17 May 2000

Richard Ashcroft - Mean Magazine feature

In person in New York City for Mean Magazine feature:

Jay Babcock: Ok. I got a title already: from "Mad Richard" to "Dad Richard."

Richard Ashcroft: [chuckles] I was waiting for that one. [Laughter]

Jay Babcock: has anyone used that one yet?

Richard Ashcroft: Nope. [Laughter]

Jay Babcock: so I’ve only had the album a few days, still absorbing it, etc. I was wondering, are you finding it easier to write about ....a lot of the stuff is positive and uplifting, and yeah that was there before on verve songs like lucky man... But, sometimes people find it easier to express anger or sadness or criticism but have a hard time expressing joy.

Richard Ashcroft: Oh yeah.

Jay Babcock: do you have that problem now?

Richard Ashcroft: Do I have that problem expressing joy?

Jay Babcock: yeah.

Richard Ashcroft: Um. I don't know if I have a problem expressing joy, but the difficulty is making an album, a piece of music that really does reflect life rather than the one dimension. I have a problem in trying to make a complete trip record. I've found it easier and easier over the last two or three years to...I mean, I was lying in Central Park, doing a spiff with a couple of friends yesterday, just watching this...the nearest thing to a festival, really, what festivals used to be like, it seemed like to me, this mad expression of life. That was a moment, I'll never forget that ten minutes, fifteen minutes that lasted. And to me it's about now, somehow, I've got to put that moment down onto record, into a song, I've got to put that feeling that I felt that moment somehow onto record. And I've found that that's getting a little bit easier to express the beauty in life.

Jay Babcock: did you have trouble before?

Richard Ashcroft: I think so, yeah. I think I had trouble.

Jay Babcock: the early records are darker... 

Richard Ashcroft: I think sonically, I don't think I felt confident enough sonically to be taking over in statement or volume within the mix. I felt like my role was to be an instrument within the mix, not really come out of it. Whether that was driven by a lack of confidence, or lack of experience, or that's truly what I wanted to do, I don't really know. But you know, that's something that's kind of, it's [whispering] got closer and closer. It's been interesting to see that, and not fall back into those kinds of techniques of recording and what I want my voice to [do] since then. I really look back and think yeah, it's a confidence thing. Perhaps I didn't know one, how to explain what I felt; and two, I didn't have the balls to do it. And I think I like that, cuz that's the kind of... It's John Lennon coming out of doing his 'I Am the Walrus' into somehow he finds his feet a few years later. Yeah 'I'm the Walrus' is a tremendous expression but at some point things are happening to you that are so fucking REAL, and you wanna try and express that. But I don't think that I find it difficult to do it.

Someone told me—I've said this before, but it blew my mind—a bar band in Kenya on Christmas Day were playing "The Drugs Don't Work." [Laughs]

Jay Babcock: what?!

Richard Ashcroft: They were having Christmas lunch on this beach in Kenya and the bar band was playing "The Drugs Don't Work." And I said to this person, Well you know, what could the bar band be playing? And that's it? What could you make them play next? They could be playing "I Get My Beat," they could be playing anything. It's like, Where do you want to take the bar band? Do you want to keep them on "The Drugs Don't Work" and that sentiment and that feeling and that statement or do you wanna show other sides of life? Cuz there's so much....My favorite music infuses me with that kind of spirit. Be it Al Green, be it Curtis Mayfield, be it Marvin Gaye, these characters, be it the Byrds. A great track of Byrds music has got that timeless, joyous beauty to it, naiveté that I love as much as I like my dark shit. And it's time to kind of open it up.

Jay Babcock: but is it also that you're in a different place now than where you were before?

Richard Ashcroft: Oh yeah—

Jay Babcock: and if you're in a different place you're giving out different--

Richard Ashcroft: I'm in a different place and the different place has given me a bit of a different sensibility. It's opened up new emotions and unlocked doors in my head I didn't even know existed and that's only the last...my son's seven weeks old! Since the birth! This thing is just...someone tipped the dominoes. So this is AFTER I finished the record! That whole period of recording was me standing on the verge of getting it on. That's where I was, I was standing on the verge of getting it on. Some of these songs were already written, some of them were written around the time when I found out my wife was pregnant. And it's like all this together, plus leaving the band and doing my own thing. I dunno. There HAS to be hope. And that's it, that's what comes out on the record, there's a lot of hope in it. Which as a musician, as an artist, I believe that's your job really. One of your main jobs.

Jay Babcock: yeah. So, you're wearing a cross.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: So— 

Richard Ashcroft: I saw a documentary about people, the state of the diamond mining industry in Africa. Hm, that doesn't fit very well with being on a crucifix, does it? But um... Were you going to ask me why I'm wearing a cross?

Jay Babcock: yeah.

Richard Ashcroft: Um.

