‘I’m not on a mission to be retro – I’m writing and recording songs in the way that I want to hear them’

Richard Warren lo res (1)

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’ve been fans of singer-songwriter Richard Warren since we heard his 2011 album, The Wayfarer – his second solo record under his own name. In fact, it was our favourite album of that year.

In 2013, we raved about his album Rich Black Earth, calling it, ‘atmospheric, moody and nakedly emotional – evoking Nebraska-era Springsteen’.

His latest release, Disentangled, is certainly going to figure highly in our 2017 albums of the year list. It’s less dark than some of his previous releases – more soulful and stripped-down – but still with a nod to the ’50s sounds of Sun Records, melancholy, late-night ballads in the vein of Nick Lowe, Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley, and twangy guitar instrumentals that could be soundtracks to arthouse films that don’t exist yet. 

We spoke to Richard, who’s played guitar for Spiritualized, Starsailor, Dave Gahan and Soulsavers (featuring Mark Lanegan), about the new album – his first in four years – and found out why he’s trying to simplify what he does, hone his craft and get back to basics in this crazy world we’re living in…

Q & A

Hi Richard. It’s good to chat to you again. I really love Disentangled – I have the limited edition green vinyl version of it…

Richard Warren: Fantastic.

This is your fourth solo album. It’s been four years since your last one – 2013’s Rich Black Earth. How did you approach this record?

RW: It was recorded over such a long time. After the last one, I just carried on recording – I never stop or take a break. I’ve got a studio at home, so the day after I finished the last album, I started on the next one.

Some of the tracks were done a couple of weeks before I finished this album and some were done the week after I did the album before. I think Only Always [the first song on the record] was the last thing I recorded – two weeks before this album had to be delivered. I was in the studio and I did the song in one day.

By the time it came to hand this album in, I’d recorded 50 to 60 tracks! I didn’t set out to do that. There’d been a year in-between each of my other albums. In 2014, I’d got an album’s worth of stuff together – I tried to find someone to put it out, but nobody seemed interested. Four or five of those tracks made it on to this album.

So you have a lot of unreleased material in your vaults?

RW: Yeah – I don’t know whether it will ever see the light of day. I tend to just move on to the next thing all the time.

You produced this album yourself and you played all the instruments on it…

RW: I did – I’ve done that on all my solo albums.

You made the record in your home studio. What’s your set-up like?

RW: It’s got more and more basic – I have Pro Tools and I have some tape machines. It’s a blend of digital and analogue. I like being in an analogue world, but it’s quite difficult…

The new album doesn’t sound as dark as some of your other records. It’s very stripped-down and some of the songs have a real ‘50s feel to them. Last Breath – which is one of my favourite tracks on the album – sounds like a lo-fi Elvis…

RW: Yeah – definitely. I like that three-part harmony, Jordanaires kind of thing. I generally kind of revert to that sound – I love those records. The Sun recordings are up there with my favourite records of all time – the Elvis and Cash stuff is mind-blowing.

‘By the time it came to hand this album in, I’d recorded 50 to 60 tracks! I didn’t set out to do that’

I’m simplifying my set-up and my recording equipment – if you listen to my first album, it’s quite complex. There were a lot of instruments. I’ve got into simplifying things – even the lyrics on this album are about simplifying. There’s a song called Simplify on the record – I’m singing about what I’m trying to do, which is quite odd. I didn’t plan it to be like that. I’m as into production as I am writing records and playing on them. I’m not on a mission to be retro or old-fashioned. All I’m doing is writing and recording songs in the way that I want to hear them – it’s a sound that I love. With this record, I’ve gone very mono – it’s not mono, it’s stereo, but it’s a lot more simplified. I just use Pro Tools almost like an 8-track tape machine – it’s just something to record into. I just try and write a good song.

