TV Smith Interview: Tim Smith talks about his forthcoming album, Land of the Overdose with Alan Grundy, exclusively for Louder Than War
It’s always a pleasure to talk to TV Smith but especially so prior to the release of the long awaited new album “Land Of The Overdose” and the man himself was kind enough to spare time inbetween the three weekend gigs that he recently played in the Midlands.
We met up in the beer garden outside his hotel (he only drank coffee – honestly) and chatted for a while but the talk was veering dangerously close to some of the stuff I wanted to cover so I “rolled the tape” and cracked on.
LTW: Your new album is due out on the 14th of September on the Die Toten Hosen label JKP. How did this come about?
TV: I’ve had a lot of contact with the Toten Hosen over the years anyway obviously and Campino (lead singer) was in England going down on holiday to Cornwall. He dropped in to see me whilst I was recording and had a listen to the songs as they were developing and getting near to being complete. He really liked the songs and asked to hear the finished recordings. He talked to the rest of the band and the label and they really wanted to put it out.
LTW: Do you think that this will help with the distribution?
TV: Well it will have a distribution! Usually my distribution has been selling them at the gigs. Yes, it will be available to buy in shops. I don’t know if anyone buys records in shops any more but it ‘s just going to be more easily available. I was able to pass it over to them so that I can get on with gigging while they get the record pressed. If I was putting it out myself as I usually do, with this intensity of gigs, it wouldn’t be out now because I wouldn’t have time to sort out all that stuff. The nice thing about a label is that they do take over that kind of thing.
LTW: The album’s called “Land Of The Overdose”. Is that how you see the United Kingdom at the moment?
TV: It’s a global kind of observation really that we’ve just generally, globally been having our expectations confused as to what we want out of life and out of the world and deliberately so I think. They are trying to keep us wanting more and more even when we’ve got enough so that there’s this inequality that drives their ability to rule over us whilst we are all in-fighting and squabbling and not sure of what’s going on around us. It’s a deliberate tactic by the establishment to keep the status quo – which is inequality – that’s the status quo.
LTW: There’s a download single already released – “No Hope Street”. Who chose this as the leader for the album?
TV: JKP chose that.
LTW: Do you feel that it’s the track that defines the overall feel of the album?
TV: I think that they are probably right that it’s the most instantly catchy, it’s got a very strong chorus. But I think that almost any one of the tracks pretty much represent it because they are all what I’ve been thinking about in the four years since the last album so they do have an integrity of meaning. I might not chose “File It Under Not My Problem” as the lead track because it’s the most cynical, silly one of the whole album. “No Hope Street” is a good serious subject and I stand by every word in it. So I was very happy to have that go out as the lead track. Obviously it’s commercial suicide!
LTW: I just thought that there’s tracks that back in the day when a single was released because it was the most “instant” tune that there were more commercial songs on the album such as “Sunny Side Up” and “Keys To The World”.
TV: Yeah, I think “Keys To The World” would have been a nice one as well. “Sunny Side Up” is probably a bit too flippant. All the album songs are serious so I wouldn’t want to release one of the lighter tracks as, although I like doing them, and they are a nice break from the rest, what I’m really about is making serious songs.
LTW: Yes, but they are catchy!
TV: Well, I’ve never done anything right commercially!
After we both recovered from a fit of laughter, the interview continued.
LTW: Some of the songs, you must have written just after the last album. “Keys To The World” has been played live for nearly three years even in it’s finished form. The only song that I’ve heard that’s changed is “Written Out” – that’s had a new verse added to the original. Do you instinctively know from playing the new stuff live if it’s going to work?
TV: Pretty much, I don’t think I’ve ever done a song live and thought “maybe not” but what happens when I’m playing them live is that it gives me a direct feed-back as to how to play them. So I’ve found that the arrangement, how I’m playing guitar, the phrasing and how I sing it changes the more I play it live so I really like to get that sorted before I record it. There is really nothing like it.
There’s a couple of songs that I didn’t play live before I recorded them but they fit the whole general feel. When I start off doing an album, I’ve no idea what I’m going to do! I’ve no idea what songs or what direction it’s going to go. It starts with a blank page but as soon as I had “Keys To The World” I knew that I had a really good song to start nailing the rest of the album together. Once I start feeling out the way it’s working, how I play it live, they are a bunch of songs and they all work together in the same way. I’d happily go out and play a set of just the twelve songs on the new album. It would all tie together but that’s a bit self indulgent! People are going to want “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”!
