Mark you’ve described the new record as ‘more romantic and aggressive’. What themes, ideas and concepts did you have in mind this time around?
Since I first even had the germ of an idea to start making music as Typewriter the goal has always been to provide an element of surprise. For the listeners, and also for myself. I never bought into the idea that having X percentage of mid-tempo numbers, X percentage of rock - ballads or X percentage of any style, makes for a successful album. The songs sort of "find" the writer - at least in my case. In the case of the new album, the tracks 'Bambino', 'Impossible Beauty' & 'Arctic Circle' were pretty much the last written and recorded which made me feel I had vented my rage, in a sense, and tugged at the old heartstrings as well. I was hoping that this album would seem suitably different from the two previous ones, and I think that has proven to be the case.
Not only do you have your own new album out, but The Lucy Show’s debut album ‘Undone…’ received a long overdue re-issue a couple of months ago. How do you feel about the music on that album 25 years after the event?
I didn't have anything to do with the re-release, but I am really pleased that 'Undone…' is out there for people to either discover, or re-discover. Whenever you hear music from your past, you get taken back by powerful memories of that particular era. I think The Lucy Show do have an '80's sound, but loads of groups from that era have some kind of '80's sound - whether it's New Order, REM, The Smiths or Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Our debut album wears that decade's influence on its sleeve, much more than the second one, which was done with John Leckie.
On paper The Lucy Show seemed to be destined for mega success but, what with mainly record label problems, it seemed to just not finally happen. What’s your over-riding feeling about The Lucy Show now after all this time?
We had worked really hard to get those records out, to get noticed by John Peel, we had BBC Radio1 ‘singles of the week’, and all that college radio fanfare, etc. As the saying goes, we were a group who "paid our dues" - rehearsing like mad, gigging all over the place, playing any venue that was going. Hiring vans, PA's - it's almost exhausting to recall that stuff! And Rob Vandeven & I wrote some good songs during that time. We were fortunate that we got to tour different countries & work with talented record producers, but I think it is truly safe to say that we were monumentally unlucky in our encounters with the big labels. But, as executives always tell you they are terribly overworked....
Typewriter is essentially just yourself, with occasional input from Rob Lord. This is obviously how you choose to work now, but is there anything you miss about working in a ‘band’ environment?
'Pictures from the Antique Skip' did end up being even more of a solo performance than previous releases. I wouldn't say I miss the 'band' situation - but I am pretty aware that collaborating can force a shift in the music - there are times when that is a good thing - a great thing in fact - but other times a writer like myself worries that other people can't see my vision as clearly as I can. There's a few people I would like to work more closely with, Rob Lord being one of them, him with his Eno-esque musical artist/scientist brain - and it's possible that for the next record I will ask him and other folks to bring ideas for me to work with - maybe as a starting point.
All 3 Typewriter albums have a feel of playful experimentation, freedom & also quite lengthy track-lists. Is it just that the straight-ahead ‘Here’s 12 songs in a row’ approach to presenting pop albums just holds no interest for you?
I reckon I was really charmed by the notion of pop songs rolling into each other, or bumping up against each other, from a very early age. That is something that still holds great entertainment value for me. Sound effects too. All the Typewriter albums depend on their whole flow, like telling a bit of a story - it is also the reason that album arrangement & sequencing makes such a huge difference. Leaving a song until later in the play list, or taking it out altogether & replacing with a different one, will inevitably change the overall personality of a record. The 'here's 12 songs in a row' approach can work beautifully - witness something like 'Rubber Soul' - but even that album has a tiny false start at the beginning of 'I'm looking Through You' that sounds really groovy to me. Maybe it's called something like "audio verite"?
Aside from the obvious creativity in your records, at the core are really melodic strong guitar-led pop songs, as evidenced on the likes of ‘Bambino’ ‘In Another World’ and many others on the new record. Could you let us into your creative processes a little. How do you go about beginning to write songs?