Less is more… There are some other ‘50s-sounding songs on the album – the gorgeous, melancholy ballads No Way Back and Safekeeping. When we last spoke, in 2013, you said you were influenced by Nick Lowe – in particular, his albums The Convincer, At My Age and The Old Magic. It sounds like those records rubbed off on your new record, too…

RW: Those Nick Lowe records are fantastic – they’re perfect. They changed the way that I wrote songs. I’m trying to write songs that are easy to play – simple songs that just roll out. That’s the Nick Lowe thing for me. He’s a perfect songwriter – his records are a masterclass in songwriting. His songs hark back to Willie Nelson and Cash. Willie Nelson wrote Crazy, which I think is the perfect song – it sounds like the simplest song in the world, but it’s got everything. It has a story – a beginning, middle and an end – and it’s got a key change… it’s got every songwriting trick you can do, but when you listen to it, it sounds simple. That’s what I’m trying to learn how to do. All I’m interested in doing is to try and better my songwriting. With this album, I was a lot harder on myself – I kept rewriting and rewriting things. I’d like to write something faster now…

There are quite a few instrumentals on the album. Would you like to write and record a film soundtrack?

RW: I had quite a lot of instrumentals just lying around. At one point, I decided to make a whole album of instrumentals – I thought I couldn’t write songs anymore. I’m a bit like that – one day, I’ll get up and say, ‘this is rubbish – I’ll trash everything’. To be honest, I hit that point a lot this time…

I would like to score a film – I think it would be interesting, if it was done in the right way. I’ve done odd bits for film and TV before – it’s a really difficult and time-consuming thing to get into – and it has to be exactly what they [the directors] want. I loved the stuff Neil Young did for Jim Jarmusch. I like the idea of just playing along and coming up with stuff in the moment, but I suppose you have to be someone as important as Neil Young to do that… I’d like to try it – anything that stretches my musical horizons is great.

‘At one point, I decided to make a whole album of instrumentals – I thought I couldn’t write songs anymore’

The title track of your album – Disentangled – is an instrumental. Why did you name the record after it?

RW: An album title for me is always something that comes right at the end. Generally, I always find it a bit of a struggle. Some people have the album title at the beginning and they work to that. I do that with songs – I’ll have one line of a lyric, or a title… I’ll have all the songs and then I’ll say, ‘oh, what am I going to call the album?’ I go through all the lyrics and try and find something that sounds interesting. ‘Disentangled’ was a word I read and it also fits with the cover – the photo of a tree. I was inspired by that – as the songs are about simplifying things, it’s like I’m trying to disentangle myself from all that… I think people are trying to simplify things – hopefully it will resonate. It’s a crazy world – it’s so fast – and I want to make music that helps me to relax. I can easily play these songs – they’re laid-back and not too intense.

You’ll be wearing slippers on stage soon…

RW: Exactly. Artists like Nick Lowe are always at their best when they’ve just got an acoustic guitar, they’re on their own and you just hear them play. It’s so relaxed and easy to listen to. He has such control – Kris Kristofferson is another. He’s incredible – his songs are effortless. He is the song. Him and Nick Lowe are the people I’m always trying to emulate.

Let’s talk about your other project – Kings of the South Seas, with Ben Nicholls and Evan Jenkins. You’ve recorded your second album – Franklin – and recently played some preview shows. The record is out next year…

RW: It was supposed to be out now, but it will be out February 2018. It’s a good album – we worked with [producer] Ben Hillier. He’s great – the record sounds incredible. It’s a concept album about the explorer John Franklin.

‘When no one was interested in putting a record out, I lost confidence and I ended up making music for myself, but the songs came out of that’

Can we expect any solo Richard Warren shows?

RW: I’d love to do some, but I struggle to get any gigs. When no one was interested in putting a record out, I’ll be honest, I lost a bit of confidence and I ended up making music for myself, but the songs came out of that.

I’d love to see you play some shows…

RW: I’d like to go out and play this album solo, but the dream is to put a band together. I’d love to do that, but to do those kind of gigs and to get a great bunch of people, you’ve got to pay ‘em well and to pay ‘em well, you need good gigs – you can’t get one without the other. I’ll keep going – I’ll never give up. I started writing the next album the day after I handed the last one in and I’m really happy with how it’s coming on.

