Interview – Stephen Jones of Babybird
By Daniel Cairns
Though we’ve dealt primarily with noisy rubbish on the site, we never at any point said we were exclusively a metal site. You all just assumed it. Wankers. So to mark our first real step into talking about other music, we landed a doozy of an interview with Stephen Jones of Babybird. Stephen you see, is probably my favourite songwriter ever. And Andi’s I think. Anyhoo, apart from having a huuuuge hit in the mid nineties, he’s operated on the fringe of the mainstream since then, and it’s a fucking disgrace. He’s easily the most misunderstood artist in operation today. The man should be mentioned with the same reverence as Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen as far as we’re concerned.
I sent Stephen some questions, and by God he answered. Rather than go on a campaign trail up his anus like most musicians do during interviews, Stephen was brutally honest, self deprecating and funny as fuck. It’s a cast iron fact, that if you’re not at least a little bit interested in the man and his music after reading this, you don’t fucking deserve ears.
First things first, thanks for your time! You’re easily the most successful musician we’ve interviewed on our site, and you write actual tunes instead of gurgling about Satan and that. How is Mr Jones this day?
Very fine. Day in the park with the kids. It’s my daughter’s birthday and she faked a sore throat to get off school. I have written some songs about Satan, but only when you play the record backwards.
Your new CD ‘Ex Maniac’ is the catchiest, most anthemic album you’ve done for a while. What brought that on? Did part of you just think ’sod it, let’s go for it?’
I never really think ‘SOD IT’, but I’m more likely to not really think at all. The great thing about music is that it’s hedonistic. Your brain empties out when you make it. Pure pleasure. Lyrics are trickier though like with all writing. It involves the dreaded evil of thought.
Is the record doing well?
It’s not doing great, but it is early days. I’m not sure the record buying public likes music with BRAINS.
Like Them is a pretty damning indictment of Modern Britain. Are any of the lyrics based on truth?
Yes it’s all based on personal things. My daughter was taking swimming lessons and I was taking a photo, when some jerk lifeguard blew his shitty little whistle and asked me to stop. I think a lot of our lives are indirectly answerable to the criminal minority. In this case, like paedophiles.
Is the world today a noticably crappier place to live in than when you were a kid?
No, I know all the evils of the world went on when I was a kid, but now the media is more powerful and they love to peddle hate, and over-sensationalise information., so it’s hard to believe anything these days. It has all gone a bit shit, but hey, when you discover good music, it takes the pain away, just as it always has.
The video for Unloveable is excellent, and not just because some guy called Johnny Depp directed it and played on the track. Whose idea was it to base the video on ‘An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge?’
Johnny’s idea, but I originally sent him a synopsis for a funny hanging video, where the hungee comes back to life and breakdances. Johnny was shown the Owl Creek film by Bruce Robinson, who made Withnail and I/ Rum Diaries etc. Bruce’s daughter is in the video too. I thought the Twilight Zone original of Owl Creek was over-long, so it was ripe for a video. There’s a longer version we did with an elongated instrumental of the song playing over it.
I’d imagine the video won’t get a lot of play on mainstream TV. Is it frustrating that popular culture has become so ball-less, especially considering a lot of your work is extremely gutsy?
Yes, except on youtube. Channel 4 and MTV made pathetic excuses, and like Xfm etc, they think the song/video is ‘very strong’, but don’t know where to put it. It’s bollocks. Nazi-esque performers like Lady Gaga can hang themselves in videos and say MOTHERFUCKER on their records, but only because they have enormous aid from overspending rollercoaster fascist conservative record companies. Sadly, I’m only a minnow.
Will you be working with Johnny on anything in the future? Also, some guy I know who has met him says he smokes more rolly ups than any other man he has met. Is this true?
Yes, he wants to make another video, and yeah he likes fags and booze, but who doesn’t?
Speaking of stories, you’ve written two novels (neither I have read yet, because I’m a goon with a reduced attention span, thanks to Nintendo and telly), and my sources tell me there’s a third one on the way. Can you divulge any details about it? Also on that note, any favourite authors?
Can’t you read books on Nintendo yet, you SHIRKER? Also yeah, I’m starting a third. It’s all mapped out, and is quite epic on the one hand, and very minutiae on the other. It’s about the tidal wave of drinking, not being able to stop, a fat dolphin, a city called ‘Skyscraper’, and a man called Norton Canes, named after a service station. Favourite authors are Charles Bukowski and Cormac McCarthy.
The whole record is stuffed to the guts with songs that should be hits. What will the next single be?
Bastard will be next. Renamed Maniac, as radio won’t entertain the word Bastard. Had to change the word in the song too. Showbiz eh? Our luggers think it stands a good chance. I prefer Not Good Enough but that might be a 3rd.
Do you think the process of writing numerous records within the restrictions of using lo-fi equipment made you a better songwriter? Is the ease of access to higher-quality equipment nowadays killing that process?
Yes, definitely. When you have 4 tracks to work with, and you are such an idiot that you don’t know how to bounce down, you become totally resourceful, and really pin down the exact sound you want. I then went onto an 8-track minidisc, but now for a few years, it’s been garageband. It’s an absolute dream to use. So fucking easy. I still write like a lunatic, almost everyday, still as a hobby, as I did when I was on the dole. Nothing’s really changed. A laptop’s smaller than my old 4-track anyway, so in a way I’ve downsized. Cassettes were shit anyway.
Taking my demos into the studio is still weird, as I have little interest in the technology. I like to work fast without entering geekworld and having to read manuals, but it’s a necessary evil, and Ex Maniac proves that good production is worth being patient for, because it sounds big.
After You’re Gorgeous became a hit, you came back with There’s Something Going On, which was extremely bleak at times. Would you say that represented some sort of adverse reaction to your quick rise to fame, a la Pulp’s This is Hardcore?
Yes definitely, but people mistook the songs for self-loathing. I’ve always used characters in songs, so it wasn’t all about me directly. It was all well balanced though. If You’ll Be Mine was on there as a genuine love song. Take Me Back/ Bad Old Man/ Back Together etc, just showed the world as I saw it. That album got Depp and Marilyn Manson interested.
I like bleak though, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Somewhere within, there’s hope. I hope.
You also produce records under your own name (like Almost Cured of Sadness), that tend to be a lot more off kilter and minimalist than your Babybird work. Is there anything similar coming in the near future?
Yes, there will be another Death Of The Neighbourhood record, with fresher, newer songs. The last was more of a compilation of old music.
I’d like to get rid of the Babybird name. It’s always associated with THAT song. I’m convinced that that’s why we’ve got nowhere with festivals this year. The name just doesn’t look good in their trendy yoof-ful lineup lists.
We’ve pretty much exclusively dealt with noisy metal and punk bands on this site before now, because we’re all embarrassingly white and middle class. What’s the loudest, most horrible music you ever got into?
There’s some pretty monstrous and wonderful stuff on Mogwai’s records. Throbbing Gristle I guess, and Genesis P-orridge, Angelic Upstarts, Discharge etc. I used to like all that stuff. I’ve witnessed fans at a Korn festival gig from backstage. It was like a headbanging ocean of denim, leather and really loud shit music.
Stupid last question. You have a button. When you push it, someone somewhere on the planet will blow up. Who would you like that person to be?
My neighbour, who lives below me in the downstairs flat. He’s a tall lanky german banker, who jogs in tight lycra, and lectures me on everything about the house, like litter disposal. What a Nazi CUNT. I want to ask what his parents did in the war.
Any last words for the dregs that read the site?
PLEASE EDIT MY GRAMMAR, SO I DON’T SOUND TOO MUCH LIKE A MORON.