Interview: Martin Carr
Published on July 3rd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Not many people know it, but Martin Carr is one of the finest songwriters and all-round musicians of his age. You may dismiss this as a matter of opinion, and you’d have a point. However, Rocksucker cares not for subjectivity when it comes to the very cream of the crop – as far as we are concerned, that Carr is a musical genius should be documented as scientific fact.
After all, here is a man who took psychedelic noise-pop into virtually uncharted territory as songwriter-in-chief with The Boo Radleys, then shed the group to cross-pollinate gloriously with electronica as bravecaptain (think Super Furry Animals as opposed to, say, Kasabian) and most recently took to nailing blissed-out country-pop on 2009 album Ye Gods (And Little Fishes), Carr’s first release under his real name.
That Carr can do just about anything has been abundantly clear ever since The Boo Radleys’ seminal 1993 LP Giant Steps – named as album of the year by both NME and Select, no less – oversaw angular fuzz-pop, dark dub, jangly gorgeousness and skyscraping exploration of dynamics within its first four tracks alone. We could go on and on, but instead we’ll cut to the chase – he’s back with new double A-side single “Sailor”/”I Will Build a Road” (the former written for his one-year-old daughter of the same name), so we fired him over/subjected him to a hearty Rocksucker inquisition, the results of which we are delighted to reproduce for you below.
First, though, check out the new singles, dig them as much as we do, then snap them up from sonnyboy.bandcamp.com. Enjoy…
Do you intend for “Sailor” and “I Will Build a Road” to be part of a new Martin Carr album?
No. These songs are being recorded purely as singles. I’m not making an album until it feels right. At the moment all I want to do is write and record singles, in the old fashioned sense. I’ve always admired great singles bands – The Beatles, Madness, The Jam etc – and I haven’t released one for more than ten years so I want to make up for that. It’s a good discipline, keeps you righteous. All fab, no flab.
Is Sonny Boy Records just a platform for yourself or do you plan to put anything else out on it?
It’s just for me for now, perhaps always. I have nothing to offer anybody else and besides, it’s only a name. The whole operation is basically me shouting into a computer screen.
Can you describe your basic studio set-up and what you use to record?
After years of clueless experimentation and digital infidelity, I’ve settled on an iMac – beautiful, reliable and powerful. I use Ableton again because I find it to be very reliable. I recently acquired a pair of Adam A7X monitors, they’ve made a big difference to the sound. I have a Fender Jazz bass, a few guitars, my Gibson Acoustic J200 Xtra that I’ve had since 1994 is the one I use for songwriting, that and a four quid Spanish guitar that I keep in the house.
I have a Fender Rhodes 54 that I bought from the States about twelve years ago, it’s a bit knackered and needs to go to hospital. I use various plugins, soft synths. I’ve been in my studio for a year, it’s the first time I’ve ever had one and I’m finally making good music after years of shitty home recordings.
Any live shows on the horizon?
No. I’m concentrating on recording. The next time I play live I want to do it with a band.
Is your music a lesser part of your life now you have a family? What are you up to generally these days, anyway?
I get four hours a day to work. I walk my son to school then cycle the three miles to the studio, across Pontcanna Fields, over Blackweir Bridge and the Herons that sun themselves on the rocks that poke through the water. Whatever the weather, it’s an enriching experience. From the outside I’m a middle-aged sweaty man huffing and puffing across the bridge but inside I’m blissed out on nature’s sweet harmony. I catch up with correspondence then start recording.
I’ve spent the last couple of years writing songs so the material is there, I just need to get it down. I usually nip out for a take-out black Americano from the French cafe across the road at some point and then, all to soon, it’s time to cycle back home and spend the afternoon with the kids. If I have the energy I’ll drive back to the studio around half seven once they’re in bed.
Music and songwriting has always been about dreaming for me – I’m at my best when I’m doing nothing – but having kids has changed all that and it’s hard but obviously the children are wonderful and I’ll just have to bide my time and wait for the first opportunity to kick them out and then I can reclaim the couch.
What if anything inspired the more country-ish sort of sound of Ye Gods (And Little Fishes)?
I stopped writing songs in 2006, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I found it hard to believe that I’d ever written one. I bought a camera and started taking photographs instead and messing about on Photoshop. I ended up doing illustration work for The Times. I think I still considered myself a songwriter but I wasn’t trying to write – but after watching and listening to some of my friends in Cardiff, people like H. Hawkline, Richard James and Siôn Glyn, who all played various fingerpicking styles, I taught myself how to do it and that became the catalyst that reignited my writing.
