Interview with Mick Quinn by Leo Hoek van Dijke
on 07 November 2005 at the Melkweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Having just arrived and settled in our hotel room, my mobile went off: Mick, asking wether it was possible to come to 'The Melkweg' to do the interview now, instead of after the soundcheck. Twenty minutes later I had found my way to the dressing-room,got my borrowed old taperecorder running and blasted off with the interview...
Welcome to Holland.
How was your trip to Amsterdam?
Well, I don't know. We've done it a lot of times, so we put on a DVD, drank a couple of bottles of red wine and I just remember waking up in the bottom of a ship and you feel like you're about to die, like you normally do. And that's when I went back to sleep and then I woke up and we were there. So pretty standard.
When did you leave England?
Ah, we set off at about 11 'o Clock last night. Yeah, tucked my daughter up in bed, went down the pub, had a few pints and then on the bus and then wake up here. Yeah.
This is another tour. Is it always difficult to have a first gig while you're on tour?
Well this one in particular, as Danny is not here on this tour. So we've got a stand-in drummer. And also Rob isn't on this tour, so we've got a stand-in keyboard player. So it's me and Gaz, carrying the flag of 'Supergrass' today, so it's gonna be interesting.
Any particular reason Danny and Rob are absent?
Well Bob has got some sort of personal stuff that he needed to sort out, so we sat down and talked about it and he's just gonna be missing for this tour. And Danny's got his baby on the way, so he wanted to be there for that, you know. So that's how it's worked out. We spent a bit of time rehearsing with our stand-ins. We've got Gaz' younger brother playing keyboards with us, which is quite interesting. Keeping it in the family! And we've got Loz Colburn on drums. He used to play for 'Ride' and me and Gaz played with him years ago and when we wanted a stand-in drummer, you can't exactly replace Danny, 'cause he's irreplaceable, but we thought it's kind of, you want to go with someone local, we don't want in some session guy that we've never met before and didn't have any affinity with, so we sort of looked locally. And ahh, he's got a different style, but it's interesting. And the set we're doing tonight is kind of loosely based on the acoustic tour we did in August. So it's not a classic 'Supergrass' gig in the way that it's kind of full of Rock and Roll, which I don't think we can compete with or to do properly without Danny, so it's kind of more in an acoustic vein and it works really well, you know. It lands itself a lot better to having a different drummer.
It's some sort of improvised setlist?
It's not improvised you know, as the set is really kinda based on the acoustic tour and we sat down and rehearsed that for three weeks, to get that acoustic tour into the shape it is. So the set's quite well thought out in the way that it works. We've got Satin Singh playing percussion on this tour as well, so I think it would be improvised in the way that, you know. We've got to make allowances for a different drummer. Charley's kinda got his own style on the keyboards as well. Which is different to Bob's, who's got a more strident and stuff and a bit more honky tonk and that works for some songs better than maybe Bobs' in a way, but you kinda let that in other ways but it's got a different kind of shape to it but I don't think it's kind of improvised. It's gonna be a good show.
And is the drummer the same one who replaced Danny in 1999?
No, we used Vinnie, Vincenzo Lamy to give him his full title and we kind of thought using Vinnie, but felt, for this tour in particular, Vinny is more a kind of a straight session drummer and we felt like we had to kind of coach him to speed up and slow down and put life into it, you know, which is kind of a standard thing with session musicians, but we felt just that Loz has got more of a natural feel for it. He'll put in fills you haven't asked him to put in and you open up and he puts in his personality and that's that more of what we're after.
You've just released your fifth album. Was it difficult to make a new one?
