Saturday, May 2, 2009
Nick Lowe SXSW Interview, Pt. III (March 21, 1998)
I'm a Catholic, so when I first heard "Soulful Wind," I thought you were singing about the Apocalypse or the Holy Spirit or something. Was I way off base?
No. I was thinking of something good. I rather thought the soulful wind was kind of a good thing, but at the same time maybe a good thing that could sweep away the bad stuff. So whether that's apocalyptic, I don't know. I always think of the Apocalypse as something that sweeps away a bunch of good stuff too. Everyone's history.
You use phrases like "the lion will lie down with the dove"--
Familiar biblical phrases--
And I thought, "Oh, he's writing a song about ultimate hope."
Yeah, I think it is. I'm--I find I'm using a lot more of that sort of language in the songs I write now, but it seems sort of natural somehow. I don't give it much thought. You know, I'm an--I suppose I'm an Anglican, you know, which they describe as "Catholicism lite" (laughs), but I'm not a practicing Anglican. But I have a sensibility about this, and the older I get as well, the more I'm at ease with whatever this thing is. But to me it's a kind of language. It's not something I thought up. It's a kind of a language and a way of expressing a feeling, and those--as we all know, those biblical phrases and things are--they strike chords and are really fantastic fun to sing. It's just great to say them.
Then I heard on this album--
"Failed Christian," right.
But also "Lead Me Not"--
And I thought, "Well, he's continuing in that. It's growing instead of shrinking."
Yeah, it does seem to be, but as I say, I haven't thought it out at all. It's so hard to come up with a sort of three-minute, simple song with a very direct lyric and a direct tune that people haven't heard millions of times before that if I started boxing it off and saying, "Oh, you can't do that. You can't do that. You've gotta--No, it's going too far this way." If I started corraling it too much, it would sound stiff and kind of make people feel uncomfortable somehow. I've done that in the past. I've had good ideas for a song--in my opinion, again, in my opinion--I've had a good idea for a song, but I've rather squashed the idea at birth. I've said, "Oh, it's that kind of tune! Right! It goes in this box!" And I've forced it into a box, and in fact the thing probably--you haven't served it well. I'm much more apt to letting the song--letting the lyrics and the melody and how long the thing is structured, whether those things are structured--I try and let the music do the talking much more now than me doing the talking. At least, that's what it feels like to me anyway. And one of them is in the strange sort of quasi-religious thing that seems to have come in. But, you know, I haven't had somegreat revelation, sadly (laughs). It's a sort of a device, but it's one that makes me feel good to use.
Why did you choose to cover "Failed Christian"?
Well, do you know who Henry McCullough is?
Well, he's a very interesting man. He's from Northern Ireland, with all that that implies. And he's also a really fantastic musician. He was in the sort of Woodstock lineup of the Joe Cocker and the Grease Band. He was the guitar player--you know, "A Little Help from My Friends" and all that. And he was also the guitarist in the first lineup of Wings as well.
Isn't there a Jimmy McCulloch who played in Wings too?
Yeah, there is, but they're no relation. Jimmy was--Jimmy followed Henry, actually. Henry was the person who did "Band on the Run" and "My Love," all those. But coincidentally the next guy's name was McCulloch too, although Jimmy was a Scot, and Henry was from Northern Ireland. Although they're very similar. You know, when you get up to Northern Ireland and Scotland, they're not very far apart. It doesn't sound like it. Their accents are completely different, but they're very similar sort of people. But, anyway, Henry had a lot of--am I rambling too much? Maybe you've got a bunch of questions that you want to ask, and I'm just--
No, this is fantastic!
Oh, all right. Well, Henry had a lot ups and downs with drink and drugs and what have you, and he really blew his--blew his thing, really. So he decided, in the nick of time, to go back to Northern Ireland and kind of clean himself up and get himself straight again and organized again and stop hanging out with these hoodlum friends and whatnot. And I lost touch with him. I was never really a big friend of his, but he got Brinsley Schwartz--the band I was in, Brinsley Schwartz--onto the Wings tour to open for them. He got us onto it. And, anyway, I lost touch with him. And about two summers ago, myself and my boys were doing a show in Belfast with Van Morrison, who, by the way, Geraint Watkins, the keyboard player, and Robert Treherne, the drummer, who play on my record and on The Impossible Bird, have just finished doing Van's album, Van Morrison's, the next one. Yes, it's coming out.
That'll be a different sound.
Yeah, I can't wait to hear it. I don't know what it's going to be like. I said to them, "Now, don't give away all your stuff that you do with me to Van" (laughs)! Anyway, no, it's a different thing, although he records live as well. He records his vocals live as well. Anyway, so we did this show with Van in Belfast, and Henry, right out of the blue, just came backstage, and it was really fantastic to see him. And he gave me a tape of some songs that he'd been working on. One of them was "Failed Christian," and I just thought it was a really great song because it had that--it's got that sort of naivete and wisdom thing working for it. It's not a particularly original thought. I've heard it expressed before. But the point is well made yet again.
I thought it was probably fifty years old or something.
Well, he's got that (laughs)--he sometimes seems extremely old. But, oh yeah, I think it's a really good thing, although people who haven't really listened to it right and heard what the song is saying have put it together with a few other things like you were saying--you know, those other biblical references -- and said, "What do you mean 'Failed Christian'? What's happened to you? Steady on now" (laughs)! And I say, "No, no, no. Just listen to it. It's all right. Everything's fine."
It's good to know that he's still--
Yes, he comes up with something as strong as that. Right. And he hasn't recorded it. I phoned him up and said, "Look, Henry, I've been listening to your tape, and 'Failed Christian' I think is so cool. What do you think about letting me record it?" And obviously he recorded the demo of it, but he hasn't got a record deal or anything like that. But he said, "Yeah, go ahead." So that's pretty good to give away a tune like that.
When The Impossible Bird came out, the publicity accompanying it made mention of the fact that you'd recently become wealthy by virtue of having a song on The Bodyguard soundtrack.
That's right, a song of mine you might be familiar with, "Peace, Love and Understanding."
Whose version was on the soundtrack? Yours?
No, it was done by Curtis Stigers.
So it was a new version.
Yeah, a new version. But it's a song that's been covered by lots and lots of people. I've got covers of it by a gospel choir--a sort of black gospel choir from Harlem--and it's a fantastic version. And bluegrass--I have a great bluegrass version of it.
I heard you say one time that you wrote it tongue-in-cheek.
Yeah. When I first thought it up, it was supposed to be like an old hick because everything was changing, you know, in the '70's so fast. You know, hippies were going right out of fashion. And it was supposed to be this sort of washed-up old hippie sort of saying to the new, you know, "Well, I might be out of the window, but one thing: what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? You can answer that with your flash new ways." It was supposed to be sort of funny. But when Elvis recorded it, he put that anthemic thing into it, and even when I do it now, I do it with the--I've forgotten the original thing. I've got so used to people doing--but it is--it's got a great title, that song. I think that's why people identify with it. The song itself is very simple and trite, really, and sort of pretentious. "As I walk this wicked world" sounds a little bit much. But that's the way it was supposed to be when I did it. But now I don't think about it. It just seems to me all dead righteous now.
Pt. IV: http://arsenioorteza.blogspot.com/2009/05/nick-lowe-sxsw-interview-pt-iv-march-21.html