May 07, 2017

An Interview with Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton (photo: Michael G. Stewart)
In a career spanning more than half a century, GRAMMY®-winning folk legend Tom Paxton has composed a veritable goldmine of American music. Instilled with an activist’s passion and a storyteller’s finesse, his songs—which have been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Willie Nelson—resonate with melodies as endearing as nursery rhymes and narratives affirming an intimate conscience.

With his latest album, Boat in the Water, Paxton, 79, continues to articulate his craft in such inimitably empathetic ways.

Can you sense how your songwriting has evolved over the years?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve always likened myself to a farmer with a field, and each year he plants a crop in that field and with luck harvests it in the fall. In my case, I plant different crops but it’s in the same field and it’s the same farmer. So I don’t find that I write different songs from the ones I wrote at the age of twenty-five, but I hope that now and then I write a song that I was not capable of writing at the age of twenty-five. But they’re not that different. They’re still the same sound to them, people tell me.

The writer is the last one to be able to identify his own songs, but they tell me that a song can be recognized as being likely from me. I accept that’s true because I can certainly identify a song as probably written by Dylan or probably written by Leonard Cohen. There’s a style, there’s a sense to it. So, I don’t think I write differently—it’s the same brain, the same right hand—but perhaps there might be a depth to the songs now that there wasn’t then. I don’t know. I certainly don’t try to write differently than I wrote [back then]. I don’t know what that would sound like.

When you’re writing a song, do you have any audience in mind?

Oh, sure. Without being able to put a face to it, it’s the same group of people I’ve sung to for fifty-six years. They’re good people and we see a lot of things through the same lenses, and it’s really primarily for myself as a singer that I write the songs. But it’s also [for] the people that have been with me for years and years and years that I write. If not for them I might just keep it to myself and say, “I don’t have to write it. I already know that.” It is for the people who come to my shows that I write the songs.

Is it disillusioning if the audience doesn’t quote, unquote “get it”?

No, it does not. I feel like I’m responsible for what I do and what I release and I’m not responsible for how it’s received or poorly received. And so, I don’t worry about that. I just worry about getting it right for myself, to make sure it’s clear and musical and I hope entertaining, but at least engrossing; that people know that it’s sincere, that it’s a deliberate work of art. It’s not the work of a dilettante. It’s the work of someone who’s been doing it a long time and cares very much about doing it well.

Tom Paxton - Boat in the Water
You are revisiting some of your older songs on Boat in the Water. What was the reason behind that? What did you think you could bring to them at this stage in your life that maybe you didn’t the first time around?

Well, part of it was a conversation I had with producer, Cathy Fink, who’s an old, old friend. She said, “I’d like to hear these songs again.” She’d been listening to a bunch of my old records and she said, “You know, that song ‘Life’ is a wonderful song and I’d like to hear it again. Let’s put it on here.” I said, “Sure.” And I did the same thing with “Evry Time,” [which] is a song I think I wrote in 1962. It’s certainly one of the oldest recordable songs that I have, and I’ve sung it in a lot of soundchecks and a lot of dressing rooms. So I said, “Let’s take another shot at this one.”

Did it resonate any different with you?

Oh, I love the song. To me the song is really an evocation of my early love for the songs that Burl Ives used to sing. He used to sing lots of songs that did not have a steady beat to them, a lot of the old Appalachian songs that he used to sing. It was just kind of my homage to that kind of song and I’ve always loved it. It’s just a very simple song. It only has two verses to it, but it seems like a complete song to me.

In light of some of the songs you write that are critical of certain social or political ills, how do you manage to salvage the compassion and sense of grace and beauty that comes through in some of the other songs you write?

