Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Verve's 'Forth' Revealed (Part 1)

Question: So, the band were back together. How did the call re the recall, as it were, actually happen? Anyone remember?

Nick McCabe (N): It kind of came via Pete really. I got an invite to play with a certain band that had lost their guitarist over the summer and they were doing festivals and stuff and, I think, that kind of reintegrated me and Pete talking regularly. I mean, we talked quite a lot over the years anyway.

We’ve always remained friends. I think through that Richard might have got wind of Pete being in discussion with me about various things and I got the call one day. ‘Are you sitting down, Nick?’ ‘Yeah, what’s happened? Nothing bad, is it?’ ‘Richard wants to get the band back together. What do you think?’ And I kind of had a moment of hesitation and, ‘Yeah.’ At that point I’d kind of rationalised a lot of, you know, all of us have grown up, had a lot of time to think about things.

Hopefully, we’re older and wiser and it just seemed…. I mean, I’ve put a huge chunk of my life into this and there is no way that I would turn my back on it if there was ever a chance of it working again. It’s really not for, you know, money’s nice. If you get paid to be in a band there is nothing better really, going to different countries and, you know, getting paid to play in front of thousands of people.

What’s wrong with that, you know? So, yeah, it was at a point where I’d kind of made my peace with it and come to understand a lot of things that were quite silly at the time really and I think me and Si, because we’re probably the closest out of the lot of us, and we sort of arrived at the same point at the same time, I think really, so it just seemed a very natural thing to do.

Peter Salisbury (P): Yeah, definitely.

Simon Jones (S): Yeah, absolutely amazing experience.

(P): Long time thinking it would never happen, earlier on, or like last ten years so to actually get another album and especially of that quality is brilliant, you know what I mean? Keep you the rest of your life.

Richard Ashcroft (R): I can’t quite put a precise date on it because it seems, now it seems like a long time ago but it was just a series of phone calls. It was quite a sunny day in the garden and suddenly this shocking brainwave arrived in my mind to see what they thought about… You know, maybe the time was right and maybe the climate was right or maybe we were old enough to be able to deal with it and just make a noise was the primary motive, I think, for getting the band back together was putting those individuals in a room and creating a sound.

I think we’re at a good age. We’re not particularly old, we’re not past it. I think we’ve still got our musical sensibilities so really that was the primary motive. Obviously there’s baggage and things like that you’ve got to sift through.

There always will be. It’s no bed of roses. It’s not some Mills & Boon scene running down the beach, you know, with the sunset. It’s none of that. It’s a case that these four people make a pretty unique sound together. ‘Are you up for it?’ ‘Yeah.’ So, first day in the studio: I guess everyone must have been a little bit nervous. Pete, were you?

P: I was there first, so I went in, took my drums in, set up and then I sat waiting for everyone to come in individually, but yeah, I was a little bit, but we went in and started playing, it was great.

S: It was quite easy. Richard picked me up from the station in his mini, and brought us down to the studio, had a bit of a coffee and a chat for an hour and after that we were playing music. It was like old times, really, you know.

P: You can hear it on the record, all the excitement of our actually being in a room together playing.

S: And I think, you know, what was amazing is to know after all that time to still have that chemistry and not really have to like discuss much about it. It’s just like, ‘Right, this is what we do and it sounds amazing.’ It was instantly so satisfying to be able to pick up your instruments and do that, because the first time we all met was actually in the studio and all our gear was set up so, you know, that was a thrill in itself, just being able to do that, and the first week we recorded the majority of the album really, in the first couple of weeks to be honest.

It was that quick. Having not played together for such a long you have a backlog of like riffs and ideas and things and they’ll come in, you know, maybe subconsciously, and obviously Richard brings completed songs to the table or songs that have maybe got a verse and they’ll be jammed and, different processes for different songs really, but a lot of what we do is from jamming, because that’s how we learned to play together really when we were sixteen in Wigan.

It was just a matter of locking ourselves in a little, dingy room, not, just like this actually but with black curtains, for days on end, coming out in the daylight, you know, from the age of sixteen really, seventeen. 

Question: It’s been said in the past that this band does better under stress. Richard, does THE VERVE thrive on tension?

R: Probably not, no. I mean, I can function in a studio without tension and I actually think the history of this band’s proved that the tension is not necessarily in the making of the music. It’s probably what goes on beyond that. It’s nothing to do with the act of creativity. The music making side of it isn’t driven by friction actually. It’s driven by unity.

The only place that we can find a single voice or a true understanding of each other is probably when we’re actually making music anyway, so, you know, and I think we’re old enough now to take it as it comes, you know. We’re not going to go out, tour the world twice over. We’re not going to put ourselves in any of those positions. We’re not going to burn the name The Verve out in one big bang, you know.

