XTC's Blogs


Last Updated:

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Andy discusses "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love"

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'm the Man Who Murdered Love," is from 2000's Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Vol. 2).

We'll be back in two weeks with an interview about a song that the band did a video for, but for which Dave refused to wear makeup.

TB: Let's start at the beginning for this one. You have three demos on Homegrown. There's an acoustic-guitar version, which bears very little resemblance to the finished product...

AP: Absolutely none at all, other than the lyrical idea. That's the only thing that I really thought was a good idea -- that Love, as a person, like Eros, who had a job to do, is begging you to kill him off. "Please put me out of my misery, because nobody's employing me. The 20th century's been a loveless century. I've come to the end of it, and I just can't take anymore. Kill me off, please."

TB: When was this? When were you first starting to think in terms of these lyrics and put it all together?

AP: I guess at some point around 1994, though it might be earlier than that. I've got the original cassette with the idea slammed down somewhere around.

TB: When did you start recording digitally? Were you still getting ideas down on cassette even when you had a computer setup?

AP: Oh, I still do! I don't know what I'm going to do with these bloody ideas, but I still bang them down onto a cassette now. I've stored up hundreds without knowing what the bloody hell to do with them.

But, I had an open-E tuning, and I was just banging around, and I remember it came pretty quickly. And playing it back today, I thought, "Do you know, it was too complex musically to put the idea over succinctly, but I actually prefer the melody and the chords and the overall feel of that acoustic version than I did the version that ended up."

TB: Yeah, as I was listening to it today, it's certainly a nice song...

AP: But it is quite convulsive in its shape.

TB: Yes. I think you would have to be lyrically very simple along with that complex musical structure.

AP: I found myself struggling with the complexity of the music, thinking, "No, this is a good idea, and you've got to tell it simply."

So, as Colin called it, "the Joni Mitchellin version" [because he heard it as a combination of Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin], was just sort of ignored, apart from the main lyrical idea, "I'm the man who Love begged to kill him off, because he hasn't been working lately." That was the thing that went on.

Later, I was working on a song called "I-G-N-O-R-A-N-C-E" -- a Tamla-esque kind of thing, much like the second demo. [sings a bit of it] -- that kind of vamping-organ thing. Like an early- or mid-'60s review or soul band...

TB: And using the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" trick, spelling out the word.

AP: Yeah, there you go. This was a song about how everyone seems to value ignorance, and how ignorance must die. I guess it was the thing about "something must die" that got me thinking, "No, I won't work on that -- maybe I'll put 'the man who murdered Love' idea to that."

[laughs] After all, if you did a song about ignorance, and it was all spelled, you'd have to spell it wrong, wouldn't you? Just get the spelling wrong every time -- every chorus.

So, I tried the idea out with that, and something was getting a little clearer, but I thought, "No, I'm going to have to make this as moronically simple, musically, as I can." So, dammit, I went for the Sheryl Crow strum-along version! [chuckles] You're sat there with a campfire, roasting a Sheryl Crow and strumming your cheap Korean acoustic guitar, to impress the girls, playing those very simple chords to "The Man Who Murdered Love" -- and that's where it ended up.

It's probably the straightest, unimaginative single we've done since "Statue of Liberty," to be honest.

TB: Let's talk about it as a single. You've expressed frustration that "Stupidly Happy" didn't get released as a single, but this one did. Who made that decision?

AP: Yeah, I was really frustrated. And no radio stations played the single! We have a terrible track record with singles -- we were just universally ignored, pretty much. This was another that just got ignored -- we put it out as a single, and ... nothing. No radio stations picked it up. I guess we just didn't buy enough coke or little boys for the executives, you know? That's what all it's down to.

TB: [laughs] But, there also is the whole thing about touring and being out there, and going out to the stations and pushing your product...

AP: Sure, and I think we were probably just too old for it, too. "Oh, god -- them? Are they still going? Didn't they have a hit in the '70s? Oh, this must be awful. No, we're not playing that." They probably never even listened to it.

