STYLE OF A SPROUT
Prefab Sprout are one of the more interesting and exciting of the new British bands. JOE BREEN talked to Paddy McAloon, the band’s singer and songwriter.
“RIGHT from the start I made it clear that the last thing on my mind was to become hip or ﬂavour of the month because there is nothing I hate more than that spurious kind of worthiness that comes after you have made one record or played one concert and people judge you as saviours of the world. They are just ludicrous claims to make on the basis of a concert or a song.”
Paddy McAloon is trying to draw a neat line between the confidence of a man who believes his band are good, very good, and the modesty of a performer who is only getting his feet wet in the turbulent waters of the music business. In his small Dublin hotel room the bespectacled 26-year-old Newcastle songwriter looks a far cry from the accepted image of a rock star, or even one who is hoping to achieve that dubious status.
But then Prefab Sprout (it is a name he thought up as a child and kept) are somewhat different from your average collection of popschool apprentices. For a start their début album, “Swoon,” is one of the most arresting and interesting sets released this year. McAloon’s songs are intriguing and intelligent. They combine a penchant for melody with an ability to write a clever but never cold lyric. This is especially true of tracks like “Cruel” and “I Couldn’t Bear To Be Special” where the emotional strength of the songs overpowers any tendency to be clinically smart.
McAloon, friendly and enthusiastic, is aware of the dangers of being viewed as a little too intelligent, of being pushed into a neat little corner. He doesn’t want to end up in such a cul-de-sac, no matter how superior it is, but rather wants to appeal to as many people as possible. “A lot of writing in the pop world is fashionable, stuff that deﬁnitely appeals to the kind of audience we’ve got. Like trendy left-wing slants will automatically ensure a certain kind of response from an audience. But as soon as you get that kind of response you have got to be careful.”
However, one gets the impression that McAloon, his brother, Martin who plays bass, and singer, Wendy Smith, whose vocals track Paddy’s like a light air brush, are confident of their ability to escape the pitfalls of getting sidetracked. “I’m 26 and I’ve got a backlog of over 80 songs and I believe there are some that can appeal right across the board.” says McAloon. “Although I wouldn’t know how to write commercial songs, I think the songs I write are commercial enough. I suppose I could write formula music to get into the charts, but I wouldn’t because I have to please myself ﬁrst, that’s the way I am.”
He is interested in, the idea of songwriting, its limits and its freedoms. “It all comes down to what can be done with a song. You can overload it and make it a serious art full of philosophical undertones etc., but I don’t want to do that. However, you can make lasting moments for people outside of the obvious, outside of clichés, or even turn clichés around and make them interesting.
“There is nothing wrong in being inspired by a book or a film, but to follow a style slavishly or to look to other people’s achievements for your starting ground is something you do when you are younger. Then as you get older you should try and do something that is true and then hope that maybe because you are saying it in a more effective way it is becoming more truthful and simple. That’s the one I have to do…”
In the meantime there is the small necessity to sell records because the company, in this case, CBS, have invested money in the band. And as the market gets narrower it is clear that Prefab Sprout’s music does not fit in neatly in the formula plan.
“It is true the market is getting’ narrower and a record company man is going to see that a certain type of record is going to click with, for example, the Sun readers. For instance, Fiction Factory, another CBS act, their music is going to appeal to those .who like Nik Kershaw, or Duran Duran or a similar sound.
“We have it harder because we are getting more our own way. Nobody comes knocking on the door saying where’s our next single. If we don’t have that success in the singles charts that we desire I’ll be very disappointed but I still think there are people who will put out records that are at the class end of the market.”
The sceptical may say that shows a lot of faith in human nature, but faith is something McAloon has. He spent his childhood in a seminary, but says that he is not a particularly good Catholic, “although I always tend to defend it. It is easy to knock, but there are many good aspects to it. However, I’m not a spokesman for Catholic rock, a new-wave Cliff Richard.”
He does say that his religion can have an affect on his songwriting “in that you put forward certain views, but there is nothing worse than a preacher in song form. You have-to put all sides, reveal the unpleasant side of following a religious discipline, the smugness, the club atmosphere. If I was to write a song about Catholicism I would try to write about that paradox.”
However, he has no such plans. for the moment he is ﬁrst enjoying his chance to reach a wider audience and he feels he has the Staying power and maturity to succeed. “know I have. You see, I’m going along with a lot of things because it is new to me. I want to sell a lot of albums and I’ll do a lot to achieve that, just until we’re well known, then I know that the people who bought the last album will buy the next one despite whatever the critics will say about it. I know that. You just get that feeling.”
I have the same feeling.