Following the success of “Steve McQueen”, the members of Prefab Sprout have finally arrived for a long-awaited first visit to Japan. Just like their sound, intelligent and with a faint scent of the city, they are relaxed, refreshing, funny and modern. Here’s the interview.
– It seems the release of your new album has been delayed?
Paddy McAloon (P): Do you mean “Protest Songs”? In fact this album was supposed to be released as a follow-up to “Steve McQueen” but since the singles from the album were starting to become hits it was stopped from the CBS side. We completed the recording in two weeks, it was a very simple album done in a very basic way. Apart from that the next album will also be made around September and released next January.
– Although there were rumours that suggested the release had been cancelled due to the strong protest flavour of the album, I heard that that wasn’t the right interpretation…
P: That’s right. There are songs that are lightly rebellious, sarcastic about politics, or have a mildly protesting attitude, but I don’t like expressing this sort of attitude directly and clearly. Because the image of the Irish has a strong flavour of protest about it, the title “Protest Songs” also had an element of a joke about it. But it’s a work that focuses on the “Songs” part, the people who cherish music making.. It’s been put aside for the moment, but I absolutely promise to release it. As I said earlier, it’s is a work that plays a role as a counterpoint to “Steve McQueen” so I don’t think it will make much sense even if I release it now, it will take some time.
– So what is the secret behind the success of “Steve McQueen”?
P: “We write good songs”. That’s what the Beatles said when they told reporters that the next album was going to be superb. They said that because they were doing the best they could with the intention of writing amazing songs, it could only end up being a wonderful work. That’s why we work so hard on our music. Well, maybe that’s generalising a bit too much.
– There are considerable differences between how you made your first and second albums.
P: I was in a hurry when I was making the first (“Swoon”, 1984). We laid all the tracks down in a day. The producer was the Kane Gang’s David Brewis, but it worked very well because I’d made records with him before that. He’s someone who had very little experience working as a producer, but as he was working in the same direction as me it worked, it felt he was tracing the same path as my own. Anyway I really like albums made with fresh interactions between different personalities. On the other hand, the second was an album that was made over a long period and with plenty of time, so it had a professional feel with a very glossy finish. Thomas Dolby’s intelligent oversight was impressive.
– Your lyrics seem to have become easier to understand compared to the first album, is that so?
P: That’s right. The current songs have a general content that will come across to everyone. Songs that sing abut love have something very expressive about them. So yes, most of the material deals with the facts of everyday life.
– Your music is often compared to American bands from the recent past, such as Steely Dan and Van Dyke Parks etc. What do you think about that?
P: Personally I really like Steely Dan and bands like that. But when it comes to a comparison it’s a different story. For the most part, I think you can understand if you compare the way the lyrics develop. We’re very British and we’re totally different in content to the pop groups from America. If a person who doesn’t understand English listens to it, he picks up the jazz element so it may sound similar but the content is totally different.
– I heard a story that you don’t really like Elvis Costello?
P: No, I don’t like him at all. About three years ago he invited me to do something with him, and since I couldn’t refuse we played about four dates. It’s an honour to have been invited by a superstar like him, and I’m very happy this amazing composer played my song (“Cruel”, from the first album) on stage. But I want to clarify that my relationship with Costello is based on the musicians we both like.
– Can you explain Prefab Sprout’s appeal from the band perspective?
P: Everyone says this, but our songs reflect the time we’re living in. And everyone is looking for something like that. And we don’t go on stage in beautiful make up or fancy costumes. We’re not a group of superstars who holds themselves apart from their audience. We’re still natural. It’s quite painful if you feel different from your stage self. And then there’s Wendy’s presence (and saying this he smiles at her).
Wendy Smith (W): I’m honoured (laughs). But all the members are deeply involved in our music, our individual personalities.
– Do you have different interests?
P: Yes, we do a lot of things anyway. The only thing we have in common is that we like to eat. We also listen to different genres of music.
W: Strawberry Häagen-Dazs is delicious.
Neil Conti (N): Watching classical ballet, but I guess it’s getting drunk as well.
Martin McAloon (Paddy’s younger brother): To travel or something.
N: You’re lying! Tell the truth.
P: It’s as good as anything he does like, it’s alright! (laughs)