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Last Updated:
Jul 22, 2007

August 19, 2007 - Sunday


Andy discusses "All of a Sudden (It's Too Late)"

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, "All of a Sudden (It's Too Late)," is from 1982's English Settlement.

TB: You've told me that you're not sure you have a lot to say about "All of a Sudden." Why not?

AP: I don't know! I actually don't remember much about the writing of it, other than I found this chord change -- let's see if I can reproduce it [plays] -- I'm playing sort of a D chord, and adding in a G-flat, which is fine as a root, but then also adding in a D-flat as a root, which makes it sound sort of hopeless. As in a no-hope kind of mood, rather than not very well thought-out! The song fell out quite quickly from that.

TB: So it obviously must have tapped into something that you were thinking or feeling at the time.

AP: Probably, yeah. Occasionally you get a song that does that -- it'll kind of break through the skin of some kind of boil that's kind of festering away there, and without knowing it, you can tap out all this stuff that's been hidden there -- "Oh, that's better!" And I guess this one did it. It's a very pessimistic song! There's not much hope in it, actually. It's slightly preachy -- it kind of says we've got to get our shit together, you know...

TB: It's always struck me as a very pensive song, but the bridge seems more hopeful and optimistic, in a way, because you're saying, "Life is not this way, you've got to do a little bit of work"...

AP: Well, I'm sort of laying out these negative options, hoping that that very act will make you think about the positive side.

I heard the thing for the first time in years today, and I'm always left thinking, "God, this is too long!"

TB: Really?

AP: Yeah. I think it could have been better-structured. Like, there's no reason for all that kind of jungle-drums rhythm stuff before the song starts. If I was producing a band now, and they came up with that song, I'd say, "Look, after you've done your guitar intro, straight in with the song! Why do you need to have so many bars of just paddling around this rhythm?"

TB: Because it sounds beautiful!

AP: It's nicely recorded, and nicely played, but I don't know if it adds anything to the song as such. I was left thinking today, "God, this is a bit too long, isn't it." And it is actually quite a long song -- isn't it four-minutes-something?

TB: It's actually a little over five minutes.

AP: Well, there you go. Too damn long. You know, on that album, we did cut down a lot of tracks, even after they were recorded. We took about a minute out of "Melt the Guns," and I think we took about the same amount out of "Jason and the Argonauts."

TB: It's in those middle parts, where you guys were stretching out?

AP: Yeah.

TB: Was that because you were still playing live back then, and you liked having middle parts that you could stretch out on?

AP: I think it was a combination of "Ooh, this might be nice to have fun with live," but it was also the fact that those two songs weren't bashed into shape live.

Certain songs, when you play them live, you learn about them, and when you come to record them, you say, "Okay, we've learned that this sounds better done like that, more concise done like that." "Snowman" was one of those. That was played live for a while on tour before it was recorded. "English Roundabout" was played live on tour. I think "Ball and Chain" was as well.

You get to know a song when you kick it around live. "All of a Sudden" wasn't played live, it was really brought up, and just "became" in the studio, if you see what I mean. Those were the days when we had very little time to write, very little time to rehearse, and very little time to record. I think this whole double album was recorded and mixed in five weeks.

TB: Wow. This album was the set-up for what was going to be your first "stadium tour" as headliners -- I thought that one of the reasons it was a double album was because at least you had the luxury to spend a little more time writing and recording. It also seemed like you were taking a little more control, since you co-produced, with Hugh Padgham.

AP: Unless Dave or Colin can tell you otherwise, I seem to remember the figure of about five weeks -- which was about the same time we took to do Black Sea.

TB: Why do you think you were so much more prolific on this, creating a double album rather than a single, in the same amount of time?

AP: [sighs] I think I'd decided that I didn't want to tour. And that took off some sort of mental padlock. It was like, "No, you haven't got to reproduce any of this stuff, don't worry if it's acoustic instruments, or keyboards, or whatever." And then, when that padlock was taken off with the English Settlement album, it stayed off -- so on Mummer there are more exotic textures of instruments, and on Big Express even more, and so on. It opened my brain up.

Like I've said to people, believe it of not, we actually became a lot better when we stopped touring! The pressure to reproduce this stuff live was gone.

TB: It's interesting to hear that you'd decided this beforehand, because if you listen to the arrangements on this album, they're still all reproducible by a four-piece band live.

AP: They are! But, the very fact that I thought to myself, "Okay, I want to stop touring," gave me license to do things, like play a lot of acoustic guitar, which would be no good live. We weren't a live acoustic-guitar group.

TB: Sure. And it certainly wasn't what was being done by others at the time.

AP: Right. Or Colin didn't like to play the fretless live. So he played it on the album, but he played the fretted bass live. Or, "Get a fretted bastard, Moulding!" That was the call if he was ever out of tune. "Oh, for Christ's sake, Moulding, get a fretted bastard!" [laughs]

TB: [laughs] I have some confusion about this, because I thought what sounds like a fretless bass on the albums is actually his Newport bass.

AP: Well, the Newport sounds like an upright bass, but it has frets on it.

