Exploding Universe
(Reckless Records)


Over in the U.K., the band known as The Brainiac 5 are keeping the spirit of U.K. pop-rock alive and well on their 2015 CD Exploding Universe. Much like the CD cover art, the music within contains a touch of tongue in cheek humour and plenty of solid rockin’ sounds. The B5 web site mentions influences like The Move, The Yardbirds, Spirit and even Funkadelic. One could also mention The Kinks and late ‘70s post punk era influences like Ian Dury as there’s a definite psychedelic-flavored punk-rock spirit here. Lead singer / guitarist Charlie Taylor sounds influenced by Ray Davies and there’s plenty of solid backup from John “Woody” Wood (bass) Wayne Worrell (drums), Nic Onley (sax, flute) and Duncan “Mad Dog” Kerr (guitars). Speaking about the unique name of the band and the surreal CD cover art, Charlie Taylor tells, "Our drummer at the time was a big DC comics fan – he came up with the name. DC and Marvel comics were easily available in the UK in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We all loved Doctor Strange! Woody, our, bass player, designed the cover. It’s based on the mediaeval alchemists’ idea that the universe is actually a very large human being, so the image represents the moment of the Big Bang, the creation of the universe." Released by the renowned Reckless Records label, The Brainiac Five CD is superbly recorded and and it’s well presented with cool cover art and packaging. Fans of U.K. pop and rock will catch a buzz off of the exuberant and often over the top grooves on Exploding Universe by The Brainiac 5. presents an interview with
Charlie Taylor of BRAINIAC 5

: Where are you from and where do you live now and what do you like best about it? What towns and cities in the UK and other countries do you like to visit?

Brainiac 5: I’m from Newcastle in the northeast of England, and Duncan is from Durham, also northeast, the others are all from London. The band actually formed in Penzance, Cornwall, in 1977. Cornwall is a very remote part of England which, at the time was full of artists and musicians who had fled London for some peace and quiet. Penzance is a bit similar to, say, Mendocino in Northern California. The band was able to do a lot of rehearsing, several hours a day most days, and we had plenty of well-paying gigs entertaining the tourists in the summer. We all live in London now. We’re still fond of Cornwall, where we play the occasional gig from time to time.

mwe3: Is there a cool story to tell us about how the Brainiac 5 album Exploding Universe took shape and fell into place? How long did the album take to create, from start to finish and is there a link from the new CD looking back to the sound of the original Brainiac 5 band from the late 1970s?

Brainiac 5: We used to play “Your Body’s Alright” and “Glue” back in the ‘70s. We still have the basic sound we developed then, which grew out of psychedelic guitar jams. Exploding Universe was heavily influenced by new member Nick Onley. We’d played with sax players before, but usually only adding them live for the long improvisations we sometimes play. This was the first time we’d had a sax player rehearsing regularly with us, which pushed us more in the direction of Traffic and Family, plus a bit of Evan Parker here and there, and Caravan when Nick is playing flute. He’s also a good harmonizer so the backing vocals became more elaborate.

We spent about a year recording and mixing the album. The mix was done by Martin Griffin, former drummer with Hawkwind, who has a studio in Cornwall and made the original B5 recordings in the ‘70s so he has a good feeling for what we’re trying to achieve.

mwe3: What is the band chemistry like on this new lineup of Brainiac 5? Sounds like you guys are really on the same wavelength!

Brainiac 5: Yes, we really get on well together and had a great time recording the album. Nick left after the album was released as he needed to spend more time earning money but he still comes to our gigs. Now that there are again four of us we’ve reverted to our guitar-orientated Quicksilver/Television style.

mwe3: It’s amazing how many musical genres you blend on the Exploding Universe CD. From acid punk, ska and pop to that kind of Traffic / Family inspired feel of early progressive music. Is that where your main song writing influences come from? I read that you even listened to Henry Cow!

Brainiac 5: When we began playing together in the mid-‘70s we were very psychedelic, but then the Sex Pistols played a show in Penzance which blew us all away and we acquired some punk influence by osmosis. We were playing reggae tunes from the very beginning. You can probably hear some Canterbury influence, which partly comes from listening to the first Henry Cow LP many times.

We also enjoy free jazz and have group outings to see improvisers like Evan Parker once a month or so. There’s a completely free approach in parts of our live show. You can hear that on the improv at the end of “Exorcist Plan”, which was recorded in one take after we recorded the backing track for the actual song and then just kept on playing with no predetermined form. Henry Cow used to do that live, too.

mwe3: Tell us about working with Reckless Records and what that label / artist relationship is like? They’re a very world renowned label for high quality psyche-pop and rock sounds. I hope it’s going to be a long term relationship!

Brainiac 5: Well actually I’m the owner of Reckless Records so the relationship is indeed very close!

mwe3: How important was Ray Davies and the Kinks on your song writing and vocal sound? Also what makes England such a great place for music? Someone once commented that for a smaller country, England has contributed an enormous amount of great music and art to the world!

