Stupidly Happy About Volume 2

Andy Partridge talks about Wasp Star, Chuck Sabo, drumming, love, studio construction,
and the need for a crusade to change the English language.

May 21, 2000
by Todd Bernhardt
A Chalkhills Exclusive

In March, I was lucky enough to get a dub of an advance copy of Wasp Star. It knocked me out. I had listened to the demos for years, but I loved the band's full-blown production of the songs, and was especially impressed by the drumming on the album.

I knew Prairie Prince had recorded some of the tracks during the previous Apple Venus Vol. 1 sessions, but there had also been talk on Chalkhills about Chuck Sabo, a session drummer whom the band had brought in to re-record many of the songs. Searching the Internet brought up no information about him (I later learned that this was because his last name had been misspelled on Chalkhills as "Szabo"), so I thought he would be a great candidate for Modern Drummer's "Up and Coming" column.

With this notion in mind, I was presumptuous enough to fax Andy and ask him for an interview that would support an article I planned to write about Chuck. Having interviewed Andy before for the magazine's "A Different View" column, I thought my chances of a response were fair. Sure enough, I got a call from XTC's rep at TVT Records and, after working out the details, I called Andy at home on April 10 [2000], where he was in the midst of interview frenzy.

As usual, he was funny and gracious, and generous with his time and answers. During the 55 minutes we talked, he gave me far more information than I could possibly use in the article about Chuck, so I've distilled the interview down a bit into a more-readable form -- meaning I've removed some of the redundant language that always finds its way into spoken conversation, fixed the grammar here and there, and moved around some of the questions and answers to make the piece "flow" better -- and, with the help of überChalkhillian John Relph, posted it here. I hope you enjoy it.

Andy Partridge

A conversation with
Andy Partridge

AP: Hello, Todd. Hang on a second, let me put down this unplayable piece of garbage and I'll come back to the phone.

TB: What unplayable piece of garbage was that exactly?

AP: Well, unfortunately, it's my Martin, which has seemed to have wanted to imitate a banana over the last couple of years.

TB: Oh, is the neck bending on you?

AP: It's bending terribly. At the moment, it's kind of looking like some sort of thing that a Kalahari bushman would make out of a petrol can and a branch. It really needs straightening out.

TB: Well, perhaps you can use it that way, and make it an exotic world instrument.

AP: Exactly! I can throw soil all over it, and go [carries on like an extremely excitable Kalahari bushman]. Yes, it really needs looking at, but I was just killing a few moments before you rang. The conveyor belt has started, I'm afraid, Todd. You're at the sharp end -- I've only done about six, seven interviews so far, so you're at the pointy end. I've got another eight to do by tomorrow evening.

TB: Well, that's one of the things I wanted to ask you: Now that you've got this big, bouncing baby boy of a record all done, are you still in the initial, very proud "look what I made" phase, or are you moving into the "now I've got to perform some drudgery to support this thing" phase?

AP: I know that's on the horizon, and it's rapidly becoming a reality, but I've just got out of the playing-it-for-pleasure phase. I'm very proud of it, but I don't want to hear it for quite a while.

TB: You guys have had this in the can for months now, right?

AP: It was only finished in February, so that's not too bad.

TB: You and I first spoke two years ago, and a lot has gone on since then. You have a new studio. . .

AP: We have a new studio, which sounds great! According to Chuck, it's the best space he's ever drummed in, for the sound. We were very nervous about that, when we were putting the place together -- you know, how is it going to sound in here?

TB: Sure, because there are so many ways of putting together a room. What is the setup like, in Colin's place, for drums? Are they in a smaller room, or are you just. . .

AP: No, there's just a room . . .

TB: One big room.

AP: It was a double garage, and there was an adjoining building carrying on back from that -- it was full of coal and junk and stuff like that -- that's now become the control room, and little kitchen area and toilet and stuff, but the main studio is a pitched roof, double-garage size. It's pretty spacious. It's about 21 by 19, something like that. And that's sizable enough, I think. Might even be larger than that. For some reason, those figures seem stuck in my head -- probably because I had to paint it!

TB: [laughs] So, you've got a lot of natural reverb in there?

AP: Yeah, but the ceiling's done out in wood, the floor is wood, and the walls are plaster, so it's not atrociously live, it's just kind of live enough, you know?

TB: Did you have to put up any materials to deaden the sound?

AP: We did for stuff like vocals and smaller-sounding things -- we've got a big velvet curtain that goes across the middle of the room, and we bought a carpet to roll out over that section, and we've also got screens we can put around, because we didn't want everything to sound ambient in the same reverb, you know. But for drums and percussion, it really is gorgeous.

