The final part of the two-letter, single-syllable trilogy. Produced by Peter (and mixed by Tchad Blake and Stephen Hague). Hundreds and hundreds of hours of recordings were made, ultimately being slimmed down to the final ten tracks.
UP soon reveals itself to be another deeply personal statement, with birth and death being near-constant themes. Mostly recorded at Real World (although some initial recordings were made in Senegal, France and on a boat on the Amazon), the album sees contributions from the likes of Peter Green, Danny Thompson, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Daniel Lanois, the Black Dyke Band, Peter’s daughter Melanie and the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
“’UP’ was conceived as a title about eight years before [the album release]. I was thinking that I had a lot of material even then and still quite a lot of it was positive and I was thinking about rivers and playing with an ‘Up the Khyber’, ‘Up the Ganges’, ‘Up the Mississippi’ series where I would send the record off to a group in different countries and they would do their interpretation of it and then we would try and pull something together out of that or put those out as individual things so it was an sort of UP package. I think I mentioned that to Michael Stipe and they were the first to come up with a record called ‘UP’. Although I think now Shania Twain is going to have a record called ‘UP’ and Ani de Franco had a record called ‘UP, UP, UP’. There was some argument whether it’s passed its sell by date and we actually put it up on the website and asked whether people wanted it or not and I think it was just in favour of the ‘UP’ vote and so I decided to keep ‘UP’.
‘UP’ is a positive word and I think if I listen to the music now there are some pretty miserable songs there so I don’t know if it fits that well but I’ve sort of grown with it and I think personally I’m in a good place at the moment and probably more up than the previous couple of albums so maybe there is some relationship there but, I don’t think there is so much relationship in the music itself. I’ve always found it harder to write happy music than sad music.
I enjoy the process of making music better than being a travelling salesman, so I think, in part, I’ve been avoiding getting into it and then I do tend to get attracted to detours. ‘OVO’ with the Dome was one of those detours and then there was a soundtrack ‘Long Walk Home’.
I also want to try and take stuff in because often when you make a record you’re spewing stuff out but unless you’ve had enough input how can you expect [what’s coming out] to be interesting or have any new things to reflect on or comment on? I think that process is a slow process for me and if I go into the studio we’ve got 130 song ideas, not all finished songs, that we were working on and so I would go from one thing to another and then to another and I wasn’t really focused on a small group of songs.
Always on every record there have been one or two songs that has been left over from the one before and ‘Sky Blue’, on this record, came from an earlier period. I think I just throw up stuff that interests me whether it’s melodically or more often rhythmically and just keep trying to develop it. It’s like trying to grow fruit and eventually it feels heavy enough or ripe enough, if you squeeze it, that it might bear some juice.
Well some of the [lyrical] ideas are there early on and so help to shape the feel of the music but the actual slog work of the lyrics is something I have to go away for usually and it is anything from half a day to ten days for me to nail a lyric. I would go away and stay in a bed and breakfast or drive around a place and I had to do that on my own. In fact, I think that travel is good for lyrics for me. [See ‘OVO’ release page for more on this.
I have a sort of messy sprawling technique of writing really in which you throw all this stuff at the wall and then you just chip away and spiral inwards and try and find the centre. I remember talking to George Martin about this as a sort of production technique and he was appalled on the sort of waste involved as he could only envisage in having a definite result in mind which you went straight to and you knew how to get there. I mean I’ve tried that too but I’m not very good at it and I work this other way.
We started off when I had a place in Senegal and we went out there to do some of the writing and work with some of Youssou’s guys who I’ve worked with many times now and they’re fantastic. I didn’t at that point have much in the way of songs developed so it was a little premature but it was interesting because then we went to the mountains in France and went out learning to snowboard at that time. It was interesting comparing the hot environment versus cold environment because my house [in Senegal] didn’t have air conditioning or anything like that so I would sit there sometimes with a towel on my head full of ice cubes, water dribbling. It was incredibly hot and everything in Africa takes about five times as long to get done as you imagine so what is already a slow process was even slower there, even though the musicians and the people were fantastic. France while we were there was great. We would work in the morning, we’d get out on the snow in the afternoon and we’d work in the evening and it was the most efficient, creative period for me even though it sounds a bit of a con. I find too, when I’m on the snow, I cannot think about anything else but ‘stay up and survive’ so it’s really relaxing.
I think some bits [of this record] are personal and some bits are less specific about relationships and more observations on life really. I would say it’s less relationship focused but still quite a personal album.
‘Darkness’ was titled ‘House in the Woods’ and is about fear. For myself and other people it’s the fear that stops you doing things that you could gain an awful lot from. So, I was just looking at that in myself. It feels to me more of a book ends record and looks on the beginning and end of life more than the middle period and so the sort of childhood references in this song. I grew up on this farm near Horsall Common which is where the Martians landed in H.G Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ but it was quite a moody place to play in as a kid and there was this woman who was squatting in the woods in a caravan and you could never tell if it was occupied but we’d heard noises in there from time to time and there was newspaper over all the windows so you couldn’t look in but to our five/six year old imagination she was a witch and very scary. So we always ran very fast when we crossed the path by her caravan.