So, yeah -- it's that slow, painful realization that you're thought of in the media world as past it, and too old. It was another nail in the coffin.

TB: Who decided that this would be a single?

AP: Pony Canyon put it out in Japan, and Cooking Vinyl in the UK and Europe.

TB: Did TVT release it?

AP: Did they? I can't even remember. I wouldn't know, because I don't think we ever saw any accounts from them. I can't remember what came out as singles in the States -- isn't that terrible to say? It's like a missing era for me.

TB: I'm looking on Chalkhills now, and it says it was released as a single in the U.S.

AP: And it got roundly ignored by the American media as well!

So yeah, it was a bit of a sad little thing, actually. I thought it was a pretty decent single -- not as good as "Stupidly Happy" in terms of infectiousness -- but it always hurts when something you put out doesn't get accepted any way, but I became pretty armored to that as the years went by. You've just got to, because it's too many kicks in the balls, you know? It's your art, and it goes out there and gets ignored, and that's so frustrating. Because I know we're as good, if not better, than a lot of the shit that gets played on the radio. But that stuff gets played for reasons other than merit. Merit is bottom of the pile.

It's all about bribery and the flavor of the week and if you've bought enough press and have the right haircut. It's not about the quality of music.

TB: Yeah, plus it's the whole marketing machine behind it -- whether it's part of an integrated campaign or any of that. With my kids being the age they are, listening to "tween" music, I'm constantly amazed by the evil genius of, say, Disney. They have every single angle covered when it comes to deciding which one of their little 'bots is going to be a star. It's a machine.

AP: Yeah, das Disney Reich. And everyone is just gagging to see that picture of Hannah Montana with a goat or something! Everyone just loves to see that super-clean stuff get super dirty!

TB: [laughing] Right -- "We've destroyed Britney Spears -- next."

AP: Yeah! "Well, we can get you Marilyn Manson getting fucked by a goat." "Nah, that's too expected. We want a little contrast here!" [chuckles ruefully]

TB: So, you'd said before this was '94 or so when you first came up with the lyrical idea. Was that before the divorce? Was it another one of your prescient songs?

AP: I don't think it's anything to do with my divorce, actually. I think it's just a song about humanity not being loving enough, and people seemingly more interested in death and destruction. There's just not enough love around! People don't show enough love in their everyday dealings with each other -- it's all resentment and aggression. There's a hell of a lot of aggression in England now, in everyday dealings with people. I was always taught that you could catch more flies with honey than you could with vinegar. A little sweetness goes a long way.

I think I was just feeling that this Eros characters was old and nobody was employing him. I wanted to be the one to free humanity from the "burden" of having to deal with love.

TB: Let's talk about the finished product and the music a little bit. Listening to it today, I realized I'm always kind of surprised by how slow the actual tempo is. I guess when I play it back in my head I hear it faster or something...

AP: [starts miming fast, Bluegrassy 2/4 version] "Weeeelllll ... I'm the man who murdered love..."

TB: [laughing] Not quite that fast! But the finished version has almost a kind of stately tempo to it. Was that intentional? I think it's even slower than the demo.

AP: It's slower than the demo, yeah. I think songs have to feel right physically. A tempo has to feel right physically. You can kick it around -- "Let's try it a beat slower. Now let's try it a beat faster" -- and you'll get to a point where if you kind of use The Force -- you know, turn off the electrics and use your feelings -- it becomes physical, and you can say, "Oh yeah, that feels like the right tempo." Then you can check what speed it is, if you need to clock that. But there is a physicality to songs, where there is an exactly-right speed for any song. You just feel it in your bones, you know? Something inside you glows.

So yeah, it felt a little better just a little slower, I think.

TB: Where did you get the intro from?

