Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Interview with Chris Difford and Aimee Mann: 1994


This is the second time I was allowed to interview Chris Difford. I had seen Squeeze on their previous tour for the release of Some Fantastic Place. That show was in October 1993 at Lisner Auditorium in D.C. The show was full band with Paul Carrack on keyboards and Pete Thomas (from Elvis Costello's band) on drums. It was a fantastic show. 

So I was surprised to see the band was touring the states again in July 1994.

What I didn't know was that this show was an acoustic show with no drummer. Well, I say "no drummer" but in reality Paul Carrack played both keyboard and drums. He had a snare, cymbal and bass drum with which he kept a rudimentary beat while playing keyboards with his other hand. Incredible.

So of course, I had to see the band again. I bought my ticket for July 7 and decided to see if I could interview the band again. Since I was no longer in college, I improvised. The local alternative station WHFS was the only one that ever played Squeeze. I knew they put out a monthly music magazine so I decided to call them up and see if they would accept a freelance article/interview. 

The person I spoke to said they would be willing to consider anything I submitted, so I didn't waste any time calling Squeeze's record company and telling them I was a freelance writer etc. Now I wasn't exactly lying since I had every intention of writing something up and submitting it. In fact, I did just that, but as far as I know they never used it. Ah, the ups and downs of a freelancer. 

Anyway, when the day of the show arrived, I found myself falling victim to a near-paralyzing migraine. The was compounded by the fact that we were in the middle of a terrible heat wave and my little Toyota Tercel chose that day to conk out. I sucked it up, took my migraine medicine and headed out to Hammerjacks.  

Hammerjacks was an odd venue, by the way. No closed, it was usually reserved for heavy metal and other hard rock acts. I didn't know that, but when I got to the show, more than one person commented on it being an odd choice.

After driving through ridiculous (for a midday) traffic to Baltimore, I spent probably another 30 minutes or so trying to find the location. All I had was a paper map and I wasn't really the best at reading those. After asking several puzzled old men if they could direct me to Hammerjacks, I finally remembered it was near the Camden Yards. Asking that question got me where I wanted to go. 

I was excited to do the interview. I was particularly excited to interview/meet Glenn Tilbrook, since I had interviewed Chris already. Unfortunately, the band's manager told me Glenn had fallen ill and was in his hotel room trying to recover before that evening's show. She went on to say that I would be interviewing both Chris Difford and Aimee Mann. While I knew Aimee was the opening act, I had no idea they had collaborated and were in fact doing most of the Squeeze portion of the show with Aimee as band member. In fact, as it turned out, Aimee only did a handful of songs alone, the rest she did with Squeeze as her backing band during their portion of the show. Awesome!

The bad news was outside of the song Voices Carry, I knew absolutely nothing about Aimee, her music or career post 'Til Tuesday. While the idea of offending her or being rude was horrifying to me, I didn't really have much of a choice. 

Aimee Mann circa 1985.
I made it clear that I hadn't realized Aimee was part of the interview since the record company had said nothing about it. I was assured it would be all right and led back stage to wait. It wasn't long before a woman approached me and said I should follow her to the tour bus. 

It was only as we were walking, that I realized it was Aimee Mann herself escorting me out. She looked nothing like I remembered from the music video. She was incredibly tall, which I didn't expect. Her hair was darker than the bleach blonde look she had before and she had it all pulled back. Oh yeah, she also had glasses. To me, she looked like a grad student earning extra money working for a band for the summer. 

Anyway, I managed to compose myself to tell Aimee that no one told me she would be there, but she seemed unconcerned. We got on the bus and walked past the rest of the band, minus Glenn. 

Aimee was cool in that she actually contributed and helped me do the interview. I think she was (almost) as big of a Squeeze fan as me. I wish I had known her solo work at all because I've since heard a lot of it and am definitely a fan, but sadly I didn't. When the interview was over, I asked her if she would be doing Voices Carry in her set. She kind of teased me for asking, saying it wasn't really an acoustic song. But during her set she said, "A guy asked me backstage if I would do this song, so blame him." We were then treated to a verse and a chorus of the only Aimee Mann song I knew. 

When I told my cousin Steve that Aimee played my request, he said, "Yeah, you and every person she saw between the bus and stage asked the same thing." Bastard! Also, when she came out on stage, she had affected an entirely different look. Her hair was teased out and the glasses were gone. Her I would have recognized. 😀

Anyway, that show is in my top five of all time live concerts I've ever seen. The interview that is below. 

Interview with Chris Difford and Aimee Mann

July 7, 1994

Baltimore, Md.

Craig Moore: Both Squeeze and Aimee Mann's music go beyond mindless pop ... 

Chris Difford: Yeah. 

From L-R: Keith Wilkinson, Pete Thomas,
Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford and Paul Carrack.
Aimee Mann: Do you know why that is Chris? 

Chris: It's an attention to detail in lyrics according to Elvis Costello. He quoted that in a Q Magazine interview two months ago which kind of drew Aimee and I together. 

CM: In 1987, you commented to Musician Magazine that you were envious of the success your drummer Gilson (Lavis) had in turning his life around. 

Chris: Yeah. 

