Waterboys: Mike Scott – interview
Louder Than War’s Harry Mulligan spoke to Mike Scott from the Waterboys in the week that seen the band release the double sided studio album, Out Of All This Blue. Here’s what was said:
Louder Than War: Hi Mike!
I was thinking about your Edinburgh show a couple of years ago at the Ross bandstand in Edinburgh with the Castle esplanade as a backdrop; there was a full moon that night in a clear sky during The Whole of The Moon. Was that planned?
MS: No, it was a happy coincidence!
LTW: What’s it like to be the creative midwife to the double-sided studio album, Out of All This Blue?
MS: A lot of work, but my work is fun. A lot of taking my time, enjoying myself, making the record, taking care with every song, and I’ve spent eighteen months working on it.
LTW: So it’s been a real labor of love?
MS: Oh yes!
LTW: As an old Waterboys fan, I love the Keltic influences, and while I also love the new Japanese aesthetic weaved into this new material, I wonder how you think it will go down with traditional fans?
MS: I haven’t perceived any problems. I’ve seen good comments, and I haven’t seen anyone comment: ‘Oh, it isn’t Fisherman Blues ‘, so, to be honest, if anybody did, I’d feel sorry for them. I mean they can go listen to Fisherman Blues any time. Expecting me to make music thirty years later that’s the same isn’t practical.
LTW: To what degree has Megumi, your partner, been your Muse throughout the making of this record?
MS: She is the subject matter for the fourth side that begins with Rokudenashiko and ends with Payo Payo Chin. The other love songs are not about her and were written before we met.
LTW: Love seems to be an overarching theme of this album, would you agree with that?
MS: On this record? Almost every song.
LTW: is there anything else you would like to put out there about that?
MS: Not really, there are songs either about me or past relationships of mine, or past adventures, and there a few songs that are not; Mr Charisma, Nashville Tennessee, I think most of them on the third side.
LTW: Drawing attention to the Title: Out of All This Blue, it’s almost as if tacitly there’s a suggestion that ‘Love’ has lifted you out of all the Blues. Is that presumptuous?
MS: Well, you could take it like that but, it was the title of a song that I didn’t put on the album; a song that I like but hadn’t quite got right, and will probably be on the next Waterboys album, but I loved the title. I had shortlisted five or six possible titles and I went to my manager, D.C. who’s a great adviser, and that was the favorite title for both of us. People can dream into it all kinds of areas.
LTW: One of the songs that NY singer Marilyn Carino pointed out to me is Hiphopinstrumental. Because it seemed to have such spontaneity and musicality, that it really was conspicuous for those reasons. Anything you’d like to say about it?
MS: It began life as something quite different than that. It was a voice-over-with a Scottish accent, conversational voice over, almost a comedy piece with me talking in a Scottish accent, playing the role of a guy who owns a house in the country, calling it: ‘his wee rock and roll playground’. So that was the vocal version, but I thought: ‘I don’t want to put that on this, it doesn’t fit, I might use it in a future record, but it doesn’t fit on this record’ – but I love the instrumental, I love the hip hop beat and the sad piano chords. I thought, ‘I wonder if I can make something out of that?’ I like Scat singing. Sometime I do Scat singing at the end of a song, so I try to do Scat singing over this little hip hop instrumental. So this melody: ‘bah diddle ah doo dap, bah diddle ah doo dap….’ And I sang it into the… I didn’t even have a microphone… so I sang it right into the computer, using the little microphone in the computer, and then I refined the melody and listened back to it, and then I sang it again. So, it wasn’t quite spontaneous because I probably did for about five or six takes to get the melody just so. Thanks for picking up on that, you’re the first person that’s picked up on that track! You know, I placed it there on the album because the track previous to it Morning Came Too Soon is so full of passion it was a little relief from all that emotion.
LTW: What was the epiphany on Mott Street?
MS: haha Fictional!
LTW: What would you like to share with your readers about your spirituality?
MS: Woooow! No, I don’t mind answering the question. I lived in Findhorn in Scotland for many years.
MS: I also studied meditation when I lived in New York, and I meditated for a long time, every day. I don’t any more, but I still use lots of mental and meditation tools every day. For example if it’s a difficult situation, perhaps a conflict with someone or something is not working out or something, I’ll invite ‘Spirit’ into the situation, and I’ll say: ‘Okay, I’ll say yes to whatever needs to happen here. If something bigger than my than my perspective or desires needs to happen, then I’m okay with that!’ It’s like saying to the Universe: ‘Okay, let’s go wherever you need to go with this!’ And another way of saying that is: ‘Let go and Let God!’, but I try and avoid the ‘God’ word.
LTW: It’s all semantics?
LTW: ‘So in Love With You’ is probably my favorite song on the record, it seems so heartfelt to me, I really am feeling your sincerity on it….!
