Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Mike Scott and the Waterboys

We move between the past and the present as the discussion goes on, in part contrasting where Scott has been, and where he is now musically. For example, would he consider doing similar sessions to the Fisherman’s Blues sessions nowadays? “Staying in the studio for a long time nowadays is difficult because there isn’t the same money around to make records these days. there isn’t a record company that’s going to let you spend a million pounds, like they did on Fisherman’s Blues, or half-a-million on ,Dream Harder or Room to Roam and these records I’ve made in the past, so probably what we’ll do with the next album is pay for it ourselves and then take it to record companies. So I wouldn’t be thinking of spending a long time making a record, and I don’t need to anyway, ’cause I’ve got the songs ready for a new record. I just need to decide who’s going to play on it and where it’s going to be done.”

I can still access my love for Ireland, my romantic feelings of Ireland but I’ve also other feelings about Ireland. There’s a lot of ignorance in Ireland.There’s still a lot of ignorance there, and a lot of wounding from the Catholic church, the Christian Brothers, the priests and paedophilia etc

It’s interesting to hear what he makes of the differences between the pre-internet music industry, compared to the new models with which he’s also experimenting. “It’s swings and roundabouts. Certain elements that had a lot of power over the music-making and the presentation of music have a lot less power now, and record companies are one of those elements. It’s more democratic now, and more direct from artist to audience – but there were good things about record companies as well. There was a selective process; there was this mass of people making music in pubs and clubs, and at home, then they had to go through a filter of the record companies to get to the public, with very few exceptions – there were some people who’d break out on their own, but usually you had to go through record companies and then through the radio to make it. In some ways that was a really good filter because you had to have talent, and you had sometimes the creativity that record companies could bring. They used to really nurture artists. I remember the guy who signed me to Ensign records, Nigel Grainge. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without him. He encouraged me and prodded me along – ‘do this song’, ‘why don’t you try that song’ etc – and I might not have gotten where I got so quickly without him. I outgrew him, but that’s a different story. But I did need him for four or five years at the start to get a handle on myself as an artist. now bands have to do without that and they have to go into the public arena where they get a different type of criticism which isn’t so informed, and I think something has been lost.”

“On the other hand there are lots of young artists making great records, and developing the sensibility to monitor their own creativity, make those decisions for themselves.”

So if the process of making the album has changed over the years, what about the songwriting? Has that changed – is songwriting something that improves with age? “It’s not as simple as that” he says, before pausing; pausing for real this time – to such an extent that the tape-recorder, with its voice-detection unit switches off momentarily. ” Of course I’ve got more songwriting tricks and skills now than I had thirty years ago, but I’m more self-conscious of the song-writing process whereas thirty years ago I was less self-conscious of it and I could do it almost more easily. There wasn’t an inner critic watching it. I’m not unpleasantly critical of my song-writing process, I’m fairly generous with myself but still I’m very very self-aware now and that makes it less automatic. Just aware of the process, of the writing, whereas before I’d write a song without even thinking about it., but now I know it all so well that it’s a very different process.”

As we talk of ageing, art, and the songwriting process – and given that he has such an affinity to Yeats, i wonder if, as time passes, he suffers from writer’s block. Here there’s no pause in the response: “No, no [dismissive]. I sometimes go a long time without writing a song, but then I don’t try. I just wait until it wants to be written, and then I’ll work it out. I might go a year without writing a song – I’m sure I’ve done that a couple of times. Writer’s block only has any power if you try to break it. It only becomes writer’s block if you keep trying when nothing is coming. If nothing is coming with me, I just do something else, and then it comes in its own sweet time. That’s always been the way.”