CM: He used to be overweight and had a drinking problem ... 

Chris: That's right. Well, he shaped up his life at that point in time and he'd gone, you're right, from crawling about on the floor to not drinking and not drugging and just being happy with in himself, which is the way that I feel now. I wish I'd done that a long time ago. 

CM: You look about ten years younger. I hope that's not too personal ... 

Chris: No, it's not at all. I mean, I feel good because of that. And I think Gilson was a big influence, but I was too dumb to see it at the time, which is always the case. And now I've got a lot to thank him for, but sadly he's not here to be thanked. 

CM: What happened? 

Chris: Well, Gilson's not in Squeeze anymore. He...We had a kind of falling out a couple years ago, about five years ago which is very sad and totally unnecessary at that point in time. But it's the kind of thing that happens. You know, a band is like a family and it's around a long, long time. And you know like in all families if you don't discuss things, it's quite often that you'll create a growth, a cancerous growth that will explode at some point and somebody's got to be cut away and that was Gilson unfortunately at that point in time. I mean he's doing really well, he's (laughs) I say that he's only ... he's just got through a heart attack. 

CM: Really? 

Chris: Yeah. 

CM: I'd like to talk for a minute about your latest album, Some Fantastic Place, excuse me Aimee we'll get back to songwriting in general in a moment. 

Aimee: Oh, no that's fine. 

CM: I've noticed your songs have taken on a certain introspection and spirituality since the album Play. You even mentioned people walking with you in the garden in the liner notes of Some Fantastic Place

Chris: Yeah. 

CM: Were you meditating, did that bring about the change? 

Chris: Umm, no. What happened was ... Actually the Play album I thought was a very dark album. There was change about around the corner at that point in time. It wasn't until after the Play album that I decided to clean up my act so to speak. So I went off and spent 12 weeks working on myself which I figured was more important than being in a group. And indeed it is more important than being in a group. And you know, I maintain what I've done and try to carry that through. 

CM: It carries over into the music. I do sense a definite lift in this album. There was a song on the EP release of Some Fantastic Place called "Discipline." It wasn't on the album, but it should have been. 

Chris: Oh, yeah. 

CM: Will the rest of the EP material be released on an album? 

Chris: We're putting a B-sides album out in six months and it will be on that. 

CM: The song "Discipline" seems to reflect these recent changes in your life. Was it written during your 12-week hiatus? 

Chris: Uh, I think "Discipline" was written around that time. I can't remember the lyric off the top of my head. I haven't got total recall in that way. But I do remember it was about not having any discipline and that finding discipline was a thing. So, yeah it was probably written around that time and influenced by what happened then. 

CM: There's a world of difference between you first two albums and Argy Bargy

Chris: Yeah. 

CM: It seems that since Babylon and On each album has been a logical progression. I always wonder when I'll burn out on Squeeze, but I suppose your philosophy of writing songs which serve as "mini-films" holds one's interest. 

Aimee: That's so funny that you said that. Because I was just thinking about ... I have this theory about, like Chris and I have a songwriting approach that's sort of a narrative or cinematic, especially Chris. But then I was thinking about "Up the Junction" and I was going to ask him if it was written based on the move Up the Junction. 

Chris: It was written on a flight about a play I saw that was written by the same person who wrote Up the Junction. 

Aimee: Really? 

Chris: A Wednesday play, but it wasn't called "Up the Junction." 

Aimee: There was sort of like a tradition in British film making that you echo in your songwriting. 

Chris: Yeah! 

Aimee: A certain type of narrative ... 

Chris: Well I was brought up on that. I mean the Wednesday play was a thing on television every week that my parents watched and that was something they didn't mind me watching because it was fine, you know? I used to be drawn in by all these half an hour vignettes of people's lives. 

CM: It comes through in your writing. I often find myself what happens to these people when the song ends. 

Aimee: Yeah, absolutely. 

Chris: I did start writing a book about that. 

CM: Really? 

Chris: Yeah. On one page it would have the actual lyric of like, "Up the Junction" and on the next page it would have what happened. 

Aimee: The thing that's interesting about "Up the Junction" is that it's always in the present tense. Every verse is in the present tense, none of it is in the past tense. It's like, "This morning at 4:50" and it's like, "Now I'm sitting in the kitchen" and now I'm sitting here miserable. It's always like every verse is exactly now. It's current which is like, bizarre. I've never heard anybody do that. But it completely works you know, from verse to verse time changes and two years have gone by. It's really interesting. 

Chris: And it's still there. 

Aimee: And it's still in first person, so you're sitting here telling it right now. 

CM: That song marks a turning point for me in the music of Squeeze. It stands out among the other songs on the Cool for Cats album. It begins the Squeeze journey into detailed narratives and painful honesty. In a past interview you mentioned country music as a big influence. 

Chris: Yeah. 

CM: There's a similar honesty in country music. People like Johnny Cash don't pull any punches. You don't either. Has country music effected your writing style? 

Chris: Yeah and it still does. I've just started writing with country people and the influences that they bring to the songs, you know real emotions. Real emotions that happen in real people's lives and I think I draw to that naturally. I really enjoy that kind of story telling. 

