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Last Updated:
Jan 21, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Andy discusses "I'd Like That"

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "I'd Like That", is from 1999's Apple Venus, Vol. 1.

TB: Let's talk about the single from Apple Venus, "I'd Like That." This is something you're prouder of than "Are You Receiving Me?"

AP: Oh yeah, much prouder. Much prouderer. Much proudericious! I have prideosity. [laughs] That sounds like I'm speaking from the book of Bush-speak here -- [affects Southern-fool drawl] "I have much prideosity and priderfication in it!" What was it, on the cover of Private Eye magazine recently? Bush is writing a thank-you note, [same voice] "Dear Leader of Iraqland, thank you for hanging Saddam for me for Christmas. It was just what I wanted."

Yeah, "I'd Like That" is a song that came up just before, or sort of around the time, I was visiting the brand-new love of my life, Erica. I was asked if I would co-write with Nicky Holland, the singer-songwriter piano player -- and rather talented arranger, actually. I remember going down to her apartment in the Tribeca area in New York. I brought up a couple of ideas -- one of them was this song, which I had been kicking around for myself. As I was bringing it up and strumming it to her, I was thinking, "Shit, I really like this! I really don't want to give this away." I sort of purposely changed the subject and moved on to something else, because I think, just performing it in her bedroom -- don't ask! [laughs] -- that's where the piano was...

TB: [laughs] Of course! That's where it always is...

AP: [laughing] Performing it in her bedroom, I was thinking to myself, "Shit, this is too good to give away, I'm going to finish it off myself."

But the song actually came about because when I first got together with Erica, she bought me a bike, a beautiful 1950s-type, painted dark green. Really gorgeous, a really kind of classical-looking push bike, you know? Basket on the front, and a bell that rings, and things to make it look good! And I bought her one, too -- she had a yellow one with a basket, and I had this dark green one.

We'd go out cycling together, and I thought this was great! We'd be cycling, and I'd be sort of humming along, "I like this, hmmm hmmm hmmm." We'd never go too far, you know -- we'd just go down some little country lane nearby, and sort of jump over the hedge and lay on the grass and look at the sky for a bit.

And that's why there is a bit of a cycling undertow in the whole song. In fact, in the little breakdown pieces you can hear bicycle pedals being turned. In fact, it's the second song that we've ever done that featured feedback and bicycle pedals! The other one was "Bike Ride to the Moon."

TB: Oh, of course! It's interesting, because you've talked in the past about writing songs when you had your dog, Charlie Parker, and you'd get these walking rhythms in your head...

AP: Yep. "Humble Daisy" is a classic one of those. But this one came out more from the cycling thing. And of course it's in the lyrics -- "if we could cycle down some lane," you know. The bike on it is actually Colin's -- we recorded it in his hall.

Do you think it sounds a lot like McCartney? People say, "Ooh, it's a bit McCartneyfied."

TB: No, not really. People talk about you guys are so Beatle-esque, and quite frankly, I don't see it.

AP: We're probably as much Beatle-esque as we are a bit Kink-esque.

TB: Exactly. And I think it's people being lazy and wanting to put a label on you.

AP: Yeah. Because we're of a certain age, and we're English.

TB: And if they say you're Kinksalicious, then people wouldn't grab on to that as easily. People will say, who are the Kinks? Oh, "You Really Got Me"? They don't sound like that. But everyone knows the Beatles.

AP: Yeah. But the Beatles' sound changed a lot as they went along, the Kinks' sound changed a lot...

TB: And your sound has changed a lot.

AP: Exactly! I think every band that hangs together for a while, it mutates and gets into different areas, you know.

TB: So, who's your favorite Beatle?

AP: George. [pause] Martin. [laughs]

TB: [laughs] Seriously?

AP: They wouldn't have sounded anything like they did if it wasn't for George Martin.

TB: Well, that's true! That's absolutely true.

AP: It's true, but I'm being facetious. I think George Martin is incredibly important, but Paul is probably my favorite, because after about 1965 I think he was the powerhouse behind the band, whereas Lennon seemed to give up. I think you can see that arc -- Lennon is pushing, pushing, pushing until the Beatles are a real big hit, and then he sort of gives up, and kind of hands over the reigns to McCartney.

TB: So, you've had that Beatles-esque label applied to this song...

AP: Yeah, maybe they think the leg-slapping is like something from The White Album, or whatever. The leg slapping is because I didn't know what to do percussion-wise, and I thought, "Well, maybe it should be a really muffled snare, just rolling along." Then I thought, "I can't do that with a drum machine, it'll just sound horrible for the demo, so I'll just hit my legs!" So, for the demo, I just put a mic about six inches above my legs, and hit them.

