To find a band truly unlike any other in this decade is like discovering a precious little diamond hidden in amongst a big pile of overplayed indie records.
The Moonlandingz are not only creating a new sound, but a whole new model of meta-musicians. Often described as ‘semi-fictional’, the band spawned from Eccentronic Research Council’s album Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan, released in 2015. The concept album, based on a fictional music scene, features the band The Moonlandingz with their own track ‘Sweet Saturn Mine’, fronted by the ever-notorious performers Lias Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski from Fat White Family.
Fast forward a couple of years and this once made-up band are here and certainly not just a story inside an album. Playing live in real life at The Leadmill on 1 April and releasing their debut real life album, Interplanetary Class Classics, The Moonlandingz appear to have officially transformed into a separate entity. We had the pleasure of catching up with Adrian Flanagan to tell us more about the band, the concept and the many fantastic collaborations along the way.
How did you become involved with Lias and Saul from Fat White Family?
I named them as one of my favourite new groups in a piece I wrote a few years ago for The Quietus and they invited me along to a show in Sheffield to hang out. This specific gig they played at The Harley. It went down in the ‘annals’ of local music folklore.
Basically, there was a naked onstage incident that ended in a dirty protest and with Lias dipping his finger into said ‘protest’ and giving himself a mucky war stripe across his own face. The entire audience stepped back about 20 foot. For me, it was love at first sight – love at first shite, even.
After the show, the promoters and the bouncers were running around in disgust and waving clipboards about, wanting to throw the band out. I stepped in and tried to calm stuff down, stating that “everyone at this gig will never forget it”. It was a rock and roll show. By the end of the night everyone got bought a beer and shook hands. I must add that I was the only person willing to give Lias a hug after the show. His shit kind of cemented our friendship.
Your work always seems to have a concept behind it. What’s the idea with the new record?
Eccentronic Research Council albums are concept records. The Moonlandingz album isn’t a concept record, unless the concept was to make an outstanding adult pop record that can make you laugh out loud, make you cry, make you pull some serious shapes with your body whilst doing the ‘propeller’ with your penis.
The cowboy (Randy Jones) from the Village People is featured on a song called ‘Glory Hole’. How did you swing that one?
Johnny Rocket propositioned him in the KGB bar toilets in the East Village, NYC. His advances were spurned but they kept in touch, with racy correspondence sent via a dusty old fax machine. The thing is, if we’d not have gotten the cowboy from the Village People on a song called ‘Glory Hole’, I’d have felt I’d failed our audience. Recording with him was a real laugh. Did you know before the Village People he was in an arty punk duo with Grace Jones? He’s a really interesting fella is young Randy and he was a total babe.
What was the impetus to turn The Moonlandingz from a fictional group into a real life touring and recording band?
It all kind of blew up really quickly. It kind of started as some kind of absurdist / dadaist joke. My plan was to get one of The Moonlandingz songs (‘Sweet Saturn Mine’) to national radio and see if we could get people into this fictional band for real. Within a week of sending it out, The Guardian got behind it and the track was playlisted by BBC 6 Music and remained on the radio daily for around two months. I was getting loads of offers of live shows from all over the world, all of which I turned down, because we weren’t actually a live band.
And then Marc Riley got in touch with me (he’s a big fan of the ERC) and he asked me if The Moonlandingz would come in and do a live session for him. At that point we only had four songs and no live band. We’d never even considered that we might have to play live. Anyway, I said yes to Mr Riley and then we had to work out how to play the four songs we had live as they were all written and recorded in the studio. We did the session, the tracks sounded really raw and exciting, and it went down so well with the listeners that we thought it might be worth pursuing further.
So during the summer of 2015 we started writing more songs to make up a full live set and it just seemed like every song we recorded sounded so great, really catchy but weird and not really like anyone else. I think by that point we all knew we were sat on something a little special. Once we had nine or so songs together, we then booked a short five-date tour and it sold out. From there I took the group over to Sean Lennon’s studio in upstate New York where we fleshed out and beefed up our original recordings, which became the album we are now about to release worldwide.
You’ve worked with Shameless actor Maxine Peake, first as a crazed fan and then at ERC’s Tramlines show in Sheffield. How did the connection come about?
I’ve been working with Maxine for around six or seven years. She’s one of my closest friends. We have a lot in common, be it music, politics, films and the same coal black sense of humour. Maxine has been the narrator on all my Eccentronic Research Council albums. We’ve made four albums together. I write the words and she reads them. The first record we did was called 1612 Underture, which was about the so-called Pendle Witches. That was released on Manchester’s Finders Keepers Records. We’ve played live lots over the years in peculiar venues across the UK. We have never played Tramlines though – they could never afford us [laughs].
