Badly Drawn Boy Sketches A New Direction

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Four years ago, Damon “Badly Drawn Boy” Gough hit the wall. After the tepid reception for his fifth album, Born In The U.K., failed to live up to the singer's own critical expectation, he began to slow down dramatically as he battled depression and attempted to discern his next course of action.

The failure of Born In The U.K. was a difficult blow to take for the singer, and it's easy enough to understand why; after gaining momentum with his early EPs, Gough released his debut long-player, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, to massive critical acclaim. Badly Drawn Boy was nominated for and won the Mercury Music Prize, the world went mad and record sales soared. It was a good time to be Damon Gough, but even the singer will admit that the success of The Hour of Bewilderbeast wasn't exactly because of the singer's core values, listeners and critics only caught (and loved) the edge of what Gough had intended. Because of that, public favor began to wane quickly and, by the time Have You Fed The Fish? was released, the public was beginning to get a little antsy; in spite of the fact that the album yielded four singles, the album was not critically well-received. The downward spiral continued as One Plus One Is One was released in 2004 and gave up just one single, but the downward movement culminated with Born In The U.K. – and it was at that point when Badly Drawn Boy stopped to take stock. “I was in danger of feeling like I didn't have anything left to offer,” confesses Gough now, with the benefit of hindsight. “I mean, I was always keeping my foot in writing ideas for songs and all, but I went through this period of self-doubt in regards to my own music and a lot of that had to do with the disappointments that I felt around the Born In The U.K. album. I thought it could have been a bigger smash hit than it was which was probably more disheartening than it really should have been but, see, I had a really big bang at the start of my career and, since then, there has been the impression or illusion that my career has dipped. I'm not so sure if that's the case though, I think it was just distorted by that big beginning. Some of that could be attributed to serendipity; I mean, I am a sort of a left field artist – I'm not the sort that's going to be all over the radio and TV with what I do because it's not that kind of stuff.

“Coming to terms with where I was and where I felt like I wanted to be took some time,” continues the singer. “I came off the road, did some work on my house, and thought about how things should go; how I needed them to go, professionally. I did the soundtrack for The Fattest Man In Britain which I called Is There Nothing We Could Do?, and the success of that came along at a really crucial time; my music, I think, sits best with people when they're listening in intimate settings, like at home or on headphones or just in the background. That said, I think my career has ended up exactly when it should have been in the first place; it's okay, but it feels like there's been a dip and I had to come to grips with that, but that soundtrack gave me a reason to get back in.”

That was the epiphany Gough needed, and new ideas and new music began to germinate shortly thereafter. Gough finalized his affairs with outside labels and founded BDB Records – his own label – and began working in earnest. The first installment of new work comes now in the form of It's What I'm Thinking Part 1: Photographing Snowflakes, and it finds Badly Drawn Boy in a new, fine and ambitious form; it is to be the first in a trilogy of albums which encompass an expansive thought process. The changes that Gough has embarked upon for Photographing Snowflakes run to the album's core too – not so garish as Have You Fed The Fish?, the album marks a new methodology for its' singer that really lets him emote captivatingly and focus on composition rather than concerning himself with trying to produce hit singles. Simply said, Badly Drawn Boy has begun to follow his muses once again on his new album, rather than try to make music and worry about the business of making music. “When I began doing the demos for Is There Nothing We Could Do?, I started to wonder why I'd stayed out of the studio for so long,” remembers Gough. “I remembered that I used to be in the studio all the time. I think that's where the notion of doing this album as a trilogy came from; it was an incentive to keep myself in the studio as much as possible and be prolific.

“I think I sort of fell into the trap that a lot of bands or artists do,” says the singer, philosophically. “A lot of bands these days are under a lot of pressure to achieve some success and, when that happens, they're put under this pressure to make another record that will either beat that last success, or go the other way and make a conscious effort to ignore that previous success and focus on following their muse wherever it leads them, no matter what happens, whether it has a tonne of singles on it or not. I think this album represents me not feeling the need to make or have a big hit single, I just want to make the music that I make and see where it takes me. I think that's the attitude that runs through the record and I think people are receiving it pretty well; I think there's an honesty in it and I think that comes through – with a bit of distance from it now, I think it's entirely possible that I was trying too hard to have a hit single on Born In The U.K. and it didn't really work so I had to figure out what it was that I wanted out of music again. To a degree, I've come full circle in that I'm back to simply creating stuff on my own in my own way. That's the best way forward, in my mind, and I think this trilogy will really drive toward that end.”

