“I want to give you pure excitement”
“I’m Paddy” He stood there with a warm smile
It’s a long time since I’ve had such a heart-warming interview. Even before discovering he was a good and kind person, I was moved by the warmth of his personality. There are, it seems, many “nice” or “gentle” people in this world, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a “warm” person.
Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon is a musician with such an unthinking generosity of spirit that it lights your heart the very moment you meet him. On meeting such a person I was filled body and soul with a happy feeling.
In any case, what I’d heard before actually meeting him is that Paddy McAloon is a bit of an oddball; a terribly scary person not cut from quite the same cloth as the rest of us, and this was something I’d had in my mind for a while. It goes without saying that the surprise of finding him otherwise was considerable.
Waiting for us in the hotel for the interview, he had shaved his beard off completely and was wearing clothes like in the movie “Chariots of Fire”. “Are you the guys who’ve come for the interview with Prefab Sprout? I’m Paddy…” welcoming and polite and offering a handshake.
– Because you’ve shaved off your beard I didn’t recognize you for a moment (laughs). I think you look younger without the beard!
PM: Yeah, me too (laughs).
– As this is my first interview, can you tell me briefly about the band’s career? I heard you formed Prefab Sprout in 1977 when you were 17 years old?
PM: I started playing the acoustic guitar at the age of 11 or 12, but I liked writing songs from that time. So we imagined starting a band, and in 1972, I named this band “Prefab Sprout”. In 1977 my younger brother Martin and our childhood friend Michael formed the band and started rehearsing seriously. Setting up cheap amplifiers and a drum kit… But at that time Michael couldn’t even play the basic beat (laughs).
After that, we made our first single in 1982, then the drummer changed and Wendy joined.
– I think “Sprout” is a very strange name for a group. When I first heard the band name I thought that it was “Brussels Sprout” (laughs)
PM: Hahahaha, Brussels Sprouts are the best! No – I’ve been asked the same question on a British radio station, and at the time I didn’t tell the truth. But today I’ll tell you the real story (laughs). When I chose this band name it was fashionable in the US to give groups meaningless names. It seemed they put together two words with no connection. Did that create some sort of mystery? I know it’s stupid but I like it quite well.
– Talking of 1977 when the band started, that was the heyday of the punk movement, but your music is quite different from that. Was your sound influenced in any way by punk?
PM: When I formed the band in 1977 I was told we sounded like Steely Dan. More recently we’ve been told we resemble Aztec Camera. Anyway at that time we hadn’t established our own sound. Punk was at its peak in 1977 but from then onwards I think our music is more sophisticated than punk. I liked punk’s energy, and I also liked the idea of three or four minute songs. I thought there was a great energy there but I also remember being bored by bands who were too simple. But I won’t say I wasn’t affected at all. The only thing I can say is that we always go beyond “fashion”.
– Your second Album, “Steve McQueen” was produced by Thomas Dolby, which was a very surprising combination. How on Earth did you come to work with him?
PM: It’s a funny story, but it seems we stumbled upon a perfect match (laugh). I was listening to the radio and Thomas was on the show talking about the first single “Don’t Sing” from our debut album “Swoon”. What he said was so interesting I was attracted to him. Then a little later when listening to something like “10 songs chosen by Thomas Dolby” on another radio show I realised his tastes were surprisingly similar to mine. I think the image he creates is quite different from what he is like. Before I met him I didn’t understand how much feeling there was in the records he makes, but in fact he plays the piano and keyboards beautifully, and he’s very intelligent. He’s also a great fan of music.
At the same time I was thinking about contacting him via the radio station anyway, Thomas’ manager called my record company and asked who was going to be producing the next Prefab Sprout album. Everybody thought the idea that Thomas was going to produce our album was strange and wondered if I’d lost my mind. But the work I did with him was really great. I definitely want to do the next album with Thomas. I’m still learning, and however much we stay in the studio, no matter how much time you spend, even when you’re finished you don’t end up with the sound you want. Thomas manipulates tiny details of the sound freely, he creates a varied texture. He has such a special talent.
– “Steve McQueen” is an album that seems more wonderful every time you hear it. I’ve listened to it countless times, I’m completely blown away by the second album.
PM: Thank you very much, but there’s one mistake with this album: it doesn’t have a lyric sheet. When I released the album I wasn’t thinking about foreigners, for example Japanese people. I forgot that perhaps they wouldn’t know what I was singing. But this was my mistake, I’ll definitely add a lyrics sheet next time.
– But the Japanese version has a lyric sheet!
PM: Truly? That’s great! (he is seriously happy)
– The lyrics were also very interesting. There weren’t many esoteric expressions; I found them easy to understand and they’ll come across well in Japan.
PM: (nodding) Poetry, sometimes, when it tells a story can create images beyond what actually happens. Even now when listening to my records, I can see many more things. That’s why it makes me so glad that you can understand the lyrics.
– Lyrically you’re often compared to Elvis Costello….
PM: Yeah, but I don’t like his lyrics all that much. Personally I know him well, he’s done a lot for us. When I first started the band we supported him on his UK tour, and they’ve been playing our songs too on a recent tour. There are a lot of people less good than Costello, so it’s maybe a compliment to say we’re similar (laughs). But when I listen to music, I like listening to something quite different to ours. That’s why I worked with Thomas, for that reason, and thats why I always seek change. If you touch different music there will be different reactions, and new paths may be opened…
– What do you personally think characterises Prefab Sprout music?
PM: Well… I like playing and listening to my songs. But I wonder if the people behind us – I’m referring to the people in the record company – know what the characteristics of our music are? (laughs). That’s the way you’ll get an answer (laughs). Maybe I won’t achieve it, but if you allow me a small ambition it’s to make music that people listen to once and say “Oh, nice..”, music that makes you interested. I want to make music like that. More and more there is melody. I think we’re becoming a band of which people can say “these are songs that mean something.”
-I agree. But, I think your music is really this kind of thing. I think it’s pure and honest music too.
PM: Really! Is it? Thank you.
– Is it true that you thought of becoming a priest at one point?
PM: Yeah, I went to the seminary from the age of 11. My father was a teacher at the seminary. But even when you go to that kind of school it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a priest. I didn’t attend the school because I wanted to be a priest, but more because I’d have my own room away from my parents, and because I could play football and it seemed like a fun place. I thought about it as I went through the school, but when I was 17 years old I made up my mind: “I won’t become a priest”. And I decided to become a musician.
– On a different subject, when you used the name “Steve McQueen” for the album title, I believe you heard from the actor’s family?
PM: That’s right. When I was thinking about the title for this album, I was desperately thinking I wanted to add something mysterious to it. So when I was having dinner with my brother, Wendy and myself I had an idea: “What about ‘Steve McQueen’?”. So having decided on this title I confirmed many times with the lawyers that it would be OK, and they replied “no problem.” However two weeks after we launched the album, his wife’s laywer called the record company and said “Don’t use the name”. So in America the album title will be changed.
Paddy replied honestly to every single question, Wendy quietly reading a book on her own. They were truly lovely people. Their album “Steve McQueen” is now my favourite record, I play it repeatedly. As you listen to it, their clear and pure music enters deep into your heart. I’ve discovered some wonderful music.