What would you answer if someone would ask you to interview BLUR? It all started as an adventure. I was the only one available from the NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION crew. That’s funny though, I am not a journalist; I usually take care of our fashion section. But let that be one of the few perks of working in, on & with music full time. Sometimes, you just have all the time in the world.
It was all super secretive and strictly confidential. I got the full album The Magic Whip via Parlophone to get prepared. The information came via email. I would meet Dave Rowntree, the drummer of the British legends and interview him for about thirty minutes time at the Grand Suite #605 at Grand Hyatt, here, in Berlin. My reaction to all this news brought a mix of excitement and anxiety. I am a big fan of BLUR and at the news of a new album I’ve already lost my head. The album was now on my in-box and I was more than scared to press the button. I was nervous – what if I’d do something wrong or press something and boom! it’s leaked. This kind of obsessive freaking out. From the other hand, I have to admit that Dave has always been so inspiring. Apart from being part of one of the most iconic bands in the history of music (back off haters), he is doing a zillion of other things, as well. BLUR have a new album out today, he has a radio show on XFM every Sunday, he is with the Labour Party (and the UK Elections are coming up) and he is also a member of the Featured Artists’ Coalition, an amazing attempt of protecting the rights of all featured music artists and promoting the transparency in the music industry in the UK. Which is brilliant, from alone.
How he does it? I have no clue, whatsoever. But the time has come and here I am standing in line, waiting outside of the Hotel Suite to ask him.
Hi Dave. I am Sarah, I am not a real journalist and this is my first time on such a setting, so I am a little nervous, just to let you know.
But you have a paper with the questions written. That’s what all professionals do! So what are you doing since you are not a journalist?
I am making music. As pretty much everyone these days. OK. So it’s rolling …
Good. We’re 90% there if it’s rolling.
It’s been 12 years and here we are – You’ve got a new album and Graham Coxon rejoined the group.
Yeah, sometime ago now. A long time ago now. Years ago.
There should have been things that have changed though. Like in between. What’s new about BLUR? Is it your philosophy? Is it new sounds? Is it absolutely nothing?
What’s new about BLUR since we started the band up again… We decided to go a bit easier about ourselves. In the first incarnation of the group, BLUR was our entire life, really. We did that to the exclusion of many other things. We put enormous pressure to ourselves to constantly turn out and make music. We were always productive, every day… Moving forward, moving forward, moving forward. That meant that we didn’t really spend enough time on putting the relationships around us – something that we needed to do with each other, even. Suddenly, our families didn’t have enough space in our lives, as we were always up to do other things. Other creative things. So this time around, we decided not to do that and to take on interesting opportunities when they arose. We decided not to always put pressure to ourselves to the point that it’s not fun anymore. These days we put our friendships and relationships first and put the band second. Even if that breaks to not do any shows or to not do a record for twelve years. I can imagine that the people who are following us and like our music must find that a bit frustrating. It’s really the choice we make these days of an ‘all or nothing’. At the same time, it’s really interesting to go back to the old way.
When the old BLUR were calling out to groups of people for the change, the new album is more intimate and personal, as it seems to me. When the whole world is downward spiralling, as we see it every day on the news, is that supposed to be a wink that the change will come from the individuals?
You have to talk to Damon about the kind of details and narratives of his words.
But yourself, you are involved and super active in the political fields, so you can surely come up with an answer.
I can definitely come up with an answer! It’s true that we have always been a band that as well as tackling personal issues or discussing personal topics, we haven’t been afraid to discuss social change and political topics. I think that’s still the case. I am not entirely sure that I agree with you about the whole world going down hill. I am not sure that I entirely agree with that. As a band, we don’t want to pass that message across, at all.
With the music I am making or anything else that I am doing or how I live my life, I actually think that it is possible to help things to get better, despite the kind of obvious adversity worldwide. But working in your own local neighborhood it is possible for you to affect things within arms reach. It is not possible for me to solve the Middle East crisis, it is not possible for me to solve the famine in various parts of Africa, or, you know, disease or blindness or all the other miserable things that are going on. But within arms reach, it is possible to me, in my neighborhood, to bring about change in a positive way. It is possible for me to improve the quality of people’s lives. To help grow society. In that perspective I agree with you, the change will come from the individuals. The frustration with traditional politics has grown out of the fact that politicians over promise. Politicians say ‘let me and I will increase prosperity in the country’ or ‘let me and I will make life better for everybody’. But also them can only affect things within arms reach and with the levers they have to pull they can’t make everyone more prosperous. Generations to generations, politicians are promising what they are not able to deliver and this has let the disillusion with the politics. On the flip side of that, there has been a lot of people, not just me, discovering that they can change their own little corner of the world in a quite positive way simply by deciding to do so and making themselves willing and available to do so.
