XTC's Blogs

XTC
XTCFans


Last Updated:
1/26/2009


Monday, January 26, 2009

 

Colin discusses 'The Meeting Place'

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Colin Moulding about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "The Meeting Place," is from 1987's Skylarking.

Psychic Pswede Per was the first to correctly guess the meeting place where Todd used to meet friends for food and drinks after work during earlier daze. Must be those long nights and hot saunas that have opened his third eye.

Let's see if he can guess this one -- we'll be back in two weeks with an Andyview about a song he originally wrote for a movie.


TB: What prompted you to write "The Meeting Place"?

CM: A cozy riff, I think!

TB: That circular guitar riff that you have throughout the song?

CM: Yes, it just seemed very nursery-rhyme-ish. It reminded me of a Toytown kind of setting -- a childish, nursery-rhyme, bell-like, small town riff. As if you were looking down on Toytown, and it was me in the landscape, meeting my wife beside the factory or something, in our teens.

TB: Had you been in situations like that?

CM: Yeah. It's essentially me and my wife. I don't usually write about specific people or things. I think songs are like dreams -- you know, you get intangibles cropping up. You think, "What the hell's he doing here?" [laughs] For me, songs are made of things like that -- they're not made up of specific people. They can be, obviously, but in my case, they're not. If you take an example like "Dying" -- I've had people come up to me and say, "It's about your dad, isn't it?" And I'll say, "Well, no, not specifically. He's in there, but we used to have an old chap who lived next door to us, and there's a lot of him in there, too." It's a mish-mash of different people who make up the scene. I don't think I usually write about specific situations.

I don't have much control over it, I think. The words come out -- they come from your subconscious and you examine them afterwards, and find a reason for writing it. I think if you were in the room when somebody was discovering a song, and they started to kind of hum and sing different words, and you asked them, "What's it going to be about, then?", I don't think they'd really honestly have a clue. I think it falls on to the page, and then you make of it what you will.

TB: So, the process of songwriting for you is a process of discovery?

CM: Yeah. You don't know specifically what it's going to be about, but when you pick the bones, you can say, "Oh yes, I see where this is going," and then you know why it came about.

TB: Once you've found that direction, are you saying you can then guide it to completion?

CM: You could guide it to finish it off, I suppose. I know what you're saying. But I don't like to manhandle it that way. Sometimes I'll just say, "Well, it's not finished at the moment. I daresay the subconscious will buck its ideas up and we'll finish it off when these missing words spring forward." Otherwise, it takes on a different flavor to what's already gone down. It usually ends up too literal if you try to finish it off with what you think, you know? I prefer when it's slightly ambiguous, and that ambiguous stuff really springs from the subconscious.

TB: And the kind of ambiguity you're talking about can help provide some depth to the lyrics, I would think.

CM: They're always more thoughtful when they don't come from your sense of reasoning. I've come to accept that now. I didn't use to accept that -- I thought you could surely write a song without having to wait for divine intervention, you know. But I've done that, and the songs haven't been as good. I much prefer to kind of wait until it's flowing and strike while the iron's hot.

TB: So, you found this circular guitar riff, and it made you think of Toytown...

CM: And I was in the landscape. A bit like "Sacrificial Bonfire" -- I'm describing a landscape, and I'm in there, along with the missus. She used to have a job at a printer's, actually. I would meet her for lunch. We'd go to the pub, and perhaps go to the park bench and have a bit of a funny five minutes, you know [laughs].

TB: [laughing] Make each other late for work.

CM: That kind of thing, yeah. The whole thing about being "late for 1:30" is etched on my mind, I think. At school, you know -- you knew you had to be back at school for 1:30, and when you didn't make it, you'd think, "Let's play hooky -- let's not go back." That feeling of fear that makes your balls go tight. [laughs]

TB: [laughs] Exactly! A mixture of fear and a desire for freedom -- the thrill of it.

CM: Yeah, fear and thrill mixed together. It's the sensation I get when I go on an airplane. I'm thrilled by it, but scared.

TB: Yeah, because you can't help thinking, "Only one little thing needs to go wrong here."

CM: Yeah. But I love the thrill of flying -- being up high, and the views, and even the taking off -- it's exhilarating but frightening.

