Exclusive Interview | Richard Ashcroft
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KB: Was the experience of recording this album similar to any of your previous records such as United Nations or Keys to the World?
RA: Probably I find some similarities with 'Human Conditions' because that was the last time I worked with the strings arranged of Wil Malone. The thing with this record was that at first, I was going to record it all of it in my cellar downstairs. I was going to make it a little bit more electronic than it turned out being so basically, the difference is that in the early days back in the day with the Verve or my early solo stuff, I could be in a good studio for weeks and weeks experimenting. Now with the change in the industry, it makes you think in different ways. I still want to make records like 'These People' even though the industry is changing; obviously a lot of people are streaming and not many people are buying records. I think it's important to mix technology and real people and there are many great musicians out there. The more we just completely recreate human beings, the less and less there are jobs for those kinds of musicians as well. I call records like 'These People' super records and I call them that because if you take a track like 'Out Of My Body', I think I could have finished that song in the cellar but I still wanted it to be as good as any track on 'Urban Hymns' or 'Human Conditions' or 'Keys to the World'. I still want these songs to have that element of excitement. I wanted people to feel the same. At the same time, It's a very punk record,  very limited, there are a few old synthesizers and drum machines that I was working on and it took me some time not just to learn how to use them but also to find out what they can do. You can hear that in songs like 'Out Of My Body' and 'Ain't the Future So Bright."

You can hear different sounds I'm using on this record that are different from the other ones but I still think it keeps a great line with the other songs that I've written because at some point I will do a collection of my greatest songs and people will be able to see that line from 'History' and 'On Your Own', 'Urban Hymns' songs and onto my solo career. In my opinion, you can find this an unbroken line, you can feel there is one force behind all of those songs. These are really exciting times. It's exciting to play live. I have a great band. I can do it in many different ways. I can do it completely on my own. I can do it acoustically. I can have the full monty.

For instance, at the end of the year, I'm playing with a 22-piece orchestra and the band. But I have also been doing things completely on my own. It's been good really. The main difference in the recording of this record is that it was predominantly started in my cellar and I worked for weeks and weeks there and not in a studio. But then also the realisation in the middle of it that I really wanted to write some songs that really connected with people like my other songs. I think 'These People' is a very anthemic album. There's lots of melody in the record, memorable melodies and it's a record that is right for now. It's timeless but at the same time, it is right for now. There's a lot confusion around the world right now. There is a lot of anxiety and there's not much music out there that really reflects that. A lot of rock music now is very safe.  There isn't enough real reflection on the realities that we face as human beings on this planet right now.

KB: In a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate the reaction to your new solo album?
RA: The reaction from fans has been fantastic. Everyone who has heard it has given it like a 9 out of 10.There's always a certain element of people in my country, who usually are
educated in certain schools and they find it hard for someone like me (a working class person) to educate themselves and to become what I am today: one of the best songwriters in my country, a producer, someone who does his own thing and no one tells him what to do. I didn't even take music at school. I am a self made guy who has been lucky enough to meet some great musicians. I made some great music with the guys in the Verve. Culture has changed now and things move much quicker than they used to and people make the decisions now and they make them very quickly and they recognise and love those songs I recorded in the past and they are now ready for new chapters as a solo artist. I don't get asked much about The Verve these days. People are just excited about what I am doing now. It was good to come back with a nice skinhead and look fresh and different. I think the world is a worse place geopolitically but for music, this is a great time for someone like me. I think the faker and the more unreal the industry gets, the more hungry people are for something that is real. When people come see me play live, I want them to know that it isn't just a musical, a bunch of robots or 2 djs, this is real, this is real emotion. I think people now are really connected to that. People these days want to see artists that they feel are performing in a real way, in a natural way and I've noticed this lately in my concerts when I play songs like 'These People' or 'They Don't Own Me'. It feels those songs have been out for years. The reaction in South America has been really good, too.  It's really exciting to be back, to be making music.

KB: You said recently that you went to see the Stone Roses when you were 16-17 , what did they mean to you and to most people your generation? Is it good to see them back again?
RA: I was only thinking of that today. I was very lucky to be there. The Stone Roses came at a time when me and my group of friends were going to clubs all the time, we were very interested in music and The Stone Roses were like a living, breathing embodiment of the whole history that we were learning. They were a little bit older than us. They had listened to all these records we were listening to and it was their interpretation of this culture. So to go and see them live and to hear all those Byrds influences on John Squire's guitar but at the same time it also felt fresh and original. It was inspiring to see people from similar backgrounds who had real dreams, big dreams. It was really inspiring. It is like when there is a boxer or an athlete from your hometown. It gives you that sense that things can be a little bit more achievable. If you see somebody who seems to come from similar places like you who achieved something in life is really inspiring. It was a really awakening moment for me. I thought 'This is 100 % of what I'm gonna do from now on'. It was like The Byrds when they saw the Beatles. They traded their guitars and bought electric ones and cut their hair. I had that thing of being 16, 17 and growing my hair like The Stone Roses and then just carried on growing and growing it from that period on. What is interesting is that I went to that concert when I was 17 and ten years later I had already put the third Verve album out 'Urban Hymns' at the age of 27. In those ten years, I did a lot.

