Interview – The Divine Comedy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hey! Long time no write! Using exclamation points! I have just had an exciting interview with Neil Hannon, the man behind The Divine Comedy! I have been a fan of his music for a long time. And he has just released his tenth album, “Bang Goes The Knighthood”. We discussed the new album, his songwriting process, and how he manages his busy life. Enjoy!

Bang Goes The Knighthood album coverSo how would you describe the new album?

It’s my tenth and definitely as good as the other ones. A lot of my albums have explored facets, but in isolation, and this is a more rounded take on it. It has its sweeping orchestral moments, straight pop, a lot of silly and a lot of serious stuff, all sorts. Not to be too much of a plug, but I think if someone asked if they could have one album to sum up what I do, this would be it.

What do you look to accomplish with your songs?

In its purest form, it is to elicit an emotional reaction, sometimes just laughter, more often than not, trying to make people think. But I try to do it with wit and style, and occasionally I try to get a genuine point across, for example on the new album I have a song “The Complete Banker” about the financial situation in the world. It is the first song I wrote from anger, which I don’t use much, but even so, it still comes off as satire rather than just anger.

Neil HannonMany of your songs are like stories; some could even be expanded endlessly. Is this something you aim towards?

For the most part, I don’t like putting narrative plots in my songs, it is usually too wearing on the listener. But sometimes it is a good way of having a reason for a song. I have always preferred songs or lyrics with action, things happening rather than abstract emotion and feelings, which bore me a little. For example, “At the Indie Disco” which takes small observations of what might happen in said indie disco, which is used to try to create the world inside the listeners head. Not for any reason rather than that it is a nice image.

Do you write stories or prose that are not songs?

I’ve never really written straight prose, it takes long enough to write three verses and a chorus! I’m just not quick enough. I also like to work within tight structures. As much as people talk about my lyrics, which I am flattered by, I tend to focus on the actual tunes and music, which is a bigger part for me.

Neil HannonYou often have very extensive arrangements, with strings, horns, etc. How important is the arrangement and instrumentation when preparing a song?

It has its place. Something I find hard is not over complicating songs, sometimes the greatest victory I have is not sticking strings on everything. You learn to do what the song requires, not what can be done. After more than 20 years in this business, I am capable of knowing what makes a good song, and over arranging does not make a great song. For example the first track (“Down in the Street Below”), because of the way the song works, it sort of calls out for a large arrangement. It reminds me of those big 60s ballads, such as Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, and the Walker Brothers. They have all influenced me on songs like that. However, those influences are attributed to me too often; I am very excited about a lot more types of music than just that. For example, synth-pop, I am sincerely influenced by Human League and OMD, just in the way the songs work, rather than instrumentation.

Your songs could be interpreted several different ways. What are some examples of odd interpretations you have heard from listeners?

Well, one major example was a hit I had in 1998, “National Express”, which I was just writing about a bus company in Britain, and certain experiences of being on the bus, and watching people. I thought it was an ordinary enough song, but certain parts of the music press thought it was a fascist, anti-working class anthem, and I was hurt by this very much. So yes, audiences can profoundly misconstrue songs. Sometimes, though, I set myself up for a fall, for trying to sound too clever, name dropping, listing books I’d read when I hadn’t. A lot of fans (for whom I am very grateful) sometimes have the thought that I am some sort of F. Scott Fitzgerald figure, which is very far from the truth. It is nearly impossible to tell people exactly what you mean in a song, without being boring or too obtuse.

Duckworth Lewis Method album coverYou are very busy it seems, with other projects, how do you balance the workload?

With great difficulty, The Divine Comedy is the day job, and I like it very much, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. But I do like to do other things, to freshen the palate. I wrote my first musical, which will be taking to the stage in Bristol in December, that was a terrifying, massive undertaking, which is now completely out my hands, I wrote the songs, and that was about it. It was very rewarding, though, and if I had to write musicals from now on, I would do it, but first, people have to go see it! I also was 50% of a project, the Duckworth Lewis Method, which was an album all about cricket, and we didn’t really take that outside of Britain, since there was not as much pull for that topic elsewhere.

Thanks for talking to me Neil.

It was nice to speak to you too.

Mark Bacino – Queens English

Queens English CoverI am very excited to present to you my first interview feature, especially for an artist as great as Mark Bacino. For over 10 years, Mark has been releasing great pop albums. “Pop Job” and “The Million Dollar Milkshake” are must-have albums for discerning pop fans. Add to the list his latest, “Queens English.” Keeping the great hooks, melodies, and pop sensibility, this album seems thematically more mature than the previous albums, and is an amazing set of awesome songs. I got the chance to ask Mark a few questions, and I thought I would share them with you here. Enjoy!

For more information, check out his website, www.markbacino.com, or the label releasing his new album, www.dreamcrushmusic.com. The record comes out tomorrow (5/18) but you can pre-order at Amazon.com now!

