Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers)
'Some Dam Fine Work!'
Hugh Cornwell is one of the UK's finest song-writing talents and accomplished live performers. The original guitarist, singer and main songwriter in The Stranglers enjoyed massive UK and European success with ten hit albums and twenty-one top forty singles, etching himself into the UK's musical psyche with 'Peaches,' 'No More Heroes,' 'Golden Brown,' 'Always the Sun,' 'Grip,' 'Nice N Sleazy,' 'Duchess,' 'Walk on By,' 'Strange Little Girl' and 'Skin Deep.'
Cornwell has released eight solo albums, most recently Hooverdam, produced and mixed in Toerag Studios by Liam Watson, known for the Grammy winning White Stripes’ Elephant. 'Hooverdam' is available as a high-quality free download in ten languages from his own website, bringing Cornwell’s music free to the world’s population.
It is available as a triple-sleeved digipak featuring both CD and live studio performance DVD Blueprint, in one exclusive package. The album is also available on vinyl.
With the masterpiece 'Hooverdam' available as a free download, Cornwell breaks new ground and proves himself again to be a unique force in British music.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of speaking with Hugh Cornwell about his past, present, future, ... and, of course, penguins!
Part One - Growing Up:
Taking it from the top and what was it like growing up in Tufnell Park and Kentish Town back in the day, trying to get started in the local music scene? "I met Richard Thompson at school and he lived 5 minutes away from me, so we used to get together a lot and play each otherS stuff we'd found. He taught me to play bass and we had a band together. His father was a detective in central london and used to get hold of recovered stolen amplifiers for us! Richard's sister booked bands for an art college so we got a few gigs there. Then Richard left school and I got down to studying."
In the late '60s you earnt a B.A. in Biochemistry and even embarked on a post-graduate research post in Sweden. I'm assuming then, if music hadn't taken off so successfully for you with The Stranglers, that your career would have taken a whole different path? "Not necessarily. I loved biochemistry but I wasn't very good at the research experiments in the lab. If music hadn't have been a success I would probably have become a painter or a writer."
Then, come late '74, the Johnny Sox band name was dropped and you then toured under the name The Guildford Stranglers - shortening it thereafter. But why remove the Guildford portion of the name back then? Were you, shall we say, encouraged to by the media? "Not at all. The name sounded more effective without Guildford in it."
Part Two - The Stranglers:
The Stranglers went on to become the highest selling band to emerge from the UK punk scene, with numerous hit singles and albums, but in reflection was there one period of those years, one definitive Stranglers album/moment for you that encapsulates all that was perfect for Hugh Cornwell? "I guess when 'Rattus' (the first Stranglers album) came out I felt as if an important moment had been reached. All those years of struggles had finally paid off, reinforcing the concept that only hard work achieves lasting satisfaction."
I ran into you once a while back and we quickly discussed the song 'Peaches,' and you fully admitted that the lyrics to the song were bollocks and that you had no idea why or where they had come from! In quiet, calm reflection now, is that still truly the case today? "It sounds like a flippant answer from me! Like most of those early lyrics, they were written on the spur of the moment, reflecting what was in my head at the time. I had just been to a reggae dub club before writing the song, so that must have been an influence."
After all those punk rock / pub rock hits suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, in '81 we got served 'La Folie' - which contained the melodic, mainstream-created evocative waltz-time mega hit ballad 'Golden Brown'! Can you recall why the change of music direction had occurred back then and after all those years of venomous rock, how singing 'Golden Brown' on TOTP felt to you?! And, was it written about heroin? "Well, 'Golden Brown' wasn't mainstream-created, it was the only song that originated from the keyboards. When Dave G. presented me with the music I thought it was so different from anything we had done before that it was revolutionary! The lyrics were partly about my affair with heroin."
Part Three - New Solo:
Having subsequently released eight solo albums, including your latest, 'Hooverdam,' it's now being said that you are breaking new ground with its release. Please tell us more about this broken new ground and what we are to expect from it musically? "I had no idea I was breaking new ground! It's probably more like 'newly broken ground' as the new album is so lo-fi. I am very happy with the simplistic nature of the songs on 'Hooverdam' and also happy with the present line-up that appears on the album and on tour currently."
Indeed, with regard this new album, how easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "If there was a simple answer to that question we would all be extremely successful! You just have to do what comes naturally and not listen to critics."
Do you have a favorite track from the new album, one that's more personal to you then the others, perhaps? And just why the album title 'Hooverdam' anyway? "The Hoover Dam represents a truly wonderful human achievement, something to aspire to, and I love everything about it. All the songs are very personal and I have different favorites depending on what mood I am in."
And, have you ever been to the actual Hoover Dam, perhaps? "No, but I hope to be there this March when touring the states."
Included in this package is 'Blueprint,' a film that depicted the recording process of 'Hooverdam.' The film had a limited theatre run in June of '08 where you attended each screening, taking part in a Q&A session after. What did you learn from those Q&A sessions (about yourself, about the film, etc.) that perhaps you didn't realize before? "'Blueprint' is actually a live performance of 'Hooverdam' in the studio with no frills, a completely live two track recording. I spent 6 weeks editing the footage together into something you could perhaps watch more than once. I realised that i would love to get more involved in film."
Part Four - The Future:
It's been said that you already know the theme and title of your next upcoming album. So, can you reveal something about that now for us - to give us, as we are called Exclusive Magazine, that all important 'exclusive tidbit'?! "Well, just recently I have been involved with finishing off my first novel and now that's done my head is starting to curiously fill with bits of songs ... the next album will be called 'Totem & Taboo'."
Wow, wonderful exclusive news, thank you ... and so, finally ... and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins ... do you? "I grew up with Penguin books, as they were revolutionary at the time, being the first softbacks ever, and also Penguin biscuits, but as far as the animals go, I don't think I could eat a whole one!"
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
To keep up with Hugh Cornwell, check out his Myspace page once a week!
Hugh Cornwell on Myspace
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