Interviewed by Jani Ekblom
Most of you don't know the band Pilgrim Speakeasy. Neither did we, until an
album called "A Ruff Guide To..." was sent to us. What the almost 80 minute
record unveiled was an irresistible musical vision where genres and styles mixed and lived together in harmony.
A Ruff Guide To.... quickly became one of the most interesting releases this
year. Surprisingly, it appeared to be the sixth album of Pilgrim Speakeasy. How
could such a delicious and groovy combination of psychedelic rock, funk and
electronic beats have passed us? Even more suprising was that Pilgrim Speakeasy seemed to live in Eastern Finland.
Desibeli.net contacted Pilgrim Speakeasy to find out what it is. The questions
were answered by a Scot called Roger, whose one man band it is. It all started
in 1998, when Roger had a live band called Pilgrim Speakeasy and the Playthings
that played gigs in the London area.
Terve Roger, what is Pilgrim Speakeasy?
- I'm still trying to find out!
Any previous bands people should know about?
- Well, I've played lead guitar with a couple of different bands in Scotland and
Newcastle, before starting Pilgrim Speakeasy.
You've been releasing albums since 1999 when Jams For Lambs came out. Music
seems to have been a big part of your life for a long time. What was the reason
for starting making music?
- I've had an affinity with music from a very young age. I remember listening to
the bands that were around in Britain when i was a wee boy -The Specials,
Madness, The Police, The Boomtown Rats and there was Queen who had so much to
capture a kids imagination! Me and my brother used to play music and make tapes
of our songs when we were really small - cardboard boxes and an acoustic guitar!
I always had melodies and the feelings from songs in my head... It was always
natural to try to put them into form, and get them out into the world.
The stuff you've released is an eclectic mix of styles - the only common
denominator seems to be that it's psychedelic in one way or another. Is it a
- It's not really planned. I try not to force things. Occasionally ideas come
out differently to how I had envisioned, sometimes that's OK and sometimes some
adaptation is required, it becomes a creative challenge. I am very self
critical, so if I perceive that it doesn't have the right kind of quality or
flow then I'll try something else. Once the song has taken shape a bit and I
can see the possibilities, then I tilt it in whatever direction seems
appropriate from there. There is usually a lot of experimentation. I only
really plan to create a feel or a moment in the music.
Does it come naturally that you blend a somewhat unique style of your own using
- Different styles have seeped into my innards at one time or another... maybe
when we have an affinity to a certain kind of music it is because we are
noticing something about ourselves in it. In some way it is reflecting
something of who we are or how we feel, or showing us how it is possible to
- I don't think a lot about the different styles when I'm doing it. To my ears,
it all seems to blend naturally. That's why when people describe the music as
odd or strange it's sometimes difficult for me to understand - it seems
perfectly normal to me!
- It does come out naturally up to a point. It gushes out usually, up to the
point when I have to arrange, edit and give it form - then it can get
laborious, but still creative.
You've released a lot of material: of your 6 albums at least the latest 3 are
really good and consistent. Where does the creativity come from?
- I'm not sure I can say for definite. In my opinion music is a unique art,
because it can convey multiple stimuli at once: The lyrical concepts and the
feel that accompanies their meaning (similar to poetry), the movement delivered
from rhythm and the emotion that is contained within melody. Finding them
working together can be a powerful moment. I am a bit of an addict in this
respect, I am driven to hunting for these moments when I am making music. And
perhaps I have some eternally unresolved friction in my energy field that must
You make the music almost entirely by yourself. Are you musically educated?
- I'm self educated and adventurous! I'm always on the lookout for new
Have you ever been contacted by anyone wanting to release your material?
- I haven't really put it out there in a big way. This is the first time for a
while that I have been settled enough to properly establish musical foundations
and it just happens to have been in Eastern Finland! I'm usually occupied with
creating and producing and there aren't that many music industry types in the
- But like most people who make music I am always interested in reaching new
ears so if someone wants to help me spread the music, that would be fine with
Your lyrics contain mystical and political stuff, you use Bill Hicks-samples and
sing about being a foreigner among a lot of other things. Is there something you
want to say or are lyrics more of something you just need for a song?
- You could say that everything starts out mystical until it is understood, but
the unknown gives us a good perspective. I don't want to be political, but when
politics manages to influence almost all aspects of life then it's hard not to
be. I'm not that partial, but I am aware that politics is dominated by finance
and that we have become slaves to 'The Economy'.
- I was told that the lyrics say things that people know, but for whatever
reason don't talk about.
