Kitchens of Alice – An Interview with Patrick Fitzgerald (Kitchens of Distinction) and Yves Altana (Wonky Alice) about new band Oskar’s Drum

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A while back our hearts here at SEM were doing cartwheels at the appearance of a brand new collaborative effort from Kitchens of Distinction mainstay Patrick Fitzgerald and Family Cat man Paul Frederick in a band named after their shared birthday (The April Seven). Quite predictably the resulting record, Pop Tarkovsky, was a superb outing all round (how superb? This superb) and once we had the review in the books we left the album poking its nose under the tent of our likely end-of-year top 10 lists and went out after other far afield quarry as is our ceaseless wont. Well, imagine our surprise when, among the in-rushing prospects and just a few months down the road, came still another collaborative effort from this fellow Fitzpatrick, this time with still another principal of an under-the-radar fave of ours from the ’90s, Yves Altana from avant-popsters Wonky Alice. Clearly an investigation was called for, so when we were offered an interview with the resulting band – christened Oskar’s Drum – we grabbed at it. So here, on the eve of the fruits of this partnership A Cathedral of Hands being released November 7th in both CD and digital formats via Bandcamp, is a quick email interview where we get a decent bead on this whirlwind of creativity, where this particular expression of it came from and where it might be heading. The beat, most definitely, goes on…

SEM: Is there a particular resonance in naming this project after the primary symbolic object in Günter Grass’s Tin Drum?

PATRICK: The boy who refused to grow up, who screamed until glass shattered, who continually bashed his little irritating drum; it seemed apt.

SEM: How did the two of you come together? And Patrick, I don’t know how you’re doing it, A Cathedral of Hands coming so quickly on the (platform) heels of Pop Tarkovsky. This seems an especially fertile time for you as an artist.

PATRICK: After the Stephen Hero record Apparition in the Woods came out in 2009 I felt I needed to move on to new territories. I decided to do as many collaborations as possible: Folly with Kitchens of Distinction, Golden with Tanya Donnelly, The April Seven with Paul Frederick, and now Oskar’s Drum with Yves Altana. I met Yves in Manchester at an early Stephen Hero show. But we didn’t meet up properly until I moved back from Ireland and he moved back from France. He got in touch and suggested meeting up. I was in search of new collaborations – perfect timing! As with all of my collaborations I’ve learnt loads and feel fully refreshed now. I definitely needed the push of a collaborator to take me down paths I wouldn’t normally have trod.

I started The April Seven just a little before Oskar, back in 2014. They both came to fruition at around the same time, and it’s great to release two quite different records in close succession. With Fred, I wrote the music first, and he then wrote the words and singing on top. He came up with tunes and lyrical themes I would never have attempted. Really rewarding and inspiring. With Yves that process has reversed with Yves providing the music for me to write and sing over. As time has gone on even this has become more collaborative, with me providing some music which Yves has then adapted, messed up, put through the mincer and turned into something much more substantial, notably on “In Water” and “Arms of the Dark.”

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SEM: There’s a fairly wide spectrum on Oskar’s Drum, from the lavish yearn of “Green-Veiled Mirror Ghost” and the more poignant “The Last Time I Saw Roger” to a churner like “Infernal” to a post-punk romp like “Blackouts” and those are just a few examples of the variety within. Did these songs generally begin with pretty solid ideas or did they tend to grow organically from a riff or a handful of lyrics? The imagery is quite rich throughout.

PATRICK: I think the variety reflects mine and Yves’ shared passions. From early Bowie to Magazine, Banshees, Brel and Weill. Beautiful songs with a sharp bite, bittersweet. For me the music, as it was with Kitchens, always comes first and it provides the mood for my words. Early songs, like “Green-Veiled..” and “Floating” came together very quickly from music Yves had initially put together. After that came the more complex songs like “Quartz” and “In Water,” where we worked on the music more collaboratively. There’s no connection lyrically between the songs on this set but as time goes on and we write more, which we are already doing, Oskar’s Drum’s soundscape is becoming more cohesive and the lyrics are getting grimier.

SEM: Yves, it’s kind of weird how it keeps happening lately but Patrick keeps pairing up with principals from some of my favorite bands of the early to mid 90’s. First Paul Frederick from Family Cat and now you from Wonky Alice (I’ve still got the Atomic Raindance album and “Sirius” was one of the decade’s brightest gems, in my opinion). I’m a bit abashed that I’ve not kept current with your activities over the years so could you take us from post-Alice to now? I know you teamed up with Mark Burgess on a project and in fact were likely behind the kit when I saw Chameleons Vox play here in Portland a few months back.

YVES: Gosh! The Nineties. It’s such a long time ago, let me think about this for a minute. I was working with various bands at the time I was with the Wonkies in 1991. I was writing and producing local Manchester bands – an album called V-Neck with The Bardots in the mid-90s – also playing bass on live shows with Molly Half Head, playing guitar with Martin Coogan of The Mock Turtles and writing and producing music for Mark Burgess of The Chameleons. For a second collaboration with Burgess called Invincible we produced an album called Venus. Then nothing for about 5 years as I went a bit mad and I couldn’t touch a musical instrument. And now, working with Patrick on these new songs and making a new album, a very important one that makes the past belong to the past.

SEM: So, Patrick, what’s the deal? The April Seven and now Oskar’s Drum and of course the Kitchens of Distinction album Folly in 2013. Are these recent collaborations one-offs or should we maybe anticipate future activity on those two fronts? And what of Kitchens? Or perhaps you have a new project in the pipeline with Tom Cullinan from Th’ Faith Healers (just kidding…I think)

PATRICK: I’m keen to continue with collaborations. I love the way the music changes as it’s filtered through someone else’s mind. Whatever comes my way I try to be open to it. For now a second Oskar’s Drum record is definitely in the offing…

[A Cathedral of Hands available November 7th, 2016 here, and expect a review of ACoH early next week]