Fan Questions and Answers I
9/7/2003 (updated 10/11/2003)

PG: Would you ever consider doing a show purely on the basis of what your audience wanted to hear - perhaps polling your fans for a consensus setlist of choice.

I think this may be an occasional good idea, although they say the road to Vegas is paved with good intentions - mustn't let the audience run the show, or it could all get a bit Neil Diamond. By way of variation, I'm planning a retro show, which may end up as almost the same thing, and future show, i.e. all new material. Exactly where and when tba.

JW: "Not that anyone is suggesting you should take even a minute away from your music, but you're such a talented writer and humorist that you must've posed this question to yourself at some point: If you were ever to write a book, what sort of a book would it be, do you think? If a novel, would it be sort of contemporary crime-noir, or some shipdeck O'Brien-ish tale, or a bitingly funny sendup of the music industry, or something altogether different? Or would it be poetry, history, essays that reflect on contemporary life....?

Writing novels is very exacting, and writing poetry - well, who reads that stuff? And writing symphonies can make your eyes maybe I should stick to something that involves music and lyrics for now, anyway. If suddenly grabbed by some vast 900 page vision that simply has to be thrust under browsers' noses, then I shall contemplate burdening the world with another huge tome of sickening self-gratification.

JW: On the studio version of "King of Bohemia", it sounds like the first part of the song is cut off, with an abrupt start. Is there a story behind that?

Mitchell Froom, my producer, was generally fond of leaving a few coughs and foot-scrapes at the front of tracks, to set the scene, as it were, before the music kicked in. On King of B., I can't remember why it would have been cut hard at the front, and not having a copy to hand, I can't check exactly what you mean - I assure you, no music is missing - perhaps I just swallowed the opening syllable a bit?

B: How much of your song writing is formulaic and how much is impulse? There are tales of many great songs being written in just a few minutes, or even in the taxi on the way to the gig. Do songs and tunes just come to you or do you play word games and let the songs half invent themselves?

I don't think anybody's songwriting can be formulaic. You study the formula, and then when inspiration strikes, things happen fairly automatically, and you trust a certain part of your brain (or your editor) to check the rhyme scheme, dot the 'i's, and stop you writing 200 verses.

SR: Any plans to include tracks from 'Industry' in your live shows,and any plans to utilize a brass band section again on new material?

I love the work that we did on Industry, and I'd love to keep those songs rotating throught the live set. It certainly requires the presence of Danny, sometimes Christine Collister. It was super doing our short UK tour with the line-up from the album, pretty much. That being an 8-piece, it's a little expensive to tour, alas.

JCH: What's your favourite Neil Young song?

RT: I think I'd have to say, 'Southern California Brings Me Down'. He could have retired after that one - it says it all.

SD: Can you let us in on the secret of some of the processes you might go through when crafting your songs ? Perhaps it might be easier to use a recent composition as an example - for instance, Gethsemene. What was your initial inspiration - just the general theme of lost innocence ? Or perhaps you built up the song from a small, more specific element ? Lyrics first, or music?

Songwriting is hard to talk about, and I've said as much as I can about the generalities of it. Beeing specific is a little easier; Gethsemane is based on the life of a friend, who grew up in idyllic circumstances, but as he grew older, the pressures of life and parental expectations drove out the sense of wonder and playfulness, and it all became a burden. He took to drinking heavily, became extremely ill, his children were monsters.I see it as a song about boys, and the difficult transitions that they make into manhood, especially in a society that has lost its traditional rites of passage, and invents its own, sometimes crueller, versions.

J: I know that you often work with alternate tunings. Are these fairly common alternate tunings or have you made up some of your own?

I invented all my tunings, but somebody else invented them first! DADGAD, that's one of mine, of course.I was trying to imitate Clarence Ashleys banjo style, and figured he must be in a suspende 4th modal tuning, and tuned the guitar likewise - of course Martin Carthy and Davy Graham had already been doing this for years - I find a new tuning is necessary sometimes just to be able to physically play a song. For instance - 'Hide It Away' is tuned BGDGBE, and then capoed across the top 5 strings only at 4th fret and played in the key of B. As a euphonium player, I'm sure you appreciate the convenience of the Capo. The tuning Iuse for 'Vincent' - CGDGBE - which of course I also invented - has been used for ages by Hawai'ians.

KT: Is it viable to continue to release "Official Boots" on a regular basis when combined with "Official Non-boots" retail releases through distributors? They sure are appreciated and I know I'd like to see more of them.

Well, it seems to be viable, although at this point I've no idea how much we sell of anything. There is an argument that it cuts into sales of retail releases, but I'm not convinced of that. I'm very glad to see them out there, and having got the system up and running now, we should be able to get more live stuff ready on a regular basis.