What first gave you a taste for making music?
It was the very first guitar chords of Pinball Wizard. I loved the dramatic sound that came from the chords. The first group I was aware of was the Beatles. My parents didn’t buy their records, but I have a very strong memory of the first time I heards some of the major singles, like Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye. I started to write songs from the age of 13. The first records I bought were Alright Now by Free and Ride a White Swan by T-Rex. My brother and me were great fans of T-Rex, my first adolescent passion. Ride a White Swan, I found that amazing. I loved Marc Bolan’s image, the curls, the curly hair. He looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings. My parents didn’t share my musical tastes. My mother recently told me “I thought you’d listen to T-Rex for your entire life.”
Do you listen to your contemporaries?
No, I’m completely out of touch. I try to listen to things that are different from what I do. I love above all the French composers, Ravel and Debussy: they found chords and a sonic world that pop music has borrowed a lot from. I’m also a big fan of Pierre Boulez. And I like Sun Ra : I find in him a talent I’ll never have. My hobby is classical music of the 20th century up until the minimalists who interest me less. I love the debate on serialism. I love to read what was written about that and I collect books on the subject, about the avant-garde composers of the 20th Century.
From Steve McQueen to Jordan: the Comeback, passing via this last album which has a central theme around the Wild West and Cowboys, you seem to be fascinated by America?
I can’t deny that there many references in my songs. I think that’s because I live a lot inside my head. There are lots of imagines I get from the books I read or the films I watch have an American origin. The same goes for pop too, apart from the Beatles who I’ve always known, it’s Frank Sinatra, Burt Bacharach, Gershwin, Elvis Presley and they’re all American. There’s certainly something magical I associate with the US, as it’s been transmitted to me by films or music. I had my Elvis Presley period when I was 20-21. When I was a boy, he had a duff image, he was a has been. But I rediscovered him and I discovered he’d been the source of a lot of disruption in the 1950s. I love his voice. As far as cowboys and Country & Western, it’s funny, because I’m not naturally pushed towards that. I love Jimmy Webb, who has written songs for country stars, but I don’t listen to Country & Western music. Country is a falsely naive genre, false humility and false sincerity and I don’t like that. In fact I like melodic songwriters. I love Burt Bacharach, he has a gift for arrangement, he’s an extraordinary composer.
At the beginning of Prefab Sprout, you were still a student of English Literature.
I’ve always been interested in literature. Even today, when I have serious eye problems, I love books. As far as modern literature goes, I love Don DeLillo. Libra is one of my favourite books. I love Underworld and Americana too. I liked the Martin Amis’ memoir a lot recently too, where he discusses his life with his father. I also adore his critical work, I love to read his essays, Visiting Mrs Nabokov. I have eclectic literary tastes, but then again there are genres I’m not interested in: I don’t read a lot of Science Fiction or historical novels. I try to read the classics. I love Jane Austen, I own the complete works of Proust but I’m stuck on Du Côté de Chez Swann.
Are you a big cinema fan?
Some of my passions have dimmed over the years, including going to the cinema. I find it’s less satisfying than reading a novel and films in general are less interesting than the comments of cinema critics. For examle I love David Thomson [British critic based in San Francisco, promoted by the Independent as the best film critic in the world], he’s an excellent prose writer. Film-makers are lucky to have people like that to write about their films. When I was around 20 I loved Fellini. What I’ve always loved are the works considered to be entertainment, Hitchcock’s films, where you’re immediately pulled into the story. Later on I realised how perverse his films were, I understood the strange atmosphere. Like in Vertigo for example, which is one of my favourite films. And all the films he made with Grace Kelly. I’m sure he was trying to make secret films, to say unspeakable things, behind the conventional thriller format.