We’ve made this record and we’re going to play some gigs and, you know, in a way we’re almost approaching it in a much clearer way, I think, and a way that can keep the name of The Verve alive because another motivation was I couldn’t quite get in my head why on earth The Verve should be considered to be something that isn’t alive when the songs live every day on the radio still.

Some songs that are ten years old sound very fresh today and very contemporary, lyrically because they’re dealing with quite basic human emotions, they’ll never go out of time so, if we want to make a record in five years’ time we’ll make it. If we don’t, we won’t but we’ll never, I hope, condemn the band to a sort of elephant’s graveyard of rock n roll.

Question: So, over the 10 years that have passed, who’s changed?

P: Well, I’ve got better, I know that, but it’s still the same influences, still the same ideas and same things.

S: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of playing with a lot of other people over the last ten years and that’s definitely made me a better musician. I mean, I never really want to get to that point where I’m some virtuoso guitar player, and I don’t think I ever will be, you know, but having played with other people the really great thing that I did was I did the live shows with The Gorillaz and working with Damon, that was a pure inspiration actually because to see someone so in love with the music and, you know, how much it matters and, you know, other artists.

It’s good to get a totally different insight into how other people work, you know, compared to how we work. Having come from like jam based things end up working with artists who are maybe more, who are songwriters and really set in what they do and how they do it. For me, that’s made me grow as a musician so I think I’m much more confident than I was as a seventeen year-old going in to make the first record, definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, you know.

N: It’s a funny thing actually, because as Pete and Si have got better and better it’s almost like, I feel like it’s my duty to sort of rough it round the edges really, it’s a bit of a bizarre one really that. I’ve got more comfortable with it over the years but I’m more interested in Sonics.

It’s something to trigger effects, really, like, and what I’ve come to realise over the years is it’s more satisfying for me to have this like kind of reduced thing that, somebody said something slightly derogatory about me being a colourist and that’s probably what I do.

I mean, art is like that. Given the framework of what’s happening, like, especially with Richard’s songs, it’s gratuitous to sort of just plaster on more of the same really so, in certain circumstances like, that’s easier for me and I like that.

R: I think the key points that I look for, or wanted to enjoy again or get out of it were, see, there’s a moment in Judas where it changes and, for want of a better word, the chorus happens. That was instantaneous and that was, you know, a synergy, a moment where everybody’s completely in tune and the whole thing changes and nobody cues anybody.

Nobody has a clue what’s going to happen, but it happened and those kind of accidents and moments are the things that really excited me about working with these people again because that’s the kind of stuff that we were always luckily really good at was improvisation and making things up off the top of our heads. That kind of thing was exciting really, you know. 

Question: Richard, have any of these new songs been kicking around in your head, waiting for the chance THE VERVE might play them?

R: Yeah, I mean I’ve had a couple of the ideas for a while. A song like Appalachian Springs I’ve attempted to record a couple of times. The songs I brought to the table were perhaps through the first few weeks of listening to what we were creating together collectively, I started getting an idea of maybe the tunes that I could think of that could fit into this atmosphere, mood that we were creating.

I mean along with mortality, and things that happen later on in my life, it gave me a sense of position in the scheme of things and urgency, an urgency to do something and also I would hate to just spread a message of sort of nihilistic defeatism which is so fashionable, you know. That sort of destroying yourself and people around you is somehow cool or is offering the world anything.

It just isn’t. You know, Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On, Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds, all these things there’s so much love in them ultimately and it’s not being ashamed to appreciate that that is the most powerful thing in the world and when people hear it and they know it’s real, they can’t help but respond to it, so people take these basic things in many different directions but hardly anyone seemingly comes from a direction that people can really relate to so, I was very surprised years ago when it first happened.

I was very surprised at all the different interpretations that you could have for one line. Like say, obviously, ‘the drugs don’t work’ was the killer. It was just amazing. Even today, you know, if someone gets done, somebody on the Tour de France gets caught doping himself, you know, it’s ‘the drugs don’t work’ on the sport and stuff and it’s amazing and I think that is a great thing.

It’s one of the best probably things that’s happened, is that somehow I’ve written some tunes that have crossed the boundaries like that and do become part of culture and most of it has no truth in it whatsoever. 

Question: How did your background affect you, as a writer and as a person?

R: I mean, I was very fortunate as a kid. My Granddad lived next door. He introduced me to the Orion and The Bear, you know, the stars were a big thing. It was about walking, it was about ponds, tadpoles, trees hit by lightning, fires outside, even though it was just a few fields, but he managed to bring in a lot of wonder into my mind at a very early age.

