Actual Midgets and the Drug Opera – Live for Today

Surfing the web you can randomly find hidden jewels that instantly get stuck in your mind. Live for Today by Actual Midgets and the Drug Opera is one of the best records I recently discovered: a stunning combination of pop songwriting, elegant and jazzy tones and ethereal singing.

Far from being a mere replica of over exploited patterns, this record leads the listener into a world made of foggy landscapes, surreal characters, airy vibes and pleasant tones. The saxophone sound helps to create a spooky and melancholic atmosphere, giving the tracks a peculiar taste, dark and dreamy at the same time.

Filled with lots of fine interludes, Live for Today offers a great example of music composing, showing the way to blend standard pop structures with a remarkable experimental attitude. The feeling of being constantly slowed down permeates the entire track list: it’s amazing how the band managed to merge regular patterns with ethereal drones and vibes.

Probably, the album’s peak is to be searched in (I remember) In Weed: a heart moving ballad that easily reach one of the greatest heights in this music genre.

To know a little bit more about the band I had an interview with James. Enjoy the answers he gave me!

•As a good starter, I’d like to know more about the project. How did you start the band? How did you find good members to play with?

Actual Midgets is a project which has always thrived on collaboration, evolving from a solo project with various associates to a more settled band.

Members and occasional collaborators are drawn from the Sheffield music scene, having met at gigs, shared studios, and through other bands.

J Barlow and Jim Street have played together in various projects over recent years. Drums are usually provided by Jim’s nephew, Pat Carley (Pjaro). Saxophone on Live for Today and occasionally live is played by Rich Harrison (King Capisce). The current line-up is Barlow, Street, Carley and Ric Booth (Kill the Captains) on lead guitar.

As you’ve seen, the line-up rotates and is often flexible, utilising various other local musicians for particular gigs or recordings – we strive for the interaction and variety provided by different talents and approaches.

Also vital to Live for Today was Brian Ellis, Sheffield’s hippest sound manipulator. We wished to record with Brian due to his energy and enthusiasm, and ability to inspire and capture live performance.

•Your music reveals tons of influences, from classic rock sounds to elegant jazz vibes. Talking about your music background, which records influenced at most your songwriting? Which ones let you think that you wanted to be a musician?

The Velvet Underground have been a mother lode for much of our work, both stylistically and sonically. Other influences range from traditional folk and classic 60s bands and songwriters to modern minimalism and post-rock.

Live for Today also draws on our krautrock influences – Faust, Can, La Dusseldorf et al. We were keen to work on hypnotic drones and repetitions and to record live rather than track by track, aiming to capture the energy and drive of live performance. (The sessions were recorded live to tape and then edited in a tape-splice style.)

The jazz vibe on Live for Today was mostly brought to the party by Rich Harrison on sax, building on previous live collaborations – we felt Rich would be a good complement to our approach and playing style.

•It’s always hard to understand how the process of music composing works. According to your experience, how do you create your songs? How do you start composing?

There are currently three writers in Actual Midgets. We each write for catharsis, expression, and experimentation. Songs usually start from a few chords or licks, lyrical ideas from films, books, or our experiences (at the moment, we’re particularly keen on brutalist architecture). Songs are then developed by the band during rehearsal or recording before taking their final form.

Many of our songs look to explore the richness and depth of human experience, or to express our perspective and philosophy (Rules All Again). Some songs are based on literature (In Weed is a poetic retelling of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Horses is based on lines and ideas from Shakespeare). Other songs are taken from the folk tradition and then reworked (Three Galleys).

Much of Live for Today emerged from jams and ideas for semi-improvised pieces.

•With my last question I’d like to know what will come after the release of “Live for Today”. What’s the plan for the future? Are you already working on new material?

We’re currently demoing songs to be released as series of singles and EPs, building up our own studio in the process. Live for Today Volume II will hopefully follow soon after with Rich Harrison back on sax.


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