That’s not too difficult, actually. Each song is its own message. Each song has its own parameters. I don’t bring a political sense to a personal song. I also write songs that I hope will amuse a seven-year-old child. You bring the tools to the project that the project requires. And if you’re writing a song to amuse a seven-year-old boy, you include irreverence and a sense of fun, a sense of the ridiculous. You don’t bring a sharply tuned social mind whereas, if you’re writing a song satirizing a president who is an egregious liar, you don’t bring the same vocabulary that you use with the seven-year-old boy’s song. You bring a different vocabulary, a different sensibility. They’re all different songs and I tend to take them as the ideas come to me. The idea will come to me of something ridiculous and fun and rather innocent and I’ll go ahead and write that song and hope that it finds that seven-year-old boy or girl and amuses them. If I’m satirizing the president, I’ll use a different box of tools. Each song has its own perfection that you strive for.

So, writing a song in which you would satirize the president or critique certain social ills doesn’t compromise the compassion that is required to write the other songs?

No, I never write a song that denies the other songs I write. There’s no underlying similarity. I mean, they all come from the same fella, and I’m not going to write a song that directly contradicts any other song I’ve written. There’s got to be a consistency. Even if I’m writing a funny song for kids, I’m not going to say something in that song that I don’t believe.

Is songwriting a discipline that you return to all the time? Are you always receptive to new ideas?  

Yeah, I find the ideas come pretty regularly. There’s a kind of a receptive frame of mind that I seem to be a little more able to slip into now than maybe I used to be. I know that working with [co-songwriters] Jon Vezner and Don Henry is good for me. We just finished four dates out in the West and shortly before those dates I heard a melody from Jon. I said, “Give me a tape of that.” And I turned it into a song which we put in the shows out in California and it really went down beautifully. And while we were sitting in a dressing room in Berkeley, he was doodling around on the ukulele and he struck a chord and I said, “Whoa, what was that?” He played it again, and I sang a silly little phrase that is turning into a delightful little ukulele song. I’m always on the lookout, so to speak.

Do you ever fear giving too much of yourself away in what you write?

Oh, no. No, I don’t feel that at all. I do write personally but it’s usually not as Tom Paxton. I use the first-person singular a lot because it’s more suitable for songs, I think, to be personal like that. But it’s very seldom that it’s Tom Paxton who’s being personal. It is the narrator in the song who’s sharing, but of course it’s always the writer who is easily identifiable. But I think I just kind of shrink from making Tom Paxton the subject of Tom Paxton’s song. It seems to me to be such an egotistical thing to do. I just thought of a way of putting it: I’m a ham, but I’m not a show-off.

January 30, 2017

The Deep End of Pete Townshend's Genius

Pete Townshend was always too ambitious for rock ‘n’ roll. 

Not so much with the early hits he wrote for The Who, songs like “Can’t Explain” and “Substitute,” which were in essence point-and-click snapshots of the lives Townshend observed around him—songs that in turn gave the band’s youthful audience a collective voice and culture of its own. More so, rather, with the emergence of Tommy in 1969, when Townshend broadened his creative sweep into the realm of a rock opera, crafting songs with narrative themes and psychologically complex characters that when presented together achieved even more prescient significance. 

Evolving from a singles-oriented band to one which makes long-form albums was not a particularly innovative shift in and of itself, of course. By the same year as Tommy’s soundtrack release, the Rolling Stones had likewise moved on from casting such succinct aspersions of British society as “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Get Off My Cloud” to pursue grander (and darker) subject matter on such LPs as Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed

What Townshend as the prime songwriting conduit in The Who was doing by this point, however, signified more than a mere intention to broaden a musical idea or even to render an album as some sort of cohesive piece of work. Townshend composed character sketches and thematic motifs, implemented plot devices and narrative constructions like a novelist or playwright, his lyrics laying the foundation that he and his bandmates—bassist John Entwistle, drummer Keith Moon, and vocalist Roger Daltrey—would then galvanize into song. 

Townshend could be obsessive about his art, but who could blame him? The expectations he unwittingly created—the benchmarks he and the band set in the studio, the mythologized behemoth The Who became on the concert stage—became a lot to live up to, with Townshend’s reputation as a songwriter dictating ever more genius with each new piece of music.  

