An interview with Mick Flannery

Mick Flannery hails from Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland. For reasons that he reveals at his concerts, he has not kissed the Blarney Stone and might not have gained the gift of the gab, i.e. would not call himself talkative. Still, I can prove he can talk because here it is: An interview with Mick Flannery. Generally though, thankfully he pours all his wordsmithery into his songs that are acutely observed and razor-sharply worded held up by an uncanny talent for the melancholic and sometimes angry tune. The songs at times make you forget to breathe and they wrench your little heart.

He has released five albums so far, the lastest being “I Own You” (Universal). Currently he is on tour where you can catch him next week in Germany, followed by tour dates in the UK and later in summer in the US and Canada. Listening to Mick Flannery on record is the one thing, seeing him perform live the other. Not thinking he is a natural performer himself, he nonetheless has everybody’s attention not only through his music and his mastery of guitar and piano as well as owning a very soothing, yet rough voice (cannot explain it very well) that still can get shockingly loud – no, the banter in-between the songs is so deadpan and self-deprecating, it has the audience in tears, either with empathy or mirth or both.

Offbeat Music Blog had the fortune to see him perform at the beginning of April at Little Waves in Genk, Belgium and now again at the Poppodium Nieuwe Nor’s Kloostersessies in Heerlen, Netherlands. Indeed the gig took place in the chapel of an abbey, slap-bang in the middle of town and it is a very atmospheric place. Good sound, appreciative audience, a very friendly welcome. As usual, a big thank you to the Nieuwe Nor team for doing such a great job. Also thank you so much to Sheena and Susan at Blue Grace Music and of course Mick Flannery himself for making this interview possible!

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you so much, Mick, for taking the time.

Mick Flannery: Yes, of course.

OMB: Let us start at the very beginning. You grew up outside a small place in Ireland and started doing music there as a teenager.

MF: I grew up outside the village of Blarney, a tourist town in Ireland. Music was a big part of my mother’s family. All of them, my aunts and uncles and my grandfather sang. They would have get-togethers at the pub sometimes and they would sing. A guitar would be passed around and people would take their turn. I got in to like the music they were singing, the different people like Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Bob Dylan. Then I started to want to be involved, so I started to play the guitar a bit. I had been doing some piano lessons as well which I didn’t really enjoy so much, so I gave up. I just concentrated on the guitar and then later went back to the piano. 

OMB: Did you take guitar lessons as well or are you self-trained?

MF: Self-trained but I had some chord books. The chord books were written vertically. For a while I didn’t know I was playing the guitar upside down. 

OMB: Because you are left-handed.

MF: I am left-handed but I was playing a right-handed guitar. But it hasn’t really affected me that much. But I guess it is a little strange for people to see, especially guitar players that can’t tell which chords I am playing. My hands look odd to them.

OMB: Does it put a strain on your hands?

MF: No, it doesn’t really affect much. I guess it is not the best method for doing solos like Slash or someone like that because the high strings are on the other side of the guitar. They are not so much available to you. But that’s okay, I get away with it. 

An interview with Mick Flannery

OMB: You are sort of dismissive of your earlier work, finding it not so original. I do hear more original Mick Flannery in your newer albums. Have you found the real Mick Flannery?

MF: I don’t know if I have. With the earlier stuff I can hear the definite influences of Tom Waits. And I can hear myself emulating his voice too much. It kind of annoys me and embarrasses me now. I still use americanisms when I write. I find it hard to get away from using American phrases. It’s just seems to be the language of songwriting in the English language. It seems to use americanisms like the word “ain’t” appears a lot in songs but it doesn’t appear in common parlance, especially on this side of the Atlantic. For that reason I don’t know if I’ve actually found any Mick Flannery voice as yet. Maybe when I am older. I am still a stew of influences at the moment. 

OMB: I do find that in your later albums there is less a mix of genres and it becomes a more definite style. But in Ireland there would be a strong tradition of being connected to the US anyway, also musically, rather than to England?

MF: That’s who my family were interested in. That’s true of Ireland in a lot of ways. We import and seem to have some affinity with country music as well. Like Johnny Cash is big in Ireland. And I guess because of our history with England, we feel less obliged to follow their musicians (laughs) even though we follow their soccer teams religiously…a strange thing. For me anyway, there is a lot of American influence. Which is fine, there’s been a lot of very good music coming from America.

OMB: Absolutely nothing wrong with it. You were signed at a young age to a major label in Ireland. Was that luck or is it also because Ireland has such a low population?

MF: It was a mixture of things, I guess. The last point is definitely true. It is a low population. It is a small market for the music industry. So a big label – I mean there’s only a few labels in Ireland, I think, there might be only two left really. People would have their own small labels but they would be only for individual work really.  And lucky? I guess so. Even though the timing would seem to be bad, considering the changes in the industry. By two years into my contract, the industry was having a panic attack due to the technology’s influence. Not long afterwards, EMI itself, the company who’d signed me, was sold to Universal. So I found myself in a move from one stable to another without really…I guess what sometimes artists really need is a champion on the business side, someone who has some type of emotional bond or pride attached to you doing well. That may have slightly disappeared once I moved from EMI to Universal because it wasn’t Universal’s idea to sign me really. I was just moved over. Not that they haven’t worked but it is just: I am not their baby. Yeah, Ireland is a small market, so it’s possible if I were more forward thinking and ambitious, I would have tried to go abroad and get a record deal. Then I’d have been more likely to have a worldwide record deal rather than just an Irish one which is a little bit restrictive. 

OMB: Did you ever think of self-promoting or self-releasing or would that not be your thing at all?

MF: Well, back to lucky. I have been lucky enough not to have to do it too much. And that makes me really bad at it. I have always been bad at self-promotion and I don’t really see myself getting better at it. I got spoiled, I think. 

OMB: When you wrote your albums, did you have a goal in mind, something that you wanted to achieve in particular with the album?

MF:  Yeah, sometimes. The album that is the most cohesive is the last one before the new one (“I Own You”, 2016, Universal) “By The Rule” (2014, Universal) which was all done in a small time with live takes. It gives it a sound of itself. Then to listen to it, I sometimes feel it feels longer, that there are too many songs on it or that it sounds all too the same. The last album was more of a departure into different types of production. Some of it sounds more aggressive. A friend of mine said to me that it seems to him that, me included, but a lot of other artists as well, seem to have reactions to their previous work. So they create a work and it is, say, missionless or blind as to what it is going to be and it is just a bunch of songs. And then have a reaction to this. “I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to do something else”. So you just do the other. And then you move on to another again. I can see what he meant. I see it in myself as well. I guess if there was any arc or progression, it would be from the topics, the subject matters of the songs. When I was younger, a lot of them were personally based, personal experience. As I get older…I think as people get older they think less of themselves as individual and their feelings so unique, they start to view the world a little more broadly. So rather than writing about your condition, you tend to write about the human condition a bit more. 

OMB: I saw you play at Little Waves festival in Genk, two women were sitting behind me and they kept exclaiming: “Oh dear, oh dear, aaaaaw, the poor man. Oh dear. Such heartbreak. Too much for an individual person to bear.” I found your announcements actually very funny because they are so deadpan but I would agree: Too much for one person. Are these all your experiences or do you abstract it too and use other people’s experiences?

