Track by Track is written by the artists giving us some insight into their work. Today we feature The Phantom Cowboys
The Phantom Cowboys are a rockabilly-styled four piece from the UK. Their sound is a unique blend of rock’n’roll, psychobilly, gothic and even occasional jazz influences. Formed in the early 1990’s they recorded a single album ‘Down & Out At The Club Cruella’ and featured on Skully Records ‘Gothabilly’ compilation series in the US before splitting in 1998. The band reformed last year to coincide with the digital re-issue of the album by Nervous Records (available on Spotify and iTunes amongst others). An EP of new material is planned for release in Autumn 2016.
Here the band discusses the influences behind the Club Cruella album.
(One last drink at the) Club Cruella
[Emsworth]: Film maker Luis Bunuel said that the moment he no longer desired women it was like being let out of a madhouse, and this song is about the vital madness of desire, how to completely lose a sense of self in the image of a distant ideal. Nice.[Serpent] The album’s titular song is a natural leader – there was little discussion, and no doubt, as to which offering would be the star. Many layered marvelousness.
[Rob] The tune and the subject probably owes a lot to the sleazier end of 1960’s lounge
[Megz] This was the first time I got to kick off a song, at the time in 1997/8 this was a terrifying ordeal for me as it took me out of the shadows and placed me firmly in the spotlight. However it led to a greater understanding of the required harmonisation required between the guitars. We did find back then that the sound from both valve amps would sometimes blend together and we worked on trying to balance out the guitars into more defined separate roles.
[Rob] This was meant to evoke a latin feel to go with the desert motif but it ended up as a bit of a rocker. I actually wrote most of this on the bass – it came out in one go, words and all, in about twenty minutes! It’s incredibly basic but on the recording, Megz’s guitar sounds almost like flamenco and gives it a melodic quality, I feel.
[Megz] This is a really enjoyable song to play live, its just a shame its so short, its great fun getting to bash the chords out fast! I think the song has gradually evolved into more of an Arabian nights melody than the intended latino feel, maybe it’s something to do with the invasion of Toledo in AD711 or maybe not…
[Serpent] A man describes his vampire girlfriend and the place where she keeps her things, whilst resigned to his inevitable fate…
[Emsworth] A nod and a wink to Eddie Cochran’s Halleluiah I love Her So, this song contradicts the utter cheesiness of the original using minors and sevenths. Oh, and lyrics about an addiction to vampire girls!
[Megz] The obsession we had in our late teens with Hammer Horror femme fatales was ridiculous. This is strongly evidenced in works such as this, we spent one whole evening arguing over a circus performer in the film “Vampire Circus” were her clothes painted on or was it a tight fitting costume? No matter how many times we rewound the tape and paused the film we never did figure it out.
The Fear Is Real
[Serpent] Contender for my favourite Phantom Cowboys’ song, several variations explore the core, simple musical motif. The interest we had in evolving the song shows in the end product. Also seems to have a peculiar capacity to make girls dance.
[Rob]: Like a lot of our songs, it’s upbeat tempo and danceable, but the subject matter is fairly bleak as it mainly describes someone giving in to paranoia and shadowy fears – another Phantom Cowboys recurring theme!
[Emsworth] The fear is indeed real. Written after a night spent in some digs of a student I didn’t know, but got to know (slightly), it speaks of the emotional horrors of being a teenage boy. Heaven help us.
[Serpent] The activities of a girl who works in a substandard hostelry. The strong vocal melody does yeomanly service trebling as the intro and the guitar solo before giving way to a brief commentary on the cruel indifference that women occasionally display.
[Emsworth] Bruno Schulz wrote of the pointless sterility of close study of pornographic albums, and this song is a contemporary example of this sentiment.
[Megz] A strange delusional fantasy born of Monty Python sketches and mildly pornographic horror films. Ultimately our most sleazy number, but strangely seems to be one of the most popular amongst the female fans!
