In their own words

Paul Roberts In Conversation

By Steve Martin.
 
 
 Everything that I do seems to rely on faith, because my band are really nice about everything, they really believe in it, they want to be part of something that they like. A lot of the songs are about faith, and it was written during a period of time that I had a lot of faith in a lot of people, and they let me down quite badly. I had to have faith in myself really, and I had to faith in my girlfriend, who left me half way through the project but I had to carry on, I had to keep going. It's probably the most intense thing I've done for years, because at the same time I was working with The Stranglers and gigging and trying to write. I'm not trying to be too clever with the title, I'd really like the music to speak for itself.
 
 I've got no problems with it being called a concept album. I don't care what anyone calls it, I can always say no! It is a bit of a concept because if you go from the cover, I did that whole thing myself. Ok, the cover was designed by Curt Evans from Eagle, he did me a favour and he did a fantastic job on it. Maaike Uijthoven came up with the computerised image. It was a photo from Robin Sims. He then he came up with the idea of using this computer to change the texture. The inner cover is a picture of me in a tornado pilots uniform, a picture of an old first world war diablo - this guy was a fighter pilot in the first world war who I met on this road in France when I was travelling across Europe one day - I took his photo cos I met this mad wife of his, he had a black crow living in a cage in an ancient farmhouse and this guy came out with this picture, for me to take his picture, put those two together and this was it you know, you had faith, he's gotta have faith this guy, these two pilots you know, and then you open it up and there's the artist formally known as the artist! People buy things that give them that kind of stability, faith in money! So my Jaguar XK is part of faith. I took that picture years ago, I used to work on British sports cars, I think Kath Flavell asked me that question, and that's because I love it and people put faith in their car you know, there's all sorts of stuff so I suppose if there is a concept in that respect. Then there's the cross picture and a couple of others.
 
 Then there's the quotations. The first quote is from the bible. "in the beginning there was the word", I just had to upset someone somewhere along the line so I might as well do it honestly! "In the beginning there was the word and the word was faith". Not God, because the way I look at it is there was never a god and every one, every single person is a god. You see that plant there? That plant is being kept alive by somebody, Ok, but you can't tell me that there's someone over in Tiera Del Fuego caring for the trees while he's also caring for that plant over there. So for me, the bible is a manual of humanity, and was written to keep the world in check a little bit, like rules and regulations at work, and if you follow the guidelines of this book then we could survive as a planet of people. If you go against all those feelings and you become an animal then eventually the world of humanity wont exist, we'll all kill each other. The other quote, that's something that I've tried to put into words so many times. There's an album out by a guy called David Byrne who worked with Talking Heads called "Catherine Wheel" in about 1980. There's a song on there, and about half way through somebody, I don't know if David Byrne's got someone in to do it, but it's got "little children don't mean anything, its dope and liquor, I tell you, unsaved people don't have any means of deliverance". What that means is that if you're a drug addict, a junkie for example, an alcoholic, someone who really has suffered, then you have some, a means of deliverance, if you say something its got a bit of weight behind it whereas if you read it in a book like so many people I know, you have no deliverance cos you're reading it from a book. I can come to you tomorrow and say oh you know, such and such, from a book of Huxley or something, but it won't be my emotion, it won't be my thought. It's all very well talking about things, but if you've never done them? Unsaved people have done, people like Jimmy Boyle do come out of prison, they do workshops with people and stuff like that now.
 
 I might be crazy - I don't care really but I certainly don't know, I don't think I am, I think I'm perfectly normal but I am obsessed with madness. I went through a lot of shit when I was a kid, not with my parents - just myself. I was a severe drug addict when I was a teenager. When you've got 5 psychiatrists at 16 prodding you around you kind of go "mmm!!".
 
