Massive thanks to Kurt for this, which is the original 1 hour 15 minute interview that formed the basis of the Creem piece posted a few days ago. It was recorded onto a half speed microcassette which isn’t the greatest recording medium known to man, and even with a lot of hiss removal it’s a bit crackly, not to mention full of the crashing of crockery and crunching of prawns (yes, really). So as well as the recording there’s a transcript.
There is some wonderful material about the early days of the band, and how Wendy joined, which was new to me. So put the noise cancelling headphones on, install yourself slightly outside the ring of Christmas revellers, and retire hermit-like into an hour or more of dinner and chat with Paddy.
Big thanks also to Juliette Jones who dug the initial transcription out of the audio murk. To put a little plug in for her, she offers a very economical and accurate transcription service, and also happens to be a fan of Prefab Sprout, so should anyone need transcriptions doing, contact me and I’ll put you in touch.
KURT: Quiet, so you can do it on slow speed.
KURT: Those are for you
PADDY: Thanks right. Ahhh, God help us! What is this?
KURT: It’s all the songs cut from the shows and these are all of his novelty songs.
KEITH ARMSTRONG (in background): speak to you next week Chris…
PADDY: This is absolutely…
KURT: I thought you’d get a kick out of this.
KEITH: Before you start, do you want to order some food or what?
KURT: Umm…I could put something in my stomach. No, I work for Rodgers and Hammerstein, so I figured I’d bring you some things.
PADDY: That is absolutely brilliant. You work for them, or obviously the estate…or the business
KURT: So I thought we’d do Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, I thought to myself.
PADDY: That’s really great. Thank you for that. Because I am a fan of theirs… look at that there… God help us… It’s just brilliant
KURT: [laughs] Well if you like them, give me an address and I can send you a lot more. I just picked the most obscure things I could find.
KEITH: So you can sell it…
KURT: There’s like a maitre d’ here, poor man. [pause] I’ll have the Beluga caviar! [laughs]
PADDY: We went through that… We’ll have a pound each, please.
KURT: Goodness gracious me.
KURT: It’s the things that were cut from the shows, or…it’s got the Christmas song. All sorts. [pause]
KURT: I’m just going to set up the prongs for a minute
PADDY: Prongs? This is really good of you
KURT: [laughs] I’ve looked forward to get the chance to talk to you for years.
PADDY: All right, right, right, right.
KURT: Get him off on the right foot…
PADDY: [Laughs]You certainly did, absolutely.
KURT: Well Chris said she was going to fax me some cartoon that was like “Paddy protecting his influences”…
PADDY: You haven’t seen that, have you?
KURT: I haven’t seen it.
PADDY: Oh, she’s still got that.
KURT: Don’t worry about it. But she was like, “oh, we’ve got Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb”
PADDY: Right. Yeah, yeah. It’s got all those…
KURT: Do you take a lot of flak for that?
PADDY: In England, it’s kind of regarded as quaint. And I can’t convey to them, not so much quaint: an old-fashioned guy. I’m not really. I’ll be delighted if there was someone I found now. There’s almost only Stephen Sondheim who I would sort of ever put in that category of adventurous sort of spirited, you know. And they don’t really understand. How can I put it. It’s kind of like…people will indulge me, because, they think, “well, I like some of your records, therefore you maybe know what you’re talking about”. But it’s just…there’s no real err…That sort of thing has disappeared. Kind of…I just kind of come through it.
KURT: No, exactly, it’s fine song writing. Why do you think that’s disappeared?
PADDY: Well, for a number of reasons. One, I think that in the sixties, apart from the fact that it all got so much easier to write songs, which…not easier to write songs, it got more kind of democratic. Where you had an electric guitar. And there’s nothing wrong in that, and I think it’s great that lots more people make music than, you know…Maybe in their era it was, “oh hey, I wouldn’t”…you know…First of all, you couldn’t earn your living by doing it.
PADDY: But these people, you know, these old song writers really, were considered special in a way that most people… errr …There’s more mystique attached to it, so they wouldn’t try. In the sixties it became more of an option, because, you know, it was a young man’s world from the sixties on. You know, you have the kind of jobs that you can have now. And the whole industry’s based on that.
And the other thing is, I think, that once it becomes easy to make…once it proved popular to a younger audience, like from Elvis Presley on, once that kind of music was popular, who in the world is going to strive to do something that is maybe a little bit harder? And they were definitely, for whatever reason, you know…He’s one of the most mysterious people to me, Irving Berlin. Because of that obvious thing of not being trained…
PADDY: …but being able to keep it up for… anyone can write a hit, or a fluke hit. I think.
KURT: Keep doing it. Over and over. And do it differently.
PADDY: Well that’s it. Because there’s no particular…it’s not like he just wrote one song and they all sounded like it. Even though he said well, he ‘had a few models’. There’s too much invention going on, and anyway in the sixties it became…you didn’t have to reach those heights to make a lot of money. And once money…And he would have understood that, because there were money men…There were real money men. They would have understood that, even if it put them out of business to a certain extent.
KURT: It did.
PADDY: It did, yeah. Once there’s money’s involved, there will always be money there to indulge people who can do it the modern way, the easy way. And that’s, you know…And you know to be really honest with you, I think that people like me who aspire to that and enjoy it, but know that there’s something…you know, well, we’re talking here about, it’s not like the top ten percent of song writers in the world, you’re talking about like the top two or three or four percent of them. That league is always out of reach to everyone else. But once you set your sights on it, once you sort of see that it’s there as a sort of beacon, you can’t then be satisfied with either your own output or this week’s.
PADDY: Knowing sort of a…Pearl Jam record, it’s simply, you know…there may be other reasons to liking it but I kind of think, well, I’ve heard melody in that, and that’s it for me.
KURT: Yeah. I think the whole idea of the singer-song writer and that you had to perform your own material solo…
PADDY: I’m sure you’re right. That’s a massive reason as well.
PADDY: And that’s…But again it’s a comparatively recent development, and you never know how it’s going to develop, or it may change back. But I think that that is so recent that people forget, that’s it’s not always been the case. There was a strict division in the past, between the writer that got good at that…
KURT: Mm-hmm. And the artist got good at recording…
KURT: Yeah. And now they’re seen as a consummate whole.
KURT: And unfortunately they don’t always…You get compromises in both areas as a result of that.
PADDY: You do. I mean, you know, this is how I kept this sort of old fogey’s reputation…I think that on the plus side in the sixties, because this is where the style we now…the sort of trends we see now really originated… people got very introspective and it became, it became [pause] just as the image of a perfect family became something of a…that everyone aspired to be a kind of, in America, the adverts give you this picture of a perfect family. So the song writing to a certain extent portrays such an idealistic and an idealised, romanticised portrait that song writers got slightly more real which was great in a way. They got more kind of…I’m thinking of, you know…doubt was allowed to creep into the picture and self-examination was there in a bigger way. Not with the wit, you know, like a Cole Porter or Irving Berlin had but it crept in and that was good. But then, it turned pretty soon to self-indulgent, which they never had, they weren’t allowed to have…
PADDY: …or you didn’t sell, you know. But they had to tie up any serious thought that they had, had to be tied up in a really attractive way. And I kind of like that, I think to deliver your heartaches with panache is really, really quite, you know, moving. I’m desperately racking my mind for old songs that weren’t just, you know, weren’t just “Oklahoma, da da da”!
