Did it feel like a big compromise when you moved from New York to London for the record label?
Umm, no, because I’m on tour, I don’t really feel like I’m stationary. Like I would use the very to move really. I never really toured this frequently before. Since I moved over in April I’ve seriously been touring like crazy. Before that tour in April I hadn’t really been touring. So I didn’t really feel like I was compromising, I just felt really lucky about all this exposure abroad.
You’ve played with loads of people over here- José Gonzales, Bright Eyes, Teddy Thompson, and now Nouvelle Vague…must have been quite good…
Yeah, it’s great, it’s crazy. Every show is so different, the dynamics, the bands themselves. Nouvelle Vague and Bright Eyes are just so different, you know it’s just so unpredictable. I’m just like ‘oh ok I’m on tour, it’s good.’
Quite a diverse mix.
So diverse, yeah.
If you were to create your own city, obviously you can tell through your songs that you love New York…
Yeah.(laughs) Well I also wrote all the songs in New York.
Yeah I suppose that helps. Which aspects of New York and London (if any) would you put in your own city and why?
I would definitely put the free museums that are in London in my city, I would put the Thames and Central Park- probably side by side somehow. What’s the name of the big ferissy wheel thing?
The London Eye?
Yeah, that would be in my city. Big Ben would be in my city. Ladbrooke Grove…basically all I know from Van Morrisson’s songs, like Notting Hill Gate and everything would have to go in. I really like Notting Hill Gate. And the subway of New York would be in my city, not the tube. I would put particular venues in my city, like this one, with the church. I would put particular venues in my city, not even to play in, just to have. Churches. But I wouldn’t have moniters, just acoustic. I would really like to play here just solo in the middle of the room with no mike or anything.
It is a brilliant venue. What would be good about your city for the people who lived in it?
This is just a city I’m imagining- it doesn’t have to function realistically?
Well everything would be free I guess. There would be a lot of music and a lot of books. There would probably e a huge library
With no fees.
Yeah, no late fees! I really love New York, I wouldn’t really change it too much. Just that the museums would be free. London is great but I definitely favour New York, there’s no question about it.
Do you think you’ll move back there? Did you have to come over here because of the label?
Well I’m just touring so much- I would never trade this opportunity. Just the fact that everything is so close- France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland…Eventually I want to end up in New York in my own apartment, because I never really had the money or the time to. Even when I was living in New York I wasn’t stationary, just couch sitting. So it would be nice to finally have my own place. Maybe one day. Also London’s really expensive. REALLY expensive. I think in my city I’ll have everything in pounds. It would be nice to be paid in pounds, because the dollar’s so weak. (Points to drawing) This is me on a train reading J.D. Salinger. I’m one of those people who reads him obsessively. Or Paul Auster. I like him too. Those headphones are just for noise cancellation, I’d have no music playing. Just to block out all sound. (At your happiest picture)
Back to the city, would you have a mix of stuff going on, keep it diverse?
It would be totally diverse. I wouldn’t really want to change the cities too much- all the bad shit that happens I would take away but in terms of the culture and diversity I wouldn’t want to take anything away at all.
Do you think we should strive to change our environments to make ourselves happier? And would it be an act of selfishness or generosity?
Selfishness or generosity to strive to make it better? How would that be selfish?
Well if you’re striving to make it better for yourself, and it could touch other people but not many…if you strive to change something do you have to think of everyone?
I think if people work on themselves, and work on making their lives better- even just making themselves happier people- I think the way your mood is affects people even when you’re just walking down the street, so if people worked on themselves more, as a result everything else would start to change. The dynamics of the city as a whole would start to change. I don’t think it’s selfish to primarily just focus on yourself.
No of course not.
Your music connects to people who listen to it, even though it’s so personal to you- your album is very very personal in the lyrical content, would you change that?
No, I think it reaches people because the emotions I’m experiencing are universal- heartache, and also I’m really affected by the seasons, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is one of my favourites. I really grew up listening to that. I think it reaches people like that. I feel like most songs I love are so personal but I don’t think I could write about anything else. I just really like to write the truth. I’m kind of obsessed with truth, and my music is a search for truth in a sense.
You listen to a lot of the old greats- Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, how much does that inspire you?
