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Although john squire and his new band The seahorses have taken something of a critical mauling following the release of their album Do It Yourself and some less-than-sparkling live shows, the former Stone Roses axeman is surprisingly unperturbed as peter murphy finds out.
Peter Murphy, 09 Jul 1997
John Squire was nothing if not a big-brother figure for the majority of the current Britpop bands: by almost single-handedly bringing The Kids back to live music after a decade of studio-bound dance/pop acts, The Stone Roses made it possible for bands like Suede, Oasis, The Bluetones, Dodgy, Cast and Ride to break through to the mainstream playing traditional 60s and 70s-influenced guitar-based rock n roll.
However, recent weeks have seen the Squire name lose some of its lustre in rockerati circles, what with his new band The Seahorses debut album Do It Yourself and first major tour receiving a severe critical pounding.
Hot Press Jonathan O Brien was particularly scathing about the band s recent Irish debut at the Heineken Green Energy Festival, describing the ensemble as appalling , a travesty and a Grand Funk Railroad tribute band on an off-night . True enough, the album was a let-down, with singer Chris Helme taking much of the critical flak (as much for his Kevin Keegan curls as his vocal chords) but none of this appears to bother the band all that much both Do It Yourself and the single Love Is The Law knocked sparks out of the British and Irish charts, and a second single, Blinded By The Sun , is on the way.
As I found out recently, John Squire interviews read better than they sound. 40 minutes of taped conversation will have been reduced by half once the pauses are surgically removed. Although wry and dryly humorous, the guitarist spends what seems like interminable periods of time considering a question before addressing it, sucking air in through his teeth while he weighs his reply. It s not that he s at all a reluctant subject, he just accords each question an inordinate amount of attention. Once he has plucked what looks suspiciously like a pubic hair out of his Guinness, we begin.
The rags to riches angle on the recruitment of the band has been well-documented. What criteria did you have in mind when scouting out fellow musicians?
I had nothing in my head when I found Stuart (Fletcher, the band s bassplayer), it was instant. I didn t see him and think I want to form a band with that guy , I just liked what he was doin and I think it was about a week or two weeks later when I asked Martin the guitar technician, who also lives in York, to try and track him down. As for a singer, I did some work with a guy called Sean O Brien, I spent a day with him. He sang for a band called The Steamboat Band I don t think they re still going. But I liked the sound of his voice and he did a little demo for me of some Elvis songs and they sounded great. We got together and worked for a day on the songs I d already written but they weren t quite connecting.
It s hard to explain really why it wasn t workin . It became apparent after a day s work with Chris how different it was, Chris seemed to know what I was thinkin , what I was gettin at.
Bearing in mind the ghosts of vocalists past, did it help that Chris was a musician as well as a singer?
That was like a bonus after I decided that I wanted to work with him and he started playing me songs. He sent me a demo originally, but it was really overly folky and I couldn t imagine anyone standin up and playing it; it was very much a Friday-night-in-a-pub sound. I thought, Yeah, he can write the odd tune but I don t really like them and it might be a problem later on if he wants to record them with the band . So when we started rehearsing with some of the songs he was writing, it surprised me.
At this point drummer Andy Watt joins us. A bespectacled and bearded ringer for Lennon circa Strawberry Fields Forever , he sits back and lets his captain do the talking. I mention that the songwriting seems far more economic than the Roses days.
I did get right back to basics, John explains. It was a tiny little Realistic cassette recorder that I used to write the songs on. I used to work on bigger Portastudios and multi-tracks and do thousands of guitar overdubs. I just wanted to make this brash and instant. More than the length of the songs, it was a concern that the period of time between me leaving The Stone Roses and starting something else shouldn t be too long.
The new songs are quite positive and playful in places. Gone are the arrogance, religious imagery and themes of revenge that characterised your previous work. Were you in a healthier state of mind writing this album?
I was, yeah.
People say they miss some of that, interjects Andy. I Am The Resurrection , things like that.
They miss it in this band?
Yeah. Some of the reviews have said so.
How much of that attitude was your input in the Roses, John?
I d have to talk you through each song and tell you which lyrics I wrote and which lyrics Ian wrote, he replies. It s not like I was the nice guy and Ian was the arrogant one. We were both extremely ambitious and sure of what we were doing. I Am The Resurrection was Ian s line and I wrote all the bitter, twisted, revenge verses to that song.
Some journalists have expressed dissatisfaction that the songs are less grandiose and less epic than Second Coming.