It’s a very confusing, for me personally, it’s a confusing time to be alive, you know. Our tribes have been broken up. In a way we’ve all moved away, you know, everybody. When I was a kid my Nan and Granddad lived next door. My other grandparents lived across the road, a very tight-knit situation, you know, and that kind of breaks down.

You know, if you don’t have an incredibly strong faith you end up obviously questioning the meaning the existence, of what it’s all about and is there an answer so all those kind of things from day one have interested me, you know, the bigger questions and it’s not necessarily that I’m ever going to come up with the answer but I do like brutal truths as well. That’s why Bittersweet Symphony will always be, you know, I’ll always enjoy that opening line. I like brutal truths and where that’s going to lead us.

Emotion comes out because a lot of it in the modern world is quite suppressed, I think, you know what I mean, and that’s why I think my music, The Verve’s music, my songs, I’ve had the oddest people come up to me in the street professing how they’ve affected them in many different ways and I think that cuts through all sort of classes and social places where people are, you know, almost like it allows them to express stuff that is quite suppressed, you know what I mean, and that’s, you know, mainly more in men than women, you know? 

Question: So, the CD Forth is done and dusted and out there. Did it get made in one bash, or off and on?

S: We did. We did do it off and on because we did a couple of weeks and then we had to go on, had to go on tour, we chose to go on tour, in November and December so we had to put it on pause November, December, came back in I think it was February by the time we started again, wasn’t it, so there was a bit of a pause in the middle but we got a lot of the backing tracks done in those first couple of weeks so it was more a process of when we came back listening through to see what we’d got and we kind of realised, we’ve kind of got the album here, you know what I mean, already, so from that point on did we do any more recording? I can’t remember.

P: Like backing track really but, apart from that, I think that was it, for me and you.

S: Yeah, I think in the first two or three weeks it was all pretty much sewn up so the rest of it, yeah, was just overdubs and editing.

P: Editing and Nick and Richard doing overdubs. 

Question: And who sat in the producer’s chair?

S: The band really. We used, you know, a lot of different engineers on this record, a lot? We used three guys on this record. Cameron was the first in, who recorded it all and we used Tim Brand, who was, actually he was in Dreadzone for a while, but now he’s like a master ProTools, digital wizard.

He did a lot of the editing with us and Chris Potter worked with us, who’d worked with us previously on Urban Hymns. He came in at the last sort of thing to get, mainly get the greatest vocal performances because he worked so well with Richard, really, you know, so it was us overseeing the whole process, using the best guys that we could get our hands on at the time really. 

Question: ‘Sit and Wonder’ opens the album. Richard?

Richard Ashcroft (R): ‘Sit and Wonder’, looking back I believe it starts from a guitar loop of Nick’s. He’s like the king of the guitar loop. He’s got this way of doing his guitar. You could build a symphony out of his guitars and it’s almost like he’s not playing anything. I haven’t discussed it with the others but to me when it kicks in it’s almost like Dick Dale meets God knows what, you know, Led Zeppelin.

It’s got a kind of groove to it that’s almost like The Rolling People from Urban Hymns. It’s got this darkness, and lyrically it’s like a rite of passage song, it’s a song where, you know, someone’s literally searching for the light, searching for salvation. The section at the end is just amazing, the guitars are just, I mean, the amount of different influences slightly that you can hear from some of the greats is amazing. It could be Peter Green one minute, it’s like Tom Verlaine the next, then it’s Neil Young.

Nick McCabe (N): Sit and Wonder was kind of birthed if you like, second or third day I think it was of the first week we got together. It was like a strange little loop going maybe ten minutes later, Si had got this almighty sort of crushing groove going. One of the signature guitar lines is actually me checking that the guitar’s working, the bit at the beginning with a duff note. ‘Diddly ding’.

I was like, ‘Is it on?’ So, but it’s like serendipity again and I think, you know, recognising that is something that we’ve become very adept at and suddenly ideas are getting generated and one of Richard’s best vocals, I think, as well. I dunno where he pulled it from.

The lyrics are really heavy and again it was one of these, quite a lot of the tracks on the album we forgot what the key sort of moments were and when we came to edit at the start of this year we realised we had something resembling a song in there; what we didn’t realise was that there was something resembling a pop song in there and as it’s developed over time, you know, technology being what it is now, you know that later on you can re-visit what you’ve done. I mean, it’s a ‘can’ ethic really.

Don’t worry about that really awful bit that you just played there because later on down the line something great’s going to happen and it’s almost sort of giving yourself a free rein.

Simon Jones (S): It was one of the first things we did, wasn’t it?

Peter Salisbury (P): In the first three days, yeah. Made up on the spot, most of it, as well, wasn’t it?

