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Anthony Reynolds - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 23 / 11 / 2007

Anthony Reynolds - Interview


The former frontman with the critically acclaimed Jack, Anthony Reynolds has just released 'British Ballads', the most autobiographical of all his records. He talks to John Clarkson about it, the relationship which inspired it and his return to living in his native Cardiff after thirteen years away

I have just found a condom in my jeans", exclaims Anthony Reynolds towards the end of his telephone interview with Pennyblackmusic, briefly startled before erupting into gales of laughter. "I don't have use for condoms anymore. Fuck ! Can you hear it ?" he says in his lilting Welsh accent, scrunching the condom into the mouth piece of the phone. "My jeans have been washed. That is really odd. How strange ! I did buy these jeans second hand. Maybe it is a sign. Maybe I am going to get some action." For a brief while in the mid 1990's, Reynolds' former band Jack, who were adored in France and described by GQ Magazine as "the best thing of 1996", seemed on the verge of an international breakthrough. Owing an equal debt to literature of which Reynolds was a voracious reader as much as to music, and drawing on the influences of Charles Bukowski, John Fante and Vladimir Nabokov as well as the Velvet Underground, Nick Cave and Serge Gainsbourg, Jack was formed in Cardiff in 1992 by vocalist and lyricist Reynolds and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Scott. The duo moved to London in 1994, expanding Jack into a septet in time for their debut gig in March 1995, after which they were immediately picked up by Beggar's Banquet offshoot Too Pure Records. There were two albums on Too Pure, 1996's 'Pioneer Soundtracks' (which was re-released in a 10th anniversary edition on Spinney Records in March) and 1998's 'The Jazz Age', and then a third and final album, 2002's 'The End of the Way It Has Always Been', on the Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule'. All three merged together Reynolds’ tales of drunkenness and tortured lust with ambient soundscapes and lush keyboards and strings. Yet, despite touring with Suede twice and playing several headline tours of Europe of their own, Jack always remained a band that, while worshipped by critics, never saw large album sales. "I should have you stuffed and shipped home", Reynolds jokes when I tell him that I was a Jack fan. "That's three of you I have heard about now." Even before Jack broke up in 2003, Reynolds had formed a solo project, Jacques. Two albums, 1997's 'How to Make Love Volume 1' and 1999's 'To the Stars', the former a collaboration with Momus, were released under that moniker on the Spanish label Setanta before the split, and then another two EPs afterwards on another Spanish label Acuarela. Reynolds then adopted the pseudonym of Anthony to release the barely heard 'New York' on a tiny American label Secret Crush Records in 2004. The end of 2007 finds him back living in Cardiff after thirteen years away, and about to release on Hungry Hill, an off shoot of Spinney Records, his latest record, 'British Ballads'. It is the first album which he has put out under his full name, and also what he describes as his "final debut album." The most autobiographical of all his records, ‘British Ballads’ tells of a love affair that Reynolds began in London a decade ago and which concluded in rural Shropshire in 2006. Recorded on a shoestring, but an indication of how highly Reynolds is rated by his musical peers, it features guest appearances from Vashti Bunyan and Dot Allison on backing vocals, ex Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde on guitar and Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. It has some of his finest songs to date including the strings-drenched epic, 'The Disappointed', which Reynolds believes is his own best work ; an eerily echoing and ambient adaptation of 'The Hill', Rupert Brooke's 1909 poem of young love suddenly broken apart with cult author Colin Wilson providing spoken word vocals, and the gorgeous folk pop of the album's closing number , 'Song of Leaving'. On surface appearances anyway, whether it is with sex or for that matter anything else, it seems as if Anthony Reynolds could use some luck. Not only has his relationship collapsed and all his years of making music has left him with little financial clawback, but his current record deal is due to end on the same day that 'British Ballads' is to be released and a Walker Brothers biography that he submitted to his publisher as far back as early 2005 has long been postponed. Yet, as Reynolds is keen to illustrate, he does see himself as lucky. Jack's commercial failure has given him a personal freedom that he probably otherwise would have never been able to have. PB : You have described 'British Ballads' as "your final debut album." What did you mean by that ? You have released records under many different names in the past. Have you now decided from now on to just release albums under your own name ? AR : No, no, it is not because of that. It is because I have made too much music really. I am being a little bit clever, clever about things by using that phrase, "My final debut", but I want to stop making music now for a few years. When 'Pioneer Soundtracks' came out, Jack spent a lot of time touring. I remember being in Germany and a journalist there saying to me very earnestly, "Does the world need another album ? There are so many albums." I remember thinking that was a really good question at the time, and my reply was, "Well, no, I don't think the world