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Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis
David Rhodes interview 2013

Dancing bees and an irreverent cow

David Rhodes on his new album RHODES, by phone (22nd August 2013) Hello David.

David Rhodes: Hello, Helmut. How are you?

GNC: I'm fine, thank you. How are you doing?

David: Great. I'm just making a cup of coffee. Sometimes the signal is bad when I come into the kitchen - can you still hear me? I'll just need to pour some milk in it. There we go.

GNC: Let us start with what people see first when they buy the album, the artwork. What is the idea behind that?

David: Initially I was going to try and do a drawing myself or some sort of graphic symbol that was quite bright. I'd been thinking about yellow on purple, a sort of bright, vibrant design. I experimented a bit, I bought myself some paints, but I wasn't coming up with anything I liked. And then I was looking at the website of a friend of mine called David Stewart who is a photographer, and I saw the image of the cow with the trunk on it. It just made me laugh straight away, and I was intrigued at the same time. Or maybe I was intrigued first, then I laughed. Then I thought "that's probably a good starting point for a cover". I rang up David, and in fact he'd been meaning to speak to me (I hadn't spoken to him in a while). I did a bit of film music for him, and in return he let me use the image which we then, with Chris Hughes I'd already reversed the image and cropped it in a certain way, and then Chris took it a stage further. I'd been experimenting with yellow lettering on the green background - that was the photograph - to get something quite vibrant there, and then Chris just slapped the lettering across the middle, and it just ended up being irreverent and intriguing and funny, and we were imagining somebody in a far-flung country seeing a poster with that on it – and you wouldn't know what the fuck was going on. It would be, "Gosh, what's all this about?" [laughs] It's just to make an arresting image, and I think it is.

GNC: I also like the image of the horse that looks like a camel.

David: Oh, so you've had a look!

GNC:  Yes, I've had a look at the photos.

David: He's still great. I did a couple of little films for him.

GNC: I know you did Cabbage with him ...

David: ... and there was one called Firewalker, an advert for shoes, which is great ... very short, I think, maybe a minute to ninety seconds.

GNC: I got this from you.

David: Oh, okay. [laughs]

GNC: Are there any plans to release these films commercially?

David: The films ... no, David just has them. I think they're on his website.

GNC: Maybe as a bonus track on your CDs?

David: Oh, that's a thought. Maybe ... That's a very good idea.

GNC: They are both very nice, Cabbage and Firewalker.

David: So that's the story of it. And actually, what happened when Chris Hughes started playing round with the image he thought it better to turn the background into more of a painting than a photograph, so he photoshopped it and made it look as though it had been painted. So the only sharp bit of the image is the cow. Then he came up with the idea for the savannah colour, the orange-y kind of tone. He fiddled with it, and we talked about it a lot and ended up with that.

cowGNC: It doesn't look too bad at all, a fine image. Why did you call the album simply Rhodes? Why not give it a real album title like the previous one?

David: It's because, really, trying to change it from just my project into a band project. By calling it Rhodes it makes it a bit less personal. I've been thinking of names and I couldn't come up with any, so I was hoping the band, that from now on we'd be billed as Rhodes rather than anything else. And then I couldn't think of another name. I was trying too hard, and when you try too hard you end up with bollocks. It just seemed better to leave it at that.

GNC: So the name on the album is both the band name and the album title?

David: That's the theory, yeah. [laughs]

GNC: After Bittersweet and quite a lot of solo live shows in the following years, when did you actually want to do a follow up album and did you have the same approach?

David: Oh, no, no, no, it's very different. When we started doing the band shows I'd been trying to write ... I'd written, I guess, a few of the songs, and it was great to hear them come to life with players on. I've also decided to not do such precise demos for it. The plan was to have it as a band record, three-piece and then keyboards and no unnecessary overdubs and just have it as we'd been playing it when we'd been doing the shows or playing some of the tracks as we'd been playing on the shows. I had hoped to do it a year earlier, almost, but raising finances was tricky. So, yes, it's really meant to be a very traditional three-piece record where you record it as live as possible, do a few overdubs and that's it.

GNC: That's the reason you didn't have any keyboards or strings on the album, then?

David: Yeah. I was just trying to make it more pure, I think, more pure and more muscular.

GNC: Which it is.

David: Yeah. So I've succeeded there.

GNC: Last time Richard Evans was involved with the record. He is not this time. What's the reason for that?

