An Interview With Paul Draper (Part the First)

It was a somewhat sunny afternoon in late September when I sat down with Paul Draper at an undisclosed location (i.e. a pub) somewhere deep in the well-heeled, flyover London suburbs. Draper, fresh off a successful short run of live dates in support of his solo record and a birthday just a couple days earlier, was in fine form. He's come a long way since his days at the helm of captivating anti-Britpop band Mansun, a too-brief ride that hit critical highs (and lows) and ended with a rather acrimonious split. Draper's return to performing his own material has made many people (yours truly included) pretty happy. Incredibly entertaining company, Paul had plenty to say about his spooky good solo debut Spooky Action, touring, mistaken identity, and even more, in his endearingly snarky way.

What follows is the first part of our chat. Check out part two and part three when you're done! And while you're at it, put on Spooky Action

Fuzzy Logic: How does it feel to have finally shared Spooky Action with the world?
Paul Draper: Well you know, obviously the main thing is trying to avoid all the bad reviews. Some bloke thought it was the new Hanson album, he still gave it a 3 out of 10. He thought we’d gone all a bit prog rock.

I once did an interview with a bloke in Italy who interviewed me and thought I was the singer from Embrace. I didn’t even know he didn’t know who I was, and he kept saying to me “how’s your brother?’ and it was just like what are you talking about? And in the end it was like hang on mate, who’s my brother, and he’s like “oh, I’m sorry,” and he just put the phone down and went off and that was it. I think he still printed the interview…as an Embrace interview, you know.

FL: Oh shit. You’re not in Embrace?
PD: No, no. I would like to be one day. It’s my ambition.

FL: Are they still…?
PD: Oh yeah, massive. Got their own Embrace Fest every year. They hire a yacht or something and travel around the Isle of Skye. That’s what you do. It’s got to make money now. Everyone’s after it. Gary Numan, Marillion, Whitesnake…

So yeah, that was the main thing, just to avoid bad reviews, which we pretty much did, and then see if anyone would buy it, so a few people did. I don’t know what to make of it really, I’m not consumed by it all like I was before. But maybe that makes the music not as good. You have to be a bit of an obsessive nutter to make good music really. It depends how many chords you know, doesn’t it really? I don’t know that many.

But yeah, it feels ok. I didn’t think we’d get this far, to be honest. I ran a studio in Acton for ten years, and record companies kept turning up and saying “do a solo album” and I didn’t think I ever had it in me anymore, but eventually you run out of money and think fuck, “gotta pay the bills,” and so we’re here.

FL: I did read that originally there was a longer title for Spooky Action. Why did you shorten it?
PD: Well I just wrote down the phrase “spooky action at a distance” when I read it somewhere, from Einstein, and then someone said to me, “there’s another album called Spooky Action at A Distance,” so I said well just call it Spooky Action then. When I left Mansun, I was gonna make a solo album, and I’d said to people, “oh it’s gonna be called Spooky Action,” so I couldn’t change it, so I changed it to Spooky Action and someone messaged me and said, “there’s someone else got an album called Spooky Action.” The only place I had left to go was either to call it Spooky or Spooky Action At A. In the end we were trying to say should we call it Spooky Action (At A Distance), and in the end it was just just call it Spooky Action. Some guy out of Rammstein or something, I don’t know. It was like, I had my Spooky Action first, and I couldn’t get out of it.

But that’s where it came from, really. I don’t know anything about nuclear physics. I just read it in a book. To make myself sound, you know, like intellectual.

FL: Totally works.
PD: Really works, yeah.

FL: You throw Einstein into anything…
PD: Exactly, yeah. I’m just searching Stephen Hawking catchphrases at the minute for the next album.

FL: You should go older. Ancient Greece.
PD: I’ll find something that makes me look more important than I really am.

FL: The more obscure the better.
PD: Exactly, yeah, that’s why there’s about fifty million albums called Spooky Action, cuz they’re all trying to make themselves look really important. But then it becomes weird because all these Spooky Action albums are all connected over distance by subatomic level…

FL: I see what you did there.
PD: I’m not as thick as I look.

But yeah, I literally read it yonks and yonks ago, and I had a shortlist of album titles, and I just suggested it to a few people…but it was years ago. I couldn’t get out of it. If it was now I would have called it something like London Aquilo or you know, something modern. I don’t know. But yeah, so it sort of stuck really. But then, people ask me that question and I say like, “oh, well it’s to do with the music being connected over space and time in a never-ending gravitational wave bending towards the past with the connection of Mansun and now.” But that’s just a crock of shit, isn’t it? You’re laughing but it is. Musicians are just full of shit. The whole fucking lot of them.

