(this interview with cila warncke
has been reproduced from the september 2001
edition of the pennyblack magazine)
It is to be feared that Huw Bucknell, driving force behind the delightful, addictive tunes of The Spanish Amanda, has missed his calling not once, but twice. When he is not scrawling out pop gems the recent teacher-training course survivor is (presumably) kept busy looking out for the educational needs of the next generation. Music, and teaching’s gain, though, is writing’s loss – as Huw’s manically witty response to my emailed questions so richly proves. In fact, the temptation is strong – overwhelming even – to step slowly away from the keyboard and simply let Huw speak for himself.
PB: Tell me a little bit about growing up, how you got into music…
HB: Mmmmm... where to start..? Childhood experiences, eh..? Apart from the standard Being Raised By Wolves thing..? (hence me being so appalling at playing the guitar... they're dreadful teachers... can't get their paws around the frets... heart-breaking to watch them try, actually...). Mmmmm. Well, perhaps best to start at the Very Beginning... whooo... whooo... my musical genesis... gently tugging at the net curtains of time, here... yes.
Right. Well, I think I must have bought a guitar in around... erm, 1987-ish, I reckon. A red one. Three strings... when I was about 16... an over-earnest, bespectacled wee Yorkshire lad... who had strapped on his faithful Mel-o-Tone principally with the intention of wooing a wee girl in my class (15 and frankly a bit spotty, but clear soul-twin material... oooh, she was lovely...) through the time-honoured medium of hoary 3-chord punksomeness (à la Undertones... only much, much worse... no, really, it was... so very *much* worse...).
This endeavour was, needless to say, a hideous failure in every reasonable regard... I think she married one of the local farmboys when she was about 19... quite possibly to escape the unrelenting hideousness of my guitar-wrangling... although despite the setback of *not* marrying the lass myself, and being abandoned by the other two members of my sixth-form band (the name of which I *do* remember, but am far too ashamed to recount...), due to "not sounding enough like U2" (the drummer, Richard) and "not sounding enough like Queen" (the bass player, John... who became briefly quite famous, so I hear... in Yorkshire's "NUMBER ONE QUEEN TRIBUTE BAND!!!" Well... possibly, possibly..., so the posters gaily proclaimed, anyway...), I carried on with the songwriting stuff... under various guises... and with various different people.
PB: So was the Spanish Amanda your first major project? Had you been involved in other bands before this one?
HB:Mmmm... well, yes... I think my favourite wee projects over the next 8 or 9 years were probably 'Babyblind' (a frighteningly Smiths-y phase, that one... but lots of aural sweetmeats for the perenneally heartbroken...) and 'Le Grand Zombie' (from 1994 to 1996 when I wanted nothing more than to be in the Mekons... in their 1986-y, country-ish incarnation... which, clearly, would have involved me initially inventing some manner of time machine... but hey... and, indeed, yee-haw...), neither of which you're remotely likely to have heard of... but they were both Awfully Good. Honest. And largely involved me sitting alone in a bedroom, tinkering my youth away with the standard plethora of drum machines, Casiotone (TM) keyboards, 4-tracks, harmonicas, guitars, and xylophone keys (a huge bag of which I'd stolen from a job I once had in a music shop... I used to hang them off threads from the light-fittings, then thrash at them wildly with pencils... hee hee..!). So... I'd produce all these elaborate and delicately-crafted vignettes on the emotional crises afflicting the contemporary male psyche (etc, etc...), and then... record 3 solid tracks of screaming, atonal guitar feedback over the lot. Because I hated my voice so much. Wonderful.
PB: So, how exactly did The Spanish Amanda come to be?
HB: The idea of the Spanish Amanda happened late in 1997... I'd been recording some songs in my bedroom as 'London Fields'... we did a CDR release thingy... it's grim... shamelessly miserablist electro-poppy stuff... mostly new versions of songs I'd written years and years before, but taking advantage of my Lovely New Drum Machine and keyboards and maracas and Amazonian noseflute and such... Mmmm. Anyway, when I utterly failed to engage anyone's interest in the London Fields stuff (and quite rightly so...), my girlfriend at the time (more of whom, below, below, below...), attempted to persuade me that what my songs *really* needed was a scummy new set of vocal cords to spruce them up... her's... so, over a rather frazzled and wine-sodden weekend (during one of our all-too-numerous splits, as I recall), hunched over m'sequencer, I wrote and recorded about 8 or 9 backing-y-type tracks for her to hurl her unique vocal and lyrical stylings over... All desperately New Order-ish... all of which she immediately rejected, having decided that even a part-time career in pop superstardom no longer appealed.
D'oh..! So... when our paths finally parted (in quite spectacular acrimony, heartbreak and hurt) early in 1998, I decided to work some of them into songs on my own, and coming up with the first Spanish Amanda CDR ('The Spanish Amanda Murders You In Song'... ah, yes, that would have been one of my Bitter Phases, that, then... ahem...) in... June 1998, I think..?
