Badly Drawn Boy

By • Feb 26th, 2007 • Category: Interviews

Damon Gough is prolific. As Badly Drawn Boy he’s released five albums since 2000, with subsequent tours preceding and following each of those outputs. The 37-year-old acclaimed multi-instrumentalist has built a reputation on plush orchestrations and chamber pop ditties. With a knack for long diatribes amidst his stage banter (and in interviews) he’s also recognized as thoughtful storyteller and personable conversationalist.

As an enthusiast of listening to music — not just playing it — he’s been featured in documentaries about artists such as Jeff Buckley and Pixies. It’s this historical understanding of his art, that has been the basis for his vast catalogue.

From his Mercury Prize-winning debut “The Hour of Bewilderbeast,” through his Nick Hornby soundtracking of “About A Boy,” and to the recent “Born In The U.K.”, Gough’s delicate whimsy has remained as consistent as his stocking cap-clad and bearded facade.

BEEP: You’re arguably one of the most productive artists of your generation. With all the tours and time spent in a studio, do you even have a place you call home, or does your knack for work prevent you from ever feeling comfortable?
Damon Gough: If you look at it like that, it seems impossible. And I’m not a real travel-friendly person. It’s not something I suffer through or am scared of. But I accept it as part of what I do to bring my music around the world. But home is home here in Manchester. I’ve been here for about 10 years. It’s a good place to come back to. And I try to keep my tours to smaller chunks, so that I’m not away too long.

BEEP: But when you tour overseas, you can’t really just pack up and stop at home for a day or two.
DG: This will be one of my longest U.S. tours. I usually go for a couple weeks, and then take a little time off so I can get reenergized and stay excited about playing. It’s a lot harder to tour the U.S. because when you’re away from home and dealing with a 5-10 hour time difference with the U.K. That can be psychologically tough when you’re trying to make phone calls and stay in touch with people.

BEEP: So the States are draining?
DG: It’s not that I don’t like being there. I mean, if I were a teenage kid in a band I’d be lapping it up. But really, as long as the gigs go well and people have a good time, that’s all that really matters.

BEEP: And do the gigs usually go well?
DG: A journalist asked me earlier if I felt I had cracked America. And I didn’t really answer him the way I wanted because I went off on a tangent like I am doing right now.

BEEP: Well, pretend you got a second chance. What would you have said to him?
DG: I would tell him that I think I have cracked America. I’ve been to a city like Chicago fiver or six times – starting at Schubas and progressing to bigger venues like the Vic and the Metro. Maybe I haven’t shifted a lot of records, but I have a fan base of a load of people who will see me anytime I’m there.

BEEP: So what was the journalist getting at?
DG: Artists like Robbie Williams say they haven’t cracked the U.S. the way they have back home. But unless you’re an artist like Coldplay, Snow Patrol or U2 you’re going to have a hard time moving loads of records.

But do you think the fact you have so much recent material has played a part in less-than-amazing U.S. sales? Doesn’t that make it hard to define a set list, because you’re never supporting just a new release, but rather a collection of new releases?
DG: It’s conventional thinking to present the newest record, and throw in a few from a back catalogue. But when “One Plus One is One” came out, I knew it wasn’t going to be a big push from the record company. So I made a conscious choice to play that in its entirety, and stick some older stuff on the back end of the gig. Things may change in the U.S., but the new material naturally infiltrates my sets now in the beginning, some in the middle, and some in the end.

BEEP: So you knew that record wasn’t going to get a lot of attention?
DG: It was intentionally a quiet release. It was made in that vein on purpose, to be an introspective album. It’s one of my favorites that I’ve made. I need to make more albums like that, I think.

BEEP: But you’ve already put out another album since that one. Was it your idea to release “Born in the U.K.” so quickly or the label?
DG: I rushed them to release things quicker. This album was finished mastering in mid July. And the label wanted to stall the release until about now, February. But I said, “I really need it to come out this year.”

BEEP: Why?
DG: I get bored. I’ll take the blame if I suffer in sales because I have a couple albums out at the same time. The year I put out “About A Boy” and “Have You Fed The Fish” basically simultaneously it probably hurt the sales a bit. I mean, the record label is interested in sales. So I can understand them wanting to spread out the albums and try to get as much from each one as they can. But for me, if this last record had been postponed until now, I wouldn’t be interested in playing these songs. I couldn’t imagine having to wait all these months to play them live. I would have lost complete interest.

BEEP: So you’re not worried about over-saturating people with too much Badly Drawn Boy?
DG: It’s a difficult balance to strike. I mean, the year I had two albums out at once I was the biggest selling artist in the U.K. It sounds like a minor thing, or like the country isn’t that big, but if you look at the other 49 names on the list behind me, there are some pretty big names.