In the throes of composing his most aspirational project yet, Lifehouse, Townshend grew increasingly overwhelmed and disillusioned, his intended magnum opus crumbling under his own madcap perfectionism. Scrapping all but the script, so to speak, the band’s producer Glyn Johns salvaged what he deemed the project’s strongest songs, culminating with the 1971 LP Who’s Next. An unmitigated classic, the album—which included a veritable haul of ageless warhorses like “Baba O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—offered perhaps the most ironic affirmation of Townshend’s artistic prowess. 

Only two years later Townshend redeemed himself with Quadrophenia, yet the specter of the Lifehouse debacle loomed over his head for decades to come. In fact, he didn’t put Lifehouse to bed for good until 1999 with the sprawling, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink box set, Lifehouse Chronicles—which, conspicuously, was credited not to The Who but to Pete Townshend.

And therein lies the crux of Townshend’s songcraft. For all the democratization that often makes a band better than the sum of its individual parts, Townshend’s best ideas came out of working alone. Sure, his initial ideas were then retooled and rearranged and implemented by one of the most ferocious rock bands on the planet. But the most crucial atoms of those classic Who anthems originated out of Townshend’s imagination.

Without the concerted collaboration of his band to shape his musical ideas, Townshend’s solo work (which he experimented with in the ‘70s before taking far more seriously in the ‘80s with albums like 1980’s Empty Glass and 1982’s All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes) seemed to be an endeavor wholly distinct from The Who.

Which is why, when on January 29, 1986, Townshend and a big-band ensemble dubbed the Deep End rolled into Cannes for a performance for the popular German television series Rockpalast in support of his solo album from the year before, White City: A Novel, the overriding impression—as witnessed on the Blu-ray and CD  Pete Townshend’s Deep End: Face The Face—is one of liberation. 

Boasting a five-piece brass cotillion and five backing vocalists, along with The Who’s stalwart keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on lead guitar, the fast-paced set is chock full of raw R&B energy, yielding solo highlights like “Slit Skirts” and “Second Hand Love” alongside a few Who favorites (“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Behind Blue Eyes”) for good measure. Oddly, Gilmour assumes more challenging and audience-thrilling passages on the axe than does Townshend, who seems to revel more in his role as entertainer—some rather awkward dance steps prove that point to a fault—than as a guitar god.

But perhaps that was the fundamental object of the exercise. Townshend had already, even by this point 31 years ago, composed one of the most enduring and imposing catalogs in all of rock history—he would return to The Who in periods of both ambivalence and urgency in the three decades to come—and he knew full well that the benchmark he helped set could never be eclipsed, much less by his own effort.

Townshend would never make a solo album without it garnering comparison to his most definitive work with The Who—take 1993’s Psychoderelict, for instance—but as a solo artist he has carved out a space wherein his genius can thrive with abandon. 

January 27, 2017

Concert Review: Don Henley with JD & The Straight Shot, Clearwater, FL

JD & The Straight Shot (photo: Donald Gibson)

The headliner is who they all came to see, of course. In this case, it was Don Henley, fresh off his recent Kennedy Center Honors accolade as a founding member of The Eagles, touring in support of his most recent solo album Cass County. For over two hours on Tuesday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Henley crisscrossed the four decades and various signposts of his storied career, dusting off a few surprises along the way like a brass-enhanced “Shangri-La” (from 1989’s The End of the Innocence) and, late in the set, a timely cover of the 1985 Tears For Fears anthem “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” that roused the punters out of their plush theatre seats for the first time since he’d walked on stage. More often than not, though, Henley stuck to the fundamentals—the solo hits (“Dirty Laundry,” “New York Minute,” “The Boys of Summer”) and The Eagles classics (“One of These Nights,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Desperado”)—which he and his 15-piece band performed with veteran precision and vitality.