AP: I just wanted an event, I think, because I realized that the song was a little bland, strum-along campfire thing, and I wanted a little event to wake it up a little. I thought, "I know -- let's go for that triplet thing." I'd been given a wah-wah pedal by a fan who drove to my house and gave it to me. I can't remember his name now! He's something to do with Marillion, and he used to drive to my house from wherever he lived -- Oxford way, perhaps. I think he worked for Smith's, or something to do with a book place, because he was always bringing me these books. Brand-new books, which I'm guessing he didn't buy -- I think they were seconds or something. His name was Colin or something, and one day he turned up and gave me a wah-wah pedal! I was astounded![laughs]

You know, you play around with it, and you can hear Jimi Hendrix making it say, "Wow! Look out!" What's that song -- "Rainy Day, Dream Away"? I thought, "Wow, what if I can get it to hold a marriage ceremony or something?" [laughs, imitates wah-wah] "Do youuu take this womannnn" -- if I could have gotten it to say something, I would have been happy. But I could only get it to just sort of go "wow" -- not much else. I couldn't get it to do a soliloquy or anything like that -- to declare that war was over in Iraq. [chuckles]

What was that thing they did on a carrier with Bush?

TB: [sighs] "Mission Accomplished."

AP: "Mission Accomplished" -- yeah. I could get it to do that speech.

TB: And insult the wah-wah pedal's intelligence?

AP: [laughs] Exactly! Yeah, you could understand the wah-wah pedal more! You could understand its point of view. But, oddly, you want to step harder on the face of Bush! [laughs]

Anyway, I just wanted a little event, and I thought, "Let's do an event that's in threes, not fours, so it sort of jutters across."

TB: Let's talk about the drumming a little bit. Chuck Sabo is playing on this, and it's fairly straight-ahead.

AP: I think, if anything, we underused Chuck on this album, to be honest.

TB: You feel like he was capable of more?

AP: Yeah -- I think so. We were just getting him to play straight-ahead. If there were any errors in timing or anything, it'd be, "Okay, can we edit the last bit of that take there." Ironically, he was one of the best drummers we've ever used, and yet this was the most drum editing we've ever done.

TB: Because you could?

AP: Because we could, yeah. There was a friend of [producer] Nick [Davis], Matt Vaughn -- Nick said, "Let's get him in, he's great with drum editing, and we can get some really solid performances." You know, phrases like "really solid performances" are very alluring.

But I think we underused Chuck. He's just tapping away on this track, to be frank.

TB: Do you remember giving him any specific instructions or guidance on this song?

AP: I think it was just about getting sat in the vaguely Tamla-esque groove, I think. That [mimics groove] -- because it's still got a Tamla feel to it, it's just slower. It's not that showband-waiting-for-the-singer-to-come-on vamp.

TB: There are some percussion pieces on here -- in the left channel, for example, there's a shaker or scraper, I think?

AP: Ah, no -- one of the things that you think is a percussive thing is our old trick of mic'ing up an electric guitar.

TB: Oh, is that you scraping along on the strings?

AP: Yeah, you mic up an electric guitar, with the mic about a half-inch away from the strings. You have the straight signal from the mic, and you pan that to one side, then you take the electronic side out of the pickups, process it how you want, and then you pan that to the other side of the mix. So, if you listen, there's quite a schizophrenic guitar -- you hear it in headphones, where you hear the ghi-ghi-ghi-ghi over on one side of the stereo, then the treated, electric side of the same instrument over on the other side. So what you heard were the extreme highs of the electric guitar not plugged in.

Then, there's a kind of counter-rhythm with a sample of an acoustic guitar, distorted and played as a keyboard part. It sounds kind of like an electric piano, but it's got slightly more of a guitar-y tone, because it's actually a sample of an acoustic guitar.

TB: Is that throughout the song?

AP: Yeah, you can hear it quite plainly in the verses. That thing that sounds like a distorted keyboard is a distorted keyboard playing a sample of an acoustic guitar. Because electric piano just didn't seem to cut enough -- it didn't seem to have a tone that sat well with the other guitar.

TB: Why didn't you just play it on acoustic guitar?