 I could have called it "Fate"! It's not too deep and meaningful, but it does actually reflect a lot of the things that have gone on, and I've written about a lot of things in my life, and during the making of the record I found out my dad's dying of cancer and I found that out in March when I came back from the Falklands so that really upset me. That's what "Can't Seem" is about, its kind of dedicated to everything in my life. The two big institutions in my life i.e., my girlfriend and my father, my parents sort of falling apart. You gotta hold on when that shit happens, you really have, if you don't it fucks you. One way or the other its gonna kill him, whether its his kidneys failing or the cancer. Cancer might not kill him but the effects of cancer on the rest of your body might. We've been living with this now, the whole family have been living with it, for a year now, he's been living with it for a lot longer. He's a very brave man - the whole thing about that is no matter what I've done in my life I wasn't prepared for it - I knew what it was gonna be cos he'd been ill for a while and I thought this has gotta be it, but it didn't help any more when it was told to me so... But the great thing about that is that I've learnt I've now got time to sit down with my father and talk about our lives, you know. Hurts but....
 
 Death is hard to write about, whether it is a mass murderer in Free or the bigger scale of New Mourning Town. They're very closely linked because those two songs are the violent side of my lack of understanding of humanity. I wouldn't want to say New Mourning Town was anti-American, it's kind of that whole thing. I think Nato went in far too hard in Kosovo for example, I don't know, its very difficult for me, I'm not a politician but I just don't see why the most beautiful places always seem to be controlled by the sort of screwed up people you know. The Balkans is a beautiful place to go - when I first set eyes on it, my first comment to the rest of the guys was that this is the most beautiful place I've ever been to and it is a total fucking mess, totally destroyed and I was so distraught when I got home. I spoke to my father about it and he reminded me about Normandy - you didn't see anything that was dead, you just knew. There was never more than 1 or 2 bricks standing on top of each other. It's not very musically sweet its just like fucking horrible you know!! That's what I like and that's why its in there. Free actually started off as a song about Dennis Nilson who killed all those guys. And then I saw it from a different angle. I actually started writing those lyrics for The Stranglers in Written In Red (When!! Records, 1997) sessions but nothing happened with that song so I just took the lyrics back. I really liked the idea behind it and I changed it quite a lot, to be honest, and it was actually about a victim visiting his house, and then him murdering the victim. I then thought of it from a different angle - so many things had changed in my life at that point that I couldn't imagine what might happen to my son. It's a terrible thing, but at the same time the guy has a real problem himself - obviously a weird guy but obviously very lonely to have people round, then kill 'em, dress 'em up and put 'em in bed and talk to them! I've got another song actually where something like that happens, but its almost like this guy's so sick, we couldn't understand it. But to him it's his way of life. You can't ever imagine what it's like to be like that. All of us have animal instincts, all of us have animal thoughts. I mean, I've certainly sat in a car and tried to put myself in the frame of some sort of crazed murderer or even a rapist and its very bizarre. Sometimes you get these thoughts and they're your animal instincts and you just go "hang about, what was that?"! I was so screwed up as a kid I can remember prowling a bridge one night with a knife in my hand on my way home. There was no intent, I was just like acting out a scenario. I was only about 15, I was drugged up to my eyeballs, I had the hood of my jacket over my head and I was just across this bridge like a nutcase. I mean, I knew there was no one around, it wasn't like that you know. You know these people are sick but they don't see it like that. Imagine Peter Sutcliffe. This guy, he did not care about getting caught, because if he did he would have changed his car, he would have changed his dress, he would have changed his boots, he would have shaved his beard off if he did. There is something so fundamentally wrong about these people.
 
 It's weird stuff - you just don't know, they're so self assured - that's what it is, it's like a self assurance - if you can whistle down the road knowing you've just killed 13 people. You are a very sick fucker and you are a source of fascination. I mean, people like to slag these people down in the world and say they're so evil but they've built institutions around them. They're always talking about them, and they're always on the news, they're always reminding us of these people. OK, it's good to be reminded of horror, but some people will pick up on it and use it. But most people completely abhor them, you know.
 
 A lot of people think it's because they're gonna be famous; it's their way of fame. "Fame, I'm gonna live forever". That's part of Free was taken from the Irene Cara song. It's a total rip off, a total piss take, a total tongue in cheek "fame I'm gonna live forever". I don't know if you remember a Pearl Jam album out I think it was the first album "10", where he sings "Ben", he sings a line out of "Ben" (about the rat) by Michael Jackson, and it kind of inspired me, but I just came out with it in the song, and when I thought about it, I thought that's really quite nice, I like that so I kept it in! You know, it's true some of these people do want to be famous you know, they don't care.
 
