Verve: The Lost Nick McCabe Interview Part 2
I apologize for the long delay. Thanks for you patience...
Nick McCabe Interview Part 2
LYG: What bands are you listening to now?
McCabe: Expensive Shit. I bought this album on recommendation a while back. Do you know the Meters? They're a Seventies band. I remember reading an interview with the drummer of the Meters and hw saw Fela Kuti in '73 and it saved his life. I sat in a taxi two weeks ago and this guy was playing Fela Kuti and I couldn't believe it, I was like, "What is this you're playing?"
LYG: When you guys started playing and recording your stuff, did you discover what musicians you've been influenced by?
McCabe: I went back and did my homework by listening to a lot of older records - it's a research thing. There are a lot of shit records and a few diamonds and it was a quest for that perfect record. I still do it occasionally; one day I'm going to find a perfect record. When I start writing I'd like to make something that I would buy, otherwise the records wouldn't be mine.
I subconsciously find myself nicking all these things - I come back to something that I've done two years ago. I was putting a portfolio together and you can tell what I was listening to at the time. It was probably a bit fuckin' dumb, but at the time I thought I was doing something really original, you know what I mean? I bought stuff with bagpipes all over it. I mean, they're really beautiful tunes but it's like, "Why the fuck did I buy this?"
It's really frustrating because I'm trying to find something and all I find is this stupid shit. I've probably got three hours of music that I'm definitely going to something with. I've got a good couple of hours of music. I've got this gadget- it's the ultimate lazy man's toy. It's this delay unit that's got this a thirty-second delay and I use it on all the ambient stuff that I do.
I got like fifteen minutes worth of this thirty-second loop going around. It's sort of like working with Q-base. You press the pedal, play a little bit, press it again and you stop it. It's like a multi-track recorder on a loop. And then you play a little bit more, you hit the pedal, and stick it on. And because you're in a loop, somehow things start sounding music-wise. I mean, I've got a good two hours worth of that stuff as well. Just sitting there watching Springer on telly with the microphone and a cup of tea. I listened back to it and say, "Wow, this good shit!"
LYG: Five years from now you're going to listen to that and go, "Shit, I can tell I was listening to Jerry Springer when I did that!"
AS: San Francisco was the last [Verve] show I saw, and you weren't there. It was okay, but it was just like they were going to through the motions.
McCabe: I was, actually. Virtually. I told you about me being sampled, didn't I ?
LYG: I didn't know that.
McCabe: Si only told me about it two weeks ago. All those American gigs - the guys playing all the octapads - they sampled all the live guitars. I should get royalties. (laughing) Disgraceful, isn't it?
AS: So they kick you out and they took all your riffs.
McCabe: Well... I went to Si and asked, "How were you guys doin' stuff like Come On?"
AS: Yeah, there's like a million guitars in there. The loops and delays, I can see you doing it, but no one else. Richard, no.
McCabe: He told me, "Yeah, we sampled you." I was like, "What?!" Fuckin' outrageous.
AS: That explains a lot - like how it sounded full without a guitarist up there that could do it. I walked away thinking, "What the hell did they do with Come On?" Everything else sounded flat and dry.
McCabe: Fuckin' disgraceful. Basically, the jamming thing at the end of Come On, it's like [Richard] would go, "Right boys, lets jam!" You know what I mean? It got so corny. It's like, "Fuckin' hell, Sobbo we've done it, we can't go any further - give it a fuckin' rest." So I always ended up doing nonsense, just making it as evil and horrid as I possibly could, because that was the only thing that was going to satisfy me. It's pretty easy to get a big section of me doing all sorts of nonsense, slapping my strings and all kinds of stuff. Basically what I said was, when I wasn't touring-I told you about the beer bottle right?
AS: Yeah, about punching a wall [in 1997 before "reunion" tour was cancelled because of Nick's broken hand].
McCabe: Giving Richard a bit of a slap. (pause) I went home that next day and I told them I'm not going to America for three or four weeks. I'll do all the festivals and the V98 thing...I was being a dick, beady eyes and everything. The V98 thing was good - I mean, they were going to pay us a thousand pounds just for showing up. "Fuck that, I'm there!"
