Thanks again to Bart for the fantastic interview! We’ve talked before about Pencil Tin and Girl of the World, and now it’s the turn of this short-lived band that included the great Pam Berry on vocals. I guess The Cat’s Miaow interview is around the corner then? Anyways, sit down, read and enjoy.
++ Hi again Bart! Always lots to talk with you! Let’s cover The Shapiros this time, sounds good? First thing that I wonder is how did the communication between Pam and you started?
We had a mutual friend (Dave Harris, Munch videos) who sent Pam a Cat’s Miaow tape and me a Glo-Worm tape. we were all “love your band” “no i love YOUR band”
++ On the Girl of the World interview you were telling me that originally you came to the US, to the West Coast, to play at a festival. Was going all the way to the East Coast already planned? You didn’t do a road trip did you?
The idea was that I’d come over to DC afterwards and we’d record a single. I flew. It’s practically the same price to get an around the world ticket as it is to get a return flight to the US from Australia. so after DC Iwent onto London
++ And how was meeting for the first time with Pam?
Pretty cool. We’d already corresponded quite a bit so we kinda knew each other fairly well. If she wasn’t so nice it might have been a bit intimidating meeting a living legend.
++ Did you experience any sort of cultural shock in the US?
For me the biggest difference was the lack of a social security network, the poverty, the homelessness. those things exist in Australia as well but not to the same extent.
++ Which city did you enjoy the most in the US and why? When was the last time you visited this country?
I had the best time in DC but that was more to do with the people than the city itself. I liked New York and Boston as well. That’s the only time I’ve been to the us.
++ By the way, when you stayed in DC did you get to do any touristy stuff, I don’t know, like The White House?
not a lot, mostly just haing out with pam and her friends. i did a little, i went past the white house and visited some of the museums. i probably did more touristy things in new york like the empire state building and statue of liberty.
++ Why the name The Shapiros? Who were you nodding?
Helen Shapiro. We actually had a lot of trouble trying to come up with a name, nothing seemed right for what we were trying to convey. I think the Shapiros was the one that sucked the least and we needed to decide on something as we were playing at CMJ.
++ And I guess you experienced some gigs in the US, right? And you met people involved in the scene and the community here? How different to Australia was it? Any anecdotes you can share?
I remember seeing the Magnetic Fields a few times, holiday and charm of the highway strip had just come out and the live band sounded nothing like i expected. i expected a synth duo like yazoo but got something so much better. we played in New York with them and Lois which was a pretty cool bill in hindsight. when we came off stage i bumped into Jason Reynolds from Summershine. He was like “what are YOU doing here?” = “what’s a loser from Melbourne doing playing in New York?” He didn’t sign us obviously. I think that sums things up, in Australia i operate very much at best on the periphery or outside of things whereas with Pam being Pam and being involved with Chickfactor it did seem to be a bit closer to the center and connected to everything
++ So you recorded 12 songs in a span of two weeks, is that right? You recorded with Archie Moore, correct? How were those recording sessions? With so little time it sounds stressful, but I’m sure it wasn’t!
The recording was done really quickly in Archie’s and Trish’s basement were we rehearsed. Archie had a small window of opportunity between velocity girl tours. I don’t remember it being stressful, but towards the end trying to finish it got a bit rushed. And I’m not much of a team player when it comes to mixing. That’s all I’m saying
++ The Shapiros also included Trish and Scott, how did they become part of the band?
Friends of Pam’s, how else! Originally it was going to be Scott and Chip Porter who were both in Veronica Lake along with Pam. I cant think of a band that influenced the Cat’s Miaow more than Veronica Lake, it was going to be the perfect line up. Unfortunately Chip had to pull out so we got Trish in who was playing in a Belmondo with Pam. Still a pretty cool line up.
++ Looking at the compilation tracklist, first thing that pops up is that “When I Was Howard Hughes” was also released by Hydroplane. So I wonder, this song was intended for which band originally? Shapiros or Hydroplane? And of course I have to ask, was Howard Hughes an important figure for you?
