At times, the band seems to naturally resemble The Only Ones. Did you do anything specifically to try NOT to sound like The Only Ones or was that not a concern?
Obviously, there’s a resemblance. There’s certain things in common — my voice, my lyrics, my songs. It’d be a surprise if the album didn’t resemble The Only Ones, right? The only times I’ve been concerned with not sounding like anybody was in the ’70s, I was concerned not to sound like my musical heroes. In the ’90s, I was probably subconsciously concerned about not sounding like The Only Ones. This time my only concern was to make a great album and I didn’t really care about whether I sounded like The Only Ones or if I sounded like any of my original heroes from the mid-’60s.
I wanted the vocals mixed up loud. Which was quite different — they’re much louder than on The Only Ones albums. I wanted them dry and naked, without lots of reverb. I wanted them to be really up front. And (I wanted) relatively sparse arrangements. When I listen back to the old Only Ones stuff, I particularly like the John Peel sessions. The main reason is because it was recorded on 8-track, it’s basically live renditions of the songs. I think there was a temptation when I was young, because you’ve got 24 tracks, ‘Oh let’s use ‘em all up, try out lots of different ideas.’ And I wanted this album to be… basically, all of the tracks are just played live with a minimum of overdubs. And “How The West Was Won,” “Something In My Brain,” “Take Me Home,” they’ve got the original guide vocal takes on them. I didn’t even bother doing another vocal because they… just felt right. My only concern was to make a great album, where the vocals and the lyrics are the main feature. I mean, I like powerful instrumental bits, you know there’s “Living In My Head,” which has got an extended instrumental, but I wanted the songs to come across… and the emotion in the songs.
Do you think Jamie has some John Perry in his style?
I think Jamie sounds like Jamie, right? But it probably does have a bit of John in him because when he was 13 or 14, John gave him some guitar lessons. So, I think if you have guitar lessons from somebody at that young an age then something will resonate in your future style development. I think Jamie’s quite unique, but I think’s there’s probably bits of John that you can hear as well.
Were all ten of the songs on the album written recently?
Out of the ten songs, seven of them were started after the summer of 2015. The other three were finished off in that period, works in progress that were finally structured and arranged properly.
So, there’s nothing older than summer of 2015?
Three of the songs had different previous incarnations but they weren’t in their present form. And some of the songs were totally written in that year. “How The West Was Won,” I recorded it a week after I wrote it because I wanted to capture it fresh. And “Something In My Brain” was written the week before we did our last session. And on both of those, I thought it was important to capture when they were fresh because they were like talking blues songs that you needed the freshness of the delivery because it’s more about the delivery than any tune.
Can you describe the dynamic of working with the band, especially in terms of working with your sons?
The dynamic was perfect because all ideas and opinions were welcomed. I’d listen to anything they have to say. But then, I had the final say on everything — which is one of the benefits of being the patriarchal figure (laughs). And the person whose name it’s going out under. I have final say.
I’m struck by how great the record sounds and I think Chris Kimsey was an inspired choice of producer. How did he enter the picture?
My manager knew Chris and he suggested him. I’d never met Chris before. I’m very tentative about new people I meet… but, the more I worked with him, it became obvious he was the perfect person because he wasn’t a producer that inflicted his ideas on you. He let us do what we wanted to do. But every suggestion of his that we did use really improved the songs. I think that’s the best thing you can expect from a producer. You can ruin an album by a producer who’s too overbearing and inflicts their signature sound on whoever they’re producing. But Chris wasn’t like that. He quickly understood the dynamic of the band and let us try things out that he thought were crazy but later thought, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ And he suggested things like… you know, he joined forces with Jamie and insisted on backing vocals for a couple of choruses. I’m very much of the opinion that if you put on backing vocals and a tambourine it says, ‘Here’s the chorus,’ and I don’t like doing things that obvious. But it did actually improve the songs and it was good having a different perspective in the studio. Sometimes he was the referee between me and Jamie (laughs), so he was very useful.
I’ve got Chris’s name on dozens of records in my collection, everyone from The Chieftans to Ten Years After or The Rolling Stones but he also worked a lot with a band from Minneapolis that I signed to a record deal many years ago called Soul Asylum. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them.
Oh yeah, I remember them. They had a big hit single, didn’t they?
Yeah, they had a couple hits, the biggest one was “Runaway Train.”
And also, looking back through Chris’s discography — a massively impressive resume there — I noticed that he had done a Spooky Tooth album. During the period you were putting this new album together, Mike Kellie (drummer of Spooky Tooth and later The Only Ones) passed away. Did Chris have any…
UK Indie Label Charts
No, he passed away afterwards because we finished recording in August of 2016. Kellie passed away January of 2017. So, when Chris was talking about Kellie, it was all about what a great drummer he was. We weren’t talking ‘death’ about Kellie because he was still around. You know, he was the last person I expected to not be around. Chris worked with him on the Spooky Tooth and Peter Frampton albums, yeah, he’d worked with him a few different times on different stuff. Most of Chris’s stories, his funny stories, were about working with Mick and Keith, which were quite hilarious. Also, some pretty scary stories about working with Peter Tosh in Jamaica, which was quite a hairy experience for him. But, no, I mean most of the stuff we talked about Kellie was what an amazing drummer he was, which was the overwhelming impression he left. At Kellie’s funeral Stevie Winwood sang “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” on mandolin, it was quite moving. Kellie came from that era. That’s why he was such a part of my musical education because he’d been through it all before. I was learning on the job and Kellie had done it all. He was a rock.
