Issue # 149 “Retro” INTERVIEW with Maria Daines & Paul Killington
Zzaj: As many who’ve been with me all these years know, the INTERVIEWS in this ‘zine are often conducted with “new” folks (who many others don’t know)… “truly” INDIE talent, & always with HEART for the music. I “discovered” Maria & her partner Paul at “MIXPOSURE” (or did they discover me – hard to sort that out at times)… at any rate, they play some WONDERFUL HIGH-energy music, so I wanted to ensure that we got to them before the “big” ‘zines did. They’re planning a tour (local? World? Uno’s?)… I’m sure they’ll be happy to furnish us with a schedule, & if they’re anywhere near where you are – GO SEE THEM! Yah, they’re THAT good! NOTE: This INTERVIEW was originally published in ISSUE # 73.
Zzaj: Before we get started with the musical questions, tell us a bit more about yourselves, please… where you grew up (or are you “grown up” yet?), when did you start playing music, how old are you… you know, some good “bio” stuff for our readers, please.
Maria – I’m 41 and I love being grown up! I didn’t make a very malleable child. I was prone to bouts of awkwardness and I was fiercely independent, preferring solitary pastimes such as writing & listening to music, more than playing with other children. Home life was a scramble of animals of all kinds. We even had a pony when I was around 12, the love of my life, he was a vicious brute named Luxalot that kicked & bit me and terrorized my poor parents who had never kept such a beast before. They rued the day they acquired the damn thing when they had to help me catch it, as it often escaped & always galloped towards the local town. We lived on a hill; seemingly unaware of civilization close by, this was something we all liked. I spent long days in the countryside roaming around on the wicked pony, with my dog following. I was a creature of nature, the great outdoors, mud and plenty of it & when I wasn’t mucking around with horses I was usually to be found hanging out of trees with my brothers. They are triplets, three years younger and we were thunderous opponents or best friends.
We used to joke that we were like the Waltons, though we made much more of a hullabaloo than the dear Waltons ever did. Our cousins lived next door, three boys also, & so the gang was just 6 boys and me! Later we were to lose one of our group in a road accident & the song ‘Where Are You?’ is dedicated to Stephen our cousin and his best friend who also died in the crash. Stephen was the middle son of my aunt & uncle’s lovely family.
We reveled in our close-knit anonymity. Like most families we had our ups and downs and we were never very well off but we did manage to make our own entertainment & it was far from conventional, which I guess gave me a sense of the ridiculous & I do make fun of life situations. I remember during one particularly bad winter we used our three pet dogs to haul back fallen logs & keep the home fires burning, those poor things, we made a hideous contraption and set them to pull it across fields! Another time my mother set the chimney on fire when she began burning our furniture to keep us warm! Mother is a native of the Shetland Isles and a great animal lover, she once raised a family of rats, thinking they were homeless corn mice! She also sketched, sculpted and slapped paint on anything that was static (and called these her ‘murals’) she wrote & sung homemade songs and I thought she breathed art, since she saw things differently and in a better light than most people and I’m proud to say she still does. My father was not a man to appreciate art or self expression in any form, so I experienced a theatre of opposites at close hand. Where he, would discourage any behaviour he considered self indulgent or flamboyant (showing off he called it) mother, instead, would support and encourage us to let it all out, much to my father’s disapproval. One thing we all enjoyed was music, more or less in any genre. A fascination for me was exposure to a community of strong accents. From broad Suffolk haymaking dialect to the unique Shetland tongue and extreme upper class old English, I heard many styles of speaking when I was young and it made an impression on me. I captured a sense of vaudeville from the colours in conversation, I absolutely love singing songs in character, and I can remember practicing these crazy voices as a child, for my own entertainment.
Looking back on some of my early writing, I see there were patterns emerging. Later I began composing melodies using my voice as a crude orchestra and transferring such ramblings to tape.
I was in the middle of a failing marriage, with three young children, when the need to create something artistically ‘real’ overwhelmed me. I turned up at a local jam session & the regulars hauled me in for a try out, asking me to come back the following week & to learn a song. I sung ‘Cocaine’ by JJ Cale in a crap key for the musicians & mangled the hell out of it. The great thing was I was getting into some kind of scene in which I felt at ease. I was still obsessed with the written word but in the years that followed, my life became one long gig. The jam session had spawned a band & hitched me as lead singer. We played mostly covers but now & then I would persuade our guitarist to put an arrangement to my latest song & we would slip an original in where we could. Nights became a round of babysitters & rehearsals with band members coming & going at all hours. Often the kids would wake on the weekends (much to their delight) to find a bunch of hairy musicians sleeping on the living room floor. Things would never be the same, thank God.