MF: Part of it would be personal. Then there are other ones that are, not so much stolen but I kind of attach myself a little bit or something. There are songs which aren’t autobiographical but you can’t help but have some piece of yourself seep in. So I do pretend to be other people sometimes. When I hear them speak or hear them use some turn of phrase that kind of encapsulates their whole life at that point for me, then I take that and put it in. I take on characters sometimes. I get to the melodies first and the melodies kind of ask you to write a certain thing because the melody won’t support any different subject matter. If the melody sounds pining, then you write towards it. If you buck away from it and the melody is pining but wrote something really angry, then that is not going to really work. 

OMB: Your songs are more on the, well, not negative scale, but on the angrier, more melancholic side. There are not too many happy songs about in works. As much as I would wish someone well and to be happy, would you still be able to write songs? Are you at your most creative when you are not happy?

MF: I would think so, possibly, yeah, because it stirs your brain up. It makes you uncomfortable, it makes you kind of different to what you normally are. It throws a storm around in your head as you consciously try to figure it out. That is probably a good time to be creative. I found in the past that when things are going badly or someone wrongs me or if I am angry, in some situations that can be useful. 

OMB: Do you find it cathartic?

MF: Yeah, it would help. If you are getting back at someone especially. (Lots of laughter). “Can’t wait for them to hear this! Bastards!” (More laughter).

OMB: When you perform older songs, does this transport you back in time or do you find the songs get a new meaning?

MF: You have to kind of apply it elsewhere, I think. Because the feelings of the time are gone, pretty much, beyond you. If the songs is good enough, the audience members will be able to attach themselves to it as well. If the song is able to do that for them, it should be able to do it for you as well. You should be able to apply different meanings to it as you moved on from the original one. That’s why people don’t use specific names and specific incidents or sometimes they do. In that sense the songs don’t really last. 

An interview with Mick Flannery

OMB: You spent some time in Berlin to get out. Why out of all places Berlin? I would have probably seen you choosing the US more like.

MF: I don’t know really. A friend of mine had been to Berlin. He said it was a great place to go with a lot of art happening there, a melting pot of different nationalities. That was true. I like my time in Berlin even though it was a little bit kind of solitary. I just wanted to move somewhere I think. There was a promotions company interested in working with me around Germany. One of the albums had been picked up by the EMI branch of Germany. So I thought, if there is going to be a bit of work around, I might as well be there rather than go to America and have to cross the Atlantic. I just wanted to get away from my comfort zone. I’d been knocking around Cork City in Ireland for ten years, leaving away from home, drinking too much in the same places, not really doing anything new. I got sick of myself.

OBM: How long did you spend there?

MF: I was there for three months the first time I went. And then, I think it was a year and a half the second time. 

OBM: You spent some time in New York too.

MF: I spent three months in New York when I was twenty-one. Knocking around singer-songwriter nights and stuff like that. That was my first delve into ambition. But I didn’t really believe in myself that much. I didn’t have enough songs anyway and I shied away from it and went back home. 

OBM: You were very young though.

MF: Yeah, it’s hard to know. Sometimes I give myself a hard time for not sticking it out in New York and say to myself, oh, you should have stayed there and gone properly ambitious and met the right people. But I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Maybe I have a bit of a home bird instinct in me. Or maybe I just like a quiet life. 

OBM: Well, New York is hectic.

MF: Yeah, I just don’t know. What I enjoy most is writing songs and it seems to take me quite a while to ferment stuff. I can’t rush myself. My brain works as fast as it works. It seems a have a certain gearbox in my head and I am stuck in one of them (laughs) and I can churn out maybe sixteen songs every two years, maybe a little bit more. Then twelve of them will be worth being on an album. I am okay with that. I am kind of okay with the level of ambition I have had as well, the level of success which has been good. It hasn’t been astronomical but it has given me my own space to do what I really like to do.

OBM: And you can live on it.

MF: I am not rich, so I am not detached from society.

OBM: Still grounded, yeah. 

MF: Yeah and I am not super famous, you know, it’s fine.

OBM: You also work or maybe not so often now as a stonemason. A lot of people see a contradiction between working as a stonemason and as a musician. It is not really, is it? Both being creative professions.

MF: Yes, it is and I liked it. I still like it. I don’t do as much as I used to. It is creative and it is kind of calming. If I go on holidays, I have to bring a guitar because I don’t play the guitar. It calms me down. Building is probably a bit harder physically than playing the guitar but it calms me down. It’s relaxing – as long as it is not snowing on you. (Laughs).

OBM: Is there any other artist you would like to work together with? Maybe in Ireland which has such a huge music scene for a relatively small place?

MF: Sometimes, yeah. I don’t know, look, I don’t know I could work with anyone else because I am kind of such a solo artist, I guess. It’s nice to meet the other people in the business and be on a gig with them or have a chat about what it’s been like for them. Maybe have a singsong somewhere – that’s always fun. I have been doing a few more bits of co-writing recently which is interesting. It is never the same. Whatever comes out is always a little bit scary for me, because it’s not really mine and there are things about it I would change and avenues I wouldn’t have gone down maybe. We’ll see. The Irish music scene is good. It seems it’s always been healthy. I guess there’s just a lot of people around. The younger generation is always going to see someone is doing it, someone getting somewhere with it. They can see the bigger examples of it like, I dunno, U2, Phil Lynott or Van Morrison. Big examples of people who have gone far in that industry. I guess they just believe they can do it to.

OBM: I found that in Ireland people, especially young people, still attend gigs a lot and go to record stores and play themselves rather than just listening to a list of what’s offered to them on the charts or by the music industry. There is more of a go out and get it, a looking for it attitude, I reckon.

MF: The Irish are good music fans as well and they pride themselves of having a good knowledge of music, not just pop music.

OBM: You do record with a band. I suppose, you perform with the band in Ireland but you did not bring them with you abroad?

MF: It is a financial restriction, you know. The gigs aren’t big enough in Europe at the moment to be able to afford to bring a band. I would like to even though it is so unhealthy. Too much fun.

OBM: Too much partying?

MF: It is impossible to avoid. It is just a circus. It is a pity because it so much fun when the guys and girls do come.  They have all such fun and I really enjoy the fact that all this fun is slightly because of me. It makes me feel good. I kind of regret that I can’t always have that party going on.

OBM: Stating that what you like most is writing the songs, would you call yourself a natural performer?

MF: No, I wouldn’t have been but I am getting better at it the more comfortable I get. I am just more experienced now. I kind of know what will work at various times. I think I can get a feel for the audience when they are getting bored. I don’t really have a setlist. I am long enough in the tooth as well – I have five albums worth of stuff. So I don’t really have to get bored myself. I can pick stuff from here and there. I always have to play more upbeat songs to break the rhythm of the evening but that’s okay. 

OBM: At present you are not only on tour, you are also writing new songs. What direction are the new songs going in?

MF: There’s a lot to do with desire and ambition actually and the internal battle that people have with their dreams and their goals, the level of pride you might attach to your status in whichever field you are striving in. So that’s kind of a buddhist album (laughs). It is a little bit of a brain exploration, I guess, in parts. So more of the human condition stuff again. 

OBM: Are you ambitious?