TB: When you and I last spoke, you said you were really focusing on getting away from Virgin and recording the new albums, and that you hadn't written for quite some time, because you were concerned with output.

AP: I still haven't. I had to get this project out of the way. I had to get Apple Venus volumes 1 and 2, and all the best of that stuff, out to clear the decks, or else there was no way I could see ahead.

TB: So have you been out to The Shed at all lately, or are things under cobwebs out there?

AP: It's only literally in the last few weeks that I've started thinking, "Hmm, that would make a good idea for a song, or that's a nice change, I'd like to use that somewhere." You know, those kind of itchy musical sensations. But before that, we were too busy making Volume 1, and then straight into promoting, and then finishing off and sort of redoing whatever for Volume 2, so I haven't had any time much apart from making music or talking about music for at least the last two years.

TB: There's something to be said for that though, I suppose, in that you've spent this time soaking in ideas, and now they're starting to itch to come out.

AP: Yeah, well, that's the thing. What happens is, when you don't have anything else more pressing -- I mean, it was very pressing, recording volumes 1 and 2 -- but when you don't have anything musically pressing, it starts to become more of a game, rather than, "My God, I've got to get this done."

TB: These last two albums have had a pretty clear theme to them -- I mean, they're separate sides of the same coin, "orchoustic" and electric. . .

AP: Exactly. "Eclectric" I thought was a good term for them.

TB: [laughs] I like that. I'm wondering if you foresee any sort of similar type of theme coming out in this next album, or is it just going to be catch-as-catch-can?

AP: I haven't any idea where we're going, to be truthful. There are things I'd like to try, but I just don't have any plan or any design. Following this set of two records is going to be a little tricky, because I think they contain some of our best material, if not best material ever, and it's tough to keep topping yourself all the time and climbing higher.

So, at the moment, I don't have anything in my mind. It's scary, but exciting. And if nothing comes in my brain, I guess it's window cleaning for me! But I don't have anything planned. That's a good feeling.

TB: Is there any type of music that you've been listening to that has been catching your attention?

AP: Yeah, but I don't know if it means enough to me on a gut level. I love '20s syncopated jazz, and I've bought about four or five albums over the last two years. Some of them are double albums, and they're mostly of the same series. They're called Past Perfect, and they're cleaned up with CEDAR System [Computer-Enhanced Digital Audio Restoration -- a mastering system used to remove noise from and restore older recordings]. They sound like they were recorded last week -- you wouldn't believe these were done in the mid-20s with a mic stuck in a corner.

The playing is just beautifully taut, and there's a lot of great energy to it. I finally got through the barrier of it being comedy music. That's what was drummed into you as a kid -- you watched silent films on the TV and stuff, and they'd always put syncopated '20s music, so you made this mental connection -- people were having pies in the face, and you were hearing this music, therefore it was funny music. It's not! It's just very energetic music. It took ages to get that through the "enforced comedy barrier."

I don't even know the names of the bands. It's usually "Somebody Somebody and his Somebody Somethings." And the title of the band is usually connected with his name, like "Harry Bread and the Breadrolls." I'm not even familiar with what the hell I'm listening to, I just like it a lot. But I can't see it as influencing me, because it doesn't figure hugely in my musical formation, if you see what I mean. My musical formation was more the stuff that was banged into my head as a kid listening to the radio, or in my earlier teens listening to records and stuff. That's the sort of stuff that becomes your musical formation, whereas this isn't. This is just something I like the sound of, because I like the vitality.

TB: Perhaps it's just going to be one more spice added to the soup?

AP: It's possible, yeah. I wouldn't rule anything out.

TB: It seems to me that Wasp Star strays more from the demos -- the arrangements, the production and even the lyrics -- than AV1 did, which was pretty close to the original demos. . .

AP: Yeah. . .

TB: Is this because you view the electric songs as looser or less-composed than those orchoustic pieces?

AP: Yeah, I think to some extent they are. Rather than making all the little gears fit, I think it was more important to get a feel, and if that meant bending things about, or changing something, that was okay. I mean, I don't like to copy demos slavishly, but I think more work was initially put into the demo stage of the stuff for Apple Venus 1, if you see what I mean, whereas the stuff for this was more "bang it down." But I know the feeling I want in my head, and when we got to record it properly, I had to sit and try to extrapolate this sensation to people. And the music is much simpler.

TB: A little more room for maneuvering. . .

AP: Yeah, much more direct, more primary colors, not such woody, earthy colors.

TB: And it's not like you were directing an orchestra, it was more of a band situation.

AP: It's more of a band situation. In fact, people have said to me, this is the most "band" you've sounded since your early few albums.

TB: Do you agree with that?