AP: Because it's nicer with that timbre, but dirtied up, and then played through a keyboard, because when you lift your fingers up off a keyboard, it stops dead. You could never get that percussive dead-on, dead-off with a guitar, if you see what I mean.

I'd probably heard records by some of the modern R&B bands, where they use samples of acoustic guitars and then play them on keyboards and cut them off dead. I like the rhythm of that. Plus, it sat better with the other guitar better than an electric piano did. We tried several out, and they didn't sound special enough. It didn't meld with the other guitar enough.

TB: One of the differences between the demo and the finished product is the solo...

AP: Yeah -- what did I put down in my notes here? "The solo is unlearnable." [laughs] Because I could never repeat it!

TB: It seems like you're channeling some psychedelic player...

AP: I was channeling some sort of crazy Arabic taxi driver who's out of his head on drain cleaner! I could never replay that again, because the scales are not scales that I habitually play. I really threw myself at it. It took a lot of takes to get it, but that's the take -- it was finally, "Yes! There you go!" I was playing scales that I'd never rehearsed before, which were not normal to my way of thinking. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, to be truthful.

TB: But you knew what you were going for.

AP: Yeah. I wanted to take the solo in a place that didn't feel natural to my hands, and would thus stimulate my brain. Because what I was hearing were "not the usual notes."

TB: So, you weren't thinking about any particular influence or player on that?

AP: No. I just wanted to play things I'd never really played before, and it came out kind of vaguely Middle Eastern! I don't know why -- I wanted to surprise myself.

TB: Colin's bass intro to the solo kind of hints at where you're going to end up with the guitar. Did he record that after you did the solo?

AP: He always puts his bass on last, so I'm guessing the solo would have been done before his bass.

TB: Ah -- I had kind of assumed that when he talks about putting the bass on last, it meant last in terms of the rhythm section, but before vocals, solos, et cetera.

AP: No, it's pretty much the last thing to go on any track. I think he was probably responding to the fact that I'd played a solo with those notes, and he was wanting to sort of talk to that in a way.

What would normally happen with Colin's bass is that we would record everything that we would want to put on that track, and then he would take a cassette or whatever of it away, and dump the track onto his Portastudio. Then he'd use the other two or three tracks to play along, and finely tune his bass part.

This way, he could accommodate all the feel of what you'd done earlier, he could find where the right holes were, what melody was needed in any given place -- that sort of thing. It makes the bass much more useful, and not like carpet tiles. That's the only way to do it -- you come at it ass-backwards. You get the finished track and then you put the bass in.

TB: Besides the sampled acoustic guitar, any other keyboards on this song?

AP: There are some little organ run-ups over the end -- we just copied the same run-up and used it, so it became a little hook. It was nicely done, so it was a case of, "Let's use the same one, so it's the same each time." It was an attempt to make a mechanical hook out of a little tiny piece of nothing sound, if you see what I mean. But that's about it.

TB: I don't want to talk about the lyrics in depth because they're pretty self-evident, but I did want to ask about, "What do you think to that" -- why not, "What do you think of that"? What were you going for there?

AP: I don't know -- I think my grandparents, certainly my father's father, used that expression. [imitates him] " 'ere, whatd'you think to that, boy?" And [chuckles] I find myself saying that as well. I guess it was just how I said that phrase.

TB: So, you weren't purposely trying to be archaic or regional?

AP: No, it's just a turn of phrase that I picked up from my grandparents. I guess it also sang better, because "What do you think of that" is not as nice as "What do you think to that." It has a nicer rhythmic quality to it. But it's actually a phrase I do use -- I know it's not in common parlance so much, but my grandfather would say it all the time, and that's how it went in, I guess.

It's a bit of an odd phrase. I keep a mental list of things like this -- for example some people don't say "crisps." They don't say, "Would you get me a bag of crisps?" -- they say "cris." "Get us a bag of cris." Or, the amount of people in England who say, "somethink" instead of "something." "There's somethink wrong with that." Like, it's becoming a new word, or something -- it's a thought you're having about this. It's "somethink you just had." It drives me crazy, but so many people do it.

