YOU LEFT A TRAIL OF STAGGERED FOOTPRINTS
Fly Below The Radar (2003) | Road Movies (2001) | All Music Guide
Mini-Bio: Simon Petty | Tim Walker | Sid Jordan | Malcolm Cross
California's allure has always been hard to resist. Boasting a rich musical history, the state has
always been known to adopt a healthy number of talented transplants like Gram Parsons and Neil
Young, and embrace them as its own native sons. The success of these transplants over the years
has only further augmented California's implicit promise of artistic prosperity and the actualization
of one's artistic dreams.
To Simon Petty, singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist of MINIBAR, who, along with his band
relocated from London to Los Angeles three years ago, California just seemed to be the place
where things happened. "I've always thought about California," Petty says from his home in
Santa Monica, "the way us English people perceive it: golden, and full of opportunity."
Formed in London in the mid-'90s by Petty, Sid Jordan (bass, vocals) and Tim Walker (electric guitar,
vocals, pedal steel), the band was completed by fellow-Londoner Malcolm Cross (drums,
vocals, percussion) and relocated to L.A. Soon MINIBAR was signed and recording its debut album
with producer T Bone Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), the critically-lauded Road Movies.
"Lyrically," Petty says "it was the idealized version of America in general and specifically L.A."
While Road Movies was written with the wide-eyed vision of a newcomer, Fly Below The Radar,
produced by Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda Williams, Rosie Flores, Jim Lauderdale) and Rami Jaffee and
Greg Richling of The Wallflowers, follows up with a stellar leap both musically and lyrically.
Recorded with a DIY ethic and complete autonomy, the band completed the album and secured a
licensing deal with Foodchain Records. Even the artwork was a hands-on effort by the band, with
the cover art created by Cross. Filled with soaring rootsy grace and timeless West Coast style harmonies,
the new album effortlessly captures the beauty and darkness of the jagged Californian
The graceful beauty of "Unstoppable" is an elegant invocation into Petty's seemingly lonely world
("I've been alone for so long/Sometimes I don't know what to say"). The dusty slow-country shuffle
of "New Mexico" contemplates "enforced distance and the romantic luxury of missing someone"
says Petty, whilst the driving title track, whose infectious chorus ("Fly Below The Radar/Crash into
my room/Love me hard without hurting") is accentuated by Petty's trademark husky vocals. Fly
Below The Radar is a melodically mesmerizing album about life, love, and loss, and the distance
between people sometimes has nothing to do with geography.
The son of "traditional English parents"--his father is a vicar in the Church of England--the
Manchester-born Petty was rebellious in his taste for music. Weaned in his youth on healthy doses
of The Jam ("They spoke to me with the right amount of angst and eloquence and nice thrashy
guitars") and The Smiths. "I was too young for punk," he recalls, "but all the new wave stuff in
England--The Buzzcocks and Elvis Costello--was the music that was playing on the radio. They
were my first crush bands at the time and they all had big influences on me."
The closing track, "Snake Buckle Belt" harks back nostalgically to his childhood ("In the back of a
church when I was twelve/I learned to smoke and play cards"), whilst "Mill Smoke Black" finds
Petty lamenting "Don't ask where I come from because I come from a past that's gone." "When
growing up in East Manchester I yearned to get away. One day I found I'd come a long way away
His songs also explore a spiritual yearning for the thing that will finally put the restless heart at
ease. For example, there's the elegant and breezy "It Is What It Is," which typifies Petty's quest
for spirituality. "The verses are full of anxiety and confusion," he says, "and a struggling to make
sense of emotional difficulties. It's kind of an insomnia theme, but the chorus is a blissed out
English version of a Zen-like sense of acceptance--sometimes it's good to go 'it's okay, it is what
Fly Below The Radar may have its aching, personal moments, but the album is not without its uptempo
numbers either. The stomping and joyous chorus of "Somebody Down Here Loves You"
written by Jordan--who, incidentally, is also the son of a vicar--comes across as an agnostic love
song, that "might be seen as nihilistic and anti-religious," co-writer Petty says, with its rejection of
religious dogma in favor of a more tangible, earthly love.
Elsewhere on Fly Below The Radar, there's the Jordan-penned "Martha," a weeping pedal-steeltinged
ballad replete with wistful three-part harmonies. Although it has the emotional feel of a
love song, Jordan points out that "it's essentially about a messed-up relationship, between a married couple, based on the play 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.'" Later, there's also the spare
"Badlands," a haunting acoustic homage to Gram Parsons after the band's visit to Parsons' beloved
Joshua Tree. Petty recalls, "Tim played the beautiful riff he'd written for hours with Sid, and I
wrote the words a few days later. It's a song of yearning for some kind of spiritual peace, whilst
being aware of the dangers that lie in searching for it."
Yet Fly Below The Radar is not an exercise in sadness. "There's a melancholy there," says Petty.
"Things are fragile and fleeting. I appreciate that because the stuff that does work is just fantastic."
The album does have its lighter moments. The title track begins with its narrator in a diner
with a "mouth full of beans" and "Breathe Easy" recalls a girl who "sends funny letters/Peppered
with lines that she stole/She'd plagiarize whole paragraphs."
Sharing a mutual admiration with many of its peers, MINIBAR has toured with the likes of The
Wallflowers, Old 97's, The Jayhawks and Wilco. They've been joined by Lucinda Williams on stage
and count musicians Pete Yorn, Rami Jaffee and Gary Jules as friends. "It's totally surreal and
incredibly gratifying," Petty says of keeping such company.
Simon Petty is a man who is driven by the relentless search of the past and the quest for what
comes next in the future. Although it's a kind of an endless conundrum, Petty has made peace
with his almost preternatural wandering: "You can't run away from yourself in the end," he says.
Petty is silent for a moment, then adds with a grin, "Plus, when you're in a band, and you're sitting
in a van for fifteen hours driving down another road, you really start sorting this stuff out in
MINIBAR may have come from England, but they feel comfortable calling California home now.
"When you travel, there is a willingness," Petty says, "to allow a difference in place to affect your
whole life. A certain amount of it is running away, and a certain amount is hoping for something
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