Openers JD & The Straight Shot served up something uniquely different and altogether dynamic, complementing the familiarity mostly inherent to Henley’s set with a batch of songs illuminating scenes of mortal sin and gospel salvation, conjuring malevolent spirits along with the feistiness of a gothic folk revival. Led by vocalist/guitarist Jim Dolan, guitarist Marc Copely, bassist Byron House, and violinist Erin Slaver (whilst featuring an assortment of other side men and women depending on what each song suggested), the group betrayed influences as earthy as The Band and Johnny Cash and as eclectic as Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett. Mr. Dolan’s gruff inflections added a storyteller’s authority to standout performances of “Perdition” and “Better Find a Church,” while Ms. Slaver’s lithesome touch on the strings showcased “Ballyhoo” in noirish focus. Previewing their as-yet-untitled forthcoming album, the group offered “I Know, You Know, I Know” as a snapshot of love and lust’s most clandestine impulses. By the end of their all-too-brief appearance, JD & The Straight Shot had worked their own brand of magic to charm an audience that was originally not their own.

October 14, 2016

Interview: Kenny Rogers Reflects on Career, Crossover Success

Kenny Rogers

At the dawn of the ‘80s, as outlaws and urban cowboys staked their turf on either side of the country and pop fence, Kenny Rogers bridged the divide.

A mere four years since he first attained mainstream solo stardom with “Lucille”—and after a string of subsequent smashes like “The Gambler” and “She Believes in Me” continued his good fortune—the former First Edition singer achieved the highest pinnacle of his career, topping not only the country charts but, for the first time, the pop charts as well with “Lady.”

While he’d flirted with the pop charts before, with “Lady”—composed and produced by another proven hitmaker of the era, Lionel Richie—Rogers assumed the sort of stature otherwise reserved for music’s unmitigated superstars. Indeed, the rhapsodic ballad broadened his audience to an unprecedented degree, while at the same time heralding even more crossover collaborations to come, not only with Richie but also with likes of Barry Gibb (“Islands in the Stream”), James Ingram (“What About Me?”), and Richard Marx (“Crazy”), among others.

photo: Piper Ferguson
Now on the road for the final time, on a tour billed as The Gambler’s Last Deal, the 78-year-old music legend recently reflected on how his mainstream appeal—particularly how such crossover success hasn’t compromised his homegrown country music credentials—bears its roots in his earliest, most foundational experiences. In doing so, he reminisced on how his adolescent musical passion ultimately inspired one of the most celebrated careers in all of popular music.

“When I was in high school I played guitar,” Rogers explained during a conference call with select music journalists, “and I met this guy [Bobby Doyle] doing commercials in Houston who was blind and he was about my age and he said he wanted me to come play bass with his jazz group. I said, ‘Well, Bobby, I don’t play bass and I don’t play jazz … I’m a country singer and a country player.’ He said, ‘I’ll teach you how to play bass and trust me, there’s more demand for bad bass players than there are bad guitar players.’ I thought about every group I’d seen. They’d all had a bass player; they didn’t all have guitar players.”

Rogers was convinced, and the tutelage he received as a bassist began to serve him well in short order, manifesting in both practical and often surrealistically impractical moments. “We used to work across the street from the Shamrock Hotel in Houston,” Rogers recalled, “and people would come in—big names would come in to work there—and we had an after-hours job. They would come over after hours just to have a place to go. Tony Bennett used to come in and sing with us all the time. Every time he was in town he’d come across the street and sing with us and it was really something special.”

Beyond reaping the benefits that often come with knowing how to play a musical instrument, Rogers said the experience of performing live with Bennett and various other artists of the day in turn facilitated the eclectic—and successful—career that lay ahead. “When people came in you had to learn to play their type of music,” he said, “and we would do that. We had all kinds of people come in, and each one of them was kind of different. Al Hirt used to come in and play with us. So that was another direction we had to go. It was just a wonderful life.”

