JOE CUMMINGS, JON CUMMINGS and LEE MEADOWS of The Glass House Museum talk to Nick Awde
Alhambra Live Magazine #002
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— The Glass House Museum: Facebook – @TheGlassHouseMuseum
— Alhambra Live: the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
ALHAMBRA LIVE is one of the biggest grassroots music venues in the North West. Based in Morecambe on the sea Promenade, its adaptable spaces (and unique Lake District views) make it a vibrant hub for all-dayers and weekend festivals (Goth, Mod, Ska, Northern Soul…). It is also a hub and home for gothic music with Corrosion club night and the CorrosionFest & Bats in the Attic festivals. For more info, contact Fiona +44 (0)7771 200 873 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick: How did the three of you get together?
Joe: Jon and myself are brother and sister – we started off playing in a band years ago and when that disbanded we went on to form another band called Maelstrom. That was in the late nineties. Oh my god, it sounds so old. [laughs]
Jon: It is!
Joe: We did that together with various band members that left and came back and left and came back. We were then a threesome in Maelstrom and our bass player left so it was just the two of us. We had a load of stuff that we wanted to do, so in 2012 we decided that we’d carry on as a two piece – as the Glass House Museum – and then the old bass player Harry came back. He was with us for a couple of years and then he and his wife moved to France. So that made things look a bit more difficult until we recruited Mr Meadows here and the poor sod hasn’t been able to escape since! [laughs]
Nick: Is there a shared background of influences between the three of you?
Joe: I’ve always been into goth and alternative music. And Jon as well.
Jon: Yeah. With the band it’s obviously a mixture of liking similar music but also character and personality. Lee’s DJ-ing background means he’s been listening to many many different bands in multiple genres over the years. I personally have always loved the goth scene but I also have a crossover of anything from Bauhaus to the Prodigy to whatever. If it’s good, I’ll like it, if it’s not good then I won’t. [laughs]
Nick: The Venn diagram of goth has to be among the most complex intersections of genres, and it’s not just style of course but also it can be a question of perception, like Sisters of Mercy saying “we’re not goth” and the fans going “yeah you are”. So where do you place yourselves on the goth scale?
Lee: We’re not what you’d expect a band like us to to be live. There’s a lot more interaction and banter and humour during our gigs than you would expect a goth band to have – however you perceive a goth band to be, of course. It is slightly different with us, we have much more interaction with the audience, it’s much more lighthearted. Whether that’s intentional, I have no idea. It could be just be stage nerves. But that’s what you get when you get the Glass House Museum live. What you get on the records, I’m not sure. I don’t know where we sit in goth exactly – possibly that position somewhere between Siouxsie and the Banshees and New Order without actually sounding like either.
Jon: I always think it’s down to the listener to make the choice of what they perceive your music to be and what it sounds like or where it’s come from and whether it actually is part of whatever genre they they are following at that time. In the gothic scene, if you ask somebody, say, 25-30 plus, their answer is going to be very different then asking somebody who is 16 or 17. In some respects that changes from country to country as well because the influences are different, where the godfathers and godmothers of the genre are different.
Here in the UK at least, the people who made it a formula and formed a movement had a massive influence then and still have that influence now in 2022. It’s amazing really, but still there’s only certain bands out there that have that power in the sense of like the Sisters, the Mission, the Cure, Siouxsie. In some respects, all of these bands have allowed their listeners to make up their own opinions, let them make the choice of whether they thought they were punk or goth or whatever, and I think that’s the same for today’s bands.
We don’t write music for people to think “oh that sounds really gothy” or “that sounds ungothy”. We don’t get together in the studio to write a song or perform live on stage to think “oh we need to change this because for this audience it might not quite work”. We’re quite quite stubborn in that sense – and maybe a little selfish in the fact that we know what we want to play and we just get on and play it. What we write is the sum total of our musical influences and that’s genuinely all it is. Regardless of whether it is goth or it’s not goth, it’s what we’ve all brought to the table because it is also very much an ‘everybody contributes’ thing.
Nick: That was going to be my next question – how does the Glass House songwriting process work? Are you a fairly democratic unit or are there squabbles?
