The Red Elastic Band – Interview with Michael Head

The Red Elastic Band - Interview with Michael Head 3

I really enjoyed your recent show at The Old Church, Stoke Newington, London, I listened to it online. I especially liked the version you did of Daniella with your sister. It was a great set list, how do you decide on your set list and does it change every gig?

No! to tell you the truth it wasn’t really a set list, I had started to write the songs down then made the mistake of going on stage without my glasses, the list was at a distance where I couldn’t read it. It was just a list of songs, I was going with the flow really, there wasn’t a particular time where Joanne, John or Shona was going to come on, it was just all about the feel, when it felt right. The band always complain, they always say “Well he’s never going to do the same set list so why bother?”(laughs).

It makes it interesting for the fans doing it that way, it’s very rare as most bands perform the same list every night.

I like mixing it up sometimes, for example in the Red Elastic Band it’s quite flexible, sometimes it’s just a three piece. The other night at the church it was just me on my own with Joanne and Shona and John as guests. Sometimes it’s me a trumpet player and a Cello or the full band, it gets mixed up all the time. I think I would enjoy that myself if I was watching a band and going to see them 2 nights on the trot, I would appreciate that it was mixed up and wasn’t the same.

Some bands would feel uncomfortable doing that.

I like it, it’s good for me as well, it’s not going through the motions. There was such a good feeling and atmosphere the other night, I seen a lot of love in the audience, it kind of transcended around the room without sounding too hippyish (laughs).

Will you be playing more live shows?

Yes, there is a possibility of one in London and one in Liverpool, I’ve been in London for a few weeks staying with a friend, so when I get back to Liverpool I’ll make some plans because The Strands album is coming out and I’m going to be doing some more Red Elastic Band shows and maybe a bit more recording. Stefan who paid for the album is Parisian he has re-released it and is probably going to organise some gigs in Paris. I’ll need to sit down with Stefan and talk about where we are going to play. I got asked the other day was I going to promote the album and the answer was of course, because it’s a great album. I still haven’t got a copy, a lot of people think that I have a box of them at home but I haven’t, I wish (laughs).

Why did you decide to re-release The Magical World of the Strands?

It was Stefan’s idea, some independent and major labels had been asking him if they could buy the album off him or do something with it. There was extra songs that we didn’t put on the original album, he said to me “ How would you feel about if we do a double album”? “We re-release the Strands album and release the songs that didn’t go in the original album”. I thought it was a great idea, he came to Liverpool and played me these new remixes that Mark Coyle had remixed and they sounded fantastic! There was one or two songs that I’d forgot because it’s been 20 years. I thought this is fantastic it’s a great idea let’s re-release it, and it just evolved from there. It’s kind of all finished we are just ironing out a few last minute details, it should be released soon.

Stefan might already have some plans in the pipeline to do some gigs, I’ve had some ideas, we will have to get our heads together and work it out. It’s a good time at the moment, ultimately I want to do a Red Elastic Band album, with The Strands album coming out it’s quite exciting for me personally and I know the lads in the band are excited about doing an album. We live in different parts of the country but we have a way of doing things were we get the tracks separately and then we get into a room and thrash it out for a couple of days then record it relatively live.

Where did you get the name The Red Elastic Band from?

I was walking up and down the street quite early in the morning going to the shops and I kept seeing these elastic bands on the floor, and I didn’t know what they were. I originally thought it was drug paraphernalia, dealers throwing elastic bands on the floor, I just couldn’t think what it was. Then I found out they came from the postman, when they deliver letters, they throw the elastic bands on the floor. I just kept seeing them everywhere and I was thinking “ What are they??!!”  They only arrived in Liverpool a couple of years ago, my mate said “Don’t freak out its just the postman”. I’m a Liverpudlian, I’m a red so there’s connotations, the name really hit a chord with me, I thought that says everything about the band, it’s a flexible idea, it’s a flexible concept if you like without sounding pretentious.

That was the idea, sometimes we can be a 3 piece, because not all the musicians are in the Liverpool at the same time. We have got options were we can play as a 3 piece or a full band. My sister is in a choir in Liverpool, so I’m doing something in November with the choir on my own, so it’s quite diverse, I really like the idea that it’s not just the one format.

What way does it affect the songwriting process? Do you write on your own or do you get the band together and write?

I personally write the songs, I’ve been doing it since I was 17-18. It was a fluke how I became a song writer. When I was in The Pale Fountains there was three of us, when we first started off we didn’t have any songs, we had a keyboard player and Chris who was on bass and me. One evening in the cellar of this pub we said “ Ok we are going to need some songs”. We had this melody, we said to each other “ Why don’t we all go home write some lyrics, embellish the melody, come back the next day and see what it sounds like, and see if there is a song there”.

So we all went home and I did some lyrics and a bit of melody for it, well Chris didn’t do one and Nicky the keyboard player didn’t either, but I did one, and I was really nervous because they were my friends and it was the first time I’d ever tried it and because it’s your friends it’s even more daunting, they might just laugh in my face. One of the lads said he didn’t understand it, but Chris, who was my best friend at the time said he really liked it, so I basically became the song writer that day, and from then on I got the confidence. He really instilled a lot of confidence in me, he could’ve turned round and said “ Let’s try again at the same time next week”, but in that split second I just got that appreciation and confidence.