KURT: No! [laughs]
PADDY: You know…I don’t know. I’ve always liked this method of thinking of a pertinent example…I think you probably know what I’m talking about.
PADDY: It’s not like the…you know, for example, a song like Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered. It’s witty. Or even My Funny Valentine which is now like a hoary old classic. There’s a lot of to me, sort of knowing, you read about little lines, half-lines. And you kind of see this anguish in the lyric that’s poking through.
KURT: Yeah. There’s a pathos to it.
PADDY: That’s it. And I kind of think, well, “you got everybody singing”. And they’ll still play it today.
KURT: But it’s not like “poor pitiful me”. It’s not about him.
PADDY: No it’s not. It’s universal and that’s the key to these people.
KURT: Mm-hmm. Do you think you’ve managed to capture that in your work?
PADDY: No, I think I’ve written a handful of songs that are okay. I don’t think I’ve written anything really great. I’ve written a few things that are astute in certain ways, like Cruel, I think the lyric is a good modern lyric. But there again, it sprawls a bit, the whole thing sprawls a bit. And too many of my songs, to my taste at least, too many of them are so specific…
PADDY: …as to be difficult to see them lasting beyond…You write a song about Bruce Springsteen, his image, then it can be fun for the time in which he’s famous but I don’t know, I don’t see that that lasts. Maybe it shouldn’t be my concern that it kind of lasts…
KURT: No, I think in the case of Cars And Girls though, the things that you pick out about his personality and his song writing to reflect on, I think those days, as long as pop music…you know, which I’m sure it will continue in the same vein for the next hundred years if they have their way…
PADDY: Ah ha, yeah, yeah.
KURT: …you know, they’ll still be relevant.
PADDY: Well, you know, I was saying to someone the other day, I’d read this, it was Musician magazine and sort of published much later in England…
PADDY: …and he was on the cover of it, and I read the interview with him. And he came up with a sentence that I’ve longed for, and I’ve wished I’d had at my fingertips for ten years, because I’ll often be asked about, “so how do you feel about Springsteen, what exactly is the problem? What exactly is Cars And Girls about?” And he said in one sentence what Cars And Girls is about. He wasn’t talking about it, but this is what he said about his own writing: he said “When I started my song writing path, I tried a heroic posture or outlook. The style of it was, you know, very grand and ‘mansions of glory’”. He said “I’m now trying to write”…he says “real life isn’t like that, and I’m trying to do something about it”.
Well I think he’s slightly harsh on himself, because I think there’s nothing wrong with a sort of glorification in Born To Run, but I wanted…all I was doing was doing what he did. What he said he wanted to do, which is kind of, with a smile on my face, make it all less ‘mansions of glory’ and more people being car sick because I thought you kind of debunk it a little bit, but sort of steal a little bit of his, you know, romanticism as well. But that’s so…it’s easy to talk about it kind of face to face, when you’re writing for a paper, but when the MTV camera rolls, it’s too long-winded a thought for me to voice.
KURT: I don’t know how people can do that thing on the spot, with the cameras and the things…
PADDY: No, that’s really hard, and I kind of have this weird persona that gets more jokey and pally because I’m sort of embarrassed to take the subject seriously. Whereas, if you talk like this…or it’s harder because you haven’t got the nuance of it, you know, sharing what is kind of obviously a joke. But still, you’ve got that space and elaborate on and digress, but cameras you feel like you’re one of their presenters.
KURT: You don’t have room to think.
PADDY: No, no.
KURT: The whole deer caught in the headlights thing…
PADDY: It is, yeah, it is that, yeah. That’s me.
KURT: When I’m on, I have to be perfect Paddy McAloon now.
PADDY: That’s right, yeah.
KURT: For two minutes and fifteen seconds…
PADDY: “And you don’t like Bruce, so shit you!”
KURT: [laughs] [mocking sarcastic voice]Wait a minute! I’ve a whole new album I want to talk about!
PADDY: Yeah. Yeah.
KURT: Speaking of the new album. How do you feel about a Greatest Hits package?
PADDY: Well, in this case you know, it’s an introduction, so it’s for America and parts of Europe, that’s really what it is. It’s sort of a paradox, you have five albums and you’re putting out what is really, what’s called The Best Of, but it’s really for people who missed what you’ve been doing. I think that’s really what it’s about. I think that too many… [pause] In the past through not playing here, we haven’t helped ourselves to get past the “where did you get the name Prefab Sprout?” question. Ten years later I’m still asked that. And I’m trying to do something about it by…
And also, Sony said to me, “well you take a long time between records, you don’t tour. If you put out a Best Of package it kind of gives, at least gives the illusion that you’re around while you work on the next one”. I thought, “well, fair’s fair”, but for me Jordan: The Comeback, I’d been given the chance to do really what I wanted to do. So this is me being amenable to the politics.
KURT: Well you know, it’s a primer. It’s definitely…you’re very right, it’s a good starting point for people that haven’t been keeping track.
KURT: For those of us who have…
PADDY: Well yeah, yeah, having…that’s it. Those people who are Prefab Sprout fans, they’ve got five or four, whatever, albums here, and that’s that. And that’s fine, and this is, you know…It took us ages in England to get past the silly name barrier, and to get on the radio. It took us quite a while. You know, you get the odd mad fan. But it’s only now that they are comfortable.
KURT: But at least over there if you’ve got the staying power they keep coming back to you and they stop asking you the silly question and…as shark-like as the journalists are there they do…
PADDY: Yeah. But you are talking about the NMEs and the Melody Makers and that kind of, you know, frenetic, there’s got to be something new every week. They won’t ask me the Prefab Sprout name, but I’ll go somewhere like a little tiny station somewhere. And they’ll still occasionally…you know, yeah. I’ll occasionally get it. But in general in England we’re sort of through that barrier. But you know, it’s not like I…I understand the States more than I did, just the geography of it, and the way it is so geared for fractured little ghettos of urban contemporary post-modern nights. I used to find that hilarious. Knowing what the hell they’d mean to a pop chart…
KURT: Which five bands are supposed to fall in there.
KURT: Am I in there?!
PADDY: Yeah. Well that’s right.
KURT: What am I? And now you’re a dance band. How did that happen?!
PADDY: Well, I don’t know, I think a girl named Michelle in the Sony building. She thought, well, you made basically in If You Don’t Love Me a straight-ahead old-fashioned dance pop disco pop record. We can do something with that for the clubs, because the clubs, I don’t know, perhaps expressed an interest. I don’t think I understand that world. And the Future Sound Of London…
KURT: Who I love.
PADDY: Well, you see I don’t know much about them at all. But I was told that they liked us, just as, you know, okay, a different field of music, but they thought we were cool. And I thought, well, I actually loved the sort of strange thing they did because…maybe because they kind of made a tiny little melody around my voice. Not a tune that we had written, one of our own. And that’s ironic as well, because we’ve got a dance hit, and it’s got a kind of melody, but it’s not one of mine.
KURT: No. it’s like a…it’s just a wee bit better than getting sampled.
PADDY: Yeah, it is, it is.
KURT: They created this rain forest, Prefab Sprout are sort of wafting through it.
PADDY: Exactly. And you know, after you’ve kind of talked all these years about, “oh, if we just had a stroke of luck”, you know. And someone does something like that and you think “well, this is fraudulent because it’s their hit”. And on the other hand I thought, “you just ride, you go along with it”.
KURT: The original song’s pretty cute too! [laughs]
PADDY: So yeah, it’s a big surprise, and number five today apparently. So we’ve never, ever had our little pictures…our names in Billboard.