AP: Yeah, probably. It's literally just the three of us in any given combination, mostly. I'm getting to do all the guitar -- or most of the guitar, Colin's playing guitar on a few things -- and, you know, he's on bass and we're both doing bits of keyboard. Nick got to play the keyboard on anything tricky. Nick did the keyboard for "Church of Women," because the changes are too complex for me, whereas I got to play the idiot repeat orangutan/gorilla-type riff, that clavinety-type sound, on "The Man Who Murdered Love." That's kind of within my sphere, you know -- I'm the human sequencer when it comes to playing. It's when I have to make those changes that I can't do it.

But, for the most part, it's just myself, Colin, and either Chuck or Prairie, who played on four tracks.

TB: There's a lot of complexity to this album and the way you've approached the guitar. It seems like you've taken some of the percussion parts from the demos and given them to guitar instead. For instance, in the "Maypole" part of "The Wheel and the Maypole," there's all this insane rhythm guitar going on -- there's tremolo and delay and different picking patterns, and. . .

AP: Yeah. . .

TB: It seems that you really want to emphasize all the different rhythmic things that you can do with a guitar.

AP: Well, it was a case of reclaiming the crown, really, because in the past I was very lazy, and any complex guitar, or any fiddly bits, I'd hand to Dave Gregory. With him not being around, everyone just turned to me and said, "Okay, where's the guitar?" I had to play everything. I hope I haven't overegged the pudding, but I don't think so. I did find it kind of fun to play -- a little scary, because I had to come up with things like solos, for goodness sake, which are really not my forte, really not my strength. . .

TB: Oh, I would tend to disagree there. . .

AP: Well, I think I did an okay job, but I put off the guitar solos for weeks and weeks, you know -- "Oh yeah, that's where the solo will go. Let's just carry on with the such and such part." Or putting off the fancy bits, the arpeggio bits, which I'm not really not very good at. That was more Dave Gregory's territory -- he's "Mr. Arpeggios." But I did get into it. I had a little dread, but I enjoyed it. At the end of it, I felt like I'd achieved something.

TB: Did you find you got inspired by listening to yourself -- saying "Oh yeah, I've done that there, so now I can do this here" -- as opposed to in the past, where you and Dave would sit around together and bounce ideas off each other?

AP: Yeah, that's right, we'd work up stuff that fit together. You know, I'd have one piece of the jigsaw and he'd make a piece that went around that. That didn't happen this time. I'd record the backbone guitar, and then I'd say, "That section there needs to sound different, it needs to chime there, or it needs to be more smooth there." And, I have to say, there was a lot of stuff that I did at the last minute, where I probably had been lazy and hadn't done my homework, whereas Dave Gregory would have mapped everything out and written it all out. I'm not like that, so there was a lot of grabbing going on.

But I was also very pleased with the drums and percussion, which, as you know, can be very inspiring. You get a drum track like "Church of Women," and it is very inspiring to play with. Or "You and Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful" -- that's a great percussive track.

TB: Yeah, absolutely. I guess that's a good entrée to talking about Chuck. In what research I've done on him, I haven't been able to find out a lot, other than that he's played with Natalie Imbruglia.

AP: [laughing] That's the only thing I can remember as well! He said he was on the road with her forever, like 18 months or something, and it was driving him crazy. It was great fun, but it drove him crazy. He was also the musical director for the whole band.

TB: I saw that her album Left of the Middle was produced by Phil Thornalley of Mummer fame. . .

AP: That's right, small world. . .

TB: Was that the connection?

AP: No, the connection was through Nick, actually, because he'd worked with him a few times. I was saying that I wanted a drummer who was fiercely rhythmic but who also had a very loose backbone to his playing, somebody who could really shuffle about and feel rhythmic but, at the same time, had a lot of flair to that rhythm. It's difficult to describe without shaking your ass! [laughs] And he said, "A player that I've used on a few sessions who I really like is Chuck Sabo -- give him a call." I did, and he came along, and we were wowed immediately. His playing was just really lovely. Colin and I were grinning at each other in the control room, thinking, "Yes, we've really found a great player here." I'd love to work with him again, I really would.

Some people are better at one thing or another -- for example, Prairie Prince got "The Wheel and the Maypole" pretty damn good, whereas his playing on "You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful" was very spastic-sounding and stiff. Chuck sat down at it and within a couple of passes, it was beautiful. It really made you want to get up and dance. Some drummers have one feel for one song, and can't do another thing, and vice versa. I remember Dave Mattacks looking horrified when I brought "The Disappointed" up, because he said [scared whisper], "I can't do a shuffle." Some drummers can do a shuffle, and some drummers can't. He managed okay, but the goalkeeper's fear of the penalty for Dave Mattacks is the shuffle.