Joe: Fairly… I mean, we might have a bit of a crisis mode between us. [laughs and looks at Jon]
Jon: Me? No, not all… [laughs]
Joe: But it’s normally over in five minutes and then we go to the pub. [laughs] But yeah, we all write together. Perhaps someone will come up with a riff or a drum pattern or whatever and then we work on it together from there. Sometimes I’ve got lyrics if something’s influenced me or there’s something I’ve seen on the telly or I’ve read. I jot down random lyrics and I think, oh that’ll work with that tune we were doing the other day or so. [to Jon] How how do you write yours?
Jon: Something like that, but mainly I spend a lot of time driving so I get little snippets of things that come into my head whether it be listening to the radio or the news at certain points and you react to that. So there’s a sort of system that we put ourselves into but we don’t force anything. Sometimes it can be a quick process to write a track and other times it can be drawn out and we’ll probably bin various different things after weeks of rehearsing it if it don’t work. We have no problem binning work. It’s like: no that’s not it so we move on.
Nick: Talk to us about the interplay between recording albums/EPs/singles and doing live gigs. Do bands need to do albums anymore? Or does the audience turn up with album playlists in their heads and say I’d love you to play track 7? Is there much of a connection in your experience?
Joe: When we play gigs, someone who’s not seen us before might come up afterwards and say what was that third song you did? We’ll say it’s the one on this CD and so people will buy them for that. I think there’s still a place for albums.
Lee: And CDs are there for merch purposes, which help us fund putting on our own gigs or going to play other people’s gigs.
Joe: And it’s good to have our recorded music available across all formats in any case. We’ve used Bandcamp and we’ve put stuff out where people can download it for free.
Lee: You mentioned formats like albums and EPs and I know I’m personally of the opinion that the 10 track/12 track album is dead because that’s not the audience anymore. People do listen to music differently now. It used to be that you picked up an album and it’s got the tracks you like but you’ve probably also got like five to seven tracks of filler on there. But… you paid the money for it already.
I personally prefer EPs, especially for goth, you can get the right songs on it and it suits the attention span of the generations right now. We even released a six-track mini album Artifacts  just as Lockdown kicked in. We were going to tour that solid, we had gigs planned and everything else. We released the album, ready to promote it and then fell into Lockdown and that album has now just fallen down a hole. That’s six tracks gone, you know? I still feel a bit bitter about that because we’ve never been able to tour it.
Joe: Not as an album – but the songs that are on it we play live anyway. So it’s not like they’re never heard by the audience. It was just a shame.
Jon: We weren’t obviously on our own in Lockdown, there were many bands which were at the point where things were happening for them, getting in their cars and vans and going on the road and then ka-boom there it goes again.
I agree with what Lee was saying in relation to the album side of things, but it’s also a never-say-never situation. If the audience changes or we are hinted towards “well I prefer to buy something where there’s ten tracks on it, a full album like it used to be”, then we are not averse to changing the way that we do things. But most certainly, to back up what Lee was saying there, what we wouldn’t do is compromise. We wouldn’t do six great tracks or what we thought were great tracks – and then chuck an extra four on just for the sake of it. It’s got to feel right, it’s got to be bang on.
We try to keep things as raw and as close in our recordings to the live sound as possible but sometimes you can’t do that with certain tracks so you’ve got to be able to play around with it. I don’t believe there’s a lot of bands which can do it in that order. It boils down to the fact that we rehearse religiously every single week whether we’ve got gigs coming up or not, so we put the time in for when we play live. Things will always go wrong live every now and again of course!
Joe: If people are spending the money to come and see you, I think that they should know what to expect really. So that’s why when we do recordings and stuff we don’t overproduce them and there’s no 40-track choirs in the background.
Jon: Not yet…
Joe: [laughs] God help us.
Nick: Lyrically is there an overriding arc to your body of work or is every song as you take it?
Joe: A lot of the time it’s just as and when, what the mood is. For example ’Jericho’ was written about the migrants that were kept in the Calais holding centres. It came from watching the news and seeing these people being treated like animals – if something like that irks me then I might write a song about it. When we play ‘Jericho’ it goes down well, I think a lot of people get the message behind it.
But some of the songs are lighter. Jon and me have been coming to this studio for over 25 years and a few times there’s been strange things that have happened. One night, things were flying off the amps that we didn’t even know were there, so we wrote a bit of a funky song called ‘The Presence’ as a reaction to that.