KURT: There you go!
PADDY: There we go, eh?
KURT: [laughs] Amazing. Where did the two new songs come from?
PADDY: They came from completely different areas. If You Don’t Love Me was among a batch I wrote in frustration, in autumn of last year. Where I thought, “I want to write something that there’s nothing in the way of understanding the lyric”, no interview needs to be done to to kind of explain concepts about, you know, Elvis Presley and the desert and all the stuff I’d gone through…
KURT: No God!
PADDY: No God, yeah. Yeah. I just thought…
KURT: No chess champ!
PADDY: Yeah. That’s right [laughs] That’s the one. [laughs] Bobby Fischer…
KURT: Who is the Bob Fischer guy?! [laughs]
PADDY: Yeah. Exactly. None of that. Just give it to ’em easy. Which I like to do, as well as the others things that I like to do. Kind of like, not invisible pop music, but something with…see, if you strip away all the disco-pop element of If You Don’t Love Me, there is something of a sort of…almost like a very intimate ballad, the heart of it, when I wrote it. It is extremely personal, in fact. The are only the words like “you” and “I”. The old…
KURT: It’s very direct but it’s not specific.
PADDY: No, that’s right. A lot of my stuff gets [inaudible] you’re with me. So that was kind of, because I thought how, “I must be able to write some songs with that kind of directness”. It was partly a challenge, you know. If I’m supposed to be good, surely I can write something that doesn’t need, you know, the explanation. So that was behind that. The Sound Of Crying as well, that was…a whole bunch of songs I wrote in April of… whenever the Gulf War was on… Not last year, the year before.
It was sort of just in the aftermath of George Bush saying “I want a new world order”. And it wasn’t a cynical thought, it was more a feeling that no matter how well-regulated you make the world or whatever, no matter how well-regulated our affairs are, disasters are kind of there. It’s going to always happen. Now, normally I shy away from those sort of big big statements, because I kind of feel slightly uncomfortable doing those, I think it’s a rock group thing that…
KURT: And you can really get such a drift when you do those things too.
PADDY: Yes. Yeah yeah yeah. But it fell out, so the song, I had the tune. And also I’d been writing some songs kind of about Michael Jackson. And I was writing the sort of verse…I started writing songs about Michael Jackson. And the verses were going to be, of this particular song, which turned into The Sound Of Crying. With the same music. The verse was going to list all these kinds of unhappy things that had happened to him. Kind of, sort of this feeling of dislocation. Like a biographical photograph. A biopic. And the verses were going to list all the things that had gone wrong for him. I was going to invent some things and just try and, in the same ways that Jordan was Elvis, I was going to write a Michael Jackson song. But the sort of release from it was going to be the chorus. Would be [sings] “Only the boogie music will never ever let you down”.
And at the last minute, my nerve failed, because I thought no matter how much I loaded the verses with more disturbing things, this kind of chorus, I wasn’t sure about it. I wanted to be super, super…like something off Off The Wall. I wanted it to be super light and fluffy. And then, I thought, “Oh I’m not sure”. And then I got the idea for The Sound Of Crying. So it’s almost showing how a song can evolve from one strange direction. And gain a different weight, when it goes somewhere else. It’s the same melody for the two songs.
KURT: And it’s funny, I think the idea of dance music and the idea of “disco music will never let you down”, does percolate under the bottom of the song still.
PADDY: You’re right, because…it’s more apparent in Europe. If I go to Belgium or France, some people say to me, “yeah yeah yeah yeah, your records are really pretty”. And they haven’t got…well I think, they are pretty, but they haven’t got the lyrical aspect to add a little bit of, you know, acid to it. And in that case I think, you know, the lyric isn’t particularly sweet at all. But the music percolates in that kind of style. So it is at the bottom, but you know, it’s pretty weird depending where you go, the consciousness of the lyric. It affects how you feel about what we do. But some people just think, we are pretty music. You know that happens, people just think you make a very pretty sound, you know. Yeah, yeah. And I kind of go, “well, I’m happy if anybody likes it at any level”. I don’t think everybody pores over the lyrics. But if you don’t get that, you’re…
KURT: You’re losing a hell of a lot.
PADDY: You’re losing a hell of a lot, yeah. [Paddy coughs] Excuse me…
KURT: That’s alright, pop stars are allowed to…
PADDY: Pop stars are allowed to have a bit of a cold… So yeah, that was a long-winded answer to a simple question. So they come from two different directions. One is “give me the pop hit” and the other is, “well, it’s sort of a big concern of mine, and this is my feeling about, why does God allow this”, a “Why does God allow this?” song.
KURT: The problem with interviews where you end up having conversations is you lose your train of thought.
PADDY: Oh sorry, that’s right, I’m great at finishing abruptly where you…I’m actually good at that… Oh yeah, where you follow on with the logical thing and I do, I’m sorry, I throw you back to your senses!
PADDY: So how did you get into this?
KURT: It was a fluke. My whole career is a fluke, and a lovable one thank God. I came to New York to be a singer, a very specific…I wanted to take music like this, you know, now in the treasured area called cabaret and they put it up on a pedestal, but I wanted to mix it with pop and dance music, and sort of be the new Marc Almond, or whatever, without being Marc Almond. And I was working at a delicatessen, I was doing some singing. I thought I had gotten a job at a record company. I quit my job at the delicatessen, the record company went under, I was completely unemployed. I went back to the deli one day to buy coffee and I was talking to someone there and he was like, “you know about showtunes, right?” I’m like, “Sure”. He was like, “do you want to work for Rodgers and Hammerstein?”
PADDY: Just like that.
KURT: Sure. So I went up, I did the interview, they gave me the job.
PADDY: That is brilliant.
KURT: Yeah. It’s a wonderful way to turn over things. [laughs]
PADDY: That is brilliant.
KURT: So I get to go out and be rock and roll in the evening…
PADDY: Sure. And you do this by day…
KURT: Yeah. It’s a nice contrast. Life is all about balance.
PADDY: Yeah. And you have your Creem job.
KURT: All these writing assignments. And you, you used to pump gas?
PADDY: Yeah. That’s the only job I can ever say I’ve done. Yeah. What I wanted was some free time to write. And if you do that you’ve at least got the time between cars, if you live in a little village, which isn’t that busy, apart from eight till nine and four till five when they come home, it’s sort of okay. That’s what I did. And then my father kind of insisted that…I was talking to someone the other night and they pointed out that the here the sort of step from being seventeen or eighteen when you finish your education and you’re into college, isn’t such a massive leap, you kind of…is that right?
KURT: No. it’s a very planned segue.
PADDY: Right. Well in England it used to be more, I think it still is, it’s more of a…you choose then “do I go and get a job or do I go to college?” It was also more of a class based thing of what you did. And I finished school at eighteen, and my father…I sort of worked a bit in a garage over the summer, and was happy to do that. Well, happy insofar as I was writing songs. And he insisted I went to college, and I’m sort of, you know, and then I was, still am, pretty placid in some quarters. I thought this doesn’t bother me, I’m happy to learn about reading, and I’m happy to write anything. So I just thought, “okay”. So he just phoned up at the last minute to this local college in Newcastle where I lived. And I kind of got in at the last minute, you know. And I was there for three years, so I did a degree, I got my English degree.