‘Growing Up’ – My brother in-law died of cancer, my parents are getting a little older I’ve seen a couple of friends die and so death has definitely been more present in the last ten years and it‘s been quite interesting in some ways and I’ve read a bit more about it and so on and I think there’s this sense very often that people seem to retain their 17 year old selves through out life in some way, they may peg it at a different age but I don’t think people feel old internally or very rarely.
‘Sky Blue’ is the oldest track on the record and in fact we had one go at it on the last record and it may have been before then. The original riff is probably fifteen years old but it was something I always liked and felt had good emotion in it and as a teenager I was very influenced by soul and blues and that was my starting point to a lot of music and I think this was definitely an influence on the track. We made it less of a band piece and emptied out the mix and I had the wonderful chance to work with the Blind Boys of Alabama and they’re extraordinary voices, extraordinary people too, but their voices are lived-in and they have a different type of quality to them than young voices. I think its one of my favourite emotional bits on the record.
The rhythm track of ‘No Way Out’ was one of the earliest we began working on and then it had more of a Latin feel. Chris Hughes took it and did this sort of programming thing with it with a thing called ‘Supercollider’ but what it tends to do is break everything up into lots of little pieces and then reassemble them but still very granulated and it has this strange mysterious percussion quality to it. I think throughout I’ve been lucky enough to work with the best drummers in the world and some extraordinary percussionists and that is definitely one of the things that give me pleasure
‘I Grieve’ – One of the things over the years that sort of amazes me is how people use your songs once you’ve said goodbye to them. There was one American comic who came up to me, and I’d always liked his work, and said “you know I think that song ‘Don’t Give Up’ saved my life, I was suicidal and just kept on playing it” and all sorts of other people use that song as an emotional tool really. I started to think, well, if you have songs as emotional tools what do we not really have? There aren’t many songs that deal – I mean there are some but not a lot – that deal with grief properly. So, I thought I would try and deal with a grief song and it starts off with this pretty melancholy loss and then you have a sense that life is coming back in the middle and then at the end a gentle reminder that actually you have lost something you loved. So it was constructed as an emotional tool.
‘The Drop’ has a melody that I had actually proposed for the Dome project but it had been rejected but I always liked it and so I thought I’d do a lyric to it. It’s of the book-ends approach lyrically it’s the tail end that you are looking at there. A parachute drop without knowing where you are going to land!
‘The Barry Williams Show’ is definitely an observation on TV culture and I didn’t realise at the time of choosing the name Barry Williams, which was effectively out of a hat, that there would be various well known Barry Williams; there’s a Welsh Rugby Player and there’s an actor who was in the Brady Bunch in America… and now we’ve got samples [of the track] that have been running on our website and so people are speculating on why I would make references to the Brady Bunch! We are also dealing with the lyrics and whether they are going to get on radio now which is something which hadn’t occurred to me because I don’t think any of the lyrics are things you wouldn’t find in a Sunday newspaper or teenage magazines in some way but it was quite fun writing it.
The mood of ‘My Head Sounds Like That’ was something that I liked and there was a moment in Africa when one of the echo machines jammed and started malfunctioning and I liked the sound of it and so the loop which begins that track is actually from this Delta Lab Echo Unit which was crapping out at the time. I was just thinking about a depressed state but where you have suddenly heightened consciousness of sound a bit like when you are about to throw-up when suddenly smell goes into 3D, if you know what I mean, it becomes a sort of heightened experience and so I was just trying to picture it.
‘More Than This’ came right at the end and I’d started a thing with guitar samples. I was mucking around with guitars and Daniel Lanois left his beautiful Telecaster here. I can’t play guitar to save my life but I can make noises on it. The samples that we were getting I was then manipulating on the keyboard and the first sound that you hear on this track is that sort of thing and the track was built around that. I’d always liked it and in fact it was actually driving through the Italian Alps, again it is one of these scenic detours, and I found this old cassette which had this stuff on it where I’d been playing around with a different groove and that started all to make sense to me at that point.
‘Signal To Noise’ – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was one of the most extraordinary singers of our time and it was very sad for us to lose him and I was very lucky that he worked on this track before he died. It was just such a powerful thing that I was really keen to finish it and make it a centre piece for the record. It was a much starker track that he sang to but I wanted to try it in this string version and I think in a way it is almost filmic. I think they are going to be using the instrumental of this in ‘Gangs of New York’ now but I’m happy with that because it always seemed a large visual song. Working with the strings at the end was a slow process and I spent a week working through it with Will Gregory, who has been doing the Goldfrapp material with Alison, and but is another local Bath person and very talented and it’s the dirtiest I’ve got my hands in the actual string arrangements and that was very satisfying in terms of generating some melodic and harmonic things that were quite clashing in places and then hear them all put together, so that was the other thrill for me on that track.”