When I played the demo to [producer] Hayden [Bendall], he said, "Oh, that's good. Is that you hitting your legs?" I said, "Yeah, but we'll put something else in there." He said, "I really like that! We should keep that." And it kind of became a little feature of it. It became the propulsion -- that and a bass drum.

TB: Did you have [drummer] Prairie [Prince] do the part on his legs on the finished song, or is that you?

AP: No, those are actually my legs. I did that in Colin's front room. I also played the guitar in Colin's hallway -- because he's got a tiled hallway. Or he did have -- he's moved now. The house that he's just left was built around about the same time as mine was. He had exactly the same Edwardian tiles in his hall as I've got in mine!

TB: Same pattern?

AP: Same pattern, same make, probably the same company in Swindon that made them. We had a mixing desk set up in the front room on the left, as you look at his house. And the cables would either go out to the microphones in the hallway -- because of the tiles, it was more live -- or we'd drag the microphone a little farther into the other front room, on the right-hand side. That would have an amp in it, and we'd also do vocals and stuff in there. It had a deader sound, because there were settees and curtains and stuff.

But I did the acoustic guitar in the hallway. The guitar sounded great, really zingy -- new strings on the Martin, really zinging off those tiles and the hard surfaces and stuff. I remember sitting facing the front door, and I got about two-thirds of the way through the song and thought, "Shit, this is a great take! I just hope his wife doesn't come through the door right now!" I knew she was out shopping, or with her mother or something. I thought, "If she comes through the front door now, I don't think I'm ever going to be able to get this groove as good again!" [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Which, of course, can be the end of playing a groove well! Once conscious thought really enters into it...

AP: Yeah! I'm sat there, facing the front door, it's about two foot away from me, and I thought, "If I see a little dark figure approaching the glass of the door there, I'm sunk, because she'll put the key in, and come in, and I'll just have to stop."

But my luck held, and we cut the guitar in the hall, and like I said, we did the bike pedals in there as well. Turned the bike upside-down, put a mic on it, and Colin played it! I sat with [producer] Nick [Davis] in the front room at the mixing desk, and it was a case of, "Okay, try it." He did a take, then it was a case of "Okay, try one more, going from faster to slower," "Now try slower to faster," and all that.

We also did this thing in one of the kind of climb-up parts, where people are not sure whether it's a slide guitar. It's actually a part that we worked out with a slide guitar, playing these chords [sings climbing chords behind the "We'd laugh because..." part] -- we found out what the notes were, and I got Colin to track up his voice and hold his nose and impersonate a slide guitar. I think we probably even did it down a toilet-roll holder as well, to make it more nasal! Then we'd find out what the next note in the chord would be, and he'd track up a few of those, then the next note, which he'd track up -- so it's like a dozen Colins holding his nose singing down a toilet-roll holder, pretending to be a Hawaiian guitar. Do you know the sound I mean?

TB: [laughing] Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about! Well, that's a good segue, since I wanted to ask about the vocals, which are beautiful and very layered -- you obviously spent a lot of time and paid a lot of attention to them. Otherwise, the instrumentation is fairly spare.

AP: It's very sparse instrumentally, yeah. When you are sparse instrumentally, you can then put in all the little vocal touches. And I love, I've never gotten over the thing of the answering vocal -- or the counter vocal-line motif -- talking to the main singer, as if in conversation.

TB: And this song is of course a great example of that.

AP: "I'd like that" -- "What would you like?" -- you know, the backing vocals are actually in conversation with the lead vocals.

TB: What' s your inspiration for that?

AP: It's purely a Beatle thing. They got into it all over the Pepper album. There are things like "Getting Better" -- "Getting better all the time," "Can't get no worse." Or, "With a Little Help from my Friends." That whole song is a question-and-answer conversation.

TB: Call-and-response, yeah.

AP: Yeah. That really bit me as a kid, when I heard that. And "I'd Like That" was a good chance to do it, because of its sparseness. I'd already had that planned -- if you hear the demo, all those responses are in place.

TB: And the demo's quite close to this, but you make it bigger and more lush.

AP: Yeah. I think the middle bit works better as well, because we go into that sort of fairground thing, with the pipe organ, which was played by Nick Davis -- because Colin and I are just too damn slow at the changes on a keyboard to be able to play anything like that. We could sit and vamp on one or two chords, but these chords are quite complex, with lots of changes.