[Serpent] A man who loots graves and begins to swap identities with his deceased victims. A true Phantom Cowboys classic and a delight to play at weddings and family friendly events. It is also possible to finish it in well under two minutes
[Rob] We came up with this song when we were listening to a lot of early Meteors, The Sharks and other classic British psychobilly bands. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this song is really an homage to that sound and era (The Sharks later repaid the favor in their song Grave Robber – an amusing case of imitation imitating imitation).
[Megz] I remember talking about the themes in this song at the Coach and Horses pub in Norwich. This was always a favorite pub of ours as we would go for walks in the large graveyard behind at closing time and continue drinking anything we could get our hands on. We eventually made friends with a (broken) statue whom we dubbed “Headly” (you can probably imagine why).
Mansize In Marble
[Rob] The title refers to a short horror story by E. Nesbit, Man Sized in Marble. This is (yet) another example of us exploring feelings of indefinable horror. Despite the subject matter, it rocks pretty hard in 4/4 time, unusually for us.
[Emsworth] Nesbit had some genuine occult credentials being a member of The Order of the Golden Dawn, whose other members included Oscar Wilde and satanic poster boy
[Serpent] The song I once developed a partial phobia of, I now welcome its change of pace and general surfiness.
[Megz] Maybe this was a tribute to Headly?
[Emsworth] An instant of eye contact and a moment of connection with a pretty woman I noticed working in Camden Town, long before I had read Baudelaire or Breton’s Nadja. [Serpent] Another accomplished number, despite our long relationship I have never understood what it is on about.
[Rob] We’ve always had strong jazz-era influences, although they’re usually better hidden. We wanted to write an out-and-out swing number for the album – it’s also a good change of pace as most of the album is a hundred miles an hour!
[Megz] I love Lord Emsworth’s intro on this song the opening structure is absolutely nailed on the album and rings out in sharp perfectly articulated notes. A little slower than some of the other tracks on the album but it’s a welcome change of pace. I also have no idea what it’s about!
Surfers in the Night
[Serpent] Observing and commenting on the swift banality of mass market night life Also much tomfoolery can be accomplished in the quiet bit.
[Megz] We spent our youth in some truly horrible nightclubs, we stood out like a pair of sweaty bulls testicles at a kids tea party. We didn’t dance, we were barflies watching the chavs [Ed – British slang for a loutish, obnoxious youth] come and go. In those days life was limited to about two venues that would play alternative music – and by alternative I mean fairly mainstream like the Sisters of Mercy and the Cult. Strangely I miss those days walking on sticky carpet and watching Beavis and Butthead on the TV with the sound muted.
[Rob] Truthfully, most of the lyrics to this are gibberish – but that hasn’t stopped it being lots of peoples’ favorite Phantom Cowboys song, weirdly being our most listened to on Last.fm, iTunes and Spotify.
[Serpent] No doubt this one is biographical in nature, but I have been too afraid to ask. Essentially over after a minute and a half but if a song’s worth playing it is worth playing twice! Also shares the aforementioned peculiar capacity to make girls dance.
[Emsworth] A mockery of Engelburt Humperdinck-style melodrama with some nice latino-style riffs and chords.
[Rob] This began life as a tango which we would play as our opener onstage wearing huge sombreros – which The Serpent inexplicably decided to procure in Mexico and somehow managed to bring the whole way back to the UK in his hand luggage.
[Megz] I enjoyed all the drugs that the Serpent brought back for me stashed in the sombreros.
At The Fair
[Emsworth] The most unpleasant song in the English language.
[Rob] Having polished off a lot of cheap Bulgarian wine one night, Emsworth and Ichallenged each other to write the most disturbing song we could. The tune eventually became quite upbeat, but the lyrics tell a story of psychotic delusion, murder, incest and
[Megz] The perfect song to end a set on! Shortly after reforming we played an early afternoon slot at an open-air festival. I had brought along a bubble machine for a jolly jape to be turned on to this song at the end of our set. The kids literally went wild – and by kids, I mean 2 – 6 year olds! – to this date it was probably the funniest/most disturbing scene in Phantom Cowboys history.