MELODY MAKER, JUNE 14-20 2000
GRAHAM COXON talks about skateboarding, drinking, depression and blur in the melody maker interview...
It's early afternoon in north London. We sit drinking coffee and water in one of the up-market pubs which litter Camden's back streets. A half-finished plate of chips lies nearby. The place is almost deserted, which is lucky, as Blur guitarist Graham Coxon talks in a near-whisper.
We're here to discuss Graham's new solo album - the often contrary, skatepunk inspired "The Golden D". On one song, he screams "Leave me alone" over and over ; another is a cover of mid-eighties Boston punk band Mission of Burma's deeply sarcastic "Fame and Fortune". The vocals are way down in the mix, the guitars abrasive and noisy. It's a cry from Blur's monster 1999 hit "Coffee & TV", the first single on which Graham sang lead vocals.
As the interview progresses, two things become apparent. Graham has an almost encyclopaedic love for music - and the proud new father hates people who think he has a drinking "problem". It's none of their business.
Maker : Your vocals are way down the mix on the "Golden D".
Graham : "That's loud enough for me, shit. I did have to be nursed through them, and then remixed them quite heavily. So why did i put vocals on at all ? Because i gained some confidence singing. My last solo album was very introverted, so to try and sing out, sing properly... I had to to that. Without it, some of the tracks wouldn't work. I've always loved singing in the studio, but it's a painful process. Especially with certain producers. I'd think i'd sung a decent take and they'd say "No, there's a better one." An hour later, we'd still be trying. That wouldn't do my confidence any good. Stephen Street was difficult to please, because he's a perfectionnist.
did you first get into metal ?
At that time, my tolerance for bands i grew up loving - like (sixties psychedelic types) Love and (melancholy folkie) Nick Drake - was quite high and i began to listen to different things. I was really into the "Gummo" soundtrack - all those freaky, duotonic BMX-ers going after cats. Spazz and Morticia and all that. It made me laugh at first, cos they sounded so serious with their demonic vocals. Then i was driving home to my mum for her birthday... and i'm not very good at driving that way. I can drive back to London cos it's easy. The other way, i miss all the signs. So i end up on some tiny, badly lit A-road, with this music on at full blast. I had to pull over and calm down and put on (London radio station) Heart. Cos it had scared the shit out of me. I was seeing all sorts of crap past the widescreen. . Things racing It was like a 'Blair witch project' experience. My imagination was on overload.
your motivation nowadays ? Why release "The Golden D" ?
I dunno. I wasn't doing that much. I thought 'I can write rhose simple little melancholic tunes - but maybe i shouldn't.' So i tried to write something impetuous and rocking and unstoppable. I started light-heartedly, making riffs up on acoustic guitars - and these riffs sounded stupid on acoustic, they need power and distortion units. So i got this distorted little Japanese guitar, which i started taping. I was very inspired by Jamie Thomas skate videos.
album's first song bears his name. Who is he ?
He's this fearless, inspiring skateboard kid - he jumps his skateboard over massive gaps, God knows how fast he's going. He's kind of crazy. He's got a seventies haircut - perhaps it's a wig. I've never seen him in anything else. I sent him a tape of the song. I don't think he knows who Blur are. He sent a polite comment saying he quite liked it. I feel bad now, cos he might get hassled over it.
attracted you to the skateboarding lifestyle ?
I first got into it cos it was totally opposite to what Blur stood for. It was sweating, slobbing around - hip-hop, punk rock, hardcore-ish culture. I bought a skateboard, but i never really got on it until about two and a half years ago. Then i got more into it, bought the videos. The music was really inspiring. It was a different way of listening to stuff, after tuning in to the radio and having 80 per cent of that being shit - almost everything was interesting.
your sense of balance ?
Good. It was better when i was 15. Cigarettes and beers...
go to the gym, like everybody does when they reach a certain age
I did, last summer. I hated going down the fucking gym, but i was doing it anyway. You do get rattled by the fact that evryone does it when they reach 30. I haven't done it for a while though. I like rowing, so i did lots of that. I hate running on the spot. At least, when you're rowing, you're sitting down. I don't like cycling eihter, i've got a BMX, but i don't use it too much. It's awful getting recognized when you go skateboarding - everyone's waiting for you to fall off.
your influences ?
Sleep. That makes a difference. Being fat and heavy. Like i say on the last track, i don't 'Think about always'. It's not so much individual bands, more like an idea i have of what all these rock bands were, what their videos seem to be saying. You theorize about it afterwards. It's like if the brakes fail on your car. Or while you're skating. I read somewhere about how this skater trained himself to be as fearless as possible, by taking off his shoes and socks while skating - so you have to avoid getting your feet trapped on the ground. The influence was the exhilaration i was feeling from stuff like that. This one is easier to like than the first one - that was a bit like reading someone's diary who you've got no interest in. This one has an air of confidence which makes it more approachable. It's much emptier and heavier. I wanted it to be like 'Revolution' by the Beatles. That's one of the heaviest tracks ever recorded, old school heavy.
you were upset in the mid '90s. Are you happy now ?