Jay Babcock: are you feeling more Christian, or is it—

Richard Ashcroft: It's difficult really, I can't pin myself on any fixed religion, really. I'm just one of those sad, early-century people who just drifts around and picks up a bit of this and a bit of that. Cuz we are a scanning culture. We are turning over local drug culture and we suck in as much as we can in that given time that we are given, you know. So really, I don't know. It's a celebration of Jesus Christ. But whether that means I'm with the whole shit that happened after he died, or left us, who knows. I'm not into any of it. I was confirmed a Christian when I was a kid purely because I wanted a piece of jewelry, so I don't know whether this is just another extension of that. [Laughs]

Jay Babcock: you're like the kid who gets a bar mitzvah for all the gifts--

Richard Ashcroft: It was just one chain, and I wanted my Nickname on the back: I wanted "Ashie" on it. And it never turned up.

Jay Babcock: was that your football name?

Richard Ashcroft: No. Its old school, there's a thing in Northern England, it's probably all over the world, it's just you've got to try to abbreviate somebody's name to its shortest... [Laughs] But I'm intrigued by all that, by religions, I'm intrigued by Jesus Christ. It's all fascinating.

Jay Babcock: now there's a Rosicrucian--

Richard Ashcroft: Ah, my stepfather was into Rosicrucians.

Jay Babcock: is there a connection between--

Richard Ashcroft: Not really, no. [Laughs]

Jay Babcock: yeah. Um. It's actually kind of crass to talk about these things like this, on a spiritual level, is it all you taking things from different religions or have you actually experienced things, gained direct knowledge.

Richard Ashcroft: Nah I think the only closest thing to... Like you said, it looks crass on paper, but any true musician, true artist, knows that when they're in that point of total artistic creation, whether on stage or in the studio or writing or whatever, that's the closest moment. And that's what keeps all these people addicted to getting back to that moment again. That's what messes us all up is this constant desire to get to that point. When that point's over, it's gone. That's what I was saying to Kate: "The album's over for me." She says, "What are you talking, the album's over for you? It's not even out yet." I'm like, No, it's gone. It's gone now. Again, it's that moment—

Jay Babcock: that contact with the divine—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, whatever it is, when you're aware that you're actually doing it, that's where you wanna go head for. And that's something that we got from playing with the band, really. Finding a way of getting there. And after finding the wrong ways: the things you thought you NEEDED to get there but didn't]. And that's what changed with me radically really as a musician. You know, using the time that I'm allocated to make music in a positive way, really. Using more of the time making music, rather than doing things I thought I needed to do to get in the space to make music. Not making the mistakes that hundreds and thousands in this game have made all along, you know? [Gets up to light cigarette] Go ahead.

Jay Babcock: what have you learned? It is all about trying to get there. That’s what a lot of the spiritual traditions are about: techniques to get your head to this place.

Richard Ashcroft: Well it's very difficult, man, because I don't think I've got anywhere yet. [Light cigarette with candle] I don't think I've got practically anywhere yet, I still ...from ... [sitting down] Nearly every day I wake up—although my son's changing that cuz I see his face and it gives me an affirmation of life straightaway— whereas ...

[But] I'm everyday: "New York City. Wife. Ball. Infinity." And that all happens in less than a second. I'm one of those people. I can be sold by the candy in life, and then it can be stripped away within a split second and I feel like I've seen too much. And that's the way, I've been like that most of my life, so I could never say I was there yet in any stretch of the imagination. I think when you're there, those moments that I try to naively explain, which a lot of people think, "What the fuck is he talking about?" But I think most of these religions in their purest form are paths for the discontented soul to deal with it. Deal with the fact that you're on a fuckin' ball in infinity. And we're fucking it up. And we have done since time began, done our best to fuck this situation up. [Chuckles]

So, I'm not there, I'm just getting down to basics. I think that's what you do: you come back down to basics. The basic things of life, the basic things for me are the things that turn me on more than anything. I'm not running as much now. I'm actually trying to go back from where I was running from...the more essential things that I was ignoring.

Jay Babcock: like what were you ignoring?

Richard Ashcroft: Just ignoring the true beauty and simplicity in my life. What I have, what I had that was essentially free. I think that's what's important. But I've always had that, in a sense, anyway, I've just feel like, I've said it before, an accelerated life for ten years, emotionally. It's almost like, [laughing] god knows what age I am now.

I just want to lie next to a stream, really, with my wife, play a tune, listen to some music, go out into New York City. I think there's been a lot of illness around me, personally. Illness. I think that affects people. Do you know what I mean?

Jay Babcock: the stimulus, the input, affects you--

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. And that's been mixed with all of the other things and you come out of it...you just want...simplicity.

Jay Babcock: [pause] I was wondering, listening to this record—

Richard Ashcroft: Do you know what I mean? Do you know what I'm talking about, though?

Jay Babcock: yeah, I do—

Richard Ashcroft: Cuz to me it seems like the last track on the album, I didn't want to put it on because what it said. And you think, Gosh it's a terrible state of affairs when you say something so obviously, kind of. Cuz on one hand I thought people are gonna think it's trite to say that in a song. On the other hand—

Jay Babcock: which lyrics are you talking about?

