Roy, Gordon, Eugene, Raymond; photo by Steve Double
Gordon Keen interview by Pete Crigler
Formed in 1990 from the ashes of the now infamous Vaselines, singer/guitarist Eugene Kelly, guitarist Gordon Keen (formerly of BMX Bandits) and their Glasgow cohorts gave us Eugenius (originally called Captain America), a band full of pop wonder and dreamy, driving rock. Signed to Atlantic in the wake of Nirvana's success and Cobain's fandom, the band made an initial splash with two albums (Oomalama from 1992, Mary Queen of Scots from 1994) before retreating to the sidelines. Which is a shame because there's some great pop hooks to be found among the noise. Read on and then go out and discover some great tunes.
PSF: How did you get started playing music?
GK: I started playing guitar at nine, but the catalyst when I was 8 years old was my great Uncle Colin who found an old accordion in a skip (dumpster) and took it home. I tried to play it, and managed to get a tune out of it to my family's amazement as none of them are particularly musical.
PSF: How did you come to join BMX Bandits and what was that experience like?
GK: Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) was the catalyst for me joining the BMX Bandits. He was in the Bandits at the time and he called me up a few days before a London show the Bandits were playing with The Vaselines and Spacemen 3. Jim McCulloch had become really busy with the Soup Dragons so the Bandits were looking for a replacement guitarist to play alongside Norman. I had three days to learn the set from scratch. I met up with Duglas from the BMX Bandits just a couple of days ago.
PSF: How did you come to hook up with Eugene?
GK: Eugene and I knew each other from going to the same gigs, similar circle of friends, usual stuff in any scene. We became really good friends when Eugene joined the BMX Bandits to replace Norman who had become really busy with Teenage Fanclub. It all comes back to the Bandits; they are the source!
Eugene told me in the studio he was thinking of forming a new band (while) we were both recording a BMX Bandits album at the time. He asked me if I would be interested in starting the band with him. We'd just finished recording a BMX Bandits song called "Disguise." It has call and response guitar solos that Eugene and I played at the end of the song, it was probably that song where we first really realised that we sounded a bit unique playing together!
PSF: When did Captain America originally come together and what prompted the name change?
GK: Captain America came together late 1990/early 1991. We received a rather threatening lawsuit from Marvel. It was an important anniversary for Captain America and I don't think they wanted four scuzzballs from Scotland ruining their party... so we changed our name to Eugenius. There was one young guy who worked for Marvel who was a fan of the band. He was so incensed at Marvel playing the corporate overlords with us he stole four Captain America box sets from Marvel and came to our gig at CBGB's and gave us each a box set to say sorry. I hope that guy is still sticking it to those corporate p.....
PSF: How did the band come to find their sound?
GK: There was no conscious decision to find our sound. It was (originally) myself, Eugene, James Seenan and Brendan O'Hare just plugging in and playing some songs Eugene had written. I think Eugene and I were listening to quite a lot of American guitar bands at the time so that bled into our sound.
PSF: How did it feel being boosted by Nirvana?
GK: Eugene and Kurt had become friends when Kurt asked the Vaseline's to re-form to be Nirvana's special guests at a show in Edinburgh. When Captain America started, Kurt was, by all accounts, quite excited when he heard Eugene's new music and asked us to tour with Nirvana. I first met Kurt, Kris and Dave when we went on tour with Nirvana. I loved their early records and they were such down to earth lovely people that we all became good friends pretty quickly. It was while we were on tour that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" broke really big, and we could sense just how important Nirvana were becoming. It was hugely flattering for us that they loved our band, it always is when other musicians you like as people and who you respect greatly as musicians and writers are into what you do.
PSF: How did the band's initial lineup come together?
GK: The initial line-up was Eugene, James Seenan and myself. James had, of course, played bass with Eugene in the Vaselines. Eugene had asked James and myself to form Captain America with him. Brendan O'Hare joined to really just help us out as he was also busy with Teenage Fanclub at the time. Andy Bollen then replaced Brendan on drums, we parted company with James and our line up really solidified after the Nirvana tour and debut album when Raymond Boyle joined on bass and Roy Lawrence joined on drums.
PSF: What prompted the band signing to Atlantic in the U.S.?
GK: We'd originally signed to Paperhouse Records which was a part of the larger Fire Records family. We signed because the label was run by Dave Barker. When we started to receive a huge amount of attention from other record labels, Eugene and I seemed to spend a lot of our time for a while meeting people from labels that didn't really get us- they were just seeing a band that seemed a good bet to sell lots of records. That really turned us both off. The exception to this were Go Discs, who in Andy and Jonah were lovely people, but we didn't feel we quite fitted with the bands they already had. I remember some exec from London Records inviting us to his office and proceeding to tell us basically how lucky we were that his label was interested in us, we got up and walked out his office whilst he was still spewing his nonsense. Steve Greenberg from Atlantic turned up at Chamber Studios in Edinburgh, whilst we were recording Oomalama, and gave us both a copy of the Stax box set that he had curated. He understood our love of great songwriters straight away, and we clicked with him as a person. Sometime later, Danny Goldberg flew over from New York and met us in London and we decided to sign with Atlantic for everywhere except the U.K. We signed with Creation Records in the U.K. via their August Records imprint. Dave Barker had founded August Records with Alan McGee and we wanted to follow Dave to his new label for the U.K.