TB: Right. But he actually had a fretless bass?

AP: He had a fretless bass. I can't remember what make it was, but he played that a lot on English Settlement. And you can hear it on "All of a Sudden" as well, because sometimes he doesn't quite hit the note, but he makes a valiant attempt.

TB: Which actually adds to the character of the song, I think.

AP: Yeah, it does. It adds a certain kind of [laughs] misery to it, actually. Or a "pensive" quality, as you said.

TB: Let's talk about the drum part a little bit, because it's one of the things that I love about the song. For example, I love the way puts his foot down on the hi-hat on the "three" while playing the toms...

AP: I like the fact that the part is so lumpen. He's kind of plugged into this strange, hopeless drudgery in the drums. I think the drumming makes the sentiment of the song as much as the sad and hopeless guitar parts, and the lyrics.

TB: It's an interesting mix of low and high stuff -- he's riding on the floor tom and accenting on the rack toms, and there's that hi-hat "chick" on the three and the cymbal hits, but there's no snare, so there's a big gap between the low toms and the high metal sounds, and that of course is what you guys are filling up with your instruments.

AP: Yeah, that's true. It's nicely drudgey, recorded in the stone room in the back of The Manor studio.

TB: How did you bring this song to the band? Was the arrangement something that you guys all came up with together?

AP: Do you know, I honestly can't remember! This song is like a hole in my memory. It's one of the songs that I was kind of dreading you asking me about, because I really can't think of much about it! It's almost as if it just fell out and got recorded, and off it went. And that was it. I didn't have time to own it, if that makes any sense.

TB: I understand. Did you guys ever do this live?

AP: I don't think we did. I know we made a video for it.

TB: Yeah, I wanted ask about that.

AP: There was some talk about it being a single in America. I thought, "Wow! This is actually one of the more unusual tracks on the album, and they're thinking about it as a single! [enthusiastic voice] Well, sure we'll do a video!"

Not knowing, of course, that we were the mugs that were paying for it. God, I was so fucking naive! "How nice of them to give us this caviar!"

TB: [laughing] That you bought...

AP: [Godlike voice] You'll pay...

So yeah, we did this video for it, and Terry wasn't around. He was kind of on paid leave, off to Australia with his brand-new wife -- she might have still been his girlfriend at the time. He went there for quite a few months, still drawing the rather pitiful wages that we were on. We were kind of thinking, "Is he ever coming back? We're still paying him!" I think he was trying to think of a way to tell us that he really couldn't be in the band anymore.

When we did this video, it was a case of, "Oh, crickey, we haven't got a drummer!" And Dave said, "I wonder if Ian will do it?" Ian Gregory.

TB: So that was his first appearance with the band.

AP: The future Duke! E.I.E.I. Owen's first look-in on the band. And we thought, "Oh, people are going to know it's not Terry, so let's not show him. Let's just show a shadow of him." So, in that video, he's just shown in shadow.

TB: And did the video ever get any play on MTV or other outlets at the time?

AP: No, I don't think so! It's on YouTube. But it never was a single in the States after all. It was one of those things of, "Let's get the band to make a video ... nah, I think we've changed our minds, it's not a single after all, is it? How stupid of us!" So it was just shelved, and I don't think many people got to see it. Maybe it got played on MTV once or twice, you know, but I wouldn't know. I never watched MTV.

TB: Right. Let's talk about the instrumentation a little bit, and who's doing what. You're playing acoustic...

AP: I'm playing acoustic, yep.

TB: Dave's playing 12-string...

AP: Dave's playing 12-string, rather precisely, which is very good. I love Dave's little intermediate bits between the vocal lines. He's very good at that kind of answering with the guitar.

That was his new instrument, so it had to be on everything, you know? You get like that. In fact, on that album, we all bought new instruments. I think Terry got a big, deep military snare. Looks like a tom-tom, you know, but it's a snare. That was his new toy for a while. I got a new acoustic guitar, Dave got a 12-string, and Colin got the fretless bass.

We treated ourselves to the Prophet-5 synthesizer, which was a polyphonic five-note synth. So yeah, we had a new arsenal, so it was a case of, "Our new toys have got to go on these tracks!"

TB: Your palette was expanding.

AP: Yeah! Very much so. But also, like I said, my state of mind was expanding. It was a case of, "Right, we haven't got to reproduce this live, because I'm going to convince the band not to tour." But the buggers wouldn't listen to me!

TB: [laughs] You must have enjoyed having the 12-string as a choice in your arrangements...

AP: Yeah, it was like a new color. And it harkened back to a lot of music that I liked as a kid -- you know, the '60s stuff -- The Byrds, and The Hollies, and stuff like that. I thought it blended really nicely, because I wanted to put acoustic guitar on a lot of stuff, and Colin had this slidey, snakey, fretless bass, and to some extent, I think we invented some of the bands that came later! You know, Aztec Camera owe a lot to the English Settlement album.

TB: Oh yeah, it was a tremendously influential album.