Chuck Sabo's got a great swing to him, a very modern-sounding groove. Prairie's rolls, I think, are very inspiring -- when he snaps and pulls these rolls out of nowhere, they can be like a fantastic, flourishing signature. You think, "Whoa! That was beautiful!" Like, for example, some of the rolls on "My Brown Guitar," in and out of things. It's like he's flying through the wall in a fantastic kung-fu kind-of action. You think, "Whoa! How is he doing that?" So, drummers have different strengths and weaknesses. I guess it's the same as other players.

TB: Sure.

AP: I can't do arpeggios, you know. That's not for me.

TB: [laughs] But you're learning, right?

AP: Mmmm, no -- I just won't write any in my songs!

TB: [laughs] Now, how about Fergus Gerrand? Your guy at TVT told me he did percussion on the album.

AP: No, he was one of the names that Nick was playing with. Chuck was free, and Fergus wasn't. So it was a case of, "Sure, we'll go with Chuck," and I'm glad we did. I don't know, Fergus may even be better, but I'm glad we went with Chuck Sabo.

TB: So Chuck is doing the percussion parts as well as the drums?

AP: He's doing some of the percussion. Where you hear little counter-rhythms, like on a little distorted drum kit, he'll be playing that against his own playing, if you see what I mean. We'd get the drum track down with a sketch guitar and bass, and then he would sit and we would ask for something that went in the holes, or something that had a feeling that picked up the backbeat more at that point, or something. So he'd play something that conversed with what he's already played. For example, on "Wounded Horse," from verse 2, there's a little kind-of skippety backbeat thing on a rather distorted snare drum. Or there are little counter parts on "We're All Light," which is just him playing a snare drum with no snare, you know, he's taken the snare off and he's just knocking away [imitates beat]. You know, he's playing this little kind-of conversational thing that goes against the -- well, for all intents and purposes, the kind-of disco-like backbeat.

TB: Sure. And that sort of matches the part that you had on the demo, which was a bit more prominent.

AP: Yeah, I think he's done that much better. That was an idea I had, and I think he pulled it off really well. Some things were new, and some things came from him listening to the demo and trying to find the essence of that.

TB: Was he familiar with XTC's work?

AP: On and off. I don't think he was a huge fan, but he certainly knew who we were, and I think he was excited to be doing the project, so I think he was a little bit of a fan, yeah.

TB: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the technology involved with Prairie's parts, because I know that you had recorded those quite a long time ago. . .

AP: Yeah.

TB: And then it was matter of bringing everything over to the new studio and you guys playing along with them. Did that present difficulties for you?

AP: Not really. The ones that we liked Prairie playing on -- and there were four of those -- I'll try and remember which ones they were. . .

TB: You had said "The Wheel and the Maypole" and "My Brown Guitar". . .

AP: Those, and "In Another Life" and "Stupidly Happy." Some were edited, and some weren't. For example, the main basic track for "The Wheel" part was the same, but we took out his tom-tom parts for the choruses, and a percussionist/programmer chap named Matt Vaughn played a kind-of ethnic percussion there. The actual "Maypole" bit was pretty much unedited. I think that's just Prairie playing.

TB: Just doing that straight 2/4.

AP: Yeah. And then something like "Stupidly Happy" was a very small loop of his playing, because we wanted it to sound repetitive. It had to be moronic. That was part of the stupidity clause.

TB: [laughing] Yeah, I was wondering whether you guys had looped it or not, because it sounds so insistent. . .

AP: Oh, it had to be. It had to be completely unfaltering. Completely.

TB: In a way, it's so simple that it's the hardest song to play along with.

AP: That was the hardest one -- he tried it, and Chuck Sabo tried it. They were both pretty similar in rhythm intensity, but it was no good because the slightest faltering really showed. It didn't have the idiocy. So, that was the most looped thing on the whole record.

TB: In '85 you would have done that with the Linn Drum, right?

AP: Exactly.

TB: If we could start talking about the specific songs -- I guess Chuck is playing on "Playground". . .

AP: He's playing on "Playground." Prairie did a pretty good job, but I think it had already been pre-edited by Haydn Bendall when we recorded it, and I don't know . . . it was sort of okay, but I really felt like starting from scratch. Prairie did some good stuff on that, but Chuck played very well, and then that was further edited down to take the best bits of whatever performances. We worked on an Otari RADAR [Random Access Digital Audio Recorder] for this album.