TB: I was listening to the demo as well as the finished version of this song, and noticed quite a few differences between the two versions, of course, though I was struck by how almost complete the arrangement is, certainly the vocal arrangement. One of the differences I noticed was that the keys are different -- I think the studio version is a half- or full-step lower than the demo. Whose choice was that?

CM: My Portastudio was probably on vari-speed, I think! [laughs]

TB: So you did play it in the same key?

CM: No, I think what it was, I got Andy to play the riff, which was probably in a different tuning.

TB: Do you normally play guitar in different tunings?

CM: Yeah, I love it. You're going to get something different if you do that. I think I went through a 10-year period where if you picked up my guitar at home, it wouldn't have been standard tuning. I printed out an exercise book of different tunings -- things up one step, two steps, three steps, even some with tensions that [laughs] should not be given to strings! It's like having somebody on the rack.

It made it easier to find interesting chords or riffs. I haven't done that so much lately, but from about '85 through to past Nonsuch I did. It helped me find more interesting inversions of chords -- it's when you've got to get somebody to play those inversions on the keyboard that they start to cuss! [laughs] But if it sounds interesting, if it sounds good, that's all you need to know.

TB: So, you had Andy playing that riff...

CM: He played the riff on that, and Dave played piano.

TB: Did he also play some guitar? I noticed it's a mixture of acoustic and electric.

CM: Yeah.

TB: Did you play any guitar on it?

CM: I might have strummed a few chords here or there.

TB: I thought maybe it might have been you on the acoustic.

CM: Probably. It's all according to whether you're treading on anybody's toes [laughs]. If it sounds pretty full, and it fits the requirement of what you've got in your head, then there's really no need to [chuckles] move in on anybody's territory. You only do that if it's really lacking something -- you think, "Well, nobody else is doing it, I've got to do it meself in order to meet the requirement." But you don't seek it out.

TB: In listening to the keyboard part, I noticed it has a big chorus effect, and I was wondering if you had a specific type of sound in mind for that -- if there was an influence or something else you were going for. Or maybe it was something that [producer] Todd [Rundgren] suggested?

CM: I'm not quite sure whether Todd had much to do with "The Meeting Place," to be honest, because it was fairly well formed -- three parts of it is the riff, anyway. As for the keyboard, I think Dave probably took the intervals that I played in the demo and kind of ran with it, you know?

TB: Did you guys rehearse this song before you went over to Todd's place in Woodstock?

CMThat was the problem with the whole record. Before we got on the plane, everybody was saying, "Well, we won't rehearse, because he'll only change it anyway!" So I thought, "Alright, we won't rehearse then." And then we got over there, and I realized, "I don't knowany of these songs!" [laughs] "Nobody's told me the chords! What'll we do?" Todd said, "We'll have a little run-through, then," and I thought, "Oh. Bloody hell."

Nobody seemed to know what was going on -- all I had was Andy's demos.

TB: [laughing] Had you had a chance to play along with those?

CM: No! Nothing. I just enjoyed them for what they were, and I didn't play with them, because everybody kept saying, "There's no point in rehearsing!"

TB: So you guys already knew that Todd was going to play a significant role, more than you guys had been used to in the past with producers, in the arrangements of the songs?

CM: When he rang up and said, "Look, I've got a running order for you chaps," I thought, "Blimey. What's Partridge gonna make of that?" [laughs] I thought it a bit odd -- "Christ, we've never had that before. This guy is really taking the bull by the horns." At the same time, I thought, "Maybe this is good! Maybe it's what's needed." Because everybody at Virgin was getting a little bit assey that we hadn't had a hit in a while, and here was this chap who was going to show us the way, you know? And he did a bloody good job, I have to say.

But I suspected, from that point, that there would be a lot more interfering. That was still while we were in England -- he was ringing up and showing us running orders and stuff. That's why we didn't rehearse. But, thinking about it, I should have acquainted myself a little bit better with what was going to happen! I think I could have learned the chords, at least. But I was assured by the others that there was no point [laughs], so I didn't bother.

Of course, not many of the chords got changed -- it was more the arrangements and the additions. String arrangements in particular. But the basic layout of the songs and the chord structure pretty much stayed the same.

TB: There's something to be said, I guess, for the spontaneity that can sometimes come out of not rehearsing, but if you feel adrift, that's another matter entirely.

