David Rhodes, primarily known for his collaborations with other artists (Peter Gabriel, Tori Amos, Tim Finn among others), has just released his first solo album Bittersweet.
On his birthday (May 2nd), before playing a show in Cologne, he granted us the big honour of lending us some of his time for an in-depth interview about his album, touring across Europe all alone and his personal approach to playing guitar and writing music.
David Rhodes: No problem.
nolivelost.com: You’re a very familiar name to a lot of music fans, in the past you’ve collaborated with people like Peter Gabriel, Tim Finn or Tori Amos. Now you’re releasing your first solo album “Bittersweet”, almost 17 years after it was first announced. What took you so long?
David Rhodes: I’m a slow developer.
David Rhodes: (laughs) Yes, in general.
nolivelost.com: Certainly a good thing when it comes to music…
David Rhodes: Yeah. Maybe I should have done it years ago. But I get easily distracted. And I suppose I got so involved in doing other people’s things, and I viewed myself as a good helper, for other people. And now my ego is rising… (laughs)
nolivelost.com: “Bittersweet” – is it just a word to describe the atmosphere of the album, or is there maybe a deeper meaning behind it?
David Rhodes: Not a particular deep meaning. I think that life really is a combination of lovely experiences and terrible experiences, and there’s no getting away from it, for any of us.
David Rhodes: Bowers & Wilkins, the lab speaker company, financed the bulk of the recording. So they then had the rights, I think for a month or two months. I have the rights back now, so that’s why it’s taken a little while for it to come out as a disc.
nolivelost.com: In an interview you’ve said last year that getting it out on CD is “not as easy as I would have imagined”. What moves did you have to make to finally get it out on CD?
David Rhodes: Just contact a few people… (laughs) The decision early this year was that I should try and do some solo shows. So we just contacted a few people. My manager contacted Karsten Jahnke in Hamburg, and Karsten liked the record and did want to help, and he’s partly involved with Tom Glagow’s C.A.R.E. Music, so they then just decided to go with it. It’s exciting…
nolivelost.com: You’ve worked on the songs for many years, and you’ve said that over time you’ve “gained more trust in the songs”. Can you get into more detail about what parts of the music had your trust from the beginning, and which elements needed more time to gain your trust?
David Rhodes: That’s a complicated question. Some of what I had were just chord sequences, and I tried to make them into songs some time ago. And then they just didn’t work for some reason… So I revisited them, just changing things slightly or rewriting lyrics.
Monster Monster was originally written, or started, for a children’s film. I had worked with the director Enzo D’Alo on his previous film, and we had a good working relationship. And he asked me to try writing a couple of things, but they didn’t work out, so they went with an Italian composer, which is fine…
So I had written Monster Monster as a children’s song. And then I left it alone for ages. And then I went through a bit of a bad patch of depression and took anti-depressants. And when you take those things, they put you in a fog… (laughs) I was in a fog for two years, you know. They kind of dampen down all your feelings. It’s kind of nice initially, because it’s a relief that you’re not plunging up and down, but after a while it’s really frustrating to get through it. So I rewrote the song to be about that, and how I wouldn’t want it to return.
nolivelost.com: So the song evolved with you?
nolivelost.com: Peter Gabriel…
David Rhodes: Oh… (laughs)
nolivelost.com: Surprise! … called you a “sculpturer of sound”. What do you think he meant by that?
David Rhodes: I was an art student originally, and I did study sculpture, so he’s just playing around with words. But he probably also meant, I think, that I enjoy the use of sound… I enjoy the use of sound more than playing a part. I mean, I like playing parts, but I look for the sound first, before the part, if that makes sense…
If I’m working for somebody and they play me something, I’ll try to find the sound that I think is appropriate, and then work out the part. Because I think you react to the sound, and you play something different once you’ve discovered the sound, rather than when you’ve worked out a part, trying to then find a sound that works with the part. Does that make sense?
nolivelost.com: Absolutely. So with your solo album you’re now producing your own sculptures?
David Rhodes: Well yeah…, but I’ve had some nice help.
nolivelost.com: Do you see your solo album as just another collaboration, like the other projects where you work together with other artists?
nolivelost.com: You’ve played a lot of very big venues and stadiums. Tonight you’re playing this very intimate club, which is a big contrast. What do you fear most and what do you most hope for?