Richard Ashcroft: "Everybody's gonna feel the weight of death sometimes." And then the more I thought about it, the more scared it made me feel that you truly are laying on the candy... we forget, we have to keep on buying to keep the whole momentum of like the major fucking denial of the universe.

Jay Babcock: what do you say, 'let it break--'?

Richard Ashcroft: "Let it break the magic beauty of your fragile mind." Yeah.

Jay Babcock: I think it's a comforting song, actually.

Richard Ashcroft: Well, that's what it was meant to be. But that's the fear factor. Once you've actually done it... Like I said, the true moment is when it came out of my mouth and I wasn't analyzing it. I don't sit down necessarily with a pen and paper writing lyrics, never really have. I let them happen. I work on them in my head, but...so the moment it comes out, I'm not gonna analyze it, anyway. It's AFTER that. I did that with The Drugs Don't Work. Read it, and thought, well: The drugs don't work...? [Laughs]

Jay Babcock: it's so simple. ...I was wondering if...as you become a solo...well, you've been writing songs by yourself for a while, haven't you? Yeah. 

Richard Ashcroft: "See You in the Next One", that was a song I wrote, on the end of Storm in Heaven. Two songs totally, "History" and "On Your Own." I think I've always been writing songs in the sense that we jammed, and the jams needed to be arranged. And that's what gives some of my arrangements, that's what makes them slightly off-center as songs. Because I've had that, I've learned, through getting 45 minutes of music and making it into 5 minutes or 4 minutes or 3 minutes. Finding out that one moment where it truly is incredible and needs to be repeated. So that was a good learning process, really.

Jay Babcock: when you guys were young, in high school, listening to music...the list of what you were checking out is amazing. Can, Funkadelic, Stones....it's a huge broad range of bands. And then at the same time we hear that Wigan is the most plain—

Richard Ashcroft: I think what people don't understand is that that part of England, and England to me, felt post-war until the early '90s, in a strange way. Very strange. And we were fortunate that kind of early drug experimentation and peer group and these bunch of people got together and whilst most of the people were discovering raves, we started this, we were shouting out our windows "freaks!' and stuff like that, we had this other thing going' on. We'd go the beach and fires and music went hand in hand. So we were dropping acid. We were dropping acid at 17 years old to the Byrds, to Miles Davis' "On the Corner" and all this shit

Jay Babcock: but where did you get that music?

Richard Ashcroft: It was just... Nick came in with his own things he'd been discovering cuz New Order and Joy Division had sparked off a lot of tributaries and places that he'd gone from there, I think. We come in and we were into Smiths and from the Smiths you know, now you got to the Byrds. And this one guy came in, who ended up being Wayne the DJ, and he was just like, basically he was The Man.

Jay Babcock: he was the source.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. He was the guy who STOLE to get his records. So he'd come back... And the great thing is, at first I'd always laugh at whatever he got, even if I knew it was fantastic, and we'd go through this whole charade where I'm like [makes chuckling, ridiculing sound]. "What is this shit?" [Laughs]

So things were happening really quickly. One moment it was Love and then there'd be a sort of West Coast psychedelic tape going round the band for like three weeks and you'd just gorge yourself...and then it'd be over for a while.

Jay Babcock: now, was he older than you guys?

Richard Ashcroft: No, no he wasn't. But he had the older brother thing as well. AND he had a dad with a magnificent soul collection, which his dad didn't touch anymore, which he just pillaged completely. So we had a lot on tap, so it was a very quick process, because really before that... Yeah music, great music, got through to me, but I was too...busy, almost, you know what I mean? Too busy for it. In my own life. Was in and out, in and out, you know. I hadn't got into "lounge" culture yet, nobody got a flat properly, really. Really got down to it.

Jay Babcock: and it's hard, if you're not listening to music—

Richard Ashcroft: If I hadn't met these people, you know what I mean, I don't know what I would have found.

Jay Babcock: if your only source of music is the radio, and you only like one out of ten songs—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. That's what I used to do when I was a kid, taped the whole lot. Taped 40 songs and find any of them that I liked.

Jay Babcock: once you start getting turned onto album after album of good music, at that age—

Richard Ashcroft: Aw yeah, and that was the thing. Me and Wayne, the DJ, I got my first flat with Wayne, that was our thing, we had these huge speaker cones and had to lie on the floor with a speaker in either ear. And then we'd take turns to see who could blow each other's mind! [Laughter]

Jay Babcock: "top this."

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. So then we started making music. It was like, "Shit, man. We're listening to this shit. We gotta make our own soundtrack. We're gonna make the music we want to hear, out of all this shit." And we did. And there's tracks on this album, like "Get My Beat," is to me, it's ALL that shit. That was one of the last ones I did on the album. And I'm on my own now, so to be able to do it on my own was like [claps].

Jay Babcock: what I was wondering was, you guys were listening to all these bands...now, are you listening to more singer-songwriter stuff, you know, Randy Newman or Burt Bacharach, or did you always--

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. That's actually definitely totally switched. I definitely think there was a period in our music, as a group, when we did go into a period of listening to a lot, you know, compiling, basically, the great songs of all time! [Laughs] The greatest SONG songs of all time. The greatest crafted, beautiful, uplifting, whatever, harrowing songs you could find.