S: And, yeah, like you say, I don’t know if you’ve heard the one that it was born from, because it’s kind of edited, like a jam that’s been edited, but, yeah, you can actually hear the riff coming together and everyone getting their parts together and it kind of just, kind of fuses all together instantly and it was one of the first things, if not the first thing, that we played in whatever, ten years or whatever.

N: That’s a classic for me, I think, probably one of my favourite things and playing it live is just, there are bits that sort of stumped you really, to play that live, you know. 

Question: ‘Love Is Noise’ is next.

R: Yeah, Love is Noise, which given a few days in the studio, I was working a lot with a vocoder, an old vocoder I had in the studio and created the vocal loop and as soon as I had that vocal loop that was it. I mean, there has been a few times in my career, or whatever you want to call it, where you know, you just know, that this is universal, this is like, given the chance, you know, if the world could hear it the world would get into it, and that’s so rare I think when something within a few seconds can grab people.

Really, you know, lyrically in a way I think if you look at it as a sort of the first few lines a kind of re-make of Jerusalem by William Blake rather than will those ‘feet in ancient times’ it’s the feet in modern times. It’s ‘bright prosaic malls’ instead of ‘dark Satanic mills’, and again I think it goes back to that internal struggle of my own, you know, that search for the love and it’s what we’re all searching for, I think.

That internal battle is the battle that I will always have lyrically perhaps or with my songs. It’s about, perhaps, my own internal battle.

N: Love is Noise was kind of eleventh hour, a segment of a greater whole, Columbo, which was two days of jamming and then at some point Richard re-visited the disco section and put a hard kick drum on it and did the high vocal line that you hear on it now and then we started stacking stuff on it.

P: It comes from a jam that we, again, same thing that we tried and like. It’s taken from a four bar loop of that, and er, yeah, Richard took a four bar loop, didn’t he?

S: That’s right, kind of like a futuristic, sci-fi sort of jam that keeps evolving and evolving and the way we play with a natural ebb and flow it reached a certain point and a certain tempo. Richard picked out this really good loop from it, like Pete said, a four bar loop, and we kind of, Richard took that away and wrote the melody on top, put some keyboards on it and we took it back and put live bass and drums

P: We played it live for a bit in America and all.

S: We played it live, that’s right.

P: We played it live in America and then went back and re-did all the stuff on it.

S: On an American tour played it.

P: Just to give it more of a live feel.

S: Yeah, so, that’s typical Verve, I suppose. It was like, you know, a really good jam, choosing a really good bit, working on that bit and creating a song out of it er, you know, Richard seems to have a gift for being able to create choruses over what’s a verse and, you know, make these big lifts, which he’s done before on Bittersweet Symphony etc. it works really well, you know, people singing (sings) ‘Uh, hoo, hoo’ vocal hook straight away, you know, so you knew that, you know, that we were onto something with it, you know.
Question: Rather Be is third. How did this one get made? Another jam?

P: It was an idea Richard come in with, Rather Be, and again, it’s the same kind of thing, without, it’s not actually structured, structured but he come in with a definite idea and the vocals kind of carry it and then we just put our own things over the top, separate, you know, like.

S: It’s a similar process. It’s another one, set chords, no change in it musically. The chords don’t shift. Yeah, and Richard played it on the piano and we all kind of did our bits and it just keeps growing and growing, you know, the way we work.

I guess we’ve got a method that we’ve just kind of hit across over years of doing this, you know, of jams and editing and putting bits together and it’s like fitting a puzzle together, you know.

P: You know instantly when it starts hitting on something and everything starts from a gel round and something’s happening. You can hear everyone else playing off everyone else and when it starts moving to other places but, yeah, when it happens good you know it does. You can tell it’s there straight away.

S: I have moments where you have the headphones on and you know when you’re hitting those because your teeth are like that, and I’m stood on the back of my heels, and you know this is the bit so I’m going to play this bit really good and you do instinctively know.

I get goose pimples when we’re in a studio and we’re hitting that and we know that it’s going well. Even going back to Northern Soul with it with Owen like we used to Monday and Tuesday be like building up to it and by the time we hit Wednesday we’d be like right Wednesday’s the day and we’d be on it and psychologically it made sense. You’d know.

P: Thursday and Friday you’d be a wreck.

S: So yeah, we do know. We can tell. We’ve got a sense of what we’re about having done it for such a long time. We know the methods now, not in a contrived way. It’s just something we do that happens naturally, you know. It’s hard to explain.

R: Yeah. Rather Be is something I wrote at home not that many months before we ended up in the studio with Verve actually and just thought it might be an anthemic tune that they’d enjoy playing and it seems that we did. I suppose, you know, lyrically in a way it’s kind of we’re bombarded with so much information now.