AP: I mean, I remember not long after that reading all these reviews of Aztec Camera, and they were raving about this new acoustic-rock direction. And I thought, "The fuckers! Have they not heard English Settlement?"

But it was a good area to go in, a good new way for us to branch out. Like I said, I was convinced I was being let off the reins here, and no more would I want go back on the reins. In fact, I only went back on them momentarily until I could take it no more.

TB: Is there anything that immediately stands out for you when you listen to the song?

AP: It's one of the deaths of my early-album voice. You can hear the dying embers of my "trying too hard" voice.

TB: What do you mean?

AP: In the rather clipped way that I'm singing -- slightly too mannered, but not as mannered as I'd been on previous albums. But, for some reason, you can hear it quite a lot in this track. It's almost as if it was very inappropriate for this song. Hearing it today for the first time in ages, I thought, "That's your White Music, Go 2, Drums and Wires voice!" Even Black Sea, you know. But it is dying off, and this was almost like the last gasp of that voice. Because I was singing much more like me by this album.

TB: But by "mannered," you don't mean mild-mannered -- you mean "affected"?

AP: Yeah, slightly artificial -- forcing it. Whereas, I think on some songs on this album, and certainly after this album, I found my real voice. Everybody needs to find their real voice -- look at David Bowie's first few albums. He's Anthony Newley! It was the same for me. I think for the first couple of albums, I was a cross between Buddy Holly and Steve Harley!

TB: Although, for most of your career, one thing that's struck me about you as a singer is that you seem to really try to use your voice as an instrument, depending on the song and context, of course. This is a good example of that, because I think your vocals are fairly liquid on this -- you bend a lot of notes, and you're reinforcing the mournful quality of the song.

AP: Yet I was thinking today, a song of this nature, why didn't I just sing it straight, and a little more slightly hopeless. But maybe I still felt I had to inject a little life into what is an otherwise pessimistic, dark song.

TB: Maybe you were thinking of a live performance, and that you'd have to project your voice, so there's a bit of your bark in there?

AP: No, I think I was just learning to let go of the mannered voice -- the mannered "You won't forget me, because I'm going to come up with a voice that you won't forget." And it's still there in this song.

TB: Right, exactly. So, you have things like the fade-in "ai-ai-ai-ai" at the beginning, and after the bridge...

AP: Yeah, I think I stole that "I Can't Let Maggie Go," by Honeybus.

TB: There's also a lot of echo on your voice during the first and third lines of the verses...

AP: Yeah. Gives it that doom-y air.

TB: Let me also ask something about the vocal -- you know how, during the British Invasion, people would talk about how accents pretty much disappeared when someone sang? But on this song, it sounds as if you're almost emphasizing your accent. Was that intentional?

AP: I think I was just starting to relax a little, and getting to sing in my speaking voice. I think you can start to hear it creep in on Black Sea. It's in a lot more on this record, and then it really takes off from there on. Like I say, this song in particular seems to be a smattering of the old Andy, and a big dollop of the new, real, relaxed-that's-the-way-he-is Andy.

TB: One of the things I really like about this song, too, is how your voice jumps around melodically. Was that a conscious decision, or was this just a melody that felt right for the chords?

AP: I guess it was the melody that fell out with the chords. Sometimes even words suggest where you should go with a melody. You get a certain phrase, or even a certain word, and it suggests an interval or a note. Sometimes I'll hear a phrase of what someone has said on the TV or radio -- it's a really stupid thing to admit to -- and I'll try to break it up, and think, "What notes are they 'singing' when they say, 'Now, here's the news'?" [imitates the intervals in the inflections] It's a stupid little thing that goes through my head sometimes -- I can find the musicality in speech.

TB: Sure, because people will use different inflections on different parts of speech. For example, people will typically go a little bit higher to emphasize something. Even when you were describing what you do, you were doing it -- "what notes are they singing?" -- you started high, dipped down, then ended high again.

I was wondering this because the beginning of each verse in this song has some big jumps in it, and other songwriters might not have come up with a vocal line like that.

AP: Yeah, when you think of it, that's more like a brass line or something. Let me just look at the chords here [plays guitar and sings notes in vocal line]. F6, hmm! It goes from desperate to rather swish! [laughs, and plays the guitar chord for the "life's like jigsaw" part] E-minor 7th -- shit, what's the next chord? I dunno, forgot my chords! Because it doesn't have to stay in your performing repertoire, you see. All the songs you learn to play live, they're hammered in there. I'll never forget them. But the ones that -- like I say, this one came and went so quickly...

TB: All of a sudden!

AP: [laughs] All of a sudden! Literally, you put the guitar down after you've recorded, it's still warm, but you've forgotten how to play it!

TB: There's something to be said for that spontaneity -- you capture a moment -- but you also wonder if you did the best interpretation of the song, or if you could have done better. As you were talking about before.

AP: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, I think it's too damn long. I would have edited it.

TB: It's interesting to hear you say that, you know, because this is sacred text as far as I'm concerned. It's perfect! Shut up!

AP: [laughs] Yeah, those Dead Sea Scrolls -- you could have made them shorter! I want a single edit, dammit!

9:11 AM

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