Lee: To be honest, when we practised over there on the stage over there, we all felt like there was something behind us. There’s nothing but the wall but we finished that rehearsal down early. And then a couple of weeks later ‘The Presence’ was written.
Joe: I’m not one for writing about ‘heart hate’ or ‘my wife’s just left me’ or whatever. [laughs]
Nick: Where does the band name come from?
Joe: It was a bit of mixture. There’s no given time where it was all put together.
Jon: Myself and Joe, we ran under a different name to start off with before we became the Glass House Museum. Because we’d come out of a band previously, we were a little bit unsettled about what direction we were going to go in and what the music was going to be like and I’d love to say there was this great big conversation about “let’s be tactical” and that we put our heads together on the name of a band for marketing purposes and brandng.
But it really wasn’t like that. It was a case of we came with various different ideas and then I got this vision of ‘transparency’ and that’s that was how we saw our music was going when we first started off. Having that sort of transparency formulated the words “The Glass House Museum”. The Museum came in because it was just me and Joe at the beginning and we thought of the possibility of us having guest musicians come in over a period of time.
Joe: I’ve also always been interested in the Great British Exhibition in the 19th century, like the Crystal Palace so I came up with Glass House at first, and then I was like we can’t use that, it’s a Christian Death song, it’d be sacrilege. So we amalgamated everything and adding the Museum was, like Jon says, about wanting to have different people coming and going, so it would be like everyone on show.
Jon: But it was mainly transparency in terms of the music and ourselves, and again that folds back to the very first question that you asked us about how we got together, in the sense that transparency is what we have on stage. We are who we are and we just get on with it. The three of us get on very, very well – it’s a shame you’re not witnessing a rehearsal right now because it’s like a four-hour comedy session sometimes. So yeah, I think the name links it all together in that sense. We don’t spend weeks and months thinking about any of this by the way, it is just that we’re quite open people and that transparency reflects onto the music as well.
Lee: There’s no on stage persona, it’s literally just us. You get my bad jokes whether you like ’em or not. That’s why it’s these two that get the microphones not me.
Jon: That was one of the stipulations for Lee joining the band: you’re a DJ and that’s fine, you can play bass.
Lee: I started out as a fan, then I was invited to play when [former bassist] Harry Dagger and his wife went over to live in France.
Joe: Lee made the mistake of coming to see us at a gig and Harry had hurt his back or something so he couldn’t play. Jon and myself did a duo set and Lee said “oh you should have something, I could always fill in for Harry.” It was stored up there for another 12 months.
Lee: It was big talk at the time for somebody who hadn’t picked up his bass for 17 years.
Nick: You’re based in Stone, Staffordshire, do you have any thoughts for us from your perspective on the weird situation that live music finds itself in at the moment? Well, thoughts a least that are printable?
Joe: What I find very hard is people’s apathy. You’ll read online, “oh, never anything on” or “that was cancelled” or “this was cancelled” – and yes things are out of people’s hands at the end of the day, especially with Covid and stuff. But I just think, “well get off your sofa and go and see one of your local bands”. I don’t mean necessarily goth bands but just go and see a band. We have a bit of a struggle with this especially around our area at the moment, which seems to be inundated with cover and tribute bands.
Jon: The gap between the big bands with big gigs put on by big promoters for the record labels and your regular indie band is wider than ever. You could say it mirrors the rich–poor gap that we have in society now. Particularly, in the Midlands, it’s an absolute trap for tribute and covers bands – we get why they need to exist, however even before Lockdown they were blocking access to original songwriting bands from ever getting exposure. Even the rock pub down near me – god bless it, it’s shut now obviously – even that was just putting on Motörhead and AC/DC tribute bands. The few spatterings of original bands in the area never got a look in because they wouldn’t draw in the crowd. But how would the venues know? The audiences are there, it’s about how do you hoik them out of their armchairs or—
Joe: —tear them away from Netflix—
Jon: —or from a tribute all-dayer to get them through the front door to see something which is moving forward in terms of the music. Everyone wants to use Lockdown as an excuse, but long before Covid, when it comes to their social time, people were already wanting to play it safe. That’s all right, but the problem is that the covers/tribute bands circuit is taking up the venue space. Promoters need to say, “look we’re going to stick with original bands because we need to create scenes”. If they do that and if we stick by them, then those scenes are going to get bigger and bigger. There’s definitely audiences out there and there’s definitely venues out there, there’s definitely promoters who are doing their best to try and continue with that. But they’ve got to keep the venues open as businesses, so it’s a fine line isn’t it? It’s that fine line between creating the right nights at the right times and possibly not stepping on other people’s toes and things like that. It’s just having a little bit of forethought sometimes to create the right night and the right exposure, whether that’s a live band night, a DJ night or whatever.
