Not only is Steven Lindsay in possession of a spellbinding voice that's as rich in tone and nuance as a vintage claret, there is also a queue of admirers for the cinematic songs he fashions for it. Keane’s Tom Chaplin and novelist Ian Rankin joined a chorus of critical praise for Lindsay’s 2004 solo debut, Exit Music, and now the urbane singer/songwriter from Glasgow, once leader of chart act The Big Dish, is preparing to release the follow up, Kite, which is due out on May 7th. Londonist caught up with him last week as he showcased his new material for the first time at the Enterprise in Camden.
How does the new album compare to its predecessor?
It’s a bit more colourful. Exit Music was more a breakup record. This is a bit more worldly, more uplifting in some ways, trying not to be too down. Some of the tracks are quite resonant, so I would say it’s more light hearted, but there’s still the old melancholy moments on it. The new record’s more “realised” I suppose is the word, more layered. I’ve spent more time thinking, “Where do I want to go here?” whereas Exit Music was more instinctive.
What’s been happening between Exit Music and now?
I didn’t do many gigs off the back of Exit Music, so I more or less started writing songs straight away after it, trying to move on from there. I’ve signed with Echo [part of Chrysalis] and there’s a bit more clout behind the whole thing, so rather than hang about I decided just to push on. I’ve spent most of the time in the studio, writing lots of songs and trying to get the right ones.
Which usually comes first for you, words or music?
Normally the music. Usually I’ll get an idea for a song title and take something from that. I have to work quite hard at the lyrics. Some other people find the easy thing is writing lyrics, but I spend a lot of time on it. I’m quite particular about it. Kite’s a bit more challenging, more adventurous on the lyric front so we’ll see what the critics say!
The first single from the album will be a cover of The Pixies’ “Monkey Gone To Heaven”. How did you come to record that?
When I was in a band before, there were a few occasions when the record company said, “You should do a cover version,” and when they tell you think, “Nah, I don’t want to do it”, but when it’s your own idea it seems like a better plan. I was a Pixies fan and I always liked that song and it tied in with the oblique nature of some of the other things I was listening to, plus it was a bit of a challenge to do something different with it. I did it in about a day. I didn’t have any intention to make a big deal of it. Initially I thought, “That’ll be interesting. We’ll stick it on the MySpace site or something,” but when people heard it they were like, “Oh, that sounds alright!”
Your MySpace site namechecks many influences. If you had to choose the three most significant, which would they be?
David Bowie, Roxy Music and probably Neil Young. It’s growing up, isn’t it? It’s growing up at that certain age when music can mean everything to you. It’s difficult to say whether they’ve had any influence over what you do, but they were my three favourite artists at that time.
Which studio do you record in?
I just do it in Glasgow, in my home. It’s all you really need nowadays, depending on what kind of group you’re in, but I’m fairly self-sufficient. I program it all, play it all without trying to be, you know, “I’m a great drummer!” or anything like that. It’s a sort of DIY album as was Exit Music to a certain extent other than getting some string players on it.
Steven Lindsay photographed by Kenny Laurenson.
On Exit Music you deliberately avoided the guitar you used so much with the Big Dish and wrote exclusively for the piano. How has that experiment influenced “Kite”?
The songs are mostly again piano based which maybe on the next record I’ll try and get away from, but it’s just a case of get a bunch of songs, pick the best ones and they seem to be more piano than guitar based. It wasn’t a conscious decision. There’s maybe a bit more guitar on it, but there’s no acoustic guitar, it’s all electric. The reason I started writing on the piano in the first place is that I didn’t just want to do another Big Dish album. I didn’t want to sound like that again.
Do you have a favourite track on Kite?
There’s a song on it called “Put up the Flag” which I’ll play tonight. It’s quite long as well. It’s a prog rock album, this! There’s a couple of tracks that are over five minutes! In the past when I’ve been on major record labels they were always saying to me, “Keep the single in mind. When you’ve written something don’t make it too long,” but when you get a bit older you’re thinking, “I’ll take it wherever it goes”. If it’s long, then good. There’s also one track that’s an instrumental and it’s about forty, forty-five seconds and it felt right that it should end there.
When was the first time you came to London and what was your impression of it?
It was a school trip when I was twelve and they took us to all the sights. They took us to the London Palladium to see Cliff Richard and I’ve never recovered! It was a kind of variety show and I think Little and Large were on it as well. It was awful. We stayed in a hotel in Pimlico and they took us to Jimmy Savile’s radio programme called “Speakeasy”. We did that and then we went to Boulogne for the day. I love coming to London. I love going to art galleries and stuff like that. I love the Tate Modern, just the whole scale of the building. You’ve got the chute thing, haven’t you, that you slide down? I haven’t seen that yet. In the Big Dish days, when the record companies were spending loads of money on you, we had a flat in Sloane Square for about six months at one point. We came down and stayed there and had a great time. Most of the recording we did was in London. At that time, in the eighties, you usually came down to work with the producers because they wanted to work here. That’s all changed now obviously. I’ve recorded all over London. I quite liked the Town House in Goldhawk Road because at the time I was signed to Virgin and they owned it and they had a flat above it, so they gave me this flat and I had the run of the place.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in London?
We used to go to an Indian restaurant called Khan’s at the top of the Queensway. Other than that I used to go to a lot of Japanese restaurants because you didn’t get them in Scotland. You get them now, but there’s only one or two.
What was the last gig you went to?
A Scottish band called Aberfeldy that I like. I also bought tickets to go and see Brian Wilson a couple of years ago.
What else does 2007 hold for you?
I’m hoping to put a full band together and do a tour. Whether that’ll be a support tour or not, we’ll see what happens. The plan is definitely to go out and start touring because nowadays it’s all about live music. People just want to go and see you rather than buying the CDs.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m listening to John Foxx, his electronic albums and revisiting a lot of old stuff that I listened to when I was growing up. Post punk records like Magazine. That Arcade Fire record’s got a great review, but that would get a great review anyway, wouldn’t it? A lot of old Bowie records, I like getting them all out again. You get bands like the Kaizer Chiefs now. There’s no substance to what they do. They probably know that anyway, but I think there’s a gap for some pretentiousness again. Let’s get some arty pretentious bands and celebrate it!