Brainiac 5: When I was a kid, hearing “You Really Got Me” on the radio for the first time had a massive impact. I knew I had to play guitar like that – those riffs! Why has so much great music come out of Britain rather than, say, France, if we exclude Magma? It’s a mystery to me! But it’s true that the Beatles, Stones and all were mostly inspired by US artists such as Elvis and blues players like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, and we do have the advantage of speaking (more or less) the same language.

mwe3: How has the Exploding Universe been accepted by press and radio so far? Have you been getting some exposure for the CD outside of England? How can you branch out to create even more interest for your music and how can the internet help spread the word about Brainiac 5?

Brainiac 5: We’ve had positive reviews in magazines like Shindig!, Prog Magazine, Terrascope, R2 and others, plus various blogs. So far it’s been played by radio stations in the UK, Greece and the U.S.

mwe3: What made you choose the name Brainiac 5? Was it named after the DC comic book character Brainiac? Those comic books must be worth a fortune now! Did they sell DC comic books in England in the 1960s? Also can you tell us something about the cool CD cover art? It’s disconcerting in a cool kind of way.

Brainiac 5: Our drummer at the time was a big DC comics fan – he came up with the name. Yes, DC and Marvel comics were easily available in the UK in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We all loved Doctor Strange! Woody, our, bass player, designed the cover. It’s based on the mediaeval alchemists’ idea that the universe is actually a very large human being, so the image represents the moment of the Big Bang, the creation of the universe.

mwe3: Tell us about some of the gear that you used during the Exploding Universe recording? There’s some amazing guitar work throughout the album. Tell us about your guitars and other gear that helped you get that great sound on the CD.

Brainiac 5: Duncan has some very nice old guitars, principally a ’73 Stratocaster and a customized ’74 Gibson L6S, both of which he used on the album, played through a Fender Vibralux amp. I was playing a new-ish Telecaster through a 50 watt Peavey.

mwe3: “Stars Plan Ahead” is a bizarre song. Sounds a little Daevid Allen influenced, ala Planet Gong. Even some Syd Barrett style. Is there a story you could share about that track? That middle guitar section is also brilliant.

Brainiac 5: It’s partly about a friend of mine who was very creative and active in every sense, but ended up taking too much cocaine, which unsettled his mind. The song tries to show that what happened to him is actually OK if you look at the larger, cosmic, picture, so Gong is a good reference point. I’m a big Syd Barrett fan – we were all influenced by the early Pink Floyd singles and first two LPs.

mwe3: What story can you tell us about the first track “Haphazard!”? What a great rocking way to start the album.

Brainiac 5: We used to play that riff with different lyrics back in the ‘70s. It’s in 7/8 time so has a rather disconcerting feel. We weren’t planning to put it on the album so we didn’t rehearse it for the recording sessions, but we had a bit of time left at the end of the last day and we gave it a go. The fact that it’s unrehearsed gives it a particularly manic quality because we weren’t sure we would make it to the end without mishap!

mwe3: “Your Body’s Alright” is classic! Love gone awry… or worse? I like the Sea Shells juxtaposition!

Brainiac 5: It’s about a very fiery woman who liked to set up conflicts between men but was very passionate at the end of the day.

mwe3: “I’m The Glue” is fascinating sounding. I think there’s a range of musical styles. What inspired “I’m The Glue”?

Brainiac 5: Some of the songs have fairly specific meanings but others are more allusive, this one particularly so. It’s intended to evoke a variety of associations, probably different ones for different listeners. The musical arrangement just happened, quite spontaneously.

mwe3: What can you tell us about “Exorcist Plan”? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s a like a post-mortem. “You’ve only got yourself to blame, your guru’s gone insane!” A fitting ending to the album!

Brainiac 5: It’s partly about an older lady who died not long ago and was a member of a spiritual cult based upon the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff. I was a member of the cult for a while and got quite friendly with this lady, but I left when I realized the ‘”guru” was more interested in sex and money than spirituality, as these people tend to be, and was behaving more and more irrationally. When I left she cut me off completely, refusing to even say hello if I saw her at the local store. I felt it was sad that she’d died still believing all that nonsense, although I also hoped that at the last minute she might have seen through it all.

mwe3: You’ve stated that we’re really in some kind of time warp now. So where do you see the future of pop music going from here?

Brainiac 5: It’s basically wide open. If you want to form a band, play some gigs and make a record you can choose from all the different styles you’ve ever heard and do whatever you want with them.

mwe3: Has there been any new developments on new music writing and recording and live shows? It’s taken a long time to get an album this great from Brainiac 5 so I hope still there’ll be more music coming from you guys.

Brainiac 5: We’ve got a batch of new songs that we’re working on and will probably record next spring. We’re working on some long pieces, 15 – 20 minutes, with several different sections and unusual instrumentation, thumb piano and the like.


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