InterviewsPaul Stokes

Q&a Eugene McGuinness - On his pop evolution, new album, "work experience" with Miles Kane and Perez Hilton & more

InterviewsPaul Stokes
Q&a Eugene McGuinness - On his pop evolution, new album, "work experience" with Miles Kane and Perez Hilton & more

eugeneSinger-songwriter Eugene McGuinness has undergone something of a metamorphosis since the release of his first full, self-titled solo album. Back with Invitation To The Voyage last month, gone is the quiet, guitar wielding young man and instead is it's the bequiffed crooner who's adding some voodoo rhythms to his indie. Having got used to some extreme, super styled hyper popstars of late, is their room for one prepared to wear his heart on his sleeve? Due to play this weekend's Festival Number 6 (14 September) we caught up with McGuinness to find out exactly where his 'Voyage is heading...

How the devil are you? "Yeah man, I'm really good."

There's been a bit of a shift from the folkie troubadour of your first album to the showman of the new one, when did that happen? "As my first album was winding down, I did this other thing called Eugene And The Lizards. We had a couple of days in the studio to do some B-sides, but really I was using that as an excuse. I was obsessed with Grinderman at the time, so I tried to get everyone into this studio in Bethnal Green and just wanted to bash out all the songs I had, like they do. We did a limited vinyl release but it wiped the slate clean for me. I was spent. I had no songs, but as the months passed I started to get pointed somewhere else. I remember seeing Laurence Bell, who runs Domino [McGuinness' label], and he said to me, What are you going to do next? In my head I knew I wanted to do a pop album - which means a few different things to different people. I just had Lion written by then, and that gave me the idea to do this modern sounding thing. I was listening to things like Gorillaz, and I wanted to do something that was a bit more honest about the influences I've been juggling since I was a teenager, but taking it forward. I wanted to created this shiny, metropolitan thing."

Why pop? It's not a word artists signed to influential indie labels normally use... "It wasn't supposed to be a drastic departure. There certain elements of what I do that won't ever change but this was the first record where I really thought about what sort of guy I want to be. It's a blueprint for a few records I want to develop from here. It's a natural position when you hit your mid 20s, you want to stop dicking around and deliver a bit more."

You've referenced acts like Gnarls Barkley as a touchstone for what you wanted to achieve sound-wise on this record. What did you have to learn about doing pop seriously? "Not over thinking it was a big thing. The thing you have to learn is that you can kill what you've got if you crush it with all sorts of adult burdens. In a lot of ways I'm still that kid learning chords from the Oasis songbook aged 15 and I think that's important. Music can be escapism from all those pressures, so you need to remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. Even when we started getting string players and trumpets and all those strange things in the studio, I was really determined to have a blast with it!"

Anything else? "I always imagined the record been on in a car or a club, that's what I kept in mind when we were recording. That reared its head half way through and that helped me finish the record. It's not for your gramophone! I really wanted to get the bass and rhythms right."

So are you confident you can break into clubs, particularly as your arena at the moment is playing live? "Hard work is really important, but there are lot of people who work hard and do well but they're shit. I'd like to think - well, I know I'm better than most people. I can't really apologise for that, it's just my opinion but a lot of stuff out there thinks so little of the listener. I have to embrace what I do and let people hear that because I see it as an antidote to a lot of rubbish."

You've stopped playing guitar live, why? "I didn't really play a lot of guitar on the record, so it felt different when we were making it. So live it would have felt weird picking up the guitar. I wanted to send out a signal that I'm a singer, less the troubadour I was portrayed as before. I can completely understand why people thought of me as some sort of new folk bollocks, I wasn't shrewd enough to portray myself in another way. But this time around it's about the singing."

I'd imagine the hard things about doing that is working out what to do with your hands on stage. "Yeah, I need a yoyo or something! [laughs]"

You did play guitar live for Miles Kane though when he started touring as a solo artist last year, how did you balance the two? "More often than not I'd travel back from wherever we were with Miles to London, and head to the studio for a day or two. It was really refreshing to have the break from it, it really helped me stop over-thinking. I was also writing with Miles for his stuff and so that was also a bit of a holiday really. What I learnt from everybody professionally and from seeing the world was brilliant. I just left my ego at the door. It was a big thing - not for the record, but for me - to learn how to do this properly. It was the best work experience you could imagine - certainly better than working in a sign shop in Chadwell Heath!"

Unlike many people in the public eye, Perez Hilton is actually a fan of yours? You even played a gig for him, how did that come about? "That was mad. He emailed my management and asked me to play this night. I thought it was a wind-up because the other people playing were Joe McElderry, Cher Lloyd and Paloma Faith. But I thought if he's showing love I'll have it. He was a lovely lad. When you release music you sometimes forget that anyone can access it, so it took me by surprise, but the gig was cool and I appreciated it. He kept telling me I was cool, so I was flattered."

So after that pop stardom beckons? "If making it means you get so big you can't look after your songs and you have to dilute yourself, I don't ever intend on making it. If it means turning up to a show and there's a load of excited people there who want to hear new and exciting tunes, then that's what I want to do. People panic about how they're going to get themselves across, but really you need to go up on a stage, sing and hope people are there to hear it. So that's what I'm working on." Paul Stokes @Stokesie

For more head to Eugenemcguinness.net.