Jay Babcock: "papa was a rolling stone."

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah yeah, you're just firing them in one after another. So that definitely influenced me. But, um, I still go back to the major pillars really when I'm listening to music.

I think I've said before, the days of getting into the H.P. Lovecraft album...I feel like that's gone now. That was an essential part of the whole story. [Laughs as I point to the words "H.P. Lovecraft" that had already been written in my notebook.]

Jay Babcock: yeah. Did you come to that from the books?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, that was in the height of our West Coast thing. Which then, we got [some of the main?] tracks out of that. You know, then the Electric Prunes came through. Then [David] Axelrod's solo albums.

Jay Babcock: yeah?

Richard Ashcroft: Which are extraordinary records, really. So that's where, years ago I was saying, I'd love to really use strings on a record...no one was doing it then...and that's who I was talking about. Axelrod, you know what I mean? I'd still love to make a record that sounded something like an Axelrod record. Really dark, with that fuzzed up psychedelic riffs...

Jay Babcock: which Axelrod records?

Richard Ashcroft: There's one...there's a connection to William Blake as well...basically you see on the back, they're all titles of William Blake poems, and it's dedicated to him.

Jay Babcock: ah, I didn't even know that.

Richard Ashcroft: [getting up to light another cigarette]. The thing is, I'm not...uh...fascist, you know what I mean? I can hold my hands up and say right now, "No Scrubs," TLC, I think is a classic single. You know what I mean

Jay Babcock: you're not a snob about it.

Richard Ashcroft: I don't like that, you see, I've never come from that, so I think my music has that edge to it. An edge to it melodically because I can pick out, and always have been able to do, when my mum's first, the only albums that I had were "Revolver," "Black Explosion," and the Carpenters. And for some mad reason, Pink Floyd "The Final Cut." [Laughs] And the Stylistics. So I've heard those records a helluva lot, those five albums. A friend of mine, when we were like four or five, he had a copy of "Twist and Shout," and remember those old Fender toy Stratocasters with actual strings on it? We used to do that, we used to do that full thing. So it was actually there, probably more than I thought, the whole idea of music and singing and stuff. But I just know there's some mad little twist of fate in people's hunger and desire to really get involved it.

Jay Babcock: another thing about this record...when you think about it, most of it is devotional music.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: a lot of the songs—

Richard Ashcroft: Those songs to me have to make me go, put my two palms up and my hands out, almost, when I play 'em back in the studio and hear it. It's church music, you know. It's church music to me. It really is. It's gospel music. My songs... I think "Sonnet" is a gospel song. The chorus on "Sonnet" on Urban Hymns is a gospel song. If you heard a choir sing that, you wouldn't argue with it. Not that I wrote that intentionally, but that's the feeling. Really, most of the songs, most of the changes, are very simple, so within that change I want to fuse a dynamic and a feeling that takes you... "Get My Beat" is the same chords all the way through the song. So is "New York." It's what you do with them and where you take them.
[Coffee arrives]

Splendid, thank you. [Latte for Richard]

Jay Babcock: the other thing it shares with gospel music is that at least half of the songs on this record end with at least a minute or two of you singing you with yourself, against yourself, across yourself. There’s all these vocal lines. It has that quality as well.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. I think that's something I wanted to build on that I'd been working on for a few years, really. It's influenced, really, by—

Jay Babcock: its Al Green stuff—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. It's been influenced by Marvin Gaye, as well, yeah. He had a real amazing way of combining four voices at one point and not confusing the space. Neither voice was taking over too much from the other ones at any point, yet you could concentrate on one and get off on one, and let the others back it. Or you can move on to another.

Jay Babcock: you did that with bittersweet symphony.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. There's three voices going on there and..

Jay Babcock: this record it's on almost every song--

Richard Ashcroft: "On the Beach" track, at the end. And there's a line at the end of that that says "I eat the Beatles for lunch."

Jay Babcock: is that right?!

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. [Laughs]

Jay Babcock: I was gonna ask you about that. What is that line, about the master and his dog?

Richard Ashcroft: Aw yeah. "I saw the devil's serpent"—

Jay Babcock: I thought you say "I saw the devil surfing."

Richard Ashcroft: [laughter] Naw, ha ha ha. See, I blew that one. That's better than mine! It's "serpent" and "servant." The first one' "servant," I think. It all changes. "I said "Bring me your master/I don't want his dog." That's like: take me, come on, you know what I mean, don't bring me these...

Jay Babcock: yeah. And the bamboo boat--

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, "I made my boat from bamboo/but it sunk." [Laughter]

Jay Babcock: I think these are the funniest lines you've done. I can't even think of a funny song you've done before.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. It's good that you can go from that to "I ain't afraid to die" to "I'm on fire/full of new desires"...you know what I mean, mixing it all in... and "Eating Beatles for lunch," which for me, at the end of the track it's this amazing piece, it's a song, it's uplifting, the horns in it, beautiful, and then at the end it says "eating Beatles for lunch," which definitely keeps in with the storyline of this Robinson Crusoe with his man Friday, or this Lord of the Flies thing, but in my head it's like Let's stop, fucking....Yeah, the Beatles, we all love them but, come on." If this was on Revolver now, we wouldn't be arguing. It's so psychedelic.

