Before playing a storming show at Rock City’s basement, Glasvegas bassist Paul Donoghue spoke to Impact’s Robert Smith about touring, songwriting and what it’s like when one of Britain’s most famous rock stars tries to jump on your tour bus.
You’re in the middle of a UK tour. How has it been so far?
It’s going really well. We hadn’t toured live in a while, so sometimes you can have two left feet at the start and it can take a while to get into it. But Leeds was the first show and we really hit the ground running. A couple of years ago when the tour was done we’d always wonder, why was the first gig never that good? And it was probably because we weren’t really prepared. But this tour, it’s been getting better every night. Except from Wolverhampton, where the fire alarm kept going off. Then the lights went out. Everything that went wrong happened at Wolverhampton, so thankfully it was contained to only one show.
I prefer the smaller gigs because it feels more like what we are
Rock City’s basement is quite an intimate venue. Is that something you enjoy or would you rather be playing to stadiums?
Every show has its good points. It’ll be good to do the only room in this building that we haven’t played before. With small venues there’s always an atmosphere and an electricity that’s hard to get in the bigger venues. Onstage it’s always amazing between us four and the crowd: the smaller venues tend to bring that out a bit more. You can see them, you can hear them. Well, unless they’re hurling abuse at you, then you don’t want to hear them! No, I prefer the smaller gigs because it feels more like what we are.
When we spoke before you said the last time you played at Rock City you met Brian May. Is that correct?
Yeah. Well I didn’t meet him, but we were playing with two tour buses; a band bus and a crew bus. People were just sitting in the crew bus and this guy got on with this pastel-coloured suit. And it was Brian May. Then someone came running up behind him shouting “this isn’t your bus!”. He turned round and instead of saying “what? who’s bus is this?” he was like “what city is this again?”. So he didn’t even know what city he was in. Which I imagine comes from being one of the best and well known guitarists in the world.
The new album is Later…When the TV Turns To Static. Why is it called that, and what themes are involved?
It was James [Allan] who came up with the title, obviously he writes the songs. He wrote that song and it became the title of the album. He’s explained it as being: when a TV is on static, there’s something not right. No-one’s there to get up and turn it off. Something’s out of balance. Once he got that song, he knew it would be the name of the album, and that would reflect on some of the themes going through it. You’d probably need to ask James if you wanted more details. I think the general theme is that something is not quite right.
I’ve never met someone with so much empathy
Are the songs personal to James, or does he put himself in someone else’s shoes?
Some of them are. I’ve known James for 15 years now and I still find it hard to tell when he writes a song about him and when it’s about someone else. I’ve never met someone with so much empathy. He’s able to really understand someone else’s position. He can read a paper – well, look at the pictures! (laughs) – but when he reads a story he can really put himself in that person’s position and write as though it is a personal thing to him. It can often be him just looking at a situation. So, I’ve still not got to the bottom about what songs are about him and what songs are about someone else. Except Geraldine, because his name’s not Geraldine!
James produced the latest album, how does that work out?
Yep, he co-produced the first album and the second album was produced by Flood, but he was so influential it was pretty much co-produced by him as well. And then this album, he produced himself with our engineer who does the lighting stuff. James says we were quite easy to record. You just set mics up, and hit record. He did really well, I was really proud of him doing that. It’s a big responsibility to actually take it on yourself and not have anyone to bounce ideas off or to give you ideas.
What’s your favourite song on the new album?
The last song, ‘Finished Sympathy’. I remember when they played it, I was blown away. It was one of those songs that just seemed to get better. It was easier than most to record. It just got better at every level it got worked at.
One review suggested the latest album is a ‘return to form’, in relation to its ‘disappointing’ predecessor. Personally, I think the second album is hugely underrated and often unfairly criticised. Is that the way you see it?
We’ve always been incredibly proud of our music. For about four years we played in clubs where there was not one person there to see us. We believed in those songs and were proud of those songs. Even with EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\, sales and critical reviews don’t really affect us. We’re more self-contained than that. We’re nothing but proud of that album. The sort of magazines you’re talking about, they might criticise it now, but one did give the album nine out of ten. So, they turn round and say it’s a ‘return to form’?
