Jack Rabbit Slim come out fighting with album number six ‘Won’t Stay Down’
The extension line from Oslo to Cambridgeshire is clear as Famous Last Words (FLW) catches up with one of the UK’s leading exponents of wild and savage rock ‘n’ roll, Jack Rabbit Slim. To be more precise, lead vocalist Bob Butfoy has opted to speak on the band’s behalf because, after all, he is the sole survivor of the original line up. That is not to suggest that Jack Rabbit Slim is governed by one perspective, quite the opposite in fact, as the new look Jack Rabbit Slim, comprising of Paul Scoulding (guitar), Darren Richards (bass) and Tony Hillebrandt (drums), is about full collaboration when it comes to its creative output.
The resulting transformation of this new line-up has brought fresh vigour to not only lead figure Bob Butfoy, but also Jack Rabbit Slim’s brand new effort ‘Won’t Stay Down’ which, in our humble opinion, is quite simply their greatest hour. Such high praise is merited because the album is more cohesive as a whole as the different variations in styles and song ideas remain, but are reined in much tighter to the point that ‘Won’t Stay Down’ sounds like a modern rock ‘n’ roll record whereby Bob’s penchant for The Smiths and Morrissey is a welcome addition this time rather than a distraction, simply because the ‘indie’ influence gels and sounds comfortable with its fellow roommates.
‘Won’t Stay Down’ is definitely a record that has undergone a considerable amount of planning and research in order to meet the high expectations of all four band members before entering the recording studio. Such painstaking attention to detail also extended to the album’s artwork as Jack Rabbit Slim relegated themselves to the back cover and left (possible) glory to the unidentified pugilist gracing the front exterior.
If ever there was suggestion of a major comeback on the cards, then Jack Rabbit Slim is on course to meet such a lofty objective having delivered phase one with ‘Won’t Stay Down’. Whether frontman Bob Butfoy of Jack Rabbit Slim is in agreement is a different matter altogether as Famous Last Words (FLW) is about to find out.
“I think to be quite honest because it’s a new line up of the band, we wanted to reiterate that we hadn’t really gone away and that we hadn’t split-up,” comments Bob Butfoy. “A lot of people thought that when Darren [Lince] and Landon [Filer] left a while back that we had split-up. So the new album and title in particular, is really a statement suggesting that we’re not going to stay down rather than announcing that we’re back. We wanted the album to sit next to a mainstream album and not look out of place. So many bands these days don’t have their picture on the cover and I just wanted it to sit next to an Artic Monkeys album or something similar as I didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. For example, it’s easy to have a picture of a hot rod or a diner but that’s not really our style, and we didn’t want to give too much away with the cover.”
Latest album ‘Won’t Stay Down’ is an album bereft of rockabilly in its purest sense as Jack Rabbit Slim set their sights on fresh challenges, which the new formation has managed to bring to the creative table.
“Firstly, all of the guys in the band are great players and some of them I have performed with before, and some I haven’t, but I have always admired them,” explains Bob. “On the whole, they’re a great bunch of guys and we get on so well. Everyone is really keen and enthusiastic about the band, which has given me fresh impetus. When Darren and Landon left, we picked up the pieces and it’s been pretty much the same two guys on guitar and bass – Paul Scoulding and Darren Richards – they were the first two guys who took up the reins. Darren had a few other projects with the Space Cadets that he had to finish up, so we had a few other bass players come in on a few gigs. Paul has always been there since the others left, and Paul Saunders, the original drummer, just decided that he wanted a break. So we got Tony Hillebrandt on drums and I’ve known him for years and he’s a great drummer. Until things started picking up, I kinda felt that we were just going through the motions, but now it’s given us real fire as the album has started well for us.”
Do you feel that the new album ‘Won’t Stay Down’ differs in any way to previous Jack Rabbit Slim long players?
“I think that there is always a mixture of different styles on our albums and we do that on purpose,” explains Bob. “I wouldn’t want an album that you put on, and twelve tracks later it sounds like the same song! So we’ve tried to mix it up [this time] and probably in the mix there are a few more different songs that we haven’t done in the past. For example, songs that sound a bit more indie or the guitar sound being a lot rockier and there is a lot more bass guitar compared to what we’ve used in the past. As I said before, we have collaborated together more and rehearsed a lot leading up to the recording, so I think that it’s [‘Won’t Stay Down’] a format of a Jack Rabbit Slim album in the fact that it’s all different styles, but some of the styles you come across are much different to some of the ones you would’ve heard on any of the other albums.”
The difference in styles when it comes to a few of the songs on ‘Won’t Stay Down’ is noticeable, as Bob Butfoy explained, so much so that a cover to make Morrissey proud with their version of ‘The Loop’ sits snugly with the rest of the components of the album. The reason why such differences work is down to the new line up and their openness to fresh ideas such as the wah-wah pedal during ‘The Devil’s Bone’ or drumming up intriguing song titles with ‘Revenge Of The Puppets’ and ’10Ib Of Sad (In A 5Ib Bag)’; the latter of which dispossess of Jack Rabbit Slim’s more frivolous side and, in the process, allows for some introspection.
With such transformations in the Jack Rabbit Slim camp, the word rockabilly is fast becoming a distant memory as the band look to continue their fresh assault on the nation’s senses. However, is Bob Butfoy slightly concerned that the band could risk alienating elements of their large fan base considering the years spent previously gigging the rockabilly circuit?
