DiS: Shall we start then?
Chris T-T: Yeah, sure.
So you’re on an extensive tour at the moment…
Yeah, I’ve just started. It’s a bit mental, but I think it’s gonna be good. What I did wrong was book a load of solo gigs then book a load of band gigs, I thought that would be a good idea. But what I forgot was to book any time to rehearse the band, so the three days in between that I had off I’ve now got to spend rehearsing the band. It’s stupid really, but I got so excited about playing live that I forgot rehearsals. Not very clever, but…
Do you prefer playing solo or as part of a band?
Well I get more of a kick out of… [pause]… no, up until recently I’ve got more… [pause]… well what I was going to say what that I get more of a kick out of playing in a band, but more recently I’ve preferred playing solo. But having said that I’ve recently enjoyed playing in the band more than ever before, so it still is the band. But what I think it is is that I secretly want to be ‘proper’ rock, there are so many good rock bands about at the moment and I’d like to be part of that, but I’m too fat and old and songwritery and lame. And what I enjoy about the band is that I think the people in the band can sort of rock really well, and it does get really load and really intense and that’s what I enjoy about making music, really. The problem is that people want to hear the songs and what the songs are about and that can be difficult when you’re just trying to bash out load guitars or whatever. So that’s the two sides of it really. But for now I think I’m going to prefer being a band player. Also solo’s a bit exposing and it’s entirely your responsibility. There’s been so many times that I’ve cocked up on stage and I can’t hide it, it’s really obvious, and everybody knows that I’ve just made a dick of myself or said something stupid. Whereas if you’re in a band it’s much more controlled, isn’t it.
Does that mean you’re worried about the connotations that become attached to the term ‘singer/songwriter’, then?
Um… not really because for all the negative there’s a load of positive. So when the indie kids hear ‘singer/songwriter’ and go, “oh what a twat, I’m not going to listen to that”, there are still a load of people who come from the other end. And as I get older it’s more of a career. I mean for a start it’s a lot cheaper to be a solo artist than a band, you know. I can get in my car and travel around the country, which is what I’m doing now. I think the thing about singer/songwritering and the way that it is promoted, probably in the same way that you guys feel about bands as well, is the kind of ‘blanding out’. So there are a lot of brilliant, edgy, interesting singer/songwriters out there who are fiery and passionate or intelligent or whatever, but all we get to hear is Katie Melua. And, alright, I’m sure she’s fiery and passionate, but…
We just don’t see it!
Yeah, she doesn’t put it across very well! So yeah, I think ‘singer/songwriter’ is a bit of a swear word and it shouldn’t be, but at the same time there’s so much bland shite out there in the acoustic world that sometimes when you see an acoustic headline, it’s as rare as seeing a good guitar band as a good songwriter. The problem with that is that if you see a bad guitar band you can still find a range of personalities in there, you could see a good guitarist in a shit band or whatever, there’s always ways of getting around it. Whereas if you see a shit singer/songwriter then that’s it really, there’s no saving grace. And they always don’t know that they’re shit because of the vanity in going solo. I mean, for me to stand on stage I must be quite vain to think that on my own I can entertain people, and even with a really rubbish solo performer they’ve still got that vanity. But in a band people just want to rock, and even if they’re shit they might be having a great time, there are so many different facets to a band. And I just get really sick of people who’ve just heard this current vogue for easy listening and thought “oh, I can play four chords and sing about how I can’t get a girlfriend or whatever” because it is just shite. And y’know, I’ve been totally blown away by Jim [Jim Bob, or rather James Morrison, former Carter USM bloke to whom Chris is currently supporting on tour] as his music is so electrified in its recorded output as well as solo that it is proper singer/songwriter, that’s what people should use as a benchmark for ‘singer/songwriter’. It shouldn’t be the David Grays. It should be people like Jim, Billy Bragg, and loads of people out there who are really fucking brilliant.
Were they your main influences, then?
Well no, not really, because I didn’t start out as a songwriter. The closest was Bruce Springsteen who, you know, everyone says is a bit of an embarrassing influence but he’s still my total hero. And he rocks like a bastard, you know, ‘cos I saw the band and they’re all in their mid- to late-fifties, and there’s about ten of them onstage almost ready to draw their bus passes. And they just rock like shit for three hours, without taking a breath. They’re just amazing! But I see my influences as much more rock and roll, like… oh bollocks, I don’t know, um… just the same people as everybody else. I think if I was a band I’d have the same influences as every other band, like, “oh great, Velvet Underground, Jesus & Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jnr”, loads of great people out there still reference them.
Which is understandable, I suppose.