Richard Warren packshot.jpg

Disentangled by Richard Warren is out now on Hudson Records

 

‘I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G’ [Richard Hawley : Oct ’96]

richard-hawley_show_info

Before Richard Hawley found fame as a solo singer-songwiter, he was the guitarist in Sheffield indie rockers Longpigs. Back in October 1996, I spoke to him about the Sheffield music scene, the Longpigs’ debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, and touring America…

Imagine the clumsy and naughty fumblings of a young boy…

“My father said I couldn’t touch it, but I got it out one day and he came into the front room and I was playing with it – I was only six,” says Richard Hawley of Sheffield band Longpigs.

That was the day he first played his father’s guitar.

“He said, ‘do you like it, then?’, he showed me some chords and that was it,” says Richard. “When I opened the guitar case, it looked like a spaceship. I didn’t give a shit whether it caught rhinos, or made tea for me mum – it was what I wanted to do with my life. It was a good job it was a guitar and not something that you caught rhinos with, ‘cos I’d ‘ave had a bit of a job finding rhinos round ‘ere.”

longpigs_promophoto

 

Sheffield may not be known for its rhino population, but it has become a breeding ground for Britpop acts such as Pulp and Babybird.

“Sheffield’s never been famous for anything except steel and Joe Cocker,” says Richard. “The thing that’s beautiful about the city is that you can isolate yourself really easily – you don’t have to be part of a scene. There’s us, Pulp, Babybird, Blameless… That’s a pretty eclectic bunch, really. Just recently, Sheffield has kind of popped its head up again in popular culture. Pulp and Babybird have been knockin’ around for a long time and we’ve been going for three years. Sheffield seems to be a city that produces old men of rock.”

Longpigs have had a pretty tough few years, due to a string of unfortunate events and record company wrangles, but they now seem settled and comfortable and things are finally looking up for them.

‘There was a very dark period where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal’

“We’re appallingly contented,” says Richard. “There was a very dark period in the past, where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal. The company closed down in the UK after spending so much money on Police Academy 93 or whatever.

“In retrospect, all those things were quite cathartic. What was important to us was sticking together and making music. We believed that what were doing was good. I’m glad we did. I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G.”

 

The band released their debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, earlier this year. The songs range from indie rock and pop to torch song ballads, folk and modern blues.

“Crispin [vocals/guitar and main songwriter] fancies himself as Cole Porter. He comes along with his nice songs and our job is ruin them. That’s it, really,” says Richard, who has also recently turned his hand to songwriting.

“Me and Crispin are co-writing stuff and that will probably flourish. It’s still mainly Crispin writing the songs. His twisted outlook on life is definitely something I couldn’t do.”

This December, Longpigs will be shutting themselves away to write new material for their second album.

“We’re looking forward to the next record,” enthuses Richard. “God knows what it’s going to sound like – it will just happen.”

Longpigs have recently returned from a tour of the US and also played in Canada with The Bluetones.

“We don’t hope to break America – we want to mend it,” says Richard. “The two main exports from the US are the beefburger and rock and roll. I definitely prefer rock and roll.”

 

The original version of this article first appeared in Splash! magazine in October 1996.

 

INTERVIEW – Nev Cottee: “My album took five years to write and a week to record”

 

nev 0-3

Manchester singer/songwriter and guitarist Nev Cottee has made one of the best debut albums of 2013. Describing his sound as ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, his atmospheric, late night laments are steeped in Northern melancholy and laced with psychedelic effects and gorgeous string arrangements. 

I spoke to him about writing and recording the record, hanging out with Noel Gallagher at The Hacienda, supporting Neil Young, stealing a bottle of rum from Richard Hawley’s dressing room and why he’s a brown sauce man…

Congratulations on your great debut album Stations and the single, Oslo, which is one of my favourite songs of this year. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind Oslo?

Nev Cottee: Thanks for the kind words, Sean. Oslo was written about five years ago. I’d been out there in 2006 to visit a Norwegian girl I’d met while I was travelling in India. It was a disaster.

