Paul Draper Diary - Part One (from pauldraper.info)
Firstly, thanks for taking the time to visit my new site and subscribe to the information mailing list. Apologies to anyone who got the Mansun mailing list message the other day and was confused because it implied that this message had already been sent - obviously, it hadn't, because here it is now. If you have any problems reading it, subscribing, unsubscribing etc., please do let my webmaster (Dave Nattriss) know, so he can help you out and/or make sure it works better next time. I'm hijacking the list of addresses from the 'info' list for the time being to start my egotistical and megalomaniacal recording diary, detailing my writing struggles and other such tragic tales of artistic woe (so if you were already on the 'info' list before yesterday, you've now been added to the Paul Draper diary mailing list). It's also so I don't have to post acres of inane drivel about myself on a web page - not yet anyway!
I've been scratching my head for ages thinking about what to write in this diary, and so I'm going to use it to describe the writing and making of an upcoming project, in detail, all the way to its conclusion, and then you can actually hear what I've come up with at the end. I've not done a round of interviews for a while and I appreciate that people subscribing to these lists will want to know what I've been up to, and what I'm up to now - i.e. is there any music coming? Well, the answer to that is... yes, I'm in the middle of a project right now, which I'll describe in this diary over the next few months, from the writing, demo-ing and recording sessions, up until the project's complete, and then you'll get to hear it for yourself, if you want to!
I thought long and hard about whether I should start this diary, because with other artists they're usually of "thank you to my awesome fans for buying the record" ilk, or the other favourite, "woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head" what-I've-been-doing-today crap. It sort of disturbs me that people have Internet diaries and blogs, talking about themselves for all to read, but here I am doing it. So if I'm going to do it, then I'm going to do it properly - very existential! It'll be a record of the making of my current project and other stuff I'm up to musically, as opposed to "don't look at me, I'm shy, I'm really boring sitting here writing my Internet diary to thousands of people". I'm not sure how long ago it was I last posted something on the Mansun website, or if I even did, but this is effectively my first diary entry as my own entity, technically anyway.
So, the first part of the story - "I quit... I'm not a number, I'm a free..." etc. "I'm going on a writing trip" (that's me in speech marks!).
Briefly: writing trip; put 'Kleptomania' together from the fourth album tapes; worked with ex-Skunk Anansie singer Skin; put together the 'Best Of' thing with Parlophone; retrieved songs from writing trip; wrote new songs!; built studio; started making demos; woke up this morning, in that order, ish.
After returning from the U.S. very brown and twenty pounds heavier, I put together the tapes for 'Kleptomania'. It was very strange listening back to them. Prior to mastering the record, I was pulled between releasing something that was unfinished, and letting down the people who wanted to hear something (that was unfinished). Overall I thought it was only a record of a batch of aborted recordings, and so for that it was interesting enough to release. I like the songs, they're a good record of the time for me personally, and I like th em a lot more now than I did at the time - I guess it's that 'perspective' thing. 'Good Intentions Heal The Soul' is probably my favourite song of that session, and I have a soft spot for 'Harris', as the version on the record is Chad and I doing a quick live run-through - not realising at the time it would be about the last thing we worked on together for a while.
Once 'Kleptomania' was finished I met up with the singer, Skin. I knew her through someone at EMI from a while back. Skin wanted to make a rockier record than her first solo album and was looking for someone to write with - sounded good to me! So off we went and wrote about nine or ten songs, and we had some great times in Ibiza writing together. Some sparks for songs were from her ideas, some were from mine and in the end it was a team effort that made the album, with Skin also writing some good songs with her long-time writing partner Len, and also writing with Dan Wilson from Semisonic, a nd Linda Perry who wrote 'Beautiful' for Christina Aguilera.
After that I went along with Skin and her band to do pre-production for the album at a studio in London. I recorded what was going on during these sessions for quite a few weeks and these became the demos for the album, which were to be produced by Gordon Raphael of The Strokes fame. One track stood out for me as being really immediate - 'Alone In My Room' - so Skin and I produced that version of the track during thos e sessions for inclusion on the album, and it was released as a download-only single last November. Speaking of which, the full album, 'Fake Chemical State', came out in the UK this week, so you can check it out if you want to hear what I've been up to with her.
Back to my new project... I listened through the tracks I have for it this morning and I'm really happy with about nine 'things' that I have, as they're all in different states of disrepair at the moment. I know they'll evolve further - they always do. I always do this - keep changing bits around in the arrangements of the songs. The lyrics always evolve right to the last minute as well, so titles change, even sections change. They'll probably all change or evolve eventually, and I don't know where to exactly. On previous projects I've always lost perspective once I'm working on the songs in the studio, and this one is no different. I'm at this stage where I just go with the feel of what moves me. At first I wasn't 100% sure where these songs were heading for, I didn't know how I was going to record them, and in what direction I'd record them in. As it happens, the circumstances of me working alone have dictated the arrangements and direction of the songs.
