Richard Ashcroft fronted one of the most iconic – and successful – bands of the ’90s ‘The Verve’ though after going solo, he disappeared…so what happened?
Well after six years in the wilderness he’s back – and he’s pumped, teaming up with Mark Beaumont.
Having sold millions of records and banking some big bucks he went off-grid as Richard Ashcroft and here is what he told NME about it all:
“I didn’t have a mobile phone for four years,” says the conductor of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, choirmaster of The Verve’s 10 million-selling ‘Urban Hymns’ and rock’s eternal cosmic question mark. “I’d become a slave to it,” he says. “The amount of times you find yourself wondering why you just opened that mobile device up. Are you actually doing anything or is it just a habit that’s out of control?”
Six years on from his last major interview and with barely a handful of solo acoustic shows under his belt since he stopped touring 2010’s critically maligned (but quite intriguing) rap-rock fourth album ‘United Nations Of Sound’, Richard is bursting out of the woods like a wolf attack. He arrives at this west London photo studio as if fresh from lobbing Molotovs – hair shaven, eyes shaded, scarf across his craggy features and jabbering like an enlightened monk finally breaking his vow of silence.
He is, after all, released from years of self-imposed solitary confinement in Josef Fritzl’s idea of a recording session. His brilliant new album ‘These People’, a slice of classic Verve song craft with modernist electronic touches, was pieced together in his home basement studio in bursts over the past six years, in between “being a dad and living a standard-ish kind of life with dogs and school runs”. Having discarded the distraction of his mobile, he tinkered at length with “new old keyboards”, learning new crafts and trying reinvent the looping melodicism of ‘Urban Hymns’. “With all the studios closing down, record sales hit massively, the whole industry changing, I had to re-evaluate how I could still create these super records,” he explains. “So [album track] ‘Out Of My Body’ is in the mould of ‘A Song For The Lovers’, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, going right back. It’s a proper old-school record made with modern technology and old stuff to create something you’ve never heard before.”
“I feel like I’m number one again, like I’m born again,” says a lyric in the title track. Is this a comeback album?
“I don’t feel like it’s a grand return. That’s that sense of knowing when you’re through the storm. I’ve lost friends who weren’t able to see it through those darkest points.”
Were you disheartened by the critical mauling of ‘United Nations Of Sound’?
“When you don’t have the band backing you up, people will take shots at you because they see you as weak. It’s very Darwinian. They see a solo artist, a guy who was in a band, as a fawn with a slight limp, when I’m actually stronger now. For a period around ‘Urban Hymns’, The Verve became a juggernaut and suddenly you’re the Emperor’s New Clothes. Once you leave that, people try to get in a few shots. I’m not vengeful, but a couple of people over the years have overstepped the line.”
What happens then?
“It goes straight back to the playground. Like, ‘If I ever see you, man, beware, because your name is etched there and I will find you one day.’ Years ago in a live review, a guy was almost threatening to put a bottle to me if he saw me in a bar. Unfortunately for him, I found him. He understood when he met me that you don’t idly make threats to someone like me. You might be able to do it to Chris Martin but not to me. A lot of the hate and negativity has been a great fuel for me. Unfortunately for my critics, with every negative ounce of frustrated sweat they put into that piece, it’s like wind in my fucking sails.”
Have you lost faith in the music industry?
“Oh yeah, I’ve got no faith in it whatsoever. It’s sold itself up the river, stabbed people in the back instead of trying to create a good, solid British music alternative. Turn left for Cowell, turn right for this. The mainstream consumed our culture.”
But surely the monster success of ‘Urban Hymns’, alongside Oasis, helped drive alternative into the mainstream?
“But we do it better. You can get as many songwriters in a room as you want for your new talent show contest winner, it’s never gonna sound like a great Noel Gallagher song sung by Liam, it’s never gonna reach ‘Live Forever’, it’s never gonna be [Verve song] ‘Lucky Man’. We know that.”
Do you feel responsible for the current glut of singer-songwriters?
“I’d rather blame it on Neil Young. I’d hate it if I had anything to do with empty anthems. A lot of stadium rock now looks like the lighting guy wrote the song. But it’s a great time now to be a young songwriter because the tech allows you to have your own little record company, do your artwork yourself. Let the talent do what it does and we’ll always have great musicians in this country.”
Noel Gallagher recently said he’d be interested in making an album with you. Would you do it?
“It’s a great compliment for Noel to say something like that, and in the future who knows what might happen. I wish things like this would’ve happened years ago. Even the guys we had a bit of friction with, I look back and wish them luck. If I hear [Pulp frontman] Jarvis Cocker on the radio it gives me a good feeling. He’s waving a flag for culture from that time. We’re not stopping.”
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