But we had the touring festivals...I was getting acupuncture every day and had fuckin' bottles of vitamins in the fridge. I had a massive fever, and it knocked me down for a couple of days - and that's the only time I've every pulled a gig. Richard has pulled his fair share of gigs. Jazz actually sent for this doctor and told him that I was either schizophrenic or manic-depressive. I had these full-blown tests and they said I was fucked and that's why I pulled.
We had like six festivals to go and I had agreed to do all those, and Richard started to panic - he probably didn't want to see me again because I didn't want to see him. Couldn't face me. That's why I haven't spoken to him since that day.
AS: The summer of '98 right?
McCabe: Right. The last time I spoke to him, I had him against a bathroom wall and he was crying. (pause) I just saw a picture of him and his new Porsche. (laughing)
LYG: It's so easy to fall into what he fell into. You seem to have come out of it staying your own person.
McCabe: I was reading this Brian Eno book - I'm a big Eno fan - he did this diary for a year and on the opening page he's talking about life with his wife. The opening line is, "I have a wonderful life." And I always thought Eno was clear - like, he did his pop star bit, realized it was bullshit and basically he's doing what I'd like to do. Play a little bit on a soundtrack, do some production, play every now and then, put your own album out every now and then. It's just sort of keeping it fresh and diverse. And he goes on holiday in Egypt and plays with Egyptian musicians, and it's like, that is the life. Now if you look at Brian Ferry, it's the complete opposite - he's fucked. He's just got to realize that his situation is bullshit.
I came back to the band with such a fuckin' clear head and such a better attitude about it after reading this book. The benefits of having a big record are that than you have the cards. The reason for getting into a band in the first place is because you wnat to create your own univers and your own life by your terms. Generally what happens is the opposite. All your good intentions...you just let people advise you badly.
So I came back to the band and stopped moaning all the time. I had a laugh when we toured, but a lot of it was fuck-all. I just said, "I'm not touring - we got a big record, sold six million records, we'll tour when we want to." We always to put on special shows as well.
Something really special, you go, "Fuckin' hell, I've had a really good night out!" But we started getting shit for the tour and we'd be like, "We're not ready yet." But they wanted to time it when the singles were coming out. I'm saying we don't need to do that - let's just make it enjoyable for ourselves. Instead, we'd just been bullied into running the treadmill shit.
I find it now that what happens in a day is my prerogative. I decide what happens in a day. And that's one of the most depressing things about before - I'd ring someone up and say, "What are we doing today?" What am I doing with my life today?"
LYG: But now you're doing your own thing.
McCabe: That's why I did it in the first place. That's why I sacked my cushy job...so I could be responsible for my own life.
Holland was bit killer for me because I had this [John Martin] loop reeling in my head. I had the worst two days...John Martin is part of my upbringing - my brother was in jail and he came back with all these John Martin tapes, saying, "He's my hero". My brother's the one that got me into music in the first place. The guy that got him into John Martin was a deep-sea diver on an oilrig. And he'd come back from a day of doing all this deep-sea diving in these insane conditions, and he'd seen people die. He'd come back into the oilrig, have a smoke, and listen to John Martin. And that sort of put it all into perspective for me.
I don't know what he's been up to - I mean, I wanted John Martin to play [Wigan] because it was going to be my day. He's a soul mate of some kind, you know what I mean? It was just...Beck? As much as I like him, it was just a bit fuckin' cookie cutter.
AS: Right - you wanted it to be special because it was your homecoming show.
McCabe: Well, not really...none of us are actually from Wigan.
AS: Verve have always been known as a Wigan band?
McCabe: Well, it's another one of those myths, isn't it? I guess there's some truth to it because the band was formed in Wigan. But no one was born there. We all met in college there.
But for that show, Richard's going on - "Oh, John Martin, you won't get it." And he's right. By the time I got my parts in there it's not really a music fan's record. It just sits nicely next to the Oasis record.
AS: Yeah, a lot of fans were very upset, but you're right - if you take the Haigh Hall crowd, only about 10% of them are real music fans.
