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Grand Drive
an interview with Danny and Julian Wilson by Matt Dornan / pictures by Maike Zimmermann

Grand Drive by Maike ZimmermannDanny and Julian Wilson's track-by-track guide to True Love and High Adventure.

Wheels
Danny: That was the last song written for the album.It was written during arrangements for the record.
Julian: It sounded like a good opening song. As it turned out, there's two lead vocals from me which are the first and the last. And that worked out nice. But at one point the last song was first. Putting it together Wheels just kinda settled you in nicely. I honestly think you could put an Elvis impersonator over that and slip it in as an extra track to 'Aloha from Hawaii' or something.
Danny: A lot of people have said Glen Campbell, or country, but it's mainly meant to be a late period Elvis track.
Julian: A lot of the songs we had things where we were like 'okay let's start with this style and throw this totally different style on top of it'. This is probably the most...
Danny: One idea realised perfectly...
Julian: We were almost disappointed at how well we realised it in a way, because we hoped by giong into an area we hoped something else would come out. But every time we added something it just got more and more authentic, sort of Elvis meets 'Everybody's Talking.' At the end of the day, the reason it went on first is because we thought, regardless of how it turned out, it's a lovely, excellent song.
Danny: I don't want to talk about the lyrics particlularly, but the chorus, where it says 'your hat is on, you're on your way now' - for me that's so uplifting and it's such a nice sentiment.
Julian: What won it for Wheels...it hit the heart, it did the right thing.

A Ladder To The Stars
Julian: We've decided this will be the single and we have to stick with that now.
Danny: The [Dylan reference] isn't a 'nod' but we were aware of it. This was the first song written but it wasn't recorded during the sessions for the album.
Julian: It was recorded for Loose 2, but it didn't really fit with any of the others. We do have some musical things in common with those other people but, at the end of the day, we're not writing songs about America. We're writing songs about us. And if ['Ladder'] is written about anywhere, it's about the South Coast of England. And that's almost the opposite to the American desert vibe.
Danny: I guess we're a bit more 'up West' than 'Old West'...

Sleepy
Danny: 'Forever young' is from the [Dylan] song 'Forever Young' and it's funny, after talking about Wheels, I think the sentiment...
Julian: It's Bob Dylan's most beautiful sentiment. It's songs written to somebody...like my favourite Bruce Springsteen song - well I've got a few, but it's in my top five - is Bobby Jean, which he wrote to Little Steve when he left the band.
Danny: Oh, beautiful. The bit where he sings 'there'll be a radio playing and you'll hear me sing this song...not to change your mind, but just to say I miss you, good luck, goodbye' - god, I just love it. We've wanted to cover that song, don't know when we'll get around to it. Those songs, that's what we want to do. You can't do it on every song, you'd be a right idiot, but...brilliant. They're the best moments.
Julian: The ones that rush up from your heart and take over your head and it almost feels like blushing.
Danny: When this started out, it was more like 'Love Lives Here' by The Faces, except that I didn't want a lot of the tracks to be that guitar-y. We had a picture in our head of how we wanted it to sound. As far as I was concerned I didn't want a distorted guitar on it anywhere.
Julian: They were the two major musical things we went into the album thinking. Dan didn't want to strum and riff and I didn't want to get both hands dirty on the keyboard and do the 'Undone,' 'Tell It Like It Is' thing. So, all of a sudden, we had shit-loads of space to fill and we both refused to do what we so easily could have done and what, I expect, a lot of people wish we had done. Instead I tinkled on a Rhodes, it's looking for small notes to fill big holes.
Julian: There's all sorts of things that were wiped off this album that went on when we were doing it. There's versions of this with Bobby Womack impressions throughout.
Danny: And the jazz guitar wasn't supposed to stay but it sounded good when we mixed it in. Julian: The basic band is totally live. Bass, drums, acoustic guitar and vocal is all live. The guy that did the brass is a friend of ours who did the string arrangement on Wheels. He literally came along when we were putting it together and he knew the kind of thing we were looking for. We hadn't the foggiest idea what he'd done and it was just the most wonderful day because it was all just perfectly beautiful.
Danny: Also this is the only Grand Drive song to feature an outside vocalist. The girl vocalist is a friend of ours named Petra [Jean Phillipson] who'd never done a studio thing before. You might hear something of her...

