Interview: Eugene McGuinness

Interview with Eugene McGuinness

Eugene McGuinness

Introduction

After two years away, touring in Miles Kane’s band, Eugene McGuinness is back with a new solo album and a super-shiny, guitar-pop sound. We quizzed the singer-songwriter about the making of The Invitation to the Voyage, pinching other people’s riffs and his grand plan for world domination.

Questions and answers

Congratulations on the new album Eugene, it’s ridiculously catchy! Did you consciously set out to write a pop album?

Thanks! Yeah, sort of. A couple of years ago, when I was talking to Laurence from Domino, he asked me what I wanted to do next and I said I wanted to do a pop album. He laughed. Actually, I didn’t really know what that meant, I just knew I wanted to make something modern and exciting and unusual.

It’s a lot less guitar-heavy than your debut, and it sounds a lot more confident. How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically?

Well, it’s been about two years [since I released my debut] and I consciously made the decision to take my time and went off or a while, playing in Miles Kane’s band. It’s just a more confident record because I did exactly what I wanted, making something that I was going to get my kicks out of.

Before, I would go and record a few songs and I didn’t really think about the overall identity of the album. Whereas this time it was an entirely personal vision of how I wanted to make a record and I see it as this focused, modern, honest thing. If people are into it as much as I am when they hear it, I see it as a blueprint for future records. I can elaborate on what it hints at.

Second albums can be notoriously tricky. How did you find the experience?

It was a pleasure. I wanted this record to be an amazing, amazing thing, and I knew I could do it and had all the time in the world to write it. So I saw that as a thrill and enjoyed every second, really. I think it would have been very different if [Domino] were like, “Right, you’ve got to have a classic album ready in two months.” I think I would probably have freaked out, lost my hair and become addicted to skittles...

What was it like working with producers Clive Langer and Dan Carey?

Amazing. Clive has worked with Morrissey and Bowie and Elvis Costello… He took me under his wing when all I had written was "Lion", and he saw it as a good song to direct the album. He was brutal with me as well! (Laughs) If I had a bad idea he’d be like, “That’s awful.” Equally, whenever I had a good one he’d be inflating my ego massively. (Laughs) He kept me on my toes! And then Dan was a completely different entity, because he kind of represented the modern shine that I wanted to give the record. I was very lucky to work with them both.

Did you split recording equally between the two of them?

I did most of the record with Clive, in this warehouse just outside of Hoxton. To generalise, Clive was more like a musical director, getting the band in the room. And then Dan would put whatever we recorded through his Willy Wonka machine and made it sound like something else. There were loads of conflicting ideas and I was stood in the middle, in charge of making them work. It could have swung either way: into an old-skool band album or into something that sounded like Kraftwerk.

What were your musical reference points for the album?

I think I just wanted to make a pop album. I mean, I grew up on The Beatles, and I see them as a pop band. And I’m not talking about "Strawberry Fields" or anything, I’m talking about "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "Daytripper", which I was thinking about for "Lion" and "Shotgun". I love those two Iggy Pop albums too, and I was listening to Bowie’s Station To Station a lot. But really, I didn’t want to feel indebted to any band and I don’t feel like I owe anything to any of that lot, really! I mean, I love all that music, but [making the record] was a purely selfish thing.

You sample "Theme From “Peter Gunn”" on "Shotgun", and is it Ravel’s "Bolero" on "Concrete Moon"?! Why choose such recognisable samples?

No, I was just ripping that off. I’m glad you spotted that; you’re the first one to! Actually, I was thinking more "Rhapsody In Blue" but it’s a similar vibe to "Bolero". And yeah, I would have loved to have nicked "Bolero" but it didn’t occur to me, I just ripped it off instead.

With the "…Peter Gunn" riff on "Shotgun", I could either just have written a similar riff that wouldn’t have been as good or I could phone someone up and see if I could just steal it! It was easier that way because it was the exact sound that I wanted and it’s a bit of fun. That element of fun is a big part of what I want to do. It won’t be very satisfying for the chin-strokers, but there you go.