CM: Yeah. I think we should have rehearsed more, throughout our career. I think we would have then been perhaps a bit more satisfied with going for the first take, as opposed to more-analytical behavior.

The two methods of working -- Andy's method and Todd's method -- were just totally different. Andy's is more analytical, and sometimes you can hit take 25, where all spirit and gusto has gone out of the performance and you hope to come round the other end and get it again, whereas Todd's was kind of, "Let's go for it -- if we get it on the run-through, and it's not quite right, but the spirit's there, we'll keep it. Don't worry too much about the mistakes, as long as it's got the general spririt."

TB: It's interesting to hear your perspective on this, because one of the things Andy has said, in terms of his frustrations with the Skylarking sessions, was that you guys had worked out a flat fee with Todd, so it was in Todd's interest to kind of rush things along.

CM: I don't believe that was the only reason. You could tell, that was his working method. He liked to do it because he's of the opinion -- and I think I am as well -- that the best take is where the band is running through while the engineer's trying to get a sound! That's the take that should be recorded, you know.

TB: Because everyone's fresh.

CM: Everyone's fresh, and everyone's not got "red-light fever." They're not worried about whether they're going to make a mistake or not when the red light goes on.

TB: Right. Fresh and relaxed.

CM: Relaxed and they're just doing their thing -- not self-consciously so, and that's where it lies. That's the magic, right there. I think, when you become more conscious of yourself doing it, your performance gets worse.

TB: Let's talk about your bass part. On the demo, you've got a different ending to the song, and the bass only shows up there. Was that the way you were thinking the finished product was going to be?

CM: I'll tell you where I got that from. Do you know "The Scarecrow" by Pink Floyd? At the end of that song, there's a kind of jangly guitar, and the bass goes [imitates slide up neck]. You'd have to listen to it. When I heard that, I thought, "I really like that swooping end. Where can I do that?" [laughs] So, I stuck it on at the end of the demo. We didn't use it, anyway -- it was just something that I did on the demo that "Scarecrow" compelled me to do.

When we got making the record, it cleared everything out, you know? When it's recorded crystal-clear, and there's no mush in there, you realize that there's room for more things. I can't remember, honestly, what idea I had in my mind about how the bass would go. But I think when I heard the track in glorious hi-fi over Todd's system, it triggered something else. I went down a different path with how I thought a bass possibly could fit in.

It's strange, when the band gets hold of a song, how it does change. I didn't envisage, at the beginning, that there would be that much of a bass part -- I thought, "Well, let's just keep it from sounding tinny." But hearing the riff at Woodstock, it was quite evident that I'd have to come up with some bass to play against that. And the bass is pretty good, I think.

TB: Oh, it's a great part. Very distinctive, and an integral part of the song, which is why I was kind of surprised it wasn't like that on the demo.

CM: I didn't think it was integral to showing the band how the song went. As long as they could hear the riff and the tune, then the demo didn't have to be that polished.

TB: So when you realized that you needed to flesh out the part for the studio, did you hear the part in your head, or did you just sit down and mess around until you came up with something that was a good counterpoint to the guitar riff?

CM: What I used to do was take my Portastudio to most of my sessions. You get an update from the desk on to the Portastudio, and then you could play along in your room, and work something out. I remember doing that quite a bit over the years.

TB: Speaking of working in your room, I know from my discussions with Andy about living conditions at Woodstock, that they weren't ideal. There wasn't a lot to do while you weren't working, since you were out in the woods, right?

CM: Yeah, I remember when we got there, Todd wasn't there -- he was at the World's Fair, in Vancouver, I think. We were there for three or four days, just twiddling our thumbs [laughs], in the middle of the hills -- it was early spring, and the leaves even weren't on the trees yet -- in Todd's guest house for bands. I mean, there was plenty of room -- it was just old-fashioned. A New England kind of wooden house.

I think it had mice! They used to patter about the place while you were trying to get to sleep, you know [laughs]. And bands exaggerate, don't they.

TB: [laughing] Well, it makes a better story, doesn't it?

CM: Exactly! It makes good copy. But it wasn't too bad.

TB: You mentioned "The Scarecrow" as an influence for your bass part. Were there any other songs that acted as influences on this? There's obviously a touch of Psychedelia here.

