You start out thinking Hendrix or White Stripes. But a few tracks into ‘Chasing Lights’ you wind up thinking nothing but Ida Mae. The double-whammy voices interlock as tight as Lego, with nuclear-grade high-end dazzle.
The album has that raw edge of first-take performance. ‘Live, and straight-to-tape’ Christopher Turpin agrees, speaking during a stop-over at Soundclash Records in hometown Norwich. ‘That’s the way (producer) Ethan Johns likes to work. The energy and naïve discovery of a first take. It’s how great records have been made. With take after take a lot of delicacies are missed. As evidenced by the resurgence of vinyl.’ In an era of Spotify and digital smoothness, yes ‘it democratises the recording process. But from their point of view it’s cheaper to have one guy with a laptop than work with a full Rock group. It’s a very different work.’
Referencing the lyric of pounding spin-off single “Reaching”, was there really Bukka White ‘heard on a white cassette’? He laughs easily. ‘There was a compilation-tape. A great diversity on the one album. It is in our blood.’ The duo look good on video, black Spanish hat on long blonde hair, fringed Gram Parsons-style Nudie jacket, thumb-tripping on the roadside beside the hood-up wreck of their cherry-red auto.
Their first band – the Bath-based four-piece Kill It Kid, lauded by ‘NME’ as well as ‘R2’, took its name from a Blind Willie McTell song. Now slimmed down to the married Christopher and Stephanie Jean Turpin (aka Ward), Ida Mae borrows its name from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Their double-shot vocals form ‘the two sides of the same coin.’ So there are continuities and evolutions. ‘Absolutely, I guess, its intensity in terms of the heavier songs, yes. With Kill It Kid we were being pushed by the record company (One Little Indian) towards doing heavier songs. It was a direction we weren’t comfortable with.’ Now ‘Chasing Lights’ (Thirty Tigers label) – on vinyl album as well as CD, is sharper, meaner on the heavy-to-lightness ratio. I’ve reviewed a lot of dull formulaic post-Rock albums recently. This is not one of them. Both a sequel and a remake of the Blues, but working from the same spell-book. Elsewhere, Christopher picks out ‘God Save The Queen’ – with slide, on a beautiful shining 1930s National Resonator guitar, ‘a dream guitar of mine, a very unique sound. This is the steel guitar sound,’ yet he manipulates it through pedals. They blow the dust off, and let rip. From mumble-core submerged lyrics to jukebox love songs. ‘We wanted to make this record our way, no compromises.’
‘Please Pause For A Musical Interlude’
They now live in Nashville and tour extensively in the US, what Chris calls ‘a Bonnie & Clyde aesthetic on the songs. Us against the world,’ driving their landlady’s red Buick with its tape-deck stocked with Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’, Bruce Springsteen, Crosby Stills & Nash. ‘Classic records that I love.’ I don’t hear the CS&N influence? ‘Even our acoustic songs get very heavy very fast.’ So where does the reference to the ‘Easy Rider’ VHS fit in? ‘Again, that was a big influence, dreaming of the great American road trip. The Jack Kerouac, Woody Guthrie trip. And we have really lived that story, driving thousands of miles. It’s an incredible way to live.’ The road trip took in the Home of the Delta Blues, the land of Mississippi Fred McDowell, the ‘fantastic and wonderful people, those guys who became my heroes.’
“Feel Them Getting Closer” runs paranoid vocals ‘feeling like a death threat’ over hard cutting guitar lines, powerful planet-size energy-levels strafing in zero-tolerance splinters ‘lighting up the city like the National Grid’ over sampled background voices. ‘Those are some weird sounds we collected in Mississippi and Louisiana. We recorded bursts from radio stations, one of the Preacher stations, and ended up taking samples in a dive bar in New Orleans.’ And then there’s “Rightfully, Honestly” – disarmingly like a love song to each other, to ‘your hot-blooded hard-headed liar’, with soul organ and ambient birdsong. ‘That was recorded at Robert Johnson’s grave on our first deep-South trip, getting the energy and atmosphere of the place.’ A reference to Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway” which runs ‘I have a bird to whistle, and I have a bird to sing’?
Dweezil Zappa also contributes. He’s not a sample? ‘HaHa, no he’s not. He contacted us on Instagram. At first I thought ‘I’m being spammed by someone online’. But no, he called up, and invited us to play on “Cosmic Debris” at his Royal Festival Hall concert (October 2017). We went along. Steph sang harmonies.’ By way of reciprocation, Dweezil plays guest guitar on “Boom Boom Boom” which borrows soft-loud from John Lee Hooker, fast boogying with Led Zep bursts of power-chords. ‘He did it from LA. We passed the tapes, we did it from Somerset.’
Finally, the album sleeve-art has that Abba full-face side-face thing. He laughs. ‘We thought we should put a photo of us on the record, but actually we were trying for that monochrome Jane Birkin-Serge Gainsbourg thing…!’
‘CHASING LIGHTS’ by IDA MAE (Thirty Tigers Records)
13 songs. 48-minutes:
‘Boom Boom Boom’
‘My Girl Is A Heartbreak’ – Hendrix chops, midnight creeping. Lennon’s ‘Come Together’, Beat-inspired ‘my girl is broken glass crying in the rain’
‘Chasing Lights’ – ‘let your dreams roll like thunder’, moves as slow and stately as a UFO through strange constellations, ‘crashing cars and kissing lightning’, almost a lost ‘Raising Sand’ outtake
‘Higher Than The Light’ – zipping slide, accumulating energy interplay
‘Easily In Love’ – ‘heartache and heavy rain’, a love song to each other
‘Love Is Still A Long Road’ – mandolin Americana
‘Reaching’ – issued as single, effortlessly bluesy, showcasing the duo in a more vibrant light
‘Sweet Abandon’ – Stephanie’s voice, his steel guitar, sparse, with clarity
‘Sick In Love’ – rough Blues, love as a cellular addiction, restless blood
‘Feel Them Getting Closer’
‘If You Don’t Love Me’ – Stax soul organ, ‘when you feel you’re falling, I will meet you in the air’
‘Baby Be Mine’ – Stephanie sings, acoustic, ‘burning bridges just to light the way,’ champagne and novacaine
A much-extended version of an interview originally published in ‘R’N’R’ magazine