Inspiral Carpets are currently on tour performing their debut album Life, with additional songs from their back catalogue and two new songs. David Brown caught up with Clint, Steve and Graham in Edinburgh on the second night of the tour for a chat about why they chose to tour Life and their plans for the future.
photos by Elspeth Moore
Making ourselves comfortable on the sofas backstage, Graham is on brew duties, and the kettle starts to sing. Graham comments on it and Clint looks at Steve and says “I’m glad someone does” and they all burst out laughing.
What made you do the album live?
Clint : We started talking about it three years ago, believe it or not. It was going to be the 21st anniversary. We were actually a little ahead of the pack, or we would have been, doing an album in its entirety, but by the time we’re doing it, it’s what bands do now. Heritage bands do it, and it’s a new kind of format really.
Graham : It also gives something to the fans. Since we reformed in 2003, we’ve only really done a greatest hits set, so it’s good to give a new angle on us. So it’s a tour of the album plus we have to play the singles. You know there’s some songs we have to play every time we do a gig – This Is How It Feels, Saturn 5, I Want You, Dragging Me Down.
Clint : We grew up in a generation when bands never did this, play an album in its entirety, it was the last thing they’d do.
Graham : It would have been a very uncool thing to do in the eighties.
How is it sounding?
Clint : It’s pretty faithful to the record, it does sound more garage-y and edgy than the record somehow. What we did last night was amazing, but as there’s been a lot of work gone in to getting it right, so last night we didn’t walk on stage leathered as we do sometimes. And we have a big list of things we want to make better tonight. Just be a bit more professional. We know people are coming to the gigs who’ve studied that album and we want it to sound good for them. The only drastic difference is obviously the vocals. And Directing Traffic, the arrangement of that is more like the single version than the album version. That’s the only real difference, everything else is faithful to the album.
It’s strange isn’t it, when a band takes so much effort to tracklist an album to make it sound right in order, and then shy away from playing it live in that order.
Clint : Totally, people would go to any lengths to avoid it. You’d mash it up, play some oldies, play singles, mix in some new ones and mess with the order.
Graham : We did once do all the songs off Revenge Of The Goldfish on a UK tour. Not in the right order.
There are some of these songs that you haven’t played for a very long time and even not when Life first came out
Steve : We did Sun Don’t Shine when we were trawling round the Boardwalk and places like that.
Graham : We did play it loads with Steve.
Clint : We didn’t really play it with Tom though. It was one of those songs that he didn’t take to for whatever reason. It wasn’t because it was a song Steve had sung, because when he joined they pretty much all were. So we dropped that one quite quickly. There’s some songs that I’m not comfortable with. There’s some songs that I don’t love as much as others, even ones I’ve written.
We’ve definitely done a couple of shit ones, a few duffers, we could make probably an EP of shit Inspirals songs and call it Greatest Shits. We should do that, not an EP, a mini-album. Get the worst picture we can find and put it on the cover too.
Steve : Noone’s ever done that.
Clint : Let’s do it. That could be the new format in a few years time.
You got big just before the album came out when This Is How It Feels went Top 20. A lot of people don’t realize there was a lot of history to the band before that, particularly Tom coming in and Steve leaving. How much of the album dates back to the time Steve was in the band?
Graham : By the time we got to the time of recording the album, which was Autumn 89, Steve had been gone six months by that point. We’d done an album’s worth of material with the two EPs and lots of songs on Dung 4 and the other demos. We felt like we were moving on all the time and slightly moving away from the Out Of Time and Seeds Of Doubt sort of songs, so we purposefully ditched that style of song. Keep The Circle Around and Butterfly are not on that first album, when looking back now, they probably should have been on it.
We had this debate on a Saturday afternoon when we were recording Life whether Move should be on the album or not. We were compiling the album and it was a bit of a no-brainer, given it had been number 41 in the charts, but we were thinking of not putting it on the album.