LTW: This is the first album that you’ve made since you moved back to Devon. Did this effect the song writing process?
TV: No, I wouldn’t say so. What it did give me was a nice place to record in the middle of the country in a cottage surrounded by fields so that I could make as much noise as I wanted and not bother anyone! Which is a nice freedom. The idea of a studio to record in, that just means somewhere where you’re paying loads of money for the absolute best of everything but all I need is a place to go, a microphone a few guitars and a computer.
LTW: Do you find it easier writing where you are now? Are there more or less distractions in the countryside?
TV: It’s got nothing to do with it really, the only ”distractions’ that I’ve got is the gigs. That’s the thing that really burns up the time and I can’t write when I’m out gigging. I can’t write a record and I can’t make a record. But playing live is such an overwhelmingly important part of what I do. I don’t think that people are queuing up for a new album so if it takes four years for me to make it, I think that’s fine. I’d rather do it right than try and rush it.
LTW: In the past, some songs have had a urban theme – “Bombsite Boy”, “Looking Down On London” and even on the last album – “London Hum”. Can we now expect more pastoral themes? We have got “Last Lost Sheep” on the new album.
TV: Well you’ve also got “Lion & The Lamb” on an old album! (both laugh). You don’t see many lions in the country side or in the city.
LTW: What about Regents Park Zoo?
TV: Oh, I get it. You’re determined to pin me down to location!
Actually it’s not got anything to do with location. It’s about what you’re thinking about and what you’re observing and for me it’s nice to get back off the road from many urban locations and crowds and not be in that environment. The change is good for me I think. As there’s more and more gigs, it’s important for me to take a few days off where I’m not in that environment.
LTW: You’ve played all the instruments on the new album. What exactly did you play?
TV: The guitars as always and bass guitar. I bought a bass from a second hand shop it was a nice colour! (cue laughter)
LTW: What colour?
TV: A nice electric blue!
LTW: Oh lovely!
TV: I thought well it’s only £90 I thought I might still be able to play bass.
LTW: And you can!
TV: Yeah, it turns out I can. It was a bit of hard work though. It hurts your fingers.
LTW: Well the strings are thicker!
TV: They are yeah. What’s the point of that?!
LTW: You didn’t play drums though! There followed a brief silly discussion about TV lugging Timpani in and out of the studio.
TV: There’s obviously samples and things that you play on keyboards. All the drums are samples or loops that I’ve edited. I didn’t play any of them as in playing a drum machine but I’ve got a big library of samples and loops and cut them together. Which I suppose is alright but not really punk! I really enjoyed doing that. The bass and keyboard parts, I can hear them it’s just a question of being technically good enough to physically play them. But I cannot play drums in any shape or form what so ever. It’s always been a joy to have had people like Vom (Die Toten Hosen drummer) playing on the records who know how to interpret drums. But in this case, it just wasn’t the right time or the right location. I wasn’t able to get a studio band together and I started doing it myself and it sounded good! In the absence of Vom, I started playing around with cutting up drum loops and samples and really enjoyed the process and I think although you maybe don’t quite get what a real drummer gives you, you get something else.You get a quite personal feel to it and I think as it developed into a one man project what I lost in technical ability, I gained in a kind of personal concept of what the sound should be like.
LTW: And you actually produced the album yourself. Was it difficult to remain objective?
TV: No, because I’ve really always done that in a way. I’ve co-produced with Tim Cross. The only reason I’ve got the sole producers credit this time is because I was the only one there!
I’ve always been totally involved with the way the albums have sounded. The technical term as to whether you’re a producer is kind of a moot point. Apart from if you’re one of these “star” producers who bring in their own sound most bands work with producers and they work together as I’ve always done when Jon Caffery has produced for me and when I worked with Tim Cross. It’s always team work. Except this time, I was the entire team!
LTW: So it really is a solo album because there’s only you on it!
TV: Yeah. I’ve come close before. Generation Y was close but Martin (the drummer from Cheap) helped with some of the bass and drum parts. I think I did everything else on that one. That’s the nearest I got to a complete solo album apart from the acoustic album until now.
We chatted again for a while about The Adverts and The Explorers but that’s a tale for another time.
It was getting close to the time that we’d have to set off for that evening’s gig so Tim went off to get ready. That gig turned out to be even more special than usual and that’s another tale for another time!
Listen To or buy the single No Hope Street.
There’s also plans to release a second single “Never Again Until The Next Time” on September the 7th.For news on that and all things TV Smith, check out the website.
Interview conducted by Alan Grundy for LTW