In fact, this is the first album where we've really edited. I know that sounds odd, but it's the first album where we've really said, "Well, let's compare take blah-blah to take blah-blah, and let's chop that piece out there -- that break there is great -- let's put that piece that he does in the intro on our master tape. . ." We didn't do that in the past. We would just do things until they sounded right.

TB: I think the technology is at the point now where you can do that kind of editing and not lose the human feel of it.

AP: People used to say, "Oh, I worked on a Beatle record, and they'd make a song up out of 25 different edits." You think, "Wow! That's weird!" We'd just play it until it felt right, and then that was it. It was like a naïveté, or blind spot or something -- we couldn't see the color red. [laughing] We couldn't see editing.

TB: Do you think it was a matter of ideals? Did you view it as somewhat dishonest?

AP: I think it started out as ideals, and then it just got that we couldn't see the benefits, because we'd never had them demonstrated to us. But I think that as we started to shuffle things around on Apple Venus Volume 1 a little bit -- because we had to do a lot of orchestral editing -- it suddenly became clear that, "Wow, that's great! They played it so much better the second time through," or "Take 3 of that part on the orchestra is so much better, and if we glue that on to take 1. . ." After a while, you start to get the idea -- you start to see the color red.

TB: You can have your cake and eat it, too.

AP: Yeah -- actually the phrase should be, "You eat your cake and then you have it." That's the correct way. It's one of those things that have entered the English language wrongly, because the concept of it is, you eat your cake, and you want all of the fun and enjoyment and wonderfulness of eating it, but still you want it to be beautiful and unspoiled and perfect in front of you. But apparently, it's the other way around, because everybody in the entire world says, "Have your cake and eat it." It should be "Eat your cake and have it." Because you can't have it after you've eaten it.

TB: [laughing] Right.

AP: Perhaps we can set the English language straight. . .

TB: I was going to say, we're going to start a. . .

AP: It's a. . .

[together] crusade.

TB: [laughing] The song "Playground" is very exuberant, it's got a pretty-much straight-ahead drum part, but the intro has this great sequential build. I wanted to ask if you guys had done that on purpose -- where it goes, dun-dun ONE, dun-dun ONE TWO, and then three -- or is that something that Chuck came up with?

AP: It was something I asked Prairie to do during a take, and he put the "a-one"-type feel in there, and I thought, "Ooh, that is so beautifully spastic." When we got the take from Chuck that we really liked, it also contained that sort of feel, because we had told him, "We want this kind-of kicking-the-door-in sort of feel."

TB: Did you know it was going to be the first song on the record?

AP: I wanted it to be. As much as I knew "River of Orchids" was going to be the first one and "Last Balloon" was going to be the last one on the other one, I really wanted "Playground" to be the first one on this one and "The Wheel and the Maypole" to be the last one.

TB: So it's a way of announcing your return to electric rock and roll.

AP: Kind of, yeah -- it sort of bashes the door in. Police-raid stuff.

TB: [laughing] Right. What was it like having your daughter in the studio with you?

AP: I had to tell her to sing out of tune! She's got a great pitch, and I was saying, "Look, this is actually too good [laughs]. You have to sing 'crapper' than this, because we want it to sound like a gang of kids in the playground." So we'd do a couple of takes, and they were really beautiful, and I'd have to say, "Look, now can you sing it more out of tune? Or, now can you speak it?" You know [monotone]: "Playground, playground, duhdeeduhdeeduh. . ." And we used eight of them or something together, including the really in-tune ones, the purposely out-of-tune ones, and the said ones. And that got near a crowd of kids.

But that was an odd one, because she's now 14 going on 21 -- you know [in American accent], she's a lady, for Christ's sake!

TB: [laughing] Yeah, I have a 17-month-old daughter, and I'm already thinking about grounding her until she's 21, just to protect her from the world.

AP: I'm thinking about the tattooed line across the middle of the stomach, with a "Nobody below this line" written there -- you could attach a list of names there, as well: "None of these people below this line."

TB: [laughing] Is she interested in a career in music, or has your career been enough to scare her away from the industry?

AP: No -- last night I sat with her with her, teaching her Foo Fighters songs. She really likes the Foo Fighters, and she said, "Dad, can you work the chords out for this song," and "Can you work the chords out for that song," so I had to sit and show her how these songs went.

TB: So she's playing guitar, too?

AP: Yeah. In fact, the really creepy thing -- she found the Beatles' White Album, and the first song she really learned all the way through was "Rocky Raccoon," which, for Christ's sake, was also the one I first learned all the way through.

TB: Really?

AP: Yeah, that was my nickname at college, because "Rocky" was the only song I could play. "Hey Rocky, play that song!" So, the weird thing is, she's fallen into this and found this song and really likes it.

TB: Well, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, I suppose.

