15 May 1992

NME: Richard - The Third Eye

Daydream Believer MAD RICHARD out of VERVE believes his cosmic stepfather can get them a gig at Madison Square Garden with the power of thought. He believes in the great rock gesture, the liberating effect of great music, the peak experience of a great show, the need for mind-expanding moment. he also believes Verve have made a great first album, and so does STEVE SUTHERLAND. Mad whirled: KEVIN CUMMINS 

Richard's talking about his father's death. He's saying that wondering how and why it happened and where his father's gone has made him unafraid to face the future, whatever it may bring. he's saying he's listened to all the fearful, questioning voices in his head and he's learned to love them all.

He's saying that he intends to live every day has left to the full, that's he's determined to experience all he can, to face it all head-on, to enjoy the dark and light with equal relish. And he's talking about his stepfather. Richard is saying that his stepfather is seriously into meditation and weird things are always happening around him.

Things like, his stepfather reckons by bending light rays around them, you can make people disappear. Things like, over Christmas, Richard stood in his front room and heard people whistling 20 miles away. Things like he's been in a room banal where his stepfather has raised the temperature simply by thinking about it.

Things like the time his stepfather had a business go bust and, just by visualising them, he started checking cheques from strangers to bail him out.

Richard says he's sure his stepfather will elevate and that pretty soon he'll be manifesting matter, making things appear just by the power of thought. It's just a more concentrated form of daydreaming, he explains, and daydreaming is something Richard reckons is sadly ignored.

"Like, what if Verve wanted to play Madison Square Garden? I'd meditate, I'd see fans. I'd smell the hot-dog stands. I'd hear the music. I'd do that for two weeks and then I'd leave it. And one day, it'll happen. That's what he taught me and I firmly believe it. That stuff excites me."

Richard starts laughing. It's exactly this kind of talk that got him called Mad. Mad Richard out of Verve.

"Yeah I know. I said I was gonna be able to fly. Well why not? I actually believe that i could fly if i put my mind to it but everyone's embarrassed to hear me say it. Why? Because everyone's embarrassed to think big. Everyone's scared of the unknown. Everyone's frightened when for even a spit second, they think about who the fuckin' hell they are and where they're going and what happened before they existed.

"But those moments are so important:. They really invigorate me. I think about it a hell of a lot of the time, that kind of lost-in-it-all feeling is so liberating. Y'know, I don't know what's gonna happen next week and I don't know what's gonna happen in ten years' time, but I'm not scared of it. I'm searching. I'm looking for things. I'm waiting for new experiences and I'll be doing it until the day I die.

The last void of uncertainty is what's behind this band. And when I said I was expecting to fly, I was just trying to explain what we do as a band, to explain that we can do anything and we're gonna go as far as possible.

"I mean, if I'm called Mad Richard just because I get involved in a gig, because I lose myself, how banal and boring, does that make everything else. What's thew crime? Surely music was invented so we could experience something and something strange, something that takes us out of our everyday existence.

"So call me Mad Richard if you like. In these times I consider it a compliment..."

BEING DISMISSED as a band with a loony singer isn't the only thing snagging Verve's ascent though. It's just a more concentrated form of to the rock immortals. For a week or two last year, daydreaming, he explains, it was just Verve and Suede, a twin-pronged attack on mediocrity. Richard and Brett said the same things about the need to resurrect stardom and they shared a desire to embrace the extraordinary.

But where as Suede set themselves sure targets and met them with exhilarating accuracy, Verve followed their debut single, 'All in The Mind', with the rambling, unforced 'Superstar'/'Feel' - a gloriously atmospheric epic that even close to the band considered a wanton at act of commercial suicide.

"We know we could have recorded a Top 40 single," says Richard, "but that wasn't how we felt at the time" grandiose and. We work on instinct and what comes out comes out. It has to be like that - it's the only honest way."

The third single, the mighty, mantric 'Gravity Grave,' confirms the band were orbiting out there on their own and there was a suspicion that Verve weren't so much making records as responding to their chemical intake and failing to reproduce in the studio the swooning peaks and troughs of their Increasingly erratic live performances.

It was only towards the end of last year that Verve rediscovered their sense of direction. Touring as support to The Black Crowes, taking on audiences who'd never heard of them, and working to astonish the unconverted suddenly returned Verve to their original purpose.

"So many bands make the mistake of being satisfied playing to people who are already turned on. But there's nothing like the elation of seeing someone stood static at the beginning, icy cold, a complete virgin to your music, and then to see them being completely overpowered and engrossed by it. That transition is what it's all about."

The confident, dramatic, theatrical Verve that finished the Crowes tour was a far cry from the stoned and tentative lot that started out. By the time they teamed up with seasoned producer John Leckie to record their debut album at the turn of the year, they'd put behind them the fear that the recording process was anathema to the Verve organic ethos of letting a song live and grow and peak, then fade and die.

From fearing that to record a song was to effectively nail it down and kill it In the listener's imagination, Verve discovered that, with the right guidance and emphasis, the organic can become the orgasmic. The results of this rebirth are to be found in all their shimmering glory on the forthcoming 'A Storm In Heaven', from which 'Blue', Verve's sharpest single yet, has just been released.

