Graham Coxon takes us on a tour of his record collection in our brand new issue, Q309, which came out yesterday (28 February), talking through the records by the likes of The Clash, King Crimson, The Smiths and even Blur that shaped him as a musician. However as well as his band picking out a lifetime Brit Award last week, the guitarist is also releasing his eight solo album, A+E on 2 April, and here's what he has to say about it... How the devil are you? "I'm not bad. Increasingly vacant as old age approaches, but I'm alright.
You're gearing up to release your eighth solo album... "It's been really good getting ready to release the album. Obviously I haven't done it for a bit. With each record that you put out it's always an exciting prospect to unleash it and see what people think. And then play it [live]. I'm just looking forward to reactions. It still means quite a lot to me what people say about it. I've been quite lucky, I've never had too much of a rough time with my releases and there's been plenty of opportunity to give me a rough time! [laughs] So that's been nice. I'm pretty proud of the record, if you think you've hit the mark yourself it doesn't matter what people think, but obviously it's nice to be liked."
You seem to do something different every time with your solo albums - acoustic, poppy, punk... what fuels you? "It's like I have a rucksack of what I like and they're all related in some way. Maybe their only relation is that I like them. Perhaps they don't relate to some other person in the same way but they all join up in some way. There's always something about all the music I like, whether it's funny moves into the world of distortion and echo pedals, there's a similarity: they do something unexpected. My rucksack of stuff is like a lucky dip, but even if it was just to be full of Wire records you'd get something different each time wouldn't you? So I guess I go over and over and Xerox and Xerox all the stuff I like.
Creating something new from the increasing distortion? What is different on A+E? "I supposed I've never gone so blatantly for a synthesizer and a drum machine before. This time I started to listen to the bleaker side of things more. There is a bit of a drought of romantic songs on this record, which is usually my default setting. I hadn't noticed that really until a few weeks ago. There are no love songs on it and no moaning about relationships and girls. So I'm quite proud of that, because sometimes you think, Will I ever get away from singing about that crap? Still there's plenty more where that all came from!"
You played most of this record yourself and apparently improvised more than on previous albums, did that change the kinds of songs you wrote? "Yeah, I played it myself and relied on Ben [Hillier, producer] as well. A lot of what I'd written and demoed were improvisations that very luckily got bent into songs. Like City Hall was based on that rhythm which I've been told is a bit like a Foo Fighters song [it's reminiscent of All My Life]. Then songs like Running For Your Life seem to have different sections, so I put loose vocals on these and they seemed to turn into songs... eventually. I don't know how long it takes for other people to turn them into songs, but for me they pretty much stayed the same arrangement-wise, just me and my guitar, pressing record and seeing what went down."
A+E seems to be both atmospheric and direct which is a difficult trick to pull off... "Yeah, we weren't being too fussy about whether things were in tune or whether they had the same tempo all the way through because mostly I played guitar along to Ben playing a drum machine and these drum machines were probably 50 years old or something, before solid tempos were invented! [laughs] So the beat would move around a bit - these old synths would sometimes just not be in the mood but that became part of it."
There are some unexpected sounds on there, to say the least. "It was like an amazing playground with all these weird boxes that made noises, saxophones and guitars laying around, pianos and organs and vibraphones. We'd just pick one up, play it and organise it all later. It all came together quite easily, not much angst which is good. I think the album is quite funny, even if it is about darker stuff like being beaten up in foreign towns. There is still a wit to the lyrics and the music is quite good fun because I didn't want it to be too... I can't really make music which doesn't take the mic slightly. I can't take myself that seriously, I try to, but I can't resist being daft."
Have you painted much recently? Does any particular music inspire you to pick up your brushes? "Paint? Oh God! It seemed a bit of weird choice, but I had to do a lot of painting for a big show at the ICA years ago, 2003 or something, and I did nothing but listen to [The Libertines] Up The Bracket [laughs]. You think it wouldn't really go with painting very much, but it would keep moving in a very cold studio. The paintings weren't necessarily changed by listening to it, they were quite sedate paintings of female forms, so it seemed quite incongruous. Normally I'd listen to something a bit more vague, something that lets your mind go a bit."
Finally congratulations on your Brit Award for Blur last week, as it's a time to think about legacy, is there one album that all four of you still agree is good? "I think the freedom that we had during 13 was really good. They were quite fraught sessions, but to machine gun the tape with everything you had was great. They were mega jams that would just go on for two hours. Then they would have to edit them down into more coherent chunks. I always thought William [Orbit, producer] could have made 13 another four times and make the same songs completely different. It might be an interesting thing to do, there's so much stuff there. I don't think he slept for a month sifting through it, just surviving on broccoli. I think we'd all agree that was quite an experience. To come back each day after a whole night of editing, to hear it tidied up, it was the only time I could listen to Blur as a band that I didn't know. It was new to my ears. That was really exciting and I still listen to that album and think, Bloody hell there's some lovely stuff going on. Like the end of Bugman, at that time my tolerance for noise was really high. Now I think, That's a lot of racket for racket sake! But that's why I love William Orbit his perversion for sound is similar to mind. We're sound perverts!" Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more head to Grahamcoxon.co.uk, plus get Q309 now for the full record collection feature with Graham.