Ikeda Satoko, Strange Days – November 2001

Paddy McAloon from the northeast of England formed his band with his brother Martin. “Lions In My Own Garden”, released on an independent label in 1982 was broadcast on DJ John Peel’s radio show and established the band’s reputation.

After being joined by Wendy Smith, they made their album debut with Swoon in 1984. Following the second, “Steve McQueen” in 1985, the band formation was Paddy (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Wendy (vocals), Martin (bass), Neil Conti (drums). This formation built their reputation as a band. In 1999, the double “best of “ album “38 Carat Collection” was released. Four years after their last original work, “Andromeda Heights”, a new work, “The Gunman and Other Stories” will be released on October 24th (June in the UK).

Prefab Sprout have announced their first original album for about four years, “The Gunman and Other Stories”. However, on reading the credits, I couldn’t find the names of Wendy Smith or Neil Conti. Paddy McAloon’s change of look is known to fans because of his recent appearances, but is the band also losing members? Paddy confided to me that he’s no good at promoting albums, but he was relaxed and answered all of Strange Day’s questions, with subjects ranging from the composition of the band to his new projects.

– Can you tell me why you made the theme of this album the American West, where the cowboys ruled?

“For two reasons. Firstly the romantic world of the cowboy or the Wild West is a classic image, understood anywhere in the world. And the other reason was that the songs of this album were originally written for other artists. One of them was the British actor, Jimmy Nail, and he was playing a young aspiring country and western singer for a TV show. I had to write songs in that style. So I was thinking that even if Jimmy didn’t like the songs, I’d use them on a Prefab album using a Western theme as a motif (laughs).”

– Four years have passed between the release of the previous work, “Andromeda Heights” and the latest album, “The Gunman and Other Stories”. It took seven years to release “Andromeda Heights”. This seems a very long time in comparison to other artists…?

“Oh yeah, you’re right (laughs). Actually, I’m in two minds about this, I do think it’s painful to take such a long time. But in other ways I’m not convinced it’s such a bad thing. The period between releases is busy with other things. Most of these are concerned with composition. It takes time to figure out what you want to do. I have enough material to write a lot of songs, but it’s hard to figure out what I want to do. For example I tried to make America and Country music the theme of “The Gunman and Other Stories”, but it’s actually been a long time since the recording ended.”

– You’ve included works offered to other artists. Why did you decide to self-cover these works?

“I thought I should put together the songs I gave to these other people. I gave them to Cher or Kenny Rogers. They interpreted the songs very well, and I like their versions very much. However as these songs encompass a wider concept than that, I wanted to record them on one album and put them together.”

– What was it like to work with the producer, Tony Visconti?

“It was very interesting. He was the producer who worked with my favourite artists from when I was a kid, so working with him it felt like a dream, I was able to work for a couple of months with the producer of T. Rex, Bowie, people I thought were up in the clouds, face to face at the studio every day and doing my own songs. He’s a wonderful producer, first of all he has an outstanding touch as a vocal coach and he can get the best out of singers. Besides that he’s a talented individual – full of ideas. I talked a lot with Tony, how he did recordings in the past, what kind of methods he used, what he does now, like a story. It was a lot of fun.”

– I feel this work isn’t restricted to the framework of rock and pop in the way it’s finished. I feel the content stirs images of composers like Foster and Gershwin.”

“You’re embarrassing me with such wonderful compliments, I’m very happy, thank you. It might sound like a cliché but I always make music I think would like to listen to and enjoy myself (sighs). And also I’m now making music in a style that’s less popular than it was in the past. I like powerful stories and powerful melodies. That’s why I’m truly honoured to be compared with the composers you cited in your question earlier. But for me, it’s a difficult topic to discuss… If you’re not careful you can end up as an old fogey who wants to turn the clock back 30 years or more. In fact I’m not that sort of person, and I’m happy that music changes continuously. And I think young people are excited that they can listen to all sorts of records. But for myself, I think my strength is that I create very melodic music.”