The Guy Who Could Carry On
Julian: A lot of the parts were done separately but we didn't know if they would work. I'd say 90% of the time they slotted in nicely. We wanted to do space doo-wop basically. Sort of a 50s Dion and the Belmonts thing but with The Ventures or David Lynch...and those sort of things made a nice melange and sound different in themselves. There's a few things that were total noodles that, when we came to mix, we just left on. Like the organ on this, if you listen is just fiddling around, not playing a particular tune, but sometimes that adds a bit of colour. Sophie [Towers Johnson] came in and did the flute to our arrangement, worked out on keyboards. She was fantastic, an old friend who went to school with my girlfriend. She was the best looking thing on the album and probably the most professional.
Danny: Everyone musically and creatively to do with the band is a friend.
Julian: All these people are from where we are. It means we can work with them on that level. Plus when you've got talented friends who are great photographers or artists or musicians and you have the opportunity to use them...
Danny: This song has my favourite moment on the album. Just in the instrumental section where it builds up to a crescendo and the three vocals come in. I think it's kind of girl-groupy. There's a lot more of Ed singing on this album. You don't necessarily notice it but his falsetto softens things.
Julian: There is one little thing about this song. The brass section is a baritone sax, an alto sax and a trumpet, and the trumpet player had done five songs - My Best Side was the fifth - and they'd done one run through and were slightly out of tune. But she had to go and pick her kids up, so there's a phantom trumpet part that never made it. She had to get the kids and we weren't going to stop her. Grand Drive don't like to leave kids standing out in the rain.

True Love and High Adventure
Danny: This song didn't have a title...
Danny: But it fits the lyrics perfectly.
Julian: I didn't really think it was great. I love the music bit at the end but I thought the song was a bit of a 'ditty' musically. But when the title to it, it fit 100%. It was being mixed and then Dan put the title to it, so it worked. It's about true love isn't it. If someone put forward the idea of a song in three parts I'd think 'appalling' but, as long as it sounds good...
Danny: Ed's really loud on this one.
Julian: Because it's a falsetto it's not his 'human' voice, so you don't hear the emotion, it's more of a musical texture. Will there ever be an Ed Balch lead vocal? A la Ringo...we always talk about. I will say yes, it will happen sometime in the future.
Danny: He's never sung lead vocals even during rehearsal.
Julian: Yes he has he sings Eye of the Tiger every time! And Cold As Ice!

Nobody's Song In Particular
Julian: With many of the songs, without sounding airy fairy, we had a concept. We started with a pulse, a heartbeat. Because it was somebody singing literally right in your ear, very personal. I think it's the first Grand Drive song on either album without a harmony on it. There's one voice throughout and it had to be like that. The heartbeat, the e-bow guitar - it's almost the [monitor] on a life support machine that goes crazy and then dies away at the end. Those sort of concepts - which I'm sure will sound appaling in print! - helped us to go somewhere different without thinking 'a bit of that sort of piano, that sort of guitar.'
Danny: This is live drums, bass, two acoustic guitars and vocals. When we finished the album this was my favourite...
Julian: I think this is the best. Things like Sleepy I think are my favourite lyrics, and My Best Side's got some of the classiest bits but I think this is the best piece of music we've probably ever done and I don't think it sounds like anyone else...
Danny: We discussed the piano and I was saying 'I want it a bit like Rocky 1' the piano interludes...I love the music to Rocky. I was going to play the piano on it...It's funny when you read reviews of songs - this is the only song where a reviewer has made a bold attempt at telling the reader exactly, definitely what a song is about and got it completely 100% wrong! Which is quite cool, really.
Julian: It was one of the broadsheets said it was about a barfly watching people's relationships imploding around him and losing faith in love...and I think that comes with the Americana thing, they think you're writing about these cliches. They're looking for the desert, the bar...
Danny: I think if there is a cold wind in this album it's this track. This is Julian's lead guitar debut. It's interesting, because we were talking about me not wanting to do any big guitar on it, that he does the only big guitar bit.
Julian: I was playing the guitar and he was playing the piano. It's basically holding shapes and going like a lunatic.
Danny: Not to cuss Julian's guitar playing but I particularly wanted something quite un-hinged because he can't necessarily play hinged.