Jay Babcock: inevitably my favorite songs are the almost-country ballads: "brave new world" and "you on my mind"—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: really gorgeous stuff. And those were with BJ Cole?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: now, Pino: was he on the whole record?

Richard Ashcroft: [looking at the tape's track listing] Alright, no, he doesn't play on "Get My Beat"...

Jay Babcock: he must be on "New York"--

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah yeah. And he's on "Money to Burn." [Gets up to get cigarette]

Jay Babcock: when did you work with him?

Richard Ashcroft: Well it was basically...We did a mad few weeks. I was in the studio, which is Olympic Studio in London. I sat there. Funnily enough...I don't know if you've ever seen that Godard film, "One Plus One," the movie with the Stones—

Jay Babcock: yeah, that's the one where the guys have the guns out in the junkyard--

Richard Ashcroft: The people with the white sheets. The making of "Sympathy for the Devil."

Jay Babcock: yeah.

Richard Ashcroft: Well, that room that they were recording it in was where the album was done.

Jay Babcock: that's where they're all going "ooh ooh/ooh ooh"

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. [laughter]

Jay Babcock: and you see what's his name, the funny looking guy—

Richard Ashcroft: Bill Wyman. [laughter]

Jay Babcock: classic shots of him.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. I saw that when I was 13, I think it was 12-13, going camping, and we were up late for some reason that regional TV showed it. It came out of nowhere. And showed it at 2 o'clock in the morning for some mad reason, you can imagine, back then there's only 3 or 4 channels, they'd only just started playing things through the night, and THIS thing came on. And we were excited, cuz we were out camping, anyway. So we were BUZZING. And I saw this thing and immediately went, "That's the way to spend your life." Cuz it was obviously 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning and, you know, they got paid for doin' it. [laughs] They got paid for doing this. I remember that vividly.

So I'm sat in that same studio X amount of years later, with one guitar and some keyboards, just me and Kate and Chris, thinking "Right, then..." I know I wanna use Pete, I know I'm gonna use BJ. I've got no bass player. This that and the other. So, a name came up, Pino, and he's played on...it's not the kind of C.V., I didn't choose him for his C.V.—

Jay Babcock: yeah it's...uh....

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. But it was like: Let me meet him. And we met. And he started playing, and he was just totally cool because he's totally open to whoever he's playing to, to tell him what to play, and then he'll play it. So I'm humming out bass lines and they're coming out.

Jay Babcock: that's what you wanted.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, that's exactly what I wanted.

Jay Babcock: it's your vision, and you need people—

Richard Ashcroft: So I got around me these people who are amazing musicians but their egos are totally intact and they're there for the cause, to help me get what I want.

Jay Babcock: when I saw that he was gonna be on your record, I didn't at first know of all that stuff he'd done before, I only knew that he was all over the new D'Angelo.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: and that stuff is really good.

Richard Ashcroft: I think that album is incredible. The thing of it is, what everyone gets wrong with, when you choose to be a session player, you are dictated to. It could be anything, Pino could've been going into any of a number of studios rather than mine and being told what to play, or playing on something that perhaps he didn't fucking believe in, especially earlier in the career... but you gotta think of all the brothers who would've been up there to play with D'Angelo on that record, and why did he choose Pino? You see what I mean? So when I heard about that I was like Yeah man, someone else on the other side of the Atlantic doin' his own thing who understands that as well.

Jay Babcock: and they recorded that, that's like a jam record—

Richard Ashcroft: This man is like... This Pino Palladino, I can say a Meters record and he can play me the bass line. He can play anything. He's one of the only people in the world who can totally replicate that kind of Beach Boys/scratch/Walker Brothers bass. You can get that sound if you want it, dead on. So it was very liberating working with him. Liberating to fuck all the nonsense bullshit about what they've done before, this that and the other, break through that. Cuz it's almost like, I'm taking on even more then. I'm taking on "He's done this and he's Mister This and he's got these titles and he's done all that." I'm breaking all that away. I'm saying, "Right I'll take it TOTALLY on. I'll take on whatever you say, cuz what I got in my head and what's gonna happen is gonna be beyond C.V.s."

Jay Babcock: I see what you're saying. and they're all gonna tour with you?

Richard Ashcroft: I hope so, yeah.

Jay Babcock: why...actually I was thinking about this as I was listening to your tape today. I arrived today at 6:45 am --

Richard Ashcroft: [laughter]

Jay Babcock: and as I was taking a cab across the bridge I was listening to the tape, and hearing the parts with all your voices, and I thought 'why on earth does he want to play this live?'

Richard Ashcroft: Mmm. What, because it's just not gonna come across voice-wise?

Jay Babcock: yeah.

