It's been a busy start to 2014 for Baxter Dury. Not only has the singer-songwriter been working on his fourth album, the follow-up to 2011's acclaimed Happy Soup, but this Sunday (13 April) he's set to run the London Marathon on behalf of children's charity Norwood. Q caught up with west London's lo-fi Lenoard Cohen to see how his preparations are going, musically, physically and mentally...
How the devil are you? I’m good, thanks.
So you're running the London Marathon, what made you decide to do that? As human bodies go I am made really badly. I have small goaty legs attached to an extended thorax like middle. My head is disproportionately large, like an eerie carnival puppet. So if I can run this it makes the other tediousness seem simple. I'm just running from my issues really.
How's the training going? I'm an emotional type trainer. The vibe has to be right for effort. Schedules are for nazis that like winning. I'm an expressionist free form-runner, it's almost like an interpretive modern dance.
You’re also working on a new record, when did you start that? I’ve been writing and writing and writing. Probably started writing seriously the Christmas before last. Had a few nuggets left over from Happy Soup, so then you have an idea of how you’re going to do the record. That’s the first process. I rented a studio for a while thinking I’d do it all myself and make it kind of crustie. And I did and it was rubbish! So then you have to reinvent it and get someone posh involved. I’ve been solidly working on it for about a year. It’s been a long one, which is quite bizarre.
"The album sounds like sad disco with an audiobook about female issues over the top."
Was three a sense you wanted to get on and follow Happy Soup quickly then? Yeah, there was a nice vibe and it was much easier to work from that glow. The previous experience was there was a massive dip. It felt like that this thing could keep going in a nice way. It was really enjoyable that last album. I just wanted to keep the flame going.
It sounded like you’d found your own patch with that record. Yeah, there was something. You always think you’ve totally reinvented yourself, I do now, but you haven’t! You don’t stray that far. But yeah I found a comfortable place. I’ve been listening back recently thinking I’ve made a completely different album this time, whether I have... it’s not true! [laughs] It was really nice that weird people enjoyed that last record. Strange, unrelated people. That helps you along.
Like who? One of them was that dude Pedro Almodovar, who makes films, who was a massive hero of mine and the other one I didn’t know a enormous amount about but I’ve since learnt about was Frank Blank. Or Charles from the Pixies. I didn’t know a huge amount about them, but I started listening to them thinking "Fucking hell! It’s so innocent and amazing." He played London last year and he invited us along. He came and sat with us afterwards and avoided everyone else. He was so nice. Little moments like make you go “this is really good, isn’t it?” Things like that help.
You had a little world with Happy Soup, almost its own part of London. Where is this record residing? I’m sure it’s from the same dressing up box of things. They’re sourced from similar experiences. The sound I wanted a bit tougher and faster, as you always do on the next record. You always go: “I want it a bit harder and faster!” because you’ve done a shitload of gigs and the slow ones are difficult to execute live [grins]. So you naturally go, “Make it faster, that’s what the kids want!” I’m 41, so you want to reverse that. And then lyrically I’ve tapped into a bunch of idiotic stories from childhood which are true, mostly about being young and not being able to deal with women. It sounds falsely mysongistic, the album, but it’s not meant to be. Well it is meant to be but it’s not really... know what I mean? It’s about the inability to deal with the opposite sex, that angry man who doesn’t know what to say next: “What do you mean?!” It was quite easy to write, which is a worrying thing...
So it sounds hard and fast? It’s camp Berliner music actually. And falsely cockney! It’s quite prog too... and disco. It sounds like sad disco with an audiobook about female issues over the top. Morose disco!
When did you record it? I put it together with just a drum machine and then a month later went, “this is rubbish!” So using those as demos I went to this posh studio in Belgium. It’s the poshest studio in the world. I used my regular drummer and then a couple of Babyshambles dudes, Drew and Patrick, who are just brilliant and hilarious. We put all the backing tracks together with a guy called Craig Silvey, a posh dude on knobs – that doesn’t sound right!
So it being the poshest studio in the world, does it now all sound ultra slick? It’s relatively posh. The trimmings and bed linen. It’s the equipment really, it’s all old and is good for making the records I like making sound perfect. All the usual old stuff people say. It’s the same kind of studio they made Pink Floyd albums in. If you have a conversation with people trying to promote their knowledge of analogue gear, it’s basically all that stuff. There was a lot of "look at this mic!" Then you have a chef that could serve up to everybody’s individual marcobotic tastes. It just promotes goodwill. The most individual food categories came from the Babyshambles dudes which was quite surprising!
How was Belgium? I didn’t see it. I complained when everyone else tried to see it! I’ve seen it before. Brussels is alright. It’s quite multi-cultural, full of mustachoed dudes, ambigious politics...
"I'm an expressionist free form-runner. It's almost like an interpretive modern dance."
So an uneventful time then? Actually there with this dude Bob Rose who looked like Steven Segal. He’s a producer and he lived in the biggest studio within the complex. He literally lived in above the one we were using. He had it all year. There was this ominous silver staircase that led up to it. The very nervous engineer told us on the first day [French accent] “Everything is fine, we’re very free and easy in the studio, but one thing I must warn you is to never bother Bob Rose! Never go up the first step on the silver staircases. He will freak and you will not know a nightmare like it” [laughs] Then he came down one day and he was Steven Segal! He was working with Mortimer from East 17. He was the loveliest fella in the world. I really like him. It was really surreal.
Once you've got the small matter of 26 miles out of the way on Sunday, what's your next move? Well I want to stop now and go and gig it. I want to have loads of girls in the band. Make it like a really shit Chiswick party! A Chiswick party trying to emulate New York at its peak, but failing. It will be a laugh, but a bit wrong.
You seem quite confident for once... Yeah I’m sounding confident. I think I must be in my bipolar up cycle [laughs]! It's not until you talk to someone you realise how confident your sounding and you think “Oh, this isn’t real is it?” It’s been fun. Belgium was a real laugh and we worked really hard. That’s how it should be and it’s how it’s been so far. I can’t wait to play it live. I’ve just got to get it right and then it’s ready. I don’t want to rush anything. There’s 12 really strong songs there, and they’re pretty characterful so I just need to get them dead on. Paul Stokes @Stokesie