FL: From what I understand, most of this record was put together so long ago, what did you end up tinkering with/tweaking, is there anything in there that maybe wasn’t in the original group of songs?
PD: Oh yeah, a lot of it. Most of it. The best way I can probably describe it is…there’s a three-CD box set that they’ve got on, and they’ve got an outtakes CD on it. In the outtakes is like a couple of demos of the tracks. They were just literally just little ideas that I throw down in an hour, terrible recording quality, just little home demos with me on a drum machine, and that’s where they started. So like “Don’t You Wait,” I didn’t even change the lyrics or anything, that was intact and we just played it as a band. “Grey House,” that was all there and intact as a demo but without lyrics on the verses. “Can’t Get Fairer Than That” was all done but sounded like George Michael. Nothing wrong with sounding like George Michael, I just don’t want to sound like George Michael. But you know, I can’t help it sometimes. But yeah, that was dormant again, that was demoed very close to the original thing. In the end we ended up taking two sections out of that song, but on the outtakes CD you can hear the two sections that are in it and it’s like proper George Michael. They’ve sold out of all the box sets, bit of a disaster really. Cuz we were like number 5 in the mid-week charts, but we’d sold out all on our website, so we dropped down to number 19. Martine McCutcheon beat us by 17 copies. You know her off EastEnders?

FL: She’s singing now?
PD: Oh yeah. Martine McCutcheon lives here. I’m telling you, if I see her on that High Street, I’m gonna have a word with her.

FL: I didn’t know she was singing.
PD: I don’t think anyone knows that she’s singing. I think everyone’s just like…there’s Martine McCutcheon on a DVD just wailing. I mean, I’m furious, absolutely furious, that this town put out two records one week, one of the quality of my record, and then Martine McCutcheon the barmaid off EastEnders and she whooped our ass. It’s disgusting.

FL: It’s all because of Love, Actually.
PD: She beat us! If I see her in Tesco’s, I’m telling you…

But yeah. 17 copies. If I’d have known that morning, I would have gone out and bought 17 copies meself just to piss her off. But she beat us. She got on the breakfast news, as well. Everything she had. Loose Women, breakfast news, the One show. What was I on? Nothing. No one was interested in me. Got a feature in Prog Magazine, though. Good job Martine McCutcheon didn’t do a concept album, or we would have been fucked.

FL: What did you find was different about the recording and release of Spooky Action versus all those Mansun records?
PD: Well, I wasn’t neurotic about this one. Like, when we used to do the Mansun ones, I was like [sharp intake of breath] you know, fear. Would anyone like it, would it go in the charts. And by the third Mansun album, even I thought it was shit, so I didn’t give a shit about that one. But it wasn’t my album. I was just the singer, I was just forced into doing it by the big evil record company, and the other members of the band, and the management…so yeah I wasn’t as bothered about this one, I don’t think. I was just trying to make it a success in whatever way you can measure success in the now of music. Just make your owns fan like it, and buy enough copies so you can do another one. You know, the record company…they won’t just sign you up if they think you’re artistically valid. They just want to make money out of you. So, I think they’ll make a bit of money out of me, but I’ve no idea if they think I’m artistically valid. So hopefully, you know, we’ll be doing another one. So yeah, I’m not as bothered these days. Although I did put a different type of effort in. A more measured…it’s like the tortoise and the hare. I used to be a hare, now I’m a tortoise, the way I work and the way you want to put it together. I still care about it.

FL: Were you surprised about that fan petition to get Spooky Action released?
PD: No, no…I mean, we’d spoke to the fans online and just said, you know…it was just testing the water, really. I said to them, if you want me to do a record, do a fan petition and see if there’s any interest. And there was a little bit of interest. It wasn’t massive, it wasn’t like millions of people, it’s not like trying to stop Donald Trump coming to London or anything. I’m not that popular. But yeah, a few thousand people signed it…what happened was that the Anchoress album came out, which I produced, and as we talked about before there’s a sea of music out there, and how do you get it heard these days…I’d be offered to do interviews loads of times over the years, and the best one at that point I was offered was do a radio interview with Steve Lamacq, on the radio and do the premiere of the Anchoress single, and I knew a girl who worked for the Huffington Post and I did an interview with her, and they put it in the Arts section, saying I’d been away a while and wanted to raise awareness of this new project, and that’s where it all started really. From that point, record companies starting coming onboard…

