When Ross was putting together video clips for a few of the tracks off the album, he asked me to put a few words down to give a bit of background to the songs. Now, I’m not silly enough to suggest that someone else’s interpretations of the songs are wrong or invalid – and I’ve read some really funny things about some of my songs! – but a breakdown of the album tracks would give you an idea of where I was coming from when I started writing them. So, here we go:
Schemes is really about trying to make sense of the world where nothing and no-one is perfect, and you only find out through experience. The tone of the lyrics gets progressively darker as the subject gets older. The verses, the first about being locked in a comfort zone and the second being frustrated at not being able to get out, set the scene for the bridge: if you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
Nowhere Left To Go
I wanted us to have one of those nervous agit songs that were kind of streams of consciousness and somewhat political. At any given time, there is a lot to choose from and when I wrote this, the Murdochs were hauled up in Parliament during a phone-hacking investigation, so news was the news. Austerity was also in full swing, as it still is years later, with these Etonian old boys telling us that “we’re all in it together”, which is some of the most condescending bullshit you’re ever likely to hear. There was a feeling that they were telling us that we deserved austerity because we’re not responsible enough for anything other than beer and bingo.
High Life was “inspired” (if you like) by a late-night drive back down the M6 from a gig in Birmingham! There was a weird incongruence of urban decay and then, later, on an open stretch of motorway, looking up and seeing so many beautiful stars. There was a parallel there between these sights and the different lives people have, and no-one has it easy. The road is also a metaphor for life’s twists and turns, and we’re just vehicles on it, taking in the panoramic view, struggling with our pasts but trying to grow and move forward all the same. Nothing’s easy but we soldier on, eh?! I guess it’s ultimately an optimistic song.
This song came pretty quickly. It’s the story of someone being bullied, and they get pushed to the limit. They are not only tormented by the bully, but also consumed by revenge, and eventually they snap.
The tune that I used at the top of the chorus and in the guitar solo is a classical melody I’d wanted to use in a rock song for a long time. Lyrically, it comes from a conversation I had with a sometime-musician about why I still play in bands after all these years. He couldn’t understand that I wasn’t doing it to get anywhere, or get signed or get famous. He sort of dismissed the idea that I do it as a release, as something I feel compelled to do. I put other situations in that context, of people thinking that you need to be “getting somewhere”: in life, at work, with your love life, and so on. But for some people, just getting out of bed is a challenge and they have to numb themselves in order to get out the door and through the day. Everyone has these stories behind them but often we don’t see or appreciate the motivation – or the struggle – of other people.
The Loudest Voice
This was one of the first songs I wrote when I was finally coming to terms with a few things that had been rattling around inside my head since childhood. It never really took off live, and was one of the first tracks to disappear from the set list, but I remember it being incredibly cathartic to get it down on paper and out into sound. As ever, the exponential vocal harmonies were in full effect. Well… it’d be rude not to!
Fairy Tales for the Cynic
As a kid, stories like The Ugly Duckling used to annoy me because to me it said that, if you grew up into a beautiful swan, everyone would love you and everything would be OK. I never believed it because if you’re always made to feel ugly or dumb or whatever, you internalise it in a negative and unhealthy way, and no amount of shallow fawning from you former detractors and tormentors can repair the damage done. Inside, every kid knows that. So this song asks what happens to those of us ugly ducklings who grew up into ugly ducks.
Sometimes you develop a song idea that says exactly what it means without any arch metaphors. Low is one of those songs. It started off with a couple of lines about a person being more than what you think you can see. We all have different masks for different situations and people. But what’s there behind all the masks? Underneath a calm exterior could be a nightmare of depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. And most of us have no idea until it’s too late.
So you ever get days where you just want to go the highest window you can find and walk out? Not even jump, but just… step out into nothing. It was pretty much how I was feeling that day.
Your Complex Life
I had a pretty horrible experience when I was doing a live session playing guitar for a songwriter and it led to the idea about how some people use others, and how their life is somehow more important or complex than everyone else’s. Everyone knows people like that, in the privileged position of not having giving a thought about other people’s feelings as long as they are there for their own ends. You meet a lot of people like that in the music scene, and you can find yourself in toxic relationships with these kinds of people in general, and the song is partly about that too. You can’t compete against these basic arseholes who’ve been so insensitive all their lives. It’d be nice for them to change, but it’s a waste of your time waiting around for it.
This was kind of an oddity on the record because it was a completely fictional account of a marriage breaking down. I was thinking of moving house at the time and thought of an empty house full of memories and a history of the people who lived there, playing out like ghosts. In the song, the marriage fell apart even though they both worked hard to keep it together. They’d drifted apart over time and came to the sad realisation that it was over. Live, the song had a real intensity to it, especially the instrumental section at the end. We used to close gigs with it as it lends itself to that kind of big ending thing.