Graham Coxon

They say that when something ends up in the written form it immediately becomes fact. Earlier today when the 3AM girls reported that Graham Coxon was back in Blur the rumour spread across the web with many popular news sites reporting the story as fact. In a Designer Magazine exclusive Graham Coxon spoke phoned up Designer Magazine this afternoon in his first interview since the Mirrorgate scenario and told us the truth behind the headlines. We also looked at his love / hate relationship with art and his forthcoming exhibition at the ICA this month

Q: As you can imagine we had a set of questions ready last night, woke up this morning and ready sceptically today's "revelations" in the Daily Mirror. Just to clarify how true is the story printed that you are rejoining Blur?
A: It's not true at all. Of course not. Is anything you've ever read in the Mirror true? Can you read any evidence that what the headline said was true within the piece? All that piece says is that I’m definitely recording another solo album with Stephen Street, it doesn't really say anything about me joining Blur at all. So the headline is wrong for what the piece is. It should be ignored.

Q: So you haven't met up with the other guys recently?
A: I have met up with them. Of course I have. It wasn't like a secret meeting; it was just that we didn't tell anybody. It's nobody's business, but it doesn't mean there are any secrets. It was quite nice meeting up because we went through a lot together and we haven't really seen each much other to communicate one to one for quite a long time. There was quite a lot to say to each other.  It's good to see each other every now and then and I think we'll see each other now and then in the future, but I think that's really to mend stuff emotionally more than anything else. The professional and creative side of it is no different.

Q: I'd imagine if you were so close to a group of people for over 10 years and then didn't see them properly for two years it would be quite an emotional experience. Who exactly was it that set in place the idea of meeting up together?
A: I can't really say. It's no-one's business really. It was to do with something that was not in anyway a creative thing.

Q: You see a lot of artists. Sometimes artists feel the need to embrace their former bands back catalogue, other artists need to make a clean break. I imagine you always needed to make that clean break and put a full stop behind you
A: Yeah. It wasn't just musically. It was in every sort of way really. When I got cleaned up in the Priory I realized with a clearer head that my priorities had changed. They should have changed and I hadn't noticed it. That's what was really upsetting me at the time. I was due for a change or for an update on my priorities. With my daughter, who at the time was one, my domestic life needed to take more precedent and really with my own self I needed to develop quite a bit more. So that put Blur down the list of priorities quite a lot by the time I came to thinking about it.

Q: When was the last time you listened to a Blur record and what were your thoughts on it?
A: Oh crikey. I haven't listened to a Blur record in ages. Not because I don't like it, I’ve just been listening to other stuff.

Q: Going back to Graham Coxon as a solo artist. We saw you on the first solo tour and you seemed quite uncomfortable being up on-stage in the spotlight
A: By the time I got to Manchester I was feeling all right, I wasn't feeling so bad. You know Manchester is always a bit of a hard place for people coming from London, just with all the history. Manchester has this immensely huge and healthy history musically. Before there was a kind of London / Manchester divide, I was aware of lots of groups I knew that were from Manchester and I didn't even realize it. There was always a thing of I’m going to "Manchester" and if people dig me in Manchester then I’m really very happy because there can be a coldness that goes with all that. Manchester has it's own pride and London has it's sort of pride and sometimes we can be a bit mean to each other, but I think if we dig the music we can get on really well.

Q: Do you really think that divide is still there in terms of music?
A: I think the divides are breaking down even across to the States. I think now, more than anytime I can remember, bands are sounding pretty similar whether they're English or American, from Manchester or London…or Leeds or Welsh or Irish. There's a focus that hasn't been there for ages and ages and some American bands are sounding quite English like they did in the late 70s and early 80s. Like, Mission Of Burma to me always sounded almost like they were part of the British Arty New Wave. I kind of like that. I like not being able to tell the difference.

