‘I approached this record like it would be my last’

Marc Carroll

Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is his most political record yet.

A collection of songs that ruminate on how love can triumph over adversity, it includes haunting, atmospheric ballads, a spoken word collaboration with Crass’s Penny Rimbaud and joyous, jangly power-pop.

I asked Marc about love, life and living in Los Angeles…



I’m really enjoying the new album. Several of the tracks are protest songs – the opener No Hallelujah Here is about four young boys who were killed while playing football on a beach in Gaza last year, while Ball and Chain is a call for unity and harmony in the world. Why did it feel the right time to make a record with a more political message than some of your previous albums?

Marc Carroll: I think at the moment there is a sense of possibility for change – a telling of truth to power. This is going on all over the world. People everywhere are saying enough is enough. This record is of its time and that hope and sense of protest is the zeitgeist of the time.

Recent events in the British political system also reflect this. I believe the tide is possibly turning and the few may well become the many.

Like all sane people, I was horrified by the killing of those little boys. I could barely move for several days. but we must remember that it is not an isolated incident. This happens to men, women and children all over the world on a daily basis – we just don’t see it and the media certainly don’t report it.

But I don’t equate politics with empathy, and essentially, this record – and some of the songs – is a calling for empathy and compassion.

From the title track, to some of the other lyrics on the album, it feels like you’re trying to say that love can conquer all – it can overcome adversity. This feels like a positive, hopeful record. Would you agree?  How did you approach this album? What frame of mind were you in when you wrote it?

MC: The title of the song and the album is almost a blanket of protection. Who would possibly argue against it?

I certainly hope it is perceived as a positive record, but we live in very cynical times. I suspect any negativity aimed at this record will inevitably reflect back on the critic, so they should choose their words very carefully. I approached this record like it would be my last.

As for the frame of mind I was in, well, it was the same frame of mind I always have when I make a record  – is it any good? Will anyone listen? Will anyone care?

But those concerns were duly trumped when I realised that does it actually matter. Is there a cure for cancer?

There are some very atmospheric, haunting and widescreen/ panoramic songs on the record – it has a big, epic sound in places. What were you aiming for with tracks like No Hallelujah Here and Oh, Death, Don’t Yet Call Me Home?

MC: That panoramic, almost filmic, quality came naturally to many of the songs. I love drones and other atmospherics in any music.

I am particularly drawn to the music of Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh – imaginative soundscapes. That was something of a conscious approach to the record.

Apart from that, I’m never sure of what I want to hear when I record my songs, but I do have a relatively good idea of what I don’t want to hear. I really don’t plan anything out or have a grand plan of how things should be. The songs themselves dictate the way forward.

Both the songs you mention were sung in one take. I knew what they were about and how they should be expressed. The music and title for No Hallelujah Here actually goes back to 2005 for the World On A Wire album, but only realised itself as an actual song of substance with this new record.

On the songs I just mentioned, there are also traces of your Irish roots. There’s a slight Celtic mood or atmosphere…

MC: Being Irish and using a minor chord every now and then means I am never far from the aesthetics of that music whatever actual style the song might be.

I have a strong, and natural, gravitation towards melancholy. It’s a very big part of the Irish DNA. Although I don’t think melancholy is specifically an Irish trait.

Ball and Chain and Lost and Lonely – my favourite song on the album – return to the power-pop sound of some of your earlier records…

MC: Ball and Chain was page after page of dialogue with myself. The lyrics simply followed the melody, which to me anyway, seemed very uplifting, and I wanted the words to reflect that and I believe they do. They came from a very internal place because I don’t watch the television or read the daily horror from the print media.

Lost and Lonely – that’s simply back to the previous melancholic reference, but minus the minor chords.

To be honest, I had never heard of the term ‘power- pop’ until quite recently. It always confused me as to why I would be associated with it. I’m still not sure. Is it powerful pop?

Jody Stephens from Big Star plays drums on Lost and Lonely. How was it working with him?

Like me, are you a huge Big Star fan? Did they influence you – especially early on in your career, with your band The Hormones?

MC: Jody is a lovely man. I met him at the opening of the Big Star documentary in Los Angeles a few years ago.

It was one song that I thought he would be perfect for, and, of course, he was. I have always loved Big Star and I suppose their influence comes through on several songs over the years.

Let’s talk about the title track of the new record, which is a departure for you. It features a spoken word part from Penny Rimbaud of the punk band Crass.

How did you come to work with him? Are you a Crass fan?

MC: It started off as an instrumental piece, which is something I do every now and then. I’d actually like to make an instrumental record.

I’ve known Crass for 30 years of my life. They were – and still are – a huge influence on the minds of millions of people around the world, including mine. I asked Penny would he like to contribute to the record and maybe read one of his poems over the piece of music. He agreed and he delivered something spectacularly beautiful.