 Did you see the programme about the completely crazed American-Indian guy in the States? I mean, he was a total nutcase. He tortured a woman for 12 hours, he raped her continually for 12 hours. It was awful, and he wanted to be famous and women send love letters to these people - they want to marry them, Peter Sutcliffe, fuck that, what's going on???
 
 I guess I really started writing "Faith?" in earnest probably in January 1998 and I had So Easy. I just liked the groove and actually it was Jody, my son that produced that track. I had a completely different sound on the song and he came down from his room and turned round and said why don't you do this to the drums, and that was that, really. It just completely changed my approach to mixing and effects, the effects I was using on the instruments and stuff. So to put it shortly, I mean he changed my approach to production and I suppose I'd always considered myself a bit of a producer. I always liked to work with other people and to mix other peoples songs and to add things or whatever.
 
 I put it together in an area no bigger than that! (which for all those in black and white is bout 6 foot square!!). A lot of electricity a lost relationship, and that's about it. I could not possibly afford to record in some other studio because I was writing it as I was recording it, it was a really organic thing, there were a few ideas down for this and that but you cant afford to go to a commercial studio and write your record cos they just rub their hands doing fuck all and sit there all day and take lots of money from you . You have an idea what you want to do, you've got to, but I wanted flexibility that's why I've got my own studio, plus I've got control over it. I can work on it any time I want, I can change things if I want, and also the way I've got my system, my studio set up is what I like.
 
 I like the digital aspect of recording. It makes life quite simple, but also I like to have my hands on - I've got an analogue desk, so I can create what I like. I like to get a big warm heavy bass sound with a lot of digital equipment you don't get that - its very square, everything's in a little box. I just want a bit more warmth, that's why everybody started selling valve technology a few years ago, I don't use valve technology.
 
 When I had it mastered the technician, the mastering guy, took a lot of bass end off it. But you see this is my problem with sound. If you take an old jukebox or old vinyl record the bottom end is awesome, but nowadays people aren't used to that, so immediately you hear something that's like that you want to get rid of it, because they want to tighten it up so when you put it in a box it literally turns the bass up. So you can really do what you want with it, but that's not really right cos when you've taken so much out of the bass end, you're only left with a certain frequency, or that area of the bass. All I know is when I twiddle a knob and it sounds right, it's fine by me!!
 
 The mixes were a hell of a lot more bassy when I did them, I re-mixed a few, I took them to be mastered where they're using things like sonic solutions, they can do things like pick a frequency out of a total mix and make it, they can surround that frequency with other things, its a very technical explanation, not for me.
 
 The tendency if your a singer is you'll mix yourself low, and I don't like the sound of my voice. Quite literally! I don't, really. I like it in some places, I really like what I did with Postcard, what I did with Chasing Rainbows, but you have to come to a decision, ultimately, and when your making so many decisions, something has to give. You can't that on top of stuff all the time, very difficult, something's bound to suffer, and like hearing the band play everything its like "oh shit, I want to go and record this with the band".
 
 When you're playing everything and you're not great at any of them you don't enjoy having so many hats on. I was playing everything. Listening back to some of the sequences I'm really happy with what I did, but when you're so involved with it at the time trying to be objective, nothing was a "pleasure". When I'd finished it and listened to it, I thought "I've done a really good job here". You know, I actually really like this record.
 
 It's very different what I've had to do especially in the last year, singing and playing, which is very difficult. That's why I wanted someone very, very good to represent me on another instrument like Richard.Erm.. what was the question?! About being nervous playing guitar? Oh yes that is nerve-wracking. There are people out there in the audience who can play instruments and I bloody well can't!! You don't want to be picked up on something like "oh you played that bit wrong", you know what The Stranglers fans are like, "you got that verse wrong" thank you very much!! I definitely want to play an instrument, if I can beef up the piano players playing that's great, I mean there are other songs that you purely want to sing.
 
 Richard Naiff is a grade 8 with distinction when it comes to music, there is nothing more he can do in the world to become any better. I've never worked with a piano player so sufficient. This is another thing. You can learn scales all your life and chords but to have a feel for the instrument as well, that's not prevalent amongst classically taught people in my experience. But Richard plays with his heart and soul, not his head.
 