MF: Not really, no. I dunno, pride does peak its head up now and again. (Long thinking pause.) I guess if you work a lot at something and the quality is good and you felt that you had worked hard at getting lyrics right…It’s hard to think about it. There is some ambition lurking around at the back of my head alright. I don’t know where I’d like to be. But I know when I get there, I won’t be happy (laughs). I think I’d like to meet some of the people that I like in the business like Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen. But that’s true for a lot of people. A lot of people would like to meet them (bursts out laughing). Maybe there’s some part of me that would like to play a song to Bruce Springsteen and have him say that it’s good. That’s an ambition of mine. I dunno, I sometimes think does acknowledgement become addictive? Do you get addicted to positive appraisals? This is part of the unhealthy stuff…maybe not healthiest stuff to have in your head. It’s important to be happy to be just happy yourself with what you have done. There is a guy I really like in Ireland. His name is Blindboy Boatclub. He’s from a band called The Rubber Bandits. He talks a lot about self-evalutation and self-actualisation, having an internal locus of evaluation rather than exporting it to somebody else which I think is wise. I must try and keep that up. 

 

 

 

Nap Eyes, one of Canada’s finest – an interview

Nap Eyes, one of Canada’s finest – an interview, on the occasion of the band being on tour in Europe and the UK and presenting their latest album “‘I’m Bad Now” (You’ve Changed, Paradise Of Bachelors, Jagjaguwar) to the eager audience.

Nap Eyes, one of Canada's finest - an interview

Because as much as you can sit at home and delve into the lyrics of wordsmith Nigel Chapman, an abundance of introspective, reflective, self-deprecating, funny and elegant and simply informative lines and a few on the big picture…As much as you can admire the music that is added to those lyrics by guitarist Brad Loughead, bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton – music that appears so light and easy-going at first and still is peppered with unexpected turns in gear and atmosphere…No, you want to see them live. You still can in the UK, supported by the fantastic Haley Heynderickx who unfortunately did not come with them to mainland Europe.

Also missing was Brad Loughead. Sad but then again, it gives everyone a chance to witness Cian Nugent doing his magic on a guitar, seemingly effortlessly. On the 5th of May, on a lovely summerish evening, Nap Eyes drew quite a crowd to Cologne’s King Georg and kindly gave Offbeat Music Blog some time for a chat.

Nap Eyes, one of Canada's finest - an interview

 

So here we go:

 

Offbeat Music Blog: Your three albums including the latest “I’m Bad Now” are often seen as a trilogy. Would that be a conceptual trilogy or more in the way that there is a continuity in the three albums?

Nigel Chapman: Yeah, I would say, more of the second. We did not probably do anything consciously differently or similarly. The songs just evolved as they did in our playing together but that being said, maybe the fact that we did not make a deliberate big change means all three (albums) fit together. And there is some connection. We did know what we were doing.

Seamus Dalton: And artwise they are thematically similar which was on purpose, to keep some sort of theme going through all of them.

OMB: How would you describe your own development?

Nigel: For me, just continuing with songwriting. Musically, I think, we have gotten better. I feel I have got more practised at singing. It was two years ago that we recorded this record almost now (July 2016). But gaining some skills and experience in singing, still with lots of mistakes but, you know, getting there (laughs). Lyrically, it was mostly from a different time. Sometimes it felt a little less imagistic, less imagery. For me it felt more like direct explanations of things that were going on in my mind. But I can’t really say. That may be just be me talking now. Maybe it is easier for someone else to say how it is the same or different. 

OMB: I think the first album “Whine Of The Mystic” was almost a little rougher (“uh-huh” go Nigel, Seamus and Josh in unison) and had a live feel to it and the second album (“Thought Rock Fish Scale”) sounded like it was done in a smaller room (‘absolutely”, “definitely”) and on the third one, you can hear, ah, this is a big recording studio. Was it tempting to not just going in there and play the songs if you have all the possibilities to fiddle around with the music? Is it hard to say, okay, we are stopping at this point and leave a song like it is?

Seamus: It is, and I think we have tried some new things in the studio that we have not tried before. You can carried away very easily and lose what you set out to do in the first place with all the toys lying around. 

Nigel: It was good that we did not have that much money. So we did not spend that long in there. 

OMB: Much has been made of the alleged contrast between you, Nigel, being a scientist and a musician. Do you notice ways each field would influence the other?

Nigel: Yeah, definitely. Especially for me the way I approach music or songwriting is very much a part of or results from the kinds of thoughts that I am thinking. If I spend some time concentrating on a particular research area or subject, then as a result my writing will take on some elements from that field. You will hear, I am talking about it sometime what it is like doing research. But equally often or in a different way, you could say that the constant perseverance and repetition that you do in science and a lot of failure – you have to get comfortable with things not working out the right way the first time. This has given me some very valuable lessons in life and in approaching music. It has given me more patience which I think is not something I am naturally imbued with. What Jim (Elkington) had said about practice (good playing has  got little to do with talent, just practice), that’s similar. I felt that way as well. Just having more time to repeat and practise. You should be comfortable with taking it slow. Because things do take way longer than you would hope in all kinds of ways, including our career or how long it takes for an album to be released or finalised. But if you get patient, this won’t be as painful an experience. You don’t mind waiting as much and figure out things to occupy you with while you wait. 

OMB: Maybe also, if you don’t burden yourself with a failure but accept something has to be, say, repeated, that is a relief?

Nigel: So true, yeah. Because it does not really do much good. If it does not work, it does not do good to have a huge amount of negativity towards yourself. It does not really serve any purpose. 

OMB: You made music your profession now. Does that pose any problems, to know, this is it, that is my source of income.

Nigel: There are probably challenges and problems in any career. Since we have to earn our rent and our food in this way, it is stressful in a different way than it used to be. We are putting a lot of personal investment in terms of time and energy into this. We hope that it works out. Sometimes it is scarier than before when it could be more casual. But overall it is a satisfying and fulfilling thing. I feel really happy about that and lucky and optimistic. 

OMB: So you rather see the benefits of it than feel like it casts a shadow over something that you like to do?

Nigel: Yeah, I think so.

Seamus: I don’t know what else we would do, probably. (Laughs). 

Nigel: It feels natural. It is the kind of work we like to do and we felt drawn to and somehow ended up continuing. 

Nap Eyes, one of Canada's finest - an interview

OMB: You live far apart in Canada, Nigel in Nova Scotia, the rest in Montreal. Some people argue it is impossible to work together like that. Nigel, you have done a project where a song was passed along via email or the like and is this the way you work too? Nigel starts a song and then it gets passed on and worked on before you even meet up?

Seamus: Exactly. 

Josh: Sometimes we hear demos. But usually we don’t really do much before. Nigel writes the song. When we get together, we play it till it is the song. 

Nigel: I don’t know how it will sound when they bring their elements to it. But as Josh is saying, we usually just jam. Sometimes it takes a while for parts to start to mesh together like in a puzzle. But then they do, or sort of (laughs). And then we have a result. It is a very rewarding and exciting experience, sometimes very frustrating but mostly really satisfying and fun. 

OMB: You must know each other really well to write the lyrics, Nigel, a basic melody perhaps and have a certain atmosphere in mind and then trust the others to transfer this to music. Is there sometimes a misconception of what you had in mind?