He is one of the great poets and writers of our time and one day will be recognised for that I am certain. Gee Vaucher [Crass designer] also designed the artwork for the album. They are very kind, generous, warm-hearted people to be around and I love them dearly.

In the early days, you used to play in punk bands in Dublin? What you can remember about those times? 

MC: Punk is the best place to start.

What was the writing and recording process for the new album like? Where did you make it and did you have all the songs written before you entered the studio? 

MC: The writing process is as it always has been – part joy, part anxiety but mainly mind-crushing frustration.

The recording process was initially problematic – the record was recorded twice. The first sessions in Los Angeles ended up sounding like some dreadful American FM dirge. It was recorded by somebody whose only cultural reference was that fool, Howard Stern. All I heard were things like ‘Hell yeah, Pink Floyd, dude’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required.

In the end, you co-produced the album with Graham Sutton (Bark Psychosis, These New Puritans). How was that?

MC: Graham mixed a record of mine back in 2009 and he was the first person I called when things went so badly wrong in America.

Graham is the type of producer/musician that wants to help you make the record you want to make, as opposed to thinking it is his record, his vision and his opinion that counts.

That is the problem with most so called ‘record producers’. How could any of these people possibly know more about the songs than the person who wrote them? Having said that, I care only about serving the songs.

marc new size

There are guest appearances on the record from drummer Pete Thomas (The Attractions), jazz trumpeter Noel Langley (Bill Fay) and keyboardist Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), who played on your last album. How did these collaborations come about?

MC: Again, I try and work with people that I think will serve the songs. Pete could provide that full on, powerful repetition and machine gun precision that was essential for Ball and Chain. He was in Los Angeles when I started this record, so the schedules worked out.

Bo is someone I worked with before – a good fellow. I wanted the keyboards to have the sensitive, melancholic quality that he provides.

Working with Noel was most fortuitous. I heard some of his work on the recent Bill Fay record, which I love, and knew it was the sound we were looking for on the particular songs. He was fun to work with, very creative and completely understood what was needed for the songs he played on.

You now live in L.A. Do you like it there? Do you miss the UK?

MC: I have spent the majority of my time – the last seven years anyway – in Los Angeles. It’s full of narcissistic, self-obsessed, dangerous, psychotic lunatics, and that’s just the police!

I like it a lot. It’s a fascinating place and a very beautiful city. I find most of the people to be open and extremely trusting, but if you are white, living in Silver Lake and doing yoga 29 times a day, then I’m sure life must be wonderful. If you are Mexican and washing the yoga mats, it may be a different story…

I spend enough time in London not to miss it. It’s one of the great cities of the world. I haven’t lived in Dublin for over 20 years, but it’s still in my heart, somewhere…


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This is your seventh solo album. How does it feel to be seven albums into your solo career and how do you feel about the new album now it’s (almost) out there? It’s released on November 6…

MC: I don’t think about it too much to be honest. It’s what I do and I feel no different about this record coming out than any of the previous one…other than time to move on.

Throughout your career, you’ve had great critical acclaim, but not broken through into the mainstream? Why do you think that is? Does it bother you?

MC: I don’t really look at music or creativity in that way. I removed myself from the industry of music a long time ago.

There are some very good people in it, but most operate in a way I can’t relate to. I like to communicate with people, not the business of people … hence, perhaps, my anonymity. The music on the other hand, speaks for itself.

I first came across you in The Hormones, back in the late ‘90s. Do you have fond memories of those days? Any good stories?

MC: We toured a lot – the Japanese loved it.

And, finally, Marc: what is love?

MC: Something that defies ownership.


Marc Carroll’s new album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is released on One Little Indian on November 6. 


‘I don’t even know if I’ve seen any of the Bond films all the way through’

With the new Bond blockbuster Spectre around the corner, indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are (wiaiwya) is releasing a James Bond tribute album called A Girl And A Gun, featuring covers of 007 songs and soundtracks by contemporary acts including Papernut Cambridge, Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer and Ralegh Long. 

I asked Ian Button from Papernut Cambridge about his groovy garage-rock take on Lulu’s The Man With The Golden Gun…

Ian Button

How did you get involved with the A Girl And A Gun project?

Ian Button: I can’t quite remember when I first heard Jerv (wiaiwya) mention the idea – I think it might have been when we were all at The Union Chapel when Papernut Cambridge played a Daylight Music show at the end of 2014.

I probably muscled in just as much as I was invited. The idea fitted in really well with our ‘lost year of cover versions’ – the Nutlets album and our soon to be released EP of John Sullivan theme songs – so I just said yes without thinking.

Jerv is a great friend, and was also a great advisor to us when we started the Gare Du Nord label – the links between all the bands and players on the labels in our little circle are too complex to go into – but suffice to say I’m involved on a couple of other tracks on the album too – drumming, recording etc on Ralegh’s and Darren’s tracks…..and the Papernuts are going to be a sort of ‘house band’ for some of the show on November 7th at The Union Chapel.