There’s too much. You know, there’s a point where you have to just switch off, because I don’t believe we are sort of wired to be able to take in so much information, we become even numb to it or it makes us very, very fearful of the world outside the door when you’ve got the rolling news going, you’ve got all this death and destruction and yet on the other hand, even what it’s saying is I’d rather be here, you know, it’s, I’ve said it before, ‘We’re on a rock in infinity.

We’re on this planet, man.’ It’s just, isn’t that the miracle? Is this the miracle, the miracle?’ Is waking up and looking out? It’s very difficult, I think, in the modern age to find time to, or space, to really invest a bit of thought into the fact that you are on a planet in infinity.

N: That song, Rather Be, could probably be taken maybe loads of different ways. The original version of it was like quite psychedelic and quite a lot of headswirl and background loops and sort of messed with your head a little bit but there was a dilemma really that did we take it in the sort of sixties soul vein.

There’s like a sort of element of maybe, I don’t know, Booker T underneath there and, something that I’d like to sort of re-visit a few times actually that. The original version for me is probably my favourite but I think for clarity’s sake we ended up going with the song bit. I mean my sort of passion is for things that don’t sound quite right really, you know. (Laughter) 

Question: Track number four is ‘Judas’. A lyric, apparently with some connection to real life?

R: One of the lines in Judas he says is based around fact. I was in New York City and I always found it intriguing that in the big coffee shop, just on Columbus Circle, just because it was so busy they would always ask your name so they could write it on the cup and I’m always intrigued by the power of any word and specifically names obviously.

There’s not been many Adolf Hitlers born post the Second World War and there’s also not been many Judases, perhaps none. It’s a name that’s been vilified, so when I was in this coffee shop I decided that I was going to order a latte, double shot and she said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Judas,’ because it was packed and I wanted to see the reaction when she said, ‘Latte, double shot for Judas,’ which she did and it does and it causes this like, ‘Who on earth would be called that?

You know, and it’s incredible that that word two thousand years later could still have such power and at the end in the chorus of Judas it goes into, all it says is ‘Let it go, let it go,’ because surely that is the message and that’s really the motivation for that song but it’s an example of where, this is reality, this is just a funny social experiment, you know.

N: That was the first day actually, that was the very first day, I think, of recording, and it was one of those sort of joyous bits of music, I don’t know whether it was because it was sunny outside or whatever, but it was one of those things that sort of, hairs on the back of your neck stood up and it wasn’t really that dissimilar to how it is in its form now but there isn’t really much going on in the mid-range, though.

It’s a skeletal tune and that’s definitely one for the dub re-visit, I think, but the sort of chorus section, when we tried to learn it again a few days later, which is always the case with us like. We play things, can’t remember how to play it and then a new bit comes out of it, which is, I hate the word because it’s sort of bandied round by media types, it’s organic, you know. It’s sort of self-generative really, like, you know. One thing suggests another and I think we’ve kind of become adept really.

S: And that was another one that instantly just came together. That was in the first week as well, wasn’t it, I think, Judas. Another one that, when me and Pete started playing a groove and then Nick started playing beautiful guitar over the top and it’s just one of those things that happened. That’s the first time we played it. That’s the tape we used. A lot of these songs on the album are first takes, you know, yeah, they’re all.

P: Yeah, we tried going back and re-doing some of them but just couldn’t get the emotion of that first, even though we’d get it more perfect, that’s in a technical sense, we just couldn’t get the emotion of what we did the first time so we kept them.

S: I leave my mistakes on the record. I mean, nobody else can probably hear them but I know where all my mistakes are and it’s like, I didn’t want to touch it. That is a unique take. I don’t want to go back in and touch up that bit there, touch up that.

Obviously if there’s a big blooper then you will but I am quite strict with myself in the sense that yeah, if there’s a bit of a mistake, that that’s human, that’s character, you know what I mean? (laughter That takes confidence to do that because a lot of people would be, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ but to me it’s like, you know, that’s what a band should sound like.

People have got so wrapped up in production and stuff that I guess they’re scared to show their flaws and that but I don’t think we ever have been, you know. 

Question: Numbness next

S: Numbness, it does sound like an earlier, it’s quite skeletal in its sound and, yeah, it reminds me of some of our earlier records. That’s another one that was one take again. In fact, that song, we’d forgotten that we’d done it and it was only later when the engineer went back through the tapes and said I’ve found this really good track like, ‘Numbness’, and he played.

