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Creature Comforts - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 14 / 12 / 2013

Creature Comforts - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Ben Le Jeune, the front man with Manchester-based alternative rockers the Creature Comfort about his decision to reform his band after a twenty year absence and their just released long-awaited eponymous debut album

The Creature Comfort are an alternative rock band from Manchester in the grand tradition of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Pixies and the Stooges. First formed in the late 1980s, they attracted a fanatical loyal following, and won much acclaim both for their fiery live shows and their frontman Ben Le Jeune’s offbeat lyricism. As they seemed on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream, they, however, disbanded suddenly. After a period of hibernation of over twenty years, Le Jeune has recently returned with a new line-up of the band, and at last their self-titled debut album, which came out in October. Pennyblackmusic spoke to the exuberant Ben Le Jeune about both the Creature Comfort and the album. PB: The Creature Comfort seemed destined for major success and about to break through when they broke up seemingly abruptly in the early 1990s. At one point you were selling more tickets for gigs in Manchester than REM. Could you explain what went wrong? BLJ: You’re right that we were on the verge of something special…it’s a real ‘what if’ situation – in a parallel universe … Manchester’s missing link to the grunge scene, ha,ha. Well initially it all fell apart because we were putting our trust in others and we got kicked in the teeth. We were surrounded by people who were sucking us dry or ripping us off, just giving us bad advice. We were too young, naïve, drugged-up, or just too egocentric to realise what was going wrong. So, anyway…things started getting quite paranoid and weird within the band. There was starting to get ill-feeling, and then all our gear got nicked under strange circumstances – a total act of destruction for us and the nail in the coffin…When you’ve invested so much of yourself into something then that can really affect you, you know..? Really it’s ironic that the negativity and disillusion started around the time the ‘Madchester’ scene was kicking off. It should have been the perfect time, but the media were just chasing after the trend of the day - looking for more loved-up bagggies - and we were always much closer to the bands we played with like Gun Club, Mudhoney and also Sonic Youth and the Pixies.. And obviously they didn’t realise what would come later with Nirvana. PB: You spent approximately twenty years out of the public limelight. Why have you decided to return at this time? BLJ: I could go on a while about that question…it’s mainly about circumstance and energies you know – how you’re feeling, surfing the waves, making things happen, doing it in the right way at the right time -and for the right reasons. Confidence, mental power, stamina...And a long time thinking it through…Questioning myself… Before I go into it some more, let’s start from the basic principle that all humans are deluded, right? That’s my disclaimer! Anyway, so…I spent quite a bit of time wondering is it the right thing for me to even just WISH to reactivate myself as an artist, writer, performer…? But, well…I’ve always been driven by this insane belief that this music is absolutely incredible and just has to get out – to be exposed to the world for people to adopt – or not. I absolutely know – it was proved – that the Creature Comfort’s music was amazing and loved and blew people away back then – so why not still now? We’ve always stood a little outside of time, fashion…And anyway some things are universal – things like rhythm and emotions - and wanting to get out of yourself through music. And, actually - even further - I was thinking that if this music does have some value –then don’t I have some weird karmic duty to make sure the music gets heard? If it inspires a few people who discover it, ‘Nuggets’-style, in a second-hand record shop or online? Legacy, man – butterflies causing tornadoes… Like I said we’re all deluded anyway, right. Oh – well, to come crashing back down to earth – it’s also happening NOW because it’s taken a damn long time to save the money and find the self-belief to do this! And do it in the right way and without compromise. You know, I’m both philosopher and Sagittarian – shooting for the stars but from solid ground… PB: What have you been doing during the years that you have been away? BLJ: What have I been doing while I was away…? Well, I disappeared from the scene because I went through a lengthy period of low-ness and intense self-doubt about myself as a creator, a writer of lyrics and melody - and as a performer…It led to what I call my psychic breakdown – soul disconnection – the hibernation I’m now coming out of. Hmm...I went back to Brussels for a few years, and was seeing family in France and Michigan, and then came back to Manchester… a little wiser, but still wired, and with this plan of mine taking some kind of shape. PB: Were you doing any songwriting? BLJ: I don’t really ever stop creating – it’s what I live for really. But not really - or not a lot - I'd kind of buried that part of me, but it had to come back out - you can't hide