But I was never really, really committed to sort of doing what a degree would normally allow, you’d get a kind of job, you ought to be a teacher or go on to do exciting things. I didn’t really want that, I just wanted to write, so I finished it, I got my degree. And I went back to the garage and he kind of looked at me. By this time actually, he was very ill and couldn’t look after the place himself. So the fight had kind of gone out of him. And I think he just felt, “I’ve done my duty by my son, I’ve insisted he got an education, and if he wants to sit around here that’s his problem”. And I did that for four years. I did that really for two, three, four, five years.
PADDY: A long time, where we’d rehearse every night. The band. And I’d serve petrol by day, and I didn’t even want to play places, I had to be dragged screaming…
PADDY: Yeah. I had no great interest for that. I was always nervous about it. Again, I had no confidence about singing, all I wanted to do was write and I thought we’d get a singer in. But that presented so many problems.
KURT: So did you try incarnations where you weren’t singing and you had other people singing your stuff?
PADDY: First of all, being in a little village, we didn’t know many…
KURT: You didn’t have a lot to draw on!
PADDY: We didn’t. We didn’t even know any like-minded individuals, people who maybe would have been keen to sing. They probably wouldn’t have understood even vaguely what I was on about…
KURT: They would have to!
PADDY: And I was particularly weird in style…
KURT: Especially at that point!
PADDY: Yeah. That..
KURT: The early stuff. The pre-Swoon and Swoon stuff.
PADDY: Yeah yeah. That’s it. You know, what do you do? You’re kind of stuck, and you look at each other. And we’d think, we actually said it: “we really must get a singer”. At the end of the night’s rehearsal, and at the time we were a three-piece, you know. My brother, and our good friend from the village who played the drums. So it was all rougher, there were no keyboards, no pretty sort of vocals…
KURT: None of the ethereal stuff.
PADDY: No, no ethereal stuff at all. So we’d always say, it makes me laugh now, because it wasn’t like an ego thing of me thinking, well, maybe I should be the singer and they disagreed. It was we were all: “we’ve got to get us a singer”. And then, you know, by the time you’re doing that for a couple of years, you’ve got some sort of style. And then you think you’re a bit of a unit as well, you know, that insular thing of you all working together against the world. “We hate other music, we only like ours”, which after a while becomes childish, but at the time is probably a vital fuel.
KURT: It’s a very important thing I think for a young band.
PADDY: Yeah. I’m just glad we kind of got that out of our system before we did interviews, where there’ll be a whole load of quotes to, you know, you just need people, you know, and it’s like, if you’re nineteen or twenty or something you think you’re going to change the world. whatever. So anyway, yeah, that’s what I did, I served gas.
KURT: What’s it like having your brother in the band?
PADDY: That’s really good, because you’re into… unspoken… an empathy. Or, even things that we hear, we walk past a radio and we look at each other when we hear a chord change and are aligned. We tend to like…with some notable exceptions, we tend to like things. Or we hear songs that are great and we’ll turn across the room and we’ll both know that we’re both into that bar of music, or that word. You can’t really buy that. Maybe it’s not just to do with being brothers, if you’ve been together a long time, so you… If we’d been like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I daresay even if you weren’t best pals after a long life, you kind of know.
KURT: You’re linked.
PADDY: Yeah, you’re linked. And we’ve got that. So, it’s never been a real problem, you know. And often people who have that do have some sort of problem…you know, after a while maybe you ought to change things. It’s tough but it’s a fact. But no, it’s always been great. Always just been such a supportive guy. You know, like he wouldn’t say anything, but I’d know that he kind of was a big champion of what I do. And a source of reassurance.
KURT: And how did Wendy enter the picture?
PADDY: [laughs] She came along to a gig with her then-boyfriend. And he was the ultimate Prefab Sprout nutcase, he was kind of mad on us. We were playing in a pub and we’d been told we had to play for a long time, the guy who ran the pub gave us a break, he said yeah, but he wanted two sets, and they’d each be like, you know, kind an hour and a quarter. And we had like…
KURT: So demanding for a young band.
PADDY: Yeah. We were, after our five years of rehearsing, we were ready to bore the world with endless songs that we had. And we did, you know. Makes me laugh when I hear about Bruce Springsteen’s set, because we were up there, you know. So Wendy came along as her first date. This guy brought her along, John, who we’re still good friends with. But he was kind of mad about us, really mad and still is obsessive about what we do.
KURT: And here’s the proving ground for his relationship with this girl.
PADDY: And he comes along, and Wendy’s there and she’s sort of bored, she says, she was bored, you know. Which isn’t really promising, is it, bored by it! What happened was, we got a chance to make a tape. You remember we were working by day at the gas station. The only time we can record is at night, you know. Durham University had a kind of a serious music studio, they were into avant-garde classical music. But they had an eight-track recorder. And one of the technicians who worked there used to record bands, just for the love of it really, you know. And he said, “well, you can have some free time in the summer if you come between the hours of nine o’ clock in the evening and dawn”. So we’d work through the day. At nine o’ clock you were okay, because there was a big challenge and you had adrenaline, you know.
KURT: But you don’t really start to get any work done until after midnight.
PADDY: You don’t. And then the sort of… Something we had never been through was, I imagine a lot of bands, it shocks them at first, which is hearing your song over and over. Now we do that for weeks and it doesn’t bother me, but when it’s the first time, you think, “but we’ve only ever played this maybe twice or three times in a row in rehearsal. We didn’t go on for four hours or five hours”. And that…Anyway, I digress. So we went through all of that, and we got a chance to do, as you do, overdubs. So it wasn’t quite as Spartan as a three-piece and I’d heard that Wendy could sing, our friend had said, “she can sing, but she doesn’t sing like…” He knew I was looking for something more like…
KURT: Something to flesh it out.
PADDY: Something to flesh it out. Like keyboard texture. But we didn’t, again, we didn’t know people who played keyboards. In those days, it sounds like ancient history, samplers hadn’t been invented. We didn’t know that Wendy had, as it turns out, a kind of classic… Now when you buy a Roland keyboard, a Yamaha keyboard, there’s usually a sound very like Wendy’s voice somewhere on it, you know. But in 1980 we went in the studio and we kind of tried to do that. Like a Beach Boys thing of tracking her up, very pure. And I heard that, and I sort of fell in love with that effect. I just thought “this isn’t the same as being a three-piece kind of raucous pop band”. We’ve never released the songs…there were two songs that we worked on, we released one of them and we did a very different version. We did a b-side song called Donna Summer which used to be kind of…
KURT: I want that song…
PADDY: Okay, I’ll do my best for you then. I think that…it’s not very good to be honest with you. It’s a terrible lyric. And the version we did was a re-written ballad. At that time it was almost a really frenetic, metallic song. By the time of… five years later on when we came to record it, we made a different version, I changed the lyric. But on the early version, Wendy sort of…would do some kind of vocal thing. We had a song called Cherry Tree, which was a…the chords were great to it. That was the first time when I heard her voice, which if you’d heard it you’d think it approximates Prefab Sprout fairly, right. And I thought, “that’s what I want to hear”.
So that changed the style of the way I wrote, not consciously, but imperceptibly I would write thinking, “well I can do more delicate things”, you know. So we headed off in that direction. Just through her turning up at the gig, and me being told that she could sing. But the other thing about Wendy was, she wouldn’t talk to me, she didn’t talk to me for like two years, because she was sixteen years old and she was badly shy. She’s not like this at all now. She could just talk forever, and take over the situation. She was so shy, I had to relay instructions through her boyfriend… You know, she was nice and she was pleasant but she kind of… she said she was frightened of me. And I don’t know what I’d done to scare her, but she would just sing. Literally it would be like a Harpo Marx thing. And no exaggeration, no talking at all in the studio especially. Not a word. I could talk to her, I could say “if you sing that twice…” and she’d like…
KURT: Just nod and then sing?