But also unachievable. If I’m on my own then I can’t, I feel…
Are you therefore worried about your reputation as a writer of ‘novelty’ songs, then? Because obviously that’s how a lot of people have found out about you…
[Buries head in hands] Yeah… You’re going to get my standard justification which is that I don’t choose the songs I write. I promise! So when a song like ‘Eminem Is Gay’ happens, it’s not like I’ve gone “Hey, this is a great publicity idea, if I write a song and call the title ‘Eminem Is Gay’ people will take it the wrong way” and so on, it’s genuinely that I’ve written a song and everybody else around me has gone “Oh, that’s got to be a single!” And I’m not adverse to that, I don’t mind, it’s cool but I promise you that it is a genuine song, it’s not Linkin Park, it is proper and just ends up being like that, I can’t help it. And ‘London Is Sinking’ is the first record that hasn’t got those sort of songs on it and I almost think that it suffers because of it because there’s no light relief. In a way it’s quite depressing and you get to the end and think, “Where’s ‘Drink Beer’ or something stupid?” ‘7 Hearts’ almost does it because it has a funny story, but it’s still downbeat and “oh, he’s had a miserable life”. So I suppose the truest way to say it is that we should all be allowed to write songs about whatever. Because if you’re a songwriter you can’t really choose what you write about. All moods and areas of human emotion are open to you, but the problem is that all bands seem to have a ‘mood’, there’s one band and there’s only one mood that you seem to be allowed to write in and that’s unfair really. Like Coldplay for instance. I mean, if Chris Martin wanted to write a hilarious song about cheese then there’s no way that anybody would let him put it on an album. They’d all be going “What the fuck are you doing?” and he’ll be saying, “I’ve got this great song!” And that’s disgusting really because that means that they only have one mood, but people don’t have one mood they have fucking hundreds of moods. So there, that’s your answer.
So are you under the belief that you are like some sort of ‘channel’ for your songs?
[Laughs] Well, I wouldn’t put it as spiritually as that. I mean, sometimes a song will just come and bang! It’s there. But I think it’s more like I have a right to do it, and if people don’t like it then they have the right not to listen. It’s more egalitarian than saying [in booming voice] “I am channelling the word of God directly onto my pen and paper! You listen to me and you will learn!” I think I’m maybe at my best in songs, so like I have the right. If someone’s great in bed then they should really have sex a lot. I’m probably cleverer in my songs than I am in real life so I should write a lot more songs and talk a lot less.
Are you still planning to release an album about giraffes?
No, no, I can’t really. There’s too many albums out there about giraffes.
Well I can only name one, and it’s just called ‘Giraffe’.
Which one’s that?
The Echoboy one.
Yeah, but there’s also the Chemistry Experiment one.
Yeah. See the thing is the Echoboy one isn’t actually about giraffes, it’s just called ‘Giraffe’. Rip-off bastard twat. What he should do now is write an album and call it ‘Love Songs’ or whatever, I don’t know, but only have songs about giraffes on it. Because he took my idea without taking the content, which is a total waste of a title! But no, I won’t, because I got too much else to do. The songs are there so they might trickle out. There are only about eight or nine songs about giraffes that are really quite good, or of a standard of the one that’s on ‘London Is Sinking’, but I can’t really release them in one bulk. Sorry!
Do you see your albums as ‘concept albums’ though? Because there is the impression of travel on ‘The 253’ and ‘London Is Sinking’…
It is about a sense of place, like London was central to the last one. If I write a very vague love song that could be universal then I don’t tend to use it on an album, as it might not fit. It’s more about picking maybe twenty songs and ten of them seem to be more in that way. ‘London Is Sinking’ is definitely a concept record, it was definitely supposed to have a story, not necessarily linear but you do get a sense of what happens. If I was brilliant I’d say that you’d find out what happens but not know how you worked it out. By listening to all of the songs it would come into your head, like “Oh, so that’s what happened”, but I’m not that clever really. So you can just sort of tell. The next one will be as well. North of London there’s a ‘taxi graveyard’, just a dump for dead taxis. And every time we go passed it, it just looks amazing with all these trashed taxis. So I’m going to get down there this week whilst I’m on the road and take some photos, and then link that in with taxidermy. I like the idea of a stuffed animal or a stuffed thing being what London is now, because it’s not dead, it’s very alive, but just…
Empty, full of nothingness?
Yeah, like a corpse of something with maggots in, rather than…
A living, breathing animal.
Yeah. I think that’s the next bit. Sorry, by the way.
For being such an idiot. I can’t help it; you’ll just have to put up with it. I hope you disseminate something interesting from this faff.
In Part Two, Chris discusses war, pasta and where the Polyphonic Spree went wrong.
'London Is Sinking' is out now on Snowstorm Records.