This was the piece I found late last year which led me to an extended search for other Japanese material. It’s a really nice interview from the “Crimson/Red” promotion from the “Cookie Scene” website.
Evergreen, timeless pop music. A description often used as a superlative compliment, but it suits the new Prefab Sprout album, completed in middle of this decade. It’s a pop music now separated from the capitalism of the 20th Century by more than a decade. Of course a relationship that prevailed for more than a century is much longer than a normal marriage and isn’t going to be dissolved that easily. But is a new relationship about to be born as the bastard child of the internet and PC? I really think it is.
Judging by the photographs, Paddy McAloon, all that remains of Prefab Sprout, looks like a wizard who has lived for thousands of years. But he is still only in his fifties. I’m only a few years younger than him… (eek).
More than simply than something from the dendrochronological record of the post-punk era, but also a new album where the sap of a young tree is still rising. If I could coin a phrase.. “Atari Adolescence Riot” (!). How on Earth did it come to be made? I decided to press closer to the secrets of its completion. An “Official Interview” (therefore to be freely quoted in the media and on the Internet without permisssion, lol). The full version please…!
The new album is wonderful. The previous work, “Let’s Change the World With Music” was topped with a sprinkling of “high concept” (in a good sense). If it was that in that context I sensed elements of hip-hop and rock, then this time (also in a good way) I thought the recent album can be enjoyed in a more relaxed way (again in a good sense). Or, to put it in another way, it is an album that makes me wonder if I am really experiencing the “essence of pop music…” What do you think?
(P): Thanks! This is a self-assured work that includes only songs that have been maturing for years. The lyrical content is powerful and intense and it is centred on a depiction of a life of someone in their old age. Because I’m not young any more… (laughs). In my favourite number, “Adolescence”, I’m singing about my teens. And then the “old magician” in “The Old Magician” refers to myself, a songwriter.
I see! I suspected that was the case, and that’s exactly what it is. You’re a surprisingly straightforward person (laughs). Well the previous work has an element that you could call a self made remake of an unreleased album that was originally meant to be made a long time ago. In the liner notes you write in quite a dark way about when you awoke to music, and there’s a sense that part of the album was about you being able to get out what you had been accumulating. So were you able to do something that was more concentrated on yourself this time?
P: No, even this new work has recordings of songs I’ve had written for about 16 years… well I guess it’s better to say songs I’ve been rewriting for years. “Grief Built the Taj Mahal”, and “The Old Magician” that I just mentioned were written a while ago, in 1997. I imagined myself becoming an old man at the time and wrote “The Old Magician”, but when I started recording it anew last year I changed the lyrics.
I see (laughs).
P: After sixteen years, I was actually old. But the ten songs were rewritten in October last year, so it may be that they’re out of date now. I don’t think it’s a good way to work, but… (laughs).
So it was a good experience for you? (laughs)
P: Actually, this album was a work that should have been completed several years ago… It was very embarrassing… I completely forgot the delivery deadline. I was angry and embarrassed with myself for forgetting something so important… Recently, because of my hearing problems, I’ve not been able to listen to loud sounds when other musicians play so I’ve been working on my own all the time. After the recording was completed, I handed the material over to Calum Malcolm, my engineer, and Calum was in charge of the mixing and mastering.
I felt the arrangement and sound of this album is more contemporary than previous works. You wrote in the liner notes: “No one questions a Snow Leopard”. Does this mean you used a Mac in the production? (Ed: Snow Leopard being a trademark of the Mac OSX 10.6 series.)
P: Maybe that sounds like a cryptic comment, but actually it’s just an in-joke (laughs). Last April when the three of us – my brother Martin, my nephew Jonathan and myself played guitar and recorded demos of 12 to 13 songs as a trio to check what they sounded like, we did one of my old songs “My Mysterious Power Over Women” in which there’s a line “No-one questions a Snow Leopard”. Jonathan liked it so much so I put it in the liner notes as a joke (laughs).”
Oh … (haha)!
P: I’ve never used a Mac myself, you know. I’ve considered using one but a flashy LCD monitor is bad for the eyes… I still today use a 1980s Atari, I’ve had it for 30 years (laughs). It’s comfortable to use because I’m used to it, and an old personal computer can’t hurt my eyes. Then using the materials I recorded, Calum Malcolm, my sound engineer, worked using an Apple computer so it has a contemporary sound.
I see, it’s an Atari! It’s more than a Mac or something! Now, I would like to specifically look at the songs themselves. I think that track #1, “The Best Jewel Thief in the World,” is the most powerful opening number out there. The melody, the arrangement, and the lyrics that focus on an undeniable realism… It’s like, this idea of romanticism that avoids being immersed in escapism, that’s exactly what Prefab Sprout is all about! In this song they tell us, “You’re the best jewel thief in the world.” I think it could even be saying, “Ripping something off… or taking an idea from somewhere else, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even in this age of the computer and the internet, you kids still have potential.” (laughs) Paddy, I feel like… As the listeners, we want to say the same thing back to you… Being told that, how does it make you feel?
P: Oh… from my point of view, I meant to sing about the attitude of someone who attempts dangerous and exciting things, not to young people of the PC/Internet generation who don’t care about plagiarism. That is, it’s a metaphor of the songwriter’s condition. This is common with the attitude of the songwriter at work. In my case when I sit down to write a piece of music I start with the feeling “What’s wrong with you?” So I like to challenge that attitude with a lot of confidence: “I’m the best songwriter!”, keeping that in mind. It’s true. Even if you’re anxious and humble, you have to be very confident when you write songs (laughs).
