A Conversation with Badly Drawn Boy · Manchester, UK

 


Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, and I had a very proper and pleasant conversation. It would have been over tea and crumpets, but I was an ocean and a continent away from Manchester, UK, in LA, where Damon will again visit as one stop on his upcoming Fall West Coast tour. One Plus One Is One is the fourth album by Badly Drawn Boy and was released in July. Soak up the honesty and humility of an incredible musical talent, who shines the summer sunlight of England over the world when he's not busy being a father or a jokester.


Louis Ferrara: I do some comedy, I do some music journalism, I'm not the . . .
Badly Drawn Boy: I do some comedy as well. (laughs)

LF: Do you do stand up comedy ever?
BDB: Not really. Tend to end up doing what I think is funny . . . it's been something that has dogged me over the years, really, in terms of people misunderstanding my music 'cause I do juxtapose it with a bit of tomfoolery.

LF: Are you ever embarrassed or humiliated by a performance?
BDB: Usually always, yeah. (laughter)

LF: Why is improvisation important in your performances?
BDB: I think it is part of who I am. I'm not as adept as say a great jazz player, where true improvisation, virtually creative, like Jon Brion does every time he plays “Largo”, creating, what he calls an “ice sculpture” that will only be there once and then fades away. That's Jon's ethos. It's not quite like that, but within any structure of the song that I play there is always room for new things to happen . . . and in between (a set) you've got peaks and troughs to try and achieve . . . you need to keep it open . . . so the natural highs and lows can occur.

LF: You mentioned Jon Brion, who is a very big LA musician. What about Elliot Smith?
BDB: Yeah, Elliott tragically, still don't know what really went on there, still hard to believe he's gone. I've thoroughly admired him and his work. I got to know him quite well. I met him before on a few occasions, and then when I was in LA working with Tom Rothrock. At Sunset Junction, he wasn't all that together. We went to say hello to him. He was a lovely person and a great musician, a lot of circumstances and a troubled mind, such a shame, obviously he had a lot more music left to give. That is one of the horrible things. He was so young, as well, multi-talented, someone who was very tuned into what he was good at, very focused. I'm not really like that. My music is more all over the place. I'm still learning what it is I'm good at. Elliott seemed to be good at what he was doing and he focused on that purely, something to aspire to, really.

LF: You spend a lot of time in LA. Tell me about America.
BDB: It's kind of like the land of fun. Weirdly, LA has become my second home. The view from the Standard Hotel, while I was waiting for a cab everyday, became as familiar as my own front doorstep.

LF: I heard the song “40 Days, 40 Fights” is about your trip to the Standard.
BDB: Loosely based, the title. It was, literally, 40 nights in the same hotel room. Getting into scrapes, whether it was down at the Shortstop, or the Coach and Horse, or any bar with a smoking area.

LF: Do you fight?
BDB: No. I'd like to think I could, but I'd probably talk my way out of things rather than fight my way out. I'm a lover, not a fighter, as they say . . . it's strange as well, because you bring up the LA thing. Currently this new album, that's ready to come out, people, I think, in a lazy way . . . (child shouting in the background) hold on Louis, the kids are shouting . . . seems to be amiss . . . I'll tell you what. Can you call me back in five minutes?

LF: No problem.
BDB: Claire is not here at the minute, so I'm just in distress.

LF: Absolutely Damon, no problem.
BDB: I think he needs the toilet.

LF: No problem.
BDB: Cheers Louis. Speak to you in about five.
(Five minutes later)

LF: What's it like being a rock star dad?
BDB: (laughs) I suppose it's a good combo really . . . it's the best grounding thing you could possibly do. When you are all over the place, it's hard, it's difficult, which brings me to the making of Have You Fed The Fish in LA. Because I was away, that was the main subject matter of the album was about home. How are the kids doing? Have you fed the fish? Songs like, “You Were Right” were about my anxieties, about trying to reconcile my reasoning, why I should be away from home so much. It's not the easiest thing to do when, especially, when you've got kids.