CM: Yes, I was becoming very enamored with Syd Barrett. During the first Dukes [of Stratosphear] sessions, I was played "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," Pink Floyd's first record, and I remember thinking it was quite different -- it took a lot of chances. Syd Barrett has this thing where the meter of the song is just the length of his sentence -- there are no straight meters. When he stops singing, that's the end of the bar. I got a little bit into that on "Find the Fox." His approach seemed very free-form to me. I thought it was a very interesting way of writing a song, and I suppose it rubbed off on me for this record.

Of course, we'd done the Dukes' first project by then. There had been a track by a fellow called Nick Nicely, a psychedelic pastiche, that I think might have prompted Andy to get a move on to do the Dukes thing, you know, because somebody was encroaching on his territory! [laughs] I thought it was a pretty interesting genre of writing -- the drone, for example. Just start with a drone, and see where it goes. And stuff like "See My Friends, " by The Kinks. I think quite a lot of groups during that era kind of dabbled with this style of music. The Hollies did a bit of that, too.

TB: Which you later emulated with "Vanishing Girl," right?

CM: Well, sort of. Our scope had widened by the second Dukes album -- we included Pop as well, I suppose. I think we were going more for a '60s blend rather than a pure psychedelic blend.

As I say in the sleeve notes of the reissues that are coming out, I didn't write specifically for the Dukes. It was more, "Let's see if we can psychedelicize what I've got hanging around on tape."

TB: One of the things that I noticed about "The Meeting Place" is that you allow your accent to be a little obvious. Was that part of the psychedelic influence as well? Was it intentional?

CM: It never occurred to me, actually. If the accent comes through, it's something I'm not going to worry about. I quite like the fact that accents do come out, occasionally. It can add to the flavor of the song.

TB: So it was just a matter of what you thought was right for the song?

CM: I just sang it, and it never occurred to me. In fact, you're the first one to say that my accent comes out on that -- to which I say, well, that's good then. I used to worry about whether my Wiltshire tones came out, but I really [laughs] don't give a damn about it now. Too late in the day to worry about that!

TB: [laughing] Exactly. I know you typically like to lay down your bass part last, but given that you guys recorded this both in Woodstock and in San Francisco, were you able to do that? [Drummer] Prairie [Prince] didn't put on his part until you'd gone to San Francisco -- had you already recorded your bass part?

CM: No, we hadn't done a thing! In fact, we just booked tape space -- that's all we were doing for about three weeks at Woodstock. Just measuring it all out -- the arrangements and what would go where. We really didn't get down to the meat and potatoes until we got to San Francisco.

TB: Interesting -- I thought you guys had recorded some tracks when you were in Woodstock before you went to San Francisco.

CM: I think there was some percussion that went down, but that was all. So, I did two or three tracks of bass in San Francisco, and then the rest when we got back to Woodstock.

TB: Obviously you guys enjoyed working with Prairie, since you had him back for Apple Venus.

CM: Yeah. He was Todd's choice, and a very good choice. He's a good drummer -- very solid. No problems. Nice guy, to boot. [laughs] Let's boot this guy! Give him a good kicking.

TB: [laughing] That is a strange expression, isn't it?

CM: It really is!

TB: You talked about some percussion stuff being done in Woodstock, so does that mean you'd laid down the industrial noises that form the backbone of "The Meeting Place"? There's that clip-clop in the beginning, then the Hooter, then it gets into the steam valves releasing and the machines banging away in time.

CM: Swindon is -- well, it was -- an industrial railway town. Todd had this Fairlight that he had a lot of sounds in -- a whole library of sounds that we could use, and he was a good wizard with it. We also used it on "Summer's Cauldron." Noises that would give the flavor of the song, but were in rhythm as well. I think it was Dave who had a tape of the Hooter, which we put on -- and which no longer sounds in the town.

TB: Is this something you guys sat around and did together, or did Todd program it? I know that Todd would sometimes go back to his house and do arrangements or programming and present it to you guys.

CM: Well, you get the flavor of it, kind of, on the demo -- there's a very breathy "whoosh-chi-whoosh-whoosh-chi" pattern -- kind of a white noise, steam sound. I hadn't the tools to take it a stage further, but I think everybody grasped the route that it should go down. So, it was a matter of, "What have you got in your Fairlight, Mr. Todd?"