from yourself and all that. It’s true that now writing is a little less structured now - more fragmented. Finding those periods of time – the long hours, days and nights focused on writing are rarer to find now - so my notebooks are a mess and I’ve loads of audio snippets. There’s so much stuff to work on….It’s really frustrating! Modern life … PB: The group won much acclaim in the past for your live work. Did you find it difficult stepping back onto stage after all this time? BLJ: At the beginning, yes, I was a little scared. Before the act I mean – getting back onstage. And I thought maybe it could just be a studio thing. But the live thing is so intrinsic to it all – it’s what it’s all directed towards. As a frontman I know I’ll probably get stared at – or I mean I should be! – so anyway there’s no place to hide really if you want to do this properly. And there’s no better place to not hide than on stage if you know what I mean? To be honest, it’s performing where I feel most free – on stage, the deck, buzzing out in rehearsal. So when I did go back on stage it was natural and felt like here I am back home. It’s weird…I love it. And now people tell me I’m just a natural frontman, so I know I’ve developed, gained authenticity or something … And it’s great to create an effect – there are moments when you spot a look of shock on the face of someone in the crowd – or a gasp - and that’s great, precious…You know, everyone is so blasé about everything these days – there’s no surprise, right? But it’s my role I suppose to try and change that – bring you out of yourself – shock therapy, ha,ha. Badly Drawn Boy saw us play over the summer - one of those hot, hot nights - and he was blown away – went on stage to tell the crowd in fact! But what was important to me was when we were talking later, and he said how everyone bangs on and on about these amazing gigs in the past – Pistols at Free Trade Hall, Joy Division at whatever – just gigs they’ve HEARD about - but nowadays when you see it there in front of your face it’s not recognised - we’re all so wrapped up in this idea of the past. But maybe it’s only later that it starts to develop, through looking at some grainy black and white photos – who knows.? PB: You're the only surviving member from the original line-up. Who are the new members of the group? How did become involved with them? BLJ: Yes, that’s right. I’m the sole keeper of the flame I lit over 20 years ago now.. It's a strange responsibility - or albatross.. The line up now is great and I feel amazingly fortunate it’s fallen this way... Most of the guys I’m with have been around the Manchester scene a little too. I knew Steve the guitarist from the early days - he was in a band on the scene called Metal Monkey Machine. It took a while for us to hook up! Chris and Christian – bass and drums – they were part of the Northern Quarter scene when it first started – when all the cool kids were hanging out at Night and Day and Elbow first got together – all that. And we’ve got a nice Spanish punk influence with our other guitarist Jose – he has a superb touch and sound. In the end it all came together quite naturally really – mostly on one weird and special day – and it’s really super important for me that it does feel right – for it to feel like a band – and not something forced or just average. If that wasn't working out, then I probably wouldn't even be doing it. PB: There is a real spontaneity to your lyrics. You're never quite sure where they are going to go next, which is a really good thing. There is also a real surreality to them. You must be the only band who has, for example, written a song about making sauce. How much of the songs come about through improvisation and how much of them through more traditional methods? BLJ: ‘Sauce’ in some ways comes from a fairly traditional lyric writing approach but, yes, with a self-referential songwriter element…In my head I think of Lee Perry and Neil Diamond with that one! But about how the lyrics come out - I think it’s just the way my brain is wired, and how I’ve been affected by personal experience, my upbringing, and being open to influences, experimenting - pushing words or meanings a bit further...Sometimes people are so scared of the obvious – they try and be too clever, you know? I try and strip it back. Be direct. I learnt that from Iggy Pop, ha,ha – well, and the blues too really – that had it as well. But to go back to your question, well there’s always a spark of inspiration or some slight madness at the beginning - and then who knows where it goes from there? You do usually have to work at it at least a LITTLE…or a lot – really a lot. Musically too it comes form different angles. Jams, licks, rhythms…It’s through rhythm a lot of the time in fact. I’m very rhythm driven. PB: How many of the songs on the album were written during the first incarnation of the group and how many of them have been written in recent times? BLJ: It’s split about 50/50. ‘Sauce’, ‘I Do Need You’ and ‘Windowpane’ are from more recent times. Live we’re playing a cool new one called ‘What We Want/Power Corruption & Lies’ – can’t wait to record it – it’s monstrous - and we’re working on other material too. PB: This is actually your debut album. How many of the songs on it come from the late 80s and early 90s and how many are more recent? BLJ: I wanted to produce an album that would showcase