We thought BMG would give us a bigger platform
The band started up Go Wow Records, your own record label?
Yeah, the album was released through BMG, but Go Wow Records is our label. We wanted to release a single and because BMG weren’t involved yet, we had to set up our own label. We may have gone down the road of self-releasing, but we thought BMG would give us a bigger platform.
Are you looking to expand Go Wow to include other acts?
No, not just now. Maybe further on down the line. We’ve just done this album, hopefully we get a chance to do another one. If we don’t do another album we might be the first band to be dropped off our own label. We might drop ourselves and sign somebody else!
Do you listen to much music on tour?
Yeah I do. I listen to David Bowie, quite an unhealthy amount! I’ve got 15 songs that I play constantly. Rab has been listening to Chvrches. Non-stop. It’s quite monotonous after a while. They’re a great band, but it’s just everyday he plays the album from start to finish. It’s always in a room next door, so you can’t quite hear everything. It’s like trying to hear someone talking when they’re just out of earshot.
Some rap music was going on in the bus last night. James and Rab’s mum’s came down to see the show and they were sitting with two of our other friends from Glasgow – in their forties – with this rap on!
Did you get a chance to go to the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the V&A?
No I didn’t, but I’m a big fan. Actually, I’ve got two cats; one’s called Dave and the other’s called Bowie.
Do you write on tour? Any material penned for the future?
People always ask, how do you write? Most of the time they say, do you start with lyrics or music? It doesn’t really work like that. You can be walking down the street, and a song might come to you fully formed. I think James has still got a few songs that we haven’t heard. But it’s just a case of finding the time.
I’ve got two cats; one’s called Dave and the other’s called Bowie
We’ve just started the campaign for this album – after this we go to Europe, and at the start of next year we’ll be going a little bit further afield. We’ll be going to America at some point, and hopefully Australia. We’ve got a whole year and half of touring ahead of us. If we get the chance to get into a studio then we obviously would. We’re lucky enough, we’ve got our own studio set-up at Glasgow that when we’re not touring we can go into and record. It’s just dependent on James coming in with the material.
Do you find that you get a good reception from crowds overseas? Editors, for example, are more popular in Belgium and Holland than they are back home in the UK.
Yeah we do. I was talking to someone about that the other day, because Editors is always an example we give. If the fans in Europe are getting it more than those in Britain, then you might as well go to the fans. But we’re lucky enough to be kind of the same level everywhere we go. It’s really good that way, everywhere we’ve been we’ve always have a crowd like the size of tonight or perhaps slightly bigger.
Europe’s great: it’s always weird when they sing in the Scottish accent! We played Toyko for the first album, and there was what James described as a ‘mongrel accent’! This Japanese-Scottish hybrid appeared. That was funny.
What can we expect from the live show on this tour?
We’re not doing too much different. We’ve got a lighting guy who seems to love the smoke machine! I mean love it. I asked him, “why don’t you strap it to my back?” because it always seems to be next to me anyway. I’m the one going, “cough, cough!” throughout the show. We’re just doing a lot more songs off the new album: ‘Later…When The TV Turns To Static’, ‘Youngblood’, ‘All I Want Is My Baby’, ‘If’, ‘I’d Rather Be Dead’. We’re playing a lot of new songs we haven’t played before.
For someone less familiar with the band, how would you describe your music?
It’s always the hardest question, and the one that everybody asks you. Like these guys that drive taxis, “what does your band sound like?”. I’m like, “erm, Glasvegas”.
You’ve always had a recognisable ‘Glasvegas sound’. Have you ever considered a real departure from that, or is it a case of doing what you do best?
Yeah, I think it is. Personally, I always remember Oasis. When I was growing up they were the big band. People would always say they don’t ever try to sound different. If they were trying to sound different it wouldn’t sound as good as what they do. So that’s the way we look at it. But don’t get me wrong, that could change. James is listening to a lot of Hawaiian music, so the next album might sound very different! But James has got other projects that he’s been working on that have been quite a departure. I think that lets him get his crazy, artistic side out.
Robert Smith (@robertdgsmith)
Photos: Alex Ochman