needs another album actually, but I needed to make this album." That has become less true the more albums that I have put out. I would say that it was true of the first Jack album and I would say that it was true of 'British Ballads', but I want to stop now to see if I was just getting into the habit really. Of course some of it depends on if anyone buys this record, but the day this album is released is actually the day my contract with the little label I am on ends, so I will be out of any kind of recording contract for the first time since I was 24. I think I am going to give it a rest for a while. PB : You have always been cosmopolitan in your outlook. You have released records in the past on Spanish, American and Belgium labels and spent a lot of time touring abroad. Why did you call this album, 'British Ballads' ? AR : Well, I was born and raised in Cardiff which is where I have moved back to now. When I was growing up, Cardiff-it is bit more so now- didn't seem particularly Welsh. I didn't know anyone who spoke Welsh when I was growing up and, although I was Welsh by default, that seemed a bit odd. Then I moved to London and lived there for about a decade. I think of London as a nation really, because it is so large and has got so many different parts to it, and so I didn't feel that I had a sense of living in England when I was there especially. I then eventually moved to Shropshire and for the first time I felt like I was living in a country. We did actually physically live in the country. We lived just outside a village and we had no neighbours. We lived on an old farm and just that physicality of living in the English countryside made me feel like I was living in Britain for the first time in my life, so hence the title really. PB : When did you move back to Wales ? AR : Earlier this year in January. I had been in a romantic relationship for about a decade and I couldn't live where I was living anymore and I thought, "Where shall I live ?" I thought maybe of moving to America, but I really can't be arsed filling out forms and stuff like that and, as soon as someone mentioned the green card, that was the end of that idea. I then thought about maybe moving to France, but I didn't want to make things more difficult on myself by moving somewhere where I couldn't speak the language, so I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be perverse if I was to move back to Cardiff ?" I also wanted to get to know my parents because, having spent so long away, I didn't really know them at all. They're getting on. They're in their 60's and, God bless everyone, I can have a conversation with them quite lucidly. That won't always be the case though, will it ? PB : It probably won't be unfortunately. You interviewed David Sylvian in 2005 (Reynolds does occasional pieces of freelance music and arts journalism-Ed)and you said in that interview that you got the travel bug after your father was made redundant and spent his redundancy money on various continental holidays for the family. After that you said that when you came back to Cardiff it always felt mundane afterwards and that you have never really felt comfortable in your home city since then. How do you feel now that you're back living there ? Do you still feel like that ? AR : No, Not at all. If maybe I had never moved to London and if I had never toured, I would have felt like that. For three or four years we, however, toured really extensively, and I have enough of those places inside of me now -and I think of Cardiff as being part of those places, part of the whole-to no longer feel dominated by its environment. When I was a kid I remember one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had was in 1979 and when I was in a Bulgarian fishing village. I would have been eight at the time and a huge Russian destroyer had pulled into the village’s tiny port. It was like something out of a Hitchcock film. There was this huge ship in this tiny port and there were all these Russian sailors coming off on to the shore. It seemed so cinematic and exotic and otherworldly that coming back to a very dire part of Cardiff after that really seemed awful. Something has clicked over in me though since then. I guess I am a bit more forgiving. PB : You have said in the past and one of the interviews that you did when you were in Jack that most of your songs were about girls and booze. Is that still the case ? AR : I think there are a lot less alcohol references on this record. I didn't actually start drinking until I was 22, 23 which was quite late. PB : You had never been drunk before then at all ? AR : I had been, but not seriously. I didn't pursue it as a career (Laughs). I didn't start drinking until I had moved to London. I was living in Archway at the time and it was like discovering sex. That was when the first Jack album was being written. If I had been a regular kid and started boozing at 16, I probably wouldn't have sung about it so much. This album is, however, is about a girl. PB : And it is about this relationship that didn't work out basically ? AR : Yes. I wonder though if any relationship works out in the long run. In a greater context I don't think that anything in this realm was ever meant to work out. You see these most wonderful married couples and one is inevitably going to die before the other. There is also the whole issue of if you ever really know anyone. Also in terms of faithfulness and fidelity do you ever know if that is true with the other person ? The relationship didn't work out, but I think things like relationships normally run their course. Did it fulfil its potential ? I don't know, but it was in a way