Most interestingly, as Gough begins to describe this new trilogy, it becomes apparent that the music which will comprise the two-thirds yet to be released is still very much a work-in-progress; the songs scheduled to appear on the two albums following Photographing Snowflakes are in various stages of completion, but they are not done and their direction may change at any time. While some musicians would find such a situation potentially harrowing, Badly Drawn Boy sees the unknown as nothing short of exhilarating. “I really don't know how it's going to work yet, to be perfectly honest, that's the best thing about it from my point of view,” enthuses Gough. “There aren't any rules that are being dictated at me, so I can play it out however I like. I think more than anything, this first part was a more relaxed sounding album because I decided how it was going to go and how it should be about halfway through making it. I had about thirty songs in various stages of completion, and the first ten that I had the words done for are the ten that appear on this album. I relieved myself of the problems that I usually have – like trying to finish thirty songs and then go back and decide which ones fit together and should go on the same record – and I decided to make it easy on myself for once and finish these ten. Doing it that way made it really quick to finish too; we were only forty days in the studio, and I finished these ten, and the rest are waiting to be revisited later.

“My current situation really allows me to be prolific; I don't have to worry about some outside label – I have my own – which means I can release as I choose and when I please.”

Such a feeling of free expression is intoxicating, according to Gough, and the current plan is to give fans a glimpse of it in its' purest, rawest sense when the band embarks on a series of select dates in North America to promote Photographing Snowflakes. The prospect of the tour is a bit of a concern for Gough – this series of dates will be the first Badly Drawn Boy shows on North American soil in three or for years – but excitement and adrenaline come with that concern and the possibility of fantastic success or gruesome failure is just too attractive for Gough to back away from. “Originally, my plan was to do the whole new album as the first set, take a break and then do some other, older material too but I did a small show not long ago – a small in-store in London – and the management at the shop told me not to do the whole new album, because it would break the fact that what I do on stage is unique to me,” explains the singer. “So I took that on-board and I said to the band in rehearsals that we shouldn't worry about playing the whole new thing and that's what we've started doing. I've been nervous about it because I haven't been sure what shape the shows are going to take on any given night, but it works on a certain level; I've been starting off on my own and then gradually brought the band out one by one to do a few of the new songs, and then go back into the catalogue a bit. It really has become a bit of a journey in itself that I didn't expect, but I'd like to change it every night; again, I can pretty much do what I want – start by myself, begin with the band or whatever. There's a bit of a danger in that because you could lose your flow and have moments in the set where you don't know what to play next, but I tend to write out a list of forty or fifty songs that I can draw from and then just glance at the list as we go and string it together that way. Keeping it as loose as possible like that seems to work because I don't know what I'm doing, and the audience doesn't know what I'm doing and surprises could happen at any given moment. I think that's the best way to present myself – it keeps me interested and it keeps me thinking. If I had the same set every night, it would start to get static and maybe a little bit boring, so to so it this way is a little more interesting. Getting them together was a bit of a challenge but, since the tour started, it has really proven to work well.

“I'd like to get it to a point where we can start experimenting a bit and maybe stop and just do a song with one member of the band during the show or two of them or have three guitars and not playing as a regular band set up just to mix it up a bit. We're not at that point yet, but I'm hoping we'll get there. It's sort of what I've wanted to do from the beginning but I've never quite achieved it, but that means the potential for it to be interesting is there, which makes me feel good about being on the road again, and it's exciting.”



Badly Drawn Boy – This Electric EP

Badly Drawn Boy – What I'm Thinking EP


Current listing of Badly Drawn Boy tour dates.


It's What I'm Thinking Part 1: Photographing Snowflakes
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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