Thursday, October 6, 2016

Interview with Chris Difford – 1988

On two separate occasions, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my musical idols, Chris Difford of Squeeze. The story below is how the first one came about. The interview follows the story.

Squeeze was a British rock band that had their biggest success in the early 80s, though by 1988 they were having a comeback of sorts. I was a huge fan and always wanted to meet the band.

A couple of years before, I dated a woman who had pretty much met every musician she ever wanted to meet. She told me the key to it was never taking no for an answer. I should mention here that she turned out to be a bit of a stalker, which explains her success in meeting people who didn't really want to meet her. Nevertheless, she emboldened me and thinking of her words, I decided to try and interview Squeeze for my college newspaper.

The biggest snag of course, was that I didn't actually work for our college newspaper. Nor did I know anyone who was on the staff. Still, I figured that would be a minor detail that I could work out later.

I called A&M Records in New York and I told the publicity person I was interested in doing an interview with the band for Brigham Young University's Daily Universe. Note my brilliance in not claiming to actually work for the newspaper. (O.K., not necessarily brilliance. I was just worried they'd call the editor and verify my lack of credentials.)

To my surprise, delight and relief, they did no such thing. Instead, the person on the phone started looking at schedules for an interview. I guess since it was a college newspaper, they assumed it would be a good place to promote the new Squeeze album and tour.

Unfortunately, the idea of a face-to-face interview was quashed right away. She never said why, but I know now it was because they were going to be shooting a video for a new single from the album up in Park City:

Instead, the publicist recommended I do the interview in advance via telephone. That way, we could publish on the day of concert. This would help to promote the new album and the local concert at the same time. I readily agreed and was given information about when and where to call. I was going to be interviewing Chris Difford from the band.

I think it's important to point out again that I didn't work for the school newspaper. Not even a little bit. But drawing inspiration from my stalker ex-girlfriend, I told the publicist that would work perfectly.

So armed with that information, I called the school newspaper and told them I had arranged an interview with a member of Squeeze. I explained that the band would actually be in town and that they requested that the article be published on March 2, 1988. 

To my astonishment, the editor thought this sounded like a great idea and agreed immediately. Now, I knew it was still possible that they wouldn't publish it, but I figured if that happened and I got any static for it, I would explain that it got bumped for something more pressing. I wasn't aware at the time how desperate for relevant content many newspapers can be. I guess the editor of the Universe also saw the appeal a band story would have for the paper's audience.

On a snowy day a few weeks before the show, I called up Chris Difford at his hotel. I had to use a code name which I guess all of the members of the band used when they toured. That way, they wouldn't be pestered by fans. Chris' code name was "Terrance Bag." I thought that sounded Dickensian, though that was probably because I'd never actually read any Dickens. 

The interview as it appeared in print is below:

Squeeze in 1988. Clockwise from the top, L-R: Keith Wilkinson,
Gilson Lavis, Jools Holland, Andy Metcalfe, Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook.

Originally published in The Daily Universe  

Brigham Young University  

March 2, 1988 

As a band, Squeeze has had it's ups and downs. Emerging from obscurity as an English pub band, Squeeze released their first album, U.K. Squeeze, in 1978. A succession of high-quality pop albums followed. Despite an international following and critical acclaim, Squeeze has remained something of a cult band with a very loyal following. Their latest release, Babylon and On, may be the album to provide the group with the type of success they so richly deserve. I spoke with the band's lyricist and rhythm guitarist, Chris Difford about the band's current tour and future plans. 

Craig Moore: First off, I'd like to congratulate you on the success of Babylon and On. Many critics are calling it a masterpiece. Do you feel it lives up to that? 

Chris: No, I think it's more of a seed for a beginning rather than a masterpiece I would have thought. Hmm, that's quite something to live up to, being called a masterpiece. 

Squeeze in 1986.
CM: Critics have contrasted the pared down instrumentation of this album with what was considered to be the overproduction in Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. I've also read interviews with you where you and other Squeeze members spoke negatively about Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti and the previous album, Sweets From A Stranger. Is there a reason? 

Chris: Well, there are certain aspects of each album that I really do like actually. But because the technology of production has moved on, you can look back at Sweets From A Stranger and say, well we didn't make the most of what was available to us at that particular time. 