Or "hambag." How many women carry a "hambag"? It's not made of ham! It's a "handbag."

TB: [laughing] It could be full of ham, though!

AP: [laughs] Well, there is that. Or, Colin says, "chimley." You can hear it "Meeting Place." Dave and I are looking at each other in the control room -- "Do you want to tell him it's 'chimney' or shall I?" [chuckles]

TB: That's funny you say that, because I just figured that he was doing that for effect.

AP: Nope. He calls it a "chimley." About 30 percent of the people I know in Wiltshire call it that, and he's one of them. And I use the phrase, "What do you think to that," and to me, that feels completely natural. In fact, "What do you think of that" feels a bit unusual. So, I'm just a product of my grandfather. Come to think of it, I hope I am, at least in part! [laughs]

TB: The only other thing I wanted to ask about is the vocals. I had assumed that one of the reasons that you wanted to keep the music simple and straightforward is because, first of all, you want the lyrical message to come across, but secondly -- and this is true throughout the entire album -- you guys seem to spend a lot of time on layering harmonies and making sure that everything is just right.

AP: Yeah, it's our pernickety album! [chuckles] We tweaked and tweezed, and I think we were just a little petrified of not making a good record now that the third leg of the table had just been knocked off. There's this wobbly two-legged table there, with people trying to help us prop it up a bit.

TB: And you had the studio, too, so you could afford to take a little time.

AP: And we had the studio, so, looking up at the clock on the wall, it wasn't reading, "£1,000, £2,000" -- it was saying [sing-song voice], "This is your studio, take as long as you want!"

TB: [laughing, mimics Andy's "song"] "Except you're paying Niiick"...

AP: "Except you're paying Niiick, and he's getting bad-tempered, because he wants to go home and eat, and his blood sugar's crashing, and he's pissed off with tracking these vocals..." [laughs] I guess we were turning into Steely Dan.

TB: [laughs] Well, you were down to two people, so why not?

AP: Down to two people -- there you go.

I've got to stop saying "there you go" in these interviews, and I've even said I've got to stop saying "there you go" in a previous interview, and I'm still saying it!

TB: [laughs] There you go, saying "there you go."

AP: [laughing] There go you! Up the chimley, with your hambag.

TB: [laughing] That sounds quite filthy -- "up the chimley with your hambag."

AP: There you go! [laughs]

TB: So, do you remember anything in particular about doing the vocals on this.

AP: No, other than poor Nick getting short-tempered because we were taking quite a long time. He's very good at comping vocals. I'd do something like three takes -- I don't like to think about anything more than three takes of a lead vocal. If I can't get it in three takes, I've got to leave it for another time, you know? So, it's not a Peter Gabriel situation, where the poor sod is sat there with 19 lead-vocal tracks to comp -- it's just three, and one of them is usually a lot better than the others. If you need to, you can get some missing bits from the other two. So, we didn't give Nick too hard a time with comping vocals.

But, in terms of layering harmonies -- I guess Wasp Star is probably the most harmony-heavy album we've ever done.

TB: Yeah, that's kind of what I meant when I said it really seems as if you guys spent a lot of time on the vocals on this album. They're very clean and the separation is clear, and you can tell you put a lot of thought and time into it.

AP: Do you think we're trying to be Jellyfish? [laughs] I read something online not so long ago where someone said we were trying to be Jellyfish, which made me laugh.

TB: [laughing] No, you've never been that...

AP: Good? [laughs]

TB: [laughs] No, I was going to say "bombastic"! But "bombast" in a good way.

AP: Yeah, I kind of feel like Jellyfish wanted to take our template, and then Queen the shit out of it.

TB: Exactly! That's what I meant by "bombast."

AP: Or "bumbast" if you're Freddie Mercury! [laughs] Oh, that's going to make me a lot of enemies -- sorry, Freddie!

10:40 PM

©2009 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.