Interview with Stephen Jones and John Pedder
So, what’s all the fuss about this Baby Bird character, then? After the release of three rather fine solo albums, each containing a polling card which the purchaser can use to influence his future musical output, Steven Jones has put a band together and is touring Europe.
Drew spoke to him and John (bass) before their Birmingham gig.
I understand you’ve been having a hard week…
Steven: Well, a hard day actually. We were in Amsterdam yesterday and I did eleven or twelve interviews…it was badly organised really, I had to start at eleven o’clock in the morning
Right, well I’ll crack on then…I understand that you used to be a performance artist, or something?
S: Oh no……
Sorry, obviously the classic question…
S: Yes, not really performance art – it was kind of an anti-theatre company, we used to sort of stand up and march off into the audience. Try to break down the goldfish bowl thing really. Yeah, I did that for about nine years, and I try and forget it – although, we did get to see Europe and saw every city in this country, so it was a good experience from that point of view.
Right, so then you started Baby Bird as your own project, but how exactly do you see Baby Bird now. Is it still just you, or a fully fledged band?
S: Oh yeah, it’s a whole band. It’s five people. Although, there’s still two of the albums which I did by myself to come out. You know there’s going to be five? Well, the last two will be out over the next couple of months or so.
Yeah, and then you’re recording a ‘greatest hits’ as a band?
S: Yeah, that will probably be the first thing we do as a band, but we won’t call it a greatest hits. That would be a bit big-headed, because they’re not hits. It’ll just be re-recorded songs from those first five albums…done by the whole band this time, after we’ve finished the touring.
Right, so are you actually writing stuff as a band at the moment then?
S: No. Really, the band know that they won’t actually be involved in the writing process, but they have a lot of freedom in how they play the stuff live. Yeah, the band was originally put together as a promotional device, but it worked so well that we’ve become a complete group, although the CDs are still being released that I recorded alone. Really, Baby Bird has been a band since the summer, and we only first got together in April.
John: Yeah, and basically what we do is we reinterpret the songs, hopefully keeping the essence of the song itself. So, together (hopefully) the five of us will thrash it out and make it sound good. What you’ll hear, when we play live, is a much simpler form of what is on the CDs. There will only be one guitar. One keyboard…whereas the CDs are really layered.. maybe five guitars or voices or whatever. So it is simpler, and I think that’s the power of the band – that it’s simple music, no guitar solos, no drum solos..
.S: Yeah, we keep it very simple, and direct…..
Was ‘Fatherhood’ a specific concept, or just a bit of fun at the time with the sleeve photo?
S: No, I came up with the idea about ‘Fatherhood’ because a lot of the songs were about bringing children up into the world, so the photograph came afterwards.. as an illustration.
Is bringing children into the world something that concerns you then?
S: I do worry about it. I don’t have sleepless nights, but I think about it a bit because I probably will have kids one day – don’t know where or what country, maybe on an island somewhere with no-one else on it, I don’t know. But the ‘Fatherhood’ album for me is the only one with any kind of a concept behind it, because I drew the songs together intentionally and it seems to have worked, whereas the first two were collected so that the songs would be paced right rather than for any connection between the songs..
Hmnn.. I have to admit that the first two albums have sort of passed me by..
.S: Yeah, they’re hard to get hold of…we’ll probably re-release them, if the band stuff works and we keep going, which I’m sure it will..
J: Well, it does work live but it will be a bit of a test, because we’re now about to make a jump, we have to see if we can keep the spirit of the first CDs.. it’ll be interesting..S: It’ll work, it’s just how we do it that remains to be seen…
Will it be similar to how you play live now, then?
S: Well, while I think we’re happy with the live versions, we’d like to have samples, and different keyboard parts and stuff…J: Yeah, the final decision perhaps won’t be until we’re actually in the studio. I mean, Steven has the sound on his CDs sorted, and we now have the live sound sorted, and we’ll just have to see what happens when we start to use that basic live sound in the studio. It’s a different ball game when you do that, and we’ll be tentatively tiptoeing to see what happens
S: We will have some different styles as well…live we have a definite style – in contrast to ‘Fatherhood’, which has a sort of mixed style.. mainly because there’ll be a song that’s six years old next to one that is only six months old. So we want to retain that, without deliberately changing from one song to the next..
Anyway, what have you got against Father Christmas.. is there something we should know?
