Babybird... Flights of fancy
Published on November 2nd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Stephen Jones is back with The Pleasures of Self Destruction, his eleventh studio album as Babybird and a lush, frequently loved-up affair that consolidates his position as long-reigning king of the UK’s pop underground, if such a thing exists.
That may appear to be a strange status for someone who scored a worldwide hit with “You’re Gorgeous” [from 1996 album Ugly Beautiful] in 1996, had another single [“The F-Word”, from 2000 album Bugged] used as the theme tune to Gordon Ramsay’s eminent TV vehicle F Word and who counts Johnny Depp as an avid, long-term fan – but such is the state of play on this X-Factor-addled little island of ours that Jones is still yet to receive his dues for releasing consistently excellent, diverse and creative – sometimes darkly so – pop music for over fifteen years now.
Many will recognise Babybird solely for the aforementioned blessing/curse that was “You’re Gorgeous” and there should be no shame in that – it was after all, along with Space’s “Female of the Species”, Edwyn Collins’ “Girl Like You” and White Town’s “Your Woman”, one of those brilliantly idiosyncratic mid-to-late ’90s pop hits the likes of which would never be allowed to reach so far and wide nowadays.
What is a shame is that the song’s unexpected success never quite extrapolated into universal appreciation of Jones’ considerable talents as a singer, songwriter, musician and general creative mind (as two novels under his belt will testify).
A case of “those that don’t know, don’t matter” it may be but, then, you could argue that the lack of subsequent lift-off has enabled him to sculpt his impressive musical legacy unencumbered by commercial expectations and the various vacuous trends that have passed overhead along the way.
Tomorrow night, The Bowery in central London will stage the Pleasures of Self Destruction UK launch party – the festivities move on to French venue L’Excelsior the following night – and, at the risk of exuding a degree of elitism that Jones himself would surely not approve of, it’s a safe bet that the paying punters at each venue will be of the “know their shit” variety.
Rocksucker fired Jones over some questions and we are honoured to reproduce for you the following set of answers…
Congratulations on a fine new album. Do you think that recording the album in LA had an impact upon the songs/recordings? Were they all written close together or do some of them date back further than others?
Yes, all the songs were written around the same time. I don’t think LA had an influence this time, as you are in dark room with air con on. Could have been anywhere. Like most studios.
Does the album’s title reflect your current state of mind, or at least your state of mind during its conception?
I think it’s a state of mind for all people. I’ve just taken an extreme. Could be cake, coffee, drugs, religious flagellation. We know it’s bad for us but life is about doing as many things as possible. So there lies the catch 22. It may be bad for you, but you do it anyway.
There’s quite a Nick Cave feel to “Jesus Stag Night Club” (and not just because of the Lazarus reference!) – is he an influence? What inspired this beast of a song anyway?
I’m not really directly influenced by music, just films maybe, but I used to go see The Birthday Party, as a kid, and still love “Straight to You”, “Easy Money” and “Midnight Man”. I like renaissance men like him, Tom Waits etc. Even Bruce Springsteen is someone I listen to a lot.
Was it intentional to have three tracks consecutively on the album that feature the word ‘love’ in their titles?
No. Subconsciously maybe, but it’s how the music pans from one song to another. Pace etc. Concept albums are always a bit weird.
Any more literary work on the horizon? Or even film-scoring?
Yes, I am writing a third novel and have a few plans to write film/tv music.
Are there any other artists that people sometimes mistake you for?
No, not really. People have said Ian McCulloch for his voice, but that’s lazy, poor journalism. But I’ve met him and he bore no bad blood, or thought there was a similarity. We’re just both baritone. He locked me in his dressing room once, filled my beer can with whiskey and stood over me with a huge bouncer next to him, and I thought I was going to get a kicking but instead he smiled, and said he liked Babybird. A lot.
Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re sick of hearing/reading in reference to your work?
Mostly all of it. Good reviews are as dangerous as bad ones if you believe it. People are usually so wide of the mark when it comes to guessing my intentions as it’s hard to pigeonhole Babybird. Very often they are blinded by “You’re Gorgeous” and I’m pretty sure the cataracts will never clear on that. I’m doomed from that perspective. Only when Mr Depp came along did their questions change. I have thousands of songs but delving is something people have little time for, I guess. Excuse the rant.
Do you ever experience moments of synaesthesia? If your music was a colour, which would it be?
Black with a knife driven through the heart of it, a rainbow reflected in the shiny blade.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
How would you rate this interview out of ten?
With a great deal of pleasure.
Finally, if you had to name your top three albums of all time – right now, spur of the moment, just off the top of your head – which would you go for?
Arvo Pärt – Alina, Solaris soundtrack (remake) and Almost Cured of Sadness.
Stephen, thank you.