PADDY: …very strange, you know. [Food arrives in background] But you know, what you should do is give us an address of where we can get you. Anything you want, when we go back to England, it’s yours, we’ll do that.
KURT: I almost bought it when I was living in Indiana. Years ago. I found a used copy of the twelve inch that had it on the b-side.
KURT: I was like, “I should get this”. And I went back the next day and it was gone.
PADDY: Well you know, I would send you these things just because you’re obviously a fan, and you want to know, and that’s great. Some things that I can’t help…
KURT: [laughs] No, I don’t want any more copies of that album!
PADDY: Yeah, yeah. I can’t help but sort of feel that. But no, that’s fair enough. You’re doing all your research into the subject. Let the truth be told, you know.
[pans clatter, quiet talking about food]
PADDY: You’re going to have some deciphering to do, aren’t you?
KURT: That’s all right. Better to do it some place quiet with some isolated loud noises than to do it in a bar where there’s music and…
PADDY: Yeah, it’s hopeless, absolutely hopeless.
KURT: When I walked in, I thought “it doesn’t look too bad. And then I heard the piano, and like…”
PADDY: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. [quiet talk about prawns][to someone else] What are you having Bob, what are you having?
BOB: Crab cakes.
KEITH: I can’t help but just love those crab cakes.
PADDY: There’s a song in there, [sings] “I can’t help loving those…” Well it doesn’t fit the metre…
I had a lecture from one of the waiters this morning about…I ignored the water and he told me, “don’t worry”, sort of…”good water from the north”…
KURT: A very good tap.
PADDY: It’s London as you know, so it’s pretty horrible. Have you been there yet?
KURT: The last two times I was there…I didn’t drink the water the first time, and the last two times it was just like chemicals, it was awful.
PADDY: So my sort of perception of cities and water is coloured by that. So I tried it and I thought, “yeah, he’s right, it’s lovely”. You know, that’s just brilliant.
KURT: I want another beer at this point.
PADDY: Okay. Will we continue?
KURT: Yay. Okay, good, good. Do you like Scott Walker?
PADDY: Yes, but I don’t know everything he’s done. I do like him, yeah, a lot.
KURT: Did you get the Boy Child CD? That’s what you should get. You should get the overview of the five good albums.
PADDY: No that being said I have a friend who gave me almost all of them, Scott 1, 2, 3, Night…what is it?
PADDY: Night, it’s like Night…
KURT: That’s one of the Walker Brothers ones.
PADDY: Oh, right.
KURT: Because he’s got the whole vocal group too.
PADDY: That’s right. Now I’ve got some of those things, but I kind of know the more common ones.
KURT: [laughs] Hey, it’s a little hat for your water.
PADDY: I have a lot of people doing that. But no, just as a kind of a …voice, yeah, I love what he does.
KURT: Like Tony Bennett on good drugs.
PADDY: [laughs] I daresay he would be very flattered. Yeah. He sort of harks back to those fellows, you know.
KURT: Yeah. Tony Bennett and Anthony Newley and all those.
PADDY: Yeah. But please, yeah, you fire away there or… you can..
KURT: So what’s the most annoying misconception people have about you?
PADDY: The most annoying misconception?
KURT: Or the one that annoys you the most.
PADDY: The one that gets me the most is people who don’t… who haven’t really, really listened to what we do, and make a kind of judgement that we are, I suppose, some kind of prissy English band. Because that sort of bothers me. Because I think it’s a very superficial thing to do with…associating sweetness in the music…as if that’s the absolute pinnacle of our achievement, just to be kind of a little distraction. Whereas in England especially, loud guitars are equated with power and passion. That sort of…I’ve never bought into that. You know, it’s fun to do, but it’s sort of, you know, there are lots of bands who are loud and noisy and they’re no more passionate than…
KURT: No. I think some of the most passionate artists are…again, Marc Almond. He’s an incredibly passionate man. No loud guitar action there.
PADDY: No. I must say, what I particularly like and I know you like this and all, but I enjoy that version of Pearly Spencer, I bought that.
KURT: I didn’t know it before I got it.
PADDY: Ah. Yeah. I really, really like it. I didn’t think he made…I don’t know if he wrote additional lyrics to the song, that whole side of stuff he did with Trevor Horn he did. I really enjoy that.
KURT: Oh, anything with Trevor. I love that crushed under the weight of his production. Like what he did with Propaganda. It’s just like, whoomph.
PADDY: He’s excellent.
KURT: Toppling over, yeah. Speaking of producers, how did you hook up with Thomas?
PADDY: Well, we kind of approached one another simultaneously. Two things about it. One was, I heard him on a radio programme reviewing a single from Swoon called Don’t Sing. Everyone else on the radio show, early weeks of ’84, they were all “Oooo what a silly name! I like sprouts!” weren’t they… you remember that? It was all…Mari Wilson, some DJ…
KURT: Oh no, not Mari Wilson.
KURT: Oh, that poor creature.
PADDY: So, I was a little disappointed. And he came along with a super straight face and went, “well I think there’s a massive explosion of talent”. I know the words, because for some reason, probably because we’d been told we were going to be on, I’d taped the programme.
KURT: You should sample it, drop on the middle of something
PADDY: Yeah, apparently by accident…
KURT: That would be a doddle if you did an instrumental in the middle of it, you’re just…dropped in some massive explosion of talent!
PADDY: And everyone else went silent. And I’m there thinking, “Oh God, he made no crazy jokes about the name”, or whatever, you know. I just thought “that’s great”. And the other opinions, which I’m a little ashamed to say, I’d read an interview with him and he was talking about Michael Jackson. He was talking about that Michael Jackson wanted to…he was going to write some stuff with him or work with him. And I actually thought, because I was a Michael Jackson fan, I thought, “if he’s good enough for Michael Jackson, he’s the man for me”. Because I didn’t know about keyboards. You know, I knew that Thomas knew about that. So I actually thought, “right”.
And there’s an element of luck in all this is that you can team up with people, and you may actually be going for someone who you think is…you know, a great player or a great writer or whatever. And it doesn’t work out. And we were lucky that it just happened to work out. There’s a lot of that. Because since then I have worked with other people in various capacities, and I think “what would it have been like if we’d had them as our first producer?” You know, would we have zoomed off in the wrong direction?
So he liked us. And we were…I’m kind of perverse, aren’t I Keith? that’s the other thing. I seek out opposite things as opposed to people who are like us. I used to like singer songwriters when I was young, I used to like Joni Mitchell. I mean, I don’t think anyone would dare call Neil Young a singer songwriter now…
KURT: No, but in a vein
PADDY: Yeah. And I used to like all that, I liked Bob Dylan. I still like those things. But, to me, singer songwriter has this connotation of, you were doing “dear diary…dee dee dee”.
KURT: It’s very introspective, and very selfish.
PADDY: Yes. I was trying to get at something else, you know. Even if the tunes were…even if the style was on guitar, I kind of wanted the production to be more orchestral, whether we achieved it or not.
KURT: Is he demanding to work for? Or do you find that things come out very easily with him?