- I see lyrics as an opportunity to convey ideas. Sometimes I find it a bit
disappointing that there is not more being said in contemporary music
considering we have never been in such a predicament as we presently are on
this planet. The world has changed so much over the last 30 years - we have
entered the 'Digital Age', there has been the spread of the internet. Global
consumer capitalism and urbanisation have grown to dominate and threaten
cultures and natural habitats, making us view nature as a mere resource and the
indication is that this trend will increase. It is a lot to digest.
- I don't know how much it is being digested - it would be good to hear more
ideas being expressed regarding what we think of our world and what environment
we would like to live in. Maybe it is a mark of how far corporate sales and
marketing culture has reached into life and art, that commercial viability has
become the main justification for creating anything, including ideas, it works
accidentally or by design as a means of censorship for 'less commercially
viable art forms'.
- There are so many deafeningly silent issues like the discrepancy between
democracy and the present version of capitalism it exists in. Where wealthier
individuals obviously have more power and influence than less wealthy
individuals - regardless of the manner in which their wealth was gained - and
yet have no obligation to the rest of society in spite of their
extra influence over that society - which is a contradiction of democracy.
- Some of the songs reflect the opinion that reintegrating nature into modern
life offers a solution to some of these issues. It might all sound a bit
intense to some people, but I don't think it comes out like that in the music.
I only write about what i have an interest in or a passion for.
- Some things can be a bit tricky to put into songs, there is definitely a craft
in conveying content in the most fitting way which complements the music without
sounding too heavy or involved. To simplify without loosing emphasis or meaning.
One day i will write a book!
- But maybe the next album will be a beach party album... 'Summer Sizzlers'!
What kind of music do you listen to?
- I like a lot of different music, I like eclectic music, and anything with a
tasty groove. I am attracted to character and originality in many forms but I
love rhythmic and rootsy music, I also like to hear interesting melodies for
the emotion that melodies can carry. I enjoy the lyrical and poetic aspect, I
like there being some interesting lyrical context to music, it's great to hear
artists who can bring issues into a forum for public discussion. It's hard to
do well, and maybe its best done with humour!
I compared "A ruff guide to..." to bands like Primal Scream, Super Furry Animals
and Gonjasufi. You're probably familiar with at least the first two? What kind
of artists have influenced you?
- I like the Super Furry's work a lot, and Primal Scream. I have to thank you
for introducing me to Gonjasufi's music! One band that influenced me earlier on
and still does in a residual way, is Parliament / Funkadelic, they embodied so
many different qualities and styles and had so many great players. When I first
heard 'Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On' at the time it just fitted the
bill perfectly! There was this giant rhythm and mass of harmony vocals with
screaming guitars percussion, organ the whole lot .. very eclectic group.
- But there really have been so many influences to greater or lesser degrees.
These days I go into autopilot as far as making music goes, I'm not usually
that directly attached to outside influences - but of course in some way there
will be remnants of everything that has dropped into my consciousness. I find
it exciting to start recording with nothing but perhaps one element - a melody
or a rhythm or a bass line and see where it goes.
Am I completely wrong if I assume you've listened to a lot of 60's & 70's
(british) psychedelic rock but also stuff like Jamaican music,
African-American music and modern pop music?
- I haven't listened to a whole lot of British psychedelic rock. I am less
interested in the musical tradition of psychedelia than i am in the concept of
it itself, the connection to, and the abstract understanding of 'the infinite'
is what interests me about psychedelia - Aldous Huxley's book 'The Doors Of
Perception' made a big impact on me and really highlighted how little we know
about ourselves and how far we have come in one rigid material direction at the
expense of other understandings.
- But you're almost completely correct with the other styles! Lee Perry, The
Upsetters, Peter Tosh etc. I love 70s soul and funk: Sly and the Family Stone,
Isaac Hayes, Betty Davis, Dr.John and obviously Parliament and Funkadelic -
this is probably where some of the the psychedelic elements come from. And post
Parliament: George Clinton for his development of the funk into the digital age
and Gill Scott-Heron for his soulful skills transforming social poetry into the
seeds of rap. Musically, I gravitate to the more funk based Hip Hop like Dr Dre
and that massive synth bass sound, and more recently Outkast. Lyrically, I like
the more poetic and eclectic stuff like Saul Williams, because I'm from Britain
and I've never owned a gun!
- Africa has so much to offer - Fela Kuti was really one of the greats in my
opinion, such raw but sophisticated, beautiful and soulful music with so much
to say. I am a fan of Senegalese music, there's a lot of diversity in just that
one country like Cheikh Lo, Ismael Lo, Baaba Maal. I also like The
Indestructible Beat of Soweto compilation albums, loads of great stuff there.