But bands used to do that, James didn’t put Sit Down on Gold Mother initially at the time. Singles were often unique distinct releases.
Clint : We were thinking about the hardcore fans who were buying the album. They wouldn’t be happy if it was half-full of singles they’d already got.
Graham : Looking back now with hindsight, you’d be in a shop, two months after the release, you’d want to get Keep The Circle and Butterfly and you’d look at the only album in the shop and it’s not on it. It was a bit of an own goal. But with Tom in the band and Steve having sung on them, it probably didn’t make sense from that perspective as well.
But you had history. Butterfly and Keep The Circle were a couple of years old.
Graham : Plane Crash came out July 1988 and Trainsurfing in February 1989, but I guess as Steve had sung on them and don’t forget Martyn hadn’t played on them either. I think with a doff to the newer members, we wanted Life to reflect the line-up we had.
Some of the songs do date back to that period though
Graham : I hadn’t really sat down and thought about it, there isn’t really the vibe in the camp to do that, but I think it’s probably 50/50.
Is there anything you’re revisiting that you’re particularly excited about?
Steve : So Far definitely. We played it last night and it sounded brilliant.
Clint : For me they’re all quite challenging, trying to remember the keys I played on them. Song For A Family and Memories Of You, the melody drags behind the rhythm so it’s challenging in that respect. But as a listener, they’re exciting psychedelic little numbers. Those are my three.
Graham : Monkey too
Clint : We’ve always had a song that’s been full on, be it Monkey, Cobra later on, I Want You, songs that are full on, throwing everything at it, so it’s exciting playing them. One thing that’s dawned on me is that when we wrote songs in those days, like Greek Wedding Song, there’s a part that stops and starts again. It’s highlighted to me that our songwriting changed and we stopped doing those funny bits like at the end of Wedding Song. We were like an early Biffy Clyro.
You started writing longer songs though. Things like Out Of Time, So Far, those early demos were a minute and a half or two minutes so those bits lengthened the songs, where as This Is How It Feels and Sackville are a lot longer.
Clint : Yeah, Sackville is more a timeless song than a garage song.
Graham : I was listening to a record the other day, I dug out some old records and it had a waltz-y feel to the song and I thought that’s where we got the idea for the end of Greek Wedding Song from. It was a track by West Coast Experimental Pop Band. I think we’d had a conversation about that song and when we were doing Greek Wedding Song in the studio, I said that there were these four chords that I wanted to get in somewhere. I started playing them, Craig started doing this waltz-y beat and before you know it, Clint had put some melody over the top. Steve was always quite good at not singing where he didn’t need to sing, because he doesn’t have the ego.
And of course, when you finish the set with it, it means he can get backstage first and use the loo before the rest of you.
Steve : (laughs) Exactly. Priorities.
Have you remastered Life for this reissue?
Graham : No, we haven’t touched it, except for putting the extra songs on the end of it and obviously the second disc of the G-Mex DVD.
Clint : We put the first Peel Session on it. Have you seen it? We haven’t seen or had final copies yet other than a box of sleeves to sign for EMI.
Looking back at the album, is there any of your other songs that you think with hindsight you’d have liked to put on there?
Clint : Not really. We haven’t sat round and thought about it a lot. Martyn’s done a lot of the coordination with the record company and that. The general template is that we put out the album with the Peel Session and the first couple of EPs. That’ll do for now. It’s a nice celebration of the debut album and the stuff Steve recorded before that.
We’ve still got a lot of retro stuff we could put out. Dung 4, I’d love to put that out at some point.
Graham : I think people will always have a problem whatever you add, because they’ll have their own opinions about what they’d like to see. For us, we’ve put as much on as we can.
The new stuff you’ve written is going back to that garage sound. How much new material do you have and what are your plans for it?
Graham : We’ve got a lot of stuff in various forms. We do tend to analyse a lot what we should do with it release wise. The tracks we’ve done so far – You’re So Good For Me last year and Fix Your Smile this – are both full-on full-pelters, but I think the next single release will be something a bit different from those marching songs. But we’ve got lots of bits of things knocking around.