McCabe: [Urban Hymns] was just a safe bet for people. I'm not going to say it was bad. I mean, we were good as far as pop goes. But it's pop music. I wanted bands like Oval to be there, have them playing in a different part of the field with all these lights going on. Not fuckin' hippy shit. Just...you know what I mean?
LYG: They don't want it to be open - they want it to be safe like you said.
McCabe: It's coffee table. We're coffee table aren't we? You know what I mean, it's like -
AS: You got your Urban Hymns and your Mariah Carey right there.
McCabe: You might be joking, but that is the case though, isn't it?
AS: I know several people that have Urban Hymns and they've never heard of A Storm In Heaven or Northern Soul. They think Bitter Sweet Symphony is your only song. It's just a shame but it's the truth.
McCabe: That was Si's conception about it in the beginning. Its sounds sort of petty really, saying "Si didn't do this!" He's an integral part of the band, but it was Richard and some other blokes.
I would like a bit of respect instead of being...I mean, I've joked about it in the past - I'm a professional knob head. Most people that know me know what I do. They either love me instantly or they hate me instantly. I don't sort of sit in the middle. So the props that you should get are that what you do at least should have some merit to it.
This and that business... (pause) Ah, it fuckin' doesn't matter. [to Ajay] Just shortly before I started mailing you, I was looking at what people were saying and I wanted people to be interested in what were doing, because I know what I'm doing is better then anything I did with the Verve.
LYG: People don't want that little bubble burst, they want to keep you -
McCabe: That whole bubble is all myth anyway.
AS: Have you read any other press? I was just reading the Q article about "Why the Verve Really Broke Up" and I was like, "Oh my god, how can they print this?"
McCabe: Well, a couple of people told me that what was going to be in that article was a lot more controversial then what came out. There was someone who was investigating Jazz Summers and dug up loads of dirt. And I think someone must've got to him and found out how he operates and that he's a bad man, like.
I was fuckin' gaggin' for that to come out. I went and bought it when it came out. I was waiting to see him topple, but that's not what happened. He's a fuckin' seedy bastard. You know how he managed Wham? Well he still takes his twenty percent from them even though he doesn't do anything for them now.
LYG: So many musicians sign contracts and don't even realize what's in them or that they're going to be locked into it for the rest of their lives...well, even after they're dead because their stuff's still going to be around.
AS: Like people still buying Beatles albums and John Lennon albums.
McCabe: Michael Jackson owns the Beatles stuff - fuckin' bonkers, isn't it?
LYG: Talk about a bastard.
AS: That's so sad.
McCabe: It's horrible - the whole collector mentality - isn't it? That's what record companies are, basically - they collect artists. Patron of the arts, patronizer of the arts. If it does well, it's like "See, I knew!" And if it bombs it's like, "Ahh well, err... It's somebody else's fuckin' project." Dickheads. It's war out there. Like Ireland, everyday.
AS: Were there plans to record after Urban Hymns?
McCabe: It was going to happen, yeah. We had quite a lot of stuff in place already. We stuck a couple tracks in the blender and recycled a couple of others...there were some brilliant things emerging. Lucky Man we did like space rock - we took a section of the strings and sampled it and we just went out in the fuckin' stratosphere. It was like fuckin' ecstatic music, really good.
AS: To me and a lot of fans, when we heard Urban Hymns, we knew that it was just Richard's band anyway but we thought the next album would be much greater because it would be back to what it was before. All you guys would be working from the start. It wasn't just having you do final touches and add another guitar track. so everybody was anticipating the next Verve album until the breakup.
McCabe: I don't think that would ever happen, to be honest. My take on it is - well, I posted it on Deja News the other day. It was a bit late at night and I started this rant on the whole thing. It's the only thing I'ver ever posted there -
"This is what I thought the day he asked me back...".
Everybody in Wigan had heard all this stuff and I hadn't heard anything. People were sort of protecting me from it. But everybody had all the tapes from all the sessions so far. Basically what I was hearing from people was that it was like very song based, almost like a country rock thing. And The Drugs Don't Work was written -
AS: Way back - you guys played it on the '95 tour.
McCabe: Right, for Norther Soul. So I was thinking Bon Jovi, Robbie Williams. And I'll stand by that today - I reckon that's up there with the best Bon Jovi record.
