Interview: Daniel Hopewell of The Crookes (Part 2)

By on Wednesday, 14th October 2015 at 11:00 am
 

If you missed part 1 of my interview with the Crookes’ guitarist and lyricist Daniel Hopewell, you can catch up with that right back here.  In this second part of the interview, Hopewell talks about how the Crookes’ American tour last year and their subsequent time at home in Sheffield shaped the sound of their new album ‘Lucky Ones’.

The recording of this album was quite different from what you had done when you recorded your previous album ‘Soapbox’, where you all kind of decamped to the middle of nowhere in Italy.
Yeah. We did that in a way because our producer was getting a new studio, and that wasn’t ready yet. When we were in Italy, there were a few occasions when we were doing ‘Soapbox’ where we kind of thought, we really we should have [different instruments or sounds] but we couldn’t, because we didn’t have them there. [In the new studio] we had all the gadgets and all the toys and we kind of just played with them and experimented. I enjoyed doing this album far more than any of the other ones, I think we all said that. It was the most enjoyable time in the studio we’ve ever had.

I think [this album is] really different. I’m not sure if everyone would say the same or not. The same kind of key elements are there. It’s always going to be George singing, and he always sings in a certain way. I’m always going to write lyrics that are kind of, at least I try to be thought-provoking in them. I want to have them say something. But it’s just a lot happier, if that makes sense. When I wrote ‘Soapbox’ I was in a bit of a bad place. I look back at it now, and I don’t even feel very attached to it as an album. I feel quite distanced from it. We wrote this one, a lot of the ideas, whilst we were touring America, and having just the most fun we’ve ever had. So, I was really happy when I wrote this. It’s a really happy album.

That was actually the next question I wanted to ask you, whether it was inspired by touring in America. I read part of your American tour diary, and the lyrics to ‘I Wanna Waste My Time on You’ seemed to be sort of in that same vein.
Yeah, a lot of the lyrics came from things that happened over there, but weirdly, I think this album is a lot more English, if that makes sense. I never feel more English than when I’m outside of England. Being over there so much, although it gave us loads of inspiration, it still kind of reminded us of the fact that at heart we are just very British guys, and I think it sounds a lot more like that than of the other albums too. It’s got a bit of a narrative throughout the whole album that starts at home, in terms of the tracklisting, and then kind of runs away to all these different places, then it comes back again. It’s got a nice symmetry to it in that sense, I think. People who listen to an album and listen to the lyrics, listen to how it flows, and listen to it as a whole rather than just a collection of singles [will find] that sort of narrative journey that goes through it.

I’ve talked to several musicians about that concept of writing an album, versus writing 10 singles and shoving them together. People don’t really buy albums for the entirety of an album anymore, that’s not the way people consume their music.
No, I don’t think they do. And it’s kind of a shame, because I think we all grew up listening to albums, and in the modern world people seem to just want to go on YouTube and listen to a song and then go on to the next. So [as a songwriter] you’ve got to kind of think about that, because people might not give it the sort of attention it deserves as a whole body of work. But we always try and write it as that, that’s how it’s meant to be listened to. Any of these songs on any of our other albums would stand out, by a long way. They belong to this album only, if that makes sense.

So, here’s a question I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while. As the lyricist, you write these lyrics, and then you hand them over to George [Waite, Crookes lead singer and bassist] for his interpretation of them. Is it hard for you to write these and then hand them over to someone else?
It’s not hard, because I can’t sing as well as he can. We play to our strengths. George has never written any lyrics as far as I know, and he kind of likes me to write for him. Similarly, I can’t get my ideas out [vocally], so I kind of rely on him to do that. It’s like a songwriting partnership, that’s always what it’s been between us. A lot of people seem surprised by it, but we’ve been doing it for so long now that I kind of forget that it’s not the normal thing to do. But yeah, I enjoy it. Whenever I write something, whatever it is, whether he’s singing it and thinking about something else, people listen to him and take their own meaning. I think once I’ve written it, it kind of belongs to whoever listens to it, or whoever uses it, so whatever I mean doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s what people take from it that I think is more important.

People will always interpret it the way they want to, whether you intended it that way or not.
Yeah, but I think there will be less of that on this album. The only song on ‘Soapbox’ that I really like is a song called ‘Holy Innocents’. It was the last one that we wrote, and I wrote it really quickly, went downstairs and played it to George, then we went round Tom’s place and put it on piano, and we’d done the whole thing in an afternoon. And I really liked it because you knew exactly what it was about, and I wasn’t trying to hide things. And on this album, I’ve tried to go with that, I’ve taken that further. I used to sort of triple code everything, so you wouldn’t know what I meant, because I’m sort of shy about saying it, and it would have been hard for people to see that. But this time, I just wanted you to sort of know what it’s about straight away. I think people might relate to it a bit more, maybe.

So maybe a little more straightforward. Your lyrics have in the past been sometimes a little obscure.
I still can’t help it. I still kind of put things together in a way that I think sounds interesting or has nice imagery. But I’ve just tried to be really honest on this album, and I think the other guys, from their reaction to what I’ve given them, have kind of enjoyed that as well. George can sing it and know exactly what I mean, and really understand what he’s saying. I’m really happy with this one, it’s my favourite by a long way.