(Papernut Cambridge)

Why did you choose to cover The Man With The Golden Gun? What were you trying to achieve with your version?

IB: I went for it because I thought I knew no one else would. It’s one of the real underdog themes. But of course Mark Williamson (Crock Oss) went and chose it as well, and did a brilliant electronic/location recordings version of it too. At the show on Nov 7th we’re going to do a kind of amalgamation of both our versions, which is going to be great fun.

(Crock Oss)

I remember Lulu doing The Man Who Sold The World and being in a sort of Bowie phase in the early/mid ’70s, and The Man With The Golden Gun was definitely the same kind of thing/look/era.

When I got to grips with the music I realised how cool it is – not really any chords, just dark monophonic lines and dischords etc…it took me a while to work out those really Bond machine gun cluster notes at the start. They are very clever!

Like all our covers, I wanted to try and make it sound sort of like the original – not an oblique post-ironic re-work – but I also liked the idea of a bloke singing it instead of Lulu.

It was recorded the way pretty much all of the Papernut Cambridge tracks are formed – I start at home with a basic structure, in this case a sort of synth bass line, a couple of guitar lines and a drum machine.

I used Mellotron sounds (M-Tron Pro) to layer up the brass/strings/harp etc. Then I went to a little rehearsal room to do the vocals and real drums. The drums were recorded with just one mic, but there are three takes all playing at once.

The next step normally is to send the track to the rest of the Nuts so they can add bits – but in this case it didn’t quite happen as usual.

Robert Halcrow was the only one who sent anything back by Jerv’s deadline (bass, real horns, and backing vocals) – everyone else just said they couldn’t add anything – even though I meant for them to replace the programmed parts with real guitars/keys etc. So it’s really ended up just me and Rob Halcrow on this one. But Ralegh Long came up with something maybe better than any music – the video, which is taken from a spoof Bond movie that he and his mates made when they were at school – Blackeye. It’s genius.

Are you a Bond fan?

IB: Not really, I must confess. I kind of liked the ‘60s and ‘70s ones because they were a bit light hearted. Christmas afternoon fodder.

I haven’t seen the Daniel Craig films, but I hear about torture scenes and I kind of don’t really like the idea of them being dark or too scary.

What’s your favourite Bond film and song – and why?

IB: I couldn’t name a movie that’s my favourite, unfortunately. I actually don’t even know if I’ve seen any all the way through – but my favourite song is You Only Live Twice. That strings riff is the cold suburban sunshine of the 1960s, bottled. I also especially like the reggae bit in Live and Let Die.

Who is your favourite actor to have played Bond?

IB: Roger Moore – not least because he and Dorothy Squires used to live near me in Bexley…

What do you think of Sam Smith’s song for Spectre – Writing’s On The Wall?

IB:I had a listen and it didn’t really grab me. But then neither did the Spectres one [Bristol band] that got a lot of attention in that stupid mix up of reviews. I usually don’t like music that tries to be all dramatic, minor key and portentous, although I do make exceptions!

I’m going to use Sam Smith’s lyrics in a university lecture next week, to see if people recognise them by reading a verse in isolation. They sort of don’t say anything about the movie really do they? Not like Lulu, who actually said what’s in the film, totally!

A Girl And A Gun is released digitally on October 23 (wiaiwya).



For more on A Girl And A Gun, read my interviews with wiawya founder John Jervis  and musician Robert Rotifer


‘There’s too much fighting and shooting and not enough casino scenes’

Indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are (wiaiwya) is releasing a new James Bond tribute album called A Girl And A Gun, featuring covers of 007 songs and soundtracks by contemporary acts including Papernut Cambridge, Darren Hayman and Ralegh Long.

I asked Robert Rotifer, whose version of Goldeneye is on the record, how he tackled Tina Turner’s Bond belter…

(pic by Pam Berry)
(pic by Pam Berry)

How did you get involved with the A Girl And A Gun project?

Robert Rotifer: John Jervis [who runs wiaiwya] asked, and I would never say no to him, because he is generally speaking one of the best people on the planet.

I think he was already quite far down the list, but at some point the idea came up – it may have been Darren Hayman’s – that all core members of Papernut Cambridge should do a song.

I seem to remember that they all had to have “gold” in the title as part of the concept as well.

Why did you choose to cover Goldeneye?

Well, I didn’t choose it – the choice was made for me. But I was happy to do it because it’s not one of the dauntingly cool John Barry ones, but U2 writing for an ageing Tina Turner, and it has dodgy 1990s production all over it (sorry Nellee Hooper) – so I didn’t feel too worried about ruining a classic.

Actually, I feel a bit of a fraud, Sean, because you are a real Bond connoisseur and I’m just a Bond tourist.

