Interview: Badly Drawn Boy

February 22, 2007 01:05 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Damon Gough, also known as Badly Drawn Boy, isn't trying to be the next Bruce Springsteen with his album "Born in the UK"--but he is paying homage to the Boss.

"It wasn't something I thought about beforehand," Gough said via telephone from his English home. "Most songs I write, I come up with the melody lines very quickly, then I come up with lyrics. [On the song 'Born in the UK'], I had a demo version I accidentally sang 'I was born in the UK' as the last line of the song. I said, 'I like that.' It had kind of a punk edge to it with the energy in the song.

"It felt like couldn't decide what to write about. It sort of felt natural to write about childhood memories of the '70s with the dawn of the punk era and things I remembered and didn't remember. It's accidental it became the title, really. I thought, 'Why not?' It's a bit of a loaded title because think about what it actually means. That's kind of the point. If people misinterpret it and think, 'Oh, it's about me being the English Springsteen,' that's not what it's about. Somebody in Rolling Stone actually wrote America doesn't need an answer to Bruce Springsteen. That was totally missing the point. If anything, it is a tribute to the fact that Bruce Springsteen's music, particularly the song 'Thunder Road,' made an impact on me when I was a teenager. If anything, I'm paying tribute to that--and also paying tribute to the fact that I was born, and that's the deal I got and this is who I am."

The recording sessions for "Born in the UK" were tumultuous. Gough recorded one album with producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), along with his touring band and a small orchestra. That didn't pan out, so he canned the sessions and started all over again with Lemon Jelly's Nick Franglen. It was all part of his plan to record five albums in five years, starting with 2000's "The Hour of the Bewilderbeast."

Gough talked to LiveDaily about the project's intensity, the direction he eventually went with and why more people should pick up "Born in the UK."

LiveDaily: Are you looking forward to touring the US again?

Damon Gough: Yeah but there's a lot to do before then. I have European dates and UK dates before we get to America again. But yeah, yeah it should be good. I'm looking forward to getting back into playing live again. I had a break over Christmas.

From what I've read, the making of "Born in the UK" was an intense project.

Yeah, kind of. This time, it was a little bit different because I made a whole different album that I didn't release. I wasn't sure it was the right record to put out at the time. It just kind of went in a direction that I didn't foresee. I felt there was a lot of pressure on me to do another record. That's what the pressure was. Rather than making this record itself, it was the fact that I already made a record that I didn't release. I had to start again. What am I going to do? The clock was ticking last year when I was making this record. I had to finish it by June in order to release it last year. That was the pressure. Otherwise, I would have had to wait to release it this year because there was no time left in the year. There needs to be a three-month lead-up time to release a record.

What kind of direction did it go in that you didn't care for?

I don't really know. It's difficult to say. I was struggling to make it sound like I wanted it to sound. I couldn't fathom how to do it. It was a different way of working. I went into the studio with the whole band I'd been touring with, so it was a seven-piece band, including a small kind of orchestral section. That was predominately what the record was sounding like. Whilst it sounded really good, with my records, generally, the character comes from what I do with my overdubs. I generally start with a basic song and then try to find the right sound through each song. There really wasn't much room to find the right sound because of what was already there. I didn't feel like it was my record in a lot of ways. I say that without offending anybody, I hope. All the people that played on it were asked to play. We kind of worked it out together. But it still didn't seem like it had my personal imprint. By the time it got to that point, I felt it was easier to quit and start a whole new album than it was to try to make that one sound like my record. The songs just kind of lack a little bit of spirit.

What was it like to work with Stephen Street?

It was great. It was unfortunate that things didn't go as well as planned. I saw him recently. We were just chatting and catching up. He's done a couple of albums since we tried that first album'. I did this album with Nick Franglen of Lemon Jelly. The Stephen Street one was the one we didn't finish. It was just nice to see him and have him realize there were no hard feelings, because it was difficult at the time.

That must have been cool to work with Nick.

Yeah, Nick was a breath of fresh air. After not finishing the first album, I needed somebody that was going to come in and help me keep believing in myself. I felt like I lost the plot a little bit. Then Nick came in and was just enthusiastic about my songs and, in general, enthusiastic about music. He's got a broad spectrum of palettes. Aside from doing his Lemon Jelly stuff, he wants to further his work as a producer. So he was really up for working for me. Currently, we're both disappointed that the album isn't doing better.

Hopefully it'll pick up once you start touring.

That's why I'm looking forward to touring. That's the one thing that's been going very well in the last few months. The last US dates were really enjoyable, as were the last European dates. Now, we're doing some more on the back of those with slightly bigger venues in some places, and just keep building on it and make more people aware that the record is available.

Did you learn a lot from working with Nick?

I can't remember now. Once it's done, it's done. It's hard to think back about it. I just remember it going very tough for me because I felt like I was being very hard on Nick, even though we became good friends whilst we were doing it. It was a difficult process. I can't describe what it's like, really.

What is the songwriting process like? Do you write songs when you're in the studio or on the road?

Most of the time, I write when I'm in the studio, which is a bit dangerous, really, because it's time consuming and costly. I've never gone in the studio with songs in my life. I'm quite--I wouldn't say lazy, but restless. I can never finish one song and move on to another one. I have to have 10 songs I'm working on at once. I have to keep jumping from one to another, and doing a bit more on another song, adding a little bit more to another song, and leaving it where it is, and going back to another one, then ditching 10 songs and starting again. I can never just say, "These are the 10 songs and they're going to make this album." It just never seems possible. I've got too many ideas knocking about because I'm never that confident in just going with a selection of songs because you never know--I might write another one that's better than those. With this album, it was different again to all of that because I demoed about 100 songs before Nick came in. I gave him all the songs to see what he thought of them. They were all in demo form with half-written lyrics. We had more than 100 songs to choose from. Then we re-recorded from scratch about 35 of them. It took us three to four months to record 35 songs and then we decided which songs we wanted for the album--which we disagreed about quite a lot--and we ended up in this direction. If I'd known in January of last year that these 12 or 13 songs would end up on the album, I could have recorded it faster. But that's not the way I work, unfortunately. The next record I make, I might do it differently. I might spend a long time in pre-production knowing I've got 10 or 12 songs that are the ones that I want, and go in and record those relatively quickly to avoid overspending and getting a headache.

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