'90s - Hugh Cornwell /The Stranglers (2013)
'Getting To Grip with Hugh Cornwell'
Hugh Cornwell is one of the UK's finest songwriting talents and accomplished live performers. The original guitarist, singer and main songwriter in the British rock band The Stranglers, he’s enjoyed massive UK and European success with 10 hit albums and 21 Top Forty singles.
Etching himself into the UK and Europe's musical psyche with classic songs such as: 'Peaches,' 'No More Heroes,' 'Golden Brown,' 'Always the Sun,' 'Grip,' 'Nice N Sleazy,' 'Duchess' and 'Skin Deep,' Cornwell’s last studio album, the critically acclaimed Hooverdam, produced and mixed by Grammy award winner Liam Watson, is available as a free download from his official website.
Cornwell’s new studio album, TOTEM AND TABOO, is out now in the US via Red River Entertainment and through Red/SONY Distribution. Recorded at Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, the album was engineered and mixed by the legendary Steve Albini.
Currently on the second leg of his North American tour in December, he made a stop in Detroit on a very snowy Saturday. Chatting with the man himself, Hugh Cornwell, I first paid mention to the fact that he had told me back three years prior that his new album would be called Totem and Taboo! “Well, it came out in last September 2012, I recorded it at the tail end of 2011 and I did the demos in early 2011. So, yeah, the songs had been written and then I did the demos for them in January. So it was all ready to go, but it just hadn’t been committed to tape anywhere.”
“People forget that when you’re doing a record it just doesn’t happen overnight. I remember with Hoverdam I had the demos sitting in a drawer for like ten months before it was recorded. You have to work out who you’re gonna do it with and then where you’re gonna get the financing for it. And so for that one it took something like nine or ten months. But this one took a slightly shorter time.”
So, it all begs the questions have you started on the next one already and have you a title for it yet?! “Oh yeah, I know what it’s going to be called … La Grande Dame. It’s going to be a dedication to my mother who passed away a couple of years ago. So yeah, I’ve got lots of ideas for songs and things, but I just haven’t committed anything right now.”
“But funnily enough I’ve just done an acoustic tour of the UK for a month called Anthology. It went down very well which was nice as I hadn’t done this before. What I did was go through every Stranglers album and played one song from them and then I went through all my solo albums and then played one song from each of those also. And so in doing that I realized that unbeknownst to me I’d been making solo records every four years. 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. So that means without me having anything to do with it this next one will be coming out 2016,” he laughs.
You just figured that out?! “Yeah, it just suddenly came clear to me. A lot of things became clear to me when I was doing that tour. Lots of things. Another thing was that a lot of old Stranglers songs are ideal for Mariachi!”
Like the new version of ‘Golden Brown,’ the b-side to ’God Is A Woman’? “Yeah, ’Golden Brown,’ exactly. But now that’s in my head I’ve been doing acoustically ’Mayan Skies,’ which is about Yucatán and Mexico. And that would go great with a Mariachi band. But it’s all just a laugh, I’m not trying to garner public interest.”
The new single is ‘God Is A Woman’ - something you truly believe, perhaps? “Yeah, in fact I wouldn’t be posing that if I didn’t think that. I started reading a book that pointed out that before Christ all the ancient Southern religions had the woman as the deity. Not the man and I thought that was very unusual, very odd and I wondered why. So I went into it and it turned out that they couldn’t link the act of coitus with childbirth. Obviously there was nine months in between and so they’d completely forgotten that they’d shagged someone,” he gently laughs. “And then suddenly some nine months later a new human being comes out of a body. So that looked like a miracle. God-like. So that makes sense in that way which I found very interesting.”
“And I just thought it would be good to throw it into a debate, you know. And the more forceful Northern religions invaded the South and imposed their Gods on them. Tried to cut out the female side of that. I mean, you know women have been downtrodden throughout the history of this planet so that’s just another interesting aspect of it.”
And the video for ‘God Is A Woman’ is already causing a BIG stir!! “Good,” he says adamantly. “I think it just highlights and brings attention to this subject that’s well worth thinking about. And maybe it will give a new aspect to the relationships between me and women.”
