While I’m worth my room on this earth.September 17, 2009
THE “AIN’T SUPERSTITIOUS, BUT…” INTERVIEW:
One half of the Proclaimers on becoming more prolific with age, the hunt for new fans and a theory on Scotland’s habit of producing great music.
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It’s an unseasonably warm September night in Chicago, and the Proclaimers are pushing through their set at the Double Door. The crowd size isn’t even a fraction of what the Reid brothers have seen in recent years back home, be it from the Edinburgh stage of Live 8 or, say, T in the Park, but nevertheless, the room is teeming with energy. Right now, the band is commandeering a collective audience pogo and full throated singalong to bouncy little number driven by a painfully easy guitar riff.
Of course, it’s not THAT song — you know, the one most people think is all the Proclaimers have to their name. It’s “Life With You,” the title track to their 2007 album that fared respectably in the UK, but barely went recognized over here. The way the Double Door swells, however, you’d think it was a major international hit.
“The hardcore fans are right into what we do,” says Craig Reid, the lead vocalist (and, as needed, tambourine shaker, finger snapper and harmonica player). “Those people are always asking about the next record, and hopefully, you know, you win some new fans over along the way.”
Ever since the turn of the century, an almost non-stop cycle of new albums and tours has kept Craig and twin brother Charlie wracking up plenty of frequent flier miles, if not platinum albums. What’s interesting though, is that the prolificacy is now coming at a time when both men are 47 and have families — a point when most stars of decades past opt for balancing family life with the rare television appearance and the even rarer new album.
It’s almost backwards, really. After releasing their debut album in 1987, the Proclaimers managed only two more albums in the next 13 years, and after the commercial hiccup of 1994’s Hit the Highway (despite carrying fan favorites such as “Let’s Get Married” and “What Makes You Cry?”), the Reid brothers seemed to drop out of popular consciousness altogether.
But the launch of their own label, Persevere, earlier this decade begat a creative streak that’s produced five albums (the latest being the just-released Notes & Rhymes on the American imprint of 429), and countless ocean-hopping tours.
“I don’t know what it was, but from ’94 to whenever we just kind of thought we’d been at it for so long,” Reid says. “The thing is, we didn’t get jaded. We always knew we’d come back and starting with Persevere (2001), we just got into this rhythm that I hope we can keep going.”
Notes & Rhymes continues the latter-day Proclaimers recipe of flag-waving choruses, folk laments, rock gusto and a few covers for good measure, but it also shies away from being “same old, same old.”
The album’s best moment, “Wages of Sin,” goes full stop into vintage Northern Soul territory, saddled with horns, female backing singers and an arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Jools Holland’s big band albums. The Proclaimers haven’t had a song that sounds this dense or urgent since “Hit the Highway.”
“It’s down to (album producer) Steve Evans, who just gave us quite a lot of room to work on the song,” Reid says. “We came in with it just being acoustic, but it was really his vision that got it to that sound.”
The album also ventures into political territory with tracks such as “I Know.” Although the Proclaimers have never shied away from showing their political colors (see: “Cap in Hand”), Reid acknowledges there’s been a bit more political showing in the band’s recent albums. Mixing them with love songs and covers of old or obscure tunes is no big deal, he said.
“I think it comes very naturally,” he said. “You’ve got the right to talk about different subjects, and if you’ve got something to say, then you should.”
It’s advice (political or not) to which many of his countrymen have taken heed. Several critics point to the band’s release of This is the Story in 1987 as a resurgence for Scottish music that would manifest itself over the next two decades in acts ranging from Primal Scream to Belle & Sebastian, Travis and Franz Ferdinand.
Reid says he’s happy to be a part of that lineage and there’s no reason for it to stop.
“I just think the people like to play,” Reid says. “Scots are pretty musical people, and there are a lot of people that like to get out and perform, and it’s great. Long may it continue.”
It’s appreciated back home, of course, and while Craig and Charlie may never see THIS kind of reception over here, I can say with complete confidence that I saw a few new fans converted into Proclaimers reverence by the end of the band’s sweaty set at the Double Door Tuesday.
And at some level, that kind of perseverance seems appropriate for a couple dudes who started off in a punk band in the early 1980s.
“It’s been great,” Reid says. “I just want to keep it going.”
Notes & Rhymes is available now.
The Proclaimers US Tour continues through the end of the month:
Sept. 17 Minneapolis, MN / Triple Rock Social Club
Sept. 19 Denver, CO / Soiled Dove
Sept. 20 Salt Lake City, UT / Urban Lounge
Sept. 22 Seattle, WA / The Showbox
Sept. 23 Portland, OR / Aladdin Theater
Sept. 25 San Francisco, CA /Bottom Of The Hill
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GIMME FIVE (MORE)
Five burning questions for Craig Reid
What’s your favorite Beatles song and why?
That’s really difficult. I think I’ll go with “She Loves You.” Just for the energy and memories growing up. For many years it was the biggest single ever in the UK. It was just a huge song.
What three songwriters, dead or alive, would you like to write a song with and why?
Merle Haggard, he’s just the best song writer I’ve ever heard, and also the most understated. Sam Cooke, he was just a great songwriter. And, uh, hmm. Robbie Robertson. Just because he comes at it from a different angle. He’s very poetic.
The Proclaimers have a longstanding tradition of putting covers on your records, and you’ve done some fantastic ones over the years. What’s been your favorite song to cover?
“Sing All Our Cares Away” which is on the new record, Notes and Rhymes. Damien Dempsey wrote it and he would play it when we toured with him. It’s just a beautiful song.
If you could pick one song that defined you as a songwriter, which one would you choose?
“Sunshine on Leith.” I’d had the tune for a long time, but the words weren’t there. Then I remember I was flying up from London to Edinburgh, and as we were coming in the plane tilted over Leith, and the sun was shining down on it and it was just — there was the light.
And what music are you listening as you travel through the country on this tour?
Mostly a compilation that our drum tech put together on some great old ‘60s and ‘70s stuff. Let’s see, what else? Glasvegas, I like their energy. And the Kings of Leon.
The Proclaimers – Love Can Move Mountains
The lead single from Notes & Rhymes, Reid says this song isn’t just about love between a man and woman, but about anything for which someone holds intense passion. “It’s just how love transforms people lives, and how the power of it comes through in different ways,” he said. Cliche? Perhaps, but listen to that chorus and try to tell me they don’t know how to get right to your soul.
The Proclaimers – Sunshine on Leith
The song Craig says he wants to define the Proclaimers’ songwriting abilities, and rightfully so. I’ve never been to Leith, I have no idea what it looks like on a sunny day (well, anymore than what the album cover projected, at least), but this song makes me feel as reverent about it as “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues” makes me feel about Hibernian (which is a hell of a lot). I always blast this song in the car (it’s actually a great atypical highway song), and I’ve seldom been as moved at a concert as I was Tuesday night when the band played this and I got to sing the chorus with a roomful of equally impassioned Proclaimers devotees. It is one of the greatest choruses of all time.
Charlie & Craig sample hot sauces in Austin at the SXSW festival this year. Fabulous stuff. Especially the pronunciation of “chipotle.”