David Rhodes: I fear most breaking a string, because it takes me ages to change them on the guitar I use. So I’d just have to stop for ten minutes and go off and do it. So that fills me with dread… (laughs), because I have nobody helping me and no spare equipment or anything.
I’m doing this tour all alone. I travel by train, the guitar on my back, plus my suitcase which has some electric gear in it, and that’s it. So it’s a very bare-bone thing. When I did a little show in England, I’ve called it the “no safety net performance”, because if it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a very big way… (laughs) And the exciting thing is, if one person gets something from it and enjoys it, then I’m doing well.
nolivelost.com: Very rootsy: one man and his guitar…
David Rhodes: Yeah. Just gotta go for it. (laughs)
nolivelost.com: The “Bittersweet” album features a lot of lush arrangements. When you perform the songs now with just the guitar and your voice, do you simply take the songs back to where they started from?
David Rhodes: Actually no, because I started building them up in my little studio, and then they changed when they were recorded. And everybody added things to it, for example Steven Barber who did some lovely string arrangements. So now I’ve gone back to just trying to… I suppose to take essential riffs, and then I end up singing the string lines or singing the guitar lines…, (laughs) to try and fill out the sound…
David Rhodes: (laughs) I don’t know if it is cool, but it’s all I can do.
nolivelost.com: I also find it interesting that the album has so many details on it…
and the details are all very much integrated into the songs. So it must be quite a challenge to rearrange all that.
David Rhodes: Yes, the challenge is to try and deliver the song in a committed way and keep it interesting.
nolivelost.com: Did you consider touring with a full band lineup at all?
David Rhodes: Yeah. The problem with that is cost, because the people I would like to have on tour would want to be paid, and we can’t get big enough places. To pay the players, put them into hotels, look after them…
In fact on this tour we have three shows that I’m doing with a trio, with Ged Lynch on drums and Richard Evans playing bass, both from Peter’s band. That’s in Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin. In Bremen we’re doing a radio show. So those ones will be a bit different.
nolivelost.com: Another question that goes back a bit into the past: You’ve played guitar on Talk Talk’s “The Colour of Spring” and the corresponding tour, at a time that saw the band transforming from a commercially very successful pop act into one of the founding fathers of post rock. What is your most vivid memory of your time with Talk Talk?
David Rhodes: Have you heard about a clarinetist called Acker Bilk? He’s a famous old trad jazz player and he did a song called Stranger On The Shore. (plays the tune on mouth-trumpet) When I was in the studio, playing on Life’s What You Make It, Mark turned to me and said “Do you know Acker Bilk?” And I said “Yeah.” So he asked me: “Can you play like Acker Bilk?”
David Rhodes: Yeah. (laughs) So he was wanting something a little different. I was just thinking of Acker Bilk when I played that line.
nolivelost.com: Very interesting to hear…
David Rhodes: But the touring with them was pretty crazy. Most of the band would stay in bed very late, but I’d always have breakfast with Mark, because he gets up early, and I did too. The shows were always pretty drunken affairs. Half of the band would go on ripping. Good fun, it was big noise, you know. Two percussionists, drums, two keyboard players, bass guitar and so on. Big noise, and yet very tender at times, very delicate. So it was good fun. I have very happy memories of it, I’m not sure Mark does.
nolivelost.com: It’s a shame they stopped touring after The Colour Of Spring.
David Rhodes: Yeah, I think Mark just hated it. He just didn’t like it.
David Rhodes: Yeah, he was really shy and just didn’t embrace it…
nolivelost.com: I only knew he was against tv performances, which was logical because at that time that was only playback most of the time…
David Rhodes: Yes. When we did do tv, they always insisted we put on makeup, that kind of thing, and Mark would just go “Bnaaah…” (laughs) And I’ve tried to do that ever since. In America they get very upset with you. But, you know, if you’re just the guitar player in the band, the cameras never are on you anyway. (laughs)
nolivelost.com: Thanks a lot for your time, David.
David Rhodes: You’re welcome.
Interview & photos by Thomas Bollwerk & Bjoern Kahlenberg
(live photos taken at the Cologne Underground on 2010-05-02)