And where did you find your lyrical inspiration?

Writing lyrics is something I do all the time anyway. It’s not even something I enjoy, really; it’s just something that happens wherever I am. So with this record, I’d accumulated two years’ worth of ideas instead of two weeks’ worth and had to throw a lot away. You get a lot of peace of mind from throwing stuff away, even if the stuff’s good, because it means the record’s a bit more streamlined.

I knew as soon as we finished that I was going to call the album The Invitation To The Voyage. It’s weird but I only noticed afterwards that the album’s constantly referring to moving somewhere. And then I realised that when I was recording it we’d only do a couple of days at a time and then I’d be off travelling around with Miles or whatever. I think it’s probably a record to move to. I definitely it wanted to sound good in the car anyway. And the clubs. (Laughs)

‘Lion’ sounds pretty angry! Was it aimed at anyone specifically?

(Laughs) It’s a rock n roll tune, really, with the same sort of frustrations that a rock n roll tune would have. It’s meant to be positive, though! It’s an expression of not being worn like a glove by anybody; not letting anybody step on you. It’s not meant to be some moany, angsty thing, it’s meant to be a bit more triumphant than that. I’ve got no tolerance for moany music. (Laughs) Ok, some of it is a bit angry but it’s meant to have a very happy ending…

Do you have a favourite track?

There’s a tune called "Sugarplum" which I think’s my favourite because it was written so quickly it didn’t even feel like an effort. There’s something about that melody that gets me as well. I wanna do a few more like that tune.

Your videos have been a lot of fun so far; do you enjoy that side of things?

When you first get signed, all you want to do is write and record some tunes, and play some shows. That’s, like, what you dream about. You don’t really think about the music videos but you do have to do them and, really, your two choices are to hate the whole thing and just get something done that you’re never going to look at again, or use it as an excuse to try and make something that’s amazing. So that’s what we do.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s really important, I think. Especially because, growing up, I always buzzed off music videos and those video premieres on Top of the Pops. I remember seeing Oasis’ video for "All Around The World" when I was 11 or something, and it blew my mind. (Laughs) I think I watched it recently and it looked f*cking ridiculous. But you know, it’s an important thing, and I think certain people must still buzz off it.

So what’s the greatest music video ever made?

Sh*t, good question… I really, really love MIA’s "Bad Girls" video. If you look at it on a big screen it’s just out of this world. Actually, I do quite like the Oasis one for "D’you Know What I Mean". (Laughs) It was so over the top, with all those helicopters; I loved that when I was a kid.

You’ll be getting helicopters in for your next video, then…

Yeah, definitely. (Laughs) Twice as many as Oasis, definitely. Twice as big. The ego has landed. (Laughs)

What’s the plan for the rest of 2012?

We’ll be doing some more touring in the summer; a few more support things here and there. I don’t know who I’m going to be supporting... We’re trying to find something that’s perfect but nothing’s really confirmed yet.

Do you get to pick who you want to support or is it suggested to you?

A bit of both really. I’d love to support Primal Scream, but it’s very competitive!

That’s the wrong way round, you should be saying “I want Primal Scream to open for me…”

Oh they definitely will. Give it a year… (Laughs)

You opened for Miles Kane on tour recently, will he be repaying the favour?

Not a chance. (Laughs) He’d be absolutely livid. But yeah, I’ll be working on that as well, definitely.

What’s been the highlight so far for you and what would you like to achieve ultimately?

This Miles tour was really perfect. The last show we did in London was amazing. And travelling round the country and playing, and people knowing my songs in these big venues: it was a bit of a shock. In the short term, I’d like to do a UK tour where I’m headlining. I see it as a step-by-step process. You’ve got to keep your eye on the next thing rather than look at complete world domination.

But that’s the plan, obviously.

Obviously. Listen to the album backwards and you’ll hear the whole plan.

Finally if you had to sum up your sound in one sentence how would you do so?

In one sentence?! Technicolor, melodic, er, sonic juggernaut… bubble… pop… electric… swagger… motorbike.