I've got a fondness for Columbian music, I like the oldies Joe Arroyo, Fruco Y
Sus Tesos there is a raw exuberance to it and great musicianship, and Cafe
Tacuba from Mexico for their diversity. There is some nice music from Cabo
Verde as well like Fantcha and Simentera, really haunting but mellow and
slightly melancholic feel to it.
- As far as pop and rock goes, I suppose Morrissey and Smiths and Jarvis Cocker
and Pulp are worth mentioning because of their words and character. They are
quite representative of a part of British culture and they define elements of
it as well as more universal feelings so sublimely in their music. I like to
use comedy to lighten darker lyrical moments which is something I appreciate
about Morrissey and Jarvis. There are so many other artists I could mention
from Nick Cave to Captain Beefheart, from The Prodigy to Portishead and from
Happy Mondays to Prince - in the more well known end of the musical spectrum.
You live in eastern Finland. It's probably different from Scotland and the UK.
Has it affected you in some way?
- There are lots of differences and similarities. The nature in Scotland tends
to be more rugged and varies from area to area, in Finland the landscape is
fairly similar throughout most of the country. But the sheer size of it is
fantastic, it's good to know that there is still a wilderness like this left in
Europe. It is hard to beat a good summer here, the kesämöki is a sacred thing!
- The Finns don't seem to have angst like the Scots do, if there's anything
churning up inside they keep it well hidden. The people have some similarities
generally speaking, they are both quite hardy in their own way, although in
Scotland (and definitely in England) they are deeper into urban culture.
- I have found English - Finnish communication can be fraught with difficulty
and misunderstanding - of which i must accept at least half the blame! You can
tell by the different structures of the languages that the logic is working
slightly differently between them. It is fascinating to me that there exists
this language and culture that is distinct and separate from the other large
language blocks that surround it.
- I'm sure it has changed me, I mean, I plant my vegetables later in the year
now for one thing! I won't lie to you I have felt the odd touch of cabin fever
on occasion! The winters are tough, the people are quiet but generally very
decent and the nature is beautiful. I do miss the mountains though! Since
moving to Finland it has been great to see how supportive people have been with
the music i didn't expect to find that 200 km from the Arctic circle.
You've played some gigs in Finland recently. Solo or with a band?
- The band is a three piece at the moment so the songs are stripped down
versions compared to how they are on the albums, it's more edgy and raw but
still with a good groove. We have been playing a few gigs locally, although we
are looking for some gigs further a field - I don't know the live scene here
very well so if anyone can help us out with some gigs it would be a great help!
Also, percussion, backing vocals, horn section and synth players would be
- Last winter was too cold for me to record much, so I'm hoping this
winter will allow me to get back into it. I'm really interested in getting the
live band more established because I think there is a great sound there and
there's nothing quite like playing live.
- Music has always been a companion to me regardless of anything else that has
been going on, I guess that will continue to be the same in the future.
Interview: Jani Ekblom
Heaven Or Las Vegas Magazine
First up, what do we call you - Pilgrim? Speakeasy? Roger?!
- Whatever you like as long as it's decent. The line between my personas has become rather blurred and i'm not sure i know the difference anymore.
You are in Finland at the moment - do you spend a lot of time there?
- I have been living in Finland for 2 years now, i try to get back to Blighty whenever i can to see my folks. But after living in the Big Smoke it's nice and quiet here, sometimes it's just quiet.
Your say your music sounds like "someone's had too much to think." Can you
describe your music for us?
- I can try but it might just sound like a sales pitch - 'accidentally accesible it carresses and smacks at the same time' how was that?! Other people have discribed it as being like anything from Frank Zappa to Funkadelic /Pink Floyd, retro funk /experimental/classic rock / psychadelic. It has been called eclectic and "like floating on a pool of liquid xtc." The music sounds just like it should to me so it's hard to say, the songs all begin as jams and then i give them shape and form with no particular adherance to genre.
How is the new album coming along? Do you play with a band or do most things yourself?
- It's coming good, i'm just finnishing it off now, it's probably going to be a double cd ,there are 15 tracks now, maybe one more and i'll be coming out of my cabin fever. The winters are very long here ! I play everything myself and also record and mix it myself, i am starting to enjoy the craft of production, it is an art in itself. Since i left London a few years ago i have not had a regular band, now i need to put one together for this new album and get out and about, so i have to try to find some players.