S: ‘Fuck you Father Christmas’.. that was about the way Christmas is becoming – it should be renamed Nintendo or something. I mean, imagine the pressure with having kids.. going to the toyshop at Christmas, with all the product placement.. like Batman and everything swamping the media for a week.. so ‘Fuck you Father Christmas’ …it’s like black humour..’
Has anyone ever told you that you sound a bit like Bono on your records?
Oh right, how many times did you hear that yesterday?
S: Actually, I don’t mind, I quite like U2′s ‘Joshua Tree’ period – with all the simple tunes and that – but I think they’ve lost their way now. They’ve just become too big and too obsessed with their own madness…but I would always be interested to hear a new U2 record.. and I like being compared to Bono, because I think he’s done some good stuff. It’s better than being compared to, like, the Go-betweens – who we’ve never heard of – and all sorts of other stuff we’ve been compared to recently.
So what does influence you right now?
S: I like a lot of soundtrack music.. and I just listen to a lot of different things… but its not influence in terms of taking from it. I just think that everything I see and hear gets mashed up and comes out as my own thing
That does seems to define your records, you can’t say “this bit sounds like…”
S: People try, because they want to provide a reference, I suppose… actually, I quite like ‘Wonderwall’ -the Oasis version- and ‘The Universal’, by Blur… but it’s mostly soundtracks, because I like to watch a lot of films – and that’s what I’d like to do one day, make soundtracks. Not just that, but I’d like to do it.
Have you got an agenda for the future?
S: It’s just simple – we’re gonna tour until May, on and off, and try to fit in recording the album and trying different studio techniques. Try to get that final sound we want, which will be the hardest thing.
J: It’s going to make for an interesting few months, because everything else just seems to be rolling for us, and this will be a bit of hard work. And we’ve got to keep Europe happy as well, because Holland and France are starting to go a bit mad for us..
S: Our direction will be largely determined by the response to our polling cards (for favourite songs) in each album.. we’ll have to see how it goes. And in France, and Holland as well, they seem to like a lot of the American lo-fi bands, so that’s why they’ve picked up on Baby Bird I think.
They love the whole idea of me being some sad lonely bloke in this bedroom recording all these songs – they find it romantic, but I try to dispel the image. But the response to the ‘tortured artist’ is wicked. We never thought this would work.
It took two years to get Baby Bird off the ground, with my manager walking round all the record companies being told, “You just can’t do this – it’s crap.. come back when you’ve written a proper structured song, with some middle eight’s in it and stuff…change the words”.
Of course, as soon as I got a publishing deal to put out the first couple and we were signed, they all came flooding back with offers and we got to tell them where to go. It was great. You seem to have had a favourable response in the national press. How long d’you think it’ll last?S: No doubt the NME and Melody Maker will cut us down eventually, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens after we’ve done the whole band recordings.
OK, so do you prefer crunchy or smooth peanut butter?
S: Crunchy, for sure…
J: I like crunchy, but not on bread – I prefer to eat it out of the jar
What’s your favourite sort of rain? (cold, big, fine, wet..)
S: I don’t mind really. I like to sit inside listening to it though, on the roof and the windows.
J: So long as you’re out of it… I don’t like cold rain at all.
That reminds me, is it really cold in Amsterdam right now?
S: It’s freezing, it’s just a bit colder than here.. too cold So did you just stay in whatever big swanky hotel then?
S: No, this was a shitty hotel, we have seen big hotels. Before we were signed, we used to get put in the Hilton, but as soon as we did sign we were in bed and breakfast. We’ve been getting flown around recently and stuff, but the hotels aren’t as good as they used to be.
Bummer. Have you ever seen a UFO?
S: No, I haven’t – but I’d like to
So what would you do if aliens attempted to abduct you?
S: I don’t think I’d have any choice in the matter.. I’d be dead scared – all this sticking needles in you and stuff. I won’t think about it until it happens.
Fair enough. Steven, imagine the scene: you’re backstage at Blind Date, waiting to go on, and Cilla starts to cop onto you…what do you do?
S: Oh my God, what a question.. I’d tell her I was gay, or I had a girlfriend. In simple terms, no way!!!
Understandable, sorry about the daft questions.
S: That’s quite alright, it’s actually quite refreshing because in Holland they really start to try to delve into your mind and your subconscious. They analyse you all the time – ‘Why did you write this song’ and all that sort of thing. And I’m like, ‘Well, I just did’. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t mind, but it gets a bit scary after a bit.. it started to get too much yesterday….
Baby Bird were talking to Drew, in February 1996.