BEEP: Well, you’ve been playing these songs since last fall when the record came out. Do you feel bored with the material yet?
DG: In some ways I do. But for this album I was at a transitional point. “Born in the U.K.” was a tough nut to crack. I was feeling pressured by a sense of failure. I was coming off a record that didn’t get any support from the people at the label. And it’s taken me a while to get my head around feeling like I failed. But I’ve made it through a lot of it. I’m playing some of those songs live now, and people are enjoying the shows. Even if I’ve had a hard time at a lot of them.

BEEP: How can you call “One Plus One is One” a failure but also say it’s one of your favorite records that you have made?
DG: No, not “One Plus One is One.” I’m talking about an album I made after that and before this one. I recorded an entire album that got shelved and might not get released. I spent a year of my life writing music and recording something that the label wasn’t happy with, and it got put aside for the first time in my entire career.

BEEP: Did any of those shelved songs make it onto the latest record then?
DG: Two songs on “Born in the U.K.” were carried over from that – “Degrees of Separation” and “The Time of Times.” But those songs were basically rewritten and entirely rerecorded with new arrangements. They aren’t really even the same songs.

BEEP: Why did the label decide not to put out this record?
DG: I don’t really know. I think the album has a lot of potential. I think there are some great songs on there. But it might have just been too mature of a record, and the timing of making something like that just wasn’t right. That’s not patting myself on the back and saying that I made too adult of a record. But that’s just saying it didn’t have the right feel for other people. And that sense of failure just wasn’t something I could afford to go through again on this record.

BEEP: So “Born in the U.K.” is a cautious response to getting a record shelved? Do you ever play any of those non-released tunes live?
DG: Sometimes. I mean, that means I have 30 more songs I can choose from to play live.

BEEP: The record had 30 songs on it? You realize you’re just perpetuating the stereotype that all you do is record and tour?
DG: Well, I actually demoed about 80 songs for it, then rerecorded 30 and narrowed it down to a dozen or so that made it onto the album that got shelved.

BEEP: And you have this much material just sitting around, never to be used?
DG: Yeah. I record about that much for each album. Which gives me a lot more material to choose from than bands that just write and record enough songs for each record. I mean, maybe it’s tougher to cut things I like, and maybe other bands aren’t interested in going through that.

BEEP: It could give you a gigantic box-set.
DG: But if you listen to some of the Bob Dylan demos, the things that got onto the album are much different than what he came into the studio with. I mean, listen to some of the rare Bruce Springsteen songs and you’ll know what I mean. I’ve always been fascinated with rarities and B-sides. I love hearing how a song could have sounded versus how it actually sounds, and wonder why the changes were made.

BEEP: So since you’re a huge music nerd, is that your record collection on the cover of “One Plus One is One”?
DG: Honestly, that’s a superimposed collection. Mines not that big. But I’ve always collected music. I have never been interested in needing the actual vinyl – or now it’s the CD – but I’ve always been a guy who’s appreciated music. I love hearing new bands. Nothing is better than hearing great music. So yeah, I’ve always had the mind of a collector without the collection.

BEEP: You have no idea what records are in the collection you plastered on the cover of one of your own albums? That’s a big leap of faith that the designer put cool stuff on there.
DG: There’s some really cool stuff on that cover. There’s a Zombies’ rare release of “Time of the Season” on that album sleeve. I used to loop part of that song and use it as the outro to my gigs while playing another song over it.

BEEP: Most of the music you’ve listed today as reference points– Dylan, Springsteen – have been American.
DG: I love American music. There’s one story that comes to mind when thinking about “Born in the U,K.” When we were mixing the album, there was one record that I saw on the shelf every day for about three months, but never bothered to listen to it. Then one day I put it on. It was Frank Sinatra’s album “Watertown.” It’s unlike any other Sinatra album. Even the album sleeve doesn’t look anything like other Sinatra things. It’s a thin pencil drawing of a town. The whole record is about stories from this town. So I began to really admire this album. If you ever get a chance, pick up “Watertown.” It’s fascinating. Anyway, like I was saying, the first song we mixed for this last record was my song “Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind.” And the levels for that song match up with that Sinatra record.

BEEP: So you’re just an American troubadour in the body of a Brit?
DG: In my early days I listened to a lot of The Smiths. But by the time I got older and started making music I had already begun to get into things like Tom Waits and Springsteen. I just recently began to get into Dylan within the last decade or so.

BEEP: You thank Springsteen in the liner notes of “Born in the U.K.” Is he really the reason you play music, like it says?
DG: I love him. I’m actually going to perform “Thunder Road” at Carnegie Hall during a tribute concert. And if you listen to that album, the last line of the record is me saying “Listen to ‘Thunder Road.’”

BEEP: So, America is indirectly responsible for a record called “Born in the U.K.”?
DG: I think it makes sense. I mean, I loved a lot of the American music from the early 90s – Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Flaming Lips, Guided by Voices, Fugazi. I think the two regions help each other out. We take a lot from American music, and vice versa. Look at a band like The Killers. They only reference English bands. I think we fuel each other, and as a British musician have a greater appreciation for American sounds.

Daily Herald BEEP, Feb. 26, 2007

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