CM: I think our radio stations lose out in the United States because everything is so segmented now. When I was growing up, radio stations played every style of music as long as the song was good. Now even rock-and-roll is segregated. In England you don't do that as much. 

Chris: No. There's very little of that. Which is in some respects not so good because country music, for instance, gets half an hour a week on one London radio station. That's it. You can't get it anywhere else. There's no country stations. It doesn't get played on the main Radio One, unless you're Garth Brooks. So you know everything else, which is all of country music does not get played. 

CM: Do you like Garth Brooks? 

Chris: Uh ... I like what he's doing for it, yeah. Country, he's opening it up. I think that's a special thing. 

CM: I like his lyrics, but to me he doesn't represent country music like Johnny Cash. He seems to personify the genre. 

Chris: Yes. And his new album is Redemption. Have you gotten that yet? 

CM: I've heard it, but I didn't buy it yet. 

Chris: Excellent album. 

CM: Do you thing the sales of Some Fantastic Place were hurt by being released the same week as Nirvana's In Utero

Chris: By who? 

CM: Nirvana's In Utero. I think they came out in the same week. Did you feel overshadowed? 

Chris: Well... no I don't think so. I think we have very different fans. 

CM: It's just that alternative rock music stations play both bands. I think they out-hyped you. 

Chris: Well, I think that ... No, it didn't really ... it didn't really mean anything to me. I don't see that at all. I think if anything happened it was probably ... I think we get played whatever else is being played at the time. It's down to how much push you get from your company at any one given time. 

CM: Anthony Burgess said he felt doomed that A Clockwork Orange is continually held up to praise while works he values more are all but forgotten. Do you ever feel that way, because I've seen critics refer to Squeeze as an 80s review band. 

Chris: No. You see if I was to dwell on that, and it's very easy to do that, you know I wouldn't ever want to come out on tour. i'd just say, "Well, sod it if that's what people think!" But I don't think that so I don't let it affect me. 

CM: I think it's an inaccurate observation, but nevertheless I've heard it said. 

Chris: Yeah. No, I've heard it everyday when we're on tour. 

Aimee: I'd like to hear the songs people who say that write. 

CM: Good point. What's next. I understand you both took a break from recording for this mini-tour. 

Chris: No. Both Aimee and Squeeze are writing albums at the present time. 

CM: When can we expect your album Aimee? 

Aimee: I'm going to start recording in September, they're probably going to start recording in November. So my record, with any luck, should be out in February. 

CM: Any special guests? It's you solo now. 

Aimee: Yeah. 

CM: Not 'Til Tuesday. 

Aimee: No. I have a single coming out in England (That's Just What You Are) that's sort of not on any record. It might be on the next record, who knows. But Glenn and Chris sing on it so I would be happy to reprise them as background singers on my record if there's a song that makes sense for it. 

CM: They're a good backing band. When you were backing Paul Carrack on "How Long" it was incredible. 

Chris: Yeah. We did a good version last night. 

CM: You get away with lyrics no one else could pull off. For example, many singers have probably tried to describe the sound of an acidic tongue waggling in someone's head. But you not only articulate it, but you spell it out in the lyric sheet. No self-consciousness at all. 

Aimee: Attention to detail. 

Chris: Attention to detail. We get back to that again. 

Aimee: That's really what it comes down to. 

Chris: The acidic tonguing in the head, I mean... I know who that song was about so it was very easy to write that lyric. 

Aimee: Who was it? 

Chris: I'm not saying. 

Aimee: You can whisper it to me. 

Chris: Some other time. 

Aimee: Whisper it in my ear. 

CM: Glenn told Creem Magazine in 1981 that he felt most people in bands can't write songs. Do you think that's still true? 

Aimee: Yeah. Absolutely. It is for me. I think it's absolutely true, but I'm much more of a fascist than Chris is. Chris cuts people a lot of slack. Chris is a very generous person. 

CM: Who do you listen to? 

Aimee: For me? The Loud Family made the best record in the last five years. 

Chris: I've never heard it. Isn't that sad? 

Aimee: Betty Seveert, Freedy Johnston I think is great. Those are sort of my current favorites. 

CM: How about you, Chris? 

Chris: Um ... Geez. I suppose I'm listening to female singers more than anything I've ever done. Joni Mitchell, Aimee Mann. 

Aimee: I'm also a big Liz Phair fan and I know for a fact Glenn is too. So we can speak for him once. 

Chris: Shawn Colvin ... 

CM: Are you aware of the Squeeze knock-off band called Blue Train? 

Chris: No. 

CM: They're an LA band. They had a single on KROQ. 

Aimee: Is it a tribute band? 

CM: No they're called Blue Train. They had a single called "All I Want." I thought it was Squeeze when I first heard it. 

Aimee: They just sound Squeezey? 

CM: It's that close. Octave vocals, everything. Really amazing. 
Aimee: That's funny. 

CM: I'm being given the hook so I better go. I'm looking forward to the show. Thanks for the time. 

Chris: Thank you. Those were good questions. 

If you want to get an idea about what the show sounded like, check out this recording of the Chicago show from a few days before.

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