August 09, 2016

Interview: Onward and Upward with The Temperance Movement

The Temperance Movement (credit: Rob Blackham)

When Write on Music caught up with the Temperance Movement last summer, the nascent British rock band was trudging through the States and Canada on what seemed like an interminable tour. A coveted opening slot for the Rolling Stones in Orlando only weeks before had offered a unique challenge to turn a massive (and arguably impervious) audience onto the band’s long-in-the-works, self-titled debut album. In headlining its own gigs, however, the band found a North American slog of one-nighters far more conducive to its cause. 

Now with a new LP, White Bear (Fantasy/Concord Records), the Temperance Movement build upon the swaggering musical foundation of that first album, sublimating its edgiest blues/rock distinctions with more eclectic dimensions, recalling the crunchy riffs of early AC/DC along with moments of streamlined late ‘70s arena rock as well as some headier ‘90s grunge.

“The whole point of us making music is to try new things and develop as a band,” guitarist Paul Sayer said recently from yet another tour stop in Denver, “and represent our different influences as much as we can within the framework of the Temperance Movement. We absolutely wanted to make something that was a bit different sounding but still us at the core of it.”

Changers have certainly been afoot, and not only with the music but with the musicians—guitarist Luke Potashnick has since left the fray, leaving with Sayer with drummer Damon Wilson, bassist Nick Fyffe and frontman Phil Campbell—and some newly provocative themes that certain songs on the album address. 

“I think we just wanted it to open out a bit,” Sayer said of White Bear, “to develop the sound a bit.”

How has being on the road affected the chemistry of the band, especially when it came to making the second album?

Well, when we made the first album we weren’t really a band. We were kind of five guys who’d gotten together to make the music. By the second album we were a band. We’d done hundreds of shows together. So we kind of knew how our audience reacted to certain things. We knew when we were recording the second album what things about the new album would be challenging the audience, what bits about it would be very comfortable and accepted of our audience. And then as far as within the band, I think we wrote the second record in quite a different way to how we wrote the first one. It was really much more on the road and in sound checks while we were away. And we knew who we were making it for and what kind of venues it was going to be played in. So, that’s quite informing. As a band we kind of just feel like it’s all about just the five of us. People often get very hung up on which recording studio they’re working in, that kind of thing. It doesn’t matter to us. We just sound like us no matter where we record.

When you say, “We sound like us,” when you guys wrote and recorded some of these new songs which don’t necessarily sound like the “us” that emerged on the first album was it a surprise to you guys that you could stretch out that far?

It wasn’t a surprise to us at all, but I guess the thing is when people hear a record that a band has made I think often people could be tempted to assume that that kind of perfectly embodies what each member of that band is all about musically. The thing is, that’s just not true. When a band makes a record, it’s just a snapshot of that moment in time of where those people are at and what they’ve decided to do. Actually, the opposite is true, really. It’s impossible in one record to lay down all your influences and everything you want to say and everything that you want to do in your career. You can’t do it in one record. So, as we make more albums … to me it’s kind of like we’re slowly revealing a picture. Each album that you make removes kind of like a square that’s been blacked out, of really trying to find out what those people are all about. I know what I’m about, and I know what the other guys are about because we spend hours every day in a van together listening to music and talking about music. 

So, it wasn’t a surprise to me at all that we made that kind of record, but I understand that for the listener all they have to go on is the outfit of the band for that day. You listen to the first record and it’s quite clear what some of our influences are. That’s easy to get your head around, but what’s impossible for the listener to know about is all the other music that we listen to and love and has inspired us. The only way that they will learn about that is us making more records and covering more of those influences and going in different directions. It’s definitely about a long-term career and creating a body of work. It’s impossible to say, “This is what the Temperance Movement are all about,” by listening to one or two records because everything is constantly changing for us in terms of what we love. There’s so much already as well that we haven’t even touched on yet. Plus we’re discovering new music all the time that we like. It’s just a constantly moving thing. When we make our next record, again it will just be a moment in time of wherever we’re at at that time when we make that record. 