MS: It might be my favorite too… with some melodic help from Steve Wickham; he’s our fiddler. He doesn’t play on the track, but I sent him an early demo of it, and the reverse melody had a Minor key melody that was too reminiscent of something I might have written twenty, twenty-five years ago, and he said: ‘I think you should change that bit…how about ….? And he gave me a musical suggestion, and … voila!
LTW: So, yeah, I wondered what your favorite was, but there you have it, wow!
MS: that’s one of them, and Morning Came Too Soon, The Elegant Companion towards the end of the album, that’s a big favorite.
LTW: What do you have to say about: The Answer is Yeah! My friend Alan McGee and I were listening to it at the same time, and he asked me to give you his regards and let you know that he loved it, and I can’t really talk about this record, without talking about this track. A lot of friends were saying how they loved that you had used an older woman in the video. I‘m wondering if there are any wee anecdotes about that tune?
MS: Well it was begun in Edinburgh. I was in Edinburgh on holiday somewhere in twenty fifteen, and I had the idea about this guy who’s posting about a woman, and asking all these questions about her hobbies and her habits, and her likes and dislikes, and how if she says ‘no’ he’ll move on, but if she says ‘yes’ he’ll get together.
We think about the idea of getting an older actor, with a kind of twinkle in his eye, to be the dude who’s kind of cruising around, trying to find the right woman, and then the Director cast those two actors, Clive, and Sharon. The concept of ‘if the answer is yeah’ came to me in Edinburgh, and I finished the song in Dublin, and I recorded it first with a very weird kind of backward hip hop groove, and it wasn’t making it, and I put an almost disco groove to it, and suddenly the song took on a new life. Clive, and Sharon English, that was it, they were absolutely, perfectly cast.
LTW: It also feels like it’s got almost perfect New York attitude to it.
MS: Ah, maybe so!
LTW: I’ve read a couple of interviews you’ve given, and I wanted to ask you how much you have felt that you’ve needed to be a benign dictator in the making of this record, and other records, to get the best record that you could, after that one experience being produced back in the day, way back when, and you perhaps didn’t feel like you were able to get a better result doing it like that, democratically, or by consensus?
MS: Oh, absolutely. I’m a good producer, and I trust myself, and I like working with the musicians. I always encourage musicians to develop their own parts, their own styles. I don’t like to crowd a musician, or force a musician, where it isn’t natural – give them room to play their own parts. If it doesn’t always work I’ll steer it or nudge it in an encouraging way. If I am a dictator, yes, I’m a benign one. I see myself more as a facilitator. Until my brother Paul comes in on the Keyboards, or David on bass… They know what they’re doing. I don’t need to say to David: ‘On this song I think you need this sort of approach.’ I keep my gob shut, get out of my own way, and let him plug in and play. I don’t know if you know who David Hood is, he played with the Waterboys on our last album, and then on this album. He’s from Muscle Shoal in Alabama, and he’s played with Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Wilson Pickett. I was smart with him, I never said: ‘Oh could you play this riff, or could you play that riff’, it would be like teaching Granny to suck eggs. He always played something better than anything I could think of, and that’s the wonderful thing about giving the musicians the space; they always come up with something better. That’s why they are on the record, right?
LTW: So, are you any closer to the answering the question about whether we have any choice about who we love?
MS: Ha ha, No, I don’t know.
LTW: The Jury is still out?
MS: Maybe before we’re born we make agreements with people that we’re going to meet up, and we’re going to play this role. I don’t know.
LTW: Connemara Fox seems a song about a mythical person, a Patriot and a Rebel?
MS: He’s The Scarlet Pimpernel of the West. A Robin Hood character in the West of Ireland.
LTW: Lastly, The Space Bomb Collective, I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t ask you about them?
MS: Oh Yes! I’m a big fan of Matthew E. White who’s the head bloke at the Space Bomb Collective. Makes his own albums in a kind of late fifties, early seventies vein, and I tracked down the Space Bomb people to find out who does the string arrangements, and there is a guy called Trey Pollard, and he agreed to do something for The Waterboys album and his work was FANTASTIC! I didn’t go to the sessions, he recorded them in Virginia, and he produced the sessions, and he did an absolutely wonderful job. I’m proud to say I’m playing with them in London in two weeks time for the Space Bomb Review at The Barbican.
LTW: Wow! and do you know the date for that?
MS: October the 6th. Matthew E. White, Natalie Pratt, various people that are on the Space Bomb Label, me, other artists they have a connection with.
LTW: Mike, you know, its been great talking to you. I look forward to seeing The Waterboys up here in Scotland later on in the year if I’m still here in the UK myself.
MS: Please give my regards to Alan Mcgee, and would you tell him that one day at sound check I made a version of: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ with the lyrics changed to me and Alan Mcgee. I might even have an MP3 of it somewhere. I’ll send it to you!
LTW: I most certainly will Mike. Thanks so much and all the best for the upcoming Tour!
MS: Thanks Harry