'Palomar' and '"Port Sunlight', both of which appear on 'Brave New Girl', were both from the original batch of backing tracks, anyway (and were on '...Murders You In Song'), and quite specifically about The Utter Dribbling Hideousness Of It All. Oh yes. There *was* dribbling, and it *was* hideous. Brr..!
PB: So who exactly are The Spanish Amanda?
HB: At the moment, the Spanish Amanda is mostly just me... although in the past, it's swollen and contracted, depending upon how damp it's got in the winter and how much it's shrunk in the harsh Golders Green summers (it's quite balmy, here, at the moment... iguanas freely roam the streets... but I wish I was still back in San Francisco, to be honest... hilly... so many trams... trams, everywhere... no need to *walk*... Mmmm...). The most people it's had would be me, Maria Trewin (singing person and old university chum... ), Elliot Falk (piano chap... best bit on 'Brave New Girl' = his solo-y type stuff at the end of 'Babyfever'... also an old university chum... who I also live with... he's a TV Light Entertainment developer for the BBC... shamefully enough... I think he was on the original development team for "The Weakest Link" - that awful quiz-type affair with Anne Robinson – so now you actually have a concrete name upon which to pour your scorn and bile... hee hee..!), Jacky Wood (singing/writing person, not much on BNG but will be doing Rather More on the next record, whenever ("if") it comes out... has been in loads of bands, mostly in Leeds - The Cunning Plan and Bendigo Bubble - but is now A Proper Actress... she was the girl in the promo for the last Bel Amor promo, if you saw it... the one with the blow-up rubber chap-type person... v.kinky), Tom Knight (trumpet chap... no idea where he is now... perfectly charming bloke, tho'... Much Beloved Of The Ladies, as I recall, so he's probably having lots of fun, wherever he is...) and Andrew Daly (who's my old chum from Yorkshire - we've been mates since primary school - who tends to lend a hand on the technical side of things, accumulating bits of gear and generally pitching in - in a moderately helpful manner – with recording and such...). But at the moment... it's mostly me and Jacky, to be honest.
PB: 'Brave New Girl' is on the German label Firestation Tower Records. How did that come about?
HB:Well, 'Brave New Girl' came about because quite a lot of charming Belgian and German chaps (quite a few goths, acutally) started getting faintly interested in us (seriously... I still get a small but steady stream of letters from disenfranchised Belgian teens, most frequently written in purple ink, bemoaning the fact that our globe-trotting world tours have yet to take in Bruges and Antwerp... aaaaah, those moodsome Belgians...), wrote some charming reviews in some gothy fanzines (lots of curly script and sonnets to Robert Smith) and brought us to the attention of Those Wonderful Folk At Firestation Tower. Bringing us nicely along to The Record... at last... which is... well. Mmmm. 'Brave New Girl' is a bit of an odd collection, really... not completely my choice of tracks, alas... but I do rather like it.
PB: How would you describe it, are there any particular songs you like/dislike?
HB: There is, in all fairness, stuff on 'Brave New Girl' which (if I'd had a totally free hand) probably wouldn't have made it on to the record... 'The Ballad Of Clinton Bill' springs, somewhat alarmingly, to mind... not 'cos I don't like it, but just because it sounds (to my ears...) like it's by a Different Band Entirely. A rather smuttier band. I was was *astonishingly* sleep deprived when I wrote and recorded it... 'Palomar' and 'Port Sunlight' also sound a bit 'other' to me... and... and... Hmmm.
Anyway, anyway... the song on the record which means *most* to me is probably 'Aberystwyth'. I'd spent the evening sitting in Soho Square with some friends and a bottle of rum when it was recorded, I couldn't really stand up properly and got the words wrong. You can hear the cap going back on the top of the bottle at the end. The song - like quite a few of them - is about an old flame (see "fantastically dysfunctional relationship", above...). 'Go-Betweens' also still pleases. Mmmm. And so, despite being a bit of a sketch, does 'How Much Validation..?' All ex-girlfriend-type songs.
Ones that aren't are... erm... oh, 'Working For Mr Banks'... which was written... erm, 8 years ago..? When I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, working for a chap called Mr Banks (who owned the music shop I stole My Entire Collection Of Xylophone keys from... see above..!). Oh, and 'Getting Naked...', which is mostly about a friend who's an alcoholic, and 'Fuschal' which is mostly about... London. Probably. The verses aren't really connected to the chorus. Or each other.
PB: Is there any new stuff coming up in the near future?
HB: Hopefully, yes... the next record (finishing which is my project for the summer) will be much better... still a mixture of old and new stuff, but far more consistent (and considerably darker... they *do* like it upbeat, at Firestation Tower...). I, alas, must now disappear...
And there you have it, The Spanish Amanda in a nutshell… though I imagine if you said that to Huw he’d scrunch up, mime being in an enclosed space a la Austin Powers and say, “no, this is me in a nutshell…’help, help, I’m in a nutshell.’”