“My work has made me more and more selfish…”
Built on a sound world that is a microcosm of lovers and activities abandoned, Paddy McAloon’s new work, “Jordan: the Comeback” is a masterpiece surpassing even “Steve McQueen, extending and deepening his love affair with pop music. Nineteen songs spread over sixty five minutes, and for the first time divided thematically into four sections. Paddy McAloon’s unique and delicate sound is still evident, of course, and the more I listen to it, the more I hear the details carefully arranged and constructed even to the point of mania. In his new work, he’s got into the habit of using everyday language in his lyrics, and we can expect it to be a popular success.
But obviously, Prefab Sprout is not just good background music for the ears. It’s a remarkable work that makes us consider how life’s troubles can lead someone to fall into creativity.
– This time you have put out a masterpiece of 19 songs after two and a half years away, but did you not consider releasing a shorter work and going on the offensive in America?
“No, we’re not thinking about things like America. Just after we released the previous work, the CBS chief was changed and the whole US team ended up being replaced, so our LP was rather reluctantly promoted. “Langley Park” touches on the United States in various ways so everyone thought “this is an album aimed at the US” but it’s really not like that at all. I really wasn’t thinking about America.”
– But I think your work shows a consistently ambivalent attitude towards America. While paying respect to the United States musically, the lyrics tell a different story….
“With the lyrics, yes, exactly right! Musically it uses American influences as usual, pop music usually has something American in it somewhere. But I think the lyrics are certainly ambivalent depending on the subject matter. For example, “Hey Manhattan” could be about any big city. If you have money, the city is a wonderful place, but without money the dreams become a nightmare, and the song is just saying that. But most people seem to have received short-circuitedly a message that I don’t like America. That’s it. Or “you tried to attack the United States of America”, something like that. America isn’t happy when strangers tell it something they wouldn’t be happy saying themselves. What I’d like to say is that when I write songs there are almost no geographical settings in my head. Even when American names, people or places, come out, it’s coincidence and I’m thinking of other things. A song like “Cars and Girls” was about how difficult life is, how Springsteen always paints highways and cars as a metaphor. So it’s a metaphor of a so-called metaphor. But a lot of people didn’t understand that subtle humour. People were seriously thinking I hate Springsteen, that I hated this American.”
– But the machismo you hate is very American, isn’t it?
“Well that’s right. I’m quite strongly resisting listening to pop music myself now, I find it a distraction. It’s because teenage boys and girls are influenced by their own sexuality because it’s the first time they start noticing it about themselves, but as they grow older they separate from it.”
– Does such an anti-macho posture come not only as a conscious reaction to your personal likes and dislikes, but also as something to supplement something missing from pop music since you started?
“Well… back then at the start I was a lot younger than I am now, I had no choice because there were no other choices (laughs). I was really quite naive when I was 20. I thought then that pop music shouldn’t rely so much on sexual caricatures. I wanted to make music that had nothing to do with what I looked like. That was my aim. When something comes on the radio I have no idea what kind of person made it, but something powerful can still come out of it. I’m not against all sexuality in pop music, I just think it can overpower the performance. In that sense I can sympathize with the attitude of Green from Scritti Politti.”
– I see. By the way, your lyrics are easier to understand than before, but has there been a change in the relative importance of lyrics and sound?
“It’s not that the weight has changed, I just started to write better melodies. And more than that, I think I became able to write much clearer lyrics. The first album doesn’t make any sense. Even I don’t know what I’m trying to say (laughs). Yeah… I was trying to memorise lyrics for a tour by listening to the old records a few years ago, and I was thinking ‘I was very old fashioned.’ I think it was funny, but there was a reason, it was natural to me in those days. I’d been to university and I’d read James Joyce and I thought that everyone had to establish their own style. So I wrote abstract lyrics like that. I think the lyrics are getting simpler and clearer little by little. The same as the person writing them… (laughs).”
– Do you get very absorbed when writing songs?
“Yes I do. I’m terrible. I can hardly begin to describe it.”
– You can’t deal with day-to-day circumstances?
“It’s a mess. When I get a letter I open it, but I’m a person who doesn’t throw anything away so there are mountains of magazines stacked high and gathering dust. It’s not normal. I don’t like being like that but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
– How about relationships. Isn’t it the case that it’s impossible to maintain normal human relationships when you’re writing songs?
“Well that’s true… I believe my work has made me more and more selfish. It’s a depressing thing though. When I’m writing songs and making demos I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t go anywhere. It’s a real mess. I’m sorry, but that’s how I am.”
– But don’t you think you were unconsciously using important people in your work so both your creative activities and daily life are compatible? Your brother and girlfriend are both in the band…
“Hold on, Wendy and I broke up two years ago!”
– Ah… There are some ridiculous rumours flying around then, that you finally got married…
“(Laughs) Where did you hear that? Well… it’s an honour to be someone there are rumours about, but yeah, we’re not together any more. Of course even now I see her frequently, we’re good friends, but we’re not in a relationship. Yes… So I don’t seem to be able to live with people. I’ve never spoken about this but I’m preoccupied with what I do. I love it. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for a human being to be so crazy. It’s like a drug, the more you write, the more you want to see how much you can improve. This is a terribly selfish profession. Because I don’t want to lose even a second of my time. I’m trying to change, I don’t think it’s healthy or a good way to live. But as long as I really love what I’m doing, maybe it’s the only life I can live.”