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Interview with John Jowitt about Dirtbox

On November 26th, a remarkable album will be released by a band called Dirtbox. DPRP spoke with, John Jowitt (IQ, ex-Arena, Jadis session player), one of the brains behind the project, about their album Uneasy Listening.

What is 'Dirtbox' ? Who are the musicians in the band ?

Dirtbox is basically me and Mark Westwood. I've known Mark for about twelve years, he's a great guitarist. In fact Mark was the original choice to replace Keith More in Arena. He was playing in a band called White Trash at the time, and suggested a friend of his instead who was producing an album for White Trash. That was how we met John Mitchell. We got other people involved to play or sing specific parts.

How did these people get together ?

Mark and myself had been talking about doing something for years, ever since King Duck. This was a covers band that insisted on playing songs we liked whether or not anyone else did, some Chili Peppers, Primus, Living Colour etc. I joined White Trash on Mark's recommendation for a while, playing some gigs and recording one track which was to have been on the Classic Rock Society Unprogged album, but which was replaced with a different track following the death of my Dad.

How did the idea for Dirtbox come about ?

Well, after White Trash, Mark was at a bit of a loose end, and I had lots of ideas that didn't fit with any other band I was playing in. Unlike anyone else in the business I know, Mark lives locally and has his own recording equipment, so it was easy to get together on a regular basis and get down to it.

How would you describe the musical style of Dirtbox ?

Crikey. What we tried to do was to firstly write stuff that we were really happy with, that made us smile or move our feet or preferably both. We also tried to work out my progressive music theory that I'm always on about, that prog isn't just about mellotron, bass pedals and multi-neck guitars, its about taking good songs and messing with their arrangements to take the song where you wouldn't expect. Like Tipton, for example. So there's all types of music in there, we really did try to ignore any boundaries between styles, have fun and try to create music we enjoyed.

Who wrote the music ? Who wrote the lyrics ?

All of the music is by Mark and myself with two exceptions. Clean was originally a bass riff that came out of an IQ rehearsal. Mike Holmes and I worked on the song subsequently, but it was never used by the band. The current version isn't much like the original, but Mike had a part to play in the original idea, so it's only fair for him to get a credit. Panda Rosa has its roots in a Jadis rehearsal, so the same goes for that with Gary.

In case of multiple lyrics-composers: You mentioned the album turned out to be rather personal. Does that go for all the composers ?

The lyrics are personal, except Panda Rosa, which is about a Fridge Magnet possessed by the devil. As you can imagine. The idea was to do this big powerful song with what sounds like meaty lyrics but are really about the more mundane "enamelled surface for my home/its cold core chills your meat and bone", i.e. a fridge! But even that has its personal side. Whilst we were writing at Mark's house, his two year old daughter, Polly, wanted to play, and kept bringing me the fridge magnets...

Did you play any other instruments besides bass on the album ?

I played a little keyboards did some singing and some programming. Other than that, we got the experts in!

Why 'Uneasy Listening' ?

A number of things. I liked the idea that there should be other things going on, that the songs should change direction just when you think you know what's happening, that they're not necessarily about what you think. If I had one wish, it's that people would sit down when they get the album and just listen to it through once before they know parts of it through casual listening, like you'd watch a film.

Could you run us through the album song-by-song and explain a bit about the style, origin and meaning of the tracks ?

1. Panda Rosa. The devil in a fridge magnet. Big proggy/rocky number. Seventeen tracks of guitar slug it out with one Rickenbacker and come out with a very sore bottom.
2. Story. Words by me, music by Mark. Singing by Matt Goodluck. It's about being at home and wanting to be on tour, then being on tour and wanting to be at home. The grass is always greener.
3. Bella. This is a short fairground-type instrumental. Mark and I live in an area of the Midlands called the Black Country, and the title refers to an old Black Country saying "Who put Bella in the Wych-elm". In 1943, two kids found a decomposing body in a tree round these parts that bore all of the hallmarks of a ritualistic killing. No-one knows who she was, and this grafitti still appears locally.
4. Bottle. Music by me, words by Mark. A rocking good tume, Matt on vocals again about him getting very drunk on a gig somewhere..
5. Telegraph Hill. Words and music by me. Big Kings X type ballad. Tracey Hitchings sings, and does a great job.
6. Clean. The most difficult track to write. Every time we did a part, we didn't know where the next was coming from. A driving beat about someone spreading a lot of crap about you and you wondering where all that came from. Whatever happens, mud sometimes sticks. Whatever people say, you still feel kicked in the teeth.
7. Two-step. Sax meets Adam and the Ants into indie into dub into ska in 10/8 into big minor key thing and rock out ending(!) About the fact that you might think life is a pile of poo, but don't worry, there's plenty of trivia to take your mind off it. Music and lyrics by both of us.
8. Endgame. Wonderful guitar lead by Mark and keys by Martin Orford. So what's it all about then? I still reckon it's about being nice to each other and us all having a good time.

