AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANT McLENNAN from Fall 94
by Kevin Carhart
This interview is from right when Horsebreaker Star was about to come out.
Hello Kevin, how're you doing?
Pleased to meet you and talk to you
It's a great thrill.. your songs have really meant a lot to me
Thanks, it's a nice thing to say
This interview is coming on the first rainy day in six months
Well uh, that's kind of nice, isn't it.
Yeah....... you're about to have a new record out [halting, getting rolling..]
How would you characterize what's going on on it?
Um.. well, it's a record made, recorded in Athens Georgia, it's 24 songs, it's the biggest and boldest and warmest and lovingest thing I've done I think... I like it as much as 16 Lovers Lane and Before Hollywood... so that's kind of where I see it, and um, it's just a bunch of songs about footsteps and change and kind of, dirt roads, you know, underneath a sky full of stars. It's called Horsebreaker Star.
Is there anything in particular behind the title?
Yeah, it's just a constellation that I invented. Basically I imagined my own bunch of stars and, I don't know, it just came to me as Horse Breaker Star. And so I hope that all the people were going down that road as well, it would be great. It's a peaceful place, it's a good place.
You know, it just surprises me that more musicians don't bother to use images and things to signify, they don't put them in their lyrics, I mean you, you and Robert Forster just have millions, they're so powerful...
That's a nice thing to say, thanks...
Why do you think more people don't bother to... you say 'dirt roads', and you have 'puppet shows and olive trees',
Well I think obviously, well, they're different, also I think they don't care, they're interested in maybe a smaller thing, I don't know, Robert would say they're just not good songwriters.
I heard from a guy named Richard Kirk [sic] that you and Robert had said that you don't mind a 'genius' tag, being said to be geniuses
Well, once again, not that I want to put the words in the big man's mouth but that sounds more like something Robert would say...
But where, uh, Robert and I are such good friends, I never disagree with him. (chuckles)
The Beggars Banquet woman told me that you just played with Robert in England
Yeah, we were both in London for, kind of, different reasons and we were asked if we'd like to do something, and it seemed like a great thing to do, and so we just did a bunch of Go-Betweens songs, for the first time, uh, it was all Go-Betweens as well, and we recorded it on to ADAT, so hopefully if he and I kind of, like it, haven't listened to it yet, but the show was magnificent so the omens ar good that it should be worthwhile releasing.
As I've said, neither Robert nor i have listened to it yet
I did a tape trade with someone in France who sent me some of the songs from the opening-for-Lloyd-Cole shows,
When your two harmonies were doing "Haven't I Been a Fool", or Baby Stones
Oh right, yeah
It was just incredible
"Baby Stones," yeah I really like the arrangement we did for that, it was good, and yeah it's nice, because "Haven't I Been a Fool" and "Baby Stones" would really, kind of, fit in to the Go-Betweens kind of thing, you know, it was a pleasure having Robert sing on it, and vice versa I guess.
It was sort of the kind of thing, i wondered since 1990 what that kind of thing would be if you were both...... When you were together, what was the collaborative process like?
Mainly before we'd take the songs to the band, we'd sit down and kind of go through them , work out what we wanted to do , and then we'd take them to the band, and sometimes they'd change which is what good bands should do, and if a song needs changing you've got to stay open, and other times, what we'd come up with, everyone, we'd all just naturally drop into it, so it was mainly a period of he and I kind of just going through the songs and that was the first process, the second process was rehearsing with the band, and the third process was undoing all the good work with the recording.
Heh, because, there can only be, er, one take?
Er, well, er, the way we recorded mostly was we just played the songs, we never went in for a lot of that digital
Well obviously some overdubbing,
But the actual performance we'd pretty much, play it
Were the individual songs written by one or the other of you?
In most cases, yeah
Uh huh.. on the 78-90 compilation, you have the little notes
Yeah, you know, there it was collaborative in that first stage, where I'd suggest something and Robert'd suggest something, we'd get a bunch of songs together and then we'd take them to the band. But there's a few things that we actually sat down and wrote together, but it was mainly, you know, I'd write something and Robert would write something and then we'd kind of come together on it
Let's see, the new record is going to have distribution by Atlantic, are you looking forward to..
I think its actually going to be on Atlantic
Oh, uh huh!
And as far as i know, it's great, I've always wanted to be on the label Roberta Flack was on
Ha ha, yeh, just lately I've been more impressed with Atlantic [I'm thinking Daniel Johnston, Dillon Fence, Frente...]
Yeah, well, Liz Phair's record coming out, the Lemonheads, they're good, there's some really good stuff on Atlantic, it's a cool label.
Do you think large scale audiences, mass culture is incompatible with something so ....
Um, it probably is, but peoples' ears are more open these days, something like REM, is very... Out of Time is a very intimate, individual record, so you know, it often comes down to luck, it's possible, I think the odds are more in favor of immediately grabbable music, like in film as well, like in TV..
I heard a rumor at one point that you were working on a screenplay
Yeah, Robert and I are writing a screenplay for a kind of modern comedy and its going really well and we hope to finish it over our summer.
Wow, thats very exciting
Yeah! Well we're very excited about it, we're kind of cracking ourselves up with jokes, so its good
Do you have any plans to work on songs together?
Well we've done some recording together but that's for us, thats for us, and obviously the temptation would be when the film or if the film [...] we'd know the songs, so it might be we could do something for that, but at the moment, there's no studio time booked.