KB: In an interview I did with Noel Gallagher  for kulbritania, I asked him about collaborating with you and he said he thought it would be a great collaboration because you have a great voice and it would be great to have you sing a few songs? Did the idea of doing something with him ever cross your mind?
RA: I think me and Noel could do something really good but I've said before in England that I also love his brother very much and you don't want to be the guy who is between the brothers and that's what I am like. We are like family really because we have a lot of connections in our past from our music. Liam and I appreciate each other's role as lead singers in bands and losing out and also fame and everything. I have a lot of love for Liam as well. I would be doing something with Noel if I felt Liam was happy in his musical life as well. I am not Noel's and I am not Liam's brother. I am Liam's friend.

KB: However, I must say that he pointed out there was only a problem, he said the fact that you are a United fan may prevent him from recording with you.
RA: Well, I don't like the fact that he has a big City flag in his dressing room anyway. (I can hear Richard laughing)

KB: Speaking of United, I understand that you were an avid footballer, is it true you wanted to play football professionally? Who did you play for?
RA: When I was growing up, I played for my local team. I played for Wigan Athletic. I didn't play to any other level than that really but I feel I can play better now than then. I still can run a little bit. That´s the irony of football at times, sometimes the legs give away when the mind is the sharpest. I guess at the end of the day, I had another mission probably to do with my own insecurities. Sometimes you find that a lot of the footballers have eager parents who take them everywhere like Serena Williams's dad (laughs). And you have to meet the right guy at the right time, know the right people. I did get an opportunity, though to play for Man United at a charity game against Celtic in Glasgow in front of 53,000 people; Roy Keane was playing so I did experience in the end what it was like to play for Manchester United in front of thousands of people.

KB: Some people say these are hard times for music and musicians because labels do not want people who have something to say ...How hard is it for artists like you to put records out there these days?
RA: It's like my opening song in the album where it says 'Don't go looking for your Watergate, they'll exploit you' and it's questioning this whole thing that unless you are following a certain narrative or agenda, you'll be left out of the radio, the TV. What we are left with is only a few artists that dominate the charts and the world musically and neither of them has a radical political view or idea between them. That's the way the system likes it. They don't want people who have a say.

In a way, what I say on 'Bittersweet Symphony' 'You are a slave to money then you die', or 'The Drugs Don't Work' is still the same, the same force, the same battle that has been on since the first day on earth. I think there's a bigger game at play and it's not just about music but about everything. It's about news, journalists, it's about the freedom of speech, the freedom to have an opinion, the freedom to contradict your government, the freedom to say 'NO' because that is corruption, the freedom to come out and tell your people that somebody in high office or in a big company is corrupt and ruining people's lives or whatever. It's the protection of the whistleblower. It's the lies and the utter corruption that leaves people helpless and full of fear. The narrative of terror is pushed down your throat on a day to day basis and division among families because uncle Joe voted for whoever. So in a way, it's like 'let's stop musicians being political people. Let's not do that anymore. There's no more left or right , forget it".

Reality shows like The X Factor, or America's Got Talent or whatever, they've got nothing. I want to know about the kids locked up for doing nothing. The talent is locked up. Young people are locked up. Everything is controlled to a point where it is difficult but it is not that I have an audience that do not understand that. There are millions of people who understand the situation and they are hungry for something whether it is music or words or paintings or movies or books. I think everyone has their duty in their way to be in control of their own script. I made my album. I am in control of my script. No one told me to make my songs two minutes long. No one told me to dress this way. No one told me to take off my gas mask on the cover of my album sleeve.The only thing people can do these days is love each other, be creative, try and beat your demons.

KB: In an interview with John Lydon earlier last month, he told me he felt free and he had a lot of freedom because he finally produced his last records and he pointed out how happy that made him feel because there was no one dictating him what to do.
RA: Well exactly. My album is still in the charts three months later it was released and most albums come in and out now except those ten artists who dominate the music world these days and to compete with them and to represent something that is musically different and also to compete with them on the radio but to be independent is a big victory. I can't say to people 'Join this or that party' but all I can say is 'You can start making some decisions'.

