Complete Strawberry Switchblade interview by subject
Jill Bryson interviewed 9 June 01
Rose McDowall interviewed 29 Jan 02
Bill Drummond interviewed 26 April 03
David Balfe interviewed 19 May 03
David Motion interviewed 2 Aug 02 & 15 April 03
Robin Millar interviewed 16 Feb 03
Tim Pope interviewed 22 June 06
Recording the album, iii
How quickly was the album done?
DAVID MOTION: I have a very low attention span so I tended to work very quickly on it. We did the album in six or seven weeks, although there was a bit of pootling around at the end with a bit of remixing and that sort of stuff, it was essentially six weeks which was fairly quick at the time.
JILL: It took a while because we had all these stop-starts with other people. We went to lots of different studios, so it seemed like a lot longer than it was. He [David Motion] wanted to try out lots of different studios, which was fine by us. We were 'let's sample the local studios!', so we did a bit here, a bit there.
Did WEA say to spend all that money cos it didn't matter, you were going to be huge?
JILL: Yeah, they were 'whatever'. It wasn't budgetless, you know, and obviously he [Motion] wasn't as expensive as Trevor Horn, and they weren't overgenerous, but it certainly cost. It was great. We went to Chipping Norton to do some of it, a residential studio. I remember taking the cats, Rose had a cat and I had three and we stayed in this studio with cottages that had hessian wallpaper and the cats climbed up it, hanging off like stickle-bricks, one of them was chewing all the dried flowers round the fireplaces. There was tons of gold discs and stuff, the Bay City Rollers had recorded there in the 70s in their heyday. We were 'oh my gosh, this is so weird, it's the English countryside', we'd never been in that before. So we'd do a week there and then a week in some studio in Westbourne Grove then a week in a studio in Finsbury Park. It must've taken about two or three months, all in all.
How much were WEA watching over your shoulder?
DAVID MOTION: Not that much, really. I mean, they'd pop down from time to time. We did a week in [rural residential studio] Chipping Norton and that was fairly close to the end, and I think I might've arranged it like that cos I didn't really want them to come down that much. It was harder for them to do that if we were at Chipping Norton. I think we did a week at Martin Rushent's place as well, at Goring [rural Berkshire]. It wasn't actively to discourage people from coming down, they were welcome whenever. They didn't really come down that much, they were really just listening to the end result and saying 'that's great' or 'no it isn't'.
Was it easy working with David Motion?
JILL: Dead easy.
His work is so prominent on it, was there any kind of difficulty with how much he put in?
JILL: No, because we got on with him.
But you're having to trust him to take these songs that you've been living with for a long time, he comes in and throws these huge sounds on to it all.
JILL: We were kinda gobsmacked a lot of the time, but he always asked us. He wasn't a man that you couldn't approach. We trusted him and we liked him.
Did you and Rose have much input into the arrangement of drums and bass and whatnot?
JILL: No, he did it. He had heard fairly complete recordings of the stuff, and if he wanted to do any major change he spoke to us about it and we sat down and he played us through it.
ROSE: We could say yes and no to things. If we really didn't like something we did have the power of veto. But also, there were so many bloody cooks in the kitchen, d'you know what I mean? At first there was just me, Jill and David Motion, but then Balfe would come along and put his tuppence worth in and Drummond, and then the head of the company. But we did have a lot of control over it in the end actually, about how it was mixed and stuff like that, but if you're having control over something you're not a hundred percent in love with it doesn't mean as much.
DAVID MOTION: We never disagreed in a major way. Occasionally it might be, 'are you sure?,' that kind of thing, but I'd modify it.
Both of them remember it being a very easy very smooth working process.
DAVID MOTION: It was. I never felt as if we were steamrollering them into something they didn't want to do, I never got any sniff of that.
You've said that they were happy with what you'd done to the songs. Were there any of their ideas you didn't go for?
DAVID MOTION: No, not really, because they'd always deliver them as, 'well here are the songs'. It wasn't that it was not under discussion but it was kind of 'see what you can do with it', and that was it. My angle was very much that I was having fun and I'd come in one day and say, well, I feel a bit of Michel LeGrand or something, so - what was that track that David Bedford did, the last track; Being Cold - so with that I just started and thought it could be a really nice Windmills Of Your Mind kind of vibe and it kind of grew from that and sort of seemed to work, and the melodica added to that sort of thing.
Jill says she was actively discouraged by David Bedford from putting a melodica on it.
DAVID MOTION: Oh yeah! But I just thought that added the final touch. I think that's the nice thing, you've got this quiet pro backing and this slightly ramshackle thing on top and that kind of gives it the edge. Going back to the Phil Thornalley things, they're a bit too polished, it might not have been the right song, I don't know, but maybe people sense if it's not quite real enough. I like quirky stuff, and I wasn't trying to thrash the quirkiness out of them, maybe that's why that worked. Those kind of touches really helped, I think.