When we’d been in India, being on the beach and swimming in the sea every day, everything was easy, but reality hit when I landed in Oslo in January and it was  -17 degrees! We quickly discovered that we had little in common and so it was quite a sad time. I was just wandering around on my own for three days. I guess that’s the basis of it – being really down, melancholy and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’, yet, at the same time, being confronted with this weird, magical place, full of bizarre buildings and a frozen sea. Lyrically, I was trying to write something that was a bit more abstract and non-linear. I was trying to get away from the standard love song thing.

I’d love to go to Oslo – it’s on my list….

NC: You should definitely go, although it’s £9 for a beer. Everyone goes to the shop for some bottles, then sits at home and has these little gatherings. It’s cool, actually. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and helpful – even that girl. Cool people, beautiful place.

Your deep, rich singing voice reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen. Are they big influences on you? I can imagine Lee singing Oslo…

NC:  That’s a big compliment. Who doesn’t like Laughing Len? I saw him in Manchester a few weeks ago and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. What a lyricist, what a songwriter and what a performer!

I couldn’t believe it – the guy’s almost 80 and he’s down on his knees giving it his all. He’s not belting it out, but he’s putting it all in there. There were about 20,000 people there and he was almost whispering. He is the man and he has an amazing voice, which is so low these days, you almost can’t hear it. It’s not as easy at it seems – the low singing thing – and Cohen and Hazlewood are two of the best.

I’m a huge fan of Lee Hazlewood and I’m looking forward to hearing the new deluxe box set that’s coming out later this year. What do you love about him?

NC: Hazlewood was just a freak and I mean that in the kindest way – his look, the moustache, and his whole vibe. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Something like Nancy & Me – it’s just really honest and poetic and all beautifully put together with the strings and the guitars. The guy was a musical genius and he passed it off with an air of panache. It’s all there in the voice. Listen to Some Velvet Morning – it’s totally unique.

Tell me about your album Stations? How was it written and recorded?

NC: It took five years to write and a week to record. I’m a slow writer. I’m working on it. The next one won’t be so long. It was recorded inside The Magic Lantern, which is a small space in [musician] Carwyn Ellis’s home in Cardiff. I think that comes across in the sound – the intimacy of it. Mason Neely [who produced the album] and Carwyn are very talented musicians – they can play pretty much anything and they both know when not to play too much. After I’d sent them my demos, they came up to Manchester and the first thing they said was ‘Why are you singing so high?’ I’d never even thought about it too much – I just sang as I thought I should. They said ‘just sing like you’re talking’ and that was really a breakthrough moment, because I found my voice, which is quite low.

I saw Carwyn the other day and I said to him: ‘thanks for introducing me to myself…’ I’m basically a vocalist, guitar player, and sometime bassist – Mason can put together a string arrangement to melt your heart, or pick out an instrument that defines the mood of a song. I owe those two a lot. They gave me my sound.

It’s a very atmospheric record – often melancholy in tone…

NC: You just have to follow your instinct and use everything you’ve soaked up. As the record was developing, I said to Mason, ‘this is pretty sad stuff,’ and he said, ‘Yeah – great!’

I’m not 21 anymore. Those days are over for me, you know. I’m not into fake rebellion anymore –  ‘I don’t need an attitude/Rebellion’s a platitude.’ I was just trying to make an honest record with no tricks. I wanted to make an album that might stand up with some of the people we’ve spoken about [Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen].

The album has been described as sounding like ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, which is a brilliant comparison. It also reminds me of Richard Hawley at times…

NC: Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized? Now, that would be worth hearing. That’s just an in to get people’s attention. Hawley’s ace. I’ve met him a few times and he’s hilarious – a proper comedian. I was in his dressing room and he caught me nicking a bottle of rum. He was just laughing, saying: ‘Go for it’. He’d just sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and was driving home to Sheffield to take his kids to school in the morning. He’s a true gent. Everything he’s ever released is brilliant. The other time I met him he gave me a bottle of limited edition Richard Hawley Henderson’s Relish. Apparently it’s been made in Sheffield for over 100 years. It tasted awful. I’m a brown sauce man myself…

What other music are you into?