From then on I thought to myself “ Ok you can do it on another one, get some more lyrics together”, it evolved from that. As the band evolved I said to the rest of the band, even in The Pale Fountains “If anyone’s got any songs, bring them to the table, we will all have a listen to them”. I didn’t want to collaborate with other people, it’s not that I didn’t want to do that, I just felt a belief in my own songs because it was like if I had an idea and a concept and a story to the song, it’s not that I didn’t want interference, I knew where it was going, I knew what the song was about. If there was a story in the lyrics, I knew how the story should go, even though sometimes it’s only three minutes.

Some people say to me “You have so much going on in the song in three minutes”. I sometimes think they are like little plays for want of a better word, crammed into 3-4 minutes, my ambition ultimately is to write plays. I still say to the rest of the band, “If you have any songs, bring them to the table”. It hasn’t been a stipulation in the band that I write the songs and that’s that! That’s not the case, I just write my own songs, and also within my songs if anyone says “ How about this, how about that?” If it’s right, we will use it and if it’s wrong we won’t.

I would imagine that it would be slightly intimidating for a band member to approach you with a song after all the great songs you have written.

My brother is a great song writer.

I love the song off the album that John wrote, ‘Loaded Man’.

Yeah it’s an incredible song, it’s amazing! He’s done songs on Shack albums. I think he’s writing his own album at the moment. With Shack, Ian the drummer was into Miles Davis and John Coltrane there was a bit of a jazz element to it because we all appreciated the free form. Pete the bass player actually learned to play bass to John Coltrane. Me and John appreciated Miles Davis from an early age and Gil Evans. Sometimes if I had an idea of a sequence of chords or rhythms, I’d just say to the band “Let’s go nuts”! “ let’s jam it and see where we go”. We had kind of intuitive way of working, they knew me inside out and I knew them inside out and sometimes that works. I enjoyed doing the free form stuff as well, it’s exciting. Sometimes a song has got a story and you need to craft it where you want the story to go.

Are you songs all autobiographical or do you create songs from observing?

I’d say some of the ideas are part fact, part fiction, some are complete fiction, some are compete fact. ‘Streets of Kenny’ for example is complete fact, whereas something like ‘Cup of Tea’ is fiction. It’s about a girl on LSD who is basically living in somebody’s house and she’s getting paranoid because she thinks someone is spiking her tea with LSD and she’s right.

What about ‘Oscar’ is it fictional?

No! the name ‘Oscar’ is fictional but the lyrics are fact. I read an article in a book called ‘Made of Stone”. It said that you could go to brothels in Holland and the National Health Service would pay for it. It was a fascinating story because Oscar was basically saying “ I’m not made of stone I can’t do it on my own” and he’s basically saying “ I need some assistance”. It sounded like a good philosophy to me, I just got intrigued by the story that there was a paraplegic in a wheelchair who couldn’t masturbate, and he needed assistance, and he got assistance and he didn’t have to pay for it.

It’s a great concept like who writes songs about subjects like that?

Thanks, it is a good concept, I loved the story, with that song there was a lot of fact and I’ve embellished it with a bit of fiction. He’s on his way to the airport because he’s been invited to Holland from England by a friend who says, “ Look come over here, it’s a good environment, it’s a good situation, there’s something real here that’s going on”, and he’s saying to himself “ I just hope there’s a ramp for me”. I got inspired by a fascinating article, I actually read the article and wrote ‘Oscar’ that night and went into rehearsals the next day and the band were like “ Where did that come from?” I could see Ian the drummer at the time with a big smile on his face saying “ Yeah!! we’ll have this”. It was one of them inspiring stories that inspired the song that didn’t really need much thinking about, it was almost there, all I had to do was work the chords out that I wanted and put a bit of structure to it, the rest was the band who put the feel the instrumentation and the groove. I enjoyed doing that.

The songs that come quickly seem to be the best songs, is that right?

Yeah, personally I’ve never been one to sit down and say “I’m going to write a song today” I’m not the sort of person to have a pen in my hand and stare at the page, I would rather it came in different forms like a dream or reading or watching something or being inspired by something in day to day life. I’m quite a big observer, I’m not one of those people who sit there and watch the world go by, it’s just things don’t pass me by. I like writing songs in different guises really, sometimes something will just hit me, like a lot of my songs. Sometimes you can over cook it, if too much thought goes into it. Sometimes I’ll go “Let’s just out that one aside and I’ll come back to it” and it never gets brought back again. We’ve got a new song called ‘Working Family’, I wrote it about 20 years ago.

