Hot Scottish rock band The Stagger Rats, featuring Shetlander Jack Sandison, can make the unlikely claim to be big in Budapest after capturing the attentions of a record company in the Hungarian capital.
The five-piece purveyors of what they like to call gypsy death funk were whisked over to the city for a month by WP Ents to record their first album Scorpio Leisure for release at the end of the year. They will be heading over again soon for a gig on their up-and-coming European tour.
They had hoped to have the album out by now but Jack told The Shetland Times there were “just a few little kinks still to work out”. He added: “The album as a whole is sounding great and we are very happy with it.”
The first single release Fuzzy Fuzzy can be seen and heard on the internet and is available to buy from major online distributors. The video sees Jack in military peaked cap and shades behind the wheel of a battered Trabant hurtling across a vast Hungarian plain.
Three more singles are due over the coming months, also accompanied by music videos.
By all accounts the recording sessions in Budapest were quite an experience, under the expert tutelage of big-name producer Owen Morris, who has twiddled the studio knobs for some of Britain’s rock legends, including Oasis, The Stranglers, The Verve, The View and Kaiser Chiefs.
Jack said: “We have worked with semi-pro producers in the past but no-one of this notoriety. Working alongside Owen has certainly been a very unique experience both physically and mentally.”
There was lots of fun but it was a steep learning curve too, according to Jack, and quite draining having to record the whole album in a month. They tried to capture a vintage sound using the recording technique known as brickwalling, which involves the musicians playing together as live but separated by sound dividers.
Jack summed up the experience of their Hungarian adventure as “unbelievable”. “The studio we had booked into was an ex-KGB building previously used by the communists for communication and propaganda purposes. In later years it was developed into an orchestral studio where the soundtrack for some of the Harry Potter films was recorded.
“At first there were a few communication problems between our team and the local engineers but it was soon overcome and we eventually got the ball got rolling.
“Allowing us to record in Budapest gave us the chance to work with a minimal amount of distraction in a surrounding that was new and inspiring. When I say ‘minimal amount of distraction’, there was of course plenty to distract us – the beautiful scenery, fine wines and late night parties. Only piece of advice I would give to any potential partygoers is not to meddle with the Hungarian mafia or their taxi drivers – scary people indeed.”
Jack, who plays bass and provides backing vocals with The Stagger Rats, is a veteran performer already despite his youthful 25 years. He still has his own side-project Jack Sandison and The Holy Ghosts which he combines with his other job of teaching guitar, bass and ukulele in Edinburgh.
For several years before The Stagger Rats he teamed up with fellow Shetlander Arthur Nicholson in Little Green Machine, who released an EP and a mini-album.
Before that, on the Shetland scene, he was in Jezebel, Death By Monkeys and threw himself into the role of crazed frontman in the phenomenon that was Rage Against the Washing Machine.
The summer has been an action-packed one for The Stagger Rats with appearances at festivals up and down the country, including at last weekend’s Bestival in the Isle of Wight, featuring The Cure, Bjork, Primal Scream and Brian Wilson.
They played the main stage at Wickerman Festival in Dumfries & Galloway, headlined that night by The Coral. It came straight after an appearance at the Tall Ships’ Race in Lerwick, an event which was of course visited by some dreadful wintry weather. “Despite the weather we all had an excellent time,” recalls Jack. “It was a very strange experience to go from wearing hats and scarves in Shetland on the Friday to Wickerman Festival and the Secret Garden Party in 28 degree heat on the Saturday and Sunday!”
Tonight they’re closer to home at Maggie Mays in Glasgow’s Trongate with three other bands. Next month there is yet another festival, this time the EH1 in Edinburgh, and they support Zak Starkey, The Who’s drummer and son of Ringo Starr, at the Vibe Bar in London’s Brick Lane.
Later in the year the European jaunt takes in London, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and of course Budapest. There is even talk of going out to LA next year. Now, would that be a world-first for a Shetland rocker?