PADDY: I think that’s he’s…it’s not that he’s demanding. He is [pause] you can’t really second guess him when it comes to certain things, certain aspects. Like…In some ways they are pedestrian things, but absolutely vital. Things like timing and feel, I think he just knows about. You know, like the feel of a track, whether you’re in time or not.
KURT: He can?
PADDY: You can trust him on that. Which is something that I’m much more hazy about. He is a stickler, more than anything for, is accuracy, things that he…Not accuracy, not, as in you know, perfection. But a stickler for the things that he puts down himself. He’s very self-critical. Enormously. But he lets us play things. If I was given my own way, as in if I was producing the track, I would probably draft in more players. I wouldn’t have me playing guitar. I wouldn’t let me play guitar. But he likes me to play guitar, even if it takes all day to do it the way he wants. Which is sort of admirable in a way, but it’s kind of frustrating for me, because I think I hold things up you see. But it’s just one of those things that works, you know. It just kind of works.
KURT: And yet you didn’t do the two new songs with him.
PADDY: No no. Because…
KURT: I mean, granted he was in the studio working on his own album.
PADDY: There is that, but you know, to be honest with you, and I explained this to him, this is maybe where I’m versed compared to a lot of other people. I think no matter how good a thing is, there comes a point where you maybe start to repeat yourself. And I want to stave that day off.
I don’t think we’ve ever reached that with Thomas. And if we’re working with him, I wouldn’t let it happen because we’re now at the point where we can have good rows about doing something that sounds like a Prefab Sprout track. We’ve actually had that one with Jordan. I had that row over the mix with, a rough mix of We Let The Stars Go, I said “listen, this is really safe, this is really, really pretty, but there’s nothing happening”. When we came to do the final mix, it sounded like a different track to me. And he sort of understood.
And that can work both ways as well, you know with staleness, he might say to me “hey, I’ve done this before”. I never want that to happen. And to make that not happen, I’d rather that we did the odd thing with other people, you know. But I love what he does. And it is crazy, because you may think, “well, if you like him that much, why the hell didn’t you do those two songs?”
KURT: No, you can always come back. And you’re going to come back a different person which means that you’re going to face new challenges together.
PADDY: That’s the other thing. See, if we didn’t do that, he would be going off doing all sorts of things anyway. He’d have loads of other experiences. We would only know Prefab Sprout and Thomas Dolby.
PADDY: And it’s not fair on us. And it’s not fair…also, it wouldn’t be fair on everyone else in the band. Because when it comes to making our records, if I do a lot of work at home and hand them over to Thomas in the studio, just the way we work, I sit reading a book at the back of the studio while Thomas sits at the computer planning out things, because I’ve done most of my work at home.
PADDY: So everyone else is kind of excluded to some degree. They can think of comments, they can like things or dislike things or change it. Whereas if we go elsewhere, because the new people we work with don’t know the balance within the band of things, it’s sort of slightly more open, slightly fresher. But I think Thomas, you know, it’s just one of those things that works and the longer I sort of know him, the more you trust each other, so. [eating] Mmm, this is all right, this. Is that okay?
KURT: It’s very good. It’s very good. [laughter]
KEITH: Silent partner!
KURT: [to Keith] You don’t have not to talk, you just can’t ramble on. [Paddy laughs] You’re allowed to poke fun at him, I think.
KEITH: Otherwise I’m talking with my mouth full, that’s the problem.
KURT: Speaking of the balance within the band. Now, how does something…clearly you write the music. But between Paddy sitting in his room writing the song and it actually winding up on the record, how much involvement do the other members have?
PADDY: It varies, from track to track.
KURT: Give me an example of a song where they had very little to do with the whole process, and give me an example of something where it really went round robin.
KURT: Take your time.
PADDY: Okay. On a song like If You Don’t Love Me, that was very much like the demo. Very, very much like the demo. Okay, there’s no real orchestra on my demo, but we actually took the computer parts that I’d written at home, the bassline, it wouldn’t work as a bass guitar, part, it sort of sequenced. So my brother didn’t play it. But what comes into play is, and this is what I like about working with my brother. If it was someone else and you formed a band say when you’re nineteen or twenty and you’ve answered an advert in the music paper, and it’s kind of a democracy in the sense of, “well, I’m a founder member and, you know, we agreed to do something.” You might have a problem there. You know, you might have a problem. Whereas my brother, he’s like me. He thinks, “Let’s make a great record. Do I play on it? It doesn’t matter. I’m in the studio”, and he sits there, more like in a production capacity.
So, for example, he doesn’t play the bass guitar on that song. But what he did do was, we mixed it once, it sounded fine. And then it was felt maybe there was a better mix. So we went into the studio, spent all day. And I’d sat there listening to it and thinking “yeah, it’s coming on all right”. And then at the last moment when it’s being mixed and Stephen Lipson thinks “mm-hmm” and he’s not sure and yeah, the engineer’s doing a bit, and my brother walks in and says “Could we hear the other mix?” So we put the other one on the DAT. And we A’d and B’d them, and there’s a sudden look around the studio and it’s, the new one is nowhere near as good as the first. So, it’s sort of a different role, you know, being in the band where you’re kind of “what’s he done there?” And he’s just helped make a major decision or what.
PADDY: And that’s the kind of situation you get into. Some songs, yeah, largely those on Steve McQueen, or Two Wheels Good as I should call it for those of you in the States…
KURT: [laughs] You need the parenthesis for that.
PADDY: We made a simple set of demos. My guitar and voice on a couple of keyboard parts. And then Thomas fleshed them out.
PADDY: I’d also say on the Lipson thing that Wendy had more to say about them as well. She would suggest things, and Lipson would think…he kind of likes the water to be ruffled. Which is maybe a difference with Tom. It’s not that Thomas doesn’t like discussion, it’s just that he rarely does things that need much discussion. You know, he kind of sits down, does them, and they’re pretty good. With Stephen it’s like “ah, let’s just do something wild”. Wendy is kind of uninhibited in that, not like the old days.
KURT: [laughs] When she didn’t even speak.
PADDY: And I think he just likes her. He just sort of thinks, “oh right”. Not because she’s not a musician because she is, she doesn’t play on the records. She plays piano, she plays classical piano. She reads music. I couldn’t really read it very well, but she reads it very well indeed. As does my brother. But she doesn’t really play on the records. So she kind of wants to have lots to say. And I think Lipson, he kind of allows that in a strange way. You know, there’s no “Paddy has more weight because he’s written the song. In fact he’d tease me about it. He’d say “you’re a megalomaniac”. He would say, “oh Paddy, you know, there he goes. It’s his song”. And he’d tease me in a way that Thomas would never do.
PADDY: Well you know. I don’t always like it but I can see what his purpose is.
KURT: One thing that is especially…giving Wendy some…”I don’t understand why he doesn’t understand that I’m the centre of the world”.
PADDY: Yeah. That’s right.
KURT: “We’d all be out of a job if I wasn’t here!”
PADDY: If I wasn’t here, that kind of feeling, so they’re kind of teasing me with that.
KURT: It’s interesting though that Wendy and Martin are classically trained, because that brings a very different sensibility to how you approach every aspect, especially the recording studio.
KURT: And it’s a sort of sensibility that most pop artists don’t have.