What influences your songwriting? I’ve noticed you write a lot about “the human experience”, is that a focus? You seem to be very interested in people; do you consider yourself very observant?

Obviously the human experience is really the only thing we all truly have in common, so as a songwriter wanting to make music that connects with folks; that subject intrigues me a good deal.  To cover that beat, I suppose, one has to be interested in people and be semi-observant.  I guess like anyone else, I’m taking it all in but as a writer I’m probably more apt to make a mental note when a particular situation or person strikes a chord in me personally.  For me, the best songs I write are the ones that are born from those little observations and detail a specific common occurrence or shared experience while also, hopefully, evoking a larger more universal theme at the same time.

Mark BacinoI’ve noticed you do a lot of writing and producing for other artists. How does that affect your own work? Are there specific things you take away from those experiences?

I have a fairly specific way by which I work on personal projects, it’s kind of insular and methodical so that, by nature, is pretty different from the way I approach working with others. While producing, obviously, you have to work in a manner that’s comfortable for that particular artist and it’s also, generally, a more collaborative affair.  When I work on my own thing, I kind of just fall into the same narcissistic groove, for better or worse; it doesn’t seem on the surface all that influenced by my other studio work but I suppose those outside experiences must seep in there somehow.  At least I hope they do.  Every time I work on a project with or for other folks I’d like to think, on some level, I’m taking something away and learning from that experience.  I’m hoping the same happens in reverse for the artists I work with as well.

How do you feel your process has evolved since your first record?

I think in terms of the production and recording process, I’m definitely more hands-on these days having produced this new record entirely myself and having done the lion’s share of engineered and mixing on it as well.  My earlier albums were always very hands-on too but a little more technically collaborative in that I had an engineer and co-producers, etc.

In terms of writing, I’d like to think I’ve evolved and grown.  Not to put down my earlier work, as I intentionally tailored a lot of it toward the more care-free side of things, but I think my new material has a little more weight or depth to it.  Ultimately the songs are an extension of me so as I’ve matured over the years, so has the music and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Mark Bacino singingA few songs on this latest record reminded me of Harry Nilsson, is he a big influence?

Harry’s always been one of my faves so I suppose the influence of his work is continually present in mine.  This album in particular is, indeed, pretty heavily infused with Harry’s spirit – both musically and inspirationally speaking.  Before I began this project, I was feeling fairly dissolution with the music industry and my role in it, etc.  I think I was just getting a little burned out working on outside projects and not feeling particularly inspired.  For some reason, around the same time, I was revisiting the Nilsson catalog, really diving in deeper than I had in the past.  In doing so, it struck me that Harry pretty much always just made music for Harry and followed his own artistic path.  Keeping that simple thought in mind I began to realize I really needed to take a break from the outside projects, dismiss the negative feelings I was beginning to have for the business and do something solely for myself, the music and the art of it.   “Queens English” is the result of that shift in mindset.  So thank you Harry, wherever you are, for helping me get back on the horse.

What do you look to accomplish with your records? I liked how Queens English seemed to almost be a chronicle of various happenings in a New York City neighborhood. Yet, with a few changed words, the songs could be a chronicle of any person’s life and city. So any listener can still relate to it.

Thanks, that’s nice to hear.  I hope it strikes a chord with folks and they get something positive from it whether it be pure diversion, entertainment or something a little more.  Really, that’s always been the main goal for any record I’ve ever made.

This new album is, indeed, very New York-centric so, to be honest, I kind of worried about that for a bit thinking that maybe people outside of NYC wouldn’t be able to relate.  After a while though I started to realize, as you mentioned, that ultimately the tunes have, at their core, a kind of universal thread running through them.  I think a lot of the subject matter touched on within the songs – a sense of place and neighborhood pride, the nobility of the working-class ethic, the trials and joys of parenthood – all, hopefully, make for a relatable experience, regardless of the listener’s geographic location.

A conversation with… Corn Mo

Corn Mo in Bristol, England - July 2008Welcome; John Cunningham aka ‘Corn Mo’.

Q/ Morning. How’s it going?

Good.

Q/ I was doing – what I laughingly like to call – research. Now the internet is quite a big place and perhaps I was poking around in the wrong corner but it’s quite hard to find a huge amount of information on you. Are you carefully maintaining the persona of an enigmatic master of songs?

No. I’m just not that popular. It would be brilliant if it were true.
Continue reading

A conversation with… Ed James

Ed James Interview for Matt Whitby
14th December 2006

MW: Hello there – how’s life treating you?

EJ: Yes, good thanks.

MW: According to the notes on CD Baby you’re the man on a mission to write the perfect song. I appreciate that it’s subjective but can you imagine coming across a song that would make you think that it just couldn’t be bettered? Continue reading

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