I don't know, you know. I mean, they're always quite separate from each other. Obviously we're the same people, so we approach some things in the same way, but we try not actually think about on how we went about the last time, we just try and change the process a bit, to keep it more interesting. We kind of done the 'Best Of', 'Supergrass is 10' in the mean time, so we had a lot of time to think of how we would progress from 'Life On Other Planets' to this record. And we did make that decision early on that we felt strong enough to go back and produce it ourselves, without using a producer. We didn't want to manipulate the sound in a way he had before with a producer and actually concentrate on the actual sounds and processing them and changing them. We kind of wanted to get closer to were we where on our demos, when we just played as a band in a room, and just try and make it sound more natural and sort of unforced. There's so many strands to make a record and we came to the decision that we didn't want to work in a proper studio persÚ, but we wanted to just buy studio equipment and set it up in a room and this gives you a whole range of sounds which are impossible to get in a studio. you kind of get this DIY effect. It's like a glorified demo, you know. When we used to make demos we'd put the bass amp in the toilet, put tea towels over the drumkit and stuff. And we wanted to do that, you know. We wanted not being too worried on making it technically sound brilliant, but interesting and unique. And that was fairly easy to do, you know. For a natural effect is involved as well. We got hold of Pom who did the engineering for it and he basically refurbishes studio equipment and he was telling us most of the residential studios in England have been closing down over the last five years, due to the advent of technology and people doing it in their own bedroom. So all these studio's are closing down and selling their equipment. So we are picking up all this equipment dirt cheap and just having it for ourselves and this just allows us to buy a nice radar system and to record the album very cheaply and we sort of borrowed Chris Difford's mixing desk from 'Heliocentric', which he just lend to us and we all have these connections to being able to have the gear cheap. So we just thought why don't we just get all the equipment together, find somewhere to set it up and just record in a really homemade environment. And there's no time constraints on that and you're not paying for studio fees, so you can take your time over it and being very relaxed and this worked brilliantly.
Is this a new approach you're gonna do with next albums as well?
Well, I don't know. You wanna change the process every time. I think if we try and go in and repeat exactly how we've done it before, we just end up with a similar record and that kind of creative death for us, you know. You want to keep yourself on your toes. And also I think in terms of the vibe to 'Road To Rouen', it's quite melancholic and quite reflective of some of the kind of personal upheavals we've had over the last couple of years, with Gaz' mom and lots ands lots of aspects to that. I think we've kind of moved on to that now, you, we want to explore something now, which I can't exactly put my finger on the way we're going musically. It's not were we were on 'Road To Rouen', we definitely, even if we're playing all of them live now, which is it's own kind of thing, I think. We're kind of starting to formulate an idea of where we're gonna go after that and it's not gonna be the same. When we've gone down and sat down and talked about it, that kind of dictates about how we're gonna go about it, wether we're gonna set up a new studio, or not. I can't really see us... I could see us use the same gear again, maybe with extra additions and stuff, but probably not in France again, because we've kind of, we've had half of it done in 'Life On Other Planets'. We've spent a lot of time writing in France and we spent all the time recording this time in France, so we move away from France and try a new envoronment, you know. But musically, it's gonna be more interesting.
Road To Rouen is on the whole a bit more eased down, a bit more than previous records. Is it a sign of the times? Are you all getting older?
I don't think it has to do with age. As I just said, it's a refelection. You know, we've had some really hard times. And also a reflection on the release of 'Supergrass Is 10', which contained all the singles. And at the back of that we kind of neglected all the other areas of Supergrass. If you look on our other records. Like 'I Should Coco' has got 'Sofa Of My Lethargy' on it. When you do release a 'Greatest Hits', you push all the hits in people's faces and that's what they perceive is the band. And that is a kind of an atomagh (??) to us, 'cause we wanna be heard like a three dimensional band and we don't wanna be known as the band who recorded 'Alright' or 'Pumping On Your Stereo', you know. However sort of arrogant that is. You like to make more out of it, so on this record we kind of resisted the temptation to go for the obvious tracks. There's touches of them, like I think 'Coffee In The Pot' is the closest we came to that. But it was a decision not to make that into a full song, put vocals on it and handclaps and use the usual glam-tricks to make it a big single. But just have it as a strange interlude within the record.
And the overall feel of the record you know, we were quite. Obviously when we were recording it we were not kind of moping around or depresssed or anything, but we wanted to express the melancholia and the hard times we've had over the last couple of years. Gaz's mother's death affected him very heavy and Bob as well. Danny with all the tabloid stuff going on at the same time, created it's own kind of strangeness and frictions and stuff. I've been splitting up with my longtime partner for ten years over the last two years and this all kind of affected our overall mood. And we wanted to express this within the songs. And it felt just out of place to have blown up, happy songs over the top of that, as we didn't feel like it most of the time. But obviously some mornings we wake up and feel in a stupid mood and we wanna kind of do stuff. But we didn't want to have that represented on this record. It just didn't feel right to do that. So that's why. But next record who knows, you know! We've probably cheered up a bit.
How does the band write songs?