PADDY: Yeah I know. We’re still buskers at heart, but…the term I use to describe it is sort of they’re more like fans. And a fan will listen to your record, and be well-disposed towards it, will criticise it, kind of like “well, I don’t like that compared to that”. Sometimes…Wendy’s involved from the early days where she’d be shy. Or she wouldn’t know the technical term for what was wrong, but she’d say “there’s something wrong here”. And I’d sort of think, that’s very close to production. What does a producer do? He sits in a room, and tells you where it’s wrong and where it’s right.
And he may not be the world’s greatest musician, but some producers, their only talent is that they can spot a good song. You know. The Quincy Jones sure, they’ve got in the background and orchestration and everything, and can do the good song bit as well. So that’s interesting, you know. And I kind of think “well, what would I rather have, play with people who would be kind of like L.A. session men, who are sort of impeccable from first to last, but…” yeah.
KURT: I think if you ever made the decision to do something like that, it would be very disappointing for you.
PADDY: Mm-hmm. Well, yeah. You know, so…
KURT: I think chemistry is an element of the band that is perhaps lost on some people. It’s very crucial.
PADDY: Yes. As soon as you get that, you get close to it when you’re in rooms with other people. Not people working on our record, I go in a room and other people are doing things and my first thought might be, “God, what a brilliant drum track” or “what a brilliant bass part”. Then I kind of think “yeah, but awful, like every other bass part… and brilliant drum track that I’ve ever heard”, you know. Today we heard some great demos, some fantastic demos, my people, and I was full of envy. Then I thought to myself, “well, they are great, it sounds beautiful, but lots of people can do that. It doesn’t sort of distinguish you from other people”.
[inaudible from Keith]
PADDY: …state of the bloody moment that’s a good point
PADDY: That’s a good point. Can I have a cigarette?
KURT: Please. I think you’ll like them. They’re very nice cigarettes, in as much as any cigarette can be nice.
KURT: What’s the last book you read? I’m going to ask you some Cosmopolitan style questions. Ooh, really.
PADDY: The Age Of Innocence.
KURT: Oh my.
PADDY: But I read trash too.
KURT: Oh really? Do you…
PADDY: [laughs] I’m busy reading the novelisation of Dracula. [silly voice] ‘Dracoola”, that’s how he speaks, Jesus.
KURT: [laughs] You know, I guess I do that too. I do serious fiction, biography…
PADDY: Yeah yeah. All at the same time?
PADDY: Can you do that? Yeah, I do that. I’m glad I just read a decent one before you asked me, because otherwise I’d be embarrassed, because I’ll think “oh, the guy will think I only read”…
KURT: Well, you’re allowed to cheat and name the last three!
PADDY: All right. So…yeah. I kind of like… I even like reading things that I know aren’t very good. Just for that purpose of to see how it’s done, even? You know…
KURT: Right. People tinker with stuff.
PADDY: Yeah. I love that. Because I think you learn from that. My other brother Michael, my younger brother, he told me to read Edith Wharton’s Age Of Innocence, and it had been a long time since I’d read something which I would consider really well written. I’m trying to remember what I’d read before that.
KURT: Something where the craft of writing wasn’t just getting from point A to point B.
PADDY: Yeah. I read all the time, but sometimes months go by, and I’d read a lot of biographies or a lot of music things which I don’t really count. Or I’ve read something, you know…I’ll tell you who we went through a big phase of, didn’t we really…the old what’s his face, New York writer, E. L. Doctorow.
KEITH: Oh yeah.
PADDY: Do you like him?
KURT: He’s okay. He’s all right. I liked Ragtime. That one was okay.
PADDY: I like Billy Bathgate. I’d never read anything by him, and I just enjoyed that as a story and as a piece of writing. [KEITH: I love Don de Lillo as well]. I love Libra. That was really bloody brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I loved that.
KURT: It must be hard for you enjoying literature…
[break for tape flip]
KURT: and you wind up, you go, “oh okay, pop isn’t such a bad word” and then you write it in a sentence and it has nothing to do with the word.
PADDY: Exactly. Yeah. You find a good word, and you ain’t got a sentence to put it in.
KURT: Yeah, and suddenly you put a big bruise on your song.
PADDY: So I’d throw it away. I’ve never, ever been able to do it. So it’s not to do with rhyming dictionaries. I mean, I presume the question really is getting at this sort of notion that it’s well written but we don’t like it that much for being too fancy or too attentive to rhyme, maybe. But you know, I kind of don’t mind that. It’s like people say, “crossword puzzle lyrics” as though that was a criticism. And I just thought, “some of my lyrics were over-refined when I started, they were too”…
KURT: The early ones are a little…
PADDY: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. That’s true. But you know, I kind of don’t think about it too much. I just think that the weight of the better ones will sort of, you know…
KEITH: There’s a tabloid craziness for that.
PADDY: Yeah, it is a tabloid…it’s kind of “well, you’re too refined for pop music and don’t you think this is all a bit fancy?” And I’m kind of a meek person when that hits me, and someone said to me that at first I would go “Oh God yeah, I suppose maybe we are”, but I’d go away and I’d think to myself, “perhaps it’s the wrong way round”. It’s most pop lyrics have no ambition whatsoever. So if I’m over-ambitious, yeah, but most pop songs, they don’t care to be…
KURT: Most pop songs are more concerned with expressing an emotion. So if they can find a lyric that carries the melody over and puts the emotion up there, they’re happy.
KURT: But they aren’t concerned with getting the thoughts and the detail in there and shading it.
PADDY: No, no. And tone of voice is really important to me. You know, it’s easy for me to write a love song. But maybe, you know, one or two words in it or choice of expression isn’t quite right, and that bothers the hell out of me. I try to get the tone of it right. Depending on the song, you know. If you’re going to do a monologue for Elvis Presley, use words that he may use. Even though I’m sort of writing from an English point of view. If you’re going to do that, that’s one set of rules. A love song is another. Or you know, One Of The Broken is another style altogether where you’re allowed to kind of be a bit more jokey, because you try to offset the weight of the sentiment. It’s a different feeling for each state.
KEITH: do you want a [inaudible] before you go?
KURT: How much longer do we have?
KEITH: Well, we have to be at this Jimmy Webb gig at eight o’clock, it’s twenty-five past seven, that’s right downtown, so do you think, what do we leave? Do we need twenty minutes to get down there?
KURT: Yeah. Is it supposed to start? Where is it?
KEITH: At the Bottom Line
KURT: So they’ve got a table for you.
KEITH: Yeah. We’d be kind of rude given the circumstances if we turned up late…
KURT: Right. They’re not going to start at exactly eight, I’ll tell you that. But if you have to be there, I would give it, I would give it fifteen minutes.
PADDY: It’s someone else setting this up for us.
KURT: No problem. Hey, this is a good one. When we keep talking, that’s good. It’s when you’re going “oh God, there’s still half an hour, please let…would you say something…”
PADDY: Does that happen a lot?
KURT: Not a lot. And you know the ones usually that you’re going to be in trouble. You know. Oh God, I’m trying to think of a case in point. Erasure are very bad about that. Just getting them to give you a whole sentence. You know, and getting them to talk and open up about things. Really awful about that, you know. As opposed to somebody like a Roddy Frame…
KURT: …who will just chew your ear off.
PADDY: Yeah. I haven’t seen him for a long time. Paul Domisal sent his regards, he’s been working with him.
KURT: He’s a nice guy. The first time I interviewed him, we ended up talking about mens’ underwear. I said “what do you do when you come to New York?” It was my third interview, and he was lile, “I shop for underwear”. And I was like, “no, cut it out” and he was like, “no, I do shopping for underwear”. He was like “I can’t find nice underwear in department stores in London”. [laughter] “I come over here, and I just get nice BVD”. [laughter]
KEITH: I always go back with records and underwear.