I love Peake’s spoken word interludes on the ERC record. Will her character be returning in any future Moonlandingz material to haunt Johnny Rocket?
As I’ve said Maxine is on all Eccentronic Research Council records. Our records are in essence like radio plays that Maxine narrates and Dean Honer and I soundtrack with synthesizers. The Moonlandingz is a totally different group, born from an Eccentronic Research Council concept album. I’ve no plans to write another story based on The Moonlandingz, but will hopefully do something new with Maxine and Dean when our Moonlandingz commitments have died down a little.
You recently hit out at ingrained industry sexism when you asked for all-women support acts on your tour. What can men in the music industry do to influence the situation?
I actually asked for all women or female fronted bands, so I wasn’t saying ‘no men’ per se. I have a mistrust of male only groups, they are just randy bastards, animals even who only see women as their ‘playthings’ and wouldn’t dream of encouraging them to pick up a guitar or to be on the stage. Four boys in a band is such an arcane musical formation, it’s a cliché. I’ve always had women in my bands, often they are ten times better players, with a better feel and a deeper understanding of the music that they are playing than the lads in the group.
If we can give half a dozen female bands a shot at playing to a decent crowd across the UK then maybe promoters of, say, Leeds & Reading Festival might consider booking more female artists, rather than what I can only see as being a hideous sausage fest.
The music of the ERC often explicitly references Sheffield and Saoudi recently moved here. What does the city itself bring to the music of The Moonlandingz?
I guess Sheffield’s rich heritage of electronic music seeps pretty heavily through our work. Also, we are fueled by Abbeydale Brewery [laughs].
The Moonlandingz hail from Valhalla Dale, a town situated on the edge of Sheffield ‘fuelled on depression and desperation that verges on the black arts’. Did you have anywhere specific in mind?
On the Johnny Rocket / ERC album I reference lots of places in and around Sheffield. I think Valhalla Dale was a mixture of Chapeltown, where I lived for a little while, and places around Abbeydale Road and London Road. The narrative of the stalker was based on a real stalker I had a few years back, who was just an inconvenient nuisance.
Personal highlight on Interplanetary Class Classics?
Without a doubt, having Yoko Ono guesting on the album’s closing track. We had this big psychedelic funky jam thing that was about 15 minutes long. It sounded a bit like some of Yoko’s solo records from the early 70s, which I loved. I had a brief chat with Sean [Lennon] about maybe getting Lias and Yoko having a scream-off on the track, which he loved the idea of but nothing was said for about a month or so after. Then one cold night in Sheffield Sean sent me a short video clip of his mum, doing her thing over our track. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud. It was a great, great honour. She’s an avant garde warrior, a true and tireless activist, a great artist and the queen of the scream.
Once we got the vocal parts sent to us in Sheffield, Dean and Lias and I got together to write some words that we hope kind of compliment Yoko’s whole ethic, the things she stands for and has fought against all her life: discrimination, sexism, racism, the corporations, the basic mistreatment and abuse of the common man and woman. Yoko Ono has proved that she is no-one’s victim. She stands up, she reacts, she acts. She’s more relevant now than she ever has been. The world’s catching up with her vision. I think we have captured that sentiment with the track. It sounds like the world outside right now.
Image © Chris Saunders
You took Sean Lennon to Barry’s Bar on London Road. What’s Johnny Rocket’s favourite Sheffield boozer?
The Big Gun down The Wicker. It’s where he buys all his bread bangles from and the occasional stolen television.
You’re going on tour with two members of the Fat Whites who have a reputation for beyond-the-pale live antics. Are you nervous?
We are going on tour with only one of the Fat Whites – Lias, Johnny Rocket the frontman. Saul is more of a studio member than a part of the live group. He played a few of the early shows, but has been concentrating on his own project and doing bits of producing. Nervous though – why would I be nervous? We’ve already done two sold-out mini tours over the past year. The safest place to be is in the eye of the storm.
What’s next on the cards for TM, ERC and beyond?
Well. The Moonlandingz are about to start our big UK tour when our debut album comes out. We play around the UK for around three weeks, then we head into Europe for a couple of weeks, then doing promo shows in the US, then pretty much playing almost every other weekend at festivals across the UK and Europe.
That takes us right up to September, where Lias will then be off to record the next Fat White Family record and Dean and I will start recording new Moonlandingz stuff and ERC material. I’d like to do the ERC’s Johnny Rocket album live in its entirety on the South Bank next year, involving both the ERC & Maxine Peake and The Moonlandingz and do a big production of it, but we’ll see. I might just fuck off and join a monastery.
Catch The Moonlandingz live at The Leadmill on 1 April. Tickets £12.
Words: Tasha Franek & Sam Gregory