Stephen Fretwell, Q&As

10 May 2006

Stephen Fretwell  - Q&As

Stephen Fretwell - Q&As

Stephen Fretwell

Ok ok, this is a bit of a strange one for I know we've featured Mr Fretwell plenty of times before but with the release of his album in America, we thought we'd cover some old territory with the man himself.

Q .What was it like moving from Scunthorpe to a town like Manchester?
It was the most important thing I ever did. Manchester is a great place to be an artist of any kind, especially music.

Q Tell me about some of the other artists from the Manchester scene that we should be on the lookout for.
Liam Frost, Cherry ghost are both looking like the ones to watch.

Q Were you at all inspired by the history of that city's music scene and the types of bands that have come out of there (Joy Division / New Order, The Smiths, Oasis, Stone Roses, etc.)?

Without a doubt. It's incredible to be rehearsing in a room that someone's sister's aunty thinks was the first place the stone roses ever dropped acid or the first place the smiths might have played. At first that was a great experience, just walking round the city and feeling its history. It had a massive effect on my writing. The heritage is a bit scary, though no one seems to mind.

Q A question from another site in a very similar vein: What was it like recording at a studio as famous / legendary as Abbey Road, and did the history of the studio inspire you at all?

Abbey Road is lovely. On a sunny day, i'd say it is the best place to be in the world. Because of all the things that have happened there, because of it's location in St. Johns Wood, and because it has a bar that's open late. Studio 2 is eerily inspirational. It has a beautiful atmosphere and played a big part in the sound we achieved for Magpie. They have a good canteen too.

Q As an artist, what do you think about how technology like mobile ringtones, iPods, video iPods, etc. makes music so portable and easily transferred?

I haven't really given it much thought. I think it's great one can carry music around on an ipod or a similar device. I don't like the sanitization of music. I like the arctic monkeys lyric about there only being new music so that there's new ringtones. To everything there will be an opposite reaction. So everything in music is healthy in its way. For every band licencing a ring tone sample of a song there will be a band in a garage making a lovely racket. Hopefully.

Q How does your songwriting process work?

It's something I don't understand. Sometimes I want to write a song and I force it out, sometimes I can't avoid letting it out. The whole song will form in my head even if I don't want it to. This can be a good excuse for the bad songs I suppose. I am not really in control of it. Though I wish I was. I sometimes sit and really try to write and nothing will come. The sun is a great songwriter! I think the chemical the sun helps release in your brain might be linked to the creative chemicals. Maybe.

Q I read an interview once with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and he said that many of his songs, though they seem autobiographical and are written in the first-person, are actually based more on a concept or a feeling than on events in his personal life. Your songs have a similarly personal tone… how much of your music is autobiographical, and how much is just sort of "fictional" songwriting?

It's pretty much autobiographical with a little dramatic licence. A few songs are written as if I was someone else. I like Conor Oberst a lot, I think he is one of the best writers around, and very hard working. I could do with a bit of whatever he's on at the moment. I've become very lazy as a writer. I like a personal tone in a song, the best songs are where you know the writer really has a bone to pick.

Q Are the personal lyrics at all uncomfortable for you? Or is it more cathartic for you to just get those emotions out into a song?

They are more uncomfortable than they are cathartic when I'm singing them at a gig. The cathartic moment is probably when they are being written, and as soon as that has passed they become something else. Often the feelings that may have inspired the song will no longer be there, for example I don't really feel like I did when I wrote 'Emily' or 'New York.' Those songs were written from my gut at the time, whereas now I look back at myself as an idiot for ever having those feelings about who I was writing them about. It can be uncomfortable playing some songs but also quite funny. New York could be about early immigration dreams, a theory I have stolen from Jimi 'Doves' Goodwin who has said that about their song 'NY.'

Q Do you ever find yourself censoring what you put into a song, or is pretty much anything fair game? Are your family/friends/girlfriend ever unhappy with their portrayal in your songs?

I have upset a few people when they've realized what I'm talking about. Hopefully though I've made people happy with good things I've written. I don't really want to talk about that too much. But I do believe that anything is 'fair game.'

Q Do you read your own press? Are you concerned that listening too much to other people's opinions of your music might lead you to change your creative process at all?

I have read my own press, I like reading bad reviews! I think because I know what it is I've done and created. I know which bits are good and not so good and which bits are plain rubbish. I don't see myself as a great songwriter or anywhere near where I'd like to be in a few years. But I'm trying, and if it comes out bad then it is very flattering that someone even has the energy to say something bad about it. Sometimes if people say something about my appearance I find it quite insulting. There is a danger that what people say may change my creative process but hopefully it wont.

Q Had you been to New York when you wrote the song "New York"?
If not: what was it like when you finally visited the city? Did you find that the city, in fact, never sleeps?

No I had never visited New York when I wrote the song. The first time I ever saw the Manhattan skyline I was nearly sick. I didn't arrive with a pretty girl though like in the song. It's my favorite city in the world. Apart from Manchester.

Q You came out with a so-called "clean" version of "New York," where you removed the word "fuck." Does this sort of de facto censorship annoy you, or do you just accept it as part of the business? Are there similar content restrictions in the UK as far as changing lyrics to ensure radio / MTV airplay?

It was a necessary evil. I sometimes sing the song now with 'forget' instead of the expletive. I don't think there is a need to swear in a lyric to make it cool, though I may have done when I was younger. In that song the character wouldn't say anything else. There are similar restrictions in the UK and they are there for a reason that I would never contest. You wouldn't want your children learning that word too young! Though many do.

Q One criticism some people have of the album is that it's depressing… do you agree?

Yes it's depressing. I've never wanted to write a song when I'm happy. There's so many fun things to do when you're happy, why would you waste them writing songs? It's when the shit hits the fan that people seem to create their best work

Q Now that you have a bit more money in your recording budget, are you going to start buying sitars and theremins and didgeridoos and all sorts of other wacky instruments?
Seriously though, for all the audiophiles out there, what kind of new toys are you playing around with in the studio?

A Theremin would be nice. I've started learning the recorder which is going very well. My teacher says I'm a natural. I'd like to make an album that sounds like some of the great Japanese film soundtracks. Either that or something a bit like an Ivor Cutler album. I have been experimenting with effects on my voice too. Like distortion and flange.

Q Did you ever party down with Elbow or Keane while touring?

Both of those bands know how to party down well. Keane often throw their party's in London and have themes, vaudeville or ones with circus themes and everyone dresses up. Elbow seem to party in Manchester more or Bury. Their party's are a little more violent, you wouldn't take your sister as they usually end up with two men fighting in a car park. Both bands are lovely though.

Q What's on your ipod right now?

Hank Williams and Robert Johnson. The Guillemots. Arctic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Ricky gervais show pod casts. Martha Wainwright. The Ramones and Liam Frost.

Q Favorite TV show?

At the moment, The Mighty Boosh. Though it changes a lot.

Q How much of a motivation is fame or commercial success for you?
At the most basic level, why do you make music?

I think I started making music because it seemed like the most natural thing to do with my hands. I've never been able to answer that question too well because I never applied myself to anything other than that. Now of course, I do it for the money and the women.

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