PADDY: I didn’t know that about him.
KURT: You learned something new.
PADDY: Roddy’s very funny though. He’s funny. The things he says are really, really sharp. I like him.
KURT: [looking at a list of questions] Song structure, dance music…
PADDY: Dance music, that’s…
KURT: Expectations… oh, cynical…[Paddy laughs] What’s the point…
PADDY: You can use your rhyming dictionary.
KURT: It’s so pointless to write down questions anymore. You just need cues. Do you have a lot of trouble with people perceiving you as a big cynic?
PADDY: No. I tell you, there’s some places I go in Europe that someone thought that and I put it completely down to sort of translation problems. No, seriously. Yeah, Germany. Two questions in a day. “But you are very cynical”. And I just thought, I looked at them at first and thought, “you can’t really mean that”. Then I thought, “maybe they mean that you don’t operate on the usual irony-less level that most pop music operates on”.
PADDY: So I wasn’t sure. Not many people think I’m cynical. Do you think we are?
KURT: No. I think you take a cynic’s perspective sometimes. I think you understand the thinking process of sort of bitter people, but I don’t think you are bitter.
PADDY: I’ll tell you what it is, I’ll tell you what it is. You just made me think of something. A lot of my songs, to achieve a really romantic effect…because I think it’s hard. That’s the essence of my viewpoint. The songs at least, even if at home I’m not, you know, not as idealistic as the music, when I’m writing, I try to get a heightened romantic effect by painting the worst picture. So, in All The World Loves Lovers someone asked me, you know, “did you mean that without any irony? Do you really think people think…does everyone love a lover? Or did you mean the complete opposite, and you’re just having a bit of fun with the idea?” And all I could think of was, I don’t even know whether I believe…I can’t even decide which side of the fence I’m on. But that’s part of the sort of romance of it, that you know you’re going to say these stupid things or do these stupid things, and you want to be a cynic, but you’re not. That sort of feeling.
KURT: Your heart keeps getting in the way.
PADDY: Yeah. And I think to make the songs more romantic, you’ve got to allow that element of…
PADDY: Yeah. Yeah. You’ve got to put that in there. Otherwise, a truly romantic song, it can’t work on such a deep level, or quite a sort of heart rending level, if it is just sunny and optimistic from the word go. It doesn’t have any resonance. So it’s better to put a line in that’s, you know, “every silver bottletop potentially a star”, or whatever. People think “oh well, you know, God, you sound hard-bitten”, you know?
KURT: Well, it introduces a much wider perspective to them.
KURT: I want to know about Ice Maiden. Because it’s my absolute favourite song on Jordan. I love that song. Where did that song come from?
PADDY: That came from watching Abba as a teenager. I know it’s old-fashioned…
KURT: This year you can’t avoid it!
PADDY: No, I know.
KURT: It’s sort of scary. I was over with EMF, and they kept playing Dancing Queen on the jukebox! [laughs]
PADDY: A lot of song have that, you know, that kind of…tacky European English language lyrics…
PADDY: …that don’t quite work. You know, Martians trying to sing something.
KURT: [laughs] Pink Lady!
PADDY: Yeah. David Bowie, when he was talking about Low, the album Low, I don’t know if you know the instrumental called Subterraneans.
KURT: [sings] “Driving me shelly shelly umm…”
PADDY: That’s it. And he said, “what about some of these semi-lyrical ideas”, you’re trying to make syllables out of it to make sense. Nonsense.
KURT: Have you ever seen the sheet music?
PADDY: Yes I have. I’ve got it.
KURT: With nonsense words!
PADDY: He wrote the words, with Carlos Alomar… No, he wrote down, he transcribed…
KURT: Just the phonetics?
PADDY: The phonetics. Which…
KURT: He broke them up however he wanted to? What a cool thing!
PADDY: Yeah. Bowie had said, “I want it to sound like as if someone had come from outer space and heard Frank Sinatra singing, but didn’t know how to make sense of the lyrics”. So if you came from another planet and you just heard these sounds, you probably would break syllables up. And I thought, “I understand that”. So when I wrote The Ice Maiden, I’d probably say to you, that’s what Abba sound like in some ways, they kind of…some phrases make sense, and others are slightly awkward. And I thought on Jordan that most of the songs I wrote were either very straight or with a little footnote you would understand that that was an Elvis Presley…
KURT: Very spectral, but just in one key.
PADDY: One key and you were there. The Ice Maiden was my…a bunch of things. I stayed in Paris…
KURT: It just dropped right here.
PADDY: It was my indulgence to myself.
KURT: It’s like intermission time.
PADDY: Yeah. So I thought, “I’m going to let my hair down on this and do exactly what I want”. And what I wanted to do was have these phrases that were kind of romantic, but not the sort of impressionistic things that made a certain kind of sense. I was picturing the two girls out of Abba, and then you’re going [sings] “Standing on a boulevard”, just using the word “boulevard”. And when it came to the bit…I was talking about this to some guy yesterday about this. The bit in the middle goes, “Welcome to the glow of high octane affairs”.
I was trying to convey that sort of importance that people have…there’s no reason that you should get this, there’s no connection on the videos, this sort of glossy super-real image that people have on videos where it’s sort of very important because they’re up there. But when you get right down to it, you think “but they are only a couple of Swedish girls who maybe don’t understand everything”. And one line that I wanted to put in and I didn’t…“welcome to the glow of high-octane affairs…the thing about blonde dishevelled hair” but the line I had that I didn’t put in, it made no sense and I loved it, was “aquariums of style”. I just had this phrase. If I put that in there, I thought people would go, “you’re as ridiculous as you were when you made Swoon”. And I wanted to put it in, but I just thought “it’s so strange”.
KURT: That’s Abba, though. They were singing this crap! [laughs]
PADDY: That’s it. But there’s no reason that anyone else should know it, it’s a completely private thing. And I just thought this is kind of like a Picasso of a portrait of Abba where the features…
KURT: Are a little off.
PADDY: A little off. That was the idea of it, I’ll just slip that in there and hope I get away with it. But it’s just a nice tone piece in a way, just the feel of it.
PADDY: Yeah! It is, yeah!
KURT: …and you can just see them doing the little hand gestures.
PADDY: Yes. And Thomas just completely got into it, just on the level of okay, something where the guitar’s strumming away and the kind of Mercies of this world and One Of the Broken. You can kind of follow that, and it’s on one level, you understand that. But on that, it’s let’s just have a little bit of fun in the studio, and let’s be lyrically just, I’m letting my hair down and I’m doing what I want to do.
KURT: Well, that song captured the way I felt about Abba, and this year sort of tore that feeling away from me. For years when I thought of Abba, they had that high-octane, they had that sheen to them…
PADDY: That’s it.
KURT: And I then saw their videos again and I was like “oh, they seem to have lost that cloth”.
PADDY: Because you see they were older, that’s the thing. That’s the other thing. You know when you’re a kid and you look at that, it seems really glamorous to you.
KURT: And now they’re a couple of girls with stringy hair in matching striped tops.
PADDY: That’s right. That’s what it is about.
KURT: I’ll let you get on the road.
PADDY: Is that okay, is that all right?
KURT: Okay, yes, it was lovely.
PADDY: That’s all right then.
KURT: [laughs] Let me use your bathroom before we go.