by Gargs Allard
With the release of their fourth full-length LP, 360, on April 6 of this year, the Glasgow, Scottland band The Supernaturals, who have scored five Top 40 hits in the UK, have officially reformed after taking about 12 years off following the events of 911 and the release of their third album in 2002. During that time, frontman James McColl formed The Hussy’s with dynamic female singer Fili and have produced such stellar albums as Superpro and Tokyo Elephant Brothers. We got a chance to have a pleasant chat with James about both projects while concentrating on The Supernatural’s exciting new album.
Gargs: Love the new album “360.” This is your first one since 2002’s “What We Did Last Summer,” which came out just after 911 and just after George Harrison left this world.
“360” seems to indicate to me that the band has come full circle, that after taking a break for a while, and then going off on another great project with The Hussy’s, it was time to come back and make a new record.
Now, admittedly, this question is laden with speculation on my part and may seem a bit convoluted, but I wonder if you could expound on why The Supernaturals took a break and what symbolic meaning did you find in the the events of George Harrison’s passing, which you wrote a great song about called “My Sweet George” for the new album, and the aftermath of 911, which may have made your 2002 record not do as well as it could have.
James McColl: We tried a lot of experimentation on WWDLS and I’ve covered lots of new ideas lyrically and musically with the Hussy’s. When the Supernaturals reconvened, we were back sounding pretty much like we did in 1993 without trying and I found myself back listening to the Move and Small Faces and all the bands we’d fantasised about when we started out. It was a 360 on a snowboard if you like that analogy. Derek had also written a song about a man sailing solo round the world, which was called 360 after the book, I think. Almost all the metaphors felt right. Unfortunately, once we’d got the records pressed we discovered there was a band from the 90s called the 360s who had made an album called Supernatural.
JM: Our first single from WWDLS was called “Finishing Credits” and had been given the nod by the bigwigs at BBC Radio 2 in the UK. It was heading to get a lot of airplay. As the lyrics in the chorus went, “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” it got put on a banned list of songs the day after September 11. Up to that point, we’d rebuilt the band and had been on another upswing. If you remember at that time in history there was an ominous feeling everywhere. When we got back touring a few weeks later we never really recovered — it was like a hex. When our record company Koch got taken over a few months later by Universal, they sacked everyone. Me and the supernaturals manager had a giggle and just thought we need to break from this. It’s cursed.
Gargs: Wow — terrible.
JM: I wrote “My Sweet George” as a heartfelt tribute to George [Harrison]. He was of an Brit-Irish Catholic background much like most of the Supernaturals and I liked his yearning for something more out of life that everybody feels. Those ’60s bands who started out making disposable music are probably quite surprised at becoming like modern versions of Mozart and Verdi but that’s what they are.
Gargs: So much to digest here. I didn’t know “Finishing Credits” was banned — what a great song. It reminds me of the movie “Annie Hall” with the line “if there’s a spider in your bath, phone me up and I’ll just laugh…” So many of your tunes have great wit. I’m thinking of, of course, “Finishing Credits,” “Honk Williams,” “Deep in My Heart I Know I’m A Slob” and so many others. Where does that humor come from?
JM: I think when I was starting out writing songs I’d listen to the Smiths and The Replacements. They both have lots of sly and amusing lyrics. They grab your attention like “The flames rose to her roman nose and her hearing aid started to melt” or “one foot in the grave the other one in the gutter” from the Replacements.
Gargs: Haha. I think you guys used the term “Roman nose” in the Hussy’s song “Sister Mary Jo.”
Your new album is full of such similar humor as well, like the song “Air Hostess” where she wants to undo the buttons of her company dress but that “wouldn’t be for the best” and one I really love, “I fear the worst, my girlfriend is a Zombie.” Could you tell us how those tunes came about and what your personal favorite cuts on the LP are?
JM: “Air Hostess” is about the British class system. Like “he likes the girl next door and he’s dying to get at her” from the Kinks. The pilot, the hostess and the chap that puts the kerosene in the planes. It actually came about from a discussion we had about budget airlines in the Hussy’s. Ronnie the guitarist ,who was quite eccentric, sent an e mail to the Romanian Tourist Board suggesting they should use the phrase “book a rest in Bucharest” and it set off my imagination about flying budget airlines and the song had a kind of Ipcress File Gypsy ballad type feel at first. I was actually once on a plane from Majorca when the pilot quoted Plato or Virgil down the intercom, which seemed hugely pretentious, seeing the plane was full of Glaswegian Holidaymakers, but I changed it to Aristotle for the song.
