Squeeze's Chris Difford on England, John Cale, and the Paul McCartney-Produced Record That Never Came to Be
Coachella is a weird beast: In addition to hotly tipped acts like Avicii and Justice, big name standard bearers like Radiohead and The Black Keys, and holy-hell-they're-reuniting bands like Refused and At the Drive In, there's always a few bands that have just kept soldiering on, whose break-ups and hiatuses have been quiet or nonexistent. This year's no different. Look closely at the lineup and you'll see classic bands like The Buzzcocks, Atari Teenage Riot, Madness, and Squeeze.
If that last name gives you pause, just think about it for a second. "Tempted?" "Pulling Mussels from The Shell?" "Black Coffee In Bed?" All stone cold classics. The UK band -- lead by songwriter Glenn Tilbrook and lyricist Chris Difford -- harnessed the energy of punk and pub rock and paired with with melodic sophistication, wry wit, taut R&B rhythms, and New Wave sheen. The band is still going, too. In 2010 they released Spot the Difference, which featured their greatest hits re-recorded. A strange choice, sure, but a smart one (for licensing) and it gave keyboardist Stephen Large a chance to play the first iPad solo in the history of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
"In those days we were touring and recording a lot," says Difford over the phone, in the midst of a move and prepping for tour, which finds the band visiting the Indio festival and a stop at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix. "You didn't question what you did, you just were somebody in a band. Speaking for myself, I didn't really fuss about it, I just did it. But here one is, all these years later, you can't help but try and by philosophical about what you did and what you're doing."
Difford has a new batch of songs in the work (tentative title: English Love Affair), and plans to release two solo albums (one comprised of pre-Squeeze demos) this year, but was more than happy to discuss the band's approach and why he tries to make his lyrics sound like a conversation.
Up on the Sun: How are you, Chris?
Chris Difford: Well, I'm in the middle of a move...
Moving is never fun.
I've been doing it every six months for...pretty much my entire life. [laughs]
So does that help you pare down any hoarding impulses or are you lugging things like a record collection around?
My record collection is in storage. I still don't know what to do with it. I've got tons of vinyl, and when you show it the younger generation they just wonder what the hell you were doing playing it. Just so much effort [laughs]. But there you go.
There's a vinyl resurgence going on here in the States...but as resurgent as it may be, it's still an antiquated format. I have a bunch of records, but every time I move I find myself thinking, "Maybe these iPod things aren't so bad after all."
I'm actually bringing out two records on vinyl -- my own solo stuff --this year. Because [a label] approached me and said, "You can produce 500 copies of this and people will buy it." There are enough people out there. So in this country people are interested in it. That's my plan for the year, coincidentally.
So you're issuing two records this year?
Well, my first solo album is coming out on vinyl for the first time. That brings up all kinds of possibilities. It's kind of long, so it needs to be on four sides. And there's not enough music for the fourth side, so I found some old demos and they'll go on side four. And I found some demos, pre-Squeeze, that I made when I was a teenager. I don't know whether I'm brave or stupid, but I've been talked into putting those out as a stand alone vinyl record. That will come out in August...
What kind of stuff is that?
It really...I love listening to my voice, because I sound like someone who really wanted to be successful sounding like David Bowie. Lyrically I'm kind of a little bit all over the place...but I love the sort of passion there is in my voice, like this is a young kid who really wanted to be in a music industry. This is pre-meeting Glenn, so I sound quite intense and busy on being me.
I was in the grocery store last night, and I heard "Pulling Mussels from the Shell" over the radio. I was struck how fresh that sounded; it sounded very current, like it could be on a Spoon record or something.
You're hearing young men who are passionate about the journey they are about to take. They don't know where they are going, but they're kind of happy making records. In those days we were touring and recording a lot; you didn't question what you did, you just were somebody in a band. Speaking for myself, I didn't really fuss about it, I just did it. But here one is, all these years later, you can't help but try and by philosophical about what you did and what you're doing. And then that kind of hinders sometimes.
In what way?
Well I mean, if you over-think your game, you end up tripping up. You kind of just have to be in the present and go with what you've got, despite your possibilities. Which is kind of difficult when you know what your possibilities are.