And is it correct that you’re actually making videos for ALL the tracks on Totem & Taboo?! “Yeah, I’m making stand-alone videos for all of them and when I’ve got them all done I’m gonna link them all together. It’s gonna be a stand-alone DVD. I’ve done six already and now I’m just planning the seventh one. And ‘God Is A Woman’ is the third one I did. The first one I did was ‘I Want One Of Those’ and at the same time with the same cameraman and photography guy I made both ‘In The Dead of Night’ and ‘God Is A Woman.’ Then I changed to another cameraman and photographer and I did ‘Totem & Taboo,’ ‘Street Called Carroll’ and now I’ve just done ‘The Face.’ And the next one we’re planning is ‘Bad Vibrations’.”
Isn't that one very exhausting undertaking? “Well, I had this idea in my head to make videos of the whole album and make it into its own film, because I’m just passionate about films. I love movies. And I wanted to learn more about directing and stuff so to do a little three minute thing is great. I used to do a lot in The Stranglers, but I always did it in collaboration with a director that was brought in. So I didn’t actually do it myself. So I wanted to start doing it myself, learning about it all as I went. So to do it in three minute films is a great way to do it.”
So tell us more about how the video for ‘God Is A Woman’ came about? “I had in mind the original cover of Electric Ladyland where all the girls are lying around nude on the floor. And it was pulled immediately in 1968 and banned. And so I thought let’s see what’s actually changed in society since 1968. So I made the film with that in mind. Back then it was still photography, so I just wanted to make a film like that and see what happens.”
“So we put it on YouTube and it was immediately brought down, but then interestingly enough we put it on Vimeo with a warning on the front and it hasn’t been taken down. Indeed, they’re quite happy to leave it up there. And now it’s started crossing over and people are grabbing it and sending links to it and stuff. It’s nice. Funnily enough the original outcry was from hysterical women saying 'It’s Cornwell up to his own misogynous tricks.' But it’s not misogynous, because if you look up the definition of misogynous it’s being patronizing, being exploitative and sexist! And the video for ‘God Is A Woman’ is none of those things. There’s no men in it, it’s totally a woman’s film. It’s not exploitative, there’s no sexual acts in it and it’s not manipulative. And it’s not patronizing. So I think we just got hit with the first wave of an hysterical reaction and I reject that because it’s meaningless.”
“And the very fact that it’s now getting out and people are appreciating it for what it is proves that. It proves that the original reaction to is was hysterical. It’s just funny that in our so-called enlightened society there’s still this hysteria about certain subjects. Which brings us back to Totem & Taboo and all the things that are supposedly taboo and we can’t go there. So I’m like trying to go into these dark areas of my mind, because if we can try and understand them maybe we’ll simply become enlightened. It’s all about enlightenment.”
Something you mentioned then was your passion for films and I just read your review on the blockbuster film ‘Gravity’ where you called it “the most life affirming film” you had ever seen. Please explain that quote “Yeah, it was great. But for those that have not yet seen it, all I should say is that for those that have seen it they’ll all know what I’m talking about. You’ve got to have seen it to even begin to see what I’m getting at. And I’m not trying to get out of an explanation, but it’s a great little film and I’m sure I’m gonna go see it again because it’s great.”
Indeed, the new album is being lauded as your best since leaving The Stranglers! What do you attribute that to? “We were lucky in the sense we got Steve Albini to record it and so he’s made it sound like that. But Steve came back in to play bass, whereas on Hoverdam Caroline was playing bass, that might have made a difference. And with Steve back and playing with Chris Bell, well, that’s reuniting a rhythm section from nearly twenty years ago which was on Guilty. So that had a lot to do with it as well.”
You always seem to come to Detroit to play late in the year when it’s either raining badly or snowy crazily! Why don’t you come here in the summer? “It’s all just down to scheduling. It’s just down to when it makes sense to come and tour. This year it was now. Part of that was we put in the acoustic tour in November before we put in the American tour. And it turned out we couldn’t do this part of the American tour before November. So it ended up getting shoved on to the end, but if I hadn’t have put in the acoustic tour it would have gone in November.”