It worked out really well, then, that you’re writing these more extroverted lyrics at a time when you’re also able to write larger instrumental arrangements to go with them.
Yeah. We had a conversation [about it], the three of us. We [had done] a Christmas single, and we really enjoyed that because you know when it’s a Christmas single, you can sort of write anything and kind of get away with it and no one’s going to take you too seriously because there’s always a bit of novelty factor in a Christmas single. But I really enjoyed how we did that, because it was just really fun and really happy and we were all in that sort of place, so it slides together nicely [with the new album].

You are, if I understand correctly, about to go on tour with another band called the Fratellis. Will this be the first time you’ve played the new songs live?
We played a new song at Tramlines, played one song there. But this will be a few new ones for the first time, yeah. I’m really looking forward to going out again and playing some of these new songs live. The Fratellis play really big venues, and they’re kind of a guitar band and play kind of upbeat songs, so it’ll work well, I think. We went on tour with Richard Hawley in these amazingly beautiful philharmonic venues and theatres and that kind of thing. That was incredible, but for that set we kind of tailored out the songs we played to suit his audience. We played a few more of the slower songs, that kind of stuff. I think with this tour, we can play upbeat, fast, fun songs. Playing to that many people and playing a bit more like we play our own gigs is going to be fun.

That takes you through to the end of the year, and then the album release is in January, and then probably more touring after that. So for the foreseeable future, it looks like you’re fairly busy.
(laughing) Yeah, yeah, we are. We try and do new stuff in the hope that it keeps us busy. For a while we were kind of just stuck in Sheffield writing. But sometimes music comes out of it. We did a song, the b-side for ‘I Wanna Waste My Time On You’, with a girl called Misty Miller. When we were stuck in Sheffield in our downtime, we were writing a couple of songs that were a bit slower that probably reflected the pace of life. That’s how we ended up working with her, and that came about just because we were here and she was here at the same time.  

It was really nice to write for somebody else, it was quite interesting though, because originally I’d written those lyrics just for George. And then we thought it would be great if we had a girl singer, and we approached Misty. But I was a bit worried because I like to write things from a male perspective where it shows off your emotions and it’s quite vulnerable. But I really hate it in art and movies and films, or television, where you have these male writers projecting females in a way that makes them too vulnerable, if that makes sense. I don’t want to do that thing where the female response is a bit demure. I wanted to empower her more in the conversation. From a sort of feminist perspective, I thought it would be bad to write something that makes her seem weak. That’s kind of the way it was when George was singing it. So I sort of switched a few lines and redid it with that in mind.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/nWyOpesR-Z8[/youtube]

I’ll definitely have to give another listen to that song now that I’ve talked with you about it. Sometimes songwriters don’t like to tell too much about what’s behind their songs, but I think that context is sort of important. As a listener, I feel like having that background information makes the songs a little bit more enjoyable to listen to.
Definitely. I love sort of looking at my favourite songs and kind of working out bits, like have you seen ‘Love & Mercy’ the film? It’s like a biography of Brian Wilson. Like most people, I’m obsessed with ‘God Only Knows’, and I’ve read loads of stuff about the lyrics behind that, and the sort of things that inspired him. If you really listen to it through that framework and that knowledge, it kind of takes on more meaning, and you know, I enjoy doing that as well.

Talking about that, what music are you listening to right now? If you weren’t busy with your own, what would you be listening to?
As you Skyped me, I was just listening to Ryan Adams’ Taylor Swift album.  (ICYMI, Adams recently covered Swift’s album ‘1989’ in its entirety.)  You really listen to the words a lot more maybe than you do when it’s Taylor Swift’s version, because it’s so different.  Other than that, I don’t know. I don’t listen to that much new music, to be honest. [Recently] I’ve listened to a lot of New Order, and I’ve listened to The Cure absolutely loads. I read this really good interview with Robert Smith where he was talking about how The Cure had got this reputation for being a bit, sort of gloomy, and then they decided to come back and just write some pop bangers, and I thought that was pretty good inspiration for this album. We had got kind of a bit gloomy and sober, so we thought, let’s just have some fun this time. So, The Cure, Taylor Swift, basically, that’s the mixture. We all like pop music more than anything else.

I’ll be looking forward to hearing the new album in January. It’s on your own label, Anywhere Records, in the UK, but will it still be on Modern Outsider in the U.S.?
Yeah, they’re an amazing label that we want to keep working with. Obviously as we’re based in England, and doing all of Europe, we still want an American label to take care of that side of it. It’s such a big job, we knew how to do it in England, but we didn’t know how to do it over there. We’re massive, massive fans of our label, really like working with them.

Special thanks to Brendan for organizing this interview, and to Daniel for taking the time to chat with me.

Dates for the Crookes’ upcoming tour with the Fratellis can be found on the Crookes’ official Web site. Their fourth LP ‘Lucky Ones’ will be released on Anywhere Records in the UK and Modern Outsider in America on the 29th of January 2016. TGTF’s full archive of coverage on the Crookes can be found by clicking here.

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