David Tattersall on their new LP, his folk roots and why music should be fun
That’s a good example. I just wrote in a notebook all the time when we were in America, and when I came home I had this huge source of words to work from. It’s not often that I sit down and write a song. So I’ll write all of them at once. There are so many different things that I’ve tried – I’ve even occasionally written the music first, but it’s much harder for me and I don’t like the way it inhibits the lyrics. i don’t tend to like songs when I perceive that they’ve written the music first. Very good people can do it, but I don’t tend to like it when the words and sitting on a melody, as much as when I have the feeling that the words came first, and flow and lead the chord changes.
It certainly seems more common that music comes first.
It is, but I think that’s often why lyrics sound so arbitrary. Paul Simon does it, and of course it’s brilliant, but generally I like to write the words first. The music could go any which way in the first place.
And rehearsing is pretty easy for you guys, I’ve heard.
We don’t really rehearse. Every now and then we’ll meet up and play through a set, but we very rarely play through a song twice. Franic and I grew up together, so he sort of learnt to play the bass with me, and I learnt to write songs with him, and we can just do that. We gig a lot, and I keep the songs really simple – I don’t like a lot of chord changes, I’m really against them! I try and take out as many as possible – I think they’re really horrible, too many chord changes. I try and make it as simple and logical as possible, which is sort of a folk music thing, the sociability and playability of folk music. And Johnny just does his best, struggling with the chaos of it, but he always does such a good job that it never bothers me. So we rarely play a song twice. If I suddenly threw in an f-sharp-minor7th, or it suddenly went to 3/4 time, then we’d have to rehearse! So if I’m writing them I’ll think, ‘Can I make it simpler?’
Presumably because it’s improvised, Brushes With Happiness is even simpler.
Yeah, you can feel the changes coming, which is nice.
I heard that you supported Martin Carthy years ago as a solo artist – that’s amazing.
It’s true, I’d played for the family and maybe in a school assembly, but the first time I played in a pub was a floor spot in Martin Carthy’s interval, in a pub in Cotes Mill. I did 15 minutes. I was really little, 11 or 12, and he was really nice, really encouraging. When we got a chance to curate a little festival in Ramsgate we invited him to come and play. He’s an amazing musician, a very expressive guitarist. I also did some stuff at folk clubs, played with people like Kate Rusby, but Martin Carthy was the first.
So I’m imagining you playing all this folk stuff as a young teenager, and then by the time you got to 16 you wanted to play rock’n’roll? Is that how it was?
Yeah, kind of. I was six or seven when I started playing the guitar. My dad really liked Ry Cooder, Bukka White, Reverend Gary Davis, those sort of things, and I wanted to play guitar because I liked his records so much, and I suppose because I liked him so much – he plays guitar too. But then when I started having lessons, by a stroke of luck the teacher, Roger, had had to give up playing live because of stage fright, but he had been in the coffee house London folk/blues boom, was a very good blues guitarist and had supported Howlin Wolf even. So he knew all about Gary Davis and all those sort of things. So i was really lucky, as then my guitar teacher could sort of guide me that way. Even when i wanted to learn the electric guitar my dad would say, ‘All the really good electric guitarists are really good acoustic guitarists, so learn the acoustic first.’ But I always had my eye on electric guitar, and when i got one for my 14th or 15th birthday I didn’t really look back. But it’s only really because I heard things like Jonathan Richman and Violent Femmes when I was a teenager, i never would have thought of singing. This was a world of guitar excellence that you find yourself in, but it was getting really boring and horrid by the time I was 14 or 15, and not much to do with me personally in a weird sort of way. But when I heard people like Jonathan Richman and Violent Femmes and started listening to John Peel and all that sort of stuff, it opened up the possibility of writing songs and being in a band. So that was when me and Franic started the band, when we were 15. It’s 20 years ago, so that’s ridiculous. It was a long long time ago! But that background in American folk music is still there, but I would never have sung or written a song if I’d stayed in the folk clubs.