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Steve Pilgrim - Interview

  by Richard Lewis

published: 26 / 11 / 2011

Steve Pilgrim - Interview


Singer-songwriter Steve Pilgrim speaks to Richard Lewis about his new album ‘Pixels and Paper’ which was recorded at Paul Weller’s studio, who Steve currently plays drums for.

In a recording career that has seen him feature on over a dozen wildly varying albums, ranging from Byrdsian indie-rock, Japanese folktronica, Mersey skiffle, Beefheartian blues and as an integral part of Paul Weller’s backing band, Steve Pilgrim has also found the time to become a solo artist. Steve’s new LP, the independently released ‘Pixels and Paper’, finds the Liverpudlian singer-songwriter in reflective mode, the finely-tuned arrangements and excellent performances matching the quality of the songwriting. That Steve found time to deliver such an accomplished LP alongside his daunting schedule is impressive in itself. Making his first appearance on record as the drummer of the Stands who burned brightly over a two year, two album career in the mid 2000s, Steve went on to work with former Cast/La’s luminary John Power on three rootsy, Beefheart inspired solo LPs. This hook-up resulted in Steve being first choice to fill the vacant drum stool for Cast’s new album ‘Troubled Times’, due next year. Steve’s best known work however is playing drums for Paul Weller, a role he has held since 2007. Replacing Steve White, Weller’s drummer of over quarter of a century who had been with him since the days of the Style Council, Pilgrim has been sticksman on ‘22 Dreams’ (2008) and ‘Wake Up the Nation’ (2010) the latter of which earned Weller the best reviews of his lengthy solo career. Having toured the world on both albums’ live campaigns, Steve joins the Modfather for the mid-gig acoustic section upfront on guitar and backing vocals. Running concurrently with his day-job drumming for Weller over the past four years has been Steve’s burgeoning solo career. ‘Pixels and Paper’, Steve’s third album is his most accomplished to date, the disc’s twelve songs amply demonstrating his maturation as a songwriter. Clocking in at just over half an hour long, the LP works best as a complete whole. “It definitely plays as an album, not as a couple of singles with some fillers. It’s something that’s to be listened to from start to finish. That’s how it was constructed,” Steve says, sitting in a backstreet Liverpool pub. “I’ve always loved records that say what they have to say then quickly wipe their feet,” he continues. “There’s no need to go on for five minutes singing the same verse again and again. I’ve always loved records like ‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison and ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake. Anything 35 minutes or under is good by me,” he says. Describing himself as “a very fussy listener” Steve cites Laura Marling and Noel Gallagher amongst his contemporary listening. Along with its brevity, ‘Pixels and Paper’ continues the themes established on the aforementioned discs, with the broadened sound palate taking in a host of musicians at one end of the album’s spectrum to solo performances akin to Nick Drake, featuring just Steve and his acoustic at the other. Where much of Steve’s previous material had largely been solo affairs, on the writing and recording front, the new LP features a highly impressive cast of musicians. Steve’s presence on more than a dozen albums by almost as many artists and the rapport he developed with those found on his CV means the favour has been returned with the sterling list of contributors to the LP. Indeed, Steve’s relationship with Weller led to the album being recorded in the rock legend’s studio, free of charge. With in-house engineer Charles Rees manning the recording console at Weller’s home studio in Woking, Steve produced the sessions. “Charles knows the room and the desk and he got some great organic sounds,” Steve enthuses. “It was really special, a real privilege to be honest. Paul was so generous to offer his time and the space to record,” Steve says. In addition to letting Steve record in his studio gratis, Weller appears on three of the album’s songs. “Initially Paul was only going to play piano on one song but he ended up playing electric guitar on one, Wurlitzer on another and singing a line or two of backing vocals on another song.” With Weller contributing to the album, did it feel strange with the roles reversed, having him play on your songs? “It was really funny,” Steve nods. “I was giving him directions. He was turning to me and saying, “What should I do? Shall I lay back here, or push here?” and I was offering advice to him. He was so good at it, a consummate professional, it was amazing.” “It was a pleasure how everything fell into place. It was recorded in just a few days. We were surprised that we got it all done, basically the whole album in three days,” Steve says of the album’s quick turn-around. “For what’s essentially a four-piece for the bulk of the album, with a few additions, it sounds pretty big as a record.” Additional recording and mixing was overseen by Ste Powell, who has recorded sessions by scores of Liverpool bands at the city’s Roscoe Studios. In addition to quality of the songs and ample rehearsal time in the lead up to recording, Steve feels that the musicians who backed him on the LP are a big part of the album’s evident quality. Former lead guitarist with the Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones, who has just released his first solo album, ‘If…’, to excellent reviews puts in a appearance along with folk musician John Smith. “John, who’s a finger-picking folk guitarist , a solo artist in his own right (signed to Bella Union) is an old flatmate of mine came down and played on a track,” explains Steve. Shadowing the singer-songwriter’s voice on much of the album, lending additional texture, are the haunting vocals of acclaimed folk singer Rachel Wright, Steve having played on her 2007 LP ‘Like He Said’. The engine room of the band is supplied by Oli Hughes and Ryan Wyatt, the rhythm section from much-tipped Liverpool folk/roots act Dead Cities, who play on the majority of the tracks. In addition to bringing more musicians onboard, Steve has also worked with a co-writer on two songs. The excellent title track was composed “via email in a day or two” with fellow Liverpool-based writer Shane Beales. As for his personal favourites on the disc, Steve cites the “mid-tempo scouse pop” of ‘Keep Falling Down’ along with the raucous ‘Firecracker’ which in times past who have made a classic 45. The songs present were sifted from those written since Steve’s previous album, ‘Sunshine’ in 2009. “Some of the songs were two years old, some were in the month leading up to the album and even the week before,” Steve explains of the material, which despite the gaps between composition, hang together beautifully. Having started out and continued primarily as a drummer, Steve’s move to centre stage has been a gradual one. “I still feel a bit paranoid being at the front,” Steve says when asked if how he feels about making the transition. “I like being at the back of the room where you can see everyone,” he says of his role at the drumstool. “I still feel self-conscious about it more than playing for somebody else,” he continues. “I love being able to write material and then perform it live. It’s an absolute pleasure. It’s more about that experience of writing the song and enjoying playing it is what I get off on, more than ‘Look at me! I’m the ego at the front’ kind of thing,” Steve states. With the LP ready for release and a short tour lined up, the end of the year proves to be particularly frenetic as gigs prior to the festive season begin to pile up. The opening days of December are near-frantic, Steve however takes it all in his stride. “I’ve got the busiest eleven days of the year,” Steve grins. “After the three solo dates, I’ll be in Middlesborough playing drums for Cast, then Scotland. Then I’m travelling down to London to rehearse with Paul.” Both Weller and Cast have new records out next year, meaning Steve will be spending much of 2012 on the road. In addition to the live commitments, Steve is hoping to tour the LP next year too. “I’m looking to do some festivals next year with the band hopefully,” he nods. One final question then, after working with all the people you wanted to on the imaginary ‘wish list’ you had compiled for ‘Pixels and Paper’, who would you like to feature on your next LP? “Richard Hawley,” Steve says decisively. “I’ve actually got his phone number. If I had my sights on someone for the next album, I’d give him a cheeky phone call to see if he had any ideas…,” he smiles. If the man from Sheffield happens to be reading then… Please get in touch. ‘Pixels and Paper’ is available at iTunes and www.stevepilgrim.co.uk

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Steve Pilgrim - Interview

Steve Pilgrim - Interview

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