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!

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!

The Ministry of Plausible Rumours: Summer Again

Vince and Marc circa 1995.

You might guess, based on the above photo, that my cousin Vince and I spent a lot of time playing music together in our youth. In reality, though, we really never saw much of each other for various reasons, the biggest being that he was what seemed at the time to be impossibly older than I was. Seven or eight years older? I’m not even sure. To this day, I have no idea how old Vince is, or any of my cousins for that matter. But when I was a child, the age difference was enough to make me think of Vince and his siblings (Steve and Lorraine, if you’re trying keep track) as a different and exotic species altogether: Familius nonfamiliar, perhaps.

In any case, you can imagine my surprise when Vince reached out to me back in January of 2020 to ask if I was interested in working on a couple of songs together. We hadn’t spoken in, I’m guessing, over a decade, due largely to the fact that Vince had been working overseas in exotic locales I could only dream of. The last time we spoke at any length, he told me his favorite book was Moby Dick. Beyond that, I only knew that he was living in London with his wife and a handful of kids who were now grown. I think.

So, sure, why not make some music together?

Vince sent me a track that he was calling “Oysters” at the time: an arpeggiated chord progression on acoustic guitar accompanied by a violin and electric guitar. I sliced it up, moved a few parts around, wrote some lyrics, and the result was our first song, “By and By.” Next came a jazzy track he called “Soho in the Rain.” This time around, the title gave me a little more to work with, so the it remained the same. The finished product is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Just as things were getting interesting musically, the world went into lockdown in the wake of the burgeoning pandemic. We were both fortunate enough to have jobs that allowed us to work from home, and our work kept each of us pretty busy. Even so, we managed to find time to send files to each other. Sometimes we’d go weeks or even months without so much as a word to each other, and then one of us would get an idea, and the sound files would start flying back and forth across the Atlantic.

At some point, Vince asked if I had any ideas for a name, and I told him that I’d always wanted to start a band called the Bureau of Plausible Rumours. He countered that with the idea that in the UK, there were ministries for everything, so how about the Ministry of Plausible Rumours? I liked the sound of it, so it stuck.

Cover art by Kevin F. Quinn.

The music on the album reflects our eclectic tastes. “Soho in the Rain” ended up having a distinct pop feel with its blend of jazzy guitar riffs (from Vince) and a quirky, bubbling synth bass in the verses (me). For “Anthem,” we wanted to play around with the name of our band at, at the same time, offer a tongue-in-cheek critique of the ill-informed memes that pass for “news” in our social-media-saturated world. The guest appearance from the erstwhile liar-in-chief of the United States at 1:58 made it into the song when Brandon Heffley, who mixed the album, slotted it in as a joke and we decided to keep it.

Given the situation the world was (and continues to be) in, a few of our songs ended up being about wanting to go out in the world and be with other people. One case in point is “Person in a Place,” a song about wishing to be among other people: “God I want to be a human being more than ever now. / I want to feel the sunshine on my face. / I want to see my friends. I’d even settle for my enemies. / I want to be a person in a place.”

The album’s closer, “Summer Again,” plays with a similar conceit, arguably looking forward to better days and insisting that it doesn’t do anyone any good to wallow in self-pity: “Enough with the tears, enough with the shame, enough with the tragic account of your life and enough with the blame. You say that you’re waiting for summer. I say summer’s waiting for you.”

I could easily go on and on about the rest of the tracks on the album — telling you things like “Tom Baker” was inspired by my love for Doctor Who, and that “Accidental Honesty” was originally titled “Opening Old Wounds,” but I’ll just let the music speak for itself.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the art that my friend Kevin F. Quinn did for the cover. I’ve known Kevin since high school, and he’s an amazing artist! Definitely check out his work and give him a follow in Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kevinquinnart/