No one can be 100% happy with their lives. Unless you're in some strange religious cult or mad. If i'm unhappy with 1% of my life, i'll always concentrate on that. But i'm better now than i was in the '90s, cos being on tour constantly is a freak out. Seeing a pile of bills on the doormat when you get home, going to the local store... it sounds pathetic, but it is possible to feel so freaked out you can't even buy milk from the local store. I hold on to my ability to buy milk.
becoming a father made a difference ?
Yes. I've become a lot calmer. It's amazing how much l-o-v-e you can feel to a little person that you don't really know, never really talk to, don't know what they're like. I feel more responsibility, mainly to myself. It's screwy, you're so worried about making a mess of things. So many people offer advice, and then you feel guilty that you're not taking all the advice you should... but it's great. It's very slow. Kids grow up very slow. Pepper's three months old now -that's p-e-p-p-e-r, the same as on that pepper pot there.
still drink ?
Yeah, occasionally. I've tried to rethink what i'm doing with drink. It's a lot easier to control.
drink one, do you feel like you wanna drink 30 ?
Yeah, yeah. Going out is harder. You have to avoid certain people. The people who care about me are happy i'm not drinking so much. The Camden-ites, i try to avoid. I drink more tea, nowadays. I'm very English like that.
"Leave me alone", you scream the title over and over.
Why make records if you don't want people to hassle you ?
Yeah, it's weird. People always say that, whether they mean it or not. I was getting a little prosecution complex. That's why the words are so low on that track. They're embarrassing. It's all about 'they'. I wouldn't take a song about 'them' very seriously. It was a song about Camden Council.
about your critics then.
No, i knew it'd been construed like 'Oh Graham, he's a sensitive boy'. I have moment when i don't want people outside my house, but i'm not dramatic enough to shout at them. Eventually, they'll leave - they get bored.
happy being in Blur ?
Yeah. It's like my family. I don't have to hang out with my family all the time, but i know they're there and we're not so hard about our territory any more within the band. Or outside. Damon was doing extra-curricular stuff, then i wanted to record this thing... I told them it might not even be released, but if it was, it would be very low level. I told Damon he could have anything on it he wanted for Blur, but he left me to it. So we're very relaxed about that. In Blur, we do what we like - as long as it's good for the music. Sometimes, we're so good at our roles in Blur, it's good if someone else takes over.
took a step sideways from the pursuit of fame and fortune, at
some point in the late '90s.
It's obvious we were not happy with how things were, but we were loath to amit it to each other. I complained first, and i was made to feel like a spoiled brat - tired and emotionnal on the tourbus. It was a weird time. We needed to rethink what Blur was- become friends once more, not just business partners who'd meet occasionnally on the tourbus. Now we see each other and it's great. If we'd carried on like we had been, there wouldn't be a Blur now. We don't have any personnal differences, we get along fine. We dont have any major personnal gurus to intrude -like the Beatles, say- either.
you feel about playing Blur's greatest hits gigs last year ?
That was fun. In some way, i regret kicking and screaming all over the world - I should have tried to enjoy myself. Cos the singles are often the easiest to pla for me, so i was enjoying seeing happy faces in the audience - and having fun. We're doing some wrok next month, but we'll have to see how that goes.
has told the Melody Maker that your forthcoming Meltdown concert
will be completely new songs. Is this true ?
That'd be nice. People will be expecting something special, so we'll see. We haven't worked together for ages, so anything could happen. We're running out of time to work something out. I have no idea what Meltdown will be like. Like that recent Sonic Youth show (where the band played a set of completely new songs) ? Probably not.
music do you listen to now ?
I don't listen to music. I like the Radar Bros album, that's nice. It's the first album i've bought for ages. It's very mellow. I'm in a cycle where i'm getting back to listening to music - right now, Swedish groups.
cos of your Swedish girlfriend ?
Well, i was taken out to see the Hellacopters a few years ago. I really like them. I never liked that music when i was younger, so i found it very refreshing. Full-on rock, no irony at all. They have a few different line-ups, so they vary how good they are. When i saw them, i just really loved the rock stances and seriousness of it all. I've had enough of all that irony. Entombed, too. I really like that album. It's just so heavy and serious. I haven't had much opportunity to see garage rock before. It was always indie. At the Deptford Fountain. McCarthy (precursors of Stereolab). I had too much to learn about that music back then. Now i think 'Fuck all that'. I don't wanna think about why i like anything, i just wanna like it. No pretensions, just turn it up and be loud and fast. No snobbery, either. You don't have to pass any fucking interest to like it.
MISSION OF BURMA : Graham explains his love of the US punk band.
"I've just had this Rykodisc CD of theirs for ages. It's very long and has flowers on the front. These two songs are about lost innocence, disillusionment... they seemed to be expressing something i felt incapable of expressing myself. I found out that 'Fame and Fortune' is partly about Syd Barrett, which made it more pertinent to me. I suppose the only lyrics people link with me is cos of my reputation for hating what my life had become in the mid-'90s. That's the last bit of the song. The rest is just speed violence. It seems to be a cynical song about emotion - then it goes into violence, then into resignation at the end. It's the same with 'That's when i reach for my revolver' - a steady build up into realisation. That very last bit has the guy telling him something very mean.