Richard Ashcroft: I think, uh, you know, I can get around that. It just means I can do something more interesting. I can...I wanna kinda get, assimilate the sound and the size of it and I want it to do to the crowd what it does on record, but I haven't necessarily though that out too much, really. I'm gonna go and find out what I can do and see what happens.

Jay Babcock: and you're not gonna do it for a while anyway, if you tour, it wouldn't be for—

Richard Ashcroft: Nah... I'm definitely coming to a crossroads on that situation. [goes to light cigarette on the other side of the room] But I'm going to be coming over here, I'm gonna go to Japan, Australia. I've never been to Japan.

Jay Babcock: I thought every British band made it over there eventually—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, we never got over there. We never went to Australia. There's many places we never gone to, so I gotta do that.

Jay Babcock: that was my other question. OK, even if you are gonna try and do these songs live, why tour so much?

Richard Ashcroft: I don't know. That's something I've been thinking about in the last 48 hours. I've totally questioned it, especially with what I'm working on in the studio, what I'm cooking up, the sound I'm getting, this kinda morphing of all these styles, can go somewhere. It's opening it up, you know.

Jay Babcock: you've got to keep it going. I mean, you should do what you want—

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah yeah yeah—

Jay Babcock: but when you've got it.... and I know you've said this in interviews before and I was really glad to see someone say it, that people pissed away whole careers in the last 30 years because they've got locked in these 2 and 3-year record company cycles. people put out 3 records in 10 years instead of eight.

Richard Ashcroft: Mmmm.

Jay Babcock: and it's gonna leave at some point. the pathway won't be there at some point, and if it's there now, why not...you know, why play the same songs over and over on tour—

Richard Ashcroft: That's what Chris Potter said to the record company. He said, "He should be in the studio pretty much every day really." You know what I mean? But um...

Jay Babcock: I mean obviously if you wanna visit Japan—

Richard Ashcroft: [laughter]

Jay Babcock: you've got a wife and you want to travel the world and there you go—

Richard Ashcroft: But I know, and I've got a new son and I'd rather be home! [laughter]

Jay Babcock: you're not gonna be out seeing the town when you have a new son, are you?

Richard Ashcroft: No, so...my touring at the moment finishes in January and would start in August. A six-month kind of thing, on and off, it's not hectic. But I think really I have to kind of live the words I've spoken, you know. Live through them. And almost take heed to what I actually say. A lot of the things I say in interviews are actually probably I'm talking to myself.

Jay Babcock: just figuring it out as you talk.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: you've got to do that. I think that's why oasis fell off, cuz they took too much time, all that time off after morning glory. I mean I don't know if that's what really happened, but it seems like it. and yes on the other hand maybe his ten-year stockpile just dried up—

Richard Ashcroft: I've got the songs now to release a new album very early next year. And that's the thing.

Jay Babcock: you should do it.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: cuz I know in the past, what did you do with the last verve record, didn't you guys tell the label, "no more singles' after 'lucky man'?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: you literally told them no more singles.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: and to me there was at least three more singles on that record.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: and I thought, oh this means they're really gonna do it, they're gonna put out a buncha records, they've got all this material. but then you did another tour of America. and I wondered, why are they doing this?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: did something go wrong there?

Richard Ashcroft: [thoughtfully] I think so. I think we just got into the idea of playing live again. We just really enjoyed playing live and then [laughing sadly] it completely fucked up. So then we're left with an American tour and the American tour's not gonna happen, and the band's not gonna happen, people have worked for something for 10 years are gonna be left paying fucking bills for 10 years. So the obligations of bands and touring and the people who were fucking there, all that weight and pressure comes onto you and you go on and do shit...

But it actually turned out great cuz BJ did the tour and that opened up a few things in my head on what I can do on the next record, whether it was the Verve or whether it was me, I knew that that sound could be brought into a fresh context.

Jay Babcock: yeah. I saw the show in...on that tour.... see I saw you guys, I saw the verve in 1995 at the palace.

Richard Ashcroft: Oh yeah—

Jay Babcock: which is still the best show I’ve ever seen.

Richard Ashcroft: [laughs]

Jay Babcock: and then I saw you downtown at the Mayan and then I saw the Anaheim show, the one that was at the big hockey arena—

Richard Ashcroft: That was mad.

Jay Babcock: that was a weird show. I thought that show was lacking something, not necessarily Nick McCabe, that's obvious—

Richard Ashcroft: It's lacking a future. It's people playing, or feeling, our doubts. You can't have that doubt, you see. You can't have doubt about the future or why you're there for it go off. You have to know exactly why you're there, why you've struggled, why you've wasted fucking 15 hours a day doing fuck-all. You have to KNOW. And once you don't know, that comes across. People are sensitive. People aren't stupid. They paid to see something, they've paid to see real life theatre. It comes across. If you're going to watch a piece of theatre and the leading actor is planning on getting the hell out of it in a few weeks' time cuz he can't take it anymore, I'm sure his performance or whatever it is not gonna be up to scratch or come across.