TB: And there's that descending line...

AP: There you go. I never would have got that in a million years. So I showed Nick what to play, and then as he was playing it, I fucked up the tuning. It was done on a Proteus, with a flute sound, but it was done under a heading where you can actually make each note any tuning you want. It's called "user tuning." And what you do is, you actually mess up the tuning so each note is slightly out of tune with the next one, instead of being what they call a "well-tempered keyboard." And you do that on purpose, and it has a certain effect. I mean, you play a Mellotron, and that's what it sounds like in any case. The notes are not in relation to each other properly, which is the appeal of the Mellotron. It sounds dreamlike.

TB: The notes beat against each other.

AP: The notes beat, and they sound a bit weird and out. And so, as Nick played it, I played around with the user tuning, and got it to be -- how shall I say? -- sort of satisfactorily sour enough. It wasn't so sour that it was like, "Oh god, stop." It was just sour enough so that there a little too much tang in the lemonade, or something.

TB: Sure, and it wasn't saccharine-sweet, either. You gave it some bite.

AP: That's right. I love that with keyboards. I really don't like keyboards that are in tune. This is something that's come on over the years. I think keyboards that are slightly out, or that have a slightly different relationship between the keys are much more interesting and much more beautiful.

Really, in the middle section of "I'd Like That," I took it into the fairground for one reason -- I had it in my head that when I sang about how my smile would make my face crack in two, and you hear that crack -- I really love the sound of when you're firing an air rifle in a fun fair, and they always have a metal plate behind the clay pipes you're shooting -- and so you fire, and you hear this crack ... pang! I love that sound. And I knew that I wanted that sound when I sing about my face cracking in two, so it was that suggestion of "Let's make a fairground air-gun punctuation there" that led to the whole, let's do the whole fairground character of the middle section.

TB: Sure, it provides a justification for that sound.

AP: The justification and the background for that air-rifle p-TANG. And that was done with Mrs. Moulding's tea tray! A spoon on a tea tray.

TB: Really? I thought it was a sample of a whip-crack or something.

AP: Nope, we got a metal tea tray out of the kitchen and hit it with a spoon.

TB: [laughing] This was a homegrown operation!

AP: It really was, yeah! That whole album goes from the sublime -- a 40-piece orchestra in Abbey Road Studio 1 -- to the ridiculous --Colin and I recording drips of water in a washing-up bowl on our knees in his front room!

TB: Let's talk about the lyrics a little bit, because this is a very tightly written piece of poetry, I think. You can tell you put thought into every line.

AP: I like the lyrics. The writing of the song is -- how shall I say -- mischievous. Because you're doing these couples, and...

TB: There are a lot of sexual innuendos.

AP: Yeah, lots of those, and also the mischief of, what's the Nelson bit?

TB: "If I could row your heart and head/with you laid on one arm."

AP: "With you laid on one arm" -- because Nelson only had one arm! So obviously, that's where Lady Hamilton is going to lay her head, is on one arm.

TB: And then there's the sexual innuendo of "laid," of course...

AP: Of course.

TB: And "each stroke would make me grow up really high"...

AP: [chuckles] Exactly. Pure filth. A single entendre!

TB: [laughing] Now, how did the sunflower image reveal itself to you? Is that what drove the lyrics, or did it follow?

AP: Well, originally the song didn't sound like that. It was a little more miserable, and slower, and was called either "Sunflower" or "As High as a Sunflower." But it didn't really go anywhere, and it wasn't until I got into that whole cycling rhythm that it started to come alive. But it started life as either "Sunflower" or "As High as a Sunflower."

TB: So you had a set of lyrics that centered around the sunflower, and then you added the "I'd Like That" parts?

AP: Yeah, and I trimmed off the sunflower stuff more, and just kept the idea that the flower was the example of the high, radiant, shining thing. Our neighbor two doors away grew a ludicrously large sunflower that was about 12 foot high. I remember it sort of peeking at me, and thinking, "Yeah, there it is."

I also enjoyed the end of the song -- you know, where it gets all Flamenco. Or flamingo-y.

TB: What prompted you to do that? Was it a natural extension of slapping the legs?

AP: I think I wanted to do this little counter-rhythm with the handclaps, and the nature of that suggested that maybe the guitar should have more of a Flamenco feel to it. It sort of all suggested itself, if you know what I mean. But it's one of those songs where the little pieces make it, because the actual cake itself is quite plain and quite simple. It's the little decorations on top that really make it zing.

5:48 PM

©2007 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.