Think of how different and distinct each of the first three Led Zeppelin albums sounded, for example.

Exactly. They’re listening to different music all the time. The way that they feel about music is constantly changing. The way that they feel about their audience is constantly changing. [There are] so many variables going on that it would be much stranger to make an album which sounds exactly like the one before than to make something different-sounding because, if you’ve got a year or two between records, by the time you come to that next one you’re in a totally different place. So, it’d actually be very weird for it to come out sounding the same. 

A lot of bands do take that route, though, especially if they have a particularly successful first album—because record companies of course like to repeat that kind of success.

I get that, but that’s not why we started this band. We started the band to be creative and to enjoy making music and throughout that a lot of that enjoyment comes from experimenting and exploring different things. The classic example—and the opposite of what you’re talking about—would be someone like Neil Young, who just doesn’t care. He will make, like, an electronic album, and then his next one will be a country album. He’s just into lots of different music and he feels differently one album to the next, and that’s why he makes different music. 

When you guys get together to come up with songs, is it more of a conventional songwriting exercise or is it more of a jamming kind of thing where you perhaps discover songs from a riff? How structured is that process when you guys write the songs?

They come about in all sorts of different ways. Just a key thing is having a good idea. It might be a riff and it might be something that comes out of a jam in a sound check; or it might be a context for what the song may be about or it might be literally just a song title. The initial idea comes from all different places. It could come from anywhere. Then once we have that idea nailed down—or we know which idea we’re holding onto—then it falls into a bit more of a pattern of sitting down and taking that idea and turning it into a song and Phil writing the lyrics and then us getting back together and maybe editing things a bit in terms of the music or the structure of the song and then going into the studio. The recording process from one song to the next is normally quite similar. We’re all in the room tracking together…. Then it kind of fits into the mold of the way that we work, which would generally be the five of us in a rehearsal room nailing everything down or maybe three of us at someone’s house with a couple of guitars nailing everything down and taking these kind of ideas that might be a bit all over the place and actually structuring them into a song. 

It must be emboldening not to be constrained by any preconceived notions of what the band is or does, because you guys could theoretically create anything.

Totally. The thing is, as well, there’s a good understanding between us in the band of where we’re at at a given time without us having to really discuss it too much. If I sit down with Phil to write a song, we won’t say to each other, “Right. Let’s write a song in this style,” or, “Let’s write a song [drawing on] these influences.” I would’ve known because I practically live on the road with Phil. I will know where he’s at musically at that time because in the months leading up to sitting down [to write] I know what he’s been listening to and what he’s been getting excited about musically. We’ll talk about music. Although, when we’re writing these things aren’t discussed. I know where he’s at and he knows where I’m at musically. 

So, there’s kind of like an unsaid foundation for what we’re trying to do at that time. Also, it will go one way or another depending on what the idea is and where it comes from. There will be a lot of influences floating around … and we’ll draw on the ones that we see as relevant to what we’re doing at the time or maybe even the ones that aren’t very relevant to the original idea. We’re purposely trying to take it away from one musical space and into another one, which happens quite a lot as well. The last thing that we want to do is sound exactly like anybody else. If there’s an initial idea that’s been influenced by something or if we just feel like something is starting to sound a bit too familiar we’ll purposely derail it and take it somewhere else, which happened much more with the second record. We’re still a rock ‘n’ roll band but we didn’t want to sound like anybody else. 

On the album the band addresses themes of conflict and violence.

Totally. The lyrics are mostly Phil’s, but I know like—

A song like “Modern Massacre”…

Yeah, that’s like the prime example of frustration at a situation and kind of just trying to show it’s all so serious, but it’s also all so ridiculous. It’s just kind of the frustration at a situation. I don’t know if I would go as far as to call it a protest song. It’s just a reaction to things that happen with maybe the frustration with feeling like maybe there’s so much going on that it’s hard to do anything about it. It’s kind of a protest song without maybe the optimism of Janis Joplin or whoever thinking that she could actually do something about it. 