David: [laughs] A number of things. When I was initially planning it, I had expected Richard to be involved. I had planned to record at RealWorld to do the tracking at least, and then I thought I'd end up probably finishing at his house, where he has a studio. But then things changed because I'd approached RealWorld about booking the studio, and they offered me such a shit deal to record, to use the recording sphere, that I decided not to use it. They offered me ten percent off the book price, which I thought was outrageous [laughs].

And then I'd just hooked up again with Chris Hughes, who was an old friend of mine and, as you know, produced Tears For Fears, Cars, Adam & The Ants ... loads of good things he drummed for or produced.
 We used to play in a little band together when, oh, I was sixteen and he was eighteen. We hadn't really had much contact since then. We used to rehearse in East End basements on a Sunday afternoon. We'd kind of lost touch, but we kind of bumped into each once a year at a friend's fireworks party in November. In fact I'd been going round and seeing him to jam and try out ideas and just fooling around, so it was really good to come and see each other and hanging out.

HorseI went and sat and had coffee with him and I said „You did offer to come in and help routine the band when we do rehearsals before recording ...“ He said „Yeah, that's fine, that's fine, I'll do that.“ So I rang up Richard again and said to him „Chris wants to come in routine the band. How do you feel about that?“ He felt a bit worried about that, and decided not to take part at all.
So there I was with massive ... no engineers and producer, no studio and wondering what the hell to do. And trying to book, trying to find a time slot when Ged and Charlie were available. Making records is tough [laughs] ... or the logistics are tough and awkward.

So I was telling Chris the story, and he said, „Come and use my studio“ and I said „That's great, thank you very much“. And he said „I'll come in to rehearsals and whilst you there I can just pop in and then you can record with my engineer", because he works with an engineer called Mark. It transpired that when we did the rehearsals Chris was too ill to come in at all. So we did our little rehearsals and routine the tracks as we thought they should be and we were all set to record on ... I think we did that over the weekend and then, on the Monday, we were to start recording. And then Chris came in to the recording, and didn't leave, and stayed all the time through everything, which was great. So that's the convoluted story of where we ended up doing it and how.

GNC: But you are still working together with Richard as Footnotes?

David: Well, we haven't had any projects recently, and he's working with a girl singer called Birdy. He's the musical director for her live band. He's committed to doing that for over a year now, so he's kind of doing his thing there.

GNC: Would you like to drink your coffee now?

David: Oh, I can sip it as we talk. [laughs] Am I talking too much?

GNC: No, but I would not want to be responsible for your cold coffee.  [laughs] In my album review of Bittersweet I tried to show in a chart how much each song reminds me of either Random Hold or older songs. I remember you told me you found it very strange, but that was my approach to characterize the music. If I would have to do this for the new album I certainly wouldn't find too many things that remind me of anything except David Rhodes.

David: Good! [laughs]

GNC: Would you agree that this album perhaps represents your own style more than any solo recording you did before?

David: Oh yeah. Definitely. It's just more assertive, I think, less shy and less precious. In a way I'm getting fed up with everybody being so precious about stuff.

GNC: Which is a good thing, a straightforward album, not too many effects, it is very direct.

David: It is honest and pure, yeah. That's the theory. In fact, I talked a lot about what I expected to happen with Chris and he was very good at interpreting and helping us put that across.

GNC: Would you do me a favour and talk a bit about each track on the album?

David: Oh, my. [laughs] Umh, give me a track and I'll ...

GNC: If I Could Empty My Head

David: I'd come up with a little – two riffs, really, one which is the opening one, and then the little verse one. I guess the song is a mixture of funny and trouble. You see, we carry so many experiences with us and they colour everything that you do and experience and it would be nice sometimes if you could just get rid of all the shit ones and start again, tabula rasa, and enjoy things for the moment. It's as simple as that. [laughs]

RHODES bandGNC: Grinding Wheel.

David: That, in fact, existed in a different form. It's about time and experience, just trying to get on with things, really, and perhaps not be too precious again, that comes back there. And it's got that lovely groove, the bass part that Charlie came up with in the verse is just so cool. We'd sit playing that all night, and me playing one chord. Fantastic. Minimal music.

GNC: Ship Of Fools, that's an older one, I think.

David: Yeah. That was one that I'd started doing on my own when I started doing solo shows. It's pretty self-explanatory, I think.

