THE ANTI-POP REVOLUTION IS HERE! An Interview with Chris Triggs of the La La Lettes

I first heard the La-La-Lettes a number of months ago when my buddies in Thee Rakevines gave them a shout-out on Twitter. The band hales from Colwyn Bay, Wales, UK, and somehow manages to fuse two seemingly irreconcilable modes of expression by being both intensely experimental and fun at the same time.

Give their 2020 albums Easy Peasy and April a listen, and you’ll hear clear echoes of the Byrds, Syd Barrett, and the Rolling Stones, while 2021’s ONKY and i Godge, Goj, Gols and Gods explore musical territory best exemplified by acts like the Velvet Underground, the Residents, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Full disclosure: As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows, I recently had a chance to work with the La-La-Lettes on their double-A-side single, “Song 71 (You Didn’t Love Me)”/“J’ecoute La Radio,” which calls to mind a cross between the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. I used the opportunity to chat with Chris Triggs, the brains behind the band, about songwriting, music production, and his creative process.

I know of four La-La-Lettes albums and a handful of singles all released over the last two years. You seem to have come out of nowhere! Were you doing anything else musically before the La-La-Lettes?

 Yes, but years ago. I’d been either writing and recording for about 20+ years, climbing the ladder of Hardware recording items, ‘Tape recorder’/’Four Track’ and then ‘Cool Edit Pro’. Then about at the end of 2011, the Time/Sony computer I worked on blew up, and I thought it was time for a rest, which carried on until late 2019. I thought I’d miss it, but my son who was born in 2005 was at an interesting age by 2011 and his life took over mine and I didn’t miss the guitar, writing or anything. Strange really, thinking about it now, but I didn’t write anything for years at one point.

In late 2018, I fell into a real dark hole, and 2019 was my year of hell. Luckily, in December ’19, I was talking to my sister, and she suggested taking up music again, it was like a ‘lightbulb moment’, throw all my pain into music ‘brilliant’. Although my issues were still raging, picking up the guitar helped. I think that’s why ‘Easy Peasy’ sounds so edgy, I was getting a ‘lot out’. After finishing that first album, I didn’t want to let it just lie, so I decided to put it on Spotify etc, which led me to Twitter.

It’s amazing how therapeutic music can be! I’m picking up a strong 60s vibe in a lot of your music. Who are some of your favorite bands from that era, and why does that music resonate so strongly with you?

I just followed the trend when I was a kid, listening to stuff like The Police, Blondie and all that. Then one day I was watching TV and this advertisement came on for a new Beach Boys compilation, and that’s when I heard (a snippet) of ‘Good Vibrations’ for the first time. I guess that was the Siren calling. That was it, Beach Boys forever almost. I realized quite early on that I wasn’t just listening to the songs, but making out the sounds of the guitars, the bass, the amazing drums (probably by Hal Blaine) and of course those vocals. It just spoke volumes to me. As time went on, I listened more intently to my dad’s Beatles LPs, being knocked out by the sounds created on ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘I Am the Walrus’ etc. They were just gorgeous sounds for my delicate ears. Then I sought of discovered other bands, that friends/colleagues suggested, The Byrds were next, I love David Crosby’s songs (still do), and all that stretched into other avenues, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas and the Papas, that whole Californian late 60s thing was it for me. Then also late 60’s Motown stuff, Tammi Terrell (greatest voice ever). It was a 60’s thing, tape hiss everything, just beautiful.

Does the name La-La-Lettes have special significance?

No! Hahahaha! At the time I was about to put Easy Peasy online and realized I required a band name, I was reading an article about The Faces who have an album called Oh La La. So I used ‘La-La’ and thought ‘Let’s call it that’ and I wrote ‘The La-La-Lettes’ adding an extra ‘T’ and ‘E’ to be silly. Means nothing lol.

But also in line with some of those great 60s bands like the Marvelettes! Along similar lines, your titles are fascinating. Where did ONKY and i Godge, Goj, Gols and Gods come from?

Years ago, there was a game show called ‘Strike it Lucky’ and one Christmas they did a kids edition, which I remember being hilarious. One question asked to one little girl was, ‘Who was friends with George and Zippy in the (kids) TV show Rainbow’, people from the UK will know the answer is ‘Bungle’, BUT this little 4/5 year old said “ONKY”, I just howled with laughter and the name stuck.