Clint : The way we’re working now is exactly how we worked in mid to late eighties, when we had day jobs. We do it in the evenings after work because we all have day jobs that aren’t being in the Inspirals. We get together and rehearse tunes and then we book a night or two in a local studio that’s cheap, a few hundred quid of recording time and we get it done and get it mixed.
We’ve already got half an album’s worth of stuff we’ve done that way. I’m guessing, although we haven’t made a plan, that we’ll have an album ready by the end of the year. But we’re not in the habit of putting any sort of deadlines on it. We like the idea of just working at our own pace. Our lives don’t depend on this any more. It’s what’s keeping it fresh as well.
I guess the touring is a similar thing. Most of your dates are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s a smart way of doing it.
Graham : Some of it is, but with weekends it’s easier to get to gigs then as you know. And if you’ve got young kids easier to get a babysitter. And our crowd is that sort of age. The way we planned this tour was that way to also avoid Mondays and Tuesdays which are historically bad nights for live shows. It’s a business way of looking at it, but it’s not totally cost-effective as you have your crew on wages because they can’t go and work for someone else on those other days.
Clint : But it does mean we can carry on with our day jobs without too much disruption. So when the tour finishes we’ve still got solid jobs to go back to. It’s a very cold way of looking at it, but that’s how it is really. It’s fair to say our day jobs and our family situations are a much bigger priority than what happens with the Inspirals.
Graham : We pay more attention to families, but last year we did 30 or so gigs, it was really a big year for us emotionally, we still achieved a lot but the family is important. The music is something you can always go back to and you have to get the right balance.
Clint : It feels like the perfect way to operate a band and the perfect band to be in at the moment.
Graham : What I was going to say was that before Steve’s rejoining, we struggled to record anything in the years 2003-2011 because we’d spend a lot of time discussing when, where and who with about making a record, when really making a record starts with just getting some ideas together and going into a studio. I just believe in fate and clearly the drive wasn’t there as a band for whatever reason to record new material. The songs have always been there as everyone in the band writes songs and commits material or contributes to every song we’ve ever done even if it’s something like “that lyric makes me cringe”.
Everyone’s always had an equal voice, but for some reason between 2003 and 2010 there was something within the band dynamic that putting the cart before the horse was stopping us, which now in hindsight was no bad thing, because here we are, we’ve done two singles in eighteen months and fifty odd gigs.
Do you write together or does someone bring a song into the rest of you?
Graham : It varies, we’ll go to Clint’s cellar, whoever’s free and we’ll work on a song or Ste will come to mine with a song, Craig and Martyn will do a jam together.
I guess it’s easier to do that with technology. Even in 2003-4, you’d have to find a studio or you’d be recording it on a minidisc
Graham : You’ve still got to keep it personal. There’s a big band I saw live recently and there’s one song on their album which they wrote on computers and play live on guitars. I do really like the song because it’s got a great melody. They don’t let go in the song. In a band even where we have difficulty sometimes all getting together in a room because of our commitments, I personally wouldn’t want to go down that route. I’d rather we do it that if Clint has a couple of hours at half ten at night, we’ll all go over and work in his cellar.
Steve : I think that’s a good thing about our songwriting, that noone’s precious about anything. You bring it in and it’s not “I want it doing that way, or this way”, everyone kicks around ideas and we all chuck our own bits in and at the end it comes out with good stuff. It’s pretty fluid really.
Clint : We don’t have a set way of doing it
Graham : It’s almost the opposite of what Noel did when he joined Oasis, when they were The Rain. I think Noel had seen how we operated and that it was quite cumbersome how we do it, but it feels right for me. Some of the songs that people would bring in change.
