When Badly Drawn Boy wrote the verse in his new single about the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, John Lennon and Frank Sinatra, it wasn’t because the singer/songwriter felt the need to honor his heroes. At least not at first.
It was simply because the words “the night Sinatra died” randomly trickled from his lips and, as he put it, “sounded like poetry.” Same thing with the second verse, which was written around the lines “I’m turning Madonna down/ Calling it my best move.”
If this seems a little odd, you must not be familiar with the way the Mercury Music Prize-winning artist writes music.
Like most of his material, “You Were Right” had humble beginnings.
“I was writing and me Mum and Dad were in the living room to baby-sit,” explained BDB, who was born Damon Gough in Manchester, England. “I went to play me guitar for five minutes and came up with just the basic melody of the verse. And I went in and they were like, ‘So what?’ It didn’t sound very good at that point, but I could see there was something.”
Gough had an opening line — “And you were right to bide your time/ And not buy into my misery” — but for the rest of the song he just sang random words into a Dictaphone and tried to make sense of the results.
“Then that evolved into the verse about the tributes,” Gough recalled. “I was thinking about John Lennon, than I backtracked to Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley without realizing what the song was turning into.
“Then the turning Madonna down line cropped up and I wrote all the things down like a puzzle or a flowchart in a way like, ‘What’s it trying to be?’ ” he continued. “Then it culminated in the last couple of verses, which above all that, is still about me real life. It’s about not wasting the chance with real life just because you got this opportunity to be a pop star.”
When Gough entered the studio with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith) and drummer Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins), “You Were Right” was given a friendly beat and turned into something you could dance to, which should uphold his reputation as the favorite singer/songwriter of the rave community.
Released Tuesday, Have You Fed the Fish? is Badly Drawn Boy’s second album this year, following spring’s “About a Boy” soundtrack (see “About A Badly Drawn Boy: Singer/Songwriter Does Soundtrack” ).
While both records are jammed with infectious pop jingles reminiscent of 2000’s acclaimed The Hour of Bewilderbeast, Have You Fed the Fish? offers more of a progression than the soundtrack. Although still a cohesive set, the album covers an array of emotions and musical styles, including some of Gough’s most aggressive rock music yet.
“The first day of recording, we sat down at the end of the day and said it just feels so different, just because I had no guidelines, no parameters,” Gough explained. “One of the greatest things about doing the soundtrack was that there was parameters, because I’m not a disciplined person. With the title, you immediately got mental rules in your head to try and fit to. With the new album … it felt so free. And that’s when I applied the working title of All Possibilities, because it just felt like that.”
During the recording of Have You Fed the Fish? Gough returned to England for the birth of his second child and then had to come back to Los Angeles a few weeks later to finish the project. One song, “Bedside Story,” was written for his children, although their presence is felt in many of the other introspective ramblings on life.
“More than anything, [having children] just magnifies your emotions at either end of the scale, whether it’s how happy you’re feeling or how sad you’re feeling,” Gough said. “[Writing about your family] is a dangerous game to be playing. For most people, it spells a cliché, corny message, but I think I manage to do it in a tasteful way. It just crept in. There’s a little bit of tribute. ‘You Were Right’ was finished in L.A. and wouldn’t have been the way it is if I was in me bedroom.”
Badly Drawn Boy wraps a U.S. tour on Friday in Los Angeles, after which he’ll shoot a video for the second single, “Born Again.” Gough said he’ll likely return to the States for another tour early next year.