The title track from your new release, Drunk On You, seems to chronicle a coming to terms with the perils of romantic entanglement, is it a theme on the record?
It could be taken as romantic entanglement but that’s not what the song is about for me! I deliberately wrote it with a double intent. Actually, I am writing about my coming to terms with being lured by empty promises over and over because I’m attracted to the brightest star, the glittering objects I don’t have to! …to keep pursuing such intangibility is to be drunk! Most of the time those roads lead nowhere….just go round and round and my first words in the song ” Going round and round ’til I get to the bridge” describe the feeling of being so inebriated that you can’t actually get anywhere! However I have known a few people and still do who would fit the bill of the ‘you’ in Drunk On You!
How would you compare the newbie to your last, The Pirate of Eel Pie?
I approached this album differently, even though it is similar in that it is a collection of songs mainly relating to my life. Many of the songs on Drunk On You were written more to the sound rather than waiting to arrange it after the song was written. For instance – I always heard a bit of chaos happening in the middle of “I Broke The law” as if a band was playing on a ship out at sea that was getting shipwrecked. When I met Jason Candler from The Hungry March Band it seemed like the perfect opportunity to have them play in the middle as if rolling in and out of the song. I had also formed a band in 2009 and that year we did a series of gigs that started to gel the sound. I loved the energy and vibe and wanted to capture that live feel as the basic and make it be as complete as possible without adding too many extra overdubs. I searched for a studio where I could get complete separation between piano and drums so that we could get the best sound playing live. I found One East Studios in NYC with a great Yamaha upright rock and roll piano! I also feel my songwriting has developed. Prior to The Pirate of Eel Pie I had been involved in downtempo jazz electronica and had embraced Eel Pie as a “back to songs” album. I took my time. I recorded basic tracks – drums and bass at Ricky Fataar’s studio in San Francisco and went back and forth between NYC and there about 4 or 5 times. The tracks for Drunk on You were recorded in 3 shortish days and it had been a relatively quick writing process….especially the song “All Be Saints” which got added at the very last minute! Finally- findng Brian McTear to mix was the best part.
Is it an over riding feeling that propels a new project into being for you or simply an artist’s desire to keep creating?
I’m f**!ed if I know! I made a pact with myself a long time ago to always show up and be there if inspiration hit. Quite a few times I’ve been running up the road to get home so that I can put an idea down and work on it! Propulsion (is that a word?) is a good way to put it actually. In “Walk Under Waterfalls” when I say ” Shot off like a rocket, never wanting to wait for anyone…” I’m describing the enormous amount of inspiration music gave to my life originally. Every time I get an idea and sound in my head it is almost the same thing.
I felt so comfortable there and happy! The familiarity of the area felt so similar to when I’d been in my early 20’s that I think I was absorbing a lot of my youthful innocence and excitement! The fact that the weather (for London) was great and so was the Steinway piano, helped! An aged bunny rabbit named Tom who I was taking care of, sparked the idea for “I Broke The Law” – loosely based on Animal Liberators rescuing rabbits from animal testing labs. This song could be about any part of cruelty and inhumanity that you can’t turn your head away from.
With this being your fourth solo record, what’s the feeling when it’s done – catharsis, relief, pressure, celebration? Definitely celebration and relief but also hope and fear! I hope to reach a wide audience who love the music and get the message! But I fear that it may wither and die on the vine!
How do you think being a support musician for so many wonderful artists over the years helped prepare you for the ‘music business’ as a solo artist?
In many ways it didn’t! I did get very used to being on large stages and keeping a frantic schedule sometimes. I also saw how hard all the artists I’ve played with worked, especially Laurie Anderson. Playing with Rodney Crowell really helped me as a songwriter and being around Peter Gabriel was amazing to see how much stamina he puts into everything he’s doing, but the music business is a bit of a mystery ….still! More often than not I’ve seen the industry let artists down. In the early 80’s with Joe Jackson, he was riding a huge wave of popularity, we were getting flown round the world, the music industry was doting and excited….made us feel glorious! Times were different back then.
Early on in life, was there an artist you believed may be the embodiment of who you would someday become?
Miles Davis…..or George Harrison!
Life informs your music in the sense that you aren’t afraid to share a message or trumpet a cause, is it easier to write those kinds of numbers versus the very personal ones?
Well since 2004 I’ve been dedicated to animal rights and being a vegan. So that is very personal for me. You can hear that in the song My Life where I write about a great trip to Buenos Aires (my first to South America) and it describes simply what I saw in the verses but in the chorus I sing: “I feel we can feed the world, but we never do the right thing, I feel what we already know could be the first helping.” I’m saying: wherever I am, I carry myself there – and this is what I believe!
As a long-time animal rights activist, has the occupy movement had any resonance with you?
Yes! The reason why factory farming exists is because of big corporate business that has deep ties to government. Factory farming and the agribusiness is responsible for a large percentage of global warming….but not just that- massive pollution of rivers and waterways, devastation to the planet not to mention the misery and suffering to other species who exist on this planet. Also the damage to our health and the violation of human rights (slaughterhouse workers are often illegal immigrants or poverty stricken Americans who have no health coverage and earn less than minimum wages with illegal hours). The agribusiness underpins government and when Occupy started it was exactly the same feeling-it is linked! We cannot sacrifice the planet and it’s inhabitants for the greed and madness of the 1%! The 2nd bridge of AOAO lets you know exactly how I feel about this!
Shipwrecked on an uncharted island, you stumble across an old tape cassette player with working batteries. There’s a faded tape in the machine!! You press play and, to your delightful surprise, what song begins to play?
Agh!!!) That is very hard…….after going through Strawberry Fields, While my Guitar Gently Weeps, Hey Joe, most of Sticky Fingers and Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street, I have settled on Rightoff from Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson album – it is about 23 minutes long….hope those batteries last!!