I was like, ‘I can’t remember playing that.’ There was so many hours of music. But, yeah, that’s another one with, there’s no over-dubbing. I think there’s one guitar over-dubbed on that. Everything else you hear is completely live, you know.

I think with our band we would always gear it, especially round on our second album, Northern Soul, it was a real determination to play live, get live takes.

P: Yeah, it reminds me of Northern Soul on that song.

S: In that sense it does. The fact that it’s really raw. It’s live. It’s got, it’s just pure. It’s more emotion and feeling than like, you know, a crafted song.

R: You know, I didn’t want the album to be full of my songs because I didn’t see the point because I’ll be writing my songs, doing my own thing for the rest of my life, so, but it would be good to have a mix and I think something like Numbness was one of the reasons why I wanted to get back together with the lads, it’s the kind of song I wanted to create, and I think Nick’s style actually when we started playing again, he seemed to be playing more of a Storm in Heaven, just post Storm in Heaven style guitarist sound. Yeah, I just think it’s one of them. There’s nothing really deep and meaningful about the lyrics.

N: Me and Si, at the end of the second set of sessions in Richmond got a whiteboard in and had a look at what we had and we got like 35.

The guy that engineered it got 64 or 65 so we started scouring the hard disk to see what we had and tucked away was this thing that we later remembered playing very late at night and it’s probably my favourite tune on the record actually because it’s the least considered and it’s had the least work done to it but it’s somehow truer for it I think really and I think Richard’s vocal on that is probably one of my favourite things that he has ever done.

It gets me. I keep joking about it. I can’t listen to that after six o’clock at night because it just depresses me too much. (Laughter) 

Question: Track 6 is ‘I See Houses’. Simon?

S: I See Houses lyrically is quite a bleak song, I think, it’s…

P: Quite cold, innit?

S: Yeah, it’s quite cold but it’s still got a certain grandiosity to it like. I don’t know. Richard’s got a knack of doing that, you know, he can be really, feels like he’s singing right in your ear and the next bit the music takes you off somewhere else.

I’d rather not know. I’d rather be the punter still, you know what I mean? I’d rather interpret songs myself.

P: Sometimes if you know, they’re not as good as when you don’t know. You can make your own up, don’t you?

S: Yeah, I think I’ve asked him a couple of times and it spoiled it for me so (Laughter) I’ve never asked again like, you know. I’d rather interpret, you know, make my own interpretation of it. I’m always way off the mark, I’m sure. (Laughter)

R: I See Houses, is, I dunno, the chordwise, I mean, I kind of get blasted with a lot of classical stuff when I go to my wife’s parents’ house and that’s seeped in I think to some of those chords. Houses is kind of talking really about, I suppose in the choruses it’s kind of a conversation with myself or somebody else who’s going on the reincarnation tip, but you’re kind of wondering how many lives these people are going to waste or, you know, it’s kind of like a man daydreaming, looking out of his window, looking down at the police tape and the floral tributes in the funeral procession and the same cycle which is played out on the streets of London, certain inner cities round this country, you know, seemingly, at quite an alarming rate at the moment and I kind of wanted to create that atmosphere really with that song and I think the lads did well in creating that sort of, I don’t want to say ‘sonic landscape’, but I have. (laughter)

N: I See Houses, again, sort of first four days, I think. The drum machine that I insisted putting on that everybody told me sounded like Phil Collins, but I had to battle for that.

Yeah, that was sort of three chords. Richard sat at the electric piano and then half an hour later we got a song really, you know, a journey where you’ve got peaks and troughs and it’s ‘Is there a song in here?’ and then re-visiting and sort of refining, finessing things.

That’s not actually knowing the content of the song I found myself playing the guitar with a knife at one point and it’s some kind of weird connection there, I think, the contents of it, you know. I couldn’t really hear the lyrics. I do the one headphone on, one off, so generally I can hear impressions of what everybody else is doing without the full picture. 

Question: Noise Epic. Noise? Epic?

R: Noise Epic, that’s an epic one. I think Nick and the rest of them would probably give a better account of how that came together because I’ve almost got no memory of us putting it down. It’s beautiful.

I mean, Nick fought quite hard to keep that as this three section piece and I was working on the last section, I was thinking maybe it should be just on its own because it’s such a high powered in time piece of music the last section of Noise Epic but again I think the position we found ourselves in was a good position.

It wasn’t a position like we were two years after Urban Hymns following Urban Hymns up, so we’ve not necessarily got three year tours lined up where we’ve got to pack these things of supposed hits.

It actually gave us breathing space. Noise Epic’s a good example of that. It’s something that Verve fans of Northern Soul and Storm in Heaven are going to really enjoy and it’s something to put on in the car, and, you know, it’s a good driving piece of music, and like I say it’s got space and it’s got different movements.