Most of your output and web copy has an overtly political slant. Does the new album have a similarly political message?
- I'm not sure it is overtly political, i think it is a more essential and eclectic expression than that of segregated organisational systems of politics. I don't see pollitics as being reflective enough of individuals. I think a lot about nature, evolution and human potential and the energy which everything shares, the expression may seem to be political as often politics presents boundaries for many of these things .I think politics will only become usefull again when it frees itself from corporate controll, because at the moment as most of us are aware the real power is outside of government. As a soundscaper you can never forget about the feel of the music, sometimes this gives the real meaning and power. But here will be plenty of content on the Anarchitecture cd.
Given that your message is very anti-materialistic and cautious of western consumerism, do you think it's ironic that your main communication method (Myspace) is owned by Rupert Murdoch? Does this make you uncomfortable?
- That doesn't reflect well on my communication! I mean that i don't usualy use it that much, i'm quite lazy at keeping in touch . I've only been using computers since i came to Finland, i used to have a real phobia, i do think there is great potential in the internet now though. But yes i am concerned with the never ceasing conquering of the corporate agenda and it's continual invasion upon Ourspace, but regarding myspace when i think of the people with whom i have made aquaintance and the people who have really loved the music, i recognise that it may be run by darth vader and might be a bit trashy, but it can still be utilised to possitive effect, there are some good blogs there and some real off the wall heads. I'm not a huge fan though and i have to say when i started on it Murdoch didn't own it.
You believe in escaping material enslavement - do you think this can realistically be achieved, and if so, how?
- There should be more questions like this in interviews. Materialism can be the tool used to supress or divert other facets of human nature which are not saleable or quantifiable and therefor of no currency in this consumer society. We cannot escape the reality that we are embodied in material form and i think it is natural for us to enjoy and experience the form and functions of the material world. As usual it is only when this nature is marketed and exploited that we become it's 'slaves'. It is in the moving towards self determination that we can redefine ourselves away from the status of 'consumers' towards deciding our own realities. The more people can do for themselves and others outside of large organisations the better.The world is what you make yourself. Having said that my carrots were shite last year.
Finally, to end on a lighter note - when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- I don't remember, i think i was too into my childhood. Maybe i wanted to be a child , so it seems to have worked out well for me !
Music Street Journal
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of the group and your involvement in music?
I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, me and my brother used to make tapes of songs we made – he would play the guitar and I would play on cardboard boxes...but then, you know, musical differences!
Pilgrim Speakeasy has been a vehicle for my musical expression since 1999, from around 2003 it has been a solo project. Before that I was with the band in London - Pilgrim Speakeasy and the Playthings. The latest album is called 'Anarchitecture' which followed the 'Moon Emperor' album. I’m currently working on a new album entitled 'A Ruff Guide To...Pilgrim Speakeasy.'
Now I play all the instruments on the songs, which can be a lot of work – I like to use a wide range of instruments and sounds like kora, strings, horns, thumb piano, djembe, etc., but my main instrument has always been the guitar. I’ve played lead guitar in a few bands over the years. I’ve enjoyed it – crafting solos and working off other people’s songs - but I love writing and expressing lyrics so I had to accept the necessity for doing so.
MSJ: Where does the name Pilgrim Speakeasy come from? Is there some significance to it?
Well, there’s a story there! I was in Hackney in London and I found an old organ being sold on the street – I bought it and when my friends were sitting around it trying out all its strange noises and lighting up the keys and foot pedals it kind of looked and sounded like some strange sonic shrine...we may well have been in an altered state at the time..however, it seemed to herald the dawning of a new age, the name of the organ was the “Speakeasy” which appealed to me because of the connotations of free expression and the reference to some illicit or underground meeting place... a haven of openness. I thought as a moniker it needed some company so I added “Pilgrim” as a representation of search or someone on a special journey. Pilgrim Speakeasy, an expressive traveler! Which I suppose is kind of what a troubadour is. It seemed to fit the music very well.
MSJ: If you weren’t involved in music what do you think you’d be doing?
Self destructing, humming, whistling and tapping on tables. Or making boats, landscaping, growing vegetables, or getting involved in renewable energy. Or perhaps an actor...
MSJ: How would you describe the sound of Pilgrim Speakeasy?