AP: [laughs] No, I should think so! But she likes playing guitar. She loves music generally.

TB: "Stupidly Happy" -- you said that's Prairie playing, and you were talking about the loop.

AP: It's also got some looped guitar -- some live guitar, some sections are looped. Whenever it got slightly uninsistent, we'd take a section that really locked on and edit that back in. But that's just the same chord [laughs], round and around.

TB: Right -- I was wondering how you sat and just played that again and again and again. . .

AP: It really hurt my wrist. I've obviously not been masturbating with the left hand enough, to get the muscles built. But that was the appeal of the song, that it's really moronic musically.

TB: But you have this great build-up throughout it -- it sounds like you've even double- or triple-tracked the bass.

AP: There are two basses on it. One bass plays a high E or B or something, just one note, and then when it talks about the "lights of the cars in the town form the strings of a big guitar," then a big electric and acoustic guitar come in playing chords, and there's a subsonic deep bass added.

The whole appeal of the thing was that it was kind of trance-like, a bit like the state you get into when you're just in love and daft. But the whole picture does get really broad later on, yeah, that's a good thing.

TB: That's also a sort of aural metaphor for love as well -- you start at this stupidly happy point, but it gets better and better.

AP: Yeah, it gets better and better and grows stronger. You're still in that trance, but you know that it's growing. And it gets complex. As the song does -- you know, all the different parts start to fall over each other.

TB: Exactly. The vocals and everything else.

AP: Yeah, all the vocals. What was the verse in one part becomes the backing vocal in another; what becomes a harmony in one part becomes another thing in another part of the song; the guitar solo becomes the end, the outro bell-type thing. So yeah, it's just like real life and relationships, they become more complex and more interwoven.

TB: Prairie also plays "In Another Life" -- that's a very tom-heavy, tub-thumping type of pattern.

AP: Yeah, we put the drums through a Pod amplifier/fuzz box, so they sound really [imitates sound]. Don't know how you're going to write that!

TB: [laughing] I think P-B-Z-T, something with those letters. . .

AP: Or P-R-R-P . . . but it's a fuzzy bass drum. It's a conventional kit, just a meek little kit, but until we fuzzed up the bass drum, it wasn't happening. Then Nick, just for a bit of fun, connected it up and said, "Hey, let's try this." And it sounded great, and it was "YES!" That has become like the signature sound of the song. So much so that we didn't put any bass on it, because we didn't want to cover the big fuzzy bass drum. So there's no bass on that track.

TB: That sort of leads to a broader question for me: As far as drum sounds for each song go, is that where the producer or drummer really plays a big role with you guys, is it something that you and Colin already have in mind, or does it depend on the song and the situation?

AP: To some extent, we map out most stuff before we go into the studio in the demo stage. You've obviously heard some of the demos, so you know that's the case. But there are fun things that happen, you know -- "Whoa! What did you just do there?" "Well, I just did that." "That's great! Keep that, we'll use that! That's wonderful, don't throw that away, record that immediately."

Or, Nick would say something like, "Wouldn't it be good if in verse two here we just had the drummer play something opposite to what he's doing in verse one, but we'll mix it in and put it over that, in the other channel or something." And so you try these things out, and sometimes you ditch things, but sometimes they work -- they can come from the drummer, the producer or from us. It's whoever has an idea that betters the song. That's what wins. I'm not precious about that at all. The song is king, and if the song is bettered by a piece of input, great.

TB: Could you talk a little bit about the dynamics "My Brown Guitar"? I love the way you guys are able to build it way up -- you even use this cheering-audience sample at one point -- and then you pull it right down. . .

AP: Then it cuts off when the door slams.

TB: Right, right.

AP: Well, I wanted to make the intro and the outro extremely live, so it's flailing live drum kit, recorded in the live room at Chipping Norton Studios, which, sadly, is no more. That was a great-sounding room for drums as well. "Harder" than the Idea Studios, but it was really very brash and beautiful. So the intro and the outro and what you would call the chorus section, for want of another word, they're very live -- very open, everything ringing, no damping. I'm the damper police -- anybody who gets any damping near a drum kit, I go and pull it all off and throw it away. You don't want to damp it! It's like damping down the strings of a guitar -- it can work, but it sounds much better if you don't do it. I wish drummers would learn that -- let it all ring, it's all one instrument.

TB: Yeah, the overtones get swallowed up in the mix with the other instruments anyway.

AP: Sure, and you find yourself adding more ring later. You say, "Well look, we've lost all the ring on the snare drum, so can you go and tune it to the similar pitch you had it and just give me a rim shot without the snare wires contacting, and we'll sample that and trigger that in, because that's all been eaten up by the other instruments in that range."