Richard always claimed that tile band's debut album would be a classic. It's one of the things that put people's backs up about him.

"Our ambitions have always been really grandiose and ridiculous but that's the way I like it. My ambition is to make some classic records and do some incredible tours and I wanna be someone. I don't just wanna be Mad Richard in the funny column. I wanna rise above that.

I can understand people being cynical - after all, they've been ripped off for the last ten years by
fakes. The problem is that a lot of people read the Stones stories, they read the classic rock biographies and think, 'Shit, this sounds seriously exciting, let's get it on board'. But, y'know, you can't plan your stage entrance, what you're gonna wear, how your hair's gonna be and what moves you're gonna make before you pick up your instrument. There's too much pre-planning going on.

"People have abused that situation for the last ten years. They think they can come out with any old shit and they're gonna get a certain amount of success through the indie charts, then they'll fade away. And they're satisfied with that! Christ, let's start creating things that people will remember for a long time."

Verve set out to offer a very special alternative to, on the one hand, the computerised factory bliss of techno - "A music that's a slave to a drug" - and, on the other, ordinaries like The Wedding Present, who were happy to release 12 crap singles in a year, watch them all chart and then disappear the next week. What a horrible, safe, cynical way to fashion success out of failure.

Verve want to know where's the achievement in that?

"You get people on Roy Castle's Record Breakers show who can keep the ball up for like 30 hours or something but they don't play for anyone. They're not stars," sneers Richard. "They're just people who know how to do things. They've learned their capabilities and they know how far they can stretch. But it's just as much what you don't know that counts. That feeling of 'Woah! It could break up at any moment' is equally as elevating as a moment of genius. Something collapsing, something being destroyed is sometimes as beautiful as something being created.

"I don't think we're ever gonna achieve what we wanna achieve. It would be impossible, but that's the point. To aim further. But I think, for our age and experience, we've made a fucking great first album and established a great place to start."

WHAT WE lack these days are the great rock gestures - those symbolic somethings that say to the audience, 'OK, here's where the everyday ends and the ceremony begins'. Things like when Neil Young last played solo in Hammersmith. We heard him long before we saw him, strumming from the wings. He entered stage left, already deep in a song, did his thing and then, an hour or so later, quit stage right. One presumes he was still playing as he slumped into the limo.

This was a small but startling piece of theatre. Neil was saying... what? That the road goes on forever? That this may have been a good night out for us but it was his whole fucking life? It was like "'that bit in Barton Fink where, in the hellish, burning hotel, the psychopathic Charlie Mundt informs the petrified Barton; "You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton. I live here. Don't you understand that?" Spooky stuff.

Richard has his own variation on the great rock gesture. He always saunters onstage with his coat on, takes it off to perform. and then puts it on again before he leaves. It's an instinctive act that designates show-time; an act so effective that Bernard Butler, the clever little devil, nicked the whole routine when Suede - big Verve fans played the Brits.

"I don't like to think too much about it," says Richard, "otherwise it would all become too self-conscious. But I guess it's like a shedding of the skin. y'know? You take off your skin, abandon yourself, enjoy it, share this experience, and then you put the skin back on again and you're off.

"Music elevates me. It stretches reality into an unbelievable experience, it stretches each day into a completely different world. I don't think many bands realise that people are there to experience something different, something not run-of-the mill. And I think you owe it to the people who are spending their pocket money or dole or wages on your records and live gigs to go as far as possible, because they're putting their trust in you and that's what I expect of bands that I go and see. It's a shared thing. And when a gig's at its pinnacle and you meet someone's eyes in the front and the strobe's flashing and you've made a connection, you think, 'Christ. this is it!' It's a peak.

"And. y'know, I'm fucked up on the music, the atmosphere, the reaction with people... I'm out of my mind. I'm not in that hall. I'm not on this earth. I'm... just... not... there! That's what music can do for you. There are odd frames, odd moments from over the last year that will be imprinted on my brain for the rest of my life. Playing on the back of a truck in New York. I mean, I'd never seen Times Square and suddenly we pulled round the corner and there it was. I was out of my mind on the back of the truck, doing some insane jam, and thousands of people were just hanging around, getting into it. I've got George Bush's head 100 feet over my head on a telly screen and guys dancing on the corner, going for it... I would probably never have had experiences like that if it wasn't for this band."

WE'RE SEARCHING to explain how important Verve are to 1993 without Richard seeming Mad. He accepts that Verve could be described as psychedelic in the original sense of the word - i.e., mind-expanding - but he's understandably suspicious of all the dippy baggage that comes along with it. Verve, he says, stand and fall alone but, just to put them into some relief, how's this? Blur release an album called 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' and Verve release an album called 'A Storm In Heaven'. It's a matter of scale. A matter of dimension. A matter of ambition. A matter of embracing the anti-matter if you like.

We're talking about all this when, honest to God, Blur walk into the pub. I mean, of all the pubs in all the world, how come they walk into this one?

Richard's grinning. Maybe there's something to this cosmic stepfather business after all.

The interview's over. We spend the next half-hour visualising a cool million each.
  • NME, May 15, 1992
  • Kudos: Jeff Birgbauer