to this album? Do you think there is even a remote possibility of a re-issue? Is there anything any of us can do to help the process along? Andy: It would be good to see it came back to life wouldn’t it? Editions EG was the label but they disappeared some time back. I need to chase them for something else so I'll look into this. To be honest its hard enough chasing active labels for back royalties but I’ll have a go. 14. I understand you are currently working on some new music. Since we have spent all this time on the past, speak all you wish about what's happening now. Andy: Rather than tell you about it, give me a few weeks and I'll send you some examples of what i'm doing. Its progressive like Pictures but is in a slightly different space. 15. Feel free to share what you are listening to these days as well... Andy: Dance stuff really: William Orbit, DJ Tiesto, Black Eyed Peas, Basement Jaxx 16. What have you been doing with your non-musical self for all these years? Feel free to plug or pimp (advertise) at will. Andy: Not much. I’m afraid to say that when I take off my Pictures “Superman style” underpants and cape I revert to being an accountant. Well it keeps the wolf from the door and sometimes being creative on call can be a bloody nightmare. I’m recording a comedy pilot which we me and a mate are hoping to flog to the TV stations. 17. The entire fanbase wants to know: are there future plans for any Pictures-esque recordings? A reunion perhaps? (Nudge-nudge) (Wink-wink) Andy: No current plans but it would be great to work with John again if only I could find him. Maybe we could finish that “phantom album” we were supposed to have recorded!! 18. Everyone I interview gets one of these: Have you ever had the sudden, unshakable urge to fabricate a makeshift pendulum-style battering ram/ explosives delivery system, and then an even greater urge to deploy this destructive force somewhere in the immediate vicinity of a radio which spews and pollutes the area with its foul, mass-produced musical folderol? I have. (translated: is mass-market radio as horrendous in your neck of the woods as it is here?) Andy: Mass market is a nightmare: I agree. The thing I do like about American radio, however, is the % of incremental stations, catering for a particular type of musical taste. Most UK stations tend to be generic: a cooking pot of different stuff with not enough specialization. I think the internet is going to change radio in the near future with much more focused choice and quality. Andy: Thanks for the interview opportunity, and I hope this has been of interest. Sincere thanks to you again, Andy, and best of luck to you in the future. If you speak to John, please let him know all about us.

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