Nigel: Not so much. I think. Maybe once in a while, my mind will be like: Oh, I thought it’s like this and that. Usually I just let go as much as I can. That’s easier for me. For me it works to let everybody else do things. I think if I had more ideas of what all the parts should be, then I would come into conflict more often with the others. Usually I just do my thing and let everybody else build around it. So in this way it works really well. The others have a good collaborative spirit and maybe more or different kinds of social skills than me. They figure out things together so we get a result. 

OMB: Also, the audience might project something else on the song. Or even the songs, since they were recorded almost two years ago, have during the performances taken on a different meaning for you?

Nigel: That’s very true. That is certainly a thing that happens. It evolves when we play together. Certainly for me when I sing the same lyrics now because I am different than I was back then. That’s the nice thing about music, too, because you can constantly reinterpret yourself and you are bringing the past to life each time when you bring an old song into the present. Sometimes you go like, why am I playing this all the time? You feel constrained about it. But that is also a good thing. It does not always feel good but it is a good discipline to do what you have to do, the best you can, any time. At a concert, we have to play our old songs. That’s what we are paid to do. 

OMB: Nigel, you are said to be quite introverted. So you work alone, as a scientist, as the songwriter and then you thrown into the thick of it, get shoved out on tour.

Nigel: At first – sorry, guys, that I am answering all of this. At first it took a period of adaption for me because I did not know what to do. But there are a few things that make it a lot easier and one is having got used to it and knowing what to expect. The rhythm of the day, when you can be in your own mind even when you are around the others. There are certain times of the day that are more suitable for not being as talkative but being quiet in yourself and recharge a bit. Knowing how to take advantage of that time is helpful. But also, gaining a bit of social skills and capability for extraversion over time, strengthening the weak side of your personality is always good. But also playing with my friends, with Seamus, Josh and Brad…Cian is actually with us, so also Cian. Travelling with your friends makes a huge difference just in terms of relating to people because I know I have people who understand me. They know my patterns of feeling different ways. I feel accepted and that helps a lot. It is like a translator with others. 

OMB: Lyrically, again, is that all you in the songs Nigel or different persons or personas?

Nigel: Different personas, I guess. Mostly it sounds like the same persona. Different sides of my personality or characters that seem to exist in my psyche. Which I think everyone has. You have got different people that act. Josh was talking about this one this morning. “The White Disciple” is the kind of person within the psyche. Some are good and bad. Some qualities that are good in certain situations, some are bad on others. You try not to judge them. You give them room to exist. You should have somebody who is able to keep them in check. There is like a really anti-social character. At times I give him a pretty long leash so he can roam around but at other times restrain him in so he does not interfere with harmony in the world. This idea is helpful for me, you know. 

OMB: What’s new on the album is that you might not have an answer to all the questions that you start asking after having a good introspective look and also at the outside world, but there seems to be a silver lining. Also I think it is beautifully transferred to the music which turns adequately. Reminds me of The Go-Betweens. Did anybody ever say that?

Nigel, Josh and Seamus: YES!

Seamus: Not a band that anyone of us would cite as an influence.

Nigel: It’s only because I have not really listened to them that much. They are probably very good but I have not heard of them so much. 

Seamus: A friend of mine gave me an album of The Go-Betweens a long time ago and I did see the similarity. They are a very good band. It is a compliment. 

OMB: Not a bad thing at all! Thank you very much for your time!

James Elkington, finally touring his solo album in Europe

James Elkington, finally touring his solo album in Europe
James Elkington, photo by Tim Harris

James Elkington used to be the frontman of the much-loved The Zincs. There is simply no way you could not have come across his work – he contributed his stylish guitar work (and other musical touches) to countless works of artists and bands alike or played with them live. To name but a few: Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Laetitia Sadier, Tweedy, Brokeback, Eleventh Dream Day, Tara Jane O’Neil. The list is indeed endless.

The year 2017 finally saw him getting around to put the finishing touches to his first solo album “Wintres Woma” (Paradise Of Bachelors). On the occasion of touring with this album in tow almost a year later on the continent, James Elkington kindly gave Offbeat an interview before a tremendous gig at the King Georg in Cologne, Germany. After visiting Europe he will open for The Sea And Cake in the US in May.

Grab the opportunity to see James Elkington live by all means, check out more info here and here and enjoy the interview below:

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you so much for taking the time, James! To start off really heavily: Steve Gunn called you one of the best guitarists (if not the very one) of this generation and said, you can play anything, anything at all.

James Elkington: That is…untrue. He is a very supportive person, Steve, and we are good friends. But it is not true that I can do anything. As anyone who is coming down to the show tonight is probably going to find out (laughs).

OBM: Your masterful guitar playing then, does it stem from talent, is it genetic or immensely hard work or a combination?

JE: I am glad you are asking about that because I was talking to an elderly man called Charles in Overpelt (B) this morning on the train about that. And he was saying that he never played a musical instrument because he assumed you had to have some sort of innate talent or ability. Two things I have to say to that. Firstly, when I was learning how to play guitar, I was the slowest student. I mean, anyone else, anyone I studied with or played with, they all got better than me a lot quicker. I had to work twice as hard or at least twice as long to do the most basic things. Later in my life I was teaching guitar for a while, so I got to see people learning a lot and what I realised was: What we think of as being talent is just those people who for whatever reason happen to have the right muscles in the right places to be able to make those sounds. But for most of us, you just have to put the hours in. I think what we sometimes mistake as talent is just kind of luck or something. Maybe there is something innate that gets passed on but not in the terms of the technicalities of playing. I think you just have to put in the hours or even more hours if you are me.

OBM: So did you come from a musical family?

JE: My Mum was a singer in a choir and my Dad played the spoons to a high level.  People were impressed, other spoon players. But no, ultimately no, not really, There was no-one in my family. People were musical but they weren’t musicians.

James Elkington, finally touring his solo album in Europe
James Elkington

OBM: You eventually joined bands in the UK and then had your own band The Zincs and took them over to Chicago?

JE: Well, actually I started The Zincs in Chicago. I played in other people’s bands. I hadn’t really done anything of my own until I moved to Chicago. It took me moving to Chicago to have the confidence to start my own project completely.

OBM: The music of The Zincs already sounds very influenced by all kinds of American music.

JE: I had been mostly listening to American music during my late teens and twenties. I also moved to Chicago because I wanted to be near to where some of this music was being made. But also when I was a kid, I grew up listening to The Smiths and Orange Juice and things like that. All of this stuff was beginning to mix together for me. I was trying to synthesise something that was partly what I was at the time and also what I had been into as a kid. I was already thirty or in my late twenties then. So I was beginning to be interested in the stuff that I was listening to as a kid and reconnecting with that. So that band was sort of about that. But the weird thing is that I wrote a few songs…I had already sort of started my guitar style. It started around then. It wasn’t particularly technical but it had the foundations of it. I played a show one time and a friend of my bass player said: “This actually sounds like English folk music. Does James like to listen to much of that stuff?”. The fact is that I had not really listened to it since I was a kid. I don’t know if you had this too, but there was country dancing when I was a kid. (OBM: Nooo.) No, no (laughs). I mean, it was awful. We were exposed to a lot of this music and it always seemed to be around in some shape or form. It seeped in somehow but I was not really conscious of it. It was around that time that I was making more of a study of the sixties and seventies folk band stuff from England. I found that a lot of things about it really resonated with me. It set me off on this new trajectory. The Zincs were the beginning of that. I was even thinking about some of those older songs. They are not that dissimilar to my songs now but they are just wearing different clothes or something.

