Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nick Lowe SXSW Interview, Pt. I (March 21, 1998)

(Originally posted at the now-defunct popped.com; conducted at the SXSW, Austin, Texas. His latest album was Dig My Mood, hence the preponderance of questions about it.)

I found this [the first Brinsley Schwartz album] recently in a pawn shop.
Amazing.


Were you the lead singer on it?
It's been so long since I've even seen it. Let me just have a look. I know I did quite a lot. Oh, yeah, I did. I did most of the singing on this, I think. Yeah. Good God! There's only three tracks a side on one (laughs).

One of them goes on for quite awhile.
I know (laughs).

Side one reminded me a good deal of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Yeah. We were very influenced by their first album, and being young, you tend to wear your influences very much on your sleeve until you get a little older and you start to find out where they got their thing from, and you start listening to that, and so on, and so you start discovering other people. But, yeah, Crosby, Stills and Nash were the thing at that time, and we were very influenced by it.

You did a better job than America, who were also influenced by them.
Well, they had the "Horse with No Name" though, didn't they?

Why did you dedicate Dig My Mood to your parents?
Well, that's nice of you to ask that. I think probably because they--well, not in my mother's case. You know, my mother has always been a tremendous fan of mine, even through some of my less successful artistic efforts, but my dad definitely hasn't. He's really--poor old chap, he's had to--when I used to bring my records back and put them on at home, I used to see him sit there, kind of with this really long-suffering look on his face, having to sit there and listen to it. But recently he's started liking my records.

Your recent records or your old records?
I think a bit of both actually. I think a bit of both. Certainly, he likes my recent records and records that I sort of play on and things, you know, I bring home and say, "Well, this is so-and-so. I was playing on this" or "I did this," you know. He likes the company I keep, if you know what I mean, as well--Little Village and things like that. He likes John Hiatt. And I think he started listening to some of my earlier things and enjoying them now as well, certainly more than he did. But my mom and dad are really getting on quite a bit now, although they're very sprightly and fit, really. I thought that probably now was an appropriate time to make a little dedication to them.

Is it the slower material on your last couple of albums that he's especially liked?
I suppose so, yeah. I think he likes the songs. I think he likes the songs, and he likes the sound, I think. The sound seems to get to him. You know, he's a sort of a jazz fan. He likes that kind of mellower thing. He always professed to not like music at all actually, but I've found out lately that he's kind of a closet music fan, and with rather good taste, as a matter of fact, but he's always kept it rather quiet, strangely enough.

Has he come around yet to "Marie Provost"?
No, I don't think that--he doesn't like the sort of cluttering drums very much.

You mentioned jazz--the first time I heard the first line of "Faithless Lover," I heard Gershwin's "Summertime"--
Oh, did you?

Do you have an appreciation for Gershwin?
Well, of course, yes.

Not all rock stars would say, "Well, of course" to the question of whether or not they liked Gershwin.
Oh, well, I suppose so, yeah (laughs). Well, you know, I'm a songwriter, so I'm very interested in the craft of songwriting, which, of course, those great songwriters had--and with their bafflingly sophisticated lyrics, which, of course, everyone used to sing, you know? Even if you were pumping gas back them, you'd be singing these really sophisticated lyrics with references to these rather well-traveled subjects, which doesn't really play nowadays, I don't think, in quite the same way, sadly.

It might play in twenty years.
Well, it might. At the moment, you know, you've got Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of it, which I--you know, that doesn't happen for me. But "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" is a brilliant, brilliant showtune, or tune on any level, just to name but one. Was that Rogers and Hammerstein?

I don't know.
Anyway--I can't remember what you asked me.