 We were involved years ago in a band called "It Is". Ever since that he's done nothing but work in a library and play the organ in Enfield church, and that is a waste of an extremely humungous talent. I've always looked out for a gig for him. I said will you do this track for me? I can't think of anyone else that (a), could do it and (b) would like to do it. Mike Scott was in the studio, so we went down to Maison Rouge and left the doors open when we were working on it, and it only took him 4 hours. It's stunning, he'd never really played it, I gave him the music, sent him the album. Anyway, since that day he's worked with Mike Scott of the Waterboys, ever since that day! He just had to know "who's that guy?", we gave him his number and everything.
 
 I'm so happy that Rich is doing music now, you know, he's just given up his job, he's just got to work his notice off this library. It's astonishing that people like that are out there - they do exist you know. I would say almost half of the audience you get are probably much better musicians than the band they're watching. But there again we go back to the idea of feel and understanding vibes, not just being a player, that's easy you know, you can't learn how to feel something.
 
 Maybe someone else could have produced "Faith?"? Well it depends - the word get misconstrued. I guess my impression of the word "Producer" is someone who sees how some thing should feel or should be I mean they don't necessarily record it or mix it but they say it should be painted red or they say it should be painted blue and red. They're not there to twiddle knobs or stuff like that but my friend Cenzo Townshend who helped The Stranglers with Written In Red, he's someone I trust implicitly as an engineer. If I say something to him I'd expect him to be able to produce it in seconds, I'd love to record it with him in mind, with him involved, but he also said to me he really likes the stuff that I've done, he says that I've got to be the producer, so what he's saying is "you should be in control of this project because you know exactly how the sound is" - obviously I'd like him to do it, but now I've got the band together I'd like to record it with the band. I also wanna do a live version of it at some point.
 
 There are people I'd love to be involved. I mean its difficult, but first and foremost I'd like to do it with (a), myself, (b), Cenzo, maybe with someone like Alan Mulder involved, but they'd have to be in certain capacities you know. I'd like all the instrumentation as it is now, but I'd like someone to develop the power of, say the guitar, the bass and the drums, someone else to maybe take the loops and make them even better, just people to make it even better, people like Terry Hall who are great understanders emotional songs. Terry`s a great guy I think, and a fantastic British writer and Cenzo has got a really great idea of the technology out there.
 
 As for playing it live, the only restrictions I've tried to put on the band is that they have a great feel and hopefully I've got the right musicians to have that. I'm gonna be using sequencers with it. I want it to sound like the songs but I don't particularly want it to sound like the album because I'm sick and tired of bands that sound like they're playing from a CD player. It's just not worth it, you might as well just turn up the CD player and get pissed you know! I just want it to be in your face. As long as it's in your face and everyone likes it I couldn't care less really, I mean for me a live gig isn't about producing the perfect sound its about having an edge.
 
 I'd like to do "Faith?" acoustically, too, I mean I'm a bit pissed off we didn't get The Damned thing together actually cos it was looking really good with me and Richard - it was working so well it would have been such a great tour to do like that. I still want to do it, that's why I'm going out, I'm going to attempt to do it somehow if I can, see if we can get some small venues, me and Richard, around 100...150 or whatever. Just do it in bars and see what we can get out of it. I was planning to do a lot of Mk 11 stuff on that, and I already worked out all the guitar parts, if there is an instrument other than the drum percussion that I do play reasonably well its the acoustic guitar. We still wanna do it, Richard wants to do it, I wanna do it. I just think I'd like to cos I know exactly how I'd like my songs to be heard, and that is what I'd like to have done really, made them into beautiful pieces and it would have been worth it to record an album with them like that.
 
 I'd like to do this acoustic thing, so if I can get a show in Brighton, a show in Bournemouth, a show in Plymouth, I'll do the south coast you know, with Richard, just do acoustic stuff...I ain't gonna do it for nothing, you know, I'm not gonna do it to cost me money at the end of the day, I think that's silly, cos I need to pay Richard, I don't need to earn money…. well yes we all need to earn money, but what I'm saying is I'm not doing it for the money, but if I'm bringing Richard with me I've got to. This is why I gonna go out and buy a p.a. and I'm just gonna do it, stick it in the car and go, "right lets fucking do it". It's a different angle, we'd do half and half, we'd be out an hour with a little break in between, instrumental, a bit of piano playing or something - "Richard's gonna play you Bach's unfinished symphony, I'm going to the bar!!" so it would be interesting, cos that's what I'd like to do, and I know a lot of the fans would love it, would love to do that. They'd love to sit there and go "can we have .."and I'd give it a go and then you go "no its not working we'll do what we were gonna do". It's all valuable stuff. its good for you as a musician, good for the punters cos they get something different - it was like the convention we did up at Kings Cross, it really worked well.
 