So the petition thing, that started when I rose my head above the parapet. But I didn’t do it…I never thought we would end up here. I thought we would produce another record. So we just ended up here because this is where it led us. It wasn’t by accident, we were trying to do musical projects. There was a whole sequence of events that unfolded, that it became obvious that after doing the Anchoress record, producing that, that I should do a solo album. One of the big reasons was our studio, where we worked in London, got turned into flats. That’s London, isn’t it, everything gets turned into flats. We were renting it out commercially, as well. We had loads of big stars in there. Frank Ocean was in there for ten days writing on the piano in there, and Pixie Lott, you’ve never heard of her…all sorts of record company bookings in there. When I wasn’t in there, people would use the studio. So when we were turfed out of the studio so they could make way for flats in Acton it was like, do we look to rent a new premises in London and carry on as like writing and producing and running a studio? If I didn’t do that, my options were limited to working on my own, so I did a deal with my engineer who engineered the second Mansun album, a guy called PDub, he lives literally a few miles away from here and he’s got his own private studio. So we started it at Stanley House in Acton, and moved over to Dub’s, so it was just a big sequence of events that unfolded. The fan petition was just one element of it. They could have done a petition and we could have done nothing, but it just happened. We worked pretty hard.

FL: What’s it been like out on the road playing all the new stuff?
PD: It’s genuinely been amazing. Beforehand, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, then I got a chest virus, so that looked like a good excuse to pull out. But my management wouldn’t let me. They bribed me into doing it. So the first night I went on with a big cup of Lemsip…do you get Lemsip in America? What’s the closest thing – Xanax? Heroin? Yeah, a massive cup of heroin on stage, and it just sorted me right out. I just didn’t give a shit. Yeah that Lemsip man, you just get off your tits. It’s amazing. So yeah, big pot of Lemsip, some honey and lemon, vocal zones, do you know what they are? Like little fruit pastels, sweets…bit like M & Ms but for the throat. Throat M & Ms. A lozenge. Throat lozenges. I had all that and I just about got through it, got the gig over. And all the reviews were good for the gigs. My throat virus went after the second night, and we had a break in the middle of the dates, and the promoters have eased us back in so we only had six gigs and we had a few days gap. And then by the end, I don’t think any of us wanted to come off. The crowds were amazing, gigs were sold out…I think I came back and thought oh wow, I’ll do some more of this. So that’s it. Back out, doing it again.

FL: How many, next time?
PD: It’s tripled in size in terms of how many people we’re playing to, but I think we’re doing 14 gigs, and we’re going to Ireland as well, doing Dublin and Belfast. We’re going back to Manchester and London, we did like 800 people at the Scala but this new venue we’re doing, the Brixton Electric, is like 1600 people so the capacities have gone right up. So, there must be more demand for it. So we’re gonna do it, make the set a little bit longer, learn a few more songs…I was honest with them, I said we’re gonna start with three b-sides, but not because we’re really creative but because we haven’t got any other fucking songs. Which is sort of true and not true really. Paul McCartney did that with Wings. They only had seven songs when they started. They used to turn up at universities and play seven songs, and go “we haven’t got any more so we’ll just play ‘em again.” So you get a 14-song set. I just thought we’d do “Wide Open Space” 9 times and have a big gap between the encores. Everyone loves that one after a few beers.

FL: Related question, of interest to people in the Americas, when might Spooky Action (album/tour) come our way?
PD: Well, you know…I just don’t think anyone gives a shit about me in America. I honestly don’t. Like if we put a gig on in New York, how many people would turn up? By the end of this album, if we can’t get over to America as a band, realistically by the end of this band cycle or in the next few years, we probably could go over and do like New York, Boston, San Francisco, LA, probably…maybe Washington at a push. Maybe Philadelphia. You know, just the Anglophile towns. You could do a few. But that might not be financially feasible. So it might be just a case of just going and doing just a couple of acoustic shows, like a New York and an LA one. And I’m up for that. In my mind, when we finish touring, of course we’re doing this February-March tour and then we’ve got to do the festival season in the UK…we’re really looking in to see if we can do Hong Kong, Tokyo, maybe an Australian gig as well. There was loads of Japanese fans at the gigs, loads of Chinese people as well, which blew me away. Cuz when Mansun was going 20 years ago, it was unheard of for Chinese fans to travel over. But we went to Hong Kong a few times, so there’s people at the gigs from Beijing, Shanghai, you know, it was amazing. So I’m up for doing mainland China, but it’s whether it’s financially viable. We’ve got to see. We’ve got to see. We’ve just put a new single out, “Grey House” now, and it’s like will Radio 6 play it in the UK, will it get radio play, or will they just ignore us like usual? So if they just ignore us, then it’ll just be a case of I’ve just got to carry on playing to you know, my own audience, the audience we built up through Mansun, or people like yourself who discovered Mansun and would have an interest in it. So we’re gonna have to really work it and build it. But who knows? At the end, I might just head over and sit in a corner in Brooklyn and sing “Wide Open Space” 9 times.

FL: That’s a solid plan.
PD: That’s my plan at the moment for conquering America. And I’m just gonna keep singing it at them. I’m gonna get on the Greyhound and go into every town until they just give up and rerelease it.

[posted 10.16.17]


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