OBM: But being a frontman was not really your thing?

JE: Yeah, it was. I quit was what basically happened. The Zincs had been the first band that had been purely mine.  I worked really hard on it and I took it very seriously. I took it way to seriously. What I realised in retrospect was that part of me actually needed it to be a success to make it all worthwhile. However you quantify success, in sales or people coming to shows – I really wanted those things but I hadn’t admitted it to myself. When those things did not happen and they don’t happen to most bands…

OBM: Critically they did…

JE: Critically, yeah, some people seemed to like it but it did not really go anywhere and I needed it to go somewhere. I thought it was not really worth my while or I did not really have the temperament for it. So I stopped for a couple of years and I was just teaching. It was around 2010 or 2011 that a friend of mine, Jon Langford asked me to come and play a show with him. Jon has a band called The Mekons and The Waco Brothers and he has been around making records for over forty years now, I guess. I did not really know anything about his music but I took my guitar and he showed me a couple of songs. I played the songs with him and  I had a great time and I realised that what had been missing from music for me was or what it added to music was that expectation that it would go anywhere instead of doing it for the sake of doing it. I had a complete rethink. I was like, okay, I just want to play in other people’s bands because it makes me happy to do that. And it frees me up from any expectation of anything. I can concentrate on the music which is all I have ever been interested in.

OBM: Also, no responsibility?

JE: Oh yeah, that’s another one. I mean, I am not really a natural leader. I never had a gang or anything. I was more worried that my band was having a bad time. or there was not enough money. Being in other people’s bands was a way for me to play music and be completely absolved of that responsibility. That made me happy to the extent where when I had some free time, I actually started to write songs. But it was purely as a kind of…you know, I always liken it to when people were on the phone, or when they used to be on phones that had cords, they would stick it under their chin and they would draw little doodles. The music I was coming out with was like my little doodle that I did when I had time off from touring. It was really just for me and not meant to be anything. But I found after a year of these doodles that I had of what amounted to a collection of songs. I very slowly recorded them and stopped, thought about it for a while and play some to people and stop. I was sort of edging my way back in but it was very important to me that it wasn’t like before and I was doing it for the right reasons, just that it made me happy to do it. That’s how it worked out.

OBM: The artists whose work you contributed to or played with cover a wide range of genres. Is that part work for you or does it reflect different sides of your musical character?

JE: Sometimes when I would be playing with people it would be more of a technical exercise for me to see if I could do it.  The thing is though, with playing in different styles of bands, my style of playing remains the same in all of those bands. The fun for me is to figure out where I fit in to something. I played with Jon and that was fairly straight rock stuff with a country tinge. But then I played with Kelly Hogan for a year and she has almost more of a soul thing going on but again, I was still playing my style, my sound, but her songs. Usually I can find some sort of combination that makes me fit. That’s why I don’t really think of myself as a session person because if I came to play with you and you wanted this to sound like Nile Rodgers, I don’t know if I’d be able to do that. I can only do the thing that I am going to do. Fortunately for me, the people I played with have asked me to because I do a certain kind of thing. But I am certainly not a master of all styles.

OBM: Is that a technical thing or would you say, your heart is not in it?

JE: I think I made a decision when I got back into music that there is a lot of people playing guitar, a really tremendously huge amount of people playing guitar and to try and play like someone else, it’s just a dead end for me. I don’t think it’s worth pursuing for anyone. Because there are a lot of them out there. By finding your own voice on the instrument, the interesting things happen. But that’s what I have been able to concentrate on. But I have also been very lucky. It’s a Chicago thing too because Chicago has a wide and very inclusive musical community. People play across genres all the time. The folk guys play with the jazz guys who play with the experimental rock guys. It’s always been that way.

OBM:  Doug McCombs (Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day, Brokeback) himself is already combining all the genres.

JE: To be honest, the way Doug’s whole career has gone…I play in a band with Doug…even just watching him, developing the different things he was doing, was part of led me to move to Chicago anyway. You could go and play different kinds of music but that does not necessarily mean that you are like a dilettante or that you are somehow insincere. I think, if you have a style or a sound and an approach, then it is actually an interesting synthesis to be playing in different styles. When I lived in London, I did not find that people looked at music that way so much. It seemed to be much more segregated. That did not appeal to me so much.

OBM:  I do think your style is very distinctive. I was listening to James Toth’ (Wooden Wand) wonderful “Clippership” album and during the song “Mexican Coke”, I thought “That sounds like James Elkington in there” and I looked it up, yep, it is.

JE: That’s the best compliment anyone could give you, thank you! Or did you go: “Hang on a second, this does not sound that good. I bet Jim is on this.” (Laughs).

OBM: No, no, it wasn’t that way at all. You do not only play guitar though, you are a multi-instrumentalist.

JE: No, I play the drums. The drums were my first instrument. And I love the drums but the drums do not love me. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just don’t get very good on the drums. So I sort of stopped doing it. I loved it though! The again, it is just for me. I play drums on a couple of records. Doug’s band Brokeback – not on the last record, the record before, I was the drummer. And I played drums with Laetitia Sadier as well. Both of them will tell you (laughs), it’s not my main thing. I play a lot of piano on people’s records, too. And I am a terrible piano player.

OBM: Oh stop! On Joan Shelley’s record for example?

JE: Yes! There’s some terrible piano playing on that record. But no-one else wanted to do it. (Laughs out loud).

OBM: Ah, I wouldn’t believe that. It says here on the blurb for tonight’s gig on the website you are the master of the open tuning. Did you always use open tuning? I did not think that.

JE: No, I didn’t. Actually, I play with this guy, Nathan Salsburg, and he really is the master of the open tuning, as is Steve (Gunn).

OBM: Yeah, he is trying everything and so is Nathan but I would have thought that you stick to the classic one.

JE: Yes, I do, especially when I play with those guys, I just need a stable reference. I need to go with what I know. But again, the record that I put out last year, my solo record (Wintres Woma) is all in this tuning called DADGAD. That was part of the doodle. In my spare time, instead of just going to sleep or wandering off to a record shop or something, to sit down with this tuning that I did not really understand, I got that feeling back when I very first started to play the guitar. I did not know what I was doing. I was kind of wandering around.

OBM: You were out of the comfort zone?

JE: Yeah, and that’s were all these songs came from. I was finding all these little surprises in this tuning. But I am too lazy to change the tuning. So I went, this is all just going to be DADGAD. I never change it, so I am by no means an open tuning master.

OBM: So the album was based on the tuning DADGAD, you had that and you took your time to do it. It took some convincing to get on with it (JE laughs), so I have heard. But did you also have in mind, well, not in the sense of a concept album, but a certain atmosphere that it was going to convey?

JE: I had already been involved in a couple of records that were made in the Wilco Loft recording studio and I knew that the sound that they have there was going to marry well with the way the songs sounded. “Wintres Woma” means “The Sound of winter” and I wanted it to have a sort of, not cold sound, but sort of sparseness to it. I had quite detailed demos already. I have a project studio at my house. I pretty much mapped out exactly how I wanted it to be. It was never going to sound great. It was just a kind of a road map. I work with this guy in Chicago, Mark Greenberg, who is very good at reading maps and being “oh that I think what you mean is this” and then makes it sound great. It was a combination of me having a strong idea of what I wanted and Mark is just an amazing facilitator at that sort of thing. I kind of go into making records with kind of a strong idea in mind of what I want it to sound like. Sometimes it doesn’t really end up like that. Most of the time it doesn’t end up like that. I don’t even like to go into the studio without knowing. I am a little uptight like that (laughs).

