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Welcome to the official Distractions website. We will be aiming to record the history of one of the greatest, but least heralded, of all Manchester beat groups.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Luxuriously upholstered

The last part of the interview by Dave Cantrell at Caught In The Carousel where the band further discuss the album and touch on future plans.




An Interview With The Distractions 

By Dave Cantrell

INTERVIEW with Steve Perrin, Mike Finney & Nick Halliwell


CITC: Mike, your voice, obviously, is the central instrument of the ‘Distractions sound,’ if we may call it that. It sounds natural and unforced to me, intuitive. Was there every any training, and if not, have you had to work much at it? At what age did you realize you had a bit of a gift of a singing voice?

MIKE: I never had training and I think that usually spoils the feeling, if you know what I mean.I can’t say as I worked on it, just practising seems to improve a voice. I listened to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and all the Motown stuff growing up and tried to sing a bit like them. Then I realised that to have that kind of feeling was more a matter of believing what you sing rather than a technique (this was because Otis and Sam did some bad stuff in the name of trends! Listen to Sam Cooke’s Gospel recordings or Otis’s early love songs if you’re looking for an explanation of soul music). Not forgetting another two of my favourite voices, Al Bowley and especially Bing Crosby. Mix it in with a bit of Elvis and a touch of Janis Joplin and that’s what I always tried to aim for. Failed of course, but you shouldn’t stop trying because that’s what makes a unique sound.

I still don’t think I have a great singing voice, possibly because I can’t sing Sam’s “Hem of His Garment” or Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love is Lifting Me Higher” the way I would like to sing it. But, neither can anybody else, I guess! However,I always loved to sing pop songs, hymns, anything that made you feel better. I was also a shy kid, so it was a way of expressing myself without people asking me to leave the room. That came a bit later when I’d stopped singing.

I was chatting with Nicky Tesco (of the Members) many years ago and we decided that however bad a voice was, it was talent and not just holding down wires or hitting things. Nobody in either band agreed…!

CITC: Steve, your lyrics have a precision to them, a knack for nailing the emotional resonance of the song with both flow and economy, often succeeding at that cherished quality of a three-and-a-half pop song: resembling a short story (“Girl Of The Year,” for example). Do you have to wrestle them into shape or do they emerge without too much struggle? Plus, if you wouldn’t mind tackling the standard process question: Which comes first, generally, lyrics, melody or an image/character?

STEVE: During the early days of the band I, like many young men, believed that my own angst was interesting, so the lyrics tended to come first followed by the tune. The End Of The Pier was written after a period of almost 20 years, during which I had not written any songs and, initially, I had no idea what I was going to write about so with most of the stuff I started off with a musical idea, often adding lyrics which I knew to be rubbish just so I’d have a song structure to work with. I would then ditch the initial lyrics and start working on something which made more sense. Sometimes the second set of lyrics worked and sometimes they also had to be rejected and more work done.

“Girl Of The Year” was an exception, however. First I had the title (partially ‘borrowed’ from Tom Wolfe’s essay on Baby Jane Holzer) and, in the initial stage of wondering what I was going to write about, I thought I might use the landscape around me. I don’t know if you’ve even been to Wellington, New Zealand, but it looks a bit like a smaller San Francisco – hills, white wooden houses, pickup trucks – and I had the beach at the end of my road so decided to try and write something like the Beach Boys. That’s why it has “endless summer” in the first line but by the end of the line it’s gone cold and in the second line a pier has appeared and my girl’s considering jumping off it. It was then I realized that, wherever I am physically, my mental landscape is that of the North West of England and it’s pretty much inescapable for me so that’s where the writing comes from.

CITC: Nick, I’m still amazed by the sound of this record (even if I do say that about every Occultation release), given the short preparation time as a band and how relatively brief the studio time was (four, five days, I think you told me?). Factory Star’s Enter Castle Perilous was recorded with similar speed but the goal there was maintaining a rawness of sound appropriate to the spirit of that record – a resounding success by any measure – and the short recording time was part of the design to capture that. Yet here, under almost the exact time limitations, the sound is rather luxuriously upholstered, round and full, which, as it happens, is exactly what this record requires. Is it simply down to the different character of the two bands or have you some magic elixir brewing behind the mixing desk?

NICK: If you’ve got strong material and the right people the best method is to book a good studio and play the songs. Factory Star were a tightly-drilled unit so Perilous was recorded in three days then mixed the following weekend, with hardly any overdubs, even the lead vocals were live. For Pier we had four days in June 2011, no rehearsals, in fact we’d never all met before. After that I set it aside for a few months, what with the Wild Swans album, financial considerations, etc. When I came back to it I felt we already had all the musical ideas we needed, so the rule was that overdubs should only bolster what was there, and I only broke it a couple of times. Lead vocals are crucial and astonishingly Mike’d done the whole album +1 outtake +3 acoustic versions in 6-7 hours at the original sessions. He came down to my place and we spent an afternoon redoing just 3-4 songs.