TB: Exactly.

AP: I wanted it to be either very big and aggressive and noisy, and then make this thing about it closing down. So we used samples of very dead-sounding drums, like a dead-sounding conga hit, a dead, muted bass drum, a dead, muted tom-tom, so it made a [imitates beat], that kind of 'bup-dub' -- here we go [laughing], B-U-P, D-U-B -- 'bup-dub'! Like it's all cardboard boxes in a carpeted room or something. And then it opens out to the extremely brash kits in those other places. The great big noisy kit over there -- SLAM! Great big tiny cardboard box [laughs at his contradicting terms] right up against your face. I like that dichotomy.

TB: "Boarded Up" sounds like there's no kit at all.

AP: It's Colin and I walking in the studio and playing bits of percussion, knocking things, hitting the back of a guitar, scraping stuff, hitting the wall. We just went tapping everything mad.

TB: It's a very spacious song. I can hear where it could have justified a full-blown AV1 treatment, but you and Colin chose to keep it very spare. You can almost hear the big, empty hall.

AP: He wanted it to sound desolate and dusty. It was the only track on the album not cut to any sort of click or any time reference at all. He just played it on guitar -- which is not an acoustic guitar, it's actually an electric guitar with a microphone on the solid body of the guitar.

TB: It's a solid-body electric?

AP: Yeah, it's a Telecaster. And then the D/I [direct input] source is treated separately, with a tremolo. So it sounds like a very brittle acoustic that somehow has a tremolo aura around it, but it's actually this split -- we did it on a lot of tracks, putting a mic on an electric guitar and then splitting off, treating one side differently and the other side being this very spiky, super-present acoustic sound.

TB: "The Man Who Murdered Love" is very poppy, bubblegum song that's fun to play but, again, it's a beat that's deceptively hard, because it's simple but it's got to have just the right feel. How do you work with a drummer to capture that?

AP: I asked Chuck to do a Charlie Watts-playing-Tamla kind of thing. That was the key to getting that going. Then we had a really, really good take that had been edited a little bit. You know, we took whole big chunks and moved them around from different takes and stuff. I was kind of happy with it, but then I had a little time away from it, and thought, "No, I know that this is going to get leaned on as some sort of single, and I really want to make sure." So we gave it to Matt Vaughn, the programmer we worked with, and edited the whole thing further. So that was the second most-edited thing on the whole album. But I still think it feels good. It doesn't sound mechanical.

TB: You mentioned that as a single, and that gives me a segue into "We're All Light," because that was the song that struck me as the single from the album. Are you guys going to push "The Man Who Murdered Love"?

AP: Well, my choice would be "Stupidly Happy."

TB: Which is another -- it's a very radio-friendly album.

AP: It is, dammit! [American accent] Dammit, Todd! Or "Dammit, TVT!", really. I would have wanted "Stupidly Happy," but I think TVT in America got such good feedback from radio, playing them "The Man Who Murdered Love," that I think they're going to put that one to radio first. But I think about a third of the people polled said that "We're All Light" was their choice.

TB: Yeah, it seems to be the most modern of the songs.

AP: Yeah, and it's also one of those ones that makes you feel happy as well.

TB: Yeah, it really makes you shake your ass. You've got that processed drum, that little hook in there, that really catches your attention.

AP: Actually, I'll tell you what it is -- we couldn't make Chuck's playing fake enough, so I said, "Look, I really like the one on the demo, because it sounds fake." Matt put the cassette demo into ProTools and gated up all the other sounds that were going on around that roll on the demo, and we were left with this very gated, fake percussive hook -- which for me is one of the hooks of the song. But Chuck's playing was very, very good. It's almost unfaultably unwavering.

TB: Yeah and, again, it's got that great feel that you were talking about. It's tight but loose.

AP: Yeah, he grabs these nice little drags and things into B sections or choruses, and he does these nice little [imitates snap roll] -- you know, these lovely little sort of draggy kick-off bits. We were all leaping around in the control room while he was getting the drum track going to that. I would love for that to be thought of as some sort of radio single.

TB: Maybe that will be number two.

AP: Maybe.

TB: "Standing in for Joe" is another Chuck piece. . .

AP: That's a combination of Chuck and programmed percussion and Colin -- Colin sat there hitting his legs, trying to describe to Nick how the rhythm went, saying, "I want something like this" [imitates beat]. I was running around the control room, going [sings], "Baby, baby . . . Where did our love go?" And so we kept his leg slapping as part of the percussion part.

TB: [laughing] When I played along with that song, I wanted to slip into a shuffle beat, but it's obviously not what Colin wanted there.