I see music as an all-consuming passion and my saving grace. I had been spiraling out of control, unable to live without anxiety. I was working as a nursing assistant & beginning to feel that I should be the patient. On the face of it I was coping, inside I was a mess and it was starting to show. I needed a huge dose of wild abandon and I found it with the boys in the band, spending my time screaming out rock & blues, full of brandy, loving this new world as front woman to a bunch of hell raisers, they dragged me around in a van & treated me as one of them. None of us cared as long as we played & got paid. It was a lifeline.
One night the band had a huge fight & we split up. Then I met Paul. I passed on as many dates as I could & one of the bands to take a gig off me was the one Paul was playing in. He affected me at first glance and his engaging dignity was hard to pass up. We became close friends. He made me laugh so much & then I took a wrong turn. I got married to someone else soon after meeting Paul. The irony, Paul was best man at my wedding. When he stood beside us for the photographs I could have cried for a month. I was making a huge mistake and what ensued I can only describe as the worst chapter of my life. I became terribly unhappy in a wholly unsuitable union. Life was a balancing act between the pleasure of the band that Paul and I had started and the rigors of divorce no 2. Paul saw me through the worst and he has been my rock from that day to this.
As for where I grew up, it was in Cambridgeshire, with a short spell in the Shetland Isles. The one thing I am ever grateful for is my first teacher at primary school, a strict old lady in grey who rapped the alphabet into us & forced the beauty of English down our throats, how wonderful.
Paul – Well, to answer your second question first, no, I’m not grown up yet, and hopefully I never will be. That’s probably why I started playing in bands – it’s an extended adolescence. Grown up people are boring, they think they know everything, I find these people very shallow and in the hippie days we called ‘em ‘straights’. When you’re not grown up you’re always learning.
My mum and dad came from London’s East End. My dad was a Fireman and my brother was born in the blitz with bombs dropping all around from Hitler’s’ Luftwaffe. I arrived in peacetime – 1950 – there, the age question answered. Yeah, 54 and I’m not grown up.
Many people moved away from bombed out London to the countryside and the counties; we moved to Essex, it was a nice new house with hot and cold water and a bathroom! To people like us at the time this was serious luxury! I was just a baby and grew up on this big housing development. My childhood was idyllic, with a traditional loving family and a stable home life, running free in the fields with the gangs of kids, then coming home to a mother full of kindness, a father who oozed decency and an older brother I looked up to.
There was one fly in the ointment. I hated school. Hated it with a vengeance. From when I started at 5 years old to the day I left at 16, I never understood why I had to be there. When I moved up to the ‘Big School’ at the age of 12, things took a turn for the worse, the beatings started. The teachers did things to you then that now they would be put away for. As someone who was always looking out of the window instead of paying attention, I was a prime target. This is where I began to find a life within a life and music found me.
My cousin had given me a guitar at the age of 8, and I hung onto it through thick and thin. Starting with Lonnie Donnegan & moving on to the rock n’ rollers, Carl Perkins and the guy in Gene Vincent’s band and then on to the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, etc., I took solace in it. I would shut myself in my bedroom and drift into another world, interrupted only when my dad wanted to know why I wasn’t doing my homework. But I didn’t care. If I learnt a George Harrison solo that night, I considered it well worth getting a beating for the next day at school.
At the age of 16 I heard Jimi Hendrix. I had never heard anything like it. He hit a note on ‘Redhouse’ that changed my life, can you believe that? That note got right through to my soul and made me think about the guitar in a totally different and radical way. Basically it made me what I am today.
Well after being let out of prison/school I was always in and out of jobs, then the hippie thing kicked in, yeah – peace, love, dove, Woodstock, the whole nine yards. I spent some time on the hippie trail – India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and then two years in Africa, ending my journey at the Cape of Good Dope.
Through all this, I hung on to my guitar; in fact, if it wasn’t for that old ‘Eko’ I might not be here now. Busking in Africa I played songs in return for food. I’m afraid that’s a book on its own.
On my return to the UK I swapped my acoustic for a Les Paul copy and an amp (Selmer) and playing became my life and always will be. A marriage, kids, many guitars, many amps, many gigs later here I am, still obsessed with music more than I have ever been perhaps. As I got older I just soaked up music like a sponge, the way songs were put together, the arrangements, the feeling people put into things, the way instruments are used, I don’t think I have ever heard a song without learning something.
My life seemed to be on an even keel, did I think something was missing? I don’t know…. then I ran into Maria. All of the above, the absorbing process of songwriting & sound in all its forms then came to solid fruition in my collaboration with this woman.
Zzaj: You’ve got a HEAVY blues influence; where did that come from? I mean, was it from listening to albums, watching shows, or what?
