Interview: Justin Currie

Justin Currie initially found fame as the frontman and bass player in Del Amitri in the Eighties and Nineties before going solo. His third album, Lower Reaches, is out now. We had a chat with him about writing in Skye, recording in Texas and hitting the road in September.

Lower Reaches is out - congratulations! How're you feeling?

I'm quite excited. It's a bit like when you wake up on your birthday: you're in a strangely good mood and you're not really sure why.

You retired to Skye to write for the album. Have you done this sort of thing before?

I was only up there for eleven days. Del Amitri used to rent country houses to practice in and write songs, and it used to work quite well. Part of the reason I chose Skye was that I thought 'If I don't get any songs done I can at least do some nice walking.'

I wrote fifteen complete songs when I was there - I was just in the right mood for it. Usually it takes me years to write twenty to thirty songs. To have that many things in the bank is a great feeling! All writers are paranoid - you're paranoid about whether you ever write a song again.

You travelled to Austin, Texas to record the album with producer Mike McCarthy. What was the thinking behind that?

My manager and I realised that I would make a very similar record to the first two if I didn't bring in somebody from the outside. The way these songs are arranged is very little to do with me: I just wrote the songs and sang them! They're very different from the demos. That was the policy behind getting a producer - just to do something different.

Mike brought in two guitar players, one of whom played piano, a drummer and a bass player. We cut all the songs live - I could hear how everything was going to sound as it went down. In some ways it was quite terrifying because I didn't really have any control, but in other ways it was dead easy.

Would you work with McCarthy again on your solo efforts?

I would! When I was there I couldn't wait to get out but now that I know how he works I would be a bit more relaxed because, y'know, he's got a vision and you can't really get in the way of that. You spend a lot of time when you're producing just thinking, and that's what Mike does so it's hard to know what's going on in his head.

Some of Lower Reaches' songs sound as if they are based on personal experience.

I've always written autobiographically, so the songs sound autobiographical and some of them undeniably are. But I'm always warning people, 'this really isn't me'. If you write a beautiful love song, you don't want somebody to come and fall in love with you because of the song - the song isn't you. The song is a lie of sorts. It's something else.

The phrase is "happiness writes white". There's not a lot of purchase to be found in writing about joy and happiness. Singer-songwriter songs as a genre are kind of about introspection. Even famous straight-ahead love songs have got quite a bit of darkness or something bittersweet going on in them. That's kind of what makes them work.

The lyrics on the album come across at quite cynical at times.

Personally, I'm extremely cynical. I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with it. I think cynicism is quite a healthy way of regarding a world which, for want of a better term, is unfair on the vast majority of people who live in it. It ain't gonna change soon, so cynicism seems to be the only option for me.

I'm actually an enormous optimist, and I get into terrible arguments with pessimists because I do believe that one day the world will become a better place. I don't think I'd release records like this if I wasn't an optimist. I still think I'm going to Number One one day, which if you look at the facts is next to impossible!

And yet you called the album Lower Reaches - hopefully where you won't be in the album charts next week!

I quite liked that reference because it's one of the only times you see that phrase used, in an album review or something. That was one of the meanings that amused me. It can mean anything. It can mean the depths of somebody's despair, it could be a place: I felt like I'd gone very far down south to record that record.

You're touring in September - and you only have one date in Scotland. Whose idea was that?!

I never noticed that, and people point it out! People have been worried because I'm not doing Glasgow - but that's because there isn't really a venue the right size.

The venues need to have high ceilings: they need to be theatres or something resembling a small hall. Queen's Hall in Edinburgh is perfect. It's a bit big for me - whether I'll fill it or not is another question - but it's great for this sort of stuff.

You're playing solo rather than with a full band. I hate using this word but will these be more "intimate" gigs?

They're "intimate" in that I can't sell larger venues. It's a euphemism for "he ain't selling tickets anymore". You see it when people are being interviewed and they say "Yeah we just really wanted to shift down a gear and do some intimate gigs." No you didn't! You just stopped filling Barrowlands! Shut up!

I have always, Del Amitri or solo, played the venues I could stand a chance of filling. That's how it works.

You still play Del Amitri songs live. Is it nice to have that legacy, even now?

Yeah. I don't think there are any songs I would play out of a sense of shame. Some of them are badly written, or overwritten, because they're written by a young and enthusiastic person. I'm still quite proud of them.

Much of the solo stuff isn't as melodic or as pretty as the Del Amitri stuff, so I really need it in the set as light and shade, y'know? I'd be really hard-pushed to play an entire set of solo stuff unless it was a short set.

The band never really 'broke up', did it?

We're still together - we still see each other! The phone stopped ringing - we'd reached a natural end. There was no demand for Del Amitri gigs at all from the people that put gigs on. When there is, I'm sure we'll look at that and think about doing Del Amitri things, but so far that's not happened.

With the album now out, what next after the UK tour?

If I can get back to America I will but it gets more and more difficult every time, to be honest, it gets more expensive to do it. I'd love to get back to Australia - I haven't been there since '92. I'll do anything that involves me sitting in a bar playing to paying customers.