Although there are some very powerful songs on it –– "When the Hangover Strikes" is probably one of my favorite songs that was written. "Black Coffee in Bed", "His House, Her Home" are also favorite songs of mine. So that's what I think of Sweets From A Stranger. I think it was something we really didn't get to grips with. With the Cosi album it was the other way. I think we had too much technology and really couldn't see the forest for the trees. We couldn't get a hold of the roots of the song and bring the song out. We spent too much time programming and working on intricate arrangements and I spent far too much time penciling lyrics together. 

CM: Do you feel like you have been able to overcome labels like 'the new Lennon & McCartney' or 'the new Gilbert & Sullivan?' 

Chris: Yeah. Oh yeah, I don't think we're in that sort of league anymore. I don't think we have to be put along side writers like that anymore. I think we stand on our own ground. 

CM: There's a great song on Babylon And On called "Striking Matches." Are there any plans to release it as a single? 

Chris: Yes, in fact we've just been discussing it and it will be a single. "Footprints" is the next single from the album and then "Striking Matches" will follow that. 

CM: There was an episode of "The Young Ones" where you and Jools (Holland) were singing the Dylan song, "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Have you considered covering any other songs? 

Chris: We thought about doing a version of a song called "Faron Young" by a group called Prefab Sprout, but because we have such a large catalogue of songs of our own we've found it hard to fit cover songs in. We do do one cover at the moment, which is a Ray Charles and Quincy Jones song called "In The Heat of The Night." 

CM: Who are your biggest influences? 

Chris: I listened to The Small Faces, The Who, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones when I was younger, and I've quite a varied taste really. These days, I listen to Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Willie Nelson ... 

CM: The video for "Hourglass" was really mind blowing. 

Chris: I wish I hadn't been there when it was being made actually. 

CM: Why is that? 

Chris: Because you know how all of the tricks are done so when you see it, it's not quite as electric as it is for other people. 

CM: Adrian Edmondson (Vivian from "The Young Ones") produced the videos for "Hourglass" and "853-5937." Are they the first he's done? 

Chris: I think we were the first. I don't think he does it that often. 

CM: Is he fun to work with? 

Chris: Yeah he's very...he's actually not a laugh-a-minute sort of person actually. He's not one of those sort of people. He's more...You know he sits and works things out and tries to put as much of his knowledge of the business into what he's doing without trying to be really funny. 

CM: Did you have anything to do with Paul Carrack's new album (One Good Reason)? 

Chris: Yeah, I wrote "One Good Reason" which is the next single from the Paul Carrack album. 

CM: How is it that Paul Carrack has so many hits? Everything he does seems to be charmed. 

Chris: I think it's always, for me, down to the singer and the song. And if you've got a good singer like Paul Carrack then you're halfway there. 

CM: Squeeze has a huge following, yet retains the status of a 'cult band.' U2 and REM were like that until a year or so ago, U2 especially. It seems that only a select group of people listened to them until Joshua Tree. Now every yuppie who buys those Bruce Hornsby albums has a copy of Joshua Tree beside it. REM is getting more press and air play now. Are you looking to make that sort of jump? 

Chris: I don't think you try to do anything other than what you are at the particular time. If suddenly everybody went out and bought Babylon And On and it was next to Joshua Tree and Bruce Hornsby and the Range then I wouldn't complain about it. At the same time, I don't think that we would lose the kind of appeal that we have as a live band, and that's really what's important to us. 

CM: Does that kind of success scare you? 

Chris: No, it doesn't at all. I know that could be handled quite easily. I mean we've been touring and making records for 10 years as a kind of 'cult band' if you like, in America and I just take each day at a time and not really worry or get confused by the possibility of selling millions of albums. 

CM: You've played both smaller venues and huge stadiums, do you have a preference? 

Chris: I don't prefer one to the other. I appreciate both of them I think there's good and bad in both large and small. 

CM: Is there a chance of a live album coming from this tour? 

Chris: We've just been discussing that as well, funnily enough and there's...we were going to do one I think on this next tour in July, but I think we've decided to go ahead and make another studio album first and then do a full-blown live album to follow that. 

CM: I've been lucky enough to have seen Squeeze previously and I wished that my non-Squeeze fan friends could be there, because then they'd get what I've been talking about all of these years. Is Squeeze a band that has to be seen live to be fully appreciated? 

Chris: Yes. I think seeing the band live is of the utmost importance. 

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