It depend on what song it is. Something like 'Coffee In The Pot' was written when we were trying to find the string sounds for 'Roxy'. We were working on the keyboard and Gazz hampered on this weird sample on his keyboard and we all thought 'Ah, that sounds amazing'. We just started playing and it got written in about twenty minutes. We just went with it for four hours and recorded the whole thing perfectly and just had that in the can and we went back to work on the string sample for 'Roxy'. And it was just this little gap of escape and it all got written just like that. But a song like 'Roxy', I think Gaz had that kicking around for almost two and a half years and he had this first section and he has written all the lyrics. And we realised this is just one set of chords and it used to go somewhere so we've played it around and then just cooked up a chorus for it . It had no melody for three quarters of the record and then eventually we'd get to the point: 'well you know, you have to sing this bit and you just play around and try and work out the melody for it and after about two days you come up with a really strong melody. And that about the two ends of the spectrum in terms of songwriting. It's always a mistake to think that Gaz writes the songs as Danny in particular is very good with chords and always comes up with really amazing chord structures. And somebody will write some good chords and somebody else will chuck a very good melody out of them. It's kind of a left field you know. Because I think if you're involved in your chord changes it makes it more difficult difficult for you to write a melody for it. But when somebody else is hearing them for the very first time, he might get instantly inspired and says 'Right, this is a melody that should be on that''. Bob comes up with very good chord changes as weel. He tends to be kind less upfront with it. More quiet. And for myself, I tend to come up with songs at the last minute. In fact I didn't on this record. I missed out. The closest thing I came on this was 'Sad Girl'. I worked on all the melodies on that. But on various songs you chuck different bits on and we always, always, always leave the lyrics to the last minute. And that's the hardest bit. To get actually try and get the words fit around as you've written the melodies with a specific vow sounds and then you try and breath meaning into the song. Which I think we did better on this album, than we've had before. So it's quite complex.
Who writes the lyrics?
Well, on this record it's mainly me and Gaz. We've spent a lot of time sitting around trying to get the lyrics written. It's an artform in itself. You kind of wanted to express the melancholy that we've been feeling, but not in a sort of self indulgent way. You don't wanna say 'I just wanna die' and it's all grimm. You just wanna sort of make it universal. The main thing is, I can actuially sit down and listen to the record and not getting solace out of it and it make me feel better. It's almost like Blues you know. You sing about hard times and it makes you feel better. That's kind of what we wanted to get over on this record. We spent probably about two months to write the lyrics and a lot of the inspiration was from just atmospheres and films we'd seen and books we'd read. You supposed to be totally about yourself or whatever. You're trying to conger up things that you've absorbed and things that you've seen around. It's quite a strange process.
And musical inspiration. What kind of music were you listening to, while writing and recording this album?
Ellioth Smith was quite an inspiration for this record. He commited suicide the year before. We knew he was quite a 'Supergrass' fan actually, which was quite strange. We've never spoken to him. We never met him. And I think Danny brought a copy of 'X/O', which is a really amazing record, that we'd never listened or heard carefully before and we came to listen to that a lot and that was very inspiring. Just the complexity. It reminded me a lot of 'in It for The Money' in strange ways. It's got the kind of very dark, very depressed lyrics, but very out music, you know. Very uplifting, although he's been doing it with very dark manners. But there's a whole lot of slew of other influences, I think. Gaz has been listening a lot to a musician called Michael Chapman, who used to play in 'Soft Machine' I think. And he released a solo album, somewhere in the early seventies or late sixties, with Mick Ronsson playing. 'Fully Qualified Survivor' [1970, LHD]. And that was a brilliant record! It was kind of the bridge before 'The Man Who Sold The World' by David Bowie. There is a very strange quality to it. It's got acoustic guitars, but with a really dirty sort of Rock band under it. A kind of acoustic Rock thing, which really interested us as it's got some very dark vibe. Very organic, sort of creepy. And we wanted to try and get some of that into the record. And what else did we listen to .. . 'The Tubes' with 'White Punks On Dope' and various things you've come along and you just think you might go for a bit of that. Nothing sort of classic. 'Pink Floyd' obviously is a reference point for us, as we've listened a lot to them, but I think that's something we used to listen to when we were about 18, 19. We don't really listen to it that much anymore. But because we used to get so stoned to it when we were younger, it became part to us in a weird kind of way. But at the same time I noticed that a lot of the reviews talked about 'Sad Girl' being very Beatles. And it really wasn't our intention at all! I was listeing to a lot of 'Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band', who do a lot of Beatles rip-offs. So it's kind of filtered through that. But it kind of surprised me when somebody came and said "Ah, it's The Beatles being ripped off again"! No, that wasn't our intention at all! It's just a co´ncidence. So weird.
Don't you ever get tired, always being compared to 'The Beatles' or so?