Joe: Some of the venues also need to pull their finger out and do a bit of graft. You can put a gig on where just a handful of people turn up on because there’s no promotion from the venue. Yet the next week they’ll have a club night or a band that’s well known and it will be mentioned everywhere, every time you put your phone on there’ll be something coming up. If the person in charge isn’t keen on your kind of music then you’re not going to get pushed. So in addition to our own publicity, we have to do their work as well.
Jon: The people seen as top artists at the moment are effectively getting all the young kids to their concerts and they’re happy to to charge 80 quid a ticket. Most of them have only been around for five minutes but they’re very, very successful because society has moved towards this celebrity thing. So when we talk about exposure in terms of being an artist or being a musician, those people have that space taken up. Because your local radio stations and your local press are not really that bothered about you. It’s a difficult situation because as musicians we’re almost having to work against society because that’s what they’ve been fed.
That’s why we’ll always speak to people at our gigs, we’ll always have a beer with them at the bar and have a chat. We’ll answer any questions in relation to the music or tracks. Even when we go into the studio we’re not on our own, we take the audience with us in spirit.
Lee: We’re all in the same boat. We’re all doing it for the love of it. We’re out there playing and we definitely appreciate you putting your coats on and coming out to see us.
Nick: In terms of exposure, networking, audience building, are festivals useful or can you live without them?
Jon: They’re absolutely useful! The really good thing about the festivals is that, whatever size they are, there is the amazing exposure. At the ones that we’ve already played this year, there were people from Europe. They didn’t come necessarily to see us, it’s a festival and they’re there to see as much music as possible. So yes we would like to see more of them. More people, more exposure, more opportunity to share the music. It’s as simple as that.
Lee: And more beer tents, if that’s all right.
Nick: And also more bringing together people from all over the country in one place.
Joe: We did the All That Is Divine festival  and that was the first time we played down in London. It was nice because we were playing to people who live in that area who probably wouldn’t travel to the Midlands to see us or go to Leeds or wherever else we’d be playing. So we got new people in our audience down there. It’s the same as when we’ve played at Scarborough and we’ve come across so many new people in the audience.
Lee: The Tomorrow’s Ghosts festival [in Whitby] was extremely important to us, and opening that festival [in 2021] was a major step for us.
Jon: Also not only are we band members but we love music. So we are experiencing the same as our audience – it’s about community. We see other bands as well and they’ve seen us. So it’s having that little community, that little network, where we are all standing next to each other shoulder to shoulder – and we’ve made great friends through it.
Nick: It’s been a while since Lockdown ended but everything’s still very much up in the air as audiences make up their minds and venues struggle to respond. Where do you see the best concentration of your efforts should be: playing live or recording in the studio?
Joe: A bit of both really. We’re writing new songs at the moment and I do want to get some new tunes out there because you can get a bit tired of playing the same songs. But we have a big back catalogue so we try and mix it up for each gig. So definitely that. I’d like us to play bigger venues, if it’s another festival like Bats in the Attic or whatever that’d be.
Jon: We supported Gene Loves Jezebel this year, and it was nice because another local band Lesbian Bed Death were playing as well and we’re sort of mates with them. So it was definitely a good night.
Joe: So we tend to go with the flow, don’t we?
Lee: We do. We are not like a band on a mission or anything like that. We’re doing what we do because we like doing it. We’re writing songs at the moment because we’re in the mood to write songs. And if we go out there and play, we’ll play our hearts out because that’s what we do too.
— Bats in the Attic 2022 tickets: morecambe/the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
— McGothicfox Promotions Facebook: @McGothicfox
— Corrosion Facebook: @morecambegoths