Maria – Well I remember hearing my mother playing ragtime bluesy stuff on a battered old piano way before I was school age. My grandmothers’ sister was a blues singer who toured local pubs & accompanied herself on piano (I was there once or twice as a small girl), she was a bold character with a hot temper & she loved writing & drinking. Then there was the music on the radio & the records at home. I would jig around to anything with an animal beat & sing my heart out providing there were no human beings around! The pull for me towards the blues genre is the feeling. I gravitate towards those who mean it. In my opinion, you can’t play or sing that kind of music without being moved by it and it moves me. I’m like a moth to a flame when I hear that certain rawness and a spirit laid bare, it can be guitar, harp, drums, vocals, any instrument that tells me something of the person behind it, I want to be near that.
Paul – As a youngster I knew nothing about blues, I just thought it was a bunch of old guys on the porch but I have to repeat that it was Hendrix that got me into the blues and showed me that the feel of the way you play means everything. Then of course all the British guys did it for me too, Page, Clapton, Alvin Lee and the great Rory Gallagher, plus many more, all went into the big melting pot. I can’t touch on this subject without mentioning one of my heroes, Johnny Winter, I’ve seen him many times & the guy just IS the blues. Both Maria & I veer off into various forms of music, which we enjoy, notably rock I guess, but when we play the blues it’s like coming back to base camp. We find writing & performing in this genre natural & familiar, like an old overcoat we wear now & then.
Zzaj: Does Maria play instruments, or is her primary vocals?
Maria – No, I don’t play any instruments. I tried to play tambourine when we worked as a duo. Apart from our vocals & what came out of Paul’s fingers there was no backbeat rhythm, we needed a bit of percussion but I found it difficult, yes, even to bash the tambo in time! There’s a way to do it good and I haven’t got it. I have absolutely no talent for playing an instrument or patience to learn. I never mastered the piano though I tried. I have a low boredom threshold and if something is not natural to me, I am ashamed to say I kick it into touch, literally. I have great admiration for those who can play instruments. It’s a thing of wonder, to hear a musician working joy out of notes, especially as I could live to be 100 & never be able to.
Zzaj: Who are your favorite performers (both of ya’)?
Maria – Diana Trask, Tom Waits, Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Sammi Smith, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Beth Nielsen Chapman, The Mother Station, Mickey Newbury, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bonnie Raitt, BB King, & recent golden finds, Damien Rice, Texas Jake Lee, Guy Michetti, Carol Lowery, Denny Tate, Sahib Radio, Knightmoods, Carol Douglas, Nigel Potter, GirlB & many more. I also have to thank Bill for introducing me to Joni Mitchell’s back catalogue, an entire world of lyrical/musical treasure that will keep my soul enriched for years to come.
Paul – This is a massive list which includes much of Maria’s list too! But I’m gonna have to narrow it down. I have to put right at the very top Jackson Browne, who is the best singer songwriter of the last 30 years in my opinion. And I’ve got to mention Thunder who have been the best rock band in this country (and the world for that matter) for the last 15 years or so, check ‘em out. I also love Tom Waits, Tom Petty, Nils Lofgren, Jeff Healey, Pat Travers and I can’t leave out AC/DC, these are the people that I listen to when I’m not in the studio and I’ve got time.
Zzaj: Your website (at SOUNDCLICK) implies (to me, at least) that you’ve done self-production on your CD… how important an element is that? (Remember, this ‘zine got it’s start with the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) crowd). Did you do ALL the production, i.e., recording, artwork, etc?
Maria – Yes, we self produce all our music. When the writing is complete, I sing to a rough guitar & Paul takes over from there. I count myself very lucky to be working with such a talented musician and one who can translate what is in my head and make it into ‘whole’ music. We arrange together where necessary but mostly Paul makes solid decisions on what the song needs & goes about it. He programs the drums for speed though he plays percussion very well but our studio does not facilitate a good drum acoustic. If we were to use a drummer the poor bloke would have to live in & be on call 24 hours a day to keep up with us. To save time we use what the machine has to offer. D.I.Y is ALL IMPORTANT to us, the be all and end all. We have worked in professional studios but found clock watching destructive to the process of spontaneous creation.
We come unstuck in the artwork department. We know what we want but don’t own a camera! Nor do we have any grasp of technology when it comes to printing & packaging. This is where our good friend Bill Pearson comes to the rescue. He is remarkable, a genius and the kindest friend we could wish to have. He has prepared our release, taking all the photographs, arranging the layout on the sleeve notes and dealing with a myriad of minor nightmares regarding our first website & all it entails to construct a band home. Another friend, Mike, has also been a great support & in the next couple of weeks, ‘Treebone’ will be coming back to us in boxes. You don’t meet many people as selfless as Bill & we are blessed to have his expertise, a fellow artist who has put his heart & soul into our project before anything else. It means everything to us and I just hope we can keep that smile on his face. Nobody will be more thrilled than Bill if this album is a success even in the smallest way.