It’s not limited by time or structure or any of the sort of classic things that you’re normally kind of limited to when you’re creating a piece of music, you know.

N: That was a few different segments that sort of, at some point I decided they all worked together really and I was pretty insistent on it being this like Frankenstein thing of different chunks stuck together.

The first section of it is actually, it was as it is really. It got condensed into, you know, certain sections getting chopped out. It was one of those things that the more we listened to it the more we enjoyed it really, like me and Si we used to spend like evenings just enjoying getting our heads ripped off by it as well.

S: I mean, the jam itself was probably about an hour long that we took that from and just chose all the best bits but it’s got a real psych edge to it as well. It’s really, I mean, I love that track.

P: It was Nick who started the whole editing process on that, weren’t it?

S: Yeah, Nick had a really set idea of which pieces would work together within the jam and again it was putting this jigsaw together and hats off to Nick for that because he had a pure vision on that song of like all the bits, how it should all fit together. What happened on our first album A Storm in Heaven is that we’d used all the songs that we’d got.

We got signed up, we had about five, six songs. Probably it happens to every band. We used all them up on the singles and B sides and we went in at the age of, I was nineteen then. I remember some of the days, mornings, waking up in a panic thinking, ‘We’ve got no songs. What are we going to do?’ So this is how we learned to like do all this, you know, and we’ve just kind of gone with it.

I guess as we’ve got more confident as musicians we’ve got the ability to fulfil that dream now, whereas before it was much more tense and like, I remember Richard doing vocals on the last day on our first album. We were supposed to be mixing and he’d still not finished singing, you know.

It was that, up to like three in the morning on the last day. John Leckie saying, ‘Come on, come on, you’ve got to finish it,’ like that, so we’ve always been, because of that early experience under that pressure, I think we could go in tomorrow and do another record, couldn’t we, without any material. Start again from scratch, you know, and come out with something, like you say.

It’s not a pre-meditated, ‘Right we’ve got this song, this song, that’s going to be on side one and we know how it’s going to sound, we know how we want it recorded.’ It’s not like that at all, you know. I think it’s pure expression. 

Question: Valium Skies next. Richard, what are Valium Skies?

R: The term Valium Skies has been in my mind for ten, fifteen years and it’s, you get them all over the country but back home, up North, sometimes that grey, grey, grey cloud seems so low you can almost touch it and, but it was also a metaphor for depression and it’s about being with someone who recognises almost where you can go, how dark you can go but still is with you.

He’s in a band and he knew every time when you’re breaking down, you know. ‘When it comes to my valium skies, she don’t mind if I cry,’ and I think that’s a test of any relationship, I think, and really I was trying to get that across, I think.

It’s one of them songs that you first hear and then after a couple of listens it, the chorus had me for about a month after we recorded that. I was just, I couldn’t get it out of my mind and it, yet it doesn’t seem like an obvious single song or anything and again good playing by everyone, great guitars and good work.

P: Definitely Richard came in with a full idea for that, but, again it was taken, it was used and then forgotten. I mean, there’s loads of stuff on there we hadn’t heard. He came in on his own for a day and he turned up and he’d pretty much structured the whole song, hadn’t he?

S: I can’t remember, I can’t remember how all of them come together. It was one of the days that Richard did lots of songs.

P: He’d done all the vocals and it wasn’t like, the idea we’d heard before wasn’t fully structured and he come in and he took it and structured the whole thing and then we just did our thing over the top, didn’t we?

S: I think so, pretty much on that one. It’s hard to remember how they all come about, but I think with Valium Skies, I think, Richard, you know, he’s got so many songs, so many ideas, he’ll come in one day and he’ll do fifteen songs that he’s been storing up and that was one that was, again going through the tape, someone said, ‘Oh, that’s a good song blah, blah, blah.’

You’d take it home on a CD at the weekend, listen to it and then come up with your parts and, yeah, I think we overdubbed onto that one and kind of did the production thing, you know.

N: What I was kind of aiming for with that was just to do the textured thing really and we sort of looked at it for a while and thought, on a sonic level like just to shift the focus of things with it really, and turn it into something slightly symphonic and the thing that again, getting back to guitar geekery, sometimes where strings would naturally be it’s nicer to have that rough thing that approaches what strings would do, you know.

Yeah, I’m really happy with the way that came out actually, giving it a different perspective, and a different tonal palette or whatever. It was an experiment really. We tried a couple of things with it and that seemed to be the one that I liked most really. 

Question: And Track 9 is Columbo, which came, I believe from that original jam that produced Love is Noise? Is that right?

R: Yeah, Columbo, I’m just glad that these things have made it on it.

