Nick McCabe: A tribute in principles
Finding much of anything on Nick in the internet age is difficult, so I feel blessed to have found anything at all these last years. The importance of Nick McCabe cannot be understated. Where he is at now in life is hard to say, but back then he had principles that are unique and should play a influential role. His criticisms of the Verve's own music, in others' music, and his adherence to his principles are what make Nick McCabe, well, Nick McCabe. With the abundance of say the unoriginal sequel craze sweeping Hollywood productions, I can say for at least a brief moment that it has been wholly satisfying to hear McCabe's comments. I see a kindred soul who just wants to live a merry life of drink and good times. At the same time without his grounded principles A Storm In Heaven never could have been created. So this is to honor him, because frankly I don't think Nick would himself accept his importance.
The quotes themselves below are the one's I feel are key. They should speak for themselves. However, I might add some thought to give it a little more context.
McCabe Interview, Part 1
-- No, I don't even like guitars! I like synthesizers. I got my first one when I was fourteen and I liked it..then I picked up a guitar. I tried to do it my own style, just wanting to make the guitar sound more like a synthesizer.
This is an excellent one because the entire idea behind the Verve sound could have never been created with traditional guitars. OK, obvious. But one of the unique things about Nick's talent was his ability to create volumes of sound with his effects without ever really picking up the tempo of the guitar chords.
-- Urban Hymns was filled with ballads and I'm not into ballads.
This one might seem strange to some since everyone loves ballads. They've existed forever. Yet McCabe doesn't like them. That is a GOOD thing. Just to hear someone say that is refreshing. It means something new might be achieved. Songs like Where the Geese Go, although technically still a "ballad", is unique amongst the genre of ballads.
-- The key to music is create like a child and edit like a scientist. I've been liveing my life to that! You have your fun and then you apply hindsight to it.
Speaks for itself.
-- I never really liked strings in your song to make it sound posh. I don't like posh records. I like what strings do, but I don't like what they say. You know, "We got strings now, we're big".
He's right on the money. It's what I loathe about classical music and the general class status it receives.
-- Yeah, the albums just missed...We took a left turn somewhere.
Again, I agree. What the "somewhere" is is that the Verve sound was overly musaic, I think that's the term. Where many of the Verve songs kind of are sluggish or have a feeling of standing still. I say this with hesitation though as to not overlook an important point: No matter what flaws ASIH has (it is IMO one of the worst pieces of engineering), there's no experience quite like the 'beauty & power' balance on that album. Or the cathartic relationship between Richard and Nick captured on ANS. (I liked how one review described the turbulent relationship between Liam & Noel Gallagher as 'trivial' compared to the scope of ANS.)
-- You know that sound on Stormy Clouds - the sort of whiny high-pitched stuff? I only found out a little while ago that that's an Eventide harmonizer. Problem is that it's an Eventide cliche. Like, fuck that!
Funny stuff. After Drive You Home, ANS does take a detour for the worse IMO. I think Stormy Clouds is probably the best amongst those later tracks (though inferior to the early tracks due to its musaicness). I like the Reprise fairly well too, but the other two really hurt the album, No Knock On My Door is one of them.
-- It got to the point to where he would come out and start fiddling with my amp. I'd wait for him to turn his back and then I'd put it back.
This is his funniest quote. It's about producer John Leckie during the recording of ASIH. And I think Nick's right: His guitars seem to sound right for the most part. They don't seem to be too high or too low, if that's what I think he's going by. I don't really understand amps, and I'm not a gambling man on this one. I'll take the sound as it is and be thankful Nick changed them back.
-- The Roses is just a brilliant band anyways so you can't really go wrong with them, except that one chorus where everything is bullshit.
There's kind of this aura amongst Roses fans that seems the band can do no wrong, so it's kinda nice to hear Nick criticise them if just to get some personal satisfaction on my part. I think he's talking about the s/t album, but I'm not sure. The addition of Fool's Gold on the American version was a mistake as it's one of the most repetitive dance tracks. I Am the Resurrection doesn't really get going till the halway point, so it's 'half-classic'. The thing that's always bothered me about the s/t is that the really great songs are so great that it leaves the album feeling a little uneven compared to the other songs even though nearly all of those are in the excellent range.
-- It turned out to be a good record. What were we, twenty? I was twenty; I'm the oldest. It could've been better, and I knew that at the time.
This is his comment on ASIH, and it's an important one because some fans of the album tend to think it's perfect in every way when in reality it's the best thing available currently produced by human.
McCabe Interview, Part 2
-- 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.
-- 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.
Is it really fair to blame Richard for everything at this point? The Verve never should have went "singer/songwriter" on us starting with ANS. I guess it was inevitable, but the more ethereal aspects should have remained dominant. On Forth...well at least they did give us Valium Skies, possibly their most emotionally satisfying ballad/ode.
-- 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?"
-- 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.
-- [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've never understood UH fans who claim this is the Verve's best record. It's a pop record with clear intentions. I wonder if these people have ever heard pre-1997 Verve. Kind of insulting in a way if you ask me.
-- because I know what I'm doing is better then anything I did with the Verve.
Contrast that with say Noel Gallagher, and he believes he can never do better than Definitely Maybe. It kinda explains why Oasis haven't put out a solid album in over a decade, and certainly at minimum seem to be taking their time about getting it together, if they ever will...
-- 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 that 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.
An Appreciation of Nick McCabe
-- 'It's all about sound,' he continued. 'I think guitar players who strive for technical excellence have lost the plot really. The whole point of the electric guitar started when Charlie Christian plugged his guitar into an amplifier to make it sound like a saxophone or whatever and if I can press some button in the studio to make my guitar come up with a new sound then what's so bad about that? It's like the whole idea that techno isn't "proper" music 'cos they can't play instruments is so short-sighted. That's surely where new music comes from.'
-- 'Listen to (The Stone Roses') John Squire on The Second Coming and you can almost hear the taste barriers go up. He's become too obsessed with this idea of what a good guitar player should sound like. He's lost the plot really, hasn't he?'