I can understand that exactly. Returning to the previous question though, when you think about the relationship between the author/singer/listener in pop lyrics, the distinction of first person/second person/third person becomes very ambiguous. That’s what I think. In that sense the lyrics of the third song, “Adolescence” are really interesting. The song seems to be singing to young people in the middle of adolescence showing that you’re not yourself able to get out of the adolescent feeling. Actually the album title “Crimson/Red” was taken from a passage: “Adolescence crimson/red, fireworks inside your head. What’s happening? Are you somewhere in the middle of an eternal adolescence? Is it a recurrence?
P: Yes. There is indeed an element of a boy going through puberty… (laughs). Part of this song is singing about myself. And there is certainly a part of it where the older person is remembering when he was young and giving advice to younger people. I have three daughters. Yes, the album title does come from the lyrics of “Adolescence”. I didn’t want to name the album after one song included as a track on it. “Crimson/Red” is an evocative, exciting and passionate colour.
Like burning up. The phrase “Adolescence – what’s it like? It’s a psychedelic motorbike”, The cuteness of nursery rhymes mixed with biker wildness… Introspection and danger entwined.I slapped myself on the knee: “that’s exactly the right word”. Do you remember how you came up with such a phrase?
P: I don’t know where it came from. Originally the lyrics were: “Adolescence – what’s it like? It’s a pink fluorescent motorbike”, but because there was a song called “Fluorescent Adolescent” by the Arctic Monkeys, I changed it to “psychedelic motorbike”.
P: Well, It was me who came up with this “fluorescent adolescent” phrase … (laughs). I thought that the word “psychedelic” was perfect to describe the uncontrollable feelings of a teenager. I was lucky to be able to come up with such a perfect expression. I can’t think of any other expressions like that…
No, me neither…! Many Prefab Sprout fans I know like “Steve McQueen” (1985) or “Jordan: The Comeback” (1990) the most, but before the 2009 “resurrected” album I liked “From Langley Park To Memphis” better. And “Crimson/Red” sounds a bit like that at times. I thought maybe because you were making it on your own is it like a band? Or does the influence of black music come through more strongly. Or is that just my own impression, what do you think?
P: Yes. As with other Prefab Sprout albums, I aimed for a band sound like that with this one again.
And the opening song “The Best Jewel Thief In The World” is certainly reminiscent of “Cars And Girls” on “From Langley Park To Memphis”. Although it wasn’t intentionally made in the 80’s style, there’s something distinctive in the DNA… I think it unconsciously resembles the style.
I used the phrase “romanticism that avoids being immersed in escapism… an undeniable realism”. As a part where the feeling of “looking at the reality” appears strongly, I wonder if the lyrics of the fifth song “Devil Came A Calling” and the ninth song “The Old Magician” that we were talking about while ago can be mentioned…? I perceived the reality and severity unique to those who had no choice but to participate in the pop music business, and I felt a slight tenderness in the ninth song. In other words, you feel the passing of time in a good way. What do you think about this opinion?
P: That’s an interesting opinion. As I grew older, I looked back on my life so far and began to wonder whether I was altogether a good person, whether I did something good for other people. Like “Devil Came a calling” for example, I now think there was a tendency to deceive people in the fascinating and seductive era that was the 1980s, like selling your soul to the Devil.”
Is that so? Perhaps the lyrics of the 8th song “The Songs Of Danny Galway” are related to Jimmy Webb, one of the musicians who influenced you? I saw that opinion on the net. Is that really the case?
P: Yes. exactly. I met Jimmy Webb in Ireland for the first time a few years ago… We played together. This song is a song dedicated to Jimmy Webb. When I was a child I loved the songs by Glen Campbell written by Jimmy Webb.
Even as a diligent student I don’t know who Danny Galway is? Or is it better to leave that as “Mysterious” (the title of the last number) (laughs)?
P: No, it’s okay. Danny Galway is a fictional character. When I was thinking about Jimmy Webb, I came up with this name (laughs).
Thanks…. (laughs). In the “electronic” part of the album, I sense the influence of Thomas Dolby who you’ve worked with as a producer. Well, it’s natural to state the obvious, but what do you think about this observation?
P: Thanks. Thomas Dolby is a really wonderful sonic designer. I loved his work before I asked him to produce for us. But I was influenced by artists from before Thomas Dolby… When I was a child I was a big fan of Karl Heinz Stockhausen, and when I wrote him a fan letter he sent me a signed reprint of part of a score.
P: Even now I still have it (laughs).
Was there any music that particularly influenced you which you were listening to or accidentally heard during the making or preparation of this album? Apart from Brian Wilson who would have been a major influence from a long time ago.
P: Because of the delay in making the album, since I had started to work in a hurry, I was concentrating on studio work from 6 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening. When I’d finished my day’s work, I was too tired… I didn’t feel like listening to music (laughs). Usually I’m listening to everything from Miles Davis to Lee Scratch Perry, Public Image Limited…. Jah Wobble. Even when I’m cooking tea, or when friends come and visit.
In the lyrics of the 6th song, “Billy”, you sing: “Tell me all your secrets Billy, I said / Lead me to your doorstep, there’s so much I don’t know” “Got no gift for music, William / Got no gift for music, Bill, he said sing a song of sixpence…steady as you go“” “let your feelings show.” I was deeply impressed by this. I’d like to think it was also a message from yourself to young people. Is that so? (Laughs).
P: No ….
P: I’m talking to myself about the key to expressing myself well. I might have a talent for music, but I might not… This is just a mystery…. It’s one of my favourite songs!
Thank you very much. I’m also looking forward to your next work.
P: Thank you too. Sorry I’ve not been to Japan for a long time. I’m pleased that people in Japan from a different culture supports Prefab Sprout. Thank you so much!