At that point Steve and I agreed the album didn’t need conventional mixing, where the producer zeroes the faders and spends a week listening to the kick drum. I mix as I go along anyway, so it was just a matter of getting the vocals to sit properly and everything else to gel around them. John Dent and I mastered the whole album in an afternoon. It was written, recorded, sequenced, mixed and mastered as a two-sided LP, so we didn’t front-load it with the poppier songs at the start, and we also didn’t use much compression on anything, so it does sound rather different to a lot of modern records, which are mixed so that everything leaps out at you the first time you hear it. The trouble with that is that it can get pretty tiring for the ears so you’re into diminishing returns. I’d hope this is an LP that repays repeated listening.

All in all, I’d estimate a couple of weeks or so’s actual work went into making Pier, though it was spread over 9 months. Even so, only four days of actual studio time, and that’s where the vast bulk of what you hear on the record was done. On average each song you hear is approximately the fourth time we’d ever played it. A couple of them maybe the third, and there are two where we used take 6. I don’t think we recorded more than six takes of anything.





CITC:  As mentioned in my review, and mentioned by many others as well, The Distractions, even during a 30+ year absence, remained warmly embedded in listeners’ hearts and minds. A number of bands back then made the one album and a handful of singles then disappeared, but very few retained the interest The Distractions did. We all have our theories as to why this is the case, what’s yours?

NICK: I’m least well-placed to answer this as a member of The Distractions but can perhaps speak as a fan and with my label hat on.

It’d be overstating the case to say there’s a huge number of people who remember the band but what’s definitely true is that those who care do so very deeply. My theory would be that the band sprang from their audience and never forgot that. In fact they wrote about and for their audience, so people identify those Distractions Mk I songs with their own lives. Steve’ll correct me if I’m wrong but the way I see it, with Pier we set out to do that again, i.e. to write about life in middle age. The other thing is that when Mike sings a lyric you believe him. Take that combination, songs about real life delivered with utter believability and that maybe goes some way towards explaining it.

STEVE: Although there are undoubtedly some women who enjoy our music the vast majority of the people you are referring to who”kept the faith” are men.  The End of the Pier strikes me as quite a “male” album. There’s obviously stuff about male friendship and male-female relations but if you dig under the surface there’s quite a lot of father-son stuff (from both points of view).

If you add to that the fact that while Mike undoubtedly has a strong voice there’s an underlying vulnerability to it, perhaps what we’re doing is saying something about the male condition, or one version of it anyway, at this age and this point in history, which chimes with a certain type of man. Others, however, would be better qualified to answer this question than me.

NICK: Steve’s right, it’s a very male album but perhaps an unusual masculinity in that it looks inward and… I can’t actually think of much music, or art in general, that deals with the subject of male friendship in any real depth. As I’m sure I’ve said to you before, when I got Steve’s first batch of around 5 songs, this was the first thing that leapt out at me and so I wrote Wise in response, as I was able to kind of look in from the outside in a strange kind of way. My other song on the album, Man of the Moment was a deliberate attempt to bring Girl Of The Year into the overall pattern of the thing. As we stood, it was the only third-person narrative song and didn’t obviously tie in with the rest, but it was a very strong song which had to be used. So I tried to write something that’d set it in context and link it in with the rest. How well that succeeded isn’t up to me to say. The other lyric that’s mostly mine is Boots, although Steve wrote what we might consider the first draft of it.

The whole thing was a fascinating process and one I’m very keen to repeat. I think Steve and I are just getting into our stride now.

CITC: Mike dropped a hint about one more album and ‘oh boy!’ to that. I heard Nobody’s Perfect when I was 24 years old, End Of The Pier shows up when I’m 56, so I have to ask, am I gonna have to wait until I’m 88 to hear the next one?

STEVE: I suspect that there will be one last Distractions album and while I like the idea of a deathbed confession record written when I am in my late eighties I suspect that it will happen in the next couple of years. I have a cutoff date of 2016 as Mike will be sixty then and Kellie seventy. That will probably be time to say “goodbye”.

NICK: While there’d be something symmetrically pleasing about three albums, one youthful, one middle-aged and one elderly, there are certain logistical concerns – though by the early 2040s it may well be that most recording studios cater primarily for geriatrics with walk-in drumkits, amps built into comfy armchairs, monitoring via hearing aid loops, etc. Mike, Steve and I have talked about doing another one as I hope I’m right in saying that everyone enjoyed Pier and felt a sense of achievement – I know I did. If we’re going to do it then, realistically, we probably need to get on with it.

Further reading:



(c) Dave Cantrell. Caught in the Carousel

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