‘Every single person on planet Earth has their own problems’
So is it a new kind of revolution?
Yeah, I think I agree on you with that, but I also think that’s an illusion the entire world is going down the pan. It’s interesting. There was recently a study where they simply set a short questionnaire widely to hundreds thousands of people all over the world. First of all, they were asking ‘how do you perceive the life to be in your neighborhood?’. The rating was one to ten with one being absolutely miserable and ten being great. The second one was how do you perceive the life to be in your country , then in your continent and then in the world at large. They addressed that to everyone. Asians, Turkish – oh no, Turkish are Asians. Africans, Australians, Americans – North and South America. Middle East – even at the troubled hot spots! Almost universally, everybody said the same. ‘My neighborhood is fine, it’s pretty good where I live. But yeah in the country at large, there are some real problems. And Jesus Christ, in my continent, we are in real trouble and in the world, oh my God, the world is a disaster area’. You know what I mean? It’s quite a good story – somewhere, someone else is suffering.
We even turn random events into stories, in the same way we turn random splotches into faces. You know, we look at a bush in the night time and we see a tiger behind the bush. We see a bunch of uncollected events and we turn them into a story. It comes quite naturally within us and it’s probably part of our defense mechanism from when we used to live in the jungle and we were trying to make sense of events and trying to draw lessons out of narratives. It’s why we became a successful animal. It can be quite self-defeating I think because in today’s society we really need to draw the correct conclusions of sequences of events and we’re liable to take the most compelling story as the most likely explanation of those events to be true. That’s a mistake often. So, something far distant in the world happens, like a politician gets elected, a country’s economy collapses, people have to get out in the streets and the don’t have any shoes, well, that’s quite a nice story. That’s quite a nice story that the politician caused the economy to collapse and now the people are starving to death. But it’s so far away that you have no idea if that’s true! Maybe the exact opposite is true, maybe you got the sequence of the events wrong, maybe the politician did his best but some external thing caused that, but we are too far away to know what really caused these things. Often, even with the most massive story, like with the migration across the Mediterranean that caused thousands of deaths, we are so far away, we are not close enough to draw the right conclusions of what they should do over there.
We will never know.
No, but the Internet has magnified that into a problem. The Internet has turned everyone into an expert because everyone has more than enough information about everything to draw the wrong conclusion. Everybody is sucked along by the best story whether or not that’s actually the correct narrative of the events. Often the events are completely unconnected, often there is no narrative between them. Just because two things happened side by side! It’s one of the oldest Aristotelian fallacies to say that those things are connected. But often these things are completely random. My favorite one is the one we do with my own Party, the Labour Party. The Central Bank of England used to be ran by the Government. My Party freed it from Government Control and said go off and just be a bank. Following that, there were years of economic prosperity – there was a crash in the end, but there were years of economic prosperity [laughs]. So my Party said ‘we freed the Bank of England and look! As a result, there were all these years of economic prosperity’. The two were entirely unconnected, but what a compelling story! Lovely we did, we made a simple change and… ‘Now you’re all rich!’. But, yeah to get back to what we were talking, the Internet has given us enough information to be able to trace along a believable story, but not enough information to know if that story is actually true. The best stories contain drama, the best stories are disaster stories, love stories -yes, love stories, but we don’t see those in the paper. So disaster stories [laughs]. And it’s not a bad story. Surely, it’s the ultimate, good and compelling – I want to know what’s the next one. Something like the world is going to disaster end, everything that you can see now it’s going to end! You know, it’s the best story, but it’s not true. In some areas it’s poorly. In the Middle East now it must be a nightmare to live. Many places in the Middle East are a nightmare to live in, but also many places most definitely are… you know… Scandinavia! Many places in Scandinavia see the prosperity.
In Scandinavia they have their own problems.