Zzaj: It seems (once again, from your websites) that you’ve done some live performance. Which is more productive? “Live”, or “Studio”?
Maria – Wow, these questions are great! Live performing and recording both have ethereal moments. The studio has proved more productive because there are no restrictions or outside influences. However, there is nothing to replace playing live to an audience, but where you play makes a difference. When someone comes up mid-note, taps you on the shoulder and asks where the toilets are, or re-fills the cigarette machine beside you, whilst you’re singing, this makes you want a better stage and I hope we can secure gigs in venues where music is the sole attraction, that would be heaven.
Paul – Studio is definitely more productive because of the body of material that we’ve written & recorded since we’ve been left alone. Live work was not productive as such because we played mostly covers to please the clientele we were entertaining but it was undeniably a great experience and on occasions where everything is right, the sound balance is good, the audience is hot for it, and we’re playing out of our skin, it’s then hard to beat in terms of enjoyment.
Zzaj: What kind of projects do you have coming up this summer/fall? New CD’s? Tours?
Paul – Well our album ‘Treebone’ will be officially launched on 1st of August 05’ although you can buy a special signed edition that will start shipping first week of July to celebrate the opening of our website at www.mariadaines.com which will also have merchandise and exclusive tracks & should be up & running by the time you read this. We are already working on a follow up album. Meanwhile we are also preparing our book ‘Play Something We Know’ for self-publishing, a memoir of our journey with the band, good times & bad, 600 gigs of crazy nights. Then we intend to hit the road next year.
Zzaj: I’ve noticed that Maria likes to write… do you lead a “secret life” as an author?
Maria – Yes, I do but it’s not very secret round here! I drive the family mad with my obsession, finding inspiration in ridiculous places, on the toilet or in the bath, in bed at night and in the car. Sometimes it feels like a glorious illness. I know it keeps me sane & helps to get a lot out of my system, stuff that plays on my mind or might otherwise be damaging. I think much of what I write comes from misery but also awe. I guess most writers are this way. I enjoy reviewing other artists music, any dialogue makes me tick. It stops me doing ordinary things like housework, cooking, the stuff I know I should do (YUK!) but I find it all so dull when compared to a blank sheet of paper and a room with a view. Though I have had some poetry published in shared anthologies I long to publish a personal collection. The file has grown to a hefty thickness and is used to support the bed! Save me from my baaaad self!
Zzaj: What makes the 2 of ya’ “click” together? How long have you been playing together?
Maria & Paul – We met in 1996 & have been working together ever since. It’s been a long road, some tough times and wonderful times too. Our musical influences and backgrounds seem to mesh in an uncanny way and we both know instinctively what the other is thinking. It’s been that way since the first time we performed together. This chemistry has permeated everything we do and has spilled over into our writing, which makes for a productive partnership and a happy relationship. As kindred spirits, we feel very lucky and privileged to be able to realize our dreams together and to keep each other going when life is hard.
Zzaj: Since our focus is truly on independent musicians, please offer up any words of wisdom you may have for aspiring talent(s) out in reader-land?
Paul – My advice is, if you really, truly, believe in what you are doing then there’s nothing at all to stop you no matter what anyone says, opinions are everywhere, people look at things differently, especially in music but music is art and true art comes from the heart and soul and that has to be all that matters. Being independent and being able to get songs heard is a wonderful thing, without the outlet of OMD we would be silent to many people & we are thankful that we are able to share our creativity. Move with the times, the independent scene is developing at a phenomenal rate so jump on the wagon & go with it. Keep seeking new ways to follow your dreams.
Maria – When we were a new band I used to get on the phone & stay on the damn thing until I had at least a months worth of gigs in the diary. Paul would laugh, hearing me blagging dates out of venues that really did NOT want a loud rock band! I was driven and my enthusiasm could persuade bar owners to try us. That’s the way it has to be, no one can do it for you. If you have something to say then say it, do it, sing it, play it, put your ideas into action. I have a lot of time for doers. I run my life on the energy that comes from hope and determination. Standards and competition are high but there is a strong support network too and I don’t think there has been a better time to be involved in independent music. With the opening of so many net radio stations there is a chance for everyone to be heard. Get out there & kick ass!
Maria & Paul – We’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to Zzaj for inviting us to air our views for posterity in IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION magazine. And we would like to wish you all the very best with your music & life and hope to meet up with some of you one day. Our best wishes, Maria & Paul