Inspiral Carpets recently released their self-titled album, their first for twenty years. In support of the album they're out on a UK tour. We caught up with bass player Martyn Walsh before their show at Sheffield Leadmill.
The album's out. How do you feel the reaction has been to it?
I think it's been really positive. There's a few opinions on where the album stands. A lot of people are saying it should have been the second album, a progression from Life, which I think is a fair assessment really. I just think it's a weird time, it's a difficult time to gauge how successful things are any more.
Chart positions don't count for a lot these days, do they?
I know this sounds a bit new age, but the fact we're happy with it, playing tracks off the new album live and we're still really excited about it, that's more than when we released something like Devil Hopping when we were probably a bit jaded.
You've not released it with the intention of getting in the charts though, although I'm sure it'd be nice if that happened.
Exactly. We released it because we wanted to. We weren't contractually obliged to or demands from the label. We'd done a couple of singles, asked ourselves whether we should do an album and we thought let's do it. And that's how we recorded Life really, we'd put some singles out and we thought we may as well make an album now, because that's the next step.
Particularly if you're continuing to write.
Exactly. In a lot of ways, it's interesting to see what happens next.
Do you think the album sealed the fact that Steve was now back in the band and this is now what Inspiral Carpets are?
In a lot of ways yes. To a certain degree, it was a full stop for that era. That's the defining thing, we've come back with Steve, we've started to write new material and we've put an album out. That's that bit done. We can move on to other stuff now or not as the case may be. We're under no illusion that we have to do anything else, but our appetite has now been whetted.
For a lot of us, going back and writing stuff again, there was a lot of doubt. What happens if people don't like it, a lot of what ifs. I think we discovered the attitude when we first started off, that fuck it, let's see what happens.
In a way it's gone full circle though, because in those early days, you did all have other jobs and the band fitted in around that.
When Steve left in 88/89, Craig met Tony Wilson at the Hacienda and he asked us if we wanted to go on The Other Side Of Midnight and we said yes and went on and played Directing Traffic without a singer. It was the attitude we had, let's do it, even at that point when we didn't have a singer. And we rediscovered that after the whole thing that had happened with Tom and someone suggested phoning Steve and we went why not, let's do it. Nothing to lose. I was really pleased that we'd rediscovered that attitude, which was what made me want to join them in the first place.
Do you think the record has that attitude too? There's no messing around. I was a fan early days through to Life and then I thought the later albums, whilst having some great songs, tended to meander in parts and there was too much trying to experiment
Yeah, I think you're right. Once we signed to Mute, that was our life then, being in the band. It was all we did and we didn't have a fresh perspective. For the first eighteen months of Life's existence we had about two days off, we were either gigging, or doing press all round the world. It went mad. So we almost had no perspective. Now, we've come back with this album and we've all got different things going on in our lives, I think you can bring that freshness to it. I'd really look forward to going to Airtight to record something we'd probably only played a couple of times. We were strict that we weren't letting any old shit go through, but that excitement of recording was back, unlike when we did Devil Hopping, when it was like "oh we'll go to Amazon and do it there."
It definitely comes across in the album and the lyrics. Take Our Time for example, "this is our time" feels like a statement is being made.
Definitely. Things like Craig writing a song for the first time, he came up with a beat, I got a bassline then he came back with the lyrics. It's on there because it's a great song not a tokenistic "let's let the drummer do a song" like The Beatles always seemed to let Ringo do a song to keep him happy.
So how did that songwriting process work. Did people bring ideas or did you get in a room and jam?
I don't think we've ever been that sort of band that would go in a room and jam. Take You're So Good For Me, it was a song that I'd been writing totally separately during late 2006/7, but the Inspirals wasn't the place to deliver that song at the time. It's quite a daunting task to deliver a song to four other guys and there's some pretty big personalities in the band. At times you're baring a little bit of yourself. I'd done a version with a girl singing, because originally I'd sent it over to Robyn's management team who I knew because they manage Moby. I wanted to go into that area of songwriting for other people and they rejected it because they said "Robyn doesn't do guitars" which I thought was quite strange.
Her loss was our gain. Once we got back with Steve, I ended up sending it to the others and hoping they liked it, you know how it is when you send an email and no one gets back in touch. Luckily, everyone got back and said yes we can Inspirals this up, so that was a relief and how that song got developed.
We started doing a bit of a jam with Let You Down. We wanted something in that Commercial Rain sort of vibe. We've always been quite democratic in the band about songwriting. Someone would come in with an idea and we'd play around. Sometimes that idea might be sparse or something fully formed, we don't tend to sit there and just start doing something. This time it's been really good because we've all been writing. We've all done it now so that monkey is off our back.
No fear of being rejected any more and now you've done it, if people say they don't like something it's easier to take.