James Elkington, finally touring his solo album in Europe

OBM: I have seen pictures of The Loft and it must be guitar heaven.

 JE: That’s it. It’s insane.  I could use whatever I’d see but there are so many guitars there, there isn’t time to try out everything. So I limited myself to the – literally – five guitars that were within eight feet of where I was sitting. And that’s the whole record. It’s just those guitars. Of course they are all fantastic and they all record really well. I’d love to have all of them.

OBM: What would a guitar you would like to play have to be like (other than like in that case be in the proximity). How would it have to feel or sound?

JE: It is kind of a difficult thing to quantify. We settled on this old guitar from the 30s, a Gibson that Jeff owns.  I sat down with it and immediately it had the kind of sound that associate with Davey Graham and John Renbourn even though none of these people played this guitar. This guitar is more synonymous with old blues players. But I played it and it sounded really good. Mark recorded me playing and when I finished he said: “You should come and listen to this because it sounds good when you stand next to the guitar but it sounds amazing recorded.” For some reason it sounded better recorded than just our ears. That ended up being the guitar for the whole record pretty much. Any other guitars I used just had to not sound like that one. Everything was built around that.

OBM: So you are not into a specific brand?

JE: No, no, the Gibson ended up being the basic guitar and if there was any other guitar, I made sure, it was as far removed as possible just to give it a different feel.

OBM: And are happy with the result of “Wintres Woma”?

JE: I think, yeah, I am. It’s the only time that I have been completely happy with a record I have done. Maybe even though I had a strong idea of how I wanted it to sound, I left ten or twenty per cent to chance and that’s where the surprises are. When I listen to it, I still like it. There are records of mine in the past where I really controlled every aspect and ended up with this boring…well, not exciting to listen to because everything sounds like something I have decided to do. This one has some random stuff in it. The mistakes are all left in. It’s pretty rough but I like it like that. It is like the music I like to listen to.

OBM:  You come up with the lyrics last and they are pretty abstract.

JE: Deliberately so. Sometimes my lyrics are genuinely random. Then I find out six months down the line that my subconscious has been talking about something. I just found out something about a song, discovered that a song that I had written a year ago was about a very specific thing which is extremely mundane so I would not tell anyone what it was. I always like the sort of lyrics where you are given enough information for your brain to do the last bit of work. I mean the listener has to think to himself: What does it actually mean? What does it sound like to me? Because then the listener is involved in the process. Their brain has to work a little bit. All of my favourite lyrics have that. They don’t completely spell it out. There is enough space for the listener to get involved. Even if write something about something specific,  I will intentionally cryptify it a bit to give it a space to operate in.

OBM: Or to make it possible for the listener to own a song – or totally misinterpret it, thinking the song is about a lovely man singing an ode to his sister….:-)

JE: Exactly. And yes, that just happened to me.  A year a go I was playing in Louisville, Kentucky. A friend of mine went: ” I really like that “Sister of Mine” song. I think that is my favourite song of yours. What is that song about?” I told him and he went: “Errgh. I don’t think I a like it as much anymore.”

OBM: It does cast a shadow!

JE: It does, I know!

OBM: But it is about all not being black and white and perspective and all that, but yeah, people are humming along and then comes that dark cloud.

JE: Yeah, I spoiled it for him. That’s my point. I blew it. So now and try and shut up as much as I can. Difficult for me though.

OBM: So what are your next plans?

JE: I am going to finish tour and then I have another short tour opening up for my friends The Sea And Cake on the East Coast. And then, I am going to make another record! But again I am being careful not to get too far ahead of myself. I had so much fun making the last record. And I really had no expectations for it whatsoever. It was really nicely received and this is my first tour and it is really wonderful of everyone to come out and see it. I am really having a good time. I’ve got more than I could ask for right now. In making another record, I just want to make sure that I go into it with the same perspective. Not really wanting anything other than having a good time. So I frequently pump the brakes as they say. I go: Oh, wait a minute. I can tell I am really getting concerned or serious about this particular song. And then I just stop. You know, I have a wife and a four-year old – I am happiest when I am just with them and cooking and so on. So I have plenty of other stuff going on and then I play with other people. This is just one thing that I do but I am keen to protect it. Its value to me is really for me to have fun.

OBM: Thank you very much.

JE: Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview

If you are standing outside a venue in a picturesque pedestrian road of a small town and cars with registrations from far away trundle searchingly by and a guy wondering why his friends took him for his birthday, realises exactly, is on the verge of tears, then you know, something big is going to happen. The man overcome with emotion shouts “George Best” pointing at a gig poster in the window and “You are taking me to a Wedding Present concert!!!” That is exactly where his friends have taken him. The Wedding Present play the Nieuwe Nor venue in Heerlen, the Netherlands on occasion of the 30th birthday (oh my!) of their very first album “George Best”. Read now all about that: The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview!

Everyone still had to bade some time at he Nieuwe Nor in Heerlen: First up were support act Strugglers who delivered pretty gloomy hard rocky stuff but musically crafted well and then at 9.30 pm CET the mighty Wedding Present entered the stage with David Gedge on vocals and guitar, Danielle Wadey on bass and vocals, Marcus Kain on guitar and Charles Layton on drums.

The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview

Sure enough, the promise of “George Best”, The Wedding Present’s first, meanwhile cult album, being performed in full attracted a big and enthusiastic crowd especially since it was announced that this would be the very last time that this event would take place on mainland Europe. Don’t fret, you can still catch up with them (in Germany for instance, with the wonderful Precious Few as support act). Tour dates are here.

But this was far from a retro gig. Sure enough, all of us did a bit of time-travelling during the “George Best” set, each in their own way, some dancing and laughing, some almost crying, some with closed eyes. But there was a brilliant selection of songs from other albums too, also from the masterpiece that their new album “Going, going…” is (no “Brassneck”, no encores – look, this is tradition!) Even “George Best” tracks were delivered in a fresh style that made me want to run out to the kids outside the venue listening to techno, shake them and drag them in to tell them: This stuff is thirty years old – just listen to it, will you listen? No, I did not…wouldn’t want to miss a second of this gig. And whereas I sometimes during concerts get a bit tired or woozy or there are kind of lows in the gig…nothing of this here. One and a half hours flew by like nothing at all. This time-travelling mallarkey seems to be a great thing when undertaken properly!

The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview

Part of the freshness in delivery were of course first of all Danielle, Marcus and Charles giving a new spin on the classics in a tight performance and then David clearly enjoying the album – see interview below.

Indeed, David Gedge kindly took some time out on busy day and spoke to the blog about a lot of things. Enjoy and off to the gigs you go!

The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview

Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you very much, David, for taking the time on yet another long, strenuous tour!

David Lewis Gedge of The Wedding Present: No worries!

OMB: Let us start at the very beginning if you would. Did you come from a musical family or was it really the punk movement – everybody can do it – that got you into music?