predetermined that it didn't work out. PB : Why in context of that album and those thoughts did you put 'The Hill' on there, the adaptation of the poem by Rupert Brooke ? AR : That poem encapsulates to me everything that I have just tried to rather clumsily put across to you. If you're familiar with that poem, then that is exactly what I am talking about. It is all about that thought that nothing can ever live up to its promise and potential can never be fulfilled. PB : Your vocals don't feature on that particular track. You put Colin Wilson's vocals on it instead. That is something that you have done before. When you did 'The End of the Way It has Always Been', you said that you had become bored with your own vocals and decided instead to write specifically for different voices. Is that what you were doing here ? AR : The voice as much as anything else can be an instrument. It has got a particular timbre. I felt the vocal on that needed to be that of an older person. I don't think my voice, my spoken voice, has got the gravitas that Colin, who was 68 or whatever at the time we recorded it, was instantly able to lend it. I also wanted to incorporate him into my life in a physical way. It was just a case of finding the best instrument for the piece really. PB : You have said that you think that 'The Disappointed' on the new album is the best song that you have ever written. Why did you say that ? AR : 80% or 90% of the Jack songs were co-written with Matthew Scott. He was a much more musically literate person than I, although I did write all of Jacques' stuff and I also wrote some of the Jack songs. The whole point of Jack was that it was a collaboration between me and him. It wasn't ever really a big problem, but I always felt a little intimidated because he was so musically literate and could read and write music. I still to this day don't know the names of the strings on a guitar, but I still wanted to write something on this record that I felt surpassed anything that I had written with Matthew. I did do that with 'The Disappointed'. I knew that when I wrote it. I was listening to a lot of musicals at the time and in particular 'Porgy and Bess' and 'An American in Paris', both of which are by George Gershwin. There are two songs on this record that relate to Gershwin and those musicals which are 'Where the Dead Live' and 'The Disappointed'. With 'The Disappointed' I had trouble finding the chords to match the melody. It physically hurt my fingers and my brain to find the progression. I didn't have the body of experience to write 'The Disappointed' really, but I got there in the end. I broke new ground with that song. PB : One of the things that you used to do on Jack albums was put a reading list on them. Is that something you have done with 'British Ballads' as well ? AR : No, I didn't even think about it. There is the Rupert Brooke poem on there of course, but my life became realer. This woman became real to me, far more than any imagined life with books. PB : 'Pioneer Soundtracks' was given a re-release with extra tracks in March. Do you plan to do the same with 'The Jazz Age' ? AR : Hungry Hill, the label, that put out 'British Ballads', and Spinney Records,the label that put out the re-release of 'The Jazz Age', are run by the same person. Those albums are going to be their last two and then they are folding. That is one of the reasons I'll be out of contract. They're finishing. I did talk to Beggar's Banquet who put out the original Jack albums. The first Jack reissue wasn't a million seller, but it made its money back and it was worth doing from a financial view, so I put it to them if they wanted to do the same with the second Jack album they could. Both those first Jack albums were demoed in their entirety, but we couldn't find the demo for 'Pioneer Soundtracks'. We had lost it, but I do have the demos for 'The Jazz Age'. They are properly recorded demos, so the scope for extras is even better with 'The Jazz Age'. We also did a show to launch that album at the Players' Theatre which was filmed professionally and recorded on a four track, so we could maybe do a DVD as well or mix the live show like a proper album. They were kind of interested, but they said they would come back maybe in a year because they have got already a lot on. Beggar's Banquet, however, as a general rule just don't reissue albums. I don't think it will happen. PB : You have said in the past that success is unimportant to you. You're not bothered if you sell thousands of albums or if you don't sell that many. Is the most important thing for you to write something that you feel is true to yourself ? AR : That is the main thing. Once you have accepted as I did a few years ago that you are probably not going to make much in the way of money out of music, it in an odd way frees you. It frees you because it allows you to do anything you like. I would imagine that it must be really difficult for groups, like Shed Seven and Dodgy and the Bluetones, who have had mediocre success. They were doing well, and it must be really awful when that stops. For someone like me who never had that and for whom it was always a struggle to live by making music nothing's really changed. The budgets for the records have changed, but we made heroic efforts on this new one to overcome that. The price that I have paid for my lack of commercial success is that I have luxury to do what I want with music and that I can also do other things as well. PB : You have written a Walker Brothers biography, but there was some sort of problem with the publisher and it has still not been published. What happened there ? AR : It was handed in in January 