Jay Babcock: that makes sense—

Richard Ashcroft: You know, when you're in doubt about the future and you're in doubt about how solid this thing is that you're laying your life and your soul on the line for, you will probably retract into yourself a little bit and think, No, there's only so much I can give to something that everyone doesn't believe in. There's been chipping away, people have been chipping away at it, so it's just you in the spotlight in front of all these people.

Jay Babcock: yeah. another thing, that actually affects where you are now, is: I always thought you were a stronger performer when you didn't have to hold a guitar.

Richard Ashcroft: Mm. Oh yeah... That's a side of me that people who only saw me with a guitar just haven't got a clue of what those early gigs were like. [laughter]

Jay Babcock: but, yeah, I mean there was more of it at the palace show, than there was at the Mayan...I mean, I saw you at the palace and I saw a man, the place was maybe half full, and I saw you, I saw a man possessed, I saw someone back off the drum riser, singing, with no microphone in sight.

Richard Ashcroft: [humbly] Oh yeah. That's what I mean.

Jay Babcock: and that's, when someone is doing that, you know that they mean it. they are doing it for only in and of itself. it's different than, yeah, some songs have to be performed in front of the mic with an acoustic guitar and maybe that's what the songs call for. but I don't know how you're gonna get the same performance if you do that. it's a different challenge, I guess.

Richard Ashcroft: Oh it is, yeah. It's totally different. And, you know, that's why, actually becoming more of a songwriter and studio and arranger and getting this whole sound and taking it to its furthest degree is equally as challenging but perhaps more easily surmountable. I probably have more tools to pull that off than I have for that (playing live). But um...I don't know. It depends how hot I get this sound going. Because this isn't... Don't be expecting bass, drums, BJ Cole and....

There's gonna be a wild sound. If I can get this sound to where I'm as happy as James Brown was with his bands then I'll be free. And that's I'm working up to in the live thing, is getting a bunch of people, and make it so hot and so wild, big, huge....

Jay Babcock: so what are you gonna get? are you gonna get singers?...horns?

Richard Ashcroft: I think horns will definitely be part of it. There will be two keyboard players, there'll be someone triggering the loops, there'll be of course a drummer, bass, and BJ Cole, singers perhaps...

Jay Babcock: you have female singers on this record. who did you use?

Richard Ashcroft: It was the London Community Gospel Choir. About six of them, treble-tracked. [laughter] But that was a great one, because they.... I was in the studio with them and the reverend who leads the singers, he sings as well, he's got a beautiful voice, and I give him the arrangements for "I Get My Beat" by singing them to him and it was like, the look on his face when he first heard them, because he's probably used to standing in the studio, putting the Gospel Thing down and then ...everyone's all happy, "Oh excellent we got the gospel singers on the album."

Jay Babcock: doing the usual shit. but you've got them singing-- 

Richard Ashcroft: I'm going 'na na na na' [hums a bit]... from "I Get My Beat"...So it was that first look of [makes face of bewilderment]. It was like he had a big bubble hat on. So we did it, and then we did the next thing, and then he heard the next thing...Yeah, I think it's the sort of coda at the end when I sing "I get my beat with you," that kind of...I almost wanted them not just to sound like gospel, but to sound like those classic Hollywood movies from the '30s and '40s, those almost...mermaid voices. You know what I mean? I can't really describe it...

Jay Babcock: getting towards a Theremin sound?

Richard Ashcroft: Almost. On that vibe, yeah. Mixed with the gospel thing. But when he heard that--

Jay Babcock: it's a kind of singing you don't hear anymore— 

Richard Ashcroft: It just works so well with the track. When that track moves at that gear, through the "winners" bit, "tired pof life," that sounds, that's a real soulful, psychedelic moment, and the drop-down, the second drop-down, you know, Will put a line that's pure Ennio Morricone. Pure John Ford.

Jay Babcock: Will?

Richard Ashcroft: Will Malone. It's pure John Ford Westerns...you know that scene it creates when it drops and then, phwewwww, back up! That's important.

Jay Babcock: ok, now on a completely different topic. cuz we got only a few more minutes, I gotta skip around--

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: "lonely soul": when exactly was that recorded? your vocals?

Richard Ashcroft: Mmm. It feels like years and years ago. I went in and did it, first take. Did it straight, one take. No lyrics. Heard it in the car on the way down. Did it. Went back in the studio a couple of weeks later to try and get it better but realized that what I'd done was just right anyway. So...

Jay Babcock: so was that after the band had broken up the first time?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, I think so. So this is before Urban Hymns is coming out. I think? Yeah? '97 is it? Something like that?

Jay Babcock: I guess. [laughter] I always thought you'd done it sometime in '96--

Richard Ashcroft: Right. It actually is. It's a long time ago, anyway.

Jay Babcock: It's another world.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. [pause] I mean that kind of... I enjoyed that. I'd like to do, I'd like to take that somewhere as well. I don't know what's more fulfilling, that or doing "You in My Mind in My Sleep" or...You know what I mean? What's more fulfilling? They're all in a certain way doing the same thing, but at the moment...I dunno.