Q: I guess you've always just listened to music in general rather than where it's from. Whereas the media always likes to focus on a location I.e. this month is the time London bands that we have to saturate
A: Yeah because of this guerrilla art gig thing. But for ages it was the bloody Hacienda wasn't it, which I had the pleasure of playing in once (actually maybe a couple of times). When Blur first started and we were playing Manchester the Hacienda was the place to go. That was where a lot of exciting stuff was happening and London was pretty dead.

Q: How do you feel about live shows now? I've always got the impression that you prefer working in the studio rather than going out on the road
A: I love the magic of the studio. I'm still amazed by the process of recording. But live shows are cool. I just got back into the idea of enjoying it live. I think a lot of cynicism has dropped away from my shoulders since I stopped drinking. I kind of let myself enjoy the affection that I was feeling from the audiences touring this year. I really really like playing and I really like my little group I’ve got as well. They're there for fun and playing and there's no sort of careerist stress going on with it.

Q: Is it quite important that you've now got a band around you that are friends as well as musicians?
A: Yeah. Definitely. They're people I've known for ages so it's just having more of a laugh. I don't have this demand on myself to be absolutely fantastic. I think we do play good and I think the gigs are pretty cool gigs to see. They're very noisy, energetic and cool and nice (laughs). But it's not really important. I think that comes out cos we enjoy it rather than trying desperately white knuckle to do a good job.

Q: Being on tour with all the temptations is it quite hard to resist?
A: What? Drinking? Nah. Not at all. There isn't alcohol always around really. When you’re in the dressing room there is. If you go near the fridge there's beer, but if you don't go near the fridge it's not as if there are crates of beer and scotch lying around. It's mostly Mars Bars and peanuts and cheese and you go to the fridge and there's Red Bull and Beer. It's not like people are holding me down and pouring beer in my face (laughs)

The other guys drink, but they don't drink anywhere near what I used to. And I think they're slightly respectful of the fact that I’m off it, so it's not a problem.

Q: Addicts usually replace one addiction with another. What do you have on your tour rider now?
A: Well there's still beer on there and a bottle of wine. There's Dr Pepper and Red Bull. Cheese, bread, crisps and chocolate. I think we have a lemon, some ginger and honey for me to have. Being a singer now I have to get all fussy...I must have my ginger and lemon and all that. Because I shout a lot during the show, in the morning I’ve always lost my voice and gradually it comes back during the day. I slurp a bit of honey, lemon and ginger back and everything seems to be all right.

I don't think of myself as a singer really. I sing, but I don't think of myself as a singer. I think of someone like Mariah Carey as a singer. A singer for me is more like someone who is standing alone with a microphone like Scott Walker, rather than someone who is bashing a plank and is spitting all over a microphone.

Q: Now that you've stepped out as a front man or singer could you ever imagine stepping back and being Graham Coxon the guitarist
A: Yeah, totally. I could concentrate on playing. Playing and singing at the same time is pretty cool, but sometimes it's difficult to know when you can just really let go a bit because you've got to get back to bloody microphone and sing some stuff.

Q: Who do you admire in terms of guitarists who sing as well as being lead guitarist?
A: I always liked Weller and Townsend. People who play and sing? I saw them in Japan and the guy from the Black Keys was pretty impressive. There are a lot of people who can do it on the guitar and sing at the same time, but I think what is harder is bass players that can play the bass and sing. I think that's harder. That's always a bit WOW. Toby in my group plays bass and does backing vocals and I sometimes think that's a bit of an achievement.

Q: Some of you group recently went out with Charlotte Hatherley on tour. Do you find that attitude quite refreshing that people are going out playing with different artists and collaborating with other people?
A: Yeah. It's a bit loose and the people in my group have got other groups. They don't have to have a total allegiance to me. I think that's really a bit weird and showing some weird insecurity. I'm not going to pretend that I am the best thing in their life and they have to be totally loyal.

