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AND IT ALL HAPPENED LIKE THIS
Paul talks exclusively to Laura Gross about poet-proofing, feet-dangling, gongs in the attic and working Off The Ground
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD HAUGHTON AND CLIVE ARROWSMITH
On listening to Off The Ground / was struck with the idea that the album features the idealism of the 1960s tinged with the realism and anger of the 1990s. Does that seem like a fair assessment to you?
Maybe. It's probably true of me - I've certainly got a tinge of the Sixties and the anger of the Nineties. The anger of the Nineties in my case is being a parent with all this terrible stuff going on in the world. If it's not ecology it's wars, if it's not wars it's disease, if it's not disease it's the politicians not giving us what we want. After all, they're only our elected representatives, they're not gods! We put them there. So I think that the album reflects a bit of that, that it is time for a change. And I sense anyway a lot of the Sixties thoughts coming back - they weren't really new ideas then actually, they were old, but now they're coming back again. I mean, the Eighties answer wasn't it - all those ideas came home to roost, didn't they.
I'm told that you have poet-proof lyrics on this album.
When I came to do this album one of the things I thought was that it might be good to be a little less casual and make sure I'd done my homework, make sure that I liked all the words in the songs. So I got a friend of mine, a poet called Adrian Mitchell, to look through the lyrics as if he was an English teacher checking my homework. He didn't hate anything but there were one or two little moments where he suggested a change. In 'C'mon People' I had written "we've got a future and it's coming in" and he said "Do you want to use a stronger word than 'coming'? Do you want to describe it?" So I sat down and re-wrote "we've got a future and it's rushing in". It seems to me to be rushing in, and charging in, which are the two words I used there. So that was great, I went through it all with him and I can now say that they're poet-proof.
You also have some live takes, or something very dose to live takes?
'Biker Like An Icon' is a first take and there are a couple of others too. 'Peace In The Neighbourhood' is a rehearsal take. We were just kicking numbers around, so that the band would get to know how they went, and we just got a really nice casual take of 'Peace In The Neighbourhood'. We thought later that we could make it a little bit more professional and did try a couple of times but never got the same vibe again. It was getting a little bit too stiff so we listened again to the rehearsal take and it was fine. I really love the drum sound on it. As for 'Biker', it's such a simple little song that you can ruin it if you go over it 50 times. Everyone understood how it went, and Robbie must have had some idea what he was going to do on slide guitar because he just delivered a solo - I didn't tell him when to do it, he just felt it.
This, I think, is the secret of the album. With Flowers In The Dirt I experimented with computers, and working with producers who take a long time over everything. There are some interesting aspects to working like that but not enough to excite me. That's what happened with something like 'Biker' - we just did it and got lucky. And the more you listen to the album the more you get to feel that we were enjoying ourselves.
When we came to record this album I thought back to the favourite times I've ever had in a recording studio, and it was the best of the Beatles stuff, where we were restricted by time and had to work fast. In one day we did 'I'm Down', 'I've Just Seen A Face' and 'Yesterday' and they were pretty good tracks! I mean, you never do three tracks in a day now. We did get near to it one day when I came in and said to Julian Mendelsohn [co-producer with Paul] that we should knock off a couple of songs that day, and we got a couple of nice ones.
What can you tell me about 'Hope Of Deliverance'?
I went up into the attic of our house, just to get away from everyone. There's a trap door, you go up a little ladder and then close it and no one can get at you, so then you know you've got a couple of hours to yourself. So I went up into the attic and took with me a Martin 12-string guitar and, just for a bit of fun, I put a capo on it - the little bar that comes half way up the strings and changes the length of the guitar neck. On a 12-string it makes for a very jingly sound, which reminds me of Cathedrals and Christmas. So that led me into the field of hope, of deliverance, and then I added about the darkness that surrounds us. You know, if you're involved in rescuing people in Somalia then that's the deliverance - you want to get out of there safely, if you are involved in poverty then that's your deliverance, to get out of that trap. Homelessness, disease, whatever, big or little, we've all got them. So that was it really, it just became a kind of optimistic song, either to, perhaps, a girlfriend, or to a God-figure. I do like leaving things ambiguous - I've often done that in my songs, so that people say to me "I always thought it meant something else...".
People probably come up with things you probably hadn't even thought of...
They do, they do. It's great, actually. Some people even come up with new lyrics. Elvis Costello's manager, Jake Riviera, thought that the "Living is easy with eyes closed" line in 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was "Living is easy with nice clothes"!
Let's talk about the title song 'Off The Ground'.
Yes. Well, right at the end of doing the album Wix said to me "We've worked very naturally on this album but there's one thing we haven't tried and that is a computer thing". And I said "Well, I don't really want to waste a lot of time on it" and he said "You might want to spend a day on it, though, for a change, just to do something a bit different now that we've already got most of the album", so I thought yeah, it might be fun, actually. So we gave the rest of the band a day off, and just me, Wix and the production team went into the control room for the day - that's where you mainly do computer stuff.
One of the songs that had been on my list but hadn't got onto the album was 'Off The Ground', which at that time was a little folk song. I liked it but it didn't really fit onto the album so I thought that if we were just going