“So you just have to put things in when you can and build other things around it. Like I’ve just put in a tour of Germany in March. And if we didn’t have to put it in now to confirm it we’d never have got it. So you’ve got to plan ahead and put things in around it.”
You once said you left The Stranglers because you’d started to find the whole band thing frustrating and that being solo was/is great fun! “I’ve never regretted it. And I’m so sorry if I’ve never made that clear to you before. I’ve never regretted leaving them. You jump and a net will appear. A lot of people are scared of jumping and I’ve done it a couple of times in my life. I did it once when I was studying to be a Bio Chemist in Sweden and I gave it all up to be a professional musician."
"And it was the same sort of thing then. If you don’t do these things when you feel you have to do them you’ll regret them for the rest of your life. A lot of people go through the rest of their lives thinking God, if only I’d done that. What would have happened? So I’d rather do it and see what happens.”
“I think secretly all The Stranglers fans that support me since I left are all people that feel that I’m doing something for them, you know what I mean. Which is great because I’m living a life and doing things that maybe some of them wanted to do. But can’t because of their circumstances. Maybe. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why some of them don’t like what I’m doing.”
Agreed, because there are those message boards and chat rooms that either love or hate your solo work since leaving The Stranglers. So, what are they missing? “I’ve no idea. Maybe they just don’t like change. The Stranglers, God bless ‘em they still tour and do a great business, but the bulk of their live performances is based on that back catalogue. Which means that everyone who goes to see them is going simply to listen to them play all the old stuff. Which means that they don’t like change. I’d like to see them come out with a whole new album and only do two or three old ones. I mean, what would happen then? I think that would be interesting - so maybe they should.”
So you would never rejoin The Stranglers to become the original outfit again?! “No, of course not. As I said before I’m having too much fun. It’s like having a tribute band. It’s not necessarily a tribute to me personally, but to that era. And it just goes to show what a great back catalogue it is. It’s all positive thoughts, you know.”
Are you a Twitter Holic? “No, I don’t do Twitter or Facebook or any of those things. I have a webmaster-type person who does it all. We speak all the time and he’ll say I’m thinking of doing this, but what do you think? And then he asks me if there’s anything I want to add. He’s the expert on it. But some people spend so much time doing all that, don’t they. I just don’t know how they have any time to actually create anything.”
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins! Do you have any love for them yourself, perhaps? “Erm, I know that there’s one species or type of penguin where all the males walk off to somewhere in the Artic and they all stand together in a group whilst the females go off for months at a time. And they wait for the females to come back. They’re waiting there for months in this huddle. It’s quite remarkable. I find it quite amazing. And I’m reminded of them every time I come to North America in the winter,” he laughs and smiles broadly.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED LIMITED EDITION US 2010 Tour Poster, just answer this question (posed by Hugh himself!) Who was responsible for writing the music for ‘Strange Little Girl’?
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED LIMITED EDITION US 2010 Tour Poster! Just send us an e:mail here before January 15th with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED HUGH CORNWELL TOUR POSTERs to: email@example.com
NORTH AMERICAN DATES:
Dec 3 - Smiths Olde Bar - Atlanta, GA
Dec 4 - Casbah at Tremont Music Hall - Charlotte, NC
Dec 5 - Black Cat - Washington, DC
Dec 6 - Record Collector - Bordentown, NJ (Solo Acoustic Show)
Dec 7 - Brighton Bar - Long Branch, NJ
Dec 8 - Highline Ballroom - New York, NY
Dec 10 - Sellersville Theatre - Philadelphia, PA
Dec 11 - Church Of Boston - Boston, MA
Dec 12 - Tralfamadore Cafe (Tralf Music Hall) - Buffalo, NY (Solo Acoustic Show)
Dec 13 - 31st Street Pub - Pittsburgh, PA
Dec 14 - Small's - Detroit, MI
Dec 15 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, ON
Dec 17 - Beachland Ballroom - Cleveland, OH
Dec 18 - Reggie's Rock Club - Chicago, IL
Dec 19 - The Belmore – Minneapolis, MN