‘Godge’ is a little more tricky. In the late 90’s I did an album called ‘An afternoon with the Gods’, which I did on 4-track. Anyway, when I was doing ‘Godge’ I noticed a similarity in the songs of both albums. I didn’t want to call it ‘An Afternoon with the Gods 2’, I didn’t want a connection, so I made up the word ‘Godge’ and elaborated. I’m not sure, but I think ‘Godge’ actually has a definition,  I think it means something along the lines of ‘punching wind’. In the lyrics of ‘Oh, how we used to laugh’, there’s a part which says ‘pushing against the tide’, which was weird if the meaning of ‘Godge’ is correct.

As a musician—and, more broadly, as an artist—you make a lot of decisions that I’d describe as “anti-pop.” A lot of the sounds on i Godge, Goj, Gols and Gods are jarring, and you’re not afraid to release music that strays off the grid in terms of key and tempo. Those decisions, I have to say, really make your music come to life. What’s the rationale behind them?

“Anti-Pop!!!” What a cool description. I must admit I was on a bit of a roll during the making of ‘Godge’, most of the riffs, chord sequences and ideas came before I’d written a word. It’s a huge mix of influences on that album. Dylan, Beatles, Sex Pistols, Beach Boys of course) and others. So I was really spoilt for choice over stuff I had available, and just had to cram it all together. Lyrically, every song on ‘Godge’ is about someone I know, and to be honest, I’m very proud of it.

I guess I look at a high percentage of bands/artists I’ve discovered on Twitter as “Anti-Pop”. I like to think of us all as the ‘”new wave”, The Kintners, Lunar Plexus, Temporary Longterm Positions, Fendahlene, Thee Rakevines, Blank Cassettes, The Last Ghost, Oplaadtijd, McDead, Touanda, Moistule, Miss Kitty and Rubber Clown Car and the work you’re producing are just some excellent examples. They’ve all done incredible stuff, all different types of music too, brilliant albums, everything. It feels good to be involved. THE ANTI-POP REVOLUTION IS HERE…

Let’s hope so! I feel like the public appetite for interesting music—music that breaks rules and challenges the listener’s expectations—just doesn’t exist. To put it crudely, there isn’t really a market for it. No one’s banging down the door for the kind of music that you and I and others like us make. Which raises a question I think about from time to time regarding my own music: Why make it? And, of course, what keeps you going?

I love the thought of a blank canvas, to paint a picture, to make it interesting and ‘happy’, I keep going because of this. I’ve always been the same since I was a child, inventing, creating, I can’t stop it, it’s a passion. You’re right of course, there’s no market for us lot, lol. But I believe something will happen, doors always open on a journey.

The latest single, “J’ecoute La Radio,” is sung in French. What was behind that decision?

Lol, I work in the Oil and Gas industry cataloging maps, and one day I was working on some French data and I needed to translate a couple of words on ‘Google translate’, which I’ve done hundreds of times before, but this one day, I was just in a funny mood, and began writing words/lyrics onto google translate, which is just a silly idea really. I put the lines into order on a file and printed the sheet. I just fancied doing something different to see if I could do it. Musically it took 3 attempts to get the melody right, it was originally an earworm (a nasty one too).

Needless to say, I’m impressed with your output. Four albums in two years! What’s your recording process like?

Very instant. I have no patience with recording. It’s a ‘now or never’ attitude. Even when I’m recording, I look for a bit of improvisation, mad really, as sometimes when I come to doing the bass or 2nd guitar I forget what I’ve done!

I’m always looking for that one ‘word’, ‘rhyme’, ‘riff’ or a ‘weird chord’ even to help make a song interesting enough for me to like it. As said earlier with ‘Godge’ I had loads of things ready before writing a word

“J’ecoute” was perhaps took an hour, acoustic guitar/vocal, bass, drums, vocal/vocal/vocal/vocal/vocal, electric guitar, Marc Schuster yaaaay. Easy Peasy, love it.

Me too! And speaking of your creative output, what do you have in the works?

I do have a 5th album “Obsession” ready to go. But, I just love working on instinct at the moment. I recently did an E.P. in two days (Days of Winter), and I keep looking for the next song, the next single. I have an idea for something along the lines of a ‘Bo Diddley’ tune for a Protest song, but we’ll see.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Chris!

“Black Boots”

As you may have noticed, I’ve been releasing a decent amount of music lately. In part, this is because I’ve been collaborating with other musicians like Timothy Simmons, The La-La-Lettes, and my cousin Vince as part of The Ministry of Plausible Rumours. Meanwhile, I’ve also been recording a few songs on my own, and the latest is a somewhat long song with a country & western lilt called “Black Boots.”

The earliest version of this song came to me many years ago with the phrase “I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” One of the couplets went something like, “I’m tired and lonely and looking to fight. I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” But sometime in 2020, I started playing with the idea from a different angle and it became “Are you promising to hold your tongue but looking for a fight? Are you wearing your black boots tonight?”

