Thursday, March 7, 2002

Byrd, Beach Boy inspire new Ashcroft album

 Former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft hopes his new album -- which will likely include collaborations with turntablist DJ Shadow and world-music innovator Talvin Singh -- will be in stores by September.

During a break from recording vocals for the new album, Ashcroft told JAM! Music exclusively that he and producer Chris Potter are currently completing work on the follow-up to his solo debut, "Alone With Everybody."

"The record is going great," Ashcroft said via telephone from London.

"Things are going very well, yeah. I've got Talvin Singh playing tablas, so it can't get much better than that. Pretty cool.

"The record is going really well. I mean, there has been a lot of good people helping me, and it's just the best record I can possibly make at the moment. That's all I can possibly say."

The singer said he has lately been listening to what he describes as "the real cream" of modern music, "to keep me tuned in to what is real." He mentions Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks," the late former Byrds singer Gene Clark's "No Other", and the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's "Pacific Ocean Blue" as records that embody the spirit of his new music.

"I have had a big old-school vibe. I have recently enjoyed the lost-'70s nuggets ... That period where the '60s had kind of happened, and there was a comedown, but they were still striving to make this spiritual-sounding music, so it was quite twisted," he said.

"I am somewhere around that kind of thing. I went through my '60s, which was the late '90s, with all the madness that brought. But I am still on this earth, on this rock, trying to make sense of it, trying to get through this life, and trying to be an all right person. That is how it is, man."

Ashcroft said the lessons learned in the making of 2000's "Alone With Everybody" are bearing fruit on the new, as-yet-untitled record, which he said contains some of his strongest songwriting yet.

"I am really looking forward to it. I am kind of on a roll. I am looking to break the chain of one record every 18 months/two years. Because I have got a couple of albums sort of ready to roll," he said.

"I am sure the fear stage will strike in about a week's time, and I will think everything is disgraceful and burn the machine. But up until now, I am on a good, positive vibe."

When asked to describe the music, Ashcroft compared the results to "Bitter Sweet Symphony," insofar as that song (The Verve's breakthrough international hit) was beyond easy categorization.

"I know when I have done something right, because there is a freshness about it," he said.

"There are a couple of tracks on this album that already sound to me like I could never describe what on earth ... Almost like 'Bittersweet,' you could never describe what that music was. All you knew is it moved you in a certain way. It could be a blues song or a hip-hop track or anything.

"I am finding I have definitely created a few of those. I have got the groove, the kind of insanity, the majestic feel. I have got some songs that I feel are as strong as my strongest songs. I am happy with that. It is like, my first solo album was an education, and this I am obviously feeling the fruits of that education.

"I have always tried to head for that mixture of really, really strong kind of songs, and also a physical thing, something moving underneath. It is a long road to try to get to that. The odd times, I have kind of been in that space and place, and hopefully I will visit it again."

While Ashcroft agreed he is in a happy space, he said recent events in the world have proved to be a challenge to maintaining an optimistic outlook.

Last fall, he was celebrating his birthday in the south of France, reflecting on his happy marriage, the joy of his child, and the good fortune of his career, when a friend called him and suggested he turn on the TV. New York was under attack.

Ashcroft's birthday is Sept. 11.

"Your birthday normally has no resonance to anyone else, other than your birthday. (The attack on the WTC was) absolutely incredible."

Ashcroft said he has always had an affinity for New York City, and wrote a song on "Alone With Everybody" dedicated to the Big Apple, so the tragedy of the World Trade Centre was particularly painful.

"New York is one of the most inspiring places I have ever been to. Anyone who has been there knows the energy. The thought of that energy twisting into terror, and people having to overcome that ... It was a terrible, terrible, terrible day. I can't wait to get back there and play music, because New York City ... there ain't nothing like New York City."

While Singh has already joined the sessions, Ashcroft said he is hopeful DJ Shadow will be able to make time in his busy schedule to dress some tracks with turntable work. The two previously collaborated on the U.N.K.L.E. album "Psyence Fiction."

"He is unbelievably busy at the moment. If it comes off, great. I don't try to put any pressure on anybody. We have tried to strip this back down to what it is about. If you want to help me, give me an idea, put a break down, do it. If I don't like it, I don't like it. If I love it, fantastic," Ashcroft explained.

"I don't have people mixing my music. I write the guitars, the vocals, the keyboards, a lot of the strings and horns and stuff. But there are a few key places, and you look upon people like that, where you think they are a DJ or whatever, but to me they are an expert musician, a modern-day drummer; I'm hiring a modern day drummer who is on a level with me, who understands."

Ashcroft also expressed a strong desire to return to Canada to perform with a full band. He said a limited number of acoustic shows he did here in support of "Alone With Everybody" were among the finest he has ever played.

"There was something in the air those nights. It was amazing. I am so looking forward to coming back, not only with the new material, but with the full sort of sonic assault this time, as well.

"I really want to say thank you, sonically, for how good the Canadian fans made that. It is tough with acoustic guitar, saxophone, shakers and keyboards, for two hours. You think 30 minutes in, I would love to plug in now and blow your minds.

"But it was great, because people really appreciated it, being stripped-down. I have always had a good rapport with Canadians. The people have always kind of taken to my music. I am looking forward to getting the record done and getting back over there to play.

"I am happy that I am making contact with Canada ... Love and peace to everybody in Canada."
  • Source: written by Paul Cantin, Senior Reporter, JAM!, Showbiz (link)