"How The Mighty Fall" is Mark Owen's third solo album and this time he's eschewed big name collaborators such as Suede's Bernard Butler and Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch to showcase his own songwriting talent. Whether it's the barbershop styled "Makin Out", the autobiographical "Believe In The Boogie" or the camp torch song "Stand" it's the sort of eclectic album Scissor Sisters would make if strapped down to an acoustic guitar and banned from touching the synths. Designer Magazine's Editor Alex McCann caught up with Mark in Manchester to discuss making the album in the same studio that Prince made "Purple Rain" and the Rolling Stones made "Exile On Main Street" in.
Q: The last time we chatted you'd done about 4 songs for the new album "How The Mighty Fall". Let's take it up from there where you were recording out in LA?
A: I suppose how it all started was with the writing process. I'd just finished my last show at the Shepherds Bush Empire. It was when I was on Island Records and it was just one of those feelings where you know they're going to drop yer. Because I knew I was gonna be dropped we put on this really big spectacle and event - we had a choir on and massive projections. It was a really nice show!!!
After that I then went through that period of what should I do now. I was a bit disappointed with the way the last album did to be honest with yer. I was thinking maybe I should try and find something else to do or just take some time out. I stopped listening to music for about 2 or 3 months and shut myself off, I literally didn't listen to any radio or watch TV. It was really good because it allowed me to lose a lot of influence in that sense cos if you know what the latest group is you can't help but have that in your head.
Q: And then the songs just started coming thick and fast
A: I went travelling round Europe for a few weeks and just found myself sitting at the piano and started writing this really simple piano line which became "They Do". That song coming out from me was where you get to a certain point in your life where you look back, you can see where you've been and you're looking forward and you're not sure exactly where to go. But if you just go with it and give it a bit of faith then hopefully things will open up. "They Do" then finished on quite a minor feel with some brass parts as a counter melody.
When that happened I really wanted the album to really open up and lift from there. I wanted it to be almost like the light. It was almost as if "They Do" was late at night and the next song was the sun coming up over the hill. That's what happens with "Sorry Lately". I write a lot visually which is always difficult to explain, but I have this image of a old man and woman. They've been together years and they're arguing. She's fell out with him and told him he's an arse and says she's leaving him. But they're older, about 50 years old, and everything's great. At the end, the middle 8, it becomes quite harmonious - some people have described it as quite Beatle-y
From there I got this little piano line for "Makin' Out", it started off with just the piano line that's in the verse. It almost gave me a little feeling of the old barbershop songs, so I got a melody based around real close harmonies. The song is about letting go and just going for it. It's a real joyous chorus that just opens up.
Q: The whole idea of the album was this time you wanted to write a positive album
A: Yeah, I did. Once the album started to take it's place and started to roll, I started to get really excited about it. Once you stop having the fear and stop holding yourself back, you can't help but be a little more positive about things. There's some really great pop melodies in the record. I love the fact that even when it is a little bit doom and gloom at times, it really lifts at the right moment.
The record itself went off on a little tangent around the middle. It's goes more eclectic and crazy for me with things like "Waiting For The Girl To Call" and "3.15" which is a little funk number like Ian Dury. It kind of comes back at the end and pulls it back down to where it started. It is something that takes you up and leaves you in a nice place. I like the fact that it's not too loud, it's not too big - it's just very open and it's not cool. The magic is it kind of does itself, the beauty is it just naturally flows into the next track. When I started writing the record I said I would only write 10 songs so I just wrote them in order and that's the order they appear on the record. In a way I was giving myself that extra pressure by making sure every song had to flow on, but in a way it allowed you to really focus and you weren't just writing randomly.
Q: How important was it to record with Tony Hoffer and specifically recording in LA?
A: It helps when the suns shining. You open your curtains in the morning and the sun's beaming through. It really helps with the atmosphere. I went over and worked with Tony (Hoffer) in LA in a studio called Sunset Sounds where obviously some great records had been made. Prince's "Purple Rain", The Stones' "Exile On Mainstreet" and the Chili Peppers have been in there - you can almost feel the ghosts of those artists in the room. And it was really nice to go over there, because there was no kind of "oh that is the bloke from Take That". I just went over there with my band and we put the record down. Going back to the last record a lot of it was very bitty, a song here and a song there a month later. This one we recorded the album in order as well and it was really nice to work with one producer instead of 7 producers. I recorded this album a bit more like the way I did "Green Man".
Q: The last album you worked with Bernard Butler (Suede / The Tears), Ian McCulloch (Echo & The Bunnymen) and Arthur Baker amongst others. On this album you had the conscious decision that you wanted to be seen as Mark Owen - songwriter, rather than collaborator. Is does have that Scissor Sisters-esque edge to it though
A: With this record I wanted it to feel a lot more closer to home. The only collaborating with was my band where they came up to mine and we played through some stuff. Most of the album was written on piano, but I guess you're right in the sense that it has the Scissor Sisters style openness. It was just what felt right at the time which was really bizarre. I wasn't afraid to try different things.
Q: With each album we've noticed this and it still rings true. You never fit in with what's happening musically at the time.
A: Im just not very cool am I (laughs). The moment I start writing a song and it sounds like someone else i'll just stop. I don't like to sound like anybody else. If a song starts to sound like a single from last year then i'll change the melody a bit or find a different way of doing it. There's some great songs out there and many songs I wish I'd have wrote if I was honest with yer, but I don't want to copy it.
Q: Is that why you cut yourself away, because I remember you were talking about this Darkness style prog rock record you'd recorded?
A: That might see the light of day sometime. When I recorded it they weren't even out and then they came around and it was like that record is so ahead of its time. We were actually talking the other day about getting it remixed cos a lot of people we're looking forward to hearing that album.
It would be probably quite easy for me to do an album sounding like The Killers or The Bravery, but i'd only be cheating myself then. This time I wanted to stay away from programming and there's no synths. It's all quite organic and it's just the way I wanted to do this.
Q: What do you think of someone like Charlie from Busted who's done the whole pop career and then gone for straight down the line emo. Over your career you've followed your own path whereas he's gone straight for the obvious choice
A: I guess so. He could have probably got a lot longer out of Busted if he'd have wanted to, but obviously his hearts not it. If that's where his heart is then good luck to him
Q: "Believe In The Boogie" is autobiographical: "From the Albert Hall to the Uni Ball"
A: Totally. It is done in a humorous tongue in cheek way....well, it's not actually because it's actually quite true. I think it's good to have a laugh at yourself sometime because you can't take yourself to seriously. Hopefully as the lyric says, everything will come around in the end. I already think it has in a way by doing this record.
If you look at all the bands doing it independently there's bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and the Darkness till half way through their career and then there's pop bands like Hanson. I think it is more viable nowadays to do it independently especially with stuff like the net.
Q: Designer Magazine went out on an old school pop night to see Hanson earlier in the year and you have images of what the typical Hanson fan is like, but it was full of goth's. What's the typical Mark Owen fan like now?
A: I know some people are coming from the old days, but now maybe they come with the boyfriends or their husband. The kind of music they're probably listening to has changed a little bit. I think the average Mark Owen fan is like me and you really - in their mid 20s to mid 30s.
Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride www.karenmcbride.com
"How The Mighty Fall" is out now and available in all good record shops
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MARK OWEN - PHOTO GALLERY
When Mark Owen came to Manchester, we got our photographers Karen McBride and Shirlaine Forrest in the pit to capture the action from all angles. Here Karen profiles her black and white photo's with a dash of colour, while Shirlaine's technicolor splash is available by clicking here for the review of Mark Owen live in Manchester