Well, you couldn't get tired of being compared to that one, ofcourse! The Beatles have done quite some good stuff. I don't know. You can't really get tired of what people write in reviews, because it's their opinion. It's more difficult when reviews try to pigeon-hole you as people. It's strange. People take it how they want to. It's not really some thing you can take on board. I can only try to record records as un-selfconsciously as possible. I don't try and think about where influences are coming from or feel the influences are taking over the song, when they're just too apparent enough to just ripp somebody of holy. I worry on things like that. But beyond that you're just gonna express yourself and make music you enjoy making. And you get something out of that, so I can't really get tired of what people say about music. It's up to them. It's what amuses you.
You recorded RtR in France and then somebody else mixed it. Did you just hand over the tape and say 'make something out of it'?
We tried to yeah! That was the intention! We spoke to Pom, the engineer, with whom we've had a very close relationship with on this record. He sort of guided us through. Well, he didn't guided us through. But he was very every morning and kept us going. And we got in a conversation with him. I think we're always under some kind of pressure from the record company to get it mixed by some mixer so that we have huge commercial succes. And we usually sort of give in to them and then end up coming back with mixes that we will argue about and no one's happy with them and some people are happy with some parts, which goes back and forth. So this time we sort of said we were gonna pre-empty with them, grab a mixer that we want to use and you can fuck off, as that's what we're gonna do! So Pom suggested using Michael Ilbert. We spoke a lot about it with Pom. We like the sound of the records that were coming out of Sweden and Scandinavia and the whole 'production School' coming out of there. And this was from listening to stuff like Ron Sexsmith' 'Cobble stone Runway', which was recorded and mixed by a Swedish engineer. And also, strangely enough, things like 'The Cardigans'. I'm not a huge 'Cardigans'-fan, but i'm very big fan of their production-values, which is straight pop in a very interesting way. So we were kind of shopping around and he suggested Michael Ilbert. And at the beginning we were thinking of handing the tapes over and say 'Go on with it'. But as usual, being control freaks, we spoke on the phone to him, saying 'Can you please turn this bit up' and 'Do this on the other. But he was very accomodating and very relaxed about it. And this was quite strange, as we never met him face to face. We did this all over the phone, but at the end we felt like we really knew each other. It worked out quite well.
New single 'Low C' is out now. What's with 'Weeki Watchee'?
Who knows! We came round to do the video for the single and we had a lot more hands on control with the previous single, which was a bit of a fiasco actually. When we did the 'St Petersburg'-single, we actually wanted to fly over to St Petersburg and record the video wandering around in St Petersburg, but it kind of all fell through. So at the last minute we came up with the 'white room'-idea. It was a bit of a gamble to make a video like that, but it felt right for us, because we basically laid down what we wanted to do with that video. But I think the record company saw it as a not very interesting video and a bit of a failure, which I sort of disagree with. I don't think they've got the imagination to see that the next video could be different. They got a bit nervous and got Gath Jennings in to do this amazing, wacky 'Alright' video that everybody's gonna love. And we sat down with Garth Jennings and said: ═t's no point doing an 'Alright' video, as it's just going to be repeating ourselves. We're gonna look really stupid and it's not gonna work with this song. And he agreed and came up with this idea of working with the mermaids. Which he kind of pitched to the record company as 'It's gonna be quite wacky. The band is gonna be swimming around with mermaids. It's all gonna be amazing and Technicoloured etc'. And the record company said 'Good, good!! Big hit on hand'! And we just sat there and said that we were just gonna make some very weird video. We've seen a couple of Roman Copolla-videos, that were shot as documentaries and it's a lot more interesting. And the band are not in the front of the video. They're just part of the video and it's just a small element to it. And he just came back with this really strange video, which we all on the very first view were saying yeah, this is perfect. This is very interesting. Which is rare we all say at first view. And it IS a very strange video. People who've seen it, say it reflects the lyrics of the song and it represents the song as opposed to being a marketing tool. It's actually an artistic thing to do with the song. '. It was all Garth Jennings' baby and I think he did a really good job with it. It was left in and he came back and I watched it the very first time and said 'Yeah! That's brilliant'!
What was the fun part making that video?
Come on! We've had three days in Florida swimming round in this massive fresh water pool. Which is totally relaxed, very easy!
Was it hard to do the swimming bits?
Yeah, it was! I think Bob came out of it the worst. He just couldn't handle holding his breath that long. And obviously Danny, being Danny, was swimming like 50ft down and just waving and being very normal and stuff. But it was. It was quite easy for some of us, but not for all of us.
continued... read part two now