LF: Did the difference between where you recorded the new album change how you felt about it?
(Have You Fed The Fish recorded in LA, One Plus One Is One recorded in Stockport, UK)
BDB: Inevitably, if you do what I do, you are laying your cards on the table. When you write songs, you are showing a little bit of who you are. Inevitably, your surroundings creep into that, but I tend to write with a guitar. That's the room I'm in. It's the guitar and me, whether I'm in LA or Stockport or Manchester. Working with Tom (Rothrock) really stretched me as a musician and brought a lot out of me. I've learned to be more controlled and the new album is more focused from my point of view. I write on a continuous basis. I chose to be nearer to home this time 'cause I didn't want to travel away.

LF: The name of the new album is One Plus One Is One. Tell me about the theme of oneness, and the number one in the record, and also love came up in a number of different songs.
BDB: I think that's always been the case. This album is a step towards me being who I am. The first line of the first song (title track) is, “Back to being who I was before,” but I actually wrote that ten years ago. It wasn't really about now. In, “This Is That New Song,” there's a line that says, “This is that new song, I told you about twenty years ago,” to prove a point really. The songwriting I'm trying to achieve is timeless. But it could've happened twenty years ago or it could happen in another twenty years, but I'll still be writing this way, because I found what it is that I am . . . (childlike shouting) . . . the statement is convoluted . . . (more shouting)

BDB to Edie: I'll find it in a minute, Edie. I'm going to look for them in a minute.
BDB to LF: . . . the batteries for her tape player.

LF: I'll let you go in minute.
BDB: They're all right. They're watching The Wizard Of Oz, which they watch everyday, at least four or five times.

BDB: There are a lot of references to the seasons, as well, in this new album. We're pretty fortunate, in England, to have the change of seasons. It shapes the culture of the people. It makes you British, in a way. You spend half of your life whinging at the weather. And then, when the summer comes, you feel the spring in the step as a whole nation which is a brilliant moment. I'm trying to tell people to appreciate that. There's a song called “Summertime In Wintertime” which says, “Stop waiting for the summertime in wintertime, Can't be right, Don't subscribe to this jive,” (about the) danger of missing half your life, because you're waiting for the good days to arrive. I'm trying to encourage people to find the good days in the bad days.

LF: When I heard that song I thought about this strange relationship that I've struggled with between sadness and beauty. I feel that in your music.
BDB: It's a fine line, I suppose. That's a fair way to put it. It's a very autumn album, a very 70s English album, folk, a bit folky, as well. The 'one' thing goes back to the title. It was originally, genuinely, a mistake I made when I was writing, literally, seven to ten years ago, one plus one is one. I thought that was the answer 'cause one divided by one is one and one times one is one. I seriously thought that was right and then realized, of course, it wasn't right. Then, I thought there's something in that. The number one is the key number. I believe that. The connotation that two people become one is the main essence of the title-or a bridge of people becoming one. I suppose I'm trying to take the banner that was started by the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon in that period of the 60s and 70s where the world experienced its first, huge culture bang of being aware of the rest of the world, and the problems with religion and war and terrorism first hit home. It's still there, again, and more prevalent than ever today. I just realized the need to reflect it some way, but without singing it in a political sense, just a more universal sense.

LF: You meld political and social issues that are important to you in a poetic way.
BDB: I'm not trying to force politics or my politics down anyone's throat. I'm probably blissfully unaware and I should be more aware. The only thing I do advocate to is general spirituality above religion because religion causes problems. I've come to that conclusion. Also, politically I just believe in people. There are far more good people than there are bad people. Again in, “Another Devil Dies”, I say the line, “And when we sing, I hear another devil dies,” hoping that music is powerful enough, still, that I can change. The pureness of a great melody could kill off a little bit of evil every time its played. Again, relating to the It's A Wonderful Life quote, “When that bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” which is the following line in the same song. They're simple kinds of philosophies. And usually, it's me-self kicking me up the ass because I'm as bad as anyone else, being cynical and pessimistic about the world we're living in. I'm just trying to do my bit without being too preachy. Music does have that power. It changes peoples' mood, it's a starting point, at least, to change the bigger picture, as well.

LF: Thank you very much. I appreciate your honesty, in talking about all this stuff, this personal stuff-your art and music.
BDB: My pleasure. The future is really bright . . . give my regards to LA. (laughs)

LF: Well, thank you for taking a few minutes away from your children.
BDB: No problem. (laughs) They're shouting again. (laughs) Edie is pulling monster faces at me, trying to scare me off the phone. (laughs)


Louis Ferrara
Los Angeles, CA