If the master himself – that is to say, Elvis Costello – recommends a band, they have to be very good. The Newcastle band Prefab Sprout live up to all expectations with their debut LP Swoon. And their own ambitions are high.
“It may sound silly, but I want people to one day have the same respect for me as they have for Steven Sondheim, Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney”, says the 26 year old singer, songwriter and guitarist Paddy McAloon.
He’s not very modest when I call him up one afternoon to learn more about the background of Prefab Sprout.
But Swoon is without a doubt one of the best debut albums in recent years; a record full of intelligent, sophisticated pop music with elegant arrangements and artful lyrics. In England the band has been compared to Steely Dan, but Paddy doesn’t think that comparison is correct.
“Just because some of our songs have jazz-influenced sounds, they think we sound like Steely Dan. But probably they don’t really know anything about Steely Dan, the critics in America understand that we have hardly anything in common. And when we play live we sound completely different: much rougher, more rock’n’roll than on the LP.”
Besides Paddy, the band is made up of brother Martin (bass) and Wendy Smith (vocals). Drummers come and go, on the last tour in England they had help from the drummer of Aztec Camera.
“Me and my brother have played together since 1977. Wendy joined the band more than a year ago. The name of the band is kind of a joke on my mother. She was a hippie when she was young and she liked bands with strange names like Quicksilver Messenger Service. And she’s a vegetarian.”
A couple of singles last year caught the attention of CBS who signed an eight-year-deal with the band. Something that surprised Paddy somewhat.
“Normally, the record companies will invest in artists who make very commercial pop, music that hits you immediately. Our music demands that you listen to it carefully several times. I don’t like to criticize other artists, but I can’t stand cheap pop like Duran Duran or pretentious ‘soul’ like Paul Weller. The only artists I respect are those who are commercial and who dare to experiment. Costello is one example.”
You started to play at the same time when punk rock was popular. But that doesn’t seem to have left any traces in your music…?
“No, that became a fashion very quickly, there was nothing real about it. And when The Clash call themselves rebels, I can only start laughing. You can’t be a rebel and make records for CBS.”
Paddy wants to experiment all the time when he’s writing songs.
“Sure, I could write ‘ordinary’ pop songs. But I don’t want to make it easy on myself and write songs with verse/chorus/verse/chorus/chorus. And when it comes to my lyrics I’ll always try to find metaphors that no-one else have used. Take for example ‘Cue Fanfare’, it’s about the people’s need for war, to feel that ‘we’re the best’. That’s why the song on a superficial level is about the chess player Bobby Fischer, the guy who beat all the Russians.”
Paddy McAloon may seem a bit pretentious and boastful, but you accept it as long as he continues to make such exciting music like the debut album. But he doesn’t know if we will ever see the band perform live in Sweden.
“Before we go to America in the summer we’ll make a short Europe tour, but I don’t know what countries we’ll visit.”