Um there's a lot of, since you do get into imagery and specific things so often, and so much of music that I find kind of disappointing always stays with the elemental, sticks with the weather, or doesn't bother with nouns, adjectives and _things_, I wonder if there would be anything behind some of the songs that would be interesting to elaborate? Or would that be spoiling it, to ask about...?
I'm not kind of, dodging the question, but with what you've been talking about I think you can see that that's what gives the songs hopefully that sort of, power and feeling you're talking about, so to kind of try and put down in a more prosaic language I think would in some ways detract from it because what _you_ get out of a song is after all the most important thing, and, um, the intent that I have is more a kind of personal thing, and I'm trying to put that language down as simply and as right as possible, so for me to kind of try and explain it, it'd be superfluous, and also I don't think I could really use the language as well as I've done in the songs. To me, like I don't care if some of my favorite songs, if the writer intended it to be about something else, to me it's just a real personal, exhilarating thing to find something that you really dig and that really moves you, so I think it's better to kind of leave it... It's a mystical thing, you can't explain it.
Absolutely,... it could be a mistake to get the definitive word...
Yeah! Most of the songs in the world are already like that, so the ones that we like, the ones that are good, let's leave them alone, lets just kind of throw a light over all the other crap...
I'll be reading a description of a song being played, the bass or something, and I hadn't even thought of it in terms of people standing in a room with guitars, it was just that sound, it just picks up and
The sound and the words work together
Um.. who are your musicans these days?
Well, the people on Horse Breaker Star were just local, kind of, Athens players, they're mainly jazz players, the drummer and the bass player were, and Syd Straw sang a lot of the songs with me. It was a loose kind of, live, warm period. It was great.
Was there an American country kind of....
On some songs, yeah, on some of the more country things, but ... it's a lot of songs so, like I've always liked country, there are a few country songs, and where better to play country than in America? So I... its's not, kind of, Nashville country, it's more Austin country, Guy Clark
Um, sometimes it seems to be that people with supremacy for classic rock don't look to today, they don't believe anything written after...
Oh, well I know, some people think that, but I disagree with that, because while the form might be very familiar, there's always great people going to come up and make it their own, so to think that nothing could be written post 1956 or 1966 to me is like really depressing, and shows a really narrow mind and lack of imagination
Do you think it's cyclical that, a couple of decades ago, the Beatles or Bob Dylan were popular and now such wonderful stuff is still around but relatively unpopular?
Well, well but I mean also times have changed, I mean the world's now a very much less naive world, so I mean the reason Beatles, Presley, Dylan, the reason they were so monumental at the time was it was a lot more innocent,
And because of the power of that, consequently now it's harder for some people to do things, cos you know, Presley, Little Richard, Beatles, Dylan have done it, you know what I mean, but there's fantastic things around at the moment, and who knows, in 20 years time people'll be asking questions about Luscious Jackson or something. Who knows, you just don't know.
Who are some of your favorites these days, the only people i would really rank with you, with the Go-Betweens would be Andy Partridge, XTC
Right um.. well I like Teenage Fanclub, I like James, that album Laid, I think that's a good album, I like Kate Bush's
Most recent album Red Shoes, I think that's beautiful
Yeah, I was trying to think , I thought maybe you, XTC, Kate Bush and maybe Prefab Sprout
Yeah, Prefab Sprout, I don't know what Paddy's up to these days, but....... I like Luscious Jackson, I think they're good, .. I like, who else, there's lots of good, I really liked Nirvana's records, obviously I haven't heard the new REM, but I loved Out of Time, most of the things they've done... Liz Phair's first record I really liked
Anything particular coming out of Australia?
Yeah .. me.. me and Robert! [I laugh] You know, lots of good stuff down there, I don't really want to name any in case... Ed Kuepper's always been good... and he's got a new record out... stuff that's more kind of recent, it might be embarassing if I name some and don't name others, you know?
But there's a very good band called Magic Dirt
Do you consider yourself in a tradition of Dylan?
No, I can see we do a lot of the same things, but then so do a lot of those people I just named, hopefully try and write good songs wtih words that do something, write a song that does something, with words that do something, a melody that hopefully makes you feel... something, and play it as directly as possible. Dylan's just one of the people who have done it very well
You, and the Go-Betweens, never tended to write about politics, and social relevance
... _I'm_ certainly more in favor of just a space... with something going on, but how would you characterize the
Well, you've just answered your own question. .. I think I'm better at doing what I do, there's other people that feel the need to do that, and they can do it better than I can, I'm interested in the more interior, kind of, monologue, I'm interested in little details, in the way I react to the world, and I think thats kind of, political as well, the people in our songs and the way they react, I think it's very clear what their politics are, and I just don't feel I've got any goddamn answers, you know
So I don't feel it'd come across terribly successfully.
There's a few things I've always been curious about
Um, you did something on el records? On the King of Luxembourg's album?
Yeah, he was just sort of a friend of ours, he did some singing on Tallulah, some of us just returned a favor, I actually saw the King recently.
Were you playing all over a record?
No no no, I think Robert and Lindy played on a version of Lee Remick, but apart from that I.. I certainy didn't and I can't really recall, but that's something you'd have to ask Robert, he'd have more of a memory
There have been a few covers of you guys recently, Wedding Present covered Cattle and Cane, Nothing Painted Blue covered I Need Two Heads
Or was it Rock and Roll Friend?
Oh that's right, thats right!
I only found that out today...
Well that's kind of interesting...
Its strange, that band She Never Blinks or something, a New York band, did Dusty in Here,
A very nice version of it
Another beautiful song
That's another one I really like
This interview appeared in the Daily Nexus and then in Taperís
Quarterly with a few edits and Soldau-isms.