David: Not a musical family in the sense that anybody played anything. But there was always music going on. My parents met in the fifties, in the rock n roll era, so they had a lot of old 78s and 45s from that era going on through to the sixties. So there was always plenty of music being played. But none of them had any idea of wanting to become a musician. Punk certainly had an influence on me because it did open the world to normal people who weren’t classically trained (laughs). You just want to start a band really. Also, I went to school with a band, friends of mine, a band from Manchester called The Chameleons. I don’t know if you know them. I went to university at the same time they formed The Chameleons. The next thing I knew, they had a session for John Peel on Radio One and they signed to Epic Records, releasing singles. And I was thinking, mmmh, wait a minute (laughs), I could do this as well. So when I finished my university course, I decided to take it seriously and start The Wedding Present basically.

OMB: Funnily enough, one of my first interviews when I was still at school was with The Chameleons.

David: Full circle!

OMB: Their drummer John recently died…

David: He did, sadly, yeah.

OMB: Thinking about school days: I always wanted to go to the UK, not to London or the landscapes but to the northern big cities in all their post-industrialist gloom because that produced two good things: Football players and musicians. To a certain degree, it is still a bit like that, but not so much. How do you think, the music scene up north has changed? Do you still see as many young people going for it?

David: I don’t really know to be honest. Certainly, in that post-punk era in the 80s against the 90s, it was a hotbed. There were so many bands coming out of Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow and places like that. Nowadays, I don’t really see it as that focussed on those areas anymore. The bands seem to be everywhere really. I don’t know whether that is because of the internet. It is not quite in centres as it used to be, I think.

OMB: Would you think the youth culture is maybe a bit different now? More consuming rather than creative?

David: The youth culture is different in that we had only music and football basically (laughs). But nowadays there is so much more for kids to do. They can watch movies on their phones and computer games. The world is wide open. There is more choice. Also, there is less money in the music industry these days. I speak to some managers who work with new bands. They always say, it’s rich kids because no one else can afford to pack their job in and go off on tour unless they have got some kind of financial support or kind of family money. It is harder for kids to be in groups these days because nobody buys records anymore. That’s changed it as well, I think.

OMB: You live in Brighton now. You are a Southerner now!

David: Yeah (laughs).

OMB: You also do a festival in Brighton. Would you like to say something about that?

David: I think we did the ninth one this year. We do it (At The Edge Of The Sea) every year. It came because we were on tour once and we were in a cafe and talking about being a musician you meet a lot of people and have a quite intense relationship with them on tour, support bands or people you work with. And then you don’t see them again. You might see them again in ten years, going: “Hello, remember us?”
We just thought it would be nice if we had this event where could see the bands that we like as people or their music again. So we hit on the idea of this little festival. It is not a big thing. It is just in a venue in Brighton and we invite people who…to be honest, it is like being a kid in a sweet shop – I just go crazy. It is bands that I like or bands we toured with and got on with. Sometimes it is ex-Wedding Present members who have a new projects, so they come and play. It is kind of one of my favourites things to do. It is like Christmas almost. A lot of hard work because there is a lot to organise but it is such a good thing to be involved with.

OMB: You have always done things on the side, that is if there is time for things on the side really.

David: I think, we make time. Well, I make time. I never wanted us to be one of those bands who write songs, make an LP, go on tour, write more songs, make another LP, do another tour…I always wanted to do separate projects, Cinerama and the festival and there is loads of things that go off a tangent…have strange ideas and if you can make it work it is worth doing. It is more for me than just the music. It’s all the other things as well.

OMB: During your longish hiatus (1997-2004) you worked as Cinerama which eventually merged back into The Wedding Present. But do you have Cinerama still going on the side as well?

David: Very much so! Actually, it is one of the benefits of the festival that we do every year that Cinerama always plays. So we do at least one thing every year and get together and rehearse. Also, in the last few years we have been doing more. We did a concert in London a couple of years ago where we played with a string section, a flute player and a trumpet player. We filmed that and released it as a DVD. Just recently The Wedding Present played in London, in fact last week, and Cinerama supported them. Again we had strings and a choir. It is kind of there as a side project, like a hobby, but it comes to life when there is an opportunity. It is quite expensive! The problem with Cinerama is that it is really expensive to do in its real form because it involves a lot of musicians (laughs) who don’t play together very often. So we have to rehearse quite a lot which costs time and money. And it has never been as successful as The Wedding Present, so the economic argument for doing Cinerama is not really great (laughs). But we like to do it when we can.

OMB: To further creativity and to be inspired by it?

David: Yeah, it is a different kind of music. I always enjoyed that kind of filmic pop music and strings. The Wedding Present really is a guitar band. It is just nice to deviate now and again and do something different.

The Wedding Present @ Nieuwe Nor Oct 21st & interview

OMB: During your time with The Wedding Present you have been on many labels, your own, independent ones and major labels where you – which was unheard of – kept a high degree of control over your output as well. Now you are back to releasing via your own label Scopitones again. Was that always important to you to maintain the control over your output? Also, with so many changing band members, how was it there, did you let them do something?

David: Yeah, it depends on the project really. I’ve always said that The Wedding Present is made up by everyone who is in the band at the time. So I am not this kind of dictator who says: “This is what we are going to sound like!” I’d be stupid to do that to be honest, because one of the advantages to have all these different people through the years is, they come up with different ideas and different musical tastes and inspirations. Often pushes it in a different direction. But yes, I have always been bloody-minded in having that control and the reason why I started the label Scopitones a few years ago was: We used to have our own label and then we signed to RCA Records and that was fine. Then we signed to Island and that was fine. They were both major labels. Then we signed to Cooking Vinyl which is an independent label and we had less control which was weird to me. Because you think it would be the other way round. After releasing a few things on Cooking Vinyl, I decided that it is not that it is a big label so I am not making lots of money from it. I might just do it myself again and then have total control again. And we hired the same people Cooking Vinyl used, but this time I own the rights and it is totally my baby. We have gone back to doing it ourselves really.

OMB: The control issue with the smaller label is probably a financial question as well.

David: That’s the problem. With RCA we were very lucky because we signed in the 80s when there was a lot of money flying around, so anything we wanted there was no question of a problem. Whereas when we got to Cooking Vinyl, the music industry was in decline a little bit and they were a small label. It was more a budgetary thing rather than a creative thing but even so. I don’t want to write songs, make records and then have a business person sat in a room telling me what to do, do you know what I mean? That hampers the artistic freedom and it is important. I can understand why it is not important for some people who are quite happy to be told what to do. Maybe they want that. In The Wedding Present it has never happened and I can’t imagine that it ever would really.

 

OMB: You seem to be able to day when making records: “Okay, I leave it like that.” And it sounds still a bit raw and not producing the bejaysus out of something even though with a major label you would have certainly had the opportunity to do that.

David: (laughs) We probably even got more extreme as we went along on those major labels. I think we were lucky because again, the people who signed us, especially RCA had a position of power. But because they’d signed us, we got what we wanted really in terms of engineers and producers. Yeah, but it is the traditional kind of major method to get this kind of band and then bring in a producer and a stylist and take that sort of refuge. But it never really happened to us. Maybe it should have, I don’t know! (Laughs).

OMB: I think, most people like The Wedding Present they way they are really. You are celebrating the 30th anniversary of “George Best” on this tour (which is a bit painful, reminding me of my age). I think when you did the 25th birthday tour, you were first not so sure about doing this.