AP: It's not, no. He wanted that sort of "Baby Love"-type of thing. When he showed Nick the kind of thing he wanted, everyone liked it so much that it became the focal point of how the whole rhythm track should go.

TB: "Wounded Horse" to me is a great example of your propensity to sabotage the expected. In the middle of this crunchy, guitar-blues song, you expect Stevie Ray Partridge to step to the edge of the stage, and. . .

AP: No, we have a misery solo! We have a slice of misery.

TB: [Laughing] So, what's your motivation with that?

AP: I wanted a piece of misery, so we, I sat at a keyboard, a very highly processed string sample, and I said, "I'm just going to find the most miserable combination of notes that go with those chords that I can find." After about a half an hour or so, we had our misery solo, and then Colin said, "Well, I think I should go and sing along with it in a kind of depressed-sounding voice."

TB: So there are vocals in there?

AP: Yeah, it's Colin going [deep voice], "Vah, lalalalaaaa," in his kind of "Volga Boatman" voice. We tried to make a slice of misery.

TB: "You and the Clouds" is unbelievable. I think it's one of the most improved from the demos, it's got a great feel.

AP: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We tried to get it with Prairie, and the poor chap just couldn't get it, and then Hayden edited it further, and to be truthful, I think Hayden lost the plot during the editing so badly that it sounded really wrong. When we came to reviewing the tapes for the start of this session, to see what we had from the other session, we said, "We must redo that." Chuck sat and went through it once, maybe twice, and then I had a few discussions with him -- I said I wanted it to be like a 14-year-old Arabic boy having a great time on the drumkit. He said, "I think I know what you want," and he just got it. Again, it was one of those things where you just could not stop grinning when he played.

TB: Yeah, he really nails it.

AP: Yeah. So all we kept from the original was the programmed percussion, congas and bongos, which you hear that during the little break before the end.

TB: The extended ending is really, really nice.

AP: Oh yeah, it was like, "I want an ending, but what the hell do we do?" That was a case of blundering into a little chord change that seemed to work, and everyone going, "Yeah, I like that, let's keep it."

TB: Now, speaking of extended endings, The Beech Street Boys make an appearance on "Church of Women."

AP: They do! [laughs] The Beech Avenue Boys!

TB: Beech Avenue Boys, of course.

AP: That's right, yeah, they really come back with a vengeance there. I was so happy with the drums on that -- that's a combination of Chuck playing and Matt Vaughn lifting individual hits off of records. I sat with Matt and told him the feel I wanted. You know, I want this [imitates pattern] feel, so he got the continuous [imitates hi-hat/snare pattern] -- something's always doing that -- and then he just said, "Well, we'll try a little of this, we'll fit that bass drum -- no, that bass drum needs more of a point, so we'll add that bass drum to it -- no, it's not got enough flap, so on every third beat we'll add a bit of flap," or whatever. Then Chuck sat and drummed along live, with a live drum kit that I think we processed in mono through the Pod fuzz pedal. . .

TB: Aha. . .

AP: So those fuzzy drums that you hear [imitates sound]. . .

TB: At the very beginning. . .

AP: Yep, and then if you listen carefully, they're all the way through the track.

TB: Yeah.

AP: The live drumming is a live mono-mixed little fuzzy kit.

TB: That's really interesting -- I would have thought that the programmed stuff would be the fuzzy stuff, and vice versa.

AP: No, no, the programmed stuff was only where it had come off of sort of crackly records or fuzzy tapes or whatever, but the live drumming, we wanted it to be smaller and narrower in bandwidth. So we squished it all up until it was just one rung of the ladder, and then put it through this fuzzy sound, so it sounded more like a very large electric shaker or something. But again, I think the rhythm track to that came out fantastic.

TB: Oh yeah, it really feels good. And, for what it's worth, "I'm on my knees but dancing" is one of the great sexual images I've heard in lyrics lately.

AP: [laughs] Thank you!

TB: I know we're short on time, and we've already talked a bit about "The Wheel and the Maypole," so if I could ask some quick questions that are pretty much yes or no answers -- is there going to be a Homestar CD, you know, like Homespun?

AP: Oh, that we don't know. We're not sure. We're um'ing and ah'ing. We had a mixed reception with Homespun.

TB: It had to be a good profit margin for you, I would imagine.

AP: Funnily enough, by the time we'd mastered it, got it pressed and paid for the artwork and all that, it did make a little bit, but only a tiny fraction of what we thought it would.

TB: Finally, what do you plan to do to support sales of the album? Are you going to do the same sort of record-store tour as before?

AP: At the moment, we're not too sure. We're just kind of blundering along happily. We'll have to see.

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Copyright 2000 by Todd Bernhardt