I'm not the first to say this, but as far as inspiration goes; when lightning strikes, it strikes. There are times where you wish like mad that the new song was flowing out of your fingers onto the piano or guitar...but it all sounds derivative, or confused or plain ordinary. Other times the idea or ideas seem already waiting for you to sing or play them. With me, it's usually the music first - chord changes and random melodies - then as I mumble through it enough times the tune and rhythm suggest a lyrical slant or chorus...
‘Arctic Circle’ on the new album is a really wonderful four-and-a-bit minutes of music. It has a real dream-like quality that is punctured by that fantastic piano break which really reminded me of that avant-garde slant Mike Garson used to add to some of Bowie’s most interesting records. Could you tell me a little more about that particular song and what inspired it?
'Arctic Circle' is actually 3 separate ideas sort of hooked together. First I had what you might call the riff - no detailed melody at all. Around the same time I came up with the whole "...importance, nothing like I thought..." thing, so I figured I would try that as a bridge, going into some unwritten chorus, and I finally came up with the "...blue horizon..." part, hoping it might sound a bit like a Syd Barrett middle-8, or something. The verse melody & lyrics emerged last.
If it seems cinematic, it might be partly down to the words which I hoped would evoke the being lost and ‘not knowing which way to go’ feeling. I am pleased you think the piano sounds a bit Garson-like. I really love the sound he brought to Bowie's records. He also added a really menacing mood to the 'David Live' album - playing or tinkling away between a lot of the actual songs.
What inspiration do you draw from other musicians if any, are there any artists who really stay with you as far as being an influence on you and your music?
Loads of artists, really. I'm dreadfully retro, but I still always try and keep up with The Fall & Neil Young, and I like a lot of Radiohead, Bat For Lashes & Arctic Monkeys.
A few years ago I liked the sound of the Beta Band, and Guided by Voices, 'Bee Thousand' was terrific. I was really into The Associates & XTC back in the early '80's - and I think their influence shows up a bit more in Typewriter than it did in my Lucy Show songs. Otherwise, I still get inspired by 1970's John Cale, Van Dyke Parks, Todd Rundgren, Bowie and glam Eno records - and the krautrock stuff is wonderful too. My earliest faves remain - Beatles, The Who, Motown, Beach Boys & garage stuff like 13th Floor Elevators, The Seeds, early Stooges. I get influenced all over the place by music that I could never replicate even if I wanted: Pharoah Sanders 'Karma', Miles Davis' stuff, Coltrane's 'Ascension' - I absolutely love Captain Beefheart's catalogue (except for them 2 duds!) this could go on and on....
You’ve relocated back to England from living in France for a while. Does the difference in environment affect your outlook or how you work at all?
France was a wild experience - we lived in a farmhouse out in the countryside away from the towns and cities and would often go days at a time without interacting with other people which made us bond really closely with the surrounding nature. Situations like that can't help but make an imprint on your creativity. It was a very isolating time, partly because of our enforced solitude, and also partially because, without mastering the language, you actually miss out on day-to-day nuances and people's sense of humour, etc. We're now in Ramsgate and getting our minds blown by the joy of living right at the seaside. It's a nice balance of industrial port and sweet Royal harbour.
I’ve heard you say in the past that you never really enjoyed live performance very much. Can you explain why that is and does that continue to be the case? Will there not be any Typewriter shows in the near future?
I actually do have to deal with a certain amount of so-called stage fright, and being very self-conscious that people are watching me sing and perform. But another reason that goes way back is that the "recording" and "production" of the album is the art itself. A bit like being able to return to a painting or a sculpture, for comfort or just plain enjoyment. If I chose to play a concert, I might choose to steer pretty clear of previous material, maybe a sonic space-rock industrial workshop thing....but that's not certain either.....
Traditionally there have been fairly lengthy gaps between albums, but what’s next for Typewriter, and do you have any other projects planned?
Definitely upwards and onwards to another Typewriter album. More of the same - or maybe not the same - there's a load more music to make.
Pictures From The Antique Skip is out now Moineaux International. For more, go to Typewriter-music.com