AS: That's not saying a lot.
McCabe: I'm talking about his paranoia. [Richard's] shitting himself because he needs somebody to be either more stressed out then him or to argue with him. So I'm thinkin, "He's got this record here and he thinks it's a big stadium record and it's got to be weirder, get the weird bloke back in. You know, he made all those funny noises and people will think we're crazy and experimental."
So he gets me back and it's some sort of convoluted attempt to inject a bit of creditability in it. Then it's a really weird drugs record instead of a Robbie Williams record. Maybe I'm being a bit hard on the man... But then the record came out and he got all these accolades and slaps on the back and he's like, "Well, what was I worrying about?"
As far as I'm concerned, the day that it went fuckin' platinum, the band was over anyway. He didn't need the safety net of us there, him hiding among us - it's like we're a gang. It's not right. If it's shit, then five people are responsible for shit instead of one person. And now that he's like some fuckin' generational spokesman - he doesn't need to worry about it.
AS: Now he's the great songwriter and all that.
McCabe: That's what I think it is. He doesn't even know what music he likes. I dunno if I'm bitchin' or...fuck, it's got to be said though. He won't stand by anything, you know what I mean? And ...I do. I do and I don't mind getting flack for it. I mean, people disappear at fan parades and I'm not fuckin' for that. I'm lucky really. People I've met recently just sort of synched with me without any vested interest.
I was talking about this with Si the other day...because Virgin's got Richard and he's a golden boy, it's a classic situation that the singer is the profitable one out of the band. If you take the singer, the band collapses, so your best bet is the singer. Really speaking, there was a time where we were the biggest band in Britain. We've been dropped by our management and gone through a ton of shit and I was saying to Si, "Someone should be slapping us on the back and going, 'Step out there, go out and enjoy yourself.'" And I've managed to realize that by myself, as I've sort of put myself back into the frame and meet people that are good. I feel like some of my convictions are paying off.
It's a nice life if you can make it work, you know what I mean? But if you take your hands off the reigns for a minute it can all turn nasty. So as long as you keep your eyes open - it's the Brian Eno thing. He's done it and he's done it with dignity and he's a happy man, I think. He's got a good life.
LYG: The entertainment industry is out of control. Too much business, too much politics.
McCabe: I don't mind that so much, really. The big depressing thing for me is that nobody else really knows. As far as I'm concerned, it's a given.
For me, I'm suprised when people turn out to be nice now and I'm pleasantly surprised quite a lot of times. If you just accept that people are a bit dodgy, then you can appreciate what's good about them. I think things could've been more comfortable if everybody didn't try and shove themselves after they realized that we're in shark-infested waters, but if they'd just accepted the deal and made the best of it. People would be a lot happier now. Instead, people got disappointed.
I started out thinking good of people and the only person I'm disappointed about is Richard, because he was once me friend. I've lost a friend and he's lost all his friends. He's got no mates. Really, no mates. Si Jones fuckin' like saved his life a couple of times. I'm not talking suicide or anything - he's just bailed him out of loads of shit through his life and he's been treated really shadowy.
LYG: This is why I'm cynical.
McCabe: I think it's quite good. If you accept that there's a certain amount of bullshit, then you can be pleasantly surprised. There are good people.
LYG: There are a few. But if you're, pessimistic then you're prepared.
AS: There's stuff in these magazines that mention how hard Northern Soul was to record, like everybody was on E for months and no one would sleep for weeks and everybody went insane. How true was that?
McCabe: It wasn't hard it was just... (pause) Well, I went to a doctor after that. I went and got a dose of Prozac. Newport was just down the road and it was the drug capital of Wales. It's shady. And we were always like...
Speed was like the main thing before that. Ecstasy is pretty good for you - in moderation, though. It's an artificial high and you have a nice time when you're E'ed up, and it stay with you for a couple weeks.
AS: A couple weeks?!
McCabe: No, I mean the memory of the nice time, how nice you felt. It's good and you sort of stockpile all the good memories. But I actually got to the point where I thought I couldn't play well unless I was E'ed up. It was fuckin' scary. We only recorded Wednesday...wait, we recorded everyday but we only every got anything done on Wednesday. I don't know why -
LYG: It was just the magic day.