NC: Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Cohen and then people like Tony Joe White and Link Wray – old school, hard living dudes. That’s for vocals and songwriting. Musically, I love Jason Pierce and anything he’s ever done – i.e Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. I also like The Byrds, The Flaming Lips, John Barry, Bill Callahan… plus all the big guns…

Close Your Eyes is one of the album highlights for me. Can you tell me more about that song? I think it’s beautiful. It has a ‘60s Scott Walker vibe, with gorgeous strings and rain sound effects.

NC: Yeah – I can see the Walker influence. It’s just a simple riff that builds and builds. Mason did a great job arranging it, with the bells at the end and the Mellotron choir. Wonderful stuff. It’s this idea of sweet melancholy. I’ve got a love/hate thing with Manchester and it’s just saying… the rain – it’s just a state of mind, don’t let it get to you.

Hot Air and Devils have a folk feel to them….

NC: Hot Air started off as a John Martyn guitar echo thing that just developed as we went along. Devils is a tune that we used to do with my old band, which we completely reworked.

Some of the songs, like I Want You and Nothing Is Certain, are quite psychedelic….

NC: That’s the Spacemen 3 thing. I got really into the repetitive psyche/trance/call it what you want thing a few years ago. I saw a band called Black Mountain at The Green Man Festival in Wales and it was like a door opening. I was in the zone – completely sober and straight, of course… Then there was my mate Nolan who played with Spectrum (Pete Kember from Spacemen 3) for a few years. I used to go to see them and I really got into his whole aesthetic. He’s a genius. Then I started listening to Suicide, 808 State and loads of other stuff… It all goes back to Kraftwerk, of course. I think my brother must have played Trans-Europe Express for about two years continually, when I was growing up.

You were in Proud Mary, weren’t you? What was that like? They were a Noel Gallagher-endorsed, country rock band as I recall…

NC: Yeah – a country rock band from Oldham! Get on it! Everyone was going to crappy nightclubs and listening to bad dance music, but we were at home listening to The Band, Gram Parsons and Creedence. We used to go to the Hacienda and be stood with Noel in the bar, having a beer and talking about T-Rex and Crosby, Stills and Nash, while everyone else was gurning and dancing very badly to something or other. We were very set in our ways. We did ok, but we should have gone to America. We supported Neil Young and he came over, shook our hands and said he’d been listening to the album. That was enough for me! We went out with Crazy Horse after the gig and they were these gnarly old dudes in baseball caps saying: ‘You gotta keep the flame burning, man. We’re getting old…’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, we can do that…’ Noel was very supportive – another true gent – and it was great gigging all over the place, thinking we were in The Faces. We were a good band and Greg Griffin [from Proud Mary] was – and still is – an amazing front man. He’s a natural.

After playing in bands for so long, why have you decided to go solo?

NC: I’ve been in various bands over the years – Proud Mary, The Second Floor – that’s Nolan’s band, who I mentioned before – and Folks, whose guitarist and songwriter Michael Beasley directed the video for Oslo. He’s a good friend and a very talented songwriter. Their debut album I See Cathedrals is a classic. I only work with the best…

I did a solo record because it was time. The band thing is over for me. I’m on my own now and I’m just getting going. I’m in it for the long haul…

So, what’s next? Can we expect a tour and some live dates?

NC: Not a tour, but some choice dates for the album launch. I’ve got a couple of excellent musicians backing me up and I’ll hopefully be playing some festivals next year. Watch this space.

 What would you like to achieve with this record and in the future? Have you got big ambitions?

NC: Like I said before  – I just want to make some music that’s true, which has something to say and that sounds amazing. I’m under no illusions about the state of the music industry. So long as people like you are digging it and spreading the word, then let’s see where it goes…

Nev Cottee’s debut album Stations is released on October 28.

http://www.nevcottee.com

http://nevcottee.bandcamp.com/album/stations