the range of the Creature Comfort’s musicality, so I cherry picked a bit from across the years. Originally I thought a ‘greatest hits’ album as a debut would be kind of cool. PB: You leaked the contents of the album on Soundcloud a few days before its official release. Why did you decide to do that? BLJ: Oh…no idea! Did I ruin the experience for everyone? Would I be richer if I hadn’t? Was it stupidity? PB: 'Windowpane' is a tribute to the realities of Moss Side. You clearly find your native city a great inspiration. Could you imagine making this album anywhere else other than in Manchester? BLJ: Well, I’m of Manchester but not from Manchester, if you know what I mean? And travel is always quite inspirational too... But I’m not sure where home is really – it sounds corny but actually I’m sure a lot of people feel like that. Anyway…yes, definitely, definitely Manchester and all that I’ve lived through here has been an inspiration. There’s a lot of the city in the recordings, in ‘Electric Eyes’ for example, and in a whole bunch of others I haven’t yet recorded…They’re all quite urban… which is ironic as I way prefer nature to concrete. But there’s a buzz about Manchester and also an edge, and I think that helps to drive you on – a strange mixture of creativity, buzz and paranoia and unease, attitude and honesty. Plus the weather is quite good for sitting in a room writing - or disappearing into cellars - or warehouses - to make a noise… But I’ve also written about other places – one called ‘Jealous of New York’ for example which is kind of cool. It must be something about cities, the energy. PB: The album has a real timelessness to it. It could have been recorded at any point during the last forty years. Was that you intention? BLJ: Yes – and thanks! It’s just great to hear that. I did want to produce something that could be listened to in twenty years time – or forty – and still sound fresh, or just solid, organic. Or something that sounds like it might have ben recorded twenty years ago. The production was important, when you look back to music like the Doors and the Stooges which still sound powerful and incredible production-wise. I just hate that crap tinny 80’s production – you know? But you’re never quite sure how it’s going to turn out. But it was the intention. PB: What did your producer Peter Glennie bring to it? BLJ: Peter just made sure that the songs were played with the right vibe, that the sounds were spot on> He did some important overdubs, picked me up when I was down, cajoled me and the musicians, was patient, layered and shaped the sounds – he even gave away one of his favourite guitar licks for the end of ‘I Do Need You ‘ - so that’s quite a lot, isn’t it?!? He’s a total gent who knows his stuff so well, is generous and knowledgeable, humble and multi-talented. He does music under his own name – kind of a mix between Scott Walker, Nick Cave and the Tiger Lillies - check it out (peterglennie.com). The whole scene at Blueprint Studios where I recorded the album is superb – world class, and with an open, family vibe. It was such a relief as there’s so much bad attitude in the music business…And it’s a place that’s attracted everyone from Elbow to Jessie J, – quite a range…The studio engineer on the sessions, Fred Kindt, he’s a producer and keyboard player in his own right, was awesome too –and like Peter totally understood what I was trying to do - where I was coming from. He added some great touches too – like the keyboards on ‘Windowpane’. It was a great little team. Hopefully we’ll do it again. Generally I was so lucky, fortunate, to fall in with the crew I did for this recording. I’ve had so many bad experiences in the past and it was crucial to get it right. Terrifying in some ways. PB: The album has seven songs and last only 27 minutes. You have apparently got a lot more material in the pipeline. Every track is excellent, but why is there so little of it? BLJ: Oh, you know, I so wanted the album to have twelve songs and be 45 minutes long, on vinyl with gatefold sleeve but, you know, I don’t live in Alderley Edge with Ferraris in the garage – or have any label behind me or anything like that… So really if I'd had the money I'd have recorded twice as many songs. But it had to be done right, and that costs you know. And it’s all being done DIY. So … although I said earlier I did this with no compromise – well, I’m a liar because there is the compromise! But it’s kind of cool - quality not quantity, right? Leave you wanting more...A lot of 60’s garage albums, and 70’s punk, they were quite short too. The Stooges albums were mostly around eight songs too if I remember right… For sure, there’s a lot more material. So now it's about hustling for cash to continue with this - this ridiculous project of mine- produce music for the good of your critter souls - and yeah, drip feeding whatever, however, whenever we can in the meantime... PB: What other plans have you got for the future? Your gigs have been confined to Manchester so far. Will you be playing other shows outside Manchester and touring? BLJ: Well, the future’s all about finding the means to dedicate ourselves to writing, recording, releasing, gigging. We’ll be announcing a few other dates too, I’m sure. PB: Thank you.

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Creature Comforts - Interview

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