 As for the future, people say "the next album's gonna be more powerful". Ideally I'd like to do it as a web album, but I don't think that's going to currently pay my wages, so I'm gonna try and get a deal on it, I mean, I've got a sniff from Germany, quite a heavy, heavy sniff, and if that comes off I'll get some money off them. I'll still write it at home, I'll prepare anything I can and as much as I can in my home studio then I'll take it into the studio and we'll do it like that - if they wanna pay for me to re-mix or re-record the last album the band will just go and do it. But I've already got half of it ready and its just, it will be a bit more powerful really but I think power is misunderstood, most people basically think power is big drums, big guitars, its not like that, power can be one word - love is a powerful word, hate is a powerful word, it don't need to be loud or played on the drums to be... How do you play love - oh fuck it BOFF!! so yeah it'll be a bit different, a bit spikier I reckon, not so smooth. Its waiting on my hard drive to be recorded, I've just gotta find time to do it now. But if I can chase up this album with the Germans or whoever is interested at the moment, I've gotta follow that through, that'll be delaying the next album, but I want to do an album a year, that's what I want to do. If I had a budget, I might get a producer in - I know what I want, I need a very good engineer, I don't know, it really depends, if I had a good budget I'd probably get the band to do it almost definitely. There are parts of it I'd do myself though, I might write them again, listen to that, tell me how you feel... That's so important to me that the feel is right. You might get your fingers stuck between the strings of the guitar, but that creates something, that's how I came up with one of my loops, it was an accident, these things happen all the time and you cant create that when you go "play" and everyone plays perfectly, you'll get a good groove but there are other things that will happen that are so fantastic, you can't write these things you know. I'd like to think that I could use the band to be honest - that I could record Brad playing the bass parts instead of putting them on the keyboard - you know the lucky thing with me is even though I've got machines working on stuff, they don't really sound like machines. I think there are nuances you can add, get some vibe in it, people don't even think about that and its done. I think you've got to focus much closer and I always considered myself a very good drum programmer - I never say I'm very good at things, but, yes, I think I'm a good programmer of drums so you don't really know its not a drummer, there's no way in New Mourning Town or even Free you'd think that was a machine, particularly, because its got so much in there, nuances, always changing, just when you think it's a machine you go "mmm, I'm not sure!"
 
 Frank Zappa, he is the god of the 20th century . I might even do a Zappa cover, you never know do you! Like "Titties and Beer", or something that would go down quite well with Stranglers fans..!! the great thing I like about Robbie Williams is, essentially, he is like me, his performance is the same as mine, he sings well, he performs like a rock n roll performer, throws himself about with the audience, whether you like it or not that is for me, what it's all about, getting hot and sweaty. Maybe someone smacking you one or getting, losing your clothes or something, you know what I mean? Its pathetic really. There's no way that I'm ever gonna be like Hugh Cornwell, I'm not clever enough, you know, I'm not academically clever enough, you know what I mean, Hugh is a very clever guy academically.
 
 I like to think that intelligence is a different word to clever, that represents an understanding of people of the world, an awareness, and I have to think that if I've got anything, certainly as an academic, it's probably intelligence, so yeah I like that kind of performer - its the worst thing in the world to go to a gig and expecting to pay someone to stand there and look at their boots and think they're great. Yes you should think they're great, they shouldn't think they're great, they should be working their tits off to entertain you. I'm sorry if that sounds like entertainment but that's what we're all in.
 
 It's easier to write a ballad than a fast or up-tempo song. if your writing fast songs they've gotta be good. They're easy to sing really, ballads are more testing for a singer, a bit more subtle, but it is harder to write an up-tempo song because they don't just... you can write loads of things that are fast but they might come out crap....and they have!!

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