A Little Numb
Julian: A Little Numb wasn't going to be on it. I tried to mix it in secret when Dan was upstairs having a cup of tea because I thought it was really good and he was saying 'no, it's that old thing of big guitars and organ.' But, by the time we had it mixed, it was like Wheels, it wasn't necessarily going somewhere new but it was undeniable that it did the trick.
Danny: This song, we were thinking of it being somewhere between Badfinger and Mott The Hoople, and it probably works. I was scared of the big guitars because I'm scared of Oasis power-ballads. For me, this is probably the most uplifting song on the album. With the Ian Hunter, Kevin Rowland shouts at the end, it's almost 'punch the air', but lyrically it's the most desperate and the most hopeless in some ways.
Julian: If there's one thing that's possibly 'us' it's getting some desolate stuff out there but fucked if we're gonna leave you feeling that way. That's not in the deal. With hindsight, thank god we put this track on there. After Nobody's Song In Particular we needed this.
Danny: The shouty bit at the end... if you're used to singing harmonies and be quite emotive, to shout is like acting. Shouting like Ian Hunter, I needed them to turn the lights off and not look at me. In some ways it's purely a sonic thing, but it needed to happen.
Julian: In the studio the soul and the feeling of it doesn't take any time, that's taken for granted. Yet the shouting bit for Dan - it was like an acting class, like 'tap into yourself' because the first time it was like an Ian Hunter impression and it was really funny, we were all rolling around. If we want Ian Hunter, we'll ring Ian Hunter. Then he started doing a Kevin Rowland impression. But then it was like 'shout like you' and we got some South London bloke shouting, but that's what you are. They talk about west-coast harmonies but then there's someone at the end, in a South London voice, shouting 'Oi!'

My Best Side
Julian: My Best Side made it because it was too late for Road Music. When we went into to record Wrong Notes, Farewell To The Past and Falling Out together, My Best Side wasn't quite ready.
Danny: For some people who saw us perform it live it was more of a Faces type thing with a Neil Young guitar solo in the middle. The only way for it to make it on the record was for us to realise it in a different way. I think this is the definitive version.
Julian: And this is Ed and Paul's finest moment. I don't think there's another band in the world with a rhythm section like that. They're young vlokes who have a laugh and a piss up but...
Danny: Without being muso, they are actually extraordinary.
Julian: They don't need to sweat...they're just classy. Me and Dan, I hope, write great songs and sing well and play our instruments great but what stands us above others, and this is why I hate being called alt.country, is because that sort of playing is not [country], it's just beautiful. It's not muso either...they're like an old Muscle Shoals [section], they've got a bit of soul, a bit of jazz. When they want to be AC/DC they can be that.

One Last Parade
Julian: I'd say that song takes up one fifty minute mini-disc of almost every single bit, oneafter the other. So you could almost cut them out and put them on top of one another and it's what you hear on the record. This is a production job, not a band as such. It's Danny on cymbals, Paul on snare, me whacking a bass drum. Ed was sent out of the room. You can't do claps with Ed there...he's not got the discipline!
Danny: That's my favourite bit number two, right there when the piano comes in. Again, it probably has a cheese element but without any irony at all. I don't like irony in music and I don't like people who like music for ironic reasons.
Julian: I did the old studio thing where you sing it through three times and then you pick the best bits. But we pushed them up and all three together sounded a bit odd, so that's how we left it, instead of picking the one good one.
Danny: And that's the flautist playing the piccolo.
Julian: We didn't ask her to bring her piccolo, she tucked it in the bag. She said 'it'll be better on piccolo'...nice one. This was supposed to be a cross between a circus and a funeral march...it's like all of our things, it's a song written on an acoustic guitar and then all this shit went on top. It was Ed's drumming and acoustic guitar and me singing it.
Danny: It's one of my favourite songs and I only play cymbals on it. It's really weird.
Julian: And you don't sing on it. I don't like singing without him, I hate it. When I sing on my own I'm waiting for him to come in and, like, snuggle in with me. It's a weird one. I don't know what will happen in the future.
Danny: We don't consider ourselves a 'type' of music. The more records we make the clearer it will become but, if you like everything we've done, then just trust us that you will like everything we do. We're not going to fuck with anyone, we're not going to do a Radiohead and make something that's just odd. We'll always do what we think is right for the songs.
Julian: It'll never be head music, we'll never make music for chin-strokers I hope. I'd like the next one to be different, if people step back or are disappointed on the first listen, to be honest that's a good reaction. Actually, after this I hope people don't expect anything. But it won't be ironic, and it will be from the heart and we'll be looking for those moments where you stroke the hairs on the back of your neck, not the ones on your chin.

CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000

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