Cambridge: Junction-bound Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie talks about new album Lower Reaches
- Credit: Archant
The only thing Justin Currie knows about songwriting is nobody knows anything, if a song comes along you’re lucky. His one piece of advice for budding songwriters? “Make sure you’re bored”, he says. “Make sure you’re alone.”
He took that to extremes when finishing his latest solo album Lower Reaches, released last month, by waving bye bye to city life and setting up home in a remote cottage beneath The Cuillins, the mountain range that dominates the Hebridean island of Skye. He had no internet, no mobile phone; just an acoustic guitar, a piano and a ghetto-blaster on which to record his ideas.
“I suppose it was a bit like my Brill Building”, says the Glaswegian singer-songwriter. “You’re being your own boss and putting yourself under pressure to write. I thought ‘if it all goes to **** at least I can go hillwalking...’.”
It was songs rather than Skye’s famous munros that got bagged over 11 days, something of a personal best in terms of rapid-fire delivery and meaning he could come home two days early and repair to the pub for a well-earned pint.
“I needed seven or eight songs so I wrote another 15 up in Skye in the autumn of 2011. There were 30 songs altogether and 15 of them were written there and five or six of them made it on to the record. It was more the producer’s doing than mine.”
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That producer was Mike McCarthy, who produced Clear Heart Full Eyes, the debut solo album by The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn.
“I really loved the production of that record, I thought it was a real sort of step up for Craig and then I went back and listened to the ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead records which were great.”
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The end result was very different to the demos.
“I hired a producer to do that very thing, to take it away from how I would have recorded it,” says Justin, who self-produced his acclaimed solo debut What Is Love For and the follow-up The Great War. “The demos were a lot tighter, a bit poppier. By the time Mike got his hands on them it got a lot more widescreen and looser I would say.
“I naturally started to try and co–produce it with him and he just pushed me away which is exactly the right thing to do I think. It’s scary because as a solo artist you’re in complete control, you decide who plays on the record, what it sounds like and that’s great. But I listened to my last record a lot and felt ‘right, I need to get away from that because I’m going to make the same record again with these songs and these songs probably deserve a different approach’.”
The album was recorded at the vintage analogue gear-festooned den that is McCarthy’s Austin, Texas-based studio.
“(Those sessions) were difficult because once the musicians came in I was the only non-Texan in the room so it was very hard to get my oar in. But in a way that wasn’t really the point, the point was to let these guys do what they do and if I didn’t like it I didn’t like it. On the whole I really loved what they did so I didn’t have to contribute very much.
“The whole thing was terrifying because I didn’t know if it was going to work or not. I didn’t know whether I wasted all my money and my time to go down there and just hand these songs over to a bunch of ****-kickers but it worked so thank God.”
Time for the obvious question, have Del Amitri called it a day?
“We never really called it a day, we stopped getting offers in for gigs. We were selling less and less tickets as the years went by, our last album didn’t really sell at all in 2002 so we just stopped. Me and Iain (Harvie) have written quite a lot of songs in the interim and I’ve written songs that are probably more Del Amitri songs than Justin Currie solo songs.
“Maybe one day we’ll do another record. If somebody phoned up from Chicago and said ‘come over and do a big gig’ I’m sure we would think about it. I’m sure there will be another Del Amitri album.”
Justin Currie plays the Cambridge Junction this Sunday.
“I’ve got a guitar player with me so it should be a bit jollier than the completely solo shows, which can be quite sombre. I suppose (there’ll be) a few more new songs than usual, I try to do five or six things from the record or whatever works out live anyway. My solo gigs are pretty casual, if people shout out songs then I’ll do them.”
A while after our chat it was announced the band will embark on their first tour in more than a decade.
Joining Currie and Harvie on stage again will be Andy Alston, Kris Dollimore and Ashley Soan.
Next year’s The A to Z of Us will include a stop off at Cambridge Corn Exchange on January 28.
Currie says: “The A to Z of Us will take a retrospective sweep of our entire output, from indie art-pop through folk-tinged balladry to hairy Brit-rock chuggery.”
Visit www.justincurrie.com or follow @thejustincurrie on Twitter for more details.