I mentioned that "Faithless Lover" had reminded me of Porgy and Bess--
Oh, I see. No, actually, with the "Faithless Lover" song I'd been listening to a lot of French chanson--you know, like Jacques Brel and Gilbert B├ęcaud and Charles Aznavour--you know, that sort of Parisian street music, which really is fantastic stuff. I don't speak French very well. I've got schoolboy French. So I don't always know what they're singing about, but the French have a reputation for having the worst pop music in the world, and yet they've got this brilliant, indigenous street thing, which is rather elegant even though it's tawdry and comes from the gutter. It's got this--the purveyors of it are rather elegant, are rather interesting people, and the songs are incredible-- the stories and the songs. They're about transsexual strippers, you know, and how (laughs)--you know, completely over the top.

There's a moment in "Faithless Lover" when this high-sounding instrument comes in behind the melody.
Oh, it's just a fuzz guitar. We were trying to get that sound like you hear in French porn music. You know, they have that sort of funny fuzz guitar, that really over-the-top fuzz guitar. That's what we were trying to go for. And that kind of funny clicky bass they always have on it.

That song and "You Inspire Me" both sound like something Frank Sinatra could've recorded.
Yeah. That song--I told the guys when we went to record it--I said, "Look, this has got this--this song has got a little descending little line in it, which is very redolent of the '40's and the '50's. It sounds like one of those late-night, sort of loungy kinds of tricks." But I said to them when we went in, "Look, this might sound like jazz, but let's just remember, we're not jazz guys. So don't try and push it into something that sounds really phony and fake." Not that these guys would, because they're really great players, these people that I play with. But they're not--

You didn't want them to think "jazz."
Yeah, exactly. I said, "If it comes along--" you know, because I cut my stuff with the vocal at the same time, for reasons I'll go into if you want me to. But there's a great English eccentric, a guy called Viv Stanshall--I don't know if you've ever heard of him. He had a sort of satirical group in the '60's called the Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band. He was the singer. He was a very eccentric bloke. And he had this little thing he used to say about jazz. He used to say, to describe jazz, he'd say, "Jazz-- delicious hot, disgusting cold." And I said to them, "Look--" Viv's no longer with us, of course--I said, "Look, Viv is looking down on us now. Just remember, 'Jazz--delicious hot, disgusting cold.' So please handle with care." I think it came out really sounding sweet and wistful. It doesn't make go, "Oh! It's that horrible fake jazz thing!" Because the song itself is basically a three-chord, four-chord song. It sounds like a country-western song when you just play it on the acoustic (laughs). So I wouldn't dream of saying, "Oh, I'm really into jazz now." I like pop music, albeit pop music from my era. You know, that's what I'm schooled in--two verses, middle eight, chorus, and out.

Your dad must like "You Inspire Me."
Oh, he does like that one, yeah. Yes, he does like that one. But he likes some of the others as well, which are not quite so obviously of his era.

Why did Rounder pick up Party of One, of all of your albums it could've chosen to reissue?
I didn't even know it was.

It's listed on the Rounder website with your two latest albums and the live EP.
Oh. Well, maybe they leased them off Demon, because Demon--you know, all my back catalogue--they've got all my back catalogue. And they recently reissued Party of One, with a new cover and two-- that awful thing they do where they take two outtakes--

You don't like that?
Oh, man! There's a reason why they're outtakes! I think it's such a shame. I know that if you're a real fan--real fans would be interested in it, but if it's not very good music, I think it's kind of a shame to do that. But that's the way it is.

You had no say over whether they did that or not?
Well, but I can be persuaded very easily, and if they tell--"Well, that's what everyone does, man! Wake up! It's the real world! It's only just trying to sell some records!" I'll go, "Oh, yeah. All right. Maybe I'm getting a little aloof about this."

I think your reservations are in large part correct. I found most of the outtakes on Bob Dylan's Bootleg (Volumes I-III) box set rather underwhelming.
Well, exactly. What the ear don't hear, the heart don't grieve for.


Part II: http://arsenioorteza.blogspot.com/2009/05/nick-lowe-interview-pt-ii-march-21-1998.html


"CRACKIN' UP" (Not the Abba song.)

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