But although many people got to know me through that album and that sound, it was never my intention to become an Americana artist, so I suppose the main idea was a return to my British Pop-Rock roots.
At first, the songs were going to be tied together by some concept but in the end I decided to just let each song speak for itself…
– Did the current pandemic influence the writing process?
It might look like the album title has something to do with the pandemic or even the lyrics to “Like the Sea” which are all about escaping to an island far away from everyone and finding a cure; but both were written in 2019.
The main way the pandemic affected my writing process is that today I have fewer songs that are ready to record! I was supposed to tour and travel in 2020 and it’s generally during those times that I come up with song ideas. I walked around Paris a lot during lockdown but it didn’t have the same effect!
– If there was a major song from this new album that you had to remember?
That would be “Forbidden Days” for a number of reasons… When I play it live, whether it’s with my band or solo, it just seems to resonate in a way that makes the audience go quiet. Plus it’s a very personal story and I generally set the scene a
bit before playing it. For years I’ve had the words “I was a teenage thief” written in my lyric book as an idea for a song. Although those words are not actually in the song, they summed up perfectly the song I wanted to write.
“I was a teenage thief” was actually the album title for a while but when I filled out my ‘visiting artist visa for the US tours in 2019 I had to state that I’d never done anything criminal in my entire life. So that title got ditched !
– “Listen for a change” evokes youth and renewed optimism, how does the music help you keep your head above water?
Music, and for me particularly, lyric writing is very cathartic. It’s like having a psychologist on hand 24/7. If you’re not feeling great and can’t figure out why, just sit down and write a song with no particular idea in mind.
You’ll have your answer within a few minutes. I looked through my early teens lyric books the other day (it was painful!) and was amazed at how dark it was. There were glimpses of light but on the whole it was fairly black. I don’t know what I’d have done
with all that angst if I hadn’t had songs to pour it into.
– With the impossibility of touring at the moment, did you feel like recording this new album as “live” as possible?
Occasionally I’ll do an album like ‘Twelvemonth’ which is more music for film and that will a piece by piece studio album. But generally, even in normal times l like to record my albums as live as possible. Both the new one and the previous album
‘I died of boredom & came back as me’ were both recorded in studios with the band (Karim Benaziza, Vincent Guibert, Jeremy Morice & Mateo Casati) playing together as much as possible. Some things were added afterwards for sure but the main tracks
all went down in the same take.
– You’re marking a return to English pop, your roots, which artists/groups were played during the process?
I have a particular fondness for early New Wave; so late 70s, very early 80s. I was listening to Squeeze, Elvis Costello, XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, Japan, The Fixx, Split Enz, Scritti Politti…
I find that whole post-punk scene amazing; a perfect blend of energy and just great songwriting. We (myself & producer Vincent Guibert) even used the Genesis track ‘Abacab’ as a sonic template for one song. But I certainly wouldn’t call that post-punk!!
– You are more than ever in the art of storytelling with this new album. For you, an album is a story that has to be told? Conceptualization is important?
That’s good to hear! I love telling stories in song form. I grew up listening to English Folk music which like American country is steeped in storytelling. I was always fascinated by the idea that you can distill a whole novel down into 3 verses and a chorus if you do it right.
Not one word can be wasted though. And yes, the album as a whole has to tell a story too even if it’s not an obvious one. There’s a shape that appears when you put songs together. Some of my songs I write as short stories first then crush them down to the essentials and add the melodies.
I think more or less every album I’ve done has started out as an actual concept album then somewhere during the recording process the concept dissolves and the songs stand up all by themselves. Maybe the next album WILL be an actual story from start to finish… But I think I said that last time!