You can t win, really. That record was slagged off for being too dark and depressing. It does concern me but not for myself, it s when the rest of the band gets attacked. I m bound to be a target in various regions, I m probably seen as too old (Squire is 34) and not deserving. Neither of the first two albums that I was involved with were received with open arms by the press anyway.
Are The Stone Roses an albatross around the necks of The Seahorses?
Not really, no. I come to every interview situation fully expecting to be quizzed about The Stone Roses and I appreciate that that s the main reason the band s getting so much attention.
You recorded the album in LA. What was the atmosphere like out there?
It certainly felt free and creative. I d felt like that before when I d been to LA. It was a contributing factor to the decision to go over there. I don t know what it is about the place but it was like a trip to Spain for me.
It was more like a trip to space for me, quips Andy.
I m very excited by visual stimuli, continues John. And there s a lot of it over there. A lot of light and space, graphics on every corner. There s nothing of that in the record I think we went over there as a self-contained unit, us and the crew all lived together in the same apartment block and commuted ten minutes every day to the studio, had Sundays off.
Do you regret not breaking America? It seemed for a while there that Love Spreads was going to go ballistic in the US and then the impetus just dissipated.
Yeah. I don t think it translated onto MTV which makes and breaks records. Or used to.
Do It Yourself was recorded with fabled producer Tony Visconti, the man behind classic albums by Bowie and T-Rex. How was it working with him?
He was a classic producer. It took me a while once I first got involved in recording to work out exactly what the definition was between producer and engineer. But he s a classic producer: oversees the whole project, organises everything, liaises between the record company, the band and the studio, sorts out the budget, plays piano, plays recorder, plays mellotron.
Did it help that he was a musician?
A lot, yeah. We spoke the same language.
After the five years spent making the last Stone Roses album, did you feel a sense of urgency in wanting to get everything done in a short time, lest you be trapped in there forever?
Yeah, I did, but having a sense of urgency doesn t guarantee a short recording session. The fact that I was so desperate to work and the rest of the band were so keen to do well in their new environment meant that there was no need for anyone to crack the whip. Everybody wanted to be there, which was the main contrast with the last album. The times when all The Stone Roses wanted to hang out together in the studio were few and far between.
Were you surprised when they continued on after you left?
No, I wanted em to. I knew they were going to, and I thought it d give me more space and minimise the recriminations .
Were you taken aback by the venomous nature of some of those recriminations, particularly from Mani? (The bassist was widely quoted as saying He (Squire) wouldn t even bother to phone my house if he heard that my mum, my dad and everyone who ever lived in my village was killed in a plane crash, because he couldn t be arsed to get out of his bed .)
No, not at all. .
Were you surprised when he joined Primal Scream?
No, I just knew it was coming a lot sooner than anybody else did.
Do you think Ian Brown has it in him to pull off a Shaun Ryder-style resurrection?
Naw, Shaun s one in a million, definitely. I was talking to an Irish journalist last week and he put Shaun in the same category as Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Rimbaud!
Speaking of such esteemed characters, John took time out last year to guest with Oasis at Knebworth. Fun?
Being on stage was great, but all the hangin around for ten minutes work each night was fairly boring. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to mingle.
Do you think that lifestyle goes hard on them?
I don t think so. They ve always got big smiles on their faces when I see em! They wanted to be big and famous and they got their wish. They don t need to live in the centre of London and have their addresses made public. I suppose they like wakin up to a bevy of journalists each morning.
You wrote Love Me And Leave Me with Liam. How did that come about?
That wasn t a formal songwriting partnership, it was just a late-night binge. And he had a new guitar, one of his Lennon accessories. I d started writing a song and had some lyrics and the chord progression. I gave him the lyrics and he sang em in an Oasis fashion over my chords and we got the first verse of Love Me And Leave Me before I started falling asleep. It was about seven in the morning or summat and he was still madly banging, singing out of tune and playin guitar worse than anyone I ve ever heard!
Is it odd to have people like Liam and Noel in awe of you?
It s not odd, it s sometimes annoying. The first few times I met Liam we both talked about music and the bands we were in, and you wanna get past that after a while. But he won t let it go! But Noel s a good lad as well.
Are you happy with your life outside the music?
Not fully no. Music s an escape for me at the moment. I don t have an address, I ve been on sofas and spare beds since we got back from America. I m enjoyin it. It s my choice. If I got a month maybe I d find somewhere to live but I d rather be on the road and playing the music. n