I didn’t even watch that film [Goldeneye] at the time, mostly because I disapproved of the BMW Z3 roadster. Where I’m from, in Austria, driving that car is akin to a public diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. Not a good look for Bond.

What were you trying to achieve with your version? Can you talk us through how you went about approaching the song and recording it?

I wanted it to have a dusty home studio vibe, but in a thoughtfully arranged way. As I was working out the chords, I found myself retracing the steps of Bono and The Edge, trying to go by the Bond handbook and be original at the same time.

That classic rising and falling chromatic sequence was there, but hidden deep down in Hooper’s arrangement. And then there’s a ludicrously anti-climactic, incongruous key change into the chorus that surely would never have happened to John Barry.

Bono and The Edge don’t do key changes, but they probably wanted to show a bit of sophistication there. Imagine those two in a tux, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. You can hear Tina Turner wonder where the hell this thing is going every time that change comes around because it’s just so unmusical. But then I tried to make it work by introducing a melancholy harmony part, and all of a sudden I started to really enjoy it.

By that time I had decided to replace Nellee Hooper’s quasi-trip hop beat with one of the beats on my old seventies Elgam Carousel groove box, embellished with some tambourine and egg shaker. I recorded the bassline next with my Höfner violin bass, then some double-tracked acoustic fingerpicking, at which point the chords started to sound quite beautiful.

Then I added some swells on the Telecaster with my volume pedal, some almost inaudible organ pads and some “harpsichord” using my Clavinova run through a Vox amp and one of Ian Button’s self-made spring reverbs.

Obviously, putting on the lead guitar part was the most fun. There’s this bit at the end, which offered itself for a solo, and I had a great time channelling Marc Ribot through Vic Flick. That was the idea at least.

The biggest problem was the main vocal, because Tina Turner is such a belter, so at first I was going for the opposite approach, really soft and quiet, but that was rubbish. I played it to my wife and the kids as we were about to go out for lunch, and they told me as much.

So I said “Five minutes!”, quickly ran up to the bedroom, perched the laptop on the dresser, put in some crappy earphones and sang it right into my little Zoom recorder without thinking. That was the best I could do to keep myself from getting too self-conscious.

Are you a Bond fan?

RR: That’s a very difficult question. The little boy in me was a huge Bond fan. I coveted that Aston Martin Corgi car with the ejector seat and changeable number plates so badly. Friends of mine had it – it was one of the best toys ever produced. Then when I got into the Mod thing as a teenager, I rediscovered Bond as part of the subculture and the influence he had on Jamaican Rude Boys. Desmond Dekker’s 007 Shanty Town alone justifies the existence of Bond in my book.

I really like the idea of loucheness among the civil service – the glamour, good shoes and well-cut suits, even though it’s always two- or one- rather than three-button jackets, which I still prefer.

But there’s never quite enough of that in the films for my liking. There’s too much fighting and shooting and not enough casino scenes. And I’m not even going to mention misogyny or casual racism here – that’s just too much of an open goal.

But then I’m speaking to a proper Bond fan here, so I’m way out of my depth.

What’s your favourite Bond film and song – and why?

RR: It has to be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and We Have All The Time In The World – a clean two in one.

The film because, while still being a cartoon figure (a good thing), Bond is just that little bit more fallible and credible in this one, and it’s actually emotionally engaging.

The song because the writing is just fantastic. Musically, it’s John Barry at his relaxed best. That’s what chord and key changes should be like. And the arrangement is brilliantly restrained, the acoustic guitar is gorgeous, the strings just the right side of dramatic, that beat is funky in an ever so subtle way, the bass keeps pushing it forward all the time, and then there’s Louis Armstrong’s wonderful stoner’s voice on top of it all that sounds aloof and will still bring a tear to your eye.

He already knew he was going to die, so he makes Hal David’s lyrics sound both consoling and existentially meaningful.

“Nothing more / Nothing less / Only love.” You have to be very confident to write that for a Bond song. It was 1969 after all, so people were expected to take chances.

Who is your favourite actor to have played Bond?

RR: George Lazenby – not because I’m an indie snob or trying to be contrarian, but because he was in the best film with the best song.

He was very good looking, too. I read he was a car salesman before he started modelling and acting. That’s exactly the sort of person who should play Bond.

What do you think of Sam Smith’s song for Spectre – Writing’s On The Wall?

RR:I think it’s very good. I just wish he didn’t do that self-pitying, tore-my-skinny-jeans falsetto. Transpose it down and sing it with your proper voice, and it would be a fine tune.

Arrangement-wise, I like the way it never really gets going and resists the temptation to drift into rock territory. I suppose that’s brave in a way.


A Girl And A Gun is released digitally on October 23 (wiaiwya).



For more on A Girl And A Gun, click here and here