It was nice to have those little bits of orchestral stuff on as well. I was doing lots of stuff like triggering white noise and tuned noise and stuff like that on 10 James Orr Street. On my version of Who Knows What Love Is, which you can hear on the reprise, it got quite in deep with the sampled brush sounds, stuff like that, each with their own slightly different reverb and positioning, that took quite a while to construct. And then there was this trumpeter Bruce Nockles; I was very keen to have a texture, there was something kind of missing, so I just sent him out and he said 'why not just do some long notes?' and then it was 'yeah that's great, but can you do more different ones?', so there are these clusters and this slightly drifty backing.
The one thing I don't like about that is that the guitars are hardly audible at all. There are guitars on that album believe it or not, but they were mixed so low cos David Motion doesn't like guitars, so low that Jill and I were almost mixed out of the album, apart from vocally. Not all, there are obvious bits where our presence is there, but I think that I would've done things a wee bit different. But it was that 'just give it a chance, give it a chance,' and then the album's finished and you're listening to it, and then what do you say? 'I hate it, we've spent £250,000 and I want to do it again'? We'd just been round all these different studios and that would have really fucked them off.
I was objecting to some of the stuff we were doing, right at the beginning of the recording sessions, thinking, 'hmm I don't think I like the way this is going', and it was all 'keep trying, give it a chance'; acquire a taste for it, basically.
For your own record!
ROSE: Exactly! And I was 'hmm, I still don't like it', and at the end of the day there were so many layers of things on. There were a lot of things I DID like about it, but, you know. But if I'd been recording it myself it would've been very different. I've a recording studio through there now, so what I do, I do it myself so I've got complete control. And that's the way it should be really. I mean, if you write a song you should see it through to the end.
OK, once it's on vinyl or CD it belongs to whoever buys it, that's my opinion anyway. Send your baby off out into the world and people will listen to it and get what they get from it or not, but you've done your bit then and you're happy with it when you send it out, and it's a much better feeling than not being happy with it when you send it out, or being doubtful.
It was so confusing, everything was going so fast, we were off doing this, off doing that, then back recording something else. It was kinda hard to be focussed on 'DO I like this or not?', do you know what I mean? It was really confusing. A lot of pushing and shoving was going on and I think Jill and I were wiped out by the workload we were doing. Especially when we were doing crap stuff, spending the whole bloody day doing a photo session, it was the most boring thing in the world. I didn't mind interviews so much but I hated photo sessions.
DAVID MOTION: I think they did get a little frustrated with the lack of time they had. The cabs would start to arrive later. That was such a record company thing in those days, instead of travelling by tube or any other way it'd always be a cab from home, a cab back. They'd have more marketing meetings and have to go, as it got closer to the end there was more of that which had an impact on our time. Which gave me space to do even more stuff.
DAVID BALFE: What did Rose and Jill say about David Motion?
They both really emphasised how much they liked him and how easy it was working with him. They said they were shocked when they initially heard it and were quite sceptical, but they could veto things and voice their opinions. But still there's a clear feeling of it being a bit too brash and sequencery and a bit less human than they would have liked, and in retrospect they don't think it was the right way to have done the album. There's no guitars!
DAVID BALFE: Well there are some guitars.
But they're very very buried.
DAVID BALFE: Yeah. Both Jill and Rose played very very poorly, very basically, and what they did do a lot of the time was a bit lame when they did it. The problem is that all musicians imagine they way something COULD have been, because they way it could have been was never done or judged. Believe me, I thought that was a far better album than at times preceding it I was expecting the first Strawberry Switchblade album to be. Yeah it's got it's weaknesses, but name me an album that hasn't.
It's still not by any stretch a soulless fabricated pop album, it's not Westlife, there's a lot of darkness and weirdness on it, you can feel the dark underside musically as well as lyrically.
DAVID BALFE: There's idiosyncrasy, Being Cold and songs like that. Often I'd go in there and say 'too strawberry and not enough switchblade', or vice versa. I always wanted it to be an edgy group. But groups are strange things, I've done it a zillion times and it's very hard to get something, everybody involved would always alter the balance slightly, and very often you'd say 'this is the stronger song even though I'd rather that song was the single because it's got a better balance and is more representative of what we want to do, but it's nowhere near as strong a single as this'. We'd end up with stuff that was to some degree... not a compromise, but a best choice at the time.
So I was pleased when we did that [the album], we had very high expectations. The single got to number five even though it took a long time. At that point we were all very excited and all thought everything was going totally fine.