And as far as that “different angle” goes, instead of imagining a guy with anger management issues, I started thinking about a pair of sisters who don’t get along but who still love each other. This idea stemmed from a picture that my friend Jen Mitlas shared on social media of herself and her sister eating ice cream when they were children; the caption said something like, “See? Sometimes we do get along!”

Hence the first verse of the song: “Unfocused picture: You and your sister/Ice cream on Saturday night./Moment of detente,/You both get what you want/Before diving back to the fight.”

Of course, the song is a work of fiction, and I imagined that the two sisters were of different political philosophies–that one was a cop or in the military (“a warrior by trade”) and that one was ostensibly of a kinder and gentler bent but was, nevertheless, always the first to attack (or, in the song, “pull the blade” on) the on the other.

I also imagined that the sisters were twins, but I think that notion came about when I realized I could rhyme “Fighting each other” with “Inside your mother.” I just thought the idea of two children punching and kicking each other even before they were born was funny.

On the topic of rhymes, I felt like I was cheating a little when I rhymed “ice cream” with “ice cream” in the final verse, but I liked the idea that, as adults, the two sisters still set aside their differences to enjoy ice cream when they get together.

Musically, the song owes a massive debt to “Mississippi” by the Cactus Blossoms, which I first heard in an episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. I really liked the drum beat on that song, so when I bought a drum kit back in the Spring of this year (itself a weird story), one of the first patterns I tried to learn was the rhythm from that song. Once I had it down, I recorded it and built the rest of “Black Boots” around it.

Fun fact: The sewer pipe for my house runs through the room where I record drums. You can hear water running through it at about 3:28 on the song. Someone must have been taking a shower at the time. Either that, or they flushed the toilet. In either case, I actually thought the sound of running water was pretty cool, so I kept it in. Also, I didn’t feel like recording the track again.

My initial plan was to save the song for later — maybe to include it in an EP or an album, but then I saw a review of “Mine Forever” by Lord Huron on Jeff Archuleta’s (quite excellent) Eclectic Music Lover blog. Since the instrumentation on that song — especially the twangy guitars — was similar to the instrumentation of “Black Boots,” I figured Jeff might enjoy my song, so I sent him a rough mix and told him I didn’t really plan to do anything with it. But Jeff said he liked it, and since I’ve been a big fan of his music reviews for quite some time, I figured I had no choice but to release it… So here we are!

J’Ecoute La Radio/Song 71

It’s been a busy few weeks music-wise. I recorded and released an album with my friend Tim Simmons, then the album I’ve been working on with my cousin for the better part of two years years also came out. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the LaLaLettes reached out to me from Wales, UK, to see if I’d be interested in playing on a couple of tracks. I’d been a fan of their since hearing their album ONKY earlier this year, so I leapt at the opportunity!

What I like about the LaLaLettes is that their music sounds alive. Playing one of their songs is like walking into a party that’s already in full swing. I hear hints of a lot of my favorite musical acts on their tracks as well. My first impression of ONKY was that it sounded like a cross between any classic Frank Zappa album and The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band, with maybe a slightly more experimental flare.

Granted, I’m not the most objective of observers when it comes to their latest pair of tracks, but I’m picking up shades of the Beach Boys on their (our!) new offering. In fact, when I asked what kind of sound they were looking for on “J’ecoute La Radio,” their response was simply “Mid to late 60s Beach Boys.” Even before I added anything, that’s exactly what their track sounded like to me — a cross between Beach Boys’ Party (1965) and Smiley Smile (1967).

For some reason, the song earned an “E” for “explicit lyrics” on Spotify. My French is a little rusty, so I’m not sure why, but one of the lines struck me like it might roughly translate to “I will molest an elephant tomorrow morning for breakfast.” But, again, my French isn’t what it used to be — and it used to be pretty bad — so take my translation for what it’s worth.

“Song 71” (aka “You Didn’t Want My Love”) takes a quieter turn. It’s a short, sweet, sad song about being spurned that leans in a Dylanesque direction, once again reminiscent of The Basement Tapes. What makes the two songs perfect complements to each other is their looseness and intimate sound. If “J’ecoute La Radio” is like walking into a party that’s already in full swing, “Song 71” is like sticking around to help the host clean up.

In any case, I’m playing drums and bass on “Song 71,” and I’m playing organ and singing on “J’ecoute La Radio.” Despite its French lyrics, I have to admit that I sound a little more like Edith Bunker than Edith Piaf on that one. But I’m mostly in key, and I also imagine that sounding like a diva is far from the point on a record like this. The real point is to have fun, which is exactly what I did — and I hope you have fun, too, when you listen to it!