Q&A: MICK HEAD
How do you look back on the Strands record now?
The copy I had, I lent to somebody, and I’ve never seen them again. So over the years, if I want to hear those songs, I’ll just play them on the guitar.
Sometimes when you’re doing an album you’ve got deadlines and goals, but with that album there was no agenda. We got some dead time in the studio, we had a couple of songs, and then the songs just kept coming. It was an amazing studio, in a big old Georgian house on the corner of the street, with windows in the studio. We had the luxury of sitting there listening to what we’d done, looking out the window as Liverpool was going by. I’m big on views, I love a view. Days turned into nights and nights turned into days, and the songs just evolved.
Over two years, right, 1993 to 1995?
Yeah! [Laughs] I didn’t even know that! Was it two years? It was just a lovely time to write, it didn’t seem like that long.
How did it come about, then?
I’d worked with Stephane [Bismuth] before, he’d asked us to play with Arthur Lee. He’s a visionary, a lovely Parisian man. I don’t really know what his actual daytime job is: pimp? Magician? But he asked me to produce some band from Paris called Autour de Lucie. We went down to the studio in Liverpool, and I’d never produced anything before, really, but I thought, ‘I can get a good sound out of this’. Afterwards, Stephane said “Do you want to make an album?” What he’s just done now, 12 years on…
Twelve? The Magical World came out in 1997, and you finished recording it 20 years ago!
OK, fair enough! [Laughing] I should keep a diary. But Stephane said last year there’s about 10 songs we didn’t put on the album. He got the master tapes, and Mark Coyle, who worked on the original, worked on them, and they’ve done an amazing job with the new album.
We got in the car, we went down the beach by the Mersey, the Irish Sea, sat and listened to it [The Olde World] and it just blew me away.
In an old interview, you said you were listening to Classic FM a lot back then?
There was a time when I was completely insomniac. In the middle of the night when no-one else is around, before 24-hour Tesco’s and bargain booze, I’d just stick the radio on, and that seemed like the best option. I absorb music, I utilise it. I think, “That’s such a beautiful chord change,” then somewhere down the line it gets filtered into an idea.
The Magical World has this rural, pretty atmosphere while describing very urban, and in some cases grim, scenarios? “X Hits the Spot” is harrowing, but sounds so romantic.
I actually remember the day I wrote it. I’d just started dabbling with heroin, and I’d found a new rehearsal room. I was looking out the window and there were three bottle banks: one said ‘brown’, one said ‘green’ and one said ‘clear’. My girlfriend at the time was saying things like, “Well OK, I’m not going to hassle you to do anything, you go your way…” I was looking at these bottle banks and making my mind up.
And which one did you choose? Brown?
What do you think? [Laughs] You’re losing your girlfriend, you’re either going to sort this out or you’re going to jump in with both feet. That’s why the lyrics say, “X hits the spot when you’re not around.”
How do you feel singing that song now?
I love it! The only songs I have a problem with are songs that involve my mum. Anything to do with drugs, or personal fucking heartache or personal fucking violence, I haven’t got a problem with.
Do you think you were romanticising addiction?
At the end of the day, all I am is a songwriter. You could say that about hundreds and thousands of poets, writers and songwriters through the ages.
Wasn’t a bohemian life initially appealing to you because of the way Coleridge and De Quincey wrote about it?
In my early days, that fascinated me. When we were doing The Strands, I was completely fascinated by William Burroughs, people like that. But at the end of the day, it’s a personal emotional fancy. Maybe people do plan the way they’re going to write songs; I don’t. I just go along with what’s happening within my mind at the particular time.
Romanticising smack? Nah, you know, that’s Uncle Lou [laughs]. I was only listening to “All Tomorrows Parties” yesterday and it’s so evocative. You don’t think about the consequences, you just put yourself in that situation. You’re there with Nico, crying behind the door.
Yeah, I guess the biggest compliment you can be paid is that The Magical World Of The Strands works in the same way.
Fucking hell, there you go then, lad!