The new live recordings neatly show how differently you approach some of your classic material in solo troubadour mode. Yeah, it’s been great fun doing it. At first I was a little bit afraid of certain songs because of the way they were recorded, but basically the rule has been if the song is good there is generally a way to play it with one guitar and it will sound all right. And if it wasn’t very good in the first place, it will be readily exposed.
Are there any songs – particularly the older stuff with the Commotions – that you look back and you think Well, the production didn’t really suit this’? Certainly there’s a few. Mostly, I’m pretty pleased with the records I’ve made, but obviously there’s going to be an arrangement here and there that wasn’t great. [Easy Pieces track] Cut Me Down’ was a lovely song, just three chords, which was ruined by the arrangement we gave it. But there are certain songs that you think are more about production, and the guitar solos and backing vocals and when you don’t have them you realise that often the song is strong enough to stand alone. Like [Commotions single] Forest Fire’ which was probably the least likely song I would have thought would work on acoustic guitar, but as long as I can hit the high notes, it works very well.
Making the box set, were there any absolutely cringe-worthy moments that you wish you had forgetten? There are 59 tracks on there and I would say that there are only two that are real stinkers.
And they are…? I really don’t think I should name them it’s a bit like pointing out the ugly child in your family. There are only two that I absolutely regret. Actually, I don’t even regret the second one, I just wish that I had made it two minutes longer instead of five.
I had no idea you had so many B-sides. Well, only about 50 per cent of the record is b-sides, maybe 30 per cent is versions of tracks that ended up being changed, and then there are the most interesting tracks, the ones that are recorded with a mind to go on the record – certainly not meant to be B-sides – and somehow didn’t fit on our albums.
Tom Waits called those “orphans”. Exactly. Songs where you think that you’ll get around to putting this on some record because it will fit, but it just never does. So it sits in the vault for years. There are a few songs from 1994 and 1995 that I love, but couldn’t put on Love Story, for example: it would have made Love Story a worse record, even if they’re lovely tracks.
Have you ever had a song that’s been key to the writing of an album, and then not actually made the final cut? ‘Clare Fontaine’, from the Music in a Foreign Language album. I was adamant it was going to be the main song on the record, to the extent that I was going to have two versions of it. I probably spent more time on ‘Claire Fontaine’ than any other track on that album and then when the song was finished and the album was coming together there was nowhere to put it. It was like a child that could have been quite brilliant, but just wouldn’t work very well in society.
So the box set has your little family of autistic songs? [chuckles] Yes, that’s very much the way they are.
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Publication: Time Out Sydney
Publication date: 05/11/09