This interview was recorded after the release of 'Ming Star' by King Of Woolworths on Mantra Records.  We spoke to John Brooks AKA King of Woolworths on the phone from the UK.  Originally aired on 3RRR 2001.


Cuz: Your album ‘Ming Star’ has a great aura of mystique surrounding it and I’d like to take this opportunity to hopefully remove some of that.  What came first your passion for collecting old records or collecting old equipment to make most of the material for ‘Ming Star’?  

John Brooks: Well actually it was the equipment that came first.  I’ve always been into collecting old but records but really I suppose I started collecting equipment first of all.

Cuz: What sort of equipment were you seeking around that time?

John Brooks:  I was trying to get hold of kind of Roland stuff, old Roland synths and stuff like that.  So I started scouring places and found a few little gems that are in the studio now.  So it’s been cool and good.

Cuz:  Has there been any equipment that’s surprised you that it still works or was operational?

John Brooks:  Yeah a few of the bits and pieces you’d think would’ve been knackered long ago.  Actually, everything was in pretty good condition, I checked them all out before I bought em.  I use quite a lot of old synths and that. 

Cuz:  Moving onto the record collecting aspect.  What period or genres were you seeking out for your inspiration for the album?

John Brooks:  Well, there’s a big sort of French pop influence on there from 1960’s.  Stuff like Serge Gainbough and François Hardy and people like Brian Wilson ‘Pet Sounds’ that kind of thing.  Then also stuff like production library music as well from that period, so there are a lot of different things.

Cuz:  Did you go for some of the more BBC Studio 2 type of material?

John Brooks: Exactly I love all that sort of stuff.

Cuz:  Say the Ron Goodwyn material?

John Brooks:  Oh definitely!  I’ve got loads of that stuff yeah.  You definitely got it right there.

Cuz:  You have a track on ‘Ming Star’ called ‘Kite Hill’ that sounds very similar to Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’.  Was that a sample at all?

John Brooks:  No it’s not, I actually got a friend of mine who’s a orchestral composer and I just sort of gave him a melody to play that was just in my head at the time.  And I said “Could you do this and play some strings get me some strings and turn it into sample”.  So it sounds like it’s been sampled but in fact it wasn’t.  But it has that kind of definite feel, I wanted to get that feel for sure.

Cuz:  Well I think you’ve just fried the brains of the sample detectives who like to spot out the samples.  I for one was pointing the finger at you as to say “the Sinatra family is gonna break ya legs” but you got of the hook there.

John Brooks:  Yeah definitely I wouldn’t go sampling her.  I wouldn’t want to get into any bother. 

Cuz:  Could you explain the DIY aspect towards your making the material piror to signing to Mantra Records.  How did that free up your creative process in recording ‘Ming Star’?

John Brooks:  It basically means I’ve got complete control over the whole process.  Which I think was very very important in making the album.  Mantra didn’t have to come along and say ‘Right.  We’re gonna put you into a big studio because I was quite comfortable doing everything at home.  So for me it makes it a lot more of a personal album.  It is a very personal record and I really wanted that more than anything.  I wanted it DIY, I didn’t want an engineer coming in, I really wanted it to be just me. 

Cuz:  There are parts on Ming Star there are emotions that rang from being very personal to being very extroverted and extravagant yet it’s such a graceful record.

John Brooks:   It’s good of you to say that.  I think it is yeah a very personal record.

Cuz:  Particularly the material on ‘Stalker Song’.  In light of the subject matter being so difficult to deal with, by slowing down the sample and by repeating the voice “Your gonna have to be careful” makes patronization more creepy than the crime of stalking itself.  It’s a song that is very creative and mind blowing at the same time. 

John Brooks: Yeah

Cuz:  Where did that sample come from?

John Brooks: It was actually from an old documentary on stalking.  It was so messed up when I got hold of the vocal I obviously didn’t want to keep the voices the same.  I just wanted to take it and change it completely.  It just a documentary, but I wanted to make it kind of creepy but in a sort of a childhood sort of way.  You’d be hiding behind the sofa when the creepy film came on TV.  I know that stalking is a very difficult subject to deal with.  We’ve got people over here, comedians like Chris Morris doing quite controversial things like that.  Really I suppose it kind of fits in with what he’s trying to do.  It’s a difficult one but people seem to like it. 

Cuz:  The track itself I would have to sight as one of the most original and creative releases of recent years.

John Brooks: I want to be creative, I want to do stuff that people are going to say, “Well I’ve not heard anything quite like this before”.  I like messing about with sounds and I like messing about with people’s heads.  It seems to work anyway.