Exactly, everyone has their own problems. Absolutely. Every single person on planet Earth has their own problems. That’s not an unnatural state to be fixed. That’s just life. But you know, if the papers would follow the stories about all these places where the peace reigns and prosperity goes on and the people are living generally fairly happy, that would be entirely different. That’s not to say that those stories are really truer. The narratives connecting the happy events are not any truer than the narratives connecting the disaster events. But that would definitely give a different perspective of the world.
Oh well, as Damon sings on one of your songs There are too many of us. I assume that in this world there is a fair amount of both happiness and disaster, which brings some kind of balance, after all. But there are also too many of us, when it comes to emerging, new artists. You’ve been there, you’ve done it all and now you’ve got the wisdom. As you said in the beginning, you’re now taking it easier. So, if all aspiring musicians were some kind of your ‘spiritual children’, what would you advice them, from your own experience?
My advice is the same as the one I’ve given since day one – concentrate on the songwriting. It’s the only thing that was ever worthing any money. It’s the fundamental lie this kind of the X-factorization of the music industry. That to be to sing in a kind of convincing way or to play your instrument in way is the most important thing. I don’t know if you have that program here, it is called ‘The Voice’. Everybody has to look the other way and you hear the voice and you turn around when you hear the voice [laughs]. Really? This is pop music in the end of the day and the kind of the of the quality and the tone of the voice, really isn’t the most important thing. The only important thing is songwriting.
Although, it seems that we are heading to the era that more and more cover bands are out there. Because everybody is copying each other.
But it was always like that in pop music. It’s always been the same.
‘It’s not clear whether the music industry will continue in this form or going forward’
But it’s different when somebody is copying somebody/something entirely from someone who’s just inspired from someone influential. Anyway, everything has been made already.
What a nonsense! [laughs]
So you don’t think so?
No! I think that this is another common thing that everyone is guilty of. You look back and you think the music was great back then. Then you look what’s going on now and you think that it’s rubbish! That’s always been the same. The problem is that we are not comparing like with like. When you look back, you’re looking at their most successful records. We look back at THE KINKS, we remember their Waterloo Sunset. We are comparing their two-three best songs of their entire career and comparing that to someone’s current album. That’s not comparing like with like. For instance, you simply cannot say something like that from the current KAISER CHIEFS album the first single is not as good as THE BEATLES. You cannot do that! You cannot compare any historical band to any current band. I absolutely disagree with that. I’ve got a radio show on XFM and to do that I listen to 100-200 tracks per week. From my perspective, from listening to pretty much, I think that everything that is released in the kind of ‘XFM genre’ every week now it’s the most exciting and creative time that has ever been for music. I am hearing more and interesting ideas now that I’ve ever heard of and I think some of the best music that has ever been made, it’s been made today. Some of the best bands, some of the best songwriters that have ever been, they are around today. And here’s the case. This is a time of crisis for the music industry, it’s not clear whether the music industry will continue in this form or going forward. Often these periods are the times of maximum creativity.
Well, as a proud Greek, I have to confirm that, because that’s exactly what is happening in my country. So. I’ve got five more minutes and before they throw me out, I have to ask what are your touring plans?
Everything is still to get put together. Because we kept the album secret we couldn’t book a tour in advance. We are currently trying to build up everything around the release and the tour.
But it should have been fun to keep the whole album release as a secret!
It was fun, yeah! We called the press conference in London at a Chinese Restaurant, we didn’t even tell the people what the topic was. The idea was to just walk in, they didn’t even know it was a BLUR press conference. I think it actually leaked the day before so the people had an actual hint. It was real fun to do that.
Thank you Dave.
And so that was it! Dave was kind enough to invite me to their secret live show at the stage of Circus HalliGalli, a popular show of the German TV. Although, I’ve always been a fan, I never got the opportunity to see BLUR live. After the show, all I was thinking of was that what Dave said on the interview about the fact that they decided to take it easier was absolutely true! Their energy is like a wake up call and what I saw was friends who were having fun on stage. They were enjoying every single moment. What if it wasn’t a stadium, what if it wasn’t the biggest crowd they have ever played for – they kept it real making that be one of the most unique and greatest experience of every single person who was in this hall. Now, that’s what I call a great band!
All photos taken by Linda Brownlee.