It's good to hear that from John Lydon. I was lucky to play with two of the Sex Pistols on; actually with one of them. We did a thing for Youth and it was amazing to have Cookie play drums on 'The Drugs Don't Work' and 'Bittersweet Symphony', a Sex Pistols playing on those tunes because I might use strings, I might want to produce songs in a certain way but I'm as punk as anyone and that's what it's all about. Punk is a state of mind. Just like being in rock n roll and having that spirit. It's a state of mind and not being frightened of what people may say. It's hard times ... but the more the sheep go one way, and we go the other, there's a huge number of people going the other way. There are a lot people in London who have been savvy enough to create their own scene, be in charge of their destinies, shoot their own videos and they are not being ripped off. These are exciting times and all over the world people are facing different problems.

KB: 'Urban Hymns' came out  in 1997 (almost 20 years ago) and it was incredible in terms of music with great bands topping the charts, do you think we will ever see anything like that again?
RA: Something has radically changed in the business. It's not like when everything was still analog or there was a thing to have or a product to buy. You can look at the industry and compare it to the 60s or to the 80s when CDs came out. I don't think anyone in the industry can understand where everything is going to end up.

For me, I agree with what Thom Yorke said the other day 'I'm concentrating on making a beautiful blue album version, heavy weight pressing, vinyl and CD and just get on with it because there are people out there who still enjoy that. What may not happen again is that alternative thing being successful at the same time again purely because that whole idea has been consumed. What you see as alternative is packaged in a way that will function. They are not like Kurt Cobain, or Oasis or The Verve. These guys these days can be there for a thousand interviews and there'll be no single piece of controversy or one piece of anything really. However, I still believe everything has its cycle and we will reach a cycle soon. I do think we will have a renaissance musically and artistically at some point.

KB: The internet has changed everything ... How would you describe your relationship with the internet and modern technology,social media and all that? What's your favourite social media site?
RA: Well, I didn't have a phone for a few years when I was away from the music business. I started doing IG this year and I'm enjoying it because it is direct to my fans and I can also get pictures and comments. It's great to see how music travels. I saw a lovely picture from a guy in Ecuador getting my vinyl there and just the thought of him putting my record on his turntable in Ecuador and the fact he sent me a photograph was great. The greatest thing about the internet for the past 15 years is that it is a bit of a balance for the world news because prior to that you were subjective to your own countries and political views told by whoever owned the newspapers and their versions of world events. It's also great to have a lot of great freelance journalists out there really putting a lot of work in. Unfortunately, there's a WWW for a lot lunatics but for me, it has offered people an opportunity to voice their opinions on particular things that would have remained in pubs or playgrounds or wherever. The internet was like the wild west a few years ago but today everyone goes through the same search engine.

KB: You said you wanted to bring back the danger of rock n roll, does that mean there is a new album in the pipeline? Maybe 2017?
RA: Yes, that's it! I'm going to be busy regarding releases. Potentially, there's another record coming out.

KB: Last few questions Richard, if you bumped into little Richard down the streets of Wigan, what advice would you him? Is there anything you'd say to him?
RA: I'd say 'Don't worry you are gonna meet a beautiful woman, who's gonna rescue you in the future' that's my wife, Kate' and I would say 'Get over certain insecurities about songwriting and music quicker because sometimes you can give up too much of yourself to make things happen. You start thinking every room is your responsibility.'

In the early days of The Verve, I probably sat back a little bit too much. The second album where I wrote 'History' and 'On Your Own' on my acoustic guitar. I really started writing some amazing songs. The majority of the recording of Urban Hymns I was recording what I thought was my first solo record. I would say then 'Start writing a little bit quicker but don't worry because you've got a beautiful wife, two beautiful sons, life's going to be a bit rocky but it's the same for everyone else but there's more hope than despair."

KB: You just talked about your wife, family  ... What or who is the greatest love of your life Richard?
RA: The greatest love of my life is my wife, my two boys, my mum and my sisters, close family and my animals. After that, all the men and women who have gone out and created things that have helped me on my journey as an artist and all the good people who are in the business who do things without harming anybody. There's a lot to be thankful for every day, every single day. People don't really appreciate it at  times until something terrible happens. Every day is a miracle. For me it is going to be a real pleasure to perform in Argentina because there's been a lot of wait and a lot of people singing the old songs for a long time. The world is there to see it, to play, to enjoy and to share. The great thing about music even beyond football is that you can perform in Glasgow and you can have a Celtic and a Rangers supporter; a catholic and a protestant stood next to each other who would never spend any time together perhaps who don't realise what the background is because the music trascends that and you can see them together at one of my shows.

KB: People have been waiting for you in Argentina for over 20 years now, do you have a message for your fans in Argentina and the rest of South America?
RA: I want to thank all the fans for their support over the years and let them know that they are in my heart. I'm gonna do my best to play a legendary performance in Argentina.

Words: Daniel Rodríguez / Richard Ashcroft

PH: Bazza Mills

Richard Ashcroft Glasgow3