Cuz:  Well I think you’ve done that!

John Brooks: Good.

Cuz: There seems to be a real soundtrack influence that is rampant throughout ‘Ming Star’.  Have there been any offers to use material from the album for films?

John Brooks: Well, not for the moment because the album has just been out for a couple of weeks over here.  I’m hoping that someone is going to come along and say, “I’d like to use it”.  I’m still yet to get a publishing deal so I think that sort of thing tends to happen when you’ve got a publishing deal.  I’m still waiting for something to happen along those lines.  If someone equally, if they came a long and said, “Would you like to do a score for a film?”  I’d like to do that as well.   

Cuz:  ‘Ming Star’ seems to scream score material.

John Brooks: It’s quite cinematic I suppose.  I’m just really into old films and stuff. 

Cuz:  Which film scores inspire you?

John Brooks: Well my favourite film is a film called ‘Get Carter’ with Michael Caine playing the lead role in a gangster film.  I’m really into that.  Films like ‘The Italian Job’ and Barbarella, a flim called  ‘Blow Up’ I’m really into.

Cuz:  The Herbie Handcock score.

John Brooks: Exactly.  Really good film that.  I’m really into the music on that film as well.  It all gets a big influence on what I do.

Cuz:  By using the name King of Woolworths, have you received the cease and desist letter from Woolworths at all?

John Brooks: It’s a name that people always remember.  Unless I get into trouble with Woolworths and I don’t think I’m going to.  Apparently they know about me and they think it’s OK.  I wouldn’t want to change my name particularly.   It came from being a child and going around Woolworths.  It was the only place you could get sweets, blank tapes and toys under one roof.  When you were a kid, when I was a kid that all what I wanted.  You know it’s a childhood thing and there’s a big childhood thing in the music.  It kind of sticks really.

Cuz: One of the mainstream daily papers in Melbourne reviewed ‘Ming Star’.  The opening line in the review basically said, “If this guy is the King of Woolworths, I’m shopping elsewhere”.  What has the critical reaction to the record been like?

John Brooks: Yeah I’ve scared a few people but I haven’t had any bad press so far over here, it’s been really good.  People have been really into it; even the mainstream newspapers over here have really liked it.  They have kind of said, “If this guy is shopping at Woolworths I’ll go somewhere else coz he’s a bit scary”.  It’s always really weird because when I do interviews with people they always think they’re going to meet a really kind of scary bloke.  Actually I’m quite a nice chap.  

Cuz:  You do sound like a nice chap chatting over a mug of tea.

John Brooks: Yeah totally.  We’ll I’ve actually got a glass of orange juice! 

Cuz: Another track on ‘Ming Star’ is ‘To The Devil’ a Doughnut’.  Where was the dialogue for that track taken from?

John Brooks:  It’s from a really really old horror film*.  It was a very cheap horror film as well.  I think I’ve only ever seen it on TV one time and I actually recorded it on video.  So I went through it and I found a few bits of dialogue and thought well, “I could write a tune around this”.  It’s quite a sort of childhood horror kind of thing.  It’s not a serious track it’s meant to just have a really good groove to it.  It raises a smile as well, but it’s quite creepy too.  *The film in question was ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ a 1976 film made by Hammer Pictures staring Christopher Lee.

Cuz:  Was there any score over the top of the dialogue you sampled?   Or was it all clean dialogue?

John Brooks:  It was just a clean sample.  All the rest of it was just orchestrated by me, just put around it.  It was basically some vocal parts and dialogue parts.

Cuz:  Have you ever tried to sample from a source that already has score underneath it?  In doing that have you tried building a track around it? 

John Brooks:  Yeah it has happened but with fairly limited results.  I think a lot of the time I try and get rid of what was going on underneath it.  If I kept the original score it might sort of interrupt with what was going on, or take the tune somewhere else.  I always feel I have to be in control of where a tune is going and I don’t tend to do that very much.   I like the sort of good clean sample, then sort of, build something over the top of it/or around it. 

Cuz:  When you do DJ sets, what material do you put into your sets?

John Brooks: Whatever I’m thinking about at the time.  I’m actually playing in London tomorrow.  So I’m going through my records this evening and working out what I’m going to be doing.  There’s a bit of Hip-Hop in there, Acid House, Aphex Twin and sort of stuff like that.  Old 60’s soundtracks like ‘Blow Up’ and stuff.  There are an awful lot of different things to be played.  I like to keep it eclectic I don’t want to stick to playing one style of music.  It tends to get thrown about.