That doesn’t preclude you from being frustrated, though.

It doesn’t stop us from being frustrated and it also doesn’t stop us from wanting it to change or wanting things to get better or wanting these things not to happen. That song particularly is kind of a scream in frustration at the problem, which you kind of feel like, especially at first glance, is completely out of your hands. You can’t get close to changing these various situations that are causing all these problems especially with today’s media. They’re kind of screaming “Modern Massacre” at you but at the same time you can’t do anything about it. It’s in your face. It’s just a reaction to all of that, really. 

Do you know if that song in particular—or other songs on the album that incorporate similar themes—was in any way inspired by the band’s extensive touring in America? Obviously, the level of violence in the States is far beyond what happens in the UK.

“Modern Massacre” isn’t talking about any one event in particular. We don’t have the police violence that you have over here [in the US], but from our location on the planet we’re geographically much closer to the stuff that is going on in Syria and stuff like that. It all kind of rolls into one thing, and it’s all reported by the media in the same style. Although the subject of the story might be very different, the kind of reporting style is always very similar—the kind of sensationalism around it and all that kind of stuff. They’re all kind of, “Look at how awful this is,” but at the same time there’s this morbid fascination with it. Everyone wants to tune in and see what’s going on. If the news station happens to have some footage of a body lying on the ground that’s even better and more people will tune in and more people will share it on Facebook. 

If there’s actually footage of a boat sinking off the coast of Turkey with a load of Syrian refugees in it, everyone will suddenly be interested. You have to kind of ask yourself, “Why is everyone so interested in this?” Are they genuinely concerned about this issue or are they just kind of into seeing these extreme videos posted up on social media? The cynic in me thinks a lot of it is the second, because how many people that host that video of the boat sinking will then actively try and do something about the situation of these people?

In answer to your question, we have spent a lot of time [in the States], but it’s probably more about the fact that the world media is so connected now…. When that stuff is going on, even when things are happening on a political level in your country, we very much feel like it’s having a global effect on the world and especially in the UK because our two countries are so close. It doesn’t feel like a problem that’s happening a thousand miles away, unrelated to us. It feels like a very real problem for the world in general as are the issues that we’ve got at home…. It will affect people all around the world. I don’t feel like it’s because we come and spend time in your country that we feel more connected to it. I think it’s because of just the way the world is connected now. I know of friends that don’t travel to the US on a regular basis are as concerned about things that happen in the US as I am. Maybe we slightly understand it more because we understand the issues and various people’s feelings a bit more because we spend a few months at a time here and see people and work out how people are feeling about certain things. 

Is security a pressing concern for the band?

We haven’t changed anything that we do. We’re slightly more aware of it, definitely. We’ve been touring France this year quite a lot, and the security there has gotten very tight in and out of venues with what happened with the Eagles of Death Metal last year and various terrorist attacks subsequently. But I don’t see what we can do, really. We’re not going to start employing security or anything like that. We probably couldn’t even if we wanted to. It kind of feels as if that would just add to the problem, not help it. It kind of feels like that reaction would just escalate things and almost incite more violence, in a way. If bands start showing up to shows with a few guys that are obviously there for security reasons, possibly armed even, I would just think, How is that going to make our audience feel? Is it going to make it feel safer or less safe? I’m not sure. 

We have a very different view on this and reaction to it because of gun ownership. Just the whole concept of it and the feelings around it are totally different in the UK to what they are in the US. That is something that we don’t understand at all because things are just so different at home. When I see a gun, it worries me. It doesn’t really make much difference to me who’s holding it. If there are two guys on the sides of the stage with guns strapped to them, and if I was at a show at a small venue like we play and I saw that, I think I would feel pretty uncomfortable about it regardless of the fact that they would probably be there for my safety. I don’t think I would feel more safe.