Exactly. At times when we did The Beast Inside, it was the first ten songs we wrote that went on the album because we didn't have any time.
That's the problem with second albums, you've almost got to have written it before you've done the first because you get no time to sit down and write it if the first is a success.
I think Noel took that on board from us, having most of Morning Glory ready before Definitely Maybe. With hindsight, we probably shouldn't have released Island Head EP and had that as the cornerstone of the second album.
So, the live shows...
Last night we opened the set with Monochrome in Cardiff. It's a good opener, it might not be the best song ever written by Inspiral Carpets, but you can sense the crowd are getting off on the fact that we're really excited playing it.
And it's the first song on the album so it makes a statement
Yeah, it was done that way. Even though people might not know it if they haven't got the album, they're bowled over by the fact we're enjoying playing it. It's been good for us playing so many new songs. Last year when we were playing Fix Your Smile, we were asking ourselves if we were just going through the motions with it, but now we're interjecting the set with the new songs throughout and it doesn't feel like that. We do have to be aware though that some people might not want to hear Spitfire or Let Me Down and there's some who want to hear Whiskey, So Far and Love Can Never Lose Its Own, and then some who, especially as we're going out at Christmas, that just want to hear This Is How It Feels and Saturn 5.
How do you pick the setlist?
There's some songs that are staples that we have to play, well not have to, but we enjoy playing them and, at the end of the day, people are paying twenty quid so I don't think we can go off and just play a set of b-sides.
There's four big songs - This Is How It Feels, She Comes In The Fall, Dragging Me Down and Saturn 5 - that people would expect you to play.
Exactly. But the great thing about playing all the new stuff is that it's re-energised us playing the likes of This Is How It Feels, because the energy is there in a way it wasn't in say 2003 when we were playing just the hits and it had a feel of going through the motions a little. We got to the point where we did just that for four years.
I think though with comebacks, there is a starting point where you do play the hits because that's why people want you back in the first place, but then the band has to move on to stay fresh.
Yes, it's a good place to be at the moment. It's exciting to see what we do next. We've got the Minehead thing next year (the Shine weekender in November) and a few other pieces are being talked about. We might do something special where we play the whole of the new album at a gig, but we'd make it clear to people that's what they're going to get. We want to explore getting to America or Japan with this album, we haven't really explored it, but I think it's something we'd like to look at.
There are bands like James and The Charlatans who are still here, putting out albums, getting the response to them and pushing themselves forward. We had a really good conversation with Tim (Booth) a couple of years ago at Kendal Calling and his advice was to write new songs, to just get on and do it. They saw it as invigorating and empowering and we feel the same way.
You have done gigs in Italy and Argentina though. Argentina is a long way to go.
The demand was there, and there's been talk of going back and Brazil as well. The world is a smaller place and it's easier to get there. It'll be interesting to see if we can make it work and how we could do it. Look at the likes of Hooky going out and doing it, he's going all over the place doing his thing.
Let You Down is coming out as a single in January (although a signed 7" single can be purchased from the UK shows). How did John Cooper Clarke get involved?
We were rehearsing it and the song does have that Commercial Rain sort of vibe that lends itself to it. I know Graham knows his manager quite well and we had an idea that someone could do something in that part, so we just made a call and it happened, very similar to the way we got Mark E Smith involved. The song did the talking to a certain degree and it fits. Hopefully, he'll be able to make a couple of shows, but he lives in Colchester now, not Salford where you'd always imagine him living. Bizarrely up to now I've not met him, because he recorded his parts with Clint at XFM.
Will there be another single after that?
We're talking about it. We've done Record Store Day before so there might be something there, but it's just talking at this stage.
You've still got Reason Why (which was played on shows in 2012) that's unreleased?
Yeah, I don't think we've got anything else that's finished. I did a remix of Changes that might see the light of day. We've also been talking that Human Shield would be a song that would be quite interesting to do something mix-wise or teaming up with Ian Broudie as a producer, which has been talked about. That said, we do tend to have lots of theoretical discussions about things in the dressing room that we'd like to do or consider doing, what sort of bands unify us.
With that we both rise out of our seats in disgust as a Manchester City player goes studs first through the back of an Everton player and gets away with it. It's a fitting time to bring the interview to a close.
We reviewed the Sheffield gig later in the evening here.
Inspiral Carpets official website is here. They are also on Twitter and Facebook.
They play the following UK shows :
Thursday 11th - Middlesbrough Town Hall
Friday 12th - Glasgow ABC
Saturday 13th - Leeds Academy
Sunday 14th - Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Thursday 18th - London Shepherds Bush Empire
Friday 19th - Manchester Ritz
Saturday 20th - Northampton Roadmenders
Sunday 21st - Preston 53 Degrees
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