TB: You had some little drum machine for the demo?

CM: I think I might have done it by hand! We had this mini-Korg, a synth, and I think I played it manually. It didn't really need to anything really solid, because in a way the guitar keeps the rhythm -- the rotating riff.

TB: Let's talk about the lyrics on this song -- I find them very evocative.

CM: My wife was a smoker at the time, and I wasn't, and when you kiss somebody who's got smoky breath, especially when you're 17 or 18, you remember it! [laughs]

TB: I love the image of lying in the bracken wood, looking up at the chimneys, and the coat on the ground. The fact that you repeat "coat on the ground, coat on the ground" makes you think of somebody laying side-by-side with the two coats.

CM: Really?

TB: It did for me, anyway.

CM: It's good you get something different out of it. I'm too close to it now -- I can't get any more out of it. All that came about in its creation -- it's like reading a thing over and over again, you know?

What was that Country and Western song -- "Blanket on the Ground," by Billie Jo Spears? There's a little bit of that in there as well, I'd venture.

TB: In the liner notes for Coat of Many Cupboards, you mention "Factory Girl" as well.

CM: "Factory Girl," by the Stones. There's a little bit of that, yeah. When I used to go to my wife's house, when we were doing our courting, she used to play a lot of the Stones -- Beggar's Banquet and Satanic Majesties -- so there's probably a lot of that in there. Listening to Beggar's Banquet and "Factory Girl," whilst courting the factory girl!

TB: A lot of people have talked about Todd's concept for this album as being a song cycle that covers a summer's day. Is that the way you see it? Did you guys every talk to him about what exactly the concept is for Skylarking?

CM: No, I was just excited because he was excited about putting it together, as well as the way he was going to put it together. He said, "Yes, I see it now." And I thought, "Well, he sees it, so I'm not going to interfere with the way he sees it."

I like when someone else is excited enough about your stuff to want to put it together in their way. It's rather flattering when someone takes the trouble to do that. I was glad to be part of it.

TB: Were you familiar with Todd's work before you started working with him?

CM: No. I only knew of him because he produced the first New York Dolls album.

TB: But you hadn't heard any of his albums?

CM: No. I'd seen him on stage, on TV, with his Utopia stuff, and I thought it was way over the bastard top [laughs]. I thought, "This is what this fellow does, then -- guitar-solo land." Then Dave started playing me one or two things. I heard "I Saw the Light," and I thought, "Christ, that's a really good song!" I didn't know he had that side to him.

The other guys told me he'd been in a group called the Nazz, and that he produced people. Of course, I knew about the Dolls, and we were all very excited about "Jet Boy."

TB: So, you all packed your stack heels to bring with you to the U.S.? [laughs]

CM: [laughing] Well, we did have stack heels at one time! We just thought it was great to put that much crunch on a record, and here we were, going to work with the guy responsible for that sound.

But I originally wrote him off, I think, given what I'd seen on TV. I see now that there was a lot more to him than met the eye.

TB: Have you since listened to more of his stuff?

CM: No, I haven't. Music typically has to come to me -- I don't go out and seek it, because I make it. I'm not that inquisitive.

TB: Is that intentional on your part, that you want to keep your vision "pure"? I've talked to musicians on either side of that issue -- some people actively try not to listen to too many other things, because they feel like it will dilute their vision, whereas other people I know will try to listen to everything under the sun, to look for inspiration.

CM: I think I'm of the former camp -- I don't like to go out and openly seek something and really absorb it.

TB: Though, of course, you did a lot of that in your youth, as most people do.

CM: Absolutely, that's what I used to do. But I think it has to go through the system. I don't think you can listen to something, and then a week later write your masterpiece. It has to be digested and have the patina of the years, you know?

If my son sends me an MP3 and says, "What do you reckon of this?", course I'll listen to it then, but I don't openly go out and seek music. I think I've got enough going on inside of me. If you listen to too many things, you're going to come out with something that's not going to be particularly different. Orson Welles said something like, "The industry's full of too many people who know too much about filmmaking." It's the guys who don't know anything about it that I'm interested in.

TB: Yeah, the ones who make "mistakes."

