03 February 2014

Nick McCabe is sailing into calmer waters with new band Black Submarine

After a bruising time with The Verve, guitarist Nick McCabe tells Sarah Walters why he's now ready to unveil his new band

Nick – best known as peerless guitarist in Wigan band The Verve – is putting together the 'technicals' for a short tour with his new band Black Submarine, who stop off at the Deaf Institute on Wednesday.

Despite years of working with musical luminaries such as John Martyn, and as a producer, he has never formed a band outside The Verve. “The last Verve album had a couple of lessons for me really,” says Nick.

“I had previously come out of that band quite damaged, as the scapegoat for various machinations in the band that had been pinned on me. Post each period of The Verve, I had a period of convalescing and licking my wounds.

“The reason I continued at all is because I'm passionate about music, and that's been a blessing and a curse – while that's given me the conviction to carry on making music, I have rejected the notion of getting involved in anything with a profile that would ruin the satisfaction of it.”

Recording sessions for the final Verve record, Forth, were what allowed Nick to 'make peace' with those anxieties. He rekindled a fruitful writing relationship with The Verve's bassist Simon Jones, and it soon became clear that they could put together a project they'd been considering working on since they were teenagers.

“It was a bit of a triumph over adversity,” Nick recalls, “we realised all the bull**** didn't have to affect us. I don't think The Verve ever played as well as we did on that tour, but it's not to be underestimated the politics in that band; even the people who worked with us got sucked into the dysfunction.

“Pete Salisbury (The Verve's drummer) was going to come on board with us, but his loyalty to Richard (Ashcroft) and the politics... Rather than getting embroiled in that, he just bowed out gracefully.

“A lot of other things conspired in our favour: I had a working relationship with Mig (Schillace – former drummer for Portishead) and I'd been sparring verbally with Dav (Davide Rossi – strings visionary for Goldfrapp, Coldplay and the Forth LP). Instead of belligerently sticking two fingers up at the music business, I thought, 'Well, I've invested most of my life in this business, this is what I want to hear and if that satisfies my idea of quality then someone else is going to get it too'.

“At this point in life, I can look at things and realise how lucky I am.”

Finally, then, in 2010 Nick, Simon, Davide and Mig unveiled The Black Ships, and an EP started doing the online rounds – Kurofune, a 25-minute psychedelic masterpiece and classic McCabe territory. A legal challenge from an American band forced a name change from on to under the ocean, the Massive Attack-style revolving roster of singers was abandoned in favour of permanent vocalist Amelia Tucker and, 18 months on, there's an album ready to go.

New Shores is 'the cream of a big crop' from sessions that were more jammed than contrived. It's pretty wow: majestic and utterly without musical boundaries. It's no accidental wander away from the genres and Zeitgeists McCabe rejects, and it acknowledges how liberated musicians in a post-major label age can be.

“Genre fascism has gone the other way, even prog's being rehabilitated! And that means we're in a position where everybody has very disparate tastes and everything you hid away in your record collection as your dirty little secret is fair game,” Nick smiles.

“Music doesn't have to be this highly conceptual hybridisation, it can be as simple as letting your subconscious vomit. That's where I'm more excited really – when things spill forth and you go, 'Where did that come from?'. If you've got five people in a room and they all let their subconscious vomit you're going to get something really interesting.”

Laughter erupts. “Honestly, though, I'm going back to being five years old listening to The Planets suite by Holst, you don't have a visual stimulus for what you listen to so you've got more room for imagination. I like to think with this record we've let the universe in – that it's a drug experience without the drugs.”