When Tom brought in Dragging Me Down, the original idea, it was a long song that was quite complicated. Because everyone’s got an equal voice, we honed it down, Craig put a funky little rhythm on it and Clint a catchy keyboard bit on top, shaving quite a bit off it, but it was still in essence the same song that we’ve moved around to make it work as a three-minute pop song. It has all the elements of a catchy pop song. Whether you like it or not Smells Like Teen Spirit and The Mock Turtles’ Can You Dig It are perfect guitar pop songs, but all three of those songs are perfect, they have the peaks and troughs, things coming in, going out.
Fix Your Smile is coming out for Record Store Day on Tim Burgess’s OGenesis label. How did that come about?
Clint : Me and Tim have an ongoing love affair. I’ve got to know him quite well over the years. He’s been feeding me the records he’s been putting out. He’s doing it brilliantly too because he’s doing it for the right reasons. It’s almost like when Tony Wilson started Factory – the music’s important, the artwork’s important. He’s got some spoken word he’s putting out so he’s not just signing bands that sound like The Charlatans, he’s quite pioneering.
We were obviously writing new songs and I think I suggested we do something with Tim. It felt right, we were talking about him doing a guest vocal with us at some gigs, which might still happen. So it just seemed like a great collaboration, one of our favourite people in the world and one of the nicest people in the music industry and a guy who fronts one of our fellow North West band putting out an Inspirals record.
It’s a beautiful story. And if the two options were to put the single out with EMI and make five grand each or we could do it with Tim and making nothing, I think doing it with Tim is a more beautiful story. And that’s why we didn’t knock on any doors and ask if anyone wanted to put this record out. We’re doing it with Tim because the whole thing is about passion.
We’re quite precious about our artwork, but we said to Tim that he should pick it and he went out and took a photograph especially for the sleeve. He mixed the single as we just gave him the multi-track, so it’s just a really nice coming together of similar minds.
And it’s coming out on seven-inch for Record Store Day then as a download later?
Graham : Seven-inch and then you’ll be able to buy it on download two weeks after.
Is it just that song or something else with it?
Graham : There’s a b-side which will be on the seven-inch called Save Me, which will just be on the vinyl and the download will just be the A-side.
Clint : The b-side will be available when the album comes out.
Graham : Everything we’re recording at the moment will be on the album when it comes out. The nature of an album now is that if it’s got fourteen songs on it, you might only want to listen to ten of them. I think the album will be fourteen to sixteen songs.
It feels like exciting times. It feels like it was in 87-88 when we were scratching around a little bit. It’s good.
Will you be resurrecting anything like Head For The Sun, which you did live in March last year and was on the b-side of You’re So Good For Me?
Clint : I think as we go through it, there’s a massive body of work to listen to and gig live. We don’t want to spend all our time working on the back catalogue instead of the new stuff. I love the idea of Dung 4 coming out on vinyl and cd though. It’s a great artifact.
A lot of people actually see that as your first album – eleven songs and how you were as a band?
Clint : We were doing everything on four track cassette and I think I borrowed a reel-to-reel for Dung 4.
It sold thousands as well didn’t it?
Clint : Yeah, eight thousand rings a bell. Three hundred Cow demos and eight thousand of that
Graham : I agree, I think the hardcore fans did see that as the first album and not a lot of it survived from that to anything else.
The Life reissue, combined with their first two EPs Planecrash and Trainsurfing and a previously unreleased 1988 John Peel Session and a DVD of their sold out July 1990 G-Mex show is out now.
Inspiral Carpets play the following dates on the Life tour in March:
Thursday 21st Birmingham O2 Academy 2
Friday 22nd London Covent Garden Pretty Green in-store (1pm)
Friday 22nd London Koko
Saturday 23rd Sheffield Leadmill
Sunday 24th Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Thursday 28th Wrexham Central Station
Friday 29th Manchester Ritz
Saturday 30th Holmfirth Picturedrome
All words by David Brown. You can see more of David’s work on Louder Than War here
All images by Elspeth Moore. More work from Elspeth on Louder Than War can be found here.