Live4ever Interview: After a turbulent decade, Badly Drawn Boy returns with new album Banana Skin Shoes

Badly Drawn Boy onstage at the inaugural Brit Project in Manchester (Photo: Gary Mather for Live4ever)

Badly Drawn Boy onstage at the inaugural Brit Project in Manchester (Photo: Gary Mather for Live4ever)

Damon Gough is in demand this sunny Wednesday afternoon.

England may still be in a sort of lockdown (based on the official advice, who knows), but our trans-Pennine phone call is one of many he’s taking, a fate he was long resigned to when operating as a one man band. “My mates (the platinum selling, Mercury nominated) Doves always ask me how I do it,” he mock laments good naturedly. “There’s three of them and they share the interviews around.”

Such, we agree, is an occupational hazard of the setup, but despite flitting between podcasts and endless chats with German media (‘I reckon this record is the only one being released over there this week’), he’s a happy man as the hullabaloo means that his solo venture Badly Drawn Boy is back.

It’s been eight years since Being Flynn – a movie starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore which was soundtracked by Gough – an age in music terms, but there were compelling reasons for the absence. Indeed, the singer is disarmingly open about them, preferring to tackle the break-up with his partner of fifteen years and mother of his oldest children, depression, alcoholism and struggles with Crohn’s disease head on, being refreshingly frank and without any hint of self-pity. Alongside this, he adds, in the background was the constantly building mental pressure to get back to resurrecting an on-hold career.

The picture now is brighter, the focus sharp. A successful period in rehab during 2015 came after he met his new partner; they now have a three-year-old son, and for the first time in nearly a decade there’s an excellent Badly Drawn Boy record, Banana Skin Shoes, ready to go.

One of its centrepieces is a heartfelt tribute to the late Factory records supremo Tony Wilson, a celebration of his life and legacy at a time when we agree the world could really have used some of his spirit. Gough is far from the only Mancunian who has a Wilson tale to tell: “When me and Andy (Votel) first started in ’97, he invited us down to his office and he then talked at us for an hour, sometimes just punching the air,” Damon tells Live4ever. “He treated us like we were one of his own.”

Wilson’s influence continues to be felt: “I’ve let his son know about the song and he’s just told me he thinks it’s great.” When asked if there are any other mavericks now like him the answer is a simple: “Not really.”

Gough is generous with his time and thoughts, so our conversation meanders, but eventually we get to talking about the new album. “At the beginning I had about thirty songs in total,” he remembers. “I don’t listen to other music whilst I’m recording, I want to keep my ideas as pure as I possibly can.” Was the outside world completely on mute? He acquiesces: “Influences seep in. There’s a few nods to other songs.” He gives the I Feel Good reference on Colours as an example, but sometimes any resemblance is purely coincidental, as with the opening phrase of I Need Someone To Trust and Chicago’s soft rock weepie If You Leave Me Now.

There’s some good humour about it though: “I’ll take it! Other people hearing things in your music is part of the joy of it. People are talking about similarities with this album to Beck, but what they don’t realise is the music is more like me than him, that’s because I’ve not released much material like this in the past.”

Fourteen songs is the generous sonic portion of a man who supposes that the album format is very much alive: “I realise people consume music differently these days, so I didn’t worry about whether all these songs fitted together sonically like I have done before. I picked the ones that told some kind of story, so it’s ended up different to most of my other albums, almost like a playlist of my best writing from the last few years. I even left off a few that were my favourites because I felt they were too complicated.”

How so complicated? “A bit prog rocky. They might come out at some point as a singular project.” Talk of a next album after this, and others to come, will be a relief for his patient fans everywhere. “I feel like I’m almost a new artist again because of the time I’ve been absent,” Gough says. And what can they look forward to? “I’d love to make an album on my own, one really true to my musical abilities, articulating the music that’s in me. That’s the future”.

Honest but tender, Banana Skin Shoes is a defiantly positive, human album made by a man who drew strength from life punching down on him. It’s been eight years, but Damon Gough’s phone won’t stop ringing, a sure sign that Badly Drawn Boy is once again a thing of the present and future, as opposed to just the past.

Andy Peterson

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