A stranger walks up to you in the street, not knowing who you are. He asks you where he should begin - with The Cosmic Rough Riders or with the Daniel Wylie solo-stuff. What do you tell him? Which is the best introduction to the World Of Wylie?
I'd tell him to buy the first Cosmic Rough Riders album, "Deliverance", and take the chronological journey through the Wylie catalog. I'd also point out that the early CRR albums were infact Wylie solo albums.
Is it more difficult to release a collection like this, calling it 'The Very Best Of, than it is to release a proper studio-album? I mean, aren't you putting yourself out there, basically saying 'hey, this is the best stuff I've got, and if you don't like it, you're unlikely to find any better songs on any of my albums'?
If you don't like what I do in the first place, then this compilation won't change your mind but if you buy it on the off chance because you liked "Revolution (In The Summertime?)", then I think you'll be surprised at how strong a set of songs it is. It shows how consistent my writing has been since "Deliverance" came out in 1999. Releasing a brand new album is easier. All the songs are born at the same time and are like a separate little family but at the same time related to all the other albums. You might say cousins. There's always the possibility that people might think there's nothing else worthwhile on the proper albums and that I've cherry picked the best songs for the compilation but they'd be wrong. I could easily release a volume 2 with another 20 songs and the quality wouldn't dip. I'm already under fire from fans for missing out their favourite tracks. And the idea of releasing the compilation was to re-introduce myself to fans I'd lost when I gave up the CRR name. Most people aren't aware that the CRR stuff I recorded was 99% written, arranged and produced by me and that three of the guys they thought of as CRR (the live version I appeared with) weren't actually on the records other than a few tracks near the end of my association with the name.
CRR was your band. But in the end you actually decided to leave CRR due to the 'constant bickering about the musical direction'. What did that feel like, leaving behind the band that was actually yours?
It was difficult to deal with. After inviting Stephen Fleming to join me in CRR at the end of the "Panorama" sessions, I gave him 50% of everything, including my song writing credits. He's made a lot of money from my songs and I haven't had a penny from any of his. When the album came to the attention of Alan McGee, we had to put a band together quickly to showcase for him. Stephen was friendly with the other guys and I agreed we should bring them in.
McGee liked what he saw and offered us a deal not knowing that it wasn't a band that made the records. He wasn't bothered though and had decided he wanted to sign exactly what he saw live. I was 41 and had to decide whether after years of trying to get signed that I should knock back the deal or take it. I decided to take my chances. It backfired when suddenly, everyone wanted to write songs and contribute equally. The trouble was I was used to writing, arranging and producing my own stuff and I really didn't like what some of the guys were writing. I didn't want to put my name to it cause I knew I could do better. By this time I'd already written two top 40 hits and an album that sold 100,000. I hadn't taken a wrong turn and had the next album already written. For people who didn't even play on the hits to suddenly put pressure on me to record their songs was just too much to take. At first they were happy to write the occasional B side but give people an inch and they'll want a mile.
Do you still have any bitterness towards having to leave your band behind, and how things were done in CRR?
Not so much bitterness, more regret. Regret that I was so naive and easy to take advantage of. Also sad that someone I trusted was ready to take that advantage and trade on a name that was created by me and a musical reputation that was built on the success of my songs. The other thing that pissed me off was the way the band and their management tried to write me out of the history of my own band. Every effort was made to make it look like those guys were CRR and that my role had been minimum. How fucking dare they do that?
What was it like being on your own again? You had just left a band who had sold a 100.000 records, had a contract with Poptones and were riding high on the post Brit-pop wave. Surely that must have caused you a few sleepless nights back then?
I was euphoric at having broke free from the band and I was excited at being back in total control of my own music again. I was so sure that all 100,000 people who bought "Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine", would follow me on my solo stuff. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. I spent £30,000 making "Ramshackle Beauty" and it sold around 10,000 copies worldwide. The reviews were great. Most said it was an improvement on ”Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine”, but reviews don't sell records. I found it difficult to get any airplay on daytime Radio 2, which is almost like a nail in the coffin before you get started. When I gave up the CRR name, I didn't realise what I was doing. I was too naive to understand that it was a brand name. I perhaps, arrogantly, thought the 100,000 people who bought "Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine", would know who I was and sadly for me, most of them didn't.
You set out to achieve cult-status, which you did. I think in a lot of people's minds, that means someone who's got the talent and know how to use it, but also fails to reach a mainstream audience. When the Cosmic Rough Rider were selling records by the bucket-load, did you ever think "hey, maybe this is bigger than just cult"? Or is it possible to have both? Money flowing in and the respect that cult-status brings with it?
I didn't fail to reach a mainstream audience. CRR were successful when I was there.
I had a sniff at what success brings when I did the whole Top Of The Pops, supporting U2, touring the world, making videos in Texas, hanging out with Oasis and so on. I actually hated most of it at the time but most of that was down to being in these situations with people I wasn't particularly friendly with. Had I been with the guys who made up my touring band after I left CRR, I would have had a much more enjoyable time.
I never wanted to be famous. Who in their right mind would? I still would prefer to continue as a cult artist although I'd like to sell more records than I do but only so as to be able to continue making records. Being catapulted into the limelight comprimises your music. Suddenly people want you to write another hit. That's not what I'm in it for. My songs are from the heart...even the silliest of them. I'm constantly having to apologise for having no hang ups. I'm not a drug addict, I don't smoke and very rarely drink. I'm happily married too....
I'm glad I went through what I did but also glad I got off the roundabout. I needed grounding. The success plays games with your mind and the ego you thought you didn't have, more and more, comes out to play. Although I don't mind telling people I believe in what I'm doing and that I like my own music and think I'm good at what I do, I've never been motivated by money. A lot of people can't understand that and I feel sorry for them.
You've set up your own label, Neon Tantra Records. Tell us about that. After signing off 50 percent of the songwriting credits in CRR, was setting up your own label a way of making sure that would never happen again?
The label was great fun but it sidetracked me. It was taking me away from my own music. I had a great time putting out other people's music and am proud of all the artists I brought to the label but I'm no longer hands on involved in the day to day running of Neon Tetra. It's now in the safe hands of my good friends, David Wells and Tony Gaughan.
You've been described as a pop-genius. Do you wake up every morning feeling like a pop-genius?
Ha ha...no, I never wake up feeling like a pop genius. I wake up and run my wife to work and my children to school....I wake up thinking, if I can sell enough records to make the next one then I'll be deliriously happy. Anyway, the geniuses are all in Science and Medicine, not in music. Music isn't difficult...anyone can do it.
Final question - and this is a personal one actually. You and I have had our discussions on the Americana UK discussion forum about R.E.M., who have always been a big influence on you, and especially about 'Around The Sun'. They've just recorded a new album, it's only about half an hour long and there's plenty of loud electric guitars. Still reckon it's gonna suck?
Until I hear it, I can't say for sure but "I'm Gonna DJ" is on the record and in my opinion, that song sucks. I really hope it's a great album though.....I like the single...it has a good chorus but just cranking up the amps isn't enough. I want to hear them re-capture the spirit and the longing that was in those early records...you know, "So Central Rain", "Perfect Circle", "Pilgrimage".....those early records are packed with emotion....I don't want to hear another "Monster".