Freakishly radiant monster grooves dipped in psychedelia.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
There are really so many. I was most influenced by others when I first started playing. Because I started off playing the guitar I would listen to a lot of guitar bands but I have to say George Clinton /Parliament/Funkadelic were some of the first major influences - but I like a lot of different artists and styles. I am a fan of African music, particularly Senegalese music - like Cheikh Lo, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo. Of course Fela Kuti. Also Jose Arroyo, Fruco y Sus from Columbia. I like music with roots, power or that is mixed up. Eclecticism appeals to me like Zappa or The Mars Volta. I also like psychedelic music like Pink Floyd but I gravitate to it more when it is on the groovier side, Outkast do it well but Funkadelic did it best. I appreciate lyrically expressive artists like Nick Cave, and Jarvis Cocker. The Smiths had some great songs, Morrissey has an ability to express the sublimity of emotion in such a beautiful and down to earth way.
Humour is also an influence.
There’s a whole range of one or two albumers and knob twiddling spacemen I could mention but I won’t, not forgetting Lee Perry. My own lyrical influence comes mainly from outside of music, I approach lyrics more like writing poetry, it can come from books or concepts or anywhere really. It’s either deeply inside and I have to dig for it, or it’s just a spark and then it develops.
MSJ: What’s ahead for you? After this winter recording in the Speakeasy I would say arthritis!
Promoting the 'Anarchitecture' album and finishing up recording the follow up.
Hopefully getting some players together (anyone interested?) for some gigs.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
The whole P-Funk posse would be great to play with, Bernie Worrel and Bootsy Collins - hard to beat! Queens of the Stone Age could be an interesting jam too.
But I appreciate any good players with feel, I’ll jam with anyone.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?
In my opinion, in moderation it is probably a good bit of promo, the first time people hear a song it has usually been for free – on the Internet, TV, radio, from a friend etc - and then after if they like it they may well decide to buy it or buy something else by the band later. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways of selling music. The more people that have your music the better.
Major labels are trying to exist on the old model of mass sales for few artists whereas now I think most people accept there are more artists being heard by a more fragmented mainstream breaking somewhat the monopoly. It’s not necessarily because there’s so much theft about, more likely people are less dominated – in music anyway- by large corporations and more widely influenced by the possibilities of the Internet.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Someone unconnected to the artist who sets out only to make money from someone else’s music - is not the best scenario.. I don’t think a fan recording a gig or even sharing it with his mate is a problem but trying to get money out of it is different because you would be taking something from someone else, unauthorized.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Firstly Henry Rollins is definitely out, he’d be on my side.
Monotony might represent the antithesis of Pilgrim Speakeasy. But I’m not too good at keeping enemies, I don’t have the energy for that role play and with Rollins on side whoever it might be I’m sure I would be the last one standing!
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it and why?
Ginger Baker, John Fruscianti, Bernie Worrel, Vernon Reid, Jose Arroyo’s horn section, Sakari Kukko, Solo Cissokho, Betty Davis, Bootsy Collins, Ida Corr, Cheikh Lo...because it would be a great sound and they’re all fantastic musicians who would probably get on with each other!
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Captain Beefheart, Femi Kuti, Beck, Morrissey, Fishbone, The Mars Volta, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Saul Williams, Jose Arroyo, Cheikh Lo, Fantcha, Lee Perry, Masters of Reality, MIA, Dr John, Pink Floyd, Air, George Clinton and P-Funk All Stars with Bootsy Colins, Leonard Cohen, Outkast, Madness, and..and...
The festival would take place on a remote Scottish island on midsummer’s eve. At the end there would be a jam. Breakfast would be included.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I’m currently in the middle of trying to get some tunes ready for the new album so I haven’t really been listening to much else recently.
The last thing I listened to, for some reason was “Kinky Afro” from The Happy Mondays 'pills thrills and bellyaches' album – maybe it was for a bit of mixdown mood cleansing!
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Hiukka Rock Festival
MSJ: Do you have a musical "guilty pleasure?"
I try not to feel guilty about pleasure, life’s too short. I do like a bit of Shirley Bassey though.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Well, let me go through the rolodex...when I was 17, I was playing a gig with a Funk band which became overrun by bikers; we ended up playing Motorhead covers all night. “Win some lose some it’s all the same to me...”
Having recently joined a new band, I was encouraged to take part in promotional activities but when making contact with a record company I proceeded to introduce the band under an entirely different band’s name.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Just to say that I see music not only as a medium for expressing the ordinarily inexpressible but also as a form in which ideas can be conveyed in a special way - together with the music, this is in my opinion what gives music its power and significance culturally, whether the sentiments expressed are agreed with or not, just the fact that they are there stimulates response, thought and feeling. I think these days there should be more discussion, interpretation and expression of how this world is being shaped. we are being overfed with concept but we do not digest enough.
..And everyone should try and grow something.