03 May 1998

San Francisco Chronicle - Q & A With the Verve's Richard Ashcroft

It's clear that Richard Ashcroft was meant to be a rock star, and not just because of his bee-stung lips, svelte frame and wild eyes. As far back as 1993, when British band the Verve made its debut with "A Storm in Heaven," the front man had grand designs. "We've just started," he said at the time. "I think our second or third album will be a classic because we all believe it."

Time will tell, but the Verve's third album, "Urban Hymns," released in November, is a strong work of art. With help from the singles "Bittersweet Symphony" and "The Drugs Don't Work," it has become one of the most successful discs of the year.

The band has survived some well-publicized misadventures, including breaking up for a year and being forced to give writing credit and royalties to the Rolling Stones after using a Stones sample on "Bittersweet Symphony" without permission. With such troubles behind him, Ashcroft, 26, recently spoke about the Verve's quick ascension and the band's plans for the future.

Q: Are you concerned that the Verve's success might make you crazier than you already are?

A: It happened with Kurt Cobain. But we come from a different school of thought. We were always preparing for success. So when it did happen we could embrace it rather than have it burn us. Success, when you are true, can be an incredibly empowering thing because when we go in to make our next album our imaginations will be running right up into the whirlwind, which hasn't happened in years. People usually get crumbled up by success because they start analyzing everything. You can't analyze it; you've got to go in and carry on doing what you were doing from the start.

Q: So you don't mind that your videos have started appearing on VH-1?

A: It's about time we got records in the shops and on the television that have some depth. Why can't we be doing that? Why did it happen in the '60s? Why did Dylan do it right? Why did Brian Wilson do it right? Why aren't people doing it now? The most important thing is a few years ago "A Storm in Heaven" did happen, "Northern Soul" did happen, because we came from the experimental side. When we embraced the song side as well, we became so powerful. It's quite exciting when you've got people like us doing well instead of the usual fame and money grabbers.

Q: Do you consider yourself an arrogant person?

A: We're fans of the band. That's what I keep trying to get across. We meet fans in America and fans in England, and I'm right there with them. The maddest thing is I'm in it. It's not an arrogant thing. It's just a passion. You've got to learn to celebrate things sometimes. If you don't celebrate things you're never going to get anything out of life.

Q: What exactly is "The Drugs Don't Work" celebrating?

A: I see "The Drugs Don't Work" as a love song. Not about drugs not working, but about being that far down where you realize that they're not getting you to where they used to. When "The Drugs Don't Work" went to No. 1 in England, people had to question the content of the song. They had to stop and listen. I could write a thousand f-- pop songs in the next three days. There's no substance there. There's no depth there. I want to look in the mirror when I'm 50 and say every step of the way we f-- did it for the right reasons.

Q: Do you think the average person gets what you're saying?

A: The level in which people relate to our music is something that interests me. I can't say how much of our audience is really going to get it, because unfortunately they've been brought up a certain way, they've been schooled a certain way, they've been led to believe certain things to be their goals in life. They're not worse than me, I'm not better than them. We're all in it together, we're all getting through the madness together.

Q: Where do you stand on the Rolling Stones after the whole "Bittersweet Symphony" fracas?

A: F-- the Rolling Stones, man. The Stones stuff was something that at one point in time was very significant, the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. But now they're not even worth talking about. Keith Richards should just be playing in a blues band. He's got all the money in the world. Chill out, just enjoy the blues, man. It's a battle being in a band like the Verve. The Stones lost that battle 20-some-odd years ago.

Q: Do you still like that song after all the grief it's brought?

A: It's a p--, but it's also beautiful. Because, as the song says, "You're a slave to money and then you die." Who gives a s-- at the end of the day? "Bittersweet Symphony" is the most unconventional track by a rock band in years, and that's the whole point. As far as I'm concerned, we're going into the next few years to make the most awe-inspiring music the world has ever heard. That's our goal. We don't have limits. We can do anything. The palette is as wide and varied as you want it to be.

Q: What prompted you to yell "f-- you" several times at the end of "Urban Hymns"?

A: It's pure celebration. To me, the big "f-- you" at the end of the record was one of the happiest moments of my life. You can't plan for moments like that. We were Syd Barrett at the end of it. I love people calling me mad. We all want to push it. We all want to open up some eyes.
  • Source: San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri