Richard Ashcroft By Evelyn Mcdonnell – Brief Article – Interview
AFTER A BITTERSWEET TASTE OF SUCCESS, THE VERVE’S FRONTMAN GOES IT ALONE
With his hawk’s eyes and sunken cheeks, Richard Ashcroft strode into the cable universe in the video for 1997’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” one long Touch of Evil-esque take in which the leather-Jacketed singer shouldered his way down a crowded London street. It was a tour-de-force solo performance, the arrival of a bona fide rock star, all tattered spunk and swagger. Actually, at the time, Ashcroft was one of five: the Verve, a long-laboring outfit from the small northern town of Wigan, England. By the end of the year, the band had broken up amid the usual drug rumors and sellout accusations.
Going solo, Ashcroft plunged further into exploring his pet sounds: strings, horns, ’70s soul, country ballads, electric guitar. His elegant, elegiac debut, Alone With Everybody (Virgin), is a declaration of dependence (the singer and his wife, Kate Radley, former keyboardist for Spiritualized, had their first baby in March) and transcendence. These days, Ashcroft is not looking fame as straight in the eye as he did in the “Bitter Sweet” video. The whole concept of the English rock star– once a worldwide symbol of class rebellion and sensory indulgence–is “old school,” according to Ashcroft. This said from behind his rose-tinted sunglasses sitting in a suite at a trendy New York hotel. The English rock star is dead; long live the English rock star!
EVELYN MCDONNELL: How was it traveling here with your child, Sonny?
RICHARD ASHCROFT: It was like carrying the Dalai Lama: the most precious thing in the world.
EM: Have you always wanted to have a family?
RA: I think so. I don’t think lever thought I was going to be able to take on the responsibility. But the fears beforehand have been nullified by the actual experience, which is rich and fascinating and gets better every day. It reinstates a kind of life force every time I see him.
EM: It’s an antidote to nihilism.
RA: And narcissism.
EM: Do you feel like your lifestyle is going to change a lot?
RA: I think my lifestyle was changing anyway. The band splitting up and me making a record on my own have redefined who I am as a person, what I want, what I find interesting, what turns me on and what certainly doesn’t, and what I haven’t got time for. I think I’ve abused my own abilities in the past.
EM: When the Verve split up, did you know right away that you were going to go on and do your own album?
HA: Yes. I think if I’d stopped, I would have drowned, like a shark that stops moving. I want to pick up the people who are prepared to go anywhere with me.
EM: This album is much less generically a rock album. I hear country influences, and some of the best songs are ballads. What did you grow up listening to?
HA: Great songs always caught my imagination. When I was really young you’d still hear on the radio late ’50s and ’60s rock and roll and T-Rex and stuff like that. But my real first bands were the Smiths and New Order. I had a group of friends whose sole purpose was to go out and bring records back, and we’d either laugh at them or we’d find one great track. This whole culture grew up from age fifteen, sixteen to our early twenties, where early drug experimentation went hand in hand with discovering these incredible pieces of music, plus the desire to beat boredom by being in a band. This all fusing together gave us a kind of cracked pair of spectacles on what we wanted to be.
EM: You use a lot of strings. Did you grow up listening to classical music?
RA: I like the way Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and Jack Nietzsche use strings more than the classical side of things.
EM: I’ve seen you mention Brian Wilson a couple times in interviews. Is he a hero of yours?
HA: I just admire the weight of responsibility he took on himself when he was making those records that we’ll enjoy for the rest of history. He invested his life and soul and all his energy into creating this incredible sound. Plus he wasn’t fearful of having a sensitive, soulful lyric or melody; he didn’t have so much testosterone that he couldn’t express himself.
EM: Most of your new songs are love songs.
HA: Yes. “I Get My Beat” is about a documentary I saw on The Great Gatsby. It talked about the green light in the mist at the end of the book: when you obsess and obsess about finding the last piece of the jigsaw. It’s Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman; it’s that hunger most of us have in Western culture, that you’re constantly chasing something when the true meaning and beauty in your life is perhaps lying next to you in bed. My own music and my own hunger have often been blinded by my need to do this. I’m trying to get some kind of balance back and getting music to be part of my life, not the other way around: my life part of music.
Interview contributor Evelyn McDonnell is the coeditor of Star Don’t Stand Still in the Sky (N.Y.U. Press). Rock star poses: Richard Ashcroft wears a jacket by chrome Hearts, shirt by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Homme, and sunglasses by Gucci (opposite), coat by Tommy Hilfiger collection (this page). Stylist: Joanna Jacovini.
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