PSF: What was it like recording Oomalama?
GK: It was a rather strange time recording Oomalama. The band line up hadn't really settled. We had lots of other labels interested in us and all we really wanted to do was to concentrate on recording our 1st album. The sessions themselves were great. Quite a bit of it was Eugene, myself and Jamie Watson (our close friend, owner of Chamber Studios in Edinburgh and longtime producer) working our way through the songs Eugene had written plus a couple I wrote at that time. On the whole, I hold very fond memories of the time.
PSF: What was 'success' like and how did everyone feel about it?
GK: I don't think we ever thought in terms of success. I suppose being able to be in a band full time felt like success to us, not having to work at a job outside of music for the first time felt like a great privilege.
PSF: When did the band stabilize their lineup?
GK: Our line up stabilised when Roy Lawrence and Raymond Boyle joined. Raymond was known to us as a great bass player and had played in a number of bands from Bellshill. We'd auditioned a number of bass players then when Raymond turned up it felt right first time. Jamie Watson recommended Roy Lawrence to us, it was the same as for Raymond, Eugene and I glanced at each other during the first song we tried with Roy in silent acknowledgment that he was in!
PSF: What was it like recording Mary Queen of Scots?
GK: Recording Mary Queen of Scots was, in many ways, the polar opposite of Oomalama. We had a settled line up; it was our first time in a very top end studio and we were staying there whilst we tracked the album. We were also writing whilst we were recording and of course, we had Craig Leon producing the album. Personally, I wish we had taken a little more time to write the album before recording, but overall, it was an enjoyable time.
PSF: When was the band dropped by Atlantic and how did the band recover?
GK: I'm unsure exactly when Atlantic actually dropped us! Steve Greenberg who was our A&R had moved on which left us a little in limbo with the label. We ended up in a bit of a legal battle with Atlantic which took a while to sort out. So, we spent quite a bit of time at home just rehearsing every day and writing. We still have a whole load of songs we recorded with Jamie Watson that have never seen the light of day except for the tracks that became the Womb Boy Returns EP. I think some our best songs have never been finished in a recording sense and have never, subsequently, been released. It was Jamie Watson who was the catalyst for us releasing Womb Boy Returns on his Human Condition label.
PSF: What caused the band's breakup?
GK: I think the band just ran its course. We'd spent quite a few years in each other's pockets, touring and recording. I suppose the protracted problems with Atlantic and also August Records which didn't really work out for Dave Barker. It all contributed to our frustrations as a band.
PSF: What are you currently up to?
GK: I spend some of my time working in film and television, doing mostly location management. I also spend quite a bit of time playing, producing and recording. I'm currently producing the debut album for a Glasgow based band called Lola in Slacks. I'm very excited about this record, think Edith Piaf meets Marianne Faithful fronting the Velvet Underground! I've also been playing, recording and co-producing Roy Lawrence's daughter, who is called Lidh. She is a fantastic talent and a wonderful songwriter. Raymond and I also have a folk band which is more of a social club! We're called "The Old Mac Social Club" and we only play live for charity events. It's our antidote to all things professional! Our youngest member is in his early twenties and our oldest member is in his mid-eighties. We play very left field versions of traditional Scots and Irish folk instrumentals. Eugenius old drum tech Gary Bell plays the Cajon with us. There will also be another couple of albums out next year with other artists that feature me playing on their releases. A Glasgow band called The Hyper Reel release their debut album on which I've played guitar and co-produced a few tracks.
PSF: Do you keep in touch with anyone; what are they doing?
GK: We all keep in touch and see each other individually all the time. We all get together with Jamie at least once a year and have done so since the band broke up. Eugene is still quite busy with solo shows and with The Vaselines. Roy is the only one who lives a bit further afield on the east coast of Scotland but we see him as much as we can. I see Raymond every week with the folk band. It's Roy, Raymond and I who also form the core of Lidh's band. We actually reformed Eugenius for one night to play as Lidh's band for her first single launch. She'd told Roy that it was always her dream as a little girl to play in her dad's band so when we told Eugene, he agreed to do it.
PSF: How do you feel about the impact of alternative rock in the '90's?
GK: I think alternative rock in the '90's has, in a sense, become the mainstream and a huge influence on many of today's artists. That said, so has underground dance music of the '90's. It's good to see so many artists of the time still releasing interesting material and being back touring.
PSF: What do you hope Eugenius' legacy will be?
GK: I think the legacy of any band is down to the people who like the band to decide what it means for them as individuals. I'd hope we've left people with some good songs that formed a backdrop to them getting up to all sorts of terribly naughty things in their youth...
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