Howard Hughes was the last song recorded, it was more of an idea rather than a song and we had never rehearsed it. I’m the only one on it apart from Skooter playing some tambourine. For me songs are a fairly transferable commodity not tied to any particular band. I do prefer the Hydroplane version, its a bit more fully realised, tho i was hardly involved in the recording other than the guitar solo. It’s more the notion of Howard Hughes as a metaphor, for what I’ll let the listener decide. He was as mad as a cut snake but i do find it interesting to see what people do when unlimited finances are at there disposal
++ Also you recorded three covers. You’ve told me before you were a big Beat Happening fan so “Cry for a Shadow” makes a lot of sense – is that your favourite Beat Happening song? – but what about “Cut” originally by the 14 Iced Bears and The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow “, whose idea was it to record these songs?
I think Beat Happening are incredible and because of their minimal instrumentation it provides a lot of scope for their songs to be re-interpreted. I thought “Cry for a Shadow” was a great song to cover that a lot of people had overlooked in favour of “Indian Summer” or “Cast a Shadow”. Pam is also probably as big if not a bigger fan of Beat Happening than me. I picked The Shirelles as i think I was trying to evoke a sort of 60’s brill building vibe. Pam picked cut and “Bright Coloured Lights” by Crash. I think in hindsight we should have only released “Cry for a Shadow”.
++ And how did the creative process work to write the 9 original songs you penned with The Shapiros? Did the lyrics just came naturally while recording, or maybe you had them ready before coming to the US?
No, all the songs were written while I was in DC. Before I left we had discussed recording a single together so i had tried to write some songs in Australia but hadn’t come up with anything. I’d just finished recording “A Gentle Hand…” by Pencil Tin and “How did Everything Get so Fucked Up” by the Cat’s Miaow so the song “Cupboard” was well and truly bare. I did write “Smitten” in my head on the bus between Portland and Olympia which the Cat’s Miaow latter recorded. I don’t know why the Shapiros didn’t do it, it would have suited them perfectly, I cant even remember showing it to them.
Most of the Shapiros original songs could have a writing credit of words Pam, music Bart. Pam wrote the words and music to “Makes Me Smile” and “Cross your Mind”. I wrote the words and music to when I was Howard Hughes. It has been the only time I’ve written songs with someone and they’ve been sitting there in the room at the same time. Usually it’s been one person writing a finished piece of music and it gets handed over to write some words later on. I don’t remember us spending a lot of time writing songs. I do remember a lot of thrift store shopping, Ethiopian restaurants and hanging out with Pam’s friends.
++ So alright, what is your favourite song of them all?
Any of the first 4 on the CD i m still really proud of. The cover of “Cry for a Shadow” I really enjoy. The guitars at the start of “Gone by Fall” are probably the best guitar sound I’ve ever got so I still enjoy that a lot. When Pam and I played in London last year we did “Cry for a Shadow” and “Month of Days”. The Shapiros are only a relatively small part of my back catalogue but it comprises a high proportion of my personal favourites
++ What about releasing with Fantastic Records and Popfactory? How did these releases happen?
Pam organised these, I think it was bit of word of mouth mostly. We were talking to Popfactory while I was still in DC. The original idea had been to record a single and it just kept growing. I don’t think we viewed the songs as an album that couldn’t be broken up so we were quite happy to have the songs spread across what ended being 5 different releases.
++ I know you’ve recorded some more songs with Pam, as Bart & Friends, but that was not so long ago. Is it silly to ask why it didn’t happen before?
We were living on opposite sides of the planet and the technology of the day didn’t really lend itself to long distance recording. We did record one song around 1999, another version of Blue Moon which ended up as a bside to a Japanese single that Bart & Friends did and then after that I stopped playing music for about 10 years. We are talking about recording some more songs later this year. It’s pretty cool to write a song and think “this would sound great if Pam Berry sang it” and be able to make that a reality.
++ So Bart, what other hobbies do you have aside making brilliant songs? Do you collect anything in particular maybe?
Between my family and work I’ve barely got time to squeeze in writing songs (I try to spend at least 15 minutes each day writing). Does watching the History Channel count as a hobby? I’m into very nerdy things like megalithic sites, ancient Rome, electronic music from the 50’s & 60’s, The Wire, Deadwood…the winter evenings just fly by in our house.
++ Thanks again Bart, looking forward to our next interview! Any other anecdote about The Shapiros you’d like to share?
I got a tattoo of the guitar on Beat Happening’s dreamy album while i was in The Shapiros. it still hasn’t washed off
The Shapiros – Gone By Fall