CM: They're the ones who are going to end up making something revolutionary. People who are messing about in their bedroom, and such. I'm always wary when someone is an all-around musician, you know. It may be a string to his bow, but there are people out there who can't play very well, yet they've got great ideas. They might not know anything about the process, but that's what makes it more exciting, because they don't know anything about it, and they don't fall into the old traps and start sounding like everyone else.

TB: Getting back to Skylarking and Utopia Studios -- Andy said it was essentially one and a half floors...

CM: Yeah, there was the ground-floor recording area, and then you went up a set of wooden stairs to the control room which overlooked the main floor. It didn't look all that, but it was functional enough. On the outside, it seemed like it had damp going up the walls, and I suppose on a foggy, wet Woodstock day, it probably wasn't a [chuckles] vision of professionalism.

TB: Did you find it a good room to record in? What were your impressions of it as a recording studio?

CM: All I had then was a Portastudio, which I used to get ideas down, so I didn't really know too much about sound, and it sounded okay to me. If somebody had said, "This is sounding crap," I'd have probably agreed with them [laughs], not really knowing why! I just figured it was going to suit the purpose, I suppose, but I really had not idea if it was a good room for recording keyboards or whatever.

We were going to do the drums in San Francisco anyway, so I thought, "Well, we don't need that much of an ambient room in Woodstock anyway."

TB: When you were recording your bass parts there, would you just sit in the control room and plug right into the desk?

CM: Yeah, I got into the habit of doing that. We'd run lines out to amps, but I really had no interest in amps at all -- you could have plugged me into anything, I think.

TB: Really? So, you didn't have a rig that you particularly liked?

CM: For years, no. While we were on the road, all that stuff was mostly hired, or unsuitable! A lot of the custom-made stuff just was enormous, and I thought, "I can't put this under the bed!", so everything just got left in a room in town, and got sold off gradually. It just wasn't handy to keep around -- just too enormous.

I really haven't got too much interest in gear that you play through live. I've gotten more interested in home recording now, but I'm not really interested in equipment as such, really. I suppose it's the ideas that I'm more interested in, and the songs.

TB: What bass, or basses, did you play on Skylarking? Did you have the Newport with you?

CM: Yes, I played the Newport on "The Meeting Place." I had the Wal bass as well.

TB: Ah, for some reason I thought you got that during the Oranges and Lemons sessions.

CM: No, I got that at the end of' '83. This probably seems like sacrilege to Dave Gregory, but I sold a Fender Precision bass to get the money to buy it. I never really liked the sound on the Precision -- I just couldn't get any punch of them. A lot of people say they're brilliant, but -- "Well, you have them, then." [laughs] They have got a lot of bottom end, but I never could get any punch out of them.

So, I got the Wal bass, which had a lot more punch. I was playing with my fingers at the time -- now I play with a pick.

TB: Really? Exclusively?

CM: Yeah, I play with a pick now.

TB: Why did you decide to make that change?

CM: It had to do with the speed of "The Mayor of Simpleton"! There was no way I was going to play that mother with just my fingers. It was kind of like, "Let's hear the backing track [pause] fuckin' hell!" [laughs]

Though, I actually played that one with my fingernails. At that time, I wasn't particularly good at holding the pick -- I was always dropping it. Then I gradually worked the pick in, like false teeth. [laughs] I got used to it.

The Epiphone is a very good bass -- meat and potatoes kind of instrument.

TB: And it has that fantastic boom-y quality to it. So versatile.

CM: I like the sound of it on Black Sea probably more than any of the others. It's got that kind of Gibson-y growl, and [engineer] Hugh Padgham got kind of a roundness out of it.

TB: I am always amazed by the variety of sounds you get out it -- you get the Black Sea sound you mention, but then you go to something like "In Loving Memory of a Name," where it sounds almost like a horn. And on some songs it has almost a fretless quality to it.

CM: Actually, on "In Loving Memory," I think I was using the Fender! I think the Newport really came into its own on "Ladybird," where we got that upright tone. That was a point of discovery, I think. It's got a damper on it, and when the damper is put against the strings, it sounds like the notes are bending, similar to a double bass. That was a bit of a revelation, when we discovered that.

TB: And that goes all the way up to "The Last Balloon," right? Didn't you also play that bass on that song?