They normally are things that don’t make it on it and again I think that the freedom that we found allows us to do that. In a way I wish we could have put everything that we recorded on this record but you know, I think especially in this day and age no-one’s got the time to listen to half a track, you know, because we can’t put an estimate on whether we’ll ever make an album again, whether we’ll make an album in X amount of years, we really don’t know, so, I think, that’s the beauty is, that we can put a Columbo on, another journey track on this record. Something that, you know, it just goes beyond the normal parameters.

It takes you on a trip. Nick fought pretty hard for it to be on the record, which is good because, I think, Nick’s had an opportunity on this record to show a lot of different styles of what he can play.

S: Yeah, I mean, for me that is the essence of what we do. I absolutely love that track and it’s where Love is Noise has come from and I think it’s a good insight for people to listen to. They can listen to that track and maybe not relate it to Love is Noise but at some point they will realise that, they go together like that, you know, it’s two songs.

We got two songs out of this beautiful jam and for people to be able to understand that process and see it, I think that’s fantastic. It’s a great, I mean, it’s an out there piece of music. I can’t explain what it is.

To me, I don’t know, it sounds like something off a soundtrack, some sort of sci-fi thing to me but, yeah, it’s got all the elements that I love, the looseness and the kind of, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It falls apart in the middle, comes back together. Love Nick’s guitar line on that. It’s amazing.

N: We kind of knew that these sort of different segments would somehow fit together, one of which was a tune from 1993 I think, Mohammed Ali, and somehow they kind of have this like weird overlap between the three different things.

We kind of went back to Columbo the next day and we were calling one section, when we come to edit we kind of identify sections by ‘It sounds a little bit like this,’ so there’s like the Divo Cam section, and like the Stonesy section and the Mohammed Ali bit that never actually found its way back into Columbo but generated quite a lot of ideas for it. 

Question: Final track, Appalachian Springs.

N: It was something that Richard’s had for a few years apparently, again a guitar loop. Richard starts playing guitar, Si and Pete come in and this song unfolds that just got me sort of, sort of chilled me to the bone like playing that thing.

The end section of that I think is again up there with Richard’s greatest vocals ever and for a while, like five in the morning round at somebody’s house like, ‘Listen to this, Richard Ashcroft!’ and again a rambling sort of slightly incoherent version of a song really but with a bit of honing, it could be in my top three favourite Verve tracks I think really.

He kind of, you know, The Verve sort of are in full flight there really and, if I need to remind myself about what it is that’s good about our band, I think that’s a really good example of it, so just sort of surging, full of energy and quite frightening in its own way, I think really, and it would be nice to play that live actually. It’s shaping up quite nicely.

R: Appalachian Springs, I remember some pretty chilling times at half past five, six, seven, eight o’clock in the morning on a rainy day having been up all night in Wigan, perhaps been down to the Wigan Pier discotheque on a Wednesday night and find yourself in some weird flat, looking in a mirror in a bathroom and those moments where you don’t recognise yourself whatsoever.

You look seventy years old and, yeah, that was an image that came back to me for a certain part of the song, but what I like about it the best, it really does breathe, this song, and it reaches a great crescendo. Nick was banging on about the vocals at the end and saying, ‘It’s the best vocal you’ve ever done in your life.’

He was so into it, so I think it stayed on the album really because of probably Nick’s sort of excitement about it and his positive input into it so, erm… I knew that, you know, Nick could do something pretty special on a song like Appalachian Springs because it was right up his street and, you know, he was very supportive of that song right from the start where I was, you know, maybe had lost that initial respect for the tune or love for the song.

He kind of helped take that to its rightful conclusion, and he created something pretty amazing on it.

S: Yeah, that’s my favourite at the moment.

P: It’s got a great vocal performance on it, though. It’s like really, he’s giving it more naturally, like he would live, because it’s the original vocal, innit?

S: Mmm, it is. I think, well, I’ve left my, it’s all our original parts intact, isn’t it? We’d never the song before. Richard started, for all I knew it was just a jam and he’d just written them there but he’d actually already had the song.

Never heard it before in our lives and the take that’s on the album is the first time I’d ever played it, likewise for Pete and Nick, and again it’s just having the confidence to do that and say, ‘We’re not going to better this. There’s no point in going back and like all right, now we know the chords and we know it’ and we could…

P: We could clean it up and make it more right.

S: Make it into a pop record.

P: But it wouldn’t be as emotional. It wouldn’t make you feel the same way. All the emotion, you can ruin the emotion by making things too right.

R: I leave it up to the listener to make of it what they will, you know
  • Interview with Steve Lamacq in London, July 2008; written by Daniela Vorndran
  • Read Part 2 here