GNC: You Are The North Wind

David: That's just a little tale about ... somebody. Is it a love song?

GNC: Yeah, sounds like it.

David: Yeah. [laughs] And sometimes how you feel somebody can bring wonderful clarity to your life.

GNC: Monkey On My Back

David: That's a very direct little rock song, I suppose. Ged plays it beautifully, but he doesn't ... there's only a couple of cymbal splashes in it. It feels very muscular and very lean, which I like. It's about the problems when you feel ground down by stuff.

GNC: Waggle Dance

David: That's nominally about bees, but I guess that's a love song, too. [laughs] For anybody who is intrigued by it, they should read a bit about bees and they'll be even more intrigued by it, I hope.

GNC: Are you still busy with the bees, by the way?

David: Yeah, I've got three colonies that are doing well at the moment. I lost two earlier in the year. It's very easy to lose colonies just coming into spring time, actually. They can run out of food, or the weather's bad or they can finally succumb to diseases that they got in the autumn. So I was down to two colonies, and then I caught a big swarm from one of the colonies, and all three seem to be doing well. So hopefully I'll get some honey in a couple of weeks time and then they'll go into winter quite healthy.

GNC: Good luck with it! - The next song is Time.

David: That's another acoustic one. In a way, that was the most written of all the songs when I presented it to Charlie and Ged. It was quite obvious. I had come up with most of the bass part so Charlie just worked with that. It's a nice feeling. I guess a lot of the album is about ... I don't know, getting old? [laughs]

GNC: Do you feel old?

David: Umh, sometimes. And other times not at all.

GNC: Like everybody, probably.

David: Yeah.

GNC: Three Is Everything

David: It started off the ... I read a thing that Marcel Duchamp, the artist said. He said that one is unity, two is duality, three is infinity. And I think he was kind of actually relating it to the Holy Trinity. I took a more irreligious view and played around with it. There's quite a lot of word play. It's a pretty song, I like it.

GNC: So do I.

David: Good. [laughs] There is actually a very nice Tom Lord Alge mix of it. He did two mixes for me. So there were the Chad mixes, and then Tom did If I Could Empty My Head and Three Is Everything.

GNC: Next is My Blue Balloon.

David: I guess it's like a litte story about ... very obvious, a little child with a balloon, and how they fill it with air, hopes and desires. They want to let go to see what the world is like, but they struggle to.

GNC: The final song - Be Mine

David: Pretty obvious, I think. [laughs] A bit of love and a bit of longing. I guess I'll explain it a bit better. It's almost like you're hearing one side of the conversation and then you get to the end when it all kicks off, and that's almost an expression of the turmoil and argument that can happen in a relationship. Does that make sense?

GNC: There haven't been any lyrics with the download. Are there with the CD?

David: No.

GNC: Why not?

David: [laughs] I think it's fine if people hear ... I think most of the singing is quite clear. It doesn't bother me if people misinterpret or have their own take on things. That's fine. Again, it's maybe getting away from being too precious about it. I'd rather people just listen to it.

RHODES band 2GNC: Did you write any other songs that didn't make it on the album?

David: There are two that fell short. But it was good. I didn't want more than 40 minutes, I think it came out at 42. The two that didn't make it, they've got nice bits, but they were ... One of them was just not very good lyrically, I didn't like it. And the other one is rather a nice little tune, but I sure will do it at some point. It's well-recorded and sounds good, so it will be used at some point.

GNC: First track for the next album...?

David: Yeah [laughs]

GNC: You mentioned that you have recorded German and Italian vocals for one song ...

David: For Waggle Dance, yeah.

GNC: What's the plan with it, the idea behind it?

David: Well, that was hopefully to get a bit more interest in Germany and Italy. When we played in Lichtenstein I did sing it in German. It made a few people laugh. [laughs] It 's meant to be playful. Obviously my accent is pretty atrocious, and I don't know German. My Italian is pretty bad, too. The Italian one sounds ... very odd to my ears. Hopefully they will be used and hopefully people will like them.

GNC: So what is the plan for the songs? Are you going to offer it on iTunes?

David: Well ... No, I still am trying to figure out what is the best plan for releasing because ... There's the thought that it might be best to do license deals in different countries, or just do it through Burning Shed or something like that. I need to plot and plan a bit more how to best get the thing out. It's funny now that it worked, but it was really difficult raising the money to make it, which we did through Pledge and BMW helped. But it's even more difficult to release it and promote it. Each way you turn it seems like there's trouble. I'm not quite sure about the best way. The real problem for a small artist is getting publicity, and getting continued publicity. So you can have a little splurge of interest, but that only gets a few people to hear about. I still think probably radio is the best way to get more people to know about something. But we'll see.

