Pete Kember (aka Sonic Boom) on the making of Sonic Souvenirs

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anywhichway but true ...........................................

1989 , I think it was. Spacemen 3 . The Subterania . London , UK . I don't remember the month - the sweat oozed from the venue walls as it did all year-round with a half-decent house inside .
I'm pretty sure we had just done an encore. Not the norm by any means - and as I stepped from my stool , still gripping the final sustained chord , ready to flee the hurtful lights of the stage & cameras- a vaguely familiar figure jumped up in front of me and said " HI - Great Gig Man " , in a wave of Deja Vu one gets when you meet someone 'you feel you know' from the media .
Normally , such forward an introduction would be met by a 'gaggle' of 'Bouncers' from every side , but something about the vaguely assured & honest look in his piercing eyes made him invisible to the usual rebuke.
As I unplugged my guitar he slipped into the dressing room to say Hi to everyone present - including for some reason Gibby + assorted ButtHoles..............I was kinda stunned . This sorta thing didn't happen .
Somewhere in the haze of Paul Leary's hash pipe he slipped away , and as it turned out - so did Spacemen 3.................................

15 years go by + sure we keep in contact + cross paths + you know how that goes , but then , very generously in '03 Dean gave me the shot to open a few shows for Luna , and I get a chance to catch up with what's really happening with Him + Luna.
This was the first time I met the equally imposing Britta Phillips , who I could see was a solid part of the rhythm section - with a nice pocketed melodic touch - just what you need in a class bass player.

Now - memory is a funny thing , 'cos while I can remember when I first heard Galaxie , and when I first met Dean (and even subsequent shows..the Velvets supports , the shows in venues with names like Underground & Subterania - yes all with sweating walls......) - but I'll be fucked if I can remember when I first heard L'Avventura .

I guess Dean just sent me a copy .....

I know one night , after an amusing + slightly inebriate soiree at the writer Victor Bockris' house , Dean invited me to swing by + see them recording at Tony Visconti's swish Manhattan studio the next day . Sure enough , I was grateful of the invite , and duly trouped uptown to see them working on the bones of "Ginger Snaps".

I'll admit it wasn't immediate . Mainly cos of the style of the track + it's skeletal form - pre-mix............ But , a few weeks later a gloriously pink plastic cd case popped out of an envelope bearing the full lp in all its glory .
I'm struggling for words to describe my feelings on hearing it - somewhere twixt love + jealousy .
Between awe + wonder .
Heart Ache + Heart Break...............

How could it be . So many great tunes , and such intimacy & emotional parity .Bollocks , these guys weren't making my life as a songwriter/musician any easier !!

What ? And who wrote these songs ? I knew and expected Dean would come up with good stuff , but I hadn't been prepared for Britta's skills to exceed her soulful bass playing into the realm of masterpiece songwriting .
Dean's songs seemed elevated too - freshly exuberant from his new found soulmates skills & understanding of him . Languid guitar here , taught emotion there - that midas touch - and then there's the covers.............well , Dean always had a good ear for a great song , but those versions more than ever way exceeded the originals ...................
Jesus . This was some record .
So -I like to do remixes of good work - but I was desperate to do this .
I could hear something different to what Tony Visconti had done , but I just had to persuade Dean + Britta they needed a bunch of remixes they had no plans for , and no real end use for either........

Well I had a feeling I knew what to do , and , with a few phone calls to old friends I managed to pull together a studio - along with the generous talents + advice of Nick Kramer readily at hand as engineer .
The cost of a transatlantic flight , a fun week in the charmed company of Nick , Britta + Dean in NYC and the remixes were done .

Going through the tapes was great . I knew what I thought I could add , and I knew what I wanted to subtract or highlight , but it was a joy to find those unused guitar takes like the taught Stacey Sutherland-esque guitar conversation on Knives From Bavaria .
Likewise , I dunno if it was raining -it was April , so there's a high chance.
I love the sound of rain on myriad surfaces , and the melancholy phasing of cars whooshing thru the water , phasing in and out of distance .
I dunno if it was walking home that night with Nick , with 'Your Baby' rattling round , warming our souls or if it just came in one of those Eureka moments , but it was evident the flow and vibe of the song -while working like a dream with the drone I laid down - had an ebb that was totally analogous to the random rushes of the storms that sweep in to New York .
Imagine our glee when the 50's sound fx disc we found fell into place like the song was written to it. maybe it was ............................Britta's not telling......yet.

I don't remember last hearing a song so evocative -and all you're hearing is Dean's caress of his guitar , Britta's Bass + voice , vibraphones , my drone...............and oh , and those raindrops and thunder-crashes.........................
I think it was 4 days and nights we worked - I say worked - I sat in an apartment on Houston , high , and blissed out by the tunes , eating pizza + Subways - and Nick came in every night and some days to engineer me round his studio and offer his advice and skills.
It says something of his feelings for it too that he took time off work - and then did double shifts working with me to make it all happen . Double commitment & triple respect for that . He was as thrilled as I was to be involved . We both were taken back at the quality of what we were hearing - to me it's what I would point any new band at as something to strive for - Art made to look easy .

All I could hope was that they would like them, or better want to use them.

When Dean , Britta + the folks at Jetset heard them , they decided they wanted to release it .
I was overjoyed .
I got to pick my favourite tracks , remix them AND get them released .
They would even let me do the cover !

The cover was another story . I wont bore you with the intricacies of pixel distortion and format translation , but if you look out - you'll see there's actually 2 versions of the sleeve -the 2nd is lighter + has a slightly larger Britta + Dean logotype .
Jetset struggled to get it right so you folks get the real deal ,

so - that's the way it all happened . It's one of my favourite records ever and one of the proudest I am to have had a shot at checking thru the looking glass..................
and I guess that's the story I'd tell my grandkiddies - should I ever have any - of the time Me , Nick , Dean & Britta had a notion to make a disc called "Sonic Souvenirs" -

...................sometimes its the Dark Horses that run with most spirit...........

Pete Kember


A collection of AHFoW related releases on Bandcamp

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On Fire | 30

A 30th anniversary celebration of Galaxie 500's masterpiece

On Fire 30 CD sleeve (design: John Conley)
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