I had the whole concept of the story, it’s about a prostitute who used to be on good times, she was an actress and a model then she fell on hard times and became a prostitute and had to support her family, and that’s what the concept of the song was about. I was so delighted with the first verse and the chorus and the bridge and everything, but when I came to the second verse and I just drew a blank, I thought “Okay well that’ll come”, I thought to myself,
“I’m not just going to write anything, to finish the song off”, then I would go back to it and think no, the story was too good to have a stocking filler of a second verse, so it literally did get pushed to one side. I was working on some songs, ‘Velvet’s in the Dark’ and ‘Koala Bears’, I had finished those two and they were ready, but for some reason, I don’t know why, I pulled ‘Working Family’ out of the back of my mind, and the second verse just came, it’s complete now. It didn’t take 20 years, it wasn’t a problem. I’m always moving on with songs, I’m always writing, it was never a niggling problem at the back of my mind it was just “ Ok we’ll finish that when the time is right”.


The worlds not really waiting for it because they haven’t heard it, so it’s no big deal, when it’s right, it’s right, it takes how ever long it takes, if ever! I’m really happy with it now, whenever we do the new album I’m going to put it on there. I’m really happy with the fact that it could’ve went in any of the last three albums, but if I’d have just put a half baked second verse in, it would have niggled at me I think, so I personally think it’s been worth the wait.

Did all the music come together easily for it?

Yeah, and I don’t mean to sound too psychedelic, I’ve just had my dinner and a cup of coffee that’s all (laughs). I’m a bit of a dreamer, I would wake up and not only have I got the structure of a song, but I’ve got what the song is about, the lyrics, almost the bulk of the song, the whole concept of the song, sometimes it’s there ready. I hardly ever start with lyrics, nine times out of ten it’s the idea of the song and what it’s about, I love that. I’ve got a vivid imagination, my mum used to say “ Your imagination runs away with you”, I don’t mind, so I utilize it to the full,within songs. I love writing songs and ultimately I’d like to write plays.

Would you ever consider writings concept album and tell a story from beginning to end like a play?

No, I’ve never thought of that actually, I understand what you are saying, no it’s never crossed my mind. My girlfriend used to say to me when I’d tell her about a great idea for a play “ Look you have had so many ideas for plays, come back when you have finished one” (laughs) and I’d say fair enough, you’ve got a good point there.
I understood where she was coming from, but I have just finished one and she likes it and thinks it’s good, so I’m going to try and do something with that in the meantime.

You are a great song writer and have a cult following but mainstream success has alluded you, how do you feel about that?

As far as I’m concerned we’ve done our job, our part of the deal, the concept of making an album, we’ve done our bit and wrote the songs, and we’ve recorded it. I’m not saying it’s the labels fault, I can’t out my finger on it, but if I let things like that get to me, I wouldn’t write songs. I’m not the sort of person to dwell on things, I move on.
I personally think it’s a good way to deal with life really, just move on. Don’t get me wrong everybody needs money, but it’s not the be all and end all in my world. I’ve got a family so money is more important nowadays than what it was 20 years ago. I’m doing all right, I’m in a good place, it’s pointless dwelling on things that’s happened or not going to happen, what’s the point?

It’s all very positive with the two Strands releases coming out, will we hear a Red Elastic Band album next year?

Yeah, most of the album is written. There is a church in Liverpool with fantastic acoustics where the priest allows bands and choirs to play. He is decent man and he lets people use the church, so we were going to record the whole album in the church. The producer has his own little studio which is his comfort zone, he said by the time we get all the equipment over to the church and other bits and pieces it’s going to cost a fortune, so what we are going to do is kill 2 birds with one stone. We are going to hire the church, rehearse the album for a week and film it, with people coming and going and getting the songs up to recording level. It will be quite a good visual, and then after the week when the songs are really tight, we will go into the studio and record it live in the studio.

Will the film piece be a companion with the album?

Yeah, you will get best of both worlds, I thinks it’s very exciting. When we are rehearsing, there will be people coming and going, we will have breaks, we will be chatting to friends. Things like that will make it a bit more exciting. Sam the drummers girlfriend is really good and she will film it, she has filmed us several times, she’s ideal to film it. Sometimes I hate the world concept but at the end of the day sometimes you’ve got to use it, you will have visuals, you will have the music as it’s getting rehearsed up to recording level and then it’s recorded live in the studio. It’s quite exciting for The Red Elastic Band and myself. The band know the songs , I’ve recorded them acoustically on a good microphone, so they can take them away and listen to them, so by the time we get to the rehearsal situation there’s no wasting time, we just kick straight in.

That’s how we did ‘Artorius Revisited’, I recorded them on a microphone, by the time the band was in the room together everybody knows the songs inside out were not wasting studio time. That was the first time I’d met Sam the drummer, I’d sent him my ideas down, he learnt them in Southampton. Pete learned his ideas for bass in London, we went into the rehearsal room and it was already to go, and after an hour or so we said “Lets record“, so that’s the same format how we are going to do the album, it’s a good way of doing it. We are not all 16 anymore living in one big house, we are all over the country, it works for us, we sat down and thought of a way of doing it and it works for everyone.

The Magical World of the Strands is out now, buy it HERE

Pre-order The Olde World – Michael Head and The Strands HERE

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