David: No, right. It was the twentieth actually. There was an idea of a re-release which never happened in the end. But it was supposed to come out in a special format and the label wanted to do that and they suggested we play it live. And I said no, that’s like nostalgia and I am an artist and I am looking forward to the next album rather than looking back. But then I went away and spoke to a few people, my friends and people in the band and fans and everybody said: “Oh yeah, you should definitely do that. That would be brilliant. I’d love to see you play “George Best”. Because when an album first comes up, you don’t play the entire thing because it is new. You intersperse it with other songs people know. So we said we should try it. And I was: “Yeeeeah, okaaaaay.” I suppose, I was a bit unenthusiastic. Then, when we started doing it, I realised I was actually enjoying it. It is very interesting and a bit surreal to actually go back and look at stuff you’ve done twenty, thirty years ago and then reimagine it with a new band really. And it is interesting how they interpret everything differently and for me also, it is like looking at an old diary. Because I changed quite a lot in those thirty years, as people do. It’s almost like I am covering myself. I am covering these songs by a songwriter from thirty years ago which happens to be me. And now I think it is fascinating – I love doing it. Especially “George Best”, it is a really frantic set, very powerful and fast and energetic. It’s really good fun to play live actually.

OMB: Buffalo Tom have done this recently and I think, were a bit apprehensive first and then really enjoyed it and seeing how the songs had evolved.

David: Yeah, exactly! I also came to this philosophical conclusion: The past is as important for a band as the present and the future. I did an interview actually where the person said, by doing older records, aren’t you hampering the stuff you are doing now and in the future. I don’t see that really. In the last few years we have done “Bizarro” and “Seamonsters” just like “George Best” – we did them live. But we still released three albums and still have written new songs. Again, it is like Cinerama, a side project that we occasionally do. I didn’t even plan to do “George Best” to be honest…it only happened because someone last year called me and said, oh, we have this festival in Manchester. Would you be prepared to play “George Best” as part of its 30th anniversary? And I said: “What??? Thirty years already?” It seems not so long ago that it was the 20th anniversary. I was actually quite surprised but again, I asked the rest of the group and they said: “Yeah, we should do that.” So we said yes. We got more invitations as people realised and then we thought we do this little tour. So, this one came as a little more of a surprise to me actually. So maybe we are going to do thirty years of “Bizarro” and “Seamonsters” next, who knows?

OMB: For me it is kind of an out of body experience listening to “George Best” now. It seems far away and at the same time it catapults you back right there and you can sense the atmosphere like it was with the sounds and feelings and smells even.

David: That’s exactly why I like it. You hit the nail on the head there. It is something distant, you never think about it. But then, as soon as you start doing it, you are right back there which is very odd.

OMB: You spent some time in the US. Do you see a certain influence on your music?

David: Totally, yeah. Throughout the history of The Wedding Present we have always been interested in North American bands as well as European bands. A lot of “George Best” is this kind of Velvet Underground chord but just really fast (laughs). Then Sonic Youth and Television and all these bands from the American underground have always been influential…Pavement.

OMB: Pixies?

David: Pixies, yeah. Pixies influenced us because Steve Albini as recording engineer. I remember when their “Surfer Rosa” album came out, I was: “This sounds amazing.” Great songs, but also just sounded brilliant as well. And it was Steve Albini recorded that and so we asked him to record “Seamonsters”, our third album. We always had one foot in America and one foot in the UK, even physically these days.

OMB: If you could sort of say very shortly about each of your albums what you had in mind or wanted to achieve when you made it. (We are a bit late and It is dinner time and plates are being banged and people start flooding in and chatting, but this won’t be obvious in the written format here, so on we go…)

 

David: (chortling and thankfully going on despite maybe at this stage dying with hunger) With “George Best” we really had no plans. We were just happy to make a record. All the songs we had at the time, we just played them. (David’s very lovely wife comes in and brings the equally lovely Doris, their wee dog, to David for some quality time between driving and soundchecking and interviewing and performing. Doris is being interviewed on the life as a touring dog as well).

Then, “Bizarro” was almost the album that “George Best” would have been if we had thought about it a bit more. It is more of a structured record really with more variety and dynamics.

“Seamonsters”: We wanted to get a bit away from that jangly guitar pop and indiepop stuff. So we used Steve Albini. It is more of a dark rock record I suppose.

“Hitparade” (1 and 2), I don’t really see as an album. It was twelve singles.

OMB: And the covers.

David: And the covers, yeah. What’s the next one?

OMB: “Watusi”.

David: “Watusi” is very interesting because we were really interested in these layers of guitar sounds and distortion and noise. But then we had this kind of idea, what would people do without that – if they didn’t have these guitar pedals and these big rock sounds. “Watusi” was more of a look back to the sixties and seventies. What did people do then to achieve this kind of dynamics?

“Saturnalia” is the most experimental record actually. There are some very odd arrangement ideas in there. We wanted to make a record that was a little more challenging.

Then came the Cinerama time. What next? Oh, “Take Fountain”. “Take Fountain” was going to be a Cinerama LP actually because it was still Cinerama at the time. But then as we were making the record we decided it sounded more like a Wedding Present album. So we released it as a Wedding Present album. That is almost like an album where the two bands join.

“Valentina” was interesting because our drummer at the time became the guitar player. We switched instruments. A lot of the songs are rhythmically interesting. It wasn’t straightforward kind of beats which I thought was cool. Oh, I missed one: “El Rey”.

“El Rey”: We went back to work with Steve Albini again in Chicago. And then “Valentina”. And “Going, going…”.

“Going, going…” is my favourite one but that might be because it is the most recent. It is a concept album basically. It is a story that goes through the twenty tracks and the lyrics are linked and the music is kind of linked. The music, I wanted to go somewhere different but at the same time make references to The Wedding Present’s and Cinerama’s past. It was quite a complicated record to make.

OBM: I call it The Wedding Present’s Ulysses.

David: I remember you saying that on the phone. Yes, it is.It is not a straighforward record. I did not plan for it to be a double LP (laughs). It just became that because of the size of the project.

OBM: Lyrically, you have the seal of John Peel of having written some of the best love songs ever. What more can you ask for? They are usually of the platonic or unrequited or broken up kind…

David: I try and cover a whole range really. It is such a big subject.

OBM: Is there autobiographical stuff coming in?

David: Some autobiographical, some less so. Some from my point of view, some from somebody else’s point of view. I am just very fascinated with the thing people say to each other, especially inside relationships, starting or ending. It works really well in pop songs. If I think back to my favourite songs in the fifties and sixties, it was love songs, then punk. They are the most meaningful lyrics to me.

OBM: So you wouldn’t see yourself as doing political songs?

David: I’d like to and I have tried occasionally but I have just never been as happy. I’ve always thought, it is a bit clumsy. I should probably leave it to people who know how to do that (laughs). I am quite happy to be stuck to my field.

OBM: One last thing for you. You said somewhere, your voice has changed a lot. Even though I think the range both musically and atmospherically has increased considerably, you are still instantly recognisable?

David: It is purely down to experience like anything that you do. It is like a skill. Yeah, the range has increased and there is more texture to it and more dimensions which I can control whereas thirty years ago I didn’t know what I was doing. It is like driving a car.

OBM: Thank you very much for your time, David!

David: Thank you!