If you grew up listening to ’90’s alternative rock music like I did, there are certain albums that are always going to touch a chord, so to speak. One such album, for me, is the debut album Ferment (album cover pictured below), by the band Catherine Wheel, a U.K. band that was active from about 1990 to 2000, and released a total of 6 studio albums.
Catherine Wheel’s debut album Ferment was released on June 9th, 1992, and, over the years, has been dubbed a shoegaze classic by its fans and many a periodical such as Pitchfork, shimmering brightly alongside other landmark shoegaze classic albums like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slowdive’s Souvlaki.
We might as well take a listen to a track off of Ferment, shall we, just to get us in the mood? Let’s check out the original version of their song, She’s My Friend, the first single off the album released January 1991.
Produced by Tim Friese-Greene (Talk Talk, Thomas Dolby, et al), and engineered by John “The Blade” Lee, the album Ferment is primarily the work of the four founding members of Catherine Wheel – Rob Dickinson (guitar, vocals), Brian Futter (guitar, vocals), Dave Hawes (bass), and Neil Sims (drums). Here’s an early picture of the band…(Left to right: Rob, Neil, Brian, Dave)
By the time I heard Ferment, sometime in the mid-1990’s, the band was already on to it’s third album, the eclectic, hard-hitting and slightly metal-edged Happy Days, which I was smitten by upon its release for its combination of tasty riffage, and Rob’s unique and inimitable vocal style.
Being intrigued by the sound of Happy Days as I was after hearing Waydown on my local music station, I just assumed that their older albums were going to be stylistically similar to this. Not so! After seeking out Ferment and Chrome, I remember being rather surprised that while it was clearly the same band I was listening to, each album went off in its own direction both musically and sonically. For instance, if you know the song Waydown, is coming from an entirely different playbook than, say, a song like Flower To Hide…
Ferment, many fans would agree, is a babbling brook of shoegaze-y bliss that lives in its own sonic environment. While it is still more or less a rock album, Ferment distinguishes itself in the Catherine Wheel catalogue as being perhaps the most ethereal of their albums, with much attention being paid to the atmosphere of the music. The album is guitar heavy, yes indeed, but, arguably, whereas most rock bands use multiple guitars to assert a certain raw aggression (and usually bash out the same riff), Ferment comes at it from a standpoint of sheer melodic beauty, lulling the listening into a sort of trance as melodic passages float by like little puffy clouds.
At the same time, Ferment is by no means what you’d call “easy listening”. Fans of soft rock of the sort that is found on light FM radio stations would probably find most of the songs on Ferment too abrasive, rockin’, and just plain distracting to have blaring out at your local grocery store while you buy cereal (though it would be fine by me).
Interview With Dave Hawes Of Catherine Wheel
Having listened to Ferment for over 20 years now myself, I always find something new to listen to with the album, but I have often wondered about it in terms of how it came to be. What inspired it? How was it recorded? I waited in vain for “Classic Albums – Ferment by Catherine Wheel” to be released on DVD so I could get more information about the album, but, so far, no luck.
As luck would have it, I got a hold of Catherine Wheel’s bass player Dave Hawes, and asked him a number of questions about Ferment, and he was kind enough to answer them off the cuff. This, in turn, prompted him to recall some of the stories behind what was going on back in 1991, when Ferment was coming together, and the band was embarking on their first adventure into the recording studio to lay down tracks.
These days, Dave is still rockin’ out on bass with the 90’s pop rock hip hop alternative party band, Flannel Planet, but we were able to sideline him briefly from his partying ways for our little chat.
I’d say it was quite understandable that my questions about Ferment, the 2+ decades old (did I mention classic) album that he made with his former bandmates in Catherine Wheel at a small studio in Wales, caught him a bit unawares at the unspeakably early hour of 12:30pm on a hangover Sunday in February.
To be honest, I must say that this is not a scripted affair, except for a few questions that I’d jotted down beforehand. Still, despite my lack of overall professionalism, I appreciated Dave’s openness to discuss the album at length, and to reflect on some of the memories he has about Ferment and some of the other Catherine Wheel material and the guys in the band. For a fan such as I, this was super cool stuff!
I hope you enjoy this completely unedited and non-truncated interview I did with Dave Hawes of Catherine Wheel about their debut album, Ferment, the music scene at the time, behind the scenes adventures, hauntings, and much more!
P.S. Maybe he’ll do the same thing for some of the other albums if there are enough nice comments in the comments section! <wink wink>