– In the interview for this magazine for the promotion of the “38 Carat Collection” held when you came to Japan, you told me there was a suite-style number, about 20 minutes long, “I Trawl the Megahertz” as the next new concept. What happened to that song?

“Yes, ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’. That’s it! That will be a completely different record. That song isn’t suitable for an album of country music. Actually it’s precisely that which we’re going to do next. If possible I’d like to record it this year. Well in that case the gap between one record and the next will be the shortest ever in the history of the band, right? (laughs). Actually that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It was the end of 1999, right? When I went to Japan I’d just finished making the demo of “I Trawl…” and was thinking about putting it on the next album. I’m actually just trying to get it into shape, so this time you’ll be relieved to hear there’ll be no long gap.”

– This album was created in collaboration with your younger brother, Martin, why was this band formation chosen?

“Wendy has retired now, she has children. Because it takes me time to create records, everyone in the band has started other work. When you start doing another job, Prefab tours and promotions will break up that that other career. I’m good friends with her, but she has a different life now. My younger brother Martin is a music teacher at a university so he can fit records around that. Although Neil Conti is doing work on other things, I definitely want him to participate on a future album. But ‘I Trawl…’ is a world completely different from this album, so the faces of the musicians I will use will also change. It’s like casting a movie, I need different musicians for each record. So for example, I’ve appointed a lot of American musicians for the current album. But ‘I Trawl…’ will be different. We’ll be inviting different musicians according to the style of the music.”

– Prefab Sprout has an album, “Jordan: the Comeback” in which Elvis Presley is a motif, but British artists have been strongly influenced by American music, or C&W music, and I hear there’s something like admiration. What do you think about American music?

“What do I think about the United States….? (sighs). Well this may be due to the cultural laziness of the British, but there are things that make us familiar with American popular culture simply because we have the same language I guess, because English is our mother tongue. American movies, literature and music are easy to understand. There is also a mysterious charm of the American pop records – which I listened to as a child – for British people. A nice example of that is the anecdote about the strange effect on John Lennon of hearing Elvis on the radio, it continued echoing in his head, it felt to him as if it was music that had come from another planet. I felt like that too. I felt it was exotic, that experience of American music in my own childhood.

“As I gradually became older, as I gradually discovered my own identity – in my case the Beatles and similar British pop groups was the core of it – but having found such a nucleus for myself I was free to take other things in. The amazing harmonies in American pop is one of these elements. Harmony is beautiful if you make a jazzy record. But my lyrics are psychologically quite different from America. Of course I write lyrics about America, but I think the style of the lyrics is very British.

“By the way, you asked me why I chose the West as the theme for the album a little while ago, and I said the first reason was that it’s a theme that’s understood all around the world. That’s why I chose Elvis before. As regards the United States, even with people who’ve never been, there are places where you can experience and think about that culture, right? I think America is a great theme with which to find points of contact with the audience.”

– Although it’s been 18 years since your début, in the meantime the technology has evolved dramatically. The new work feels a little like the antithesis to this technology?

“What’s funny is that I love modern technology. I love avant-garde music and contemporary music. But when I compose myself, I feel that it is my mission and strength to create a ‘good song’ that transcends these technologies. Some bands make music that depends on modern technology, but the music I’m doing is simple, like 30 years ago, and if you have old school guitar and drums you can do it. I like technology and I use it a lot in recording, but I think that the strength I have is that my music doesn’t have to rely on technology. In that sense I’m an old fashioned musician.”

– Although you played in European last year, Japanese fans haven’t been able to see you live for more than 15 years. Is there a possibility of playing live in Japan?

“Oh, I know that… To tell the truth, I really can’t say whether I’ll do that in the future. Maybe we won’t tour any more. On last year’s tour, I had a hard time concentrating on the lyrics I was singing. I think the promoter is interested in Japan, but the problem is that it takes time to get used to the jet lag. So I guess it’s not economically viable. So there may not be a tour in future. I know the fans are disappointed, and I’m sorry.”

– But new work is coming soon…

“Well let’s dare to risk it and say the next album will be released next year! (laughs). I’ll say there’s a good chance of that happening, the ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’ album.

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