CM: Yeah, and on "The Wheel and the Maypole."

I was watching this movie about Johnny Cash -- I think it's called "I Walk the Line" -- and the guy in the band was playing the Newport with the batwinged headstock, just like mine. I was pretty pleased with that!

I had another pickup put on when I bought it -- a Dimarzio pickup. When I bought it, I thought, "That looks a good bass!" [laughs] I tried it out, and it sounded good in the shop, but when I plugged it in at home, I thought, "Christ, that sounds wooly!" The one pickup didn't have much bite on it at all, though [chuckling] it didn't sound like that in the shop. But with the new pickup, all these other possibilities came out on it. It wasn't such a bad purchase after all.

TB: So, people in blog land, that's one way you can get closer to the Colin Moulding sound!

CM: [laughs] Yeah, it's the extra pickup. I also have a knob on there that allows you to mix between the two pickups.

TB: I wanted to step back to Todd real quickly -- what was your first impression of him as you met him? Did that change at all as you worked with him more?

CM: I felt he was a little bit aloof. But then I think I am as well. I don't know why that is -- something to do with his internal mechanism. But I could tell he was confident enough to lead the group and take us forward.

TB: Do you think his aloofness had something to do with that -- that he wanted to make sure that he was the leader, that he wasn't just one of the guys?

CM: Yeah, I think that's all part of being John Huston or something -- you've got to keep yourself separate. That's the only way that you can command the ship. But I think he was a good bloke.

We were made to get a producer -- they wanted another perspective on it. There were quite a few people on the short list to do the record, but Dave tipped the scales, because he was a Todd Rundgren fan -- he knew comprehensively about his stuff, so he said, "Todd? Yeah, it'd be great to work with him," which I think kind of lured Andy in. But there were other names on the sheet.

TB: Such as?

CM: Andy would know, but I think Mutt Lange was one -- I think he's been on every short list! [laughs] Geoff Emerick, I think even George Martin.

TB: That would have been interesting.

CM: I think he was out of the country at the time, doing something else. Availability is the big thing. When you're doing something for three to five months, getting people in the same place at once can be difficult.

But I think Todd brought an unusual dimension to our sound. It took us by surprise, what he brought to the record.

TB: If you had to name three things that he brought to the record, what would you say?

CM: An unusual sound. I don't think any of our records sound like that one. It sounds very good on the radio -- lots of punch and mid-range.

What else? The string arrangements. You'd go over to his place for a cup of tea and a talk about the record -- he'd play you some string arrangements, and you'd be blown away. He's obviously a very talented chap.

TB: For things like "Sacrificial Bonfire," had you envisioned anything like that?

CM: Nothing like that, no. But he really took it to the Albert Hall and back! [laughs] And that was all him. The second half needed to be taken to another level, but I really didn't know how to do that.

TB: What else do you think he might have brought?

CM: [laughs] Another hit!

TB: [laughs] There is that! Yeah, that kind of pulled you guys out of the sacrificial bonfire, as far as Virgin was concerned.

CM: Yeah, our career was kind of dead in the water over here.

TB: Big Express hadn't done very well?

CM: No. And I think Virgin were on the verge of letting us go. I think this was the last-ditch attempt. I don't know who suggested we use an American producer -- I suppose the obvious thing is, if nobody loves you in on territory, then you go to another! [laughs] Obvious to me now, but didn't seem obvious at the time.

Having said that, "Dear God" was not a hit in England.

TB: Even after it became one in the US?

CM: No. And I think it's one of the best things Andy's ever written. It really hits home.

TB: I wonder if the reason it wasn't as big a hit in the UK was because it didn't cause quite as big a stir as it did in America?

CM: Yeah, I think you're right. I think the fact that it was controversial made it a hit in America. Plus, you know what college kids are like -- if something's controversial, it's right up their street.

But I didn't see it that way. I just thought it was a good song that really hammered home something that wanted to be said, and I didn't know why it wasn't a hit over here. This country is usually more tuned in to things like that. It should have been a hit over here -- I have no idea why it wasn't.

But that's the beauty of Pop music, isn't it -- the ones that you think are going to be a smash never are. It's always the quiet ones, as they say. [laughs]

12:23 AM


©2009 by Todd Bernhardt and Colin Moulding. All Rights Reserved.