Indian food, the chocolate dilemma, Orson Welles and other secrets. Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon confesses to Mike Gardner
“I realise that a lot of what I do is a justification for existing. Some people, I get the feeling, could retire, keep their self-esteem and be happy in a nice house by the sea. I’m not like that. I’ve got to do things. It worries me. I wish I could be more relaxed and didn’t have to do something to feel as though I wasn’t wasting time; I’m obsessed with time. I’ve got to write all the time. I think I’ll look back at 70 and think about all those days I’ve wasted.
“I believe that the smartest thing I ever did was learning the guitar at 13 and realising that all my heroes wrote their own songs. I can mark the years and the months by the songs I’ve written and know that I haven’t squandered my time.
“It’s a drug. I live for the high of writing something good and that’ll keep me afloat for a couple of days in terms of self-esteem. It’s all a matter of ‘Can I still cut it?’. God knows what it’s like for an athlete when your body runs down. At least as a songwriter you might change pace, sell out or bland out, but you can pride yourself on a good turn of phrase or a great tune.”
‘WHEN LOVE BREAKS DOWN’
“As soon as I wrote the chorus I knew it was good. But since then I’ve recorded it so many times that it becomes like somebody else’s song. When I’ve sung it a lot it becomes like a cover version. I’ve felt like that in concert when people have shouted for things we’re not doing. I’ve felt insulted. It’s like they’ve asked me to do‘ ‘Tears Of A Clown‘ or ‘Two Tribes’ or something. It’s difficult to explain. I can only cope with the recent songs — the thing I wrote last week and the audience hasn’t heard yet.
“The ideal situation is when people who aren’t interested in bands, or don’t follow an artist’s career — or better still, think they’re not interested in music — hear it on the radio and that becomes the song they associate with their teenage years. I love that feeling. Imagine when you’re 30 or 40 and thinking that ‘When Love Breaks Down’ did something.”
“I like to compare years and months. It acts as a fuel to keep me going. I use the past as reinforcement for what I’m doing now. I like to re-read things, things from when I was 18 or 19. Some of them are disappointing and just seem childish, but others you realise you never fully appreciated. I’m not a daydreamer. But more than being inspired by songwriters and musicians I get feelings from things I’ve done or songs I’ve recorded and it gives me food for now.”
“It’s something I haven’t done a lot of in the last few years because I get guilty when I’m not writing. Guilt is the propellant to make me work. I have to stop reading biographies because as soon as I start reading about somebody, they pop off. I was in Canada recently and l bought a book on Orson Welles. Dave Bruce of the Kane Gang is an expert on Orson and I’ve been fascinated with him for years. I’d just ﬁnished reading it when I was told he’d died.
“Orson was intriguing because his greatest work of art was his life —not even his films. So many of his films were unmade or unfinished and a lot of that had to do with him. He’d finish writing a film and then get bored. I can understand that — you’ve written something and you think your work’s done, but it’s not.
“We recorded another LP after ‘Steve McQueen’ in 12 days. I knew I’d go mad if I was only known for ‘Steve McQueen’ songs until next year, or whenever the cycle of an album every 18 months comes around. I did it for my own sanity, to literally keep me thinking I had more to offer. We did it cheaply — as something to stand back from the circus of being highly produced. The next record will be glossy and a big production because I like that as well — like ‘Thriller’ and ‘Two Tribes’. At the same time I like demos like the Beatles‘ ‘Let It Be’ or the feeling you get from Bob Dylan’s ‘The Basement Tapes‘. So we did the record. Maybe it’s a dangerous impulse. Maybe I should be more cautious. Maybe I’d be more successful if l was a bit more cold-hearted towards the process of being in a studio.”
“I have to have secret projects. I’m just a big kid. I’ll write something. Because I write a lot of songs, I can’t just leave it. I have to put them under a little banner. So I have different kinds of LPs. I’ve written a cartoon LP — but it’s hard to describe.
“People think I’m a serious songwriter — very wordy, all the chord changes, acoustic guitars and ballads. But they always miss the point, that that is the sound of poverty. ‘Swoon’ was the sound of abject poverty; nothing wrong with poverty, but the LP was dictated by circumstance and necessity. So I have other projects — like the cartoon album. A lot of Sprouts fans will probably hate it. There’s a song called ‘Thriller’ — an alternative universe version of Michael Jackson’s song.
“l have another secret project that’ll be a classic but I won’t say in case somebody steals the idea. I want to broaden out and relax, because we got such a heavy-handed press for ‘Swoon’ and I’m so earnest in interviews that I feel people miss the point. I’m not the serious person people think I am, but I can be intense. The kind of things I write or listen to go right across the board. My whole point about music is that everybody is like that. Music is the soundtrack to your life. It sounds corny, but it’s there. People use my records in the same way they use Lionel Richie or Queen’s records, and you can’t be snobby about it.”
“She’s fabulous — she’s absolutely beautiful and a great actress. I went to New York to see an Epic Records executive and found out he lived in the same street as Meryl Streep. I felt like a groupie but he wasn’t interested in that fact. She lives in SoHo on Franklin Street or Avenue. I was so excited – I felt like a kid again. I fancy her like mad.”
“I’m really thin, but I eat loads. ‘I’m not a gourmet though. In London. I go to a Greek restaurant called The Calamares or an Indian called Khan’s, both are near Queensway. I remember going into Khan’s once after I’d bought a white suit. It was a classic chain reaction — a pint of lager just sailed across the table and over the jacket. I’d only bought it that afternoon.
“My younger brother Michael makes the best omelettes in the world. On tour we have a caterer. Joanne, who’s brilliant, and we eat very well, but you miss out on all the things you have at home, like beans on toast and omelettes.”
“It’s the pop star’s dilemma — does he have discipline or does he indulge in chocolate and get spotty? I choose to be spotty. It’s a family weakness — my father lost his teeth aged 13 or 14 on chocolate because his parents lived in a corner shop.
“To appease my hunger for it, I buy it and don’t eat it. At this moment I have a Hershey bar from America. a full box of After Eight mints. Wendy’s just given me some chocolate mints and I have a packet of chocolate biscuits. I love Milky bars. Dairy Crunch, Thornton’s orange chocolate bars, Bourneville and going down London’s Molton Street (sounds like Duran Duran. doesn’t it?) for Thornton’s tangerine creams and strawberry creams.”
“I can’t smoke now. I’m literally allergic to it because my chest is so weak. This could be because of my past indulgences. I loved little cheap cigars. Henry Winterman’s Cafe Cremes. I gave them up last year when I got some three hour ones from Havana on the duty free. I’m such a compulsive that I thought ‘These aren’t any good for me so I’ll get rid of them as quickly as possible’. So I smoked them. I changed to a shade of green and got a huge swelling on my face from it.”
HOME SWEET HOME
“Every time I get off the plane in Newcastle, it’s like the Pope — I’m tempted to kiss the ground. For such a long time we thought we couldn’t make records in Newcastle. Now we can. our insularity has got worse. When we’re on tour we act as though we’re still there. Everybody’s accents get more and more dense as the tour progresses.
“But the one place I can’t wait to get back to is my bedroom. It’s just a small box. I do everything there. There’s only room for a bed and some keyboards mounted up. a drum machine and a picture of conductor Pierre Boulez on the wall. But that’s where I’m happiest of all.