I remember my time with him so fondly, when we first met you guys (in 1979) in Chicago and then Minneapolis. He was such a gentleman.
Yeah, that’s what people remember about him — he was a real gentleman, his manners were impeccable. Don’t think I ever heard him swear. He’d always sort of tuck under his breath when I’d use the C-word or anything like that, he was quite funny.
How was the album recorded? Did you do long sessions that went into the wee hours? Did you record all at once or over a period of months?
They were all basically 12-hour sessions. We started at 11 AM and we finished at 11 PM. If it was necessary, like (when) we were getting right at the very end, then we’d go on for an (extra) hour or two if there was something that had to be done. We never did more than three days in a row because I figured I needed… after three days of 12 hours a day I deserved some time in bed.
The first song that we recorded was in November 2015, “An Epic Story.” And then my manager’s plan was to use that. We recorded another couple of songs with it which we left off the album. They were like country songs… or country-feel type songs. When I first started writing again in the summer of 2015, the first song I wrote was a real country song. I could write ten country songs a day, do you know what I mean? They’re the easiest things to do (laughs). But I didn’t want to put them on the album. Because Chris was producing he chose the first three songs we recorded so, “Epic Story” he chose and then these two country songs. My manager wanted to get a record deal with that.
I’d had contact with Laurence Bell, who’s the owner of Domino Records, before. We did some gigs… the start of the process, the four gigs we did in the summer of 2015, and Laurence had come to (one of them). And then he texted me really complimentary messages — “So great hearing a collection of amazing songs,” talking about my old songs. But there were a couple of new songs that I’d written when I was rehearsing to do the gigs. And so, I suggested to my manager that if he wanted to get a record deal with the recordings to approach Laurence. The basics were agreed to really quickly. And then we had to wait four months for the lawyers to do their thing, which lawyers do, that’s the way they make their money (laughs), they argue about the fine details for months. So, knew I was going to be doing an album for Domino in December of 2015. But by March 2016 I got impatient waiting for the lawyers to finish, come to the final contract. And so, I went into Konk Studios. The engineer at Konk, Josh Green, is a friend of Jamie’s and the kids had recorded there before and… it felt like home. So, I booked two days in there because I’d just written “How The West Was Won.” We went into Konk and recorded six backing tracks, which included “How The West Was Won,” “Living In My Head” and “Take Me Home.”
I signed with Domino in April and got the first available time. Ray (Davies, of The Kinks, owner of Konk) was doing an album at the same time so there wasn’t that much time available. I think we had 12 days overall in July and August to finish off the three backing tracks and record the others that went on the album. So, it was all done between November 2015 and August 2016 but probably about 18 or 19 days altogether.
I was just thinking about Ray this morning because I was listening to The One album and one of the tracks I especially liked was your version of (the Kinks song) “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” Was Ray around at all while you were making the record?
Yeah, I bumped into him. He came in a couple of times, to the control room while I was in the live room recording. He may have come in to say hello to Chris, because I think they knew each other from the old days. But then when I was out in the refectory, eating, his secretary introduced me to him. He seemed like a really sweet guy. You hear all these crazy stories about him but he just seemed like a really quiet, sweet guy. I said to him that Kinda Kinks
(The Kinks’ 2nd album) was, when I was 12, the first album I bought that I actually liked (laughs). The first album I bought was the first Rolling Stones album and the only track on it I liked was “Tell Me.” And then, the next two albums I bought were Kinda Kinks
and Five Live Yardbirds
, which I bought because of the singles, not knowing that Five Live Yardbirds
meant a really shoddy live recording. So, yeah, Kinda Kinks
was the first album that I bought that I actually quite liked. He (Ray) didn’t seem phased or impressed by that (laughs).
You already told us how the deal with Domino came about. I’m curious, how involved in the recording were they?
(laughs) I tried to get their opinion, but Laurence just wanted to keep me happy. He came to the studio once, just popped his head in for like half an hour just to say ‘Hello’ right at the end of the recording process. But we were totally left to our own devices. I think Laurence felt that recording music was my forte. Selling, marketing the music, the album cover, and the presentation — stuff like that — that’s when Domino got involved. But up until finishing the album and handing it in, he wouldn’t even make comments about it, he didn’t want to influence me. And that’s why Domino is the perfect record label for me, because it does feel like a family. At this stage of my life, I’m big on family values. It feels like a secure environment, which is where I need to be right now.
When I heard that you signed to Domino, I jumped for joy. It meant this album is going to get a fair shot, it’s going to be heard.
The great thing about them is you get a feeling they actually care about music. Whereas the major labels, they’re like bank managers. They’re not interested in the music at all. They just want to look at spreadsheets and work out if there’s money to be made. Domino cares about… the music for music’s sake. You get that feeling throughout the company. Especially in this day and age, where it’s not quite the same as it was in the ’70s. There were much more ‘music first’ people. As my manager says, ‘It used to be the Music
Business, now it’s the Music Business
’ (we both laugh). That’s why people respect Domino. Something to be treasured in these days of corporate rock.