“On the whole, since the album has come out, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” explains Bob. “Yeah, there has been a few ‘rockabilly police’ who have criticised the lack of rockabilly, but it really isn’t billed as a rockabilly album. I think it’s what people expect, but if you always do what people expect, it becomes pretty boring in the end.”
Is the album title partly a response, therefore, to the ‘rockabilly police’ as you referred to them?
“I have to say that there might be a little bit of an edge about it, as if to say that despite whatever you say, we’re not going to stay down,” considers Bob. “I think it’s an unspoken statement for want of a better word. We have always done that in terms of what we’ve wanted to do, and we’ve never played to audiences’ [expectations] because we believe that if you like Jack Rabbit Slim, you expect us to do something different and something out of the ordinary and not the same as any other rock ‘n’ roll band. Since the new line up, things have got better and better and we’ve had a really good response wherever we’ve been. Thankfully, we’ve had a real broad choice of gigs, as we haven’t just been playing to rockabilly crowds.”
Considering the different approaches prior to recording and during the album’s working progress, did the new album ‘Won’t Stay Down’ take a while to complete?
“The album took a week to record and Alan [Wilson] mixed it over three days after that. We did rehearse quite a lot beforehand and we kind of layered it a bit, but we wanted to get it done and get it out there.”
That is rather impressive to record a full album in the space of one week, considering the attention to detail regarding ‘Won’t Stay Down’?
“I think if you look at more mainstream bands now, they’re not taking six months to write and record albums these days because the money is often in the live performances,” comments Bob. “Such a process is not the same for us, but even a mainstream artist, when putting an album out, is unlikely to make all their money back unless they’re going to tour. So, I think the days of spending forever when recording an album has gone.”
What was the reason to release ‘Won’t Stay Down’ just before Christmas last year, as new album releases are generally not the norm before this seasonal period?
“We wanted to aim for the Christmas market and this was completely our idea,” replies Bob. “It can be hit or miss as the music industry is flooded with all the Christmas stuff and the Greatest Hits of Boyzone and all that sort of thing. So it was a bit of a gamble but we wanted to release it just before Christmas because I wanted the album out there so that the new line up was out there and everyone could see what it was all about. The other reason for this decision is because you have to think ahead in terms of gigs because festivals are always booked months in advance, so we figured that if we could get the album out before Christmas, then we have chance of picking up more gigs in the second half of this year. Also, it gives us the whole of this year to really promote the album, and that’s what we intend to do.”
As mentioned at the beginning of this interview, ‘Won’t Stay Down’ is Jack Rabbit Slim’s finest moment to date, but it remains to be seen whether Bob Butfoy is of the same opinion now the dust has had time to settle.
“There are always things you think you could have done differently,” replies Bob in relation to the band’s new album, “but the more you play the songs live, they kind of evolve more as well. So maybe more time would have been better for us, but on the whole we’re really pleased with it. Alan Wilson at Western Star [Records] has done another great job with production duties and, from my point of view, there has been a lot more input from the rest of the band whereas in the past a lot was left to me. Previously, people assumed it [the band] was like my baby [and] that I didn’t want anyone to touch it. Well, it isn’t like that, as I’m always looking for people to throw their ten pence worth in. I love collaborating with other people, but have never had much chance in the past to do that because nobody in the band really wanted to sit down for long enough and really thrash out a song. So it has been good to do that with a couple of the [new] guys and I think, in the future, there will be more group collaborations on songs.”
The future certainly looks bright for the new look Jack Rabbit Slim as a plethora of gigs has already been confirmed in the tour diary that will see the band perform at one of California’s premier festivals later this year, but also a former residency at London’s The Blues Kitchen has been resumed after a considerable absence. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Jack Rabbit Slim has every reason to remain defiant in their quest to grow creatively as a unit when interest in their brand of rock ‘n’ roll remains equally fervent and rightly so.
(Photos courtesy of Tony Bruce)
So many bands these days don't have their picture on the cover and I just wanted it to sit next to an Artic Monkeys album or something similar as I didn't want to pigeonhole ourselves."
Bob Butfoy, Jack Rabbit Slim
FLW - From the Tapes
Bob Butfoy of Jack Rabbit Slim explains the reason for the band’s choice of album cover for ‘Won’t Stay Down’.
“It’s an old photo that we found and we really loved it straight away purely because of the guy being on the deck! I like the expression on his face with the idea of him thinking, ‘I’ve got to get up!’ but also all the different faces in the crowd. In addition, it’s also a little nod towards Morrissey and The Smiths in the way they never really appeared on album covers and stuff like that. You can take it whichever way you want, but we didn’t want to force it on people regarding the new line up because we could’ve had a picture of all of us smiling on the front with all the new faces. So we thought that we’ll be very subtle about that and include us on the back [cover] and go with this indie looking cover with the boxer.”
We had to ask…’Revenge Of The Puppets’?
“The song, lyrically, is kind of my version of Pulp’s ‘Mis-shapes’ where for years, growing up, I have always liked Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll and nobody else did. So I always stuck out like a sore thumb and a target for all sorts of people to pick on because of my hair or for what I liked [musically]. I have always stood by what I like and it’s [‘Revenge Of The Puppets’] for all those kind of people who have done that for themselves and not necessarily in the rockabilly world, but people who’ve just stood up for what they like and who they are and any kind of mis-shapes and any mistakes that are out there, this song is for them.”