GNC: So you would have to send these other language versions to radio stations in Germany or Italy ...

David: I think that may be a thing to do, to at least get people to hear them and see what they think. But then you also got to back that up with having the product available. This is one reason why record companies, for all their faults, could handle all that mechanism and coordinate everything. As a tiny project it's incredibly difficult to coordinate things.

GNC: Would you consider doing an entire album in a different language? You have some experience for example with Lucky And Zorba where you did the soundtrack in different languages ...

David: I think the problem is having somebody that you trust do the translations. And, of course, there is quite a large cost involved in spending all the time in re-singing and, inevitably, remixing. So it's not quite as easy as one would imagine. It becomes a big process in itself. Even just doing one song in two languages. Actually, Richard mixed both for me, which is great, so quite different to Chad's mixes. But again, it took all day singing in German. I had to find an engineer whose German was good, and then for the Italian version I had to find an Italian engineer and use their studio. It becomes quite a big process.

GNC: But I like it. I find it very interesting to have a German version of an album too ... like Peter Gabriel, of course, I love his two German albums. So, I'm looking forward to hearing the German version of Waggle Dance.

David: I'll send you an mp3 of it.

GNC: That would be great, thank you!

David: You can laugh. [laughs]

GNC: You are obviously going to promote the album on stage as well. What is the set list going to be? The entire new album plus some old tracks?

David: Yeah. We do all the new things and just leave two or three of the previous one.

GNC: Are there any tour dates yet?

David: This is all part of trying to decide on a release and promotions, and so I don't think it will be until next spring. Also, Ged is quite busy in January and February next year, and Charlie is busy in October and November this year. Trying to find time when we're all free to do things is difficult. But that's the plan. And the Austrian promoter already is keen to have us back, and hopefully we'll get something going in Germany.

GNC: What are your plans for the rest of 2013 and for the next year, apart from solo shows?

David: I'm doing a bit with a guy called Slobodan Trkulja in Serbia. That's just a one-off show, but I go there for a week to rehearse. He has a band, a project called Balkanopolis. But this isn't a Balkanopolis gig, I think, but it'll be fun, I think. He combines a kind of Balkan folk music and rock music. I'm doing Peter's things, of course. Rehearsals for that start as soon as I get back from Serbia, and then I'll help out my friend Neil Arthur, who is doing some Blancmange things, which will be fun, it's always quite playful. And then I really ought to be concentrating on how to get Rhodes out and how we're going to deal with the logistics of that.

GNC: There is said to be a Peter Gabriel tour in spring 2014 as well. Is it going to be a So tour?

David: Well, I don't know. I think we go to South America for two shows, and then I think there are some shows. But I haven't been given the official dates yet.

GNC: But you think it will be So shows, again?

David: I think ... ummh, I don't know if there will be anything new. [laughs] Getting anything new is rare. But I don't think David Sancious is doing it. It won't be the So band as such.

GNC: By the way, will Linnea Olsson be in the band as well for Peter Gabriel's autumn shows?

David: Yeah.

GNC: How did it come that she joined the Gabriel band? Is it because she promoted your solo shows with Paintbox in 2010?

David: No. What happened ... last year when we started in Quebec we were rehearsing over there. And Ane Brun was meant to be singing, and Jennie Abrahamsson as well. And then Ane got quite ill, and couldn't do the support slot or sing with Peter. Jennie still wanted to do it and suggested Linnea – who was playing for Ane – to do it with her. I didn't even know Linnea was doing it until she showed up. Have you heard her record?

GNC: Which one? Her solo record with the solo cello? It's great.

David: It's fantastic. It's some of my favourite Sunday morning listening.

GNC: It's fun to have an album just based on that instrument.

David: And she's so nice. It was a lovely coincidence that she could do it and yes, they're doing the European shows.

GNC: Okay, I'm finished with the interview. Thanks a lot! Now your coffee is cold, I think. [laughs]

David: [laughs] I'll make another one.

Interview: Helmut Janisch
Transcription: Martin Klinkhardt
Photos (band): Richard Chappel
Photos (animals): David Stewart