Most of the songs on that album use fingerpicking pattern. I still didn’t have the confidence to produce it myself so I did it with Charlie Francis. It’s ok, it doesn’t really sound like me to me, but some of the songs are pretty good.
What made you decide to abandon the bravecaptain moniker and go by your own name? Was it the stylistic shift, and if so might you revert back to bravecaptain in the future? Certainly the new single has more electronic elements than anything on Ye Gods…
I think it tied in with not writing anymore, I was clearing the decks. bravecaptain was going nowhere, I gave away the last album for nothing. You can’t really come back after that.
Has the ‘not through the looking glass’ perception of The Boo Radleys as “Wake Up, Boo!” one-hit wonders ever bothered you at all? Is it something you still encounter? Are you still proud of that song? You should be.
I’m well aware that is by far and away the record I’m most identified with but it doesn’t bother me. There are enough people who love Giant Steps and C’mon Kids and Advertisements For Myself for it not to mess with my head. The fact that I don’t have to get up every morning and go to work at the Birkenhead Land Registry is my life’s victory and that song is responsible.
Do you think the arguably misleading properties of that song ended up detracting from proper attention being paid to C’mon Kids and Kingsize, two albums that still sound astonishing to this day?
Maybe, I don’t know. It was so long ago I really don’t give it much thought. I’m still not convinced that Kingsize was a good record.
I seem to remember reading that Nicky Wire listened to little else but C’mon Kids for about a year. In general, did fellow musicians tend to see the Boos for the great band you really were? How often has someone you truly admire attested to being a fan of your music, Boos or otherwise? Has the respect of your peers ever been important to you?
I was made up when the Manics and Spiritualized and Radiohead liked one of our records but the ones I am most pleased about are those who have to buy records from wages or dole money like I did. I would go without food and fags to buy records. If you said that to some kids now they would burn you as a witch.
I also recall reading that Paul Weller was a bit of a dick to [Boo Radleys front man] Sice backstage at Top of the Pops many moons ago. What happened there, and were there any other similar incidents?
I don’t remember that. I had a thing with him after a Dr John gig, it was mostly him shouting.
How much was “Everybird” inspired by My Bloody Valentine’s “Cigarette in Your Bed?” (For the record, I prefer “Everybird”.) Have you ever written something and then later realised that it’s something that already exists?
What are Rob, Tim and Sice up to these days? Do you all still keep in touch? Does a Boo Radleys reunion ever get discussed? Have you had offers?
Rob still plays, last I knew he was drumming with Bez. Sice has a completely different career and Tim is a teacher in the North of Ireland. We have had an offer, we’ve talked about it.
Which Boos album entailed the biggest workload? Do you have a favourite/one you have the fondest memories of? Conversely, do you have a least favourite?
The last one [Kingsize, 1998], it was painful. We weren’t getting on that well and I didn’t really want to make records like that anymore. It took ages and we spent too much money because we couldn’t agree on anything and I had lost interest. The three before that were easy and a joy to make. I think they sound like that.
Is there anything happening with The Black Serpent Choir?
I spent a couple of years making the second album but now I’ve got a studio and a pair of decent monitors I realise it sounds pretty terrible. I don’t know what to do with it, it’s got some amazing stuff on it. I might just give it away with the first one. Actually, that doesn’t sound that great either. I should start again.
Who’s next for the Ten Questions treatmenet?
That’s for you to know and me to find out.
Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson have both just turned 70. Could you pick a favourite song by each? Where do you see yourself at that ripe old age?
I love McCartney’s “The End of The End”. It’s beautiful and profound. I wish he could have resisted whistling on it but you can’t have everything. Every time I get to that bit I hope he forgets to whistle but he never does. He would have written the Magna Carta in comic sans.
I hope I’m still writing at that age but most of all I hope the kids have moved out.
Haven’t heard Bunf’s one but I’m really looking forward to it. Cian’s stuff is always great and Gulp are ace.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
I’m listening to Jenny Lindfors at the minute. It’s an album that I can play over and over.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days with just the entire back catalogues of five different musical artists, whose would you choose? The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone.
Martin Carr, thank you.
“Sailor”/”I Will Build a Road” is out now on Sonny Boy Records and available at sonnyboy.bandcamp.com.