Jay Babcock: that part at the end, when you sing over the strings, that's really beautiful--

Richard Ashcroft: Oh, yeah...

Jay Babcock: that's one of the most beautiful things you've ever done.

Richard Ashcroft: I think, if I could, speak to the people I need to speak to about that little loop, I could make that into an incredible track, just that loop, that one moment into an amazing song. You know what I mean? [laughs] Keep it 'shhhh...' [laughs] I'll put a call in...

But I've got a couple of albums of kind of sample things as well that I would love to have done [already]. It's almost like culture's catching up with me and it's catching up with Wayne the DJ and it's catching up with all of us now. [walks across room to light cig] It's almost like, it's that funny thing when you're that age, you feel like selfishly all this stuff is your club, and it's wrongful that you've made the effort to discover this shit and then all of a sudden it's like everybody consumes Krautrock for six months and then they're onto like... But there's so many records that we could've made, if we had the time that would've blown people's minds open, the loops that we found over the years. Which are steadily been pilfered in the studio. Top loops. [laughs]

Jay Babcock: what about a live verve record? is this stuff you're not even thinking about now?

Richard Ashcroft: [thoughtfully] Uhh...

Jay Babcock: I mean there's all these songs that've never come out..."Mover"...

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah—

Jay Babcock: that've never come out properly. are just gonna leave that for a while?

Richard Ashcroft: Just leave it. See what happens. I've no real plans for it. I'm sure the record company will have some plans they'll keep very secret for years when I've not mentioned anything. [laughs] There's a lot of stuff, really. There's many, many gigs we've got on tape.

Jay Babcock: and you could collect your b-sides. again.

Richard Ashcroft: [laughter]

Jay Babcock: I was telling someone that I thought some of the b-sides from urban hymns were better than the songs on the album. "so sister." "country song" is beautiful.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah, it's a wild one.

Jay Babcock: even the jam ones, Echo Bass.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah.

Jay Babcock: all that stuff.

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. On this one, I'm on the same...I don't think you would've heard the second set of B-sides—

Jay Babcock: I’ve just heard "Precious Stone"... but you've got some more coming?

Richard Ashcroft: Yeah. There's a bit serious track on the next single's B-side. It's epic...

Jay Babcock: ok, here's a question. we were talking about the cross, and the diamonds...I was reading this book called "no logo" by Naomi Klein--

Richard Ashcroft: I've heard about this, yeah. Sounds like something I've been thinking about for the last ten years.

Jay Babcock: look for it, it's really good. but a lot of it is about...Nike.

Richard Ashcroft: Right, right, yeah.

Jay Babcock: at that time, when the thing happened with you guys, it was like, oh, it sucks that your song has been taken from you 12 different ways, now it's even being used as an advertisement. but also, now I think: you know, Nike is...kinda evil. I mean, they make all their profits of the sweatshops. and your song helped them make money—

Richard Ashcroft: [bitterly] No one's more aware of it than me, yeah.

Jay Babcock: yeah.

Richard Ashcroft: But at the end of the day, what happened there is if we said no to them to use the original piece, then they'll dupe it, so... $150 grand went to some people. You know what I mean? But yeah...

Jay Babcock: yeah. I would think, there would just be a huge amount of anger and vengeful songwriting coming off of that.

Richard Ashcroft: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean that's yet to come out, a total comment on that whole thing. I don't think I've got the ability yet to actually get it down, really, what I think about all that.

But, um, it goes back to how disappointed I was when I first heard "Instant Karma" on an advert, and the Stooges on an advert, and you KNOW that the product that their song is promoting isn't as good as that timeless piece of music that that's become part of your life. And the people who are alive who are doin' it, it's that belief that they're selling in the product that is so sickening. That's what's strange about it. The people who are out saying "Yes now I've giving it all to charity" and this, that and the other, but YOU'RE STILL LINKED WITH A PRODUCT, you're still LINKED with the company, it's linked with you forever.

Jay Babcock: it's blood money.

Richard Ashcroft: Totally, man. There's no need for it! There's just no... The argument now, of the older musicians is, "This is our global jukebox, because nobody plays our music anymore." And that's where they come from. But you know, often these characters are living' it up in a 300-acre mansion somewhere. [laughs] When's it stop? That's the thing. When does your need for more dollars stop?

But yeah it's very strange, and you didn't see it, [but] in England, the car ad in England was disgusting. That was a couple of geeks in a room, duping it over a computer, played everyday for a fucking year, it felt like. So I'm reaching for the remote control--! [laughter] I'd just manage to get it off before it started. It's just embarrassing to me. Very embarrassing.

Jay Babcock: you know when it happened, someone in the US ran a news story, where they tracked down exactly who at what ad agency came up with the idea for Nike... and they interviewed em, someone at Portland. and I was almost...

Richard Ashcroft: Gonna pass on the numbers, huh? [laughter]

Jay Babcock: yeah!

Gonna crack some skulls. [laughter]
  • Interview by Jay Babcock, 2000