Some familiar names appear on the album. Which people worked on the album ?

As mentioned, Tracey Hitchings sang on Telegraph Hill and blackmail man Ian 'Moon' Gould sang on Clean. Martin Orford played piano on Endgame. Sax on Two-step was by Tony Wright (who played on Subterranea). Matt Goodluck (Dr Love) made his vocal debut on Story and Bottle. Drums throughout were by a local lad, Rob Green.

How did you choose these people ? Did you have specific tracks for them in mind or were they involved in chosing the track ?

I chose Rob Green as we wanted to be able to run through the material live before recording it. I played one rehearsal with him about four years ago and thought I'd end up using him one day. In fact, the track I ended up doing for the Classic Rock Society featured Neil Taylor who also played that night on keyboards.
Since last playing with him, Rob had been seriously ill, and lost a kidney, resulting in a running commentary on the colour of his urine! Matt Goodluck was involved in the original discussions about Mark and me writing an album, which was on Arena's Visitor tour in 1998. He said he'd like to be involved, we said why not - he does the best James Hetfield impersonation going!
Whilst we'd always planned to use Moon, for the female voice, we'd planned to use Julia Worsley from Mink originally. She couldn't do the track in the end, and as it worked out, I'm pleased, because Tracey did a fantastic job, at the last minute, better than I'd imagined it sung. Martin and Tony were just right for their parts.

Will Dirtbox be performing live ?

We'd love to, but whether there will be any opportunities, we'll have to see.

What else can we expect from Dirtbox.

We're already working on more material, so we'll definitely have another album out next year.

Is there much material that did not make it on the album ?

A couple of songs remained unfinished. But the album pretty much shaped itself, it had a life of its own. Probably the fridge magnet.

Is there anything you would have liked to have done with Dirtbox but were not able to do (for financial or other reasons) ?

No, you could always spend more time and money doing things, but it's not always productive. I'm very pleased with how its worked out. I hope we can take it out live sometime, because it'd be pretty wild, I think.
My original suggestion before I left Arena was to do some numbers in the afternoon session at the Utrecht gig from various people's other lives, some of John's Neon material, some of Clive's stuff, some of Mick's past, etc, and that would've been a great opportunity to play some Dirtbox too, as well as getting Wetton up to do Heat of the Moment with the band!

Why isn't the Dirtbox album released on the GEP or Verglas labels ?

Several reasons. I wanted to learn about the business, to have a go at that side of things. The original idea was also to help finance my involvement in a big european tour with Arena next year in support of Chosen [the forthcoming Arena album - Ed.].

Was your decision to leave Arena related to work with Dirtbox ?

No. As I've said, one of the reasons for doing the Dirtbox album myself was to finance my continued involvement in Arena.

What do you yourself expect of Dirtbox ?

Nothing more than to be able to continue to make music I really enjoy. The more people in a band, the more compromises have to be made. That can work fantastically, but sometimes it's great to be able to do completely your own thing. Writing this with Mark was a lot of fun. And hopefully someother people will enjoy it too!

If there was one questions YOU would like to ask the Dirtbox listeners, what would it be ?

What IS the name of that funny fold of skin between your top lip and your nose?

What are your future plans with IQ and other bands ?

Crikey part 2
1. Write and release a new IQ album by autumn next year (no, really)
2. Get the Sub. video out
3. Finally get to play some live gigs with Peter Banks
4. Record an album with Peter
5. Record a new Jadis album (yes it's happening all over again!!) plus gigs
6. Plus two other recording projects that are in the pipeline but I can't tell you about yet.

Finally, describe Dirtbox in 5 words.

Funny peculiar, funny ha-ha.

To read DPRP's review of Uneasy Listening, please go to our CD Reviews section.

To hear some fragments of the album and the complete Telegraph Hill track, check out the news page at The Lush Attic or The Cage.

How to order the album:

To order a copy of Uneasy Listening, send a cheque (International Money Order, Eurocheque or other international payment cheque) for 11 Pounds Sterling to:

P.O. Box 8193
Halesowen, West Midlands
B63 3FL
United Kingdom

Make all cheques payable to 'Aubitt'. The price of 11 pounds includes postage and packing.



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