That’s not what directly inspires me, I think just because you listen to a certain kind of music doesn’t mean that that’s your inspiration. I think that I derive inspiration just from experience, everything that happens to me, even just eating dinner. I mean I don’t think you sit down to write a song with the intention of sounding like someone else.
But I think it is an undercurrent.
You’ve said that you write true lyrics, to help you cope with things in life- do you think this needs to happen for the listener as well as the artists? Kind of what we’ve been saying. Do you think the listener always needs to relate to the lyrics to appreciate it?
No I think it can be appreciated just solidly, I often get from people that listening to my music is like watching a movie, when they listen to it they actually see pictures, which is really interesting. So there’s a lot of enegery, which I think you can appreciate. I don’t think you have to have experience in something to even understand it. You don’t have to be in a war to understand a war and feel something from it, it might not be as dramatic but you can certainly feel something. But I think sometimes it touches people more, like Gray or Blue I get so many people like “that is exactly like my relationship.. I am gray or blue!”
It is such a true song!
I get people email me just to update me on their romances, it’s so funny.
Like a living soap opera in your email account.
I’m just like holy shit, there’s just so many people in relationships with people they don’t want to be with. It’s kind of sad.
It’s an easy mistake to make though, but such a terrible one.
You were going to become a publisher before you went into music, or you wanted to at least?
Wow you really did your research!
Do you think you’ll ever go back to that? Obviously through literature you can find the same sort of connection with people, but it’s not the same. Would you want to go back into that after this? Or both at the same time?
I wouldn’t want a job in publishing anymore. I love books so much I always want to be around them. Deep down I wanted to be a musician but I didn’t have the will to perform, and now that I do and I am a performer, and this is the way I make my living, I eventually want to write a book, but I really want to get married have kids and just keep playing music.
Maybe even move back to New York…
Move to New York and just walk around. I don’t really want a job now. (laughs)
It’s so crazy if you become a publisher, you are making your living off what other people do. Like this isn’t my living, it’s non profit, but I’m making something from what you do. And in a way you’re making something from what other people have done.
Well that’s what art is really, it’s just a reaction to something else.
Yeah I think so. What do you think you’ll react to next?
Well I really have been writing songs for so long I just want to record what I’ve already written. I’m writing on the road and I’d really just like to get it recorded. I mean I’m writing everyday, just about stuff that’s happening. I definitely feel that my song-writing is changing, absolutely, even just because I’m getting better at guitar playing every day. I’ve been taking quotes from books and putting them in songs. That’s my new thing.
I get the impression that the album was about a relationship, and you’ve kind of moved through it. And after that you’re moving on in life, and then writing about that, so there’s obviously going to be a big change- what you’re doing now is touring and playing music, are the songs going to be about that, or living away from home…
That’s stuff I’m writing about already, yeah.
So is that big change coming across in the music?
Do you mean is the sound changing? It’s really changing.
I don’t ever see myself sitting down and being like ‘here’s the record I’m going to make’, it’s more of a compilation- it’s such a process of finishing songs I’ve already written, and writing songs that I started maybe two years ago and finishing them now, it’s not a whole vision, or at least not yet. What I enjoy is just the process of writing. I just like to keep writing and keep writing and then look at it later. But I’m doing this new thing where I’m taking literature like William Blake’s poem Tyger Tyger and I took a bunch of lines from that poem and put them in a song about Philippe Petit the guy who walked across the world trade centre on a tight rope. A lot of it’s a lot of literature, I’m reading so much on the train.
Literature art and music just cross over so much. I’ve just today, after a complete mental block, that for my art project I’m going to illustrate a book of my poems. I’d conditioned myself into thinking that I had to do a big painting but that wasn’t the case at all, the exam was a lot more flexible.
I think you have to be prepared to be flexible too, that’s what I mean about committing myself to a theme for a record. Even like when your shows change, or moving to London. Life’s very unpredictable.
I know a lot of people do it, but it seems just such a bizarre concept that you’re living your life just going round and playing music. It’s such a good thing.
I think it’s a good thing, sure. (laughs)
Is there any reason you didn’t draw yourself as playing music as yourself at your happiest?
Well I thought it would be too obvious. This is a gateway to writing, this is where it starts.
Interview- Ali Hewson & Polly O'shea; Image- Greg Wilson