I've even worked out now that I usually like about one in four songs that I write myself. So the more songs I'm writing, the more stuff I end up dumping so as not to repeat the same old, same old. The other three out of the four songs that I don't like myself go into my song purgatory - a sort of tape store with stuff going back years that just sits there eternally, but I keep hold of all of them anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I put a project together with all the stuff from purgatory, would it be better that the stuff I finally settled on to release? Who knows, but purgatory is being closed down soon by the Pope anyway - he mu st have realised that keeping dead babies' souls in an imaginary boring waiting room for eternity wasn't such a good idea. Anyway, I digress...
So the one out of the four songs, as a rule of thumb, that I'm liking at the moment, started out as an electronic-only project, but as it's gone on, I've ended up re-doing a couple of the songs with drums, bass and guitars, as I've settled more into the idea of working predominantly alone. I'm now seeing what the original electronic versions of the songs sound like, in the complete opposite direction to where I have them now, but I don't really have a clue which direction is better, or which direction I want to go in... so there's nothing unusual there! I'm just going to keep on going as I am with these songs, and if things are a bit 'varied' then that's OK. Eventually I may lean heavily in one direction or the other, but that's once things are further on down the line. It seems like I've been in the middle of a writing stint for ages now, but without a band the writing and making of demos seems to blur into one, where I would get an idea then finish it before playing it i n with a band. That's where Chad's been helping me out - on the recording of the backing tracks, fleshing out ideas, which is pretty much how we've always worked anyway. Chad has played a bit of bass and guitar while I've been covering the other stuff.
Some of the songs we've recorded were from a writing trip I had in the U.S. I spent some time in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, and I went to Nashville and Memphis as well. I haven't gone all country and western though, and I don't intend to wear a cowboy hat ever again, but it was something I'd always wanted to do and had aborted before, so it was a good time to get out there on a sort of musical busman's holiday, hanging around the music scenes of each town. New Orleans had by far the best - not the Bourbon Street venues, but just on the edges of the French Quarter, where there are some amazing little venues with great contemporary jazz and blues bands every night, and loads of great old-boy blues guitarists, who all used to play with the Neville Brothers at some point or another. After being there just a few nights I bumped into a guy in a bar who was watching this great girl jazz singer. After talking about how great the singer was it turns out he was a big English music fan, so I had someone to show me around. I loved being in and around this town's music scene - I learned a lot and I got a lot of writing done in New Orleans. It did what I wanted it to do, helped me change direction in my writing. It was tragic to see the hurricane strike, I hope the city recovers.
I left New Orleans, across the Louisiana swamps to Memphis. In Memphis, I did the obligatory trips to Sun Studios and Graceland - it was very strange standing next to Elvis, dead in his grave. Nobody was really about at that point. I did fancy doing some Spinal Tap harmonising, but it was really, really moving as I've always loved Elvis. I only wanted to see the jungle room really - Elvis's base in the basement. Very cool, but a bit too retro though. The music scene in Memphis was too commercial, no real gravity of a scene like in Nashville. I love Jimmy Webb, but if I hear 'Rhinestone Cowboy' one more time...! "Nashville is a country-only town, boy"! Well that's what everybody told me, so I spent a few days writing something there that was completely un-country, then left. Stupidly, I decided to drive to San Francisco. Four weeks later I arrived... but that's another story. Haight Astbury is like the cavern quarter in Liverpool - nothing left - but there were some great bands in the smaller venues around the Bay area and I got a lot of inspiration just being in San Francisco, because it's one of my favourite places.
Just having the freedom to be a writer and drive from city to city without the constraints of the deadlines of being in a band during this trip were enough to dictate my writing direction, and give me a new direction for my next project. I'm still ploughing through the material I accumulated on it. I stopped in a lot of great music cities in the U.S. like Austin in Texas, which particularly stands out, but I'll tell you about them and the songs I wrote in them another time, when you can hear them. I could feel my writing style change over the months in the States, and become a bit more acoustic and laid-back. Eventually the songs dried up in the U.S. and so I came back to England to write.
So that's brought me to this point, where I now have a load of songs for my own project. Some of the working titles so far are 'Grey House', 'Lying About Who We Sleep With', 'Annie', 'Feel Like I Wanna Stay, Feel Like I Wanna Go?', 'My Life's Repeating, Again', 'Be My, Be My...' and 'Can You Ever Trust Another'.
As for other music, I've been listening to the new album by The Open recently, which has got some great tracks on it, and I'm still playing the Bloc Party album a lot. I've also been rotating Antony And The Johnsons, Outkast (still), The Fallout Trust, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys (obviously), and my oldies... Neil Young, various Beatles and The Who, Bowie, 'London Calling' [The Clash], Prince, The Smiths and 'Transformer' [Lou Reed] (still!!!).
I'd love to bore you some more but, overdubs are needed. Shit, I didn't know I could go on for so long!? Anyway, I've been sent through some Q and A's for some fansites, and I'm doing them at the moment (so don't worry, I'll send them to you very soon). I'll go into a lot more detail about the songs we're working on at the moment (some from my trip and some that I've written recently) in my next diary entry - how we're recording them, where they're from and what they're about etc., and anything else I can think of, in the next gripping instalment of 'the diary'. Fuck, I'm a 'me-journalist' already...