Q: The one thing that the 3AM piece did get correct, and admittedly this was common knowledge before hand any way, is that you're talking to Stephen Street about your next solo record. How is that panning out?
A: I've demoed it a bit at home on my 4-track and I’ve got a whole bunch of songs. I told him (Stephen Street) and he was like wow, how about it. So he'll probably come over and listen to them and we'll choose about 5 to go and record in the New Year.

Q: Is it sounding pretty similar to "Happiness In Magazines?
A: Kind of. It's a little bit more in the other directions. It's got a little more "Freakin Out" and a little bit more slushy at the other end. Like the new single really, "Freakin Out" and "All Over Me", it is those 2 extremes even more so I think. It's the same sort of thing, but I think the sentiment is a little more adolescent and whiny. After a while you've settled into the new life you've have made for yourself you can still grumble, so there I am grumbling a little bit about girls and stuff. I started writing this record quite a while ago, so I’m not grumbling so much about girls now but there are songs about grumbling about girls on the album.

Q: What are the song titles of the grumbling about girls songs on the album?
A: There's a song called "What's He Got", but I might record "What's He Got" and it's crap so it's not on the album. There has to be a cohesive thing and that goes for song titles, lyrics and the emotional drive of the album. It has to link with the artwork and wear the right tie. Things like that.

Q: There we go...the Graham Coxon clothes reference. Every interview I read recently you're talking about clothes and shoes. It's a recurring thought in your life I guess
A: I'm a bit of lunatic with shoes and jackets and jeans. It's just how I am. I've always been like that since I was a kid. I've always looked at shoes as being immensely beautiful things. I really don't understand people who don't give much of a shit about clothes...and mostly they're drummers and bass players.

Q: Between fashion and the art world they're very closely inter-linked areas which takes us to your art exhibition. Taking it back to Goldsmiths, what were your fondest memories of those days?
A: It was just hugely exciting with lots of little genius' running around. There were some extremely good teachers there that were great artists really in their own right. It was actually very hard to concentrate on getting down to going any work being an art student especially when it's a flighty thing at best. There was always a lot of inspiration drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and eating pizza in the Student Union bar (laughs)

Q: Artistically who has been your biggest influence?
A: I liked William-De-Kooning and Franz Klein and earlier on I liked Cheval and Picasso. Also a lot of the Symbolists like Redon and Von Stuck. I’m a bit of confused because there's a big sea between Symbolist, Figurative Painting and more spiritual abstract painting. I think the exhibition shows that actually, where I am, treading water in a big sea.

Q: This is your first exhibition. Have you seen people from Goldsmiths who have carried art on full time and wish you'd have been able to carry on doing that full time?
A: Not really. There's nothing to stop me doing it anyway if I wanted to do it. I'm still trying to discover my position on my own artwork and hopefully at this exhibition someone will come and tell me. I'm open to listening to criticism.

Q: You do have a love / hate relationship with art. A few months ago you came out with the statement "I don't even like art. I f**king hate art. It's rubbish"
A: I f**king hate art. Sometimes I do, but I can't remember what my particular bee in my bonnet was then. Perhaps it was just because of its massive bourgeois nature and it's insular highbrow intellectual snobbery. But I have talked about that with people like Mr Joplin (Jay Joplin of the White Cube Gallery) and they're all pretty much in agreement. The people that I knew from Goldsmiths like Sam Taylor-Wood, Mr Joplin and Damien (Hurst) are really serious about their work, even though they're not always serious as people. They've always been really really encouraging to me. I think I saw them last at Alex's (James) wedding and they're always nice to me.

To me it's a similar struggle writing a song as to painting a picture because you're dealing with a similar sort of truth. You know when you're lying. You do when you're writing lyrics and making music and you do when you're painting a picture. Other people can tell as well pretty quickly.

Q: Are there plans to take the exhibition outside London?
A: We haven't really thought about that. This is an idea that has come off and within a week it will be there. After that, we will think and maybe we can take it somewhere else.

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

"Freakin Out / All Over Me" is out Oct 25th on Parlaphone
Graham Coxon's art exhibition takes place at the ICA on Oct 30th/31st
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