2005 to Helter Skelter. It is a very good company and they do tons of stuff, but it is very small and hands-on and unfortunately the week that it was handed in the head guy was diagnosed with cancer. Then Omnibus were going to do it and they pulled out, which was a bit of a nightmare. The good news though is that the guy is winning his fight which is fucking amazing. He is going to do a final edit in December and they are going to be putting it out in the spring. It is very much a Walker Brothers book, rather than a Scott Walker book. Scott Walker now is a completely different species. He is but a name of the guy who was in the Walker Brothers. The people I spoke to when I was researching it were sometimes people that had never been interviewed before about the Walker Brothers, like the guy who played drums on 'The Sun Ain't Going to Shine No More' and the people who played on 'No Regrets'. I can't wait for it to come out because it was so long ago that it was written that I will probably really enjoy reading it. PB : Have you got plans to write any other books ? AR : There are a few ideas. I was going to do one on the correlation between jazz and boxing and I wanted to edit a Marvin Gaye reader, but then I was told by the publisher involved that they had very specific types of readers and books on black artists don't sell unless the subject is Bob Marley. There is a Sammy Davis Jr reader, for God's sake, and there is a Miles Davis reader. How can you say that ? I think a Marvin reader would make a great story, but then I was told that no one would buy it. Often people don't want to do something and they don't know why they want to do something, so they just make up stuff and I think that is what happened there. PB : You are planning to adapt a book by the Welsh crime writer John Williams, 'Bloody Valentine', into a play and to write an original score for it. Is that an expansion of your idea of using different voices ? AR : 'British Ballads' is a biographical work really. This John Williams thing will be completely apart. 'Bloody Valentine' is a non-fiction book. It is like Cardiff's 'In Cold Blood'. It was about a local prostitute who was murdered. I wanted to use children in the parts of prostitutes and pimps and stuff, but I was told that there might be all sorts of legal problems with that, so I might use elderly people instead. I want to use anyone but actors, boring, regular actors. We have got a venue. The Chapter Arts Centre in Carlisle have said that they will give us a room and time in June. They love the idea. The Arts Council loved it and wants to give us money to do it. John has given me permission to do it, but to get the money and the funding I have to form my own bleeding theatre company. I have looked into that and, as I said, I am not one for forms. That part is going to be monumentally tedious. PB : Have you actually started the adaptation of the play yet ? AR : No, I really try not to work unless I have been paid to do it. I have done a few projects in the last few years which I have put a lot into and they didn't happen. I just can't afford to do that anymore. PB : But if you do get the funding and it all comes together then you will adapt the play and write the score for it ? AR : Oh, yeah ! I am dying to. I read the book ten years ago and I started to re-read it recently and I got so excited by it. I think it is John's best book. I was so excited I just wanted to go to the piano and to start working on it and to start physically adapting the text straightaway, but I am having to stop myself because I am not putting in all that work and then having another project go on the shelf. PB : Will you be touring to promote 'British Ballads'? AR : I won't be playing live. I have been asked to play the likes of the 12 Bar in London, to do an acoustic thing, but I want to play with a band like on the record and I want it to be grand and beautiful. If I was to do that I would have to go to London. I would have to stay in London. There are costs in that. I would have to rehearse. Musicians have got to be paid for rehearsing. Rehearsal space has to be paid for. You're already talking a few thousand pounds to get everyone to the show. Then is it justified ? You have paid all this money for one show. If you have prepared for one show you have prepared for a week's worth of shows. The question then is should you do more shows ? Then that is more money. I don't have any tour support. When Jack toured it was at a loss. When most groups tour it is at a loss. That is why the Rolling Stones only play the most enormous venues, so, no, I would rather not play. If I can't play and do the kind of show I want to do I would rather not play. There we have it then -Anthony Reynolds, a uniquely gifted, but holistic talent. While it seems that he has lost none of his passion for music that it would be prudent to make the most of him and ‘British Ballads while we can as his creative focus now lies in other directions. It may be a long time before we see him in that area again. ‘British Ballads’ is released on December 10th.

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Anthony Reynolds - Interview

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Interview Part 1 (2011)
Anthony Reynolds - Interview Part 1
In the first part of a two part interview, Pennyblackmusic Bands Night headliner Anthony Reynolds, who will be releasing a double CD retrospective 'Life's Too Long' in April, chats to John Clarkson about his former band Jack's first two albums, 'Pioneer Soundtracks' and 'The Jazz Age'
Interview Part 2 (2011)
Interview (2010)


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