Sunday, June 19, 2005

graham parker interview


In late May 2005, just days before the release of his latest record, Songs of No Consequence, Graham Parker was kind enough to spend some phone time discussing songwriting, performing, his new record and the hills and valleys of a musical life. This summer will find the long-term rocker crossing the U.S. with the much more than capable backing of The Figgs.
My thanks to the fine folks at Bloodshot Records for providing the connection.

Q: I know there’s more to you than just being a musician, but in terms of musicianship, is it fair to break it down to three parts of writing, recording and performing?

A: Uh, that’s pretty much it, yeah. That’s musicianship, yeah.

Q: Which one of those three is your strong suit?

A: (laughs) Um, I think you’ve got to have a bit of each, you know. The writing thing, it’s always a mysterious process. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come out of it. I sit there with a guitar and thrash away, and usually very bad things come out at first, which I put aside and keep working. And then you get into a pure flow if you’re lucky, and start writing good stuff. That’s the idea anyway. So, you know, it’s kind of hard work because you have to face the fact that you might be, you know, every time I start into a writing spree, as it were, you’ve got to face the fact that maybe you haven’t got it anymore, you know what I’m saying? So it’s a kind of scary thing.

Q: Is it one of those “when it rains it pours” things? Like if you’re in a groove you might get maybe three good songs in a week, and then maybe a month’ll go by and everything’s crap?

A: Yes, it could be. I mean, what I usually do is start off with ideas that maybe I’ve scribbled down, which are basically just ideas to get me to actually sit down with a guitar, and when I start singing the phrases I realize they’re bad, they’re subpar. But they start me off somewhere. And it’s nearly always that way. Occasionally there’ll be a phrase or a song title that pops up which just takes my fancy, and that actually works and becomes a song. But it doesn’t usually become the song I thought it was going to be.
You know, you often think, Oh, this is a ballad, this is going to be an aching kind of love thing, and it turns out to be something else entirely. And once you’ve got there, then other ideas start springing up. It’s true. Sometimes it’s, Wow, where did those three songs come from. Boom. And then I’ll be struggling with one for a long time, with a riff or an idea that I’m just hammering away at, and sometimes it will actually turn into a song months and months later, and sometimes it will just lead to something else.
So the writing part is that, and the recording part is, that’s always a bit scary as well, because you’re going in there wondering if the songs will hold up. Will there be some terrible thing that the musicians are trying to play, and they don’t come out like anything? But luckily that’s never really happened. It happens with a few songs over the course of a career, but for the most part these days I have the songs that I’ve written pretty much down to a final draft by the time I get into the studio.
I like to do demos. I go to a small studio and record with me and a guitar and do some overdubs and I often have a few guitar parts, like lead guitar parts, keyboard parts, even bass parts, drum ideas, so I have that for the musicians and so it’s a very quick process for me, recording these days. The new album, Songs of No Consequence, that took nine days to record and mix. With the ProTools, the mixing is speeded up because if you’re doing it right you’re kind of mixing as you go along, and because it’s in a computer you don’t have to go back the next day and fiddle with all these knobs on the board, wondering what you had and why it isn’t as good. There’s drawbacks, because I think the computerized sound isn’t as good as tape. It hasn’t got what tape has got, but you know, as I say, we ain’t going back to vinyl any time soon, so you’ve got to kind of get with the program. And it certainly made this record go pretty quickly, I think.

Q: ProTools is certainly more efficient.

A: Yeah, it is pretty amazing what you can do. And The Figgs, the backing band on the record, they like to work fast. They recently released their own double album. And they know about not having a big budget and working quickly, because I come from the sort of school where you take two or three months to do albums. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. It’s unnecessary and the money isn’t around anymore, you know. That was back in the old days with the huge budgets that were basically a waste of money. But you only realize that in hindsight.
So there’s that part and performing. I do a lot of solo work these days which is very expansive for my material. I can have a large set list and just pick and choose, and if something isn’t going right and I go, Okay, better throw in an old favorite or a rocker here, you know. So that’s good. The flexibility of that is good.
We’re doing a larger tour with The Figgs and that’s always great as well, to promote a record with a band. Get out there and rock it a bit, you know. So it’s all got it’s aspects to it that are necessary, I think.

graham parker interview - part two
graham parker interview - part three

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