McCabe: ...first three weeks there was a party every night. It was like being in a club every night - we'd have other people's tunes. Then there were Wednesdays. So It Goes and Stormy Clouds are all Wednesday tunes within the first three weeks. They were like when we were standing up. Then you get into that little dirty sort of state of mind where you don't do anything.
I probably did E once every two months because I was always going somewhere. Then it was just like we were partying and recording. Then, after three weeks, things just started getting a bit sinister. Richard was getting a bit abrasive, too. You don't know when he's straight at all - he's just a righteous twat, anyway. If you're in a bad mood, you generally keep out of people's, way don't you? But when he's in a really good mood and you're not, he's on ya' - "What's fuckin' wrong with you, it's a party!" But if he's in a bad mood, you've got to be in a bad mood too.
And I had a lot of other things going on in my personal life. I just realized, "What am I doing with my life?" You know what I mean? [Richard's] got no respect for anybody. And I can't say anything because I would be spoiling the party. It's a bit sappy when you're in a band with your friends, because when you sign a contract it's going to end a bit messy. To the bitter end, you know what I mean? There aren't many friends in bands that stay friends.
At five o'clock in the morning we've been drinking wine all day, everybody's E'ed up and we've got no work done. Going a little bit psychotic as well. It's not good. It's not good. But the first three weeks were great - it was a party, a party and a half.
LYG: What's your advice to musicians starting bands with their friends?
McCabe: They've got to be taken out of London. London is like, "Choose your addiction!" (laughing) (pause; listens to music on jukebox) I got to put up with this shit every time I go out. This is an ode to me. It's The Drugs Don't Work. I'm convinced the last two albums are about me, think about it - History...
AS: I was glad you played the guitar version on the very first American Urban Hymns tour. Oh man, that was it - that was the definitive version.
McCabe: (sarcastically) You're just saying that to make me feel better!
AS: I was looking forward to it again but you had to wuss out on the American tour. (laughing)
McCabe: It was really weird because we never knew when things were going to finish - we'd look at people and they'd be like...[makes a confused face] I was just playing me guitar. I always felt like we should be doing something really mad. You can imagine what that feels like, when you come to the end of a song...
People were going on about me soaring, but it's me concentrating because I can't really play that well anyway - I have to really think about it. Then I look up and I've been concentrating for five minutes and then it's like, "Oh, uh, maybe I should give this up."
AS: (laughing) "Where are my keyboards?"
McCabe: (laughing) "Where's me knobs?"
AS: A lot of people want to know why you don't jump around.
McCabe: Jump around?
AS: Yeah, like Pete Townsend.
McCabe: I remember someone screaming at me, "DANCE!" I mean, it's like, what the...?
AS: You should've handed the guitar over. I mean, let's see them jump around and do Stormy Clouds.
McCabe: Most bands tha dance around do it because it looks good. They don't do it because they feel like it. Pete Townsend was being injected with speed before doing it. Or Ned's Atomic Dustbin or something.
AS: Ned's Atomic Dustbin has a lot of energy on stage.
McCabe: I dunno...I feel comfortable standing there. I don't see what the big deal is. I remember seeing Billy Corgan when we were both on tour. We were in Oslo and it was the first night of the tour and he must have been having a dilemma about the stage craft or something.... He's doing that "guitar-face" [makes wacky face]...we were right up close and his face was sort of crazy-looking. About halfway through the night, everybody was leering at him anyway because he's a wanker. I never saw him do his guitar face after that.
AS: Is there anybody else that you wanted to tour with when you were still in the band?
McCabe: I wanted to go on tour with Witness when we were buddies. We were good friends for a long time. The guitarist for Witness is shacked up with my ex-girlfriend - you know, the mother of my daughter. Twisted. She always used to come down to the pub that we used to hang out. She thinks he's going the Nick McCabe route.
Me current girlfriend is lovely, though. We've been going out for two years. She's my friend as well - our feelings are mutual.
AS: Didn't she tell you, "Don't do some stupid interview with those kids in California..."
McCabe: (laughing) She did say that, actually. "What, are you mad?!"
(End of interview)