STUART STAPLES, he of the heart-rattling deep singing voice, member of romantic demi-gods the Tindersticks, talks of the re-release of the band’s back catalogue , just as well we had DAVID McKEENA on hand.
I’m quite taken aback when I meet the meet the real Stuart Staples and find him not only looking pretty cool and casual in t-shirt, jacket and wrap-around shades, but also strikingly fit – and tanned. I can’t really help but remark upon it. It turns out Stuart’s been in Greece on a family holiday. “Don’t worry,” he reassures me. “I’ll lose the tan again within a week.”
We’re meeting to discuss Island/Universal’s re-issues of the Tindersticks’ first four proper albums, plus the soundtrack to Claire Denis’ ‘Nenette et Boni’. Someone decides that the best place for a chat is the park in the centre of St. James’ Square, in front of Universal International. This turns out not to be the case, as it’s nearly park closing time, and that angry park keeper with his cart wants to get us out almost as soon as we’re in. Still, we have just enough time to pick a suitably rickety bench and pick over the bones of the first ten years of the band, before we’re ejected for good.
To what degree have you been involved with the Island re-issues?
“Island approached us and said they’d like to do it, and we thought if it was done in a way that we wanted it then it would be worthwhile. It was kind of a big job.”
How do you feel looking back at your early work, particularly the demos?
“For me, the demos were a big burst of creativity and the first album was the realisation of that. We were wrestling with things and throwing lots of stuff out and finding a thread that held us together. So when we went to record the first album, it all just exploded. I remember being deliberately obtuse with our music, deliberately fucking it up to see what effect it would have.”
The first album seemed to purposely avoid being straightforward and formatted. It’s like there are different routes you can follow through it, or in and out of it.
“Yeah, and I think that’s true of the first three records, definitely. That way of making an album culminated on ‘Curtains’, where there was nowhere else to go with it.”
Some people now consider ‘Curtains’ to be your finest album.
“Personally, I know the amount that ‘Curtains’ took out of me. Perhaps that means it’s good in that way. In its intent I think it was successful, but by then our music had become too stylised. Because of that it’s not my favourite record.”
You were incredibly prolific for a while.
“The last ten years or more, it has been pretty full-on, but it all comes from writing. If you’re alive with ideas, you want to achieve them, so it creates its own tempo. “
In the past, you’ve said that Tinderstick’s songs can begin with nothing more than a feeling. When it comes to putting words to music, do you ever struggle with the fact that you’re pinning that feeling down, making the song ‘about’ something too specific?
“I think words can do that too easily. Particularly with the last album, where the thing we were looking for was so delicate and fragile. It’s a really fine balance between not over-describing something, but still having enough there. Recently, I’ve very much taken the line that the spaces in between are as important as the words themselves, and I’ve stripped it down as far as possible. But I think that’s changing in me again, I’m feeling more wordy now. I think ‘Waiting For The Moon’ is possibly another end-point, like ‘Curtains’.”
So what will the next step be?
“I don’t know.”
What was the purpose of the Mark’s Moods album (a bonus with the Nenette et Boni soundtrack)?
“We signed to our American publishers with a proviso that we would make an instrumental CD to send to people in the film industry.”
Are there any films you’ve seen where you’ve thought you would have been ideal to do the soundtrack?
“It never really works with me like that, because if you enjoy a thing that much you enjoy the whole thing. I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen a film and thought ‘That was great, but the music was rubbish.’”
The Adrian Sherwood remix (a bonus with ‘Simple Pleasures’) of ‘I Know That Loving’ is a bit of a surprise
“It was one of those interesting little things that we’ve been able to do with these re-issues, as an experiment. At the same time, that song was the defining moment on ‘Simple Pleasures’, it was the thing that drove me. It was very close to me, still is, so to mess round with a certain purity it had. . I wasn’t prepared to go there for a while. It wasn’t fair game! Especially as I think that album, ‘Simple Pleasure’, is much maligned.”
Really? It received glowing reviews at the time.
“Well, I think it was a bad time for us as a band, and so it always has a cloud hanging over it.”
It appeared to be a very positive step.
“But it was such a… wrench. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, writing in a way that was alien to ourselves. I think the line we drew with the past was too hard and too brutal. If that line had been softer, I think it would have been a better record.”
Have you ever considered a trance remix of ‘Tricklin’ (a track from ‘Can Our Love ..’ where Stuart sings ‘Tricklin’ through my mind . .’ repeatedly over a single organ note)? I could see club kids having some of that.
On ‘My Sister’ (from the Second Album) what does the teacher hit the sister with? I can never make it out.
Pardoning my youth and innocence, but I’m not sure I know what a bull-worker is.
“In the seventies, there was a big body-building craze, and it was this contraption which was in every kind of sports shop. It was like a metal thing with two stretchy bits on the side and there were lots of adverts on the TV for it.”
You have two children, is that right?
“I’ve got four.”
Are they old enough to be aware of what you do?
“Yeah, they always have been, although not in a way of putting it in a context, but they come to concerts. My daughter is eleven and she’s got her own music and things that she’s into, and some things we share, which is great.”
Why do you enjoy duets so much?
“I always enjoy writing them, and when you’re performing it you’re not by yourself in a glass booth – we usually record them face-to-face. It’s more like a social occasion.”
Is there anyone you’d like to do a duet with?
“No-one specific, because the person we want will depend on who we think is right for the song. But with actresses, like the duet with Isabella Rossellini, it’s great, because it’s more about getting a certain feeling than singing it right. And I like feisty women!”