The Fisherman’s Blues record was born when Scott moved to Dublin in ’86. Initially intending to stay a couple of weeks, he ended up remaining in Ireland for a couple of years. His subsequent move away from Ireland, in some senses closed that whole musical period, so I’m curious to know how he feels now that he has moved back to Dublin. “I can see how Dublin has changed over the years, but it’s also different for me because I’m older now and I have a different perspective, and also Dublin and Ireland isn’t a new adventure, a new place I’ve fallen in love with. I know all of Ireland’s foibles. I can still access my love for Ireland, my romantic feelings of Ireland but I’ve also other feelings about Ireland. There’s a lot of ignorance in Ireland.There’s still a lot of ignorance there, and a lot of wounding from the Catholic church, the Christian Brothers, the priests and paedophilia etc, and Scotland’s got its share of that stuff too.”

I interrupt him at this point, jumping in with one of our hobby-horse questions at TMO – does an artist have a duty to comment on society around him/her? As a songwriter, for example, does he feel a duty to address that wounding from the Catholic Church? “Duty – no. I don’t know about other artists but I don’t have any duty to do anything other than what moves through me, and if I felt moved to write a song about paedophile priests I would do it, but it hasn’t happened yet. But if i did I’d fuckin’ nail the bastards! [laughs].”

He continues on the subject of politically aware songwriting though, mentioning his foray into social commentary earlier in the year (2013) when he took on another sacred cow of Irish life – Guinness and the Irish drinking culture. “I did write one about ‘Arthur’s Day’ [a Guinness promotion where one day each year they pump money into a massive music/drink promotion with bands like the Manic St. Preachers, Primal Scream and Paolo Nutini appearing]. First I objected to the creation of a bogus national holiday. I bet you that the people who concocted it, that their highest dream was that it would become like Valentine’s Day, a thing to have every year. I thought it was a crass, offensive notion. Secondly I objected to the degree of marketing. I’m a non-drinker, but I drank a lot in my twenties and early thirties. I didn’t have to go to AA or anything – I stopped of my own accord – but it was difficult in Ireland because the drinking marketing is huge in Ireland and it uses a visual and verbal language that attracts the alcoholic, the addict. They’ve all these images of pints of Guinness with perspiration on the glass, designed to attract that part in the drinker that is insatiable, and I objected to that. Arthur’s Day was a kind of legitimisation of that, a mass version of it. And then I also objected to the way that they targetted young people, putting it in Fresher’s week just when the students have their own money and bank accounts. Finally I objected to the effect of it, of the way that the streets are on the night of ‘Arthur’s Day’. I just thought it was crap all around.”

Scott posted his song Arthur’s Day on SoundCloud, igniting a full-scale debate about the Irish drinking culture and the role that Guinness plays in this. It’s an interesting and innovative use of technology – something that, perhaps, seems at odds with his image as a musical purist; on stage earlier he mentioned to the crowd that, back in the ’80s while his contemporaries were all using drum machines, he was more interested in playing old Hank Williams numbers. There’s no contradiction though, as he’s quick to point out: “My objection to drum machines wasn’t that they were modern. It was just they didn’t sound good. they were boring, and everyone was using them. I love technology. In their own time electric guitars were technology – or what about the mellotron, that’s a wonderful bit of technology. I use software all the time – editing software to make the records. I mixed the whole of the Appointment with Mr Yeats album at home on my computer.”

And so, after discussing the past and the present, we move on tentatively to the future. We’ve touched on the musical plans, but what about his literary ambitions? After the great success of his autobiography – a rare gem in a genre that nearly always dissapoints – could he take a step into fiction? Can we expect a novel from the writer who’s already shown how good his storytelling can be? “I have plans to write, but I don’t know what yet. Maybe a novel, but I’d have to have a year off to do it. That’s what I had to write the autobiography, and I’d need that again, but it’s not in sight right now.”

As we conclude it’s clear that whatever problems with perspective he might have had during the ’80s are gone. As hard as it is to imagine, given his astounding back-catalogue, there’s a real sense in the air that Scott has a wealth of important music/art to mine ahead of him, and the determination and organisation to do it.

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