Derek wrote Zombie about a friend of the band who was a wreck from boozing and I suggested he change it to “Girlfriend” from “best friend.” That was my contribution.I like the line about “spare ventriloquists dummy.” It was a demo for WWDLS which we resurrected for 360. The demo had mariachi trumpets and those male choirs you’d get in spaghetti westerns but we left that off this time in the interests of taste.
My favourites on the album vary from month to month. Probably “Meteorite” or “Something to Believe in” at the moment.
Gargs: This is really the kind of album the you can listen to on and off for months and really keep changing what your favorite songs are.
I think “Something to Believe In” is thoughtful, hopeful and beautiful all at the same time. The melody and hook are single worthy. My brother, Kevin, who introduced me to your music years ago, really liked the line “Forests and rivers kind of give me shivers,” saying it was a lines like that that really attracted him to your band back in the early 1990’s.
“Meteorite” to me is about keeping a long term relationship and true love alive. I could easily see it as a John Lennon song and I’m not embarrassed to say that it brought tears to my eyes. Love how the words of the chorus go note for note with the lead:
“That’s not a trick of the light.
That’s not a meteorite.
That’s just me flying through the sky.”
Two songs I really love are “Something of the Night” and “Born Again.”
You were saying you were listening to a lot of late ’60s music like The Move, a group Jeff Lynne gradually morphed into ELO, and I can certainly hear that influence, but to me it all goes back to the Beatles. Of course who influenced those groups the most but the Beatles? And if “Meteorite” was Lennon-esque then “Night” certainly reminds me of prime Paul McCartney — led a bit of a sped up version of “Bluebird.” Such an awesome song.
“Born Again” has great track placement, just before “360,” another great song that you already mentioned, which ends the album. Both of those sounds are so hopeful and point to spiritual resurrection, and with the Harrison tribute at the beginning, really make the album in and of itself have a full-circle feel to it. Harrison was such a spiritual personality and I can really feel his influence on this album in that way.
How much do you feel the Beatles influenced this album compared to groups like The Move?
JM: When we were making the record I was listening to the White Album, Village Green and Parachute (Pretty Things) a lot. There’s a common thread running through these three records and I suppose it seeped into our music. Harmonies, a few well placed guitars/keys and quite simple backing. When we do the Hussy’s it’s anything but the Beatles so it felt good to try and emulate those late 60s records.
Gargs: There are so many great bands from Scotland. I also asked Al Stewart this, who is originally from there — why do you think that is?
JM: In Glasgow, It rains a lot and it’s cold most of the time. People stay in and write songs and rehearse and there’s lots of little music venues with a strong music culture. There’s a lot of individualism in Britain which gets knocked out of kids in school in other Northern European countries and that’s maybe part of why theres always been lots of Good British artists. And it particularly helps that we speak english, the language of rock and roll. I really like a lot of Scottish artists from Donovan and the Incredible String Band onwards. Scotland is slightly seperate from the rest of Britain with it’s own legal system and soccer teams and so on and that carries through to the music.
Gargs: Very Interesting.
How has the Supernaturals’ lineup evolved since its inception?
JM: The line up of the Supernaturals is now these same as it was when we started. Gavin the drummer had to quit in 1995, as he was under a lot of pressure having had a child and muscle problems with his hand. It was basically the same unit that spent years playing round Britain selling our cassettes out the back of the van. The one thing we’ve had a lot of is keyboard players!
Gargs: What are your plans for both the Supernaturals and The Hussy’s going forward, or anything other project you may have up your sleeve?
JM: Fili and myself are writing Hussy’s stuff with a view to recording later this year. We’ve got lots of ideas — there’s 2 strands of music we’re working on and when you get bored with one you switch to the other, so it’s fun.The Supernaturals are doing some gigs later in the year and we may do some more records when we get some more songs together.
Gargs: Exciting stuff to look forward to.
What are your tour plans? Are you ever going to come to America or will people like myself have to go to Scotland to see you?
JM: We do gigs when people ask us and it looks like fun. Before WWDLS we calculated that we’d done 800 gigs so we feel we’ve bought that t shirt many times. If someone paid us enough we’d play in the US. The converse is there’s lots of American bands like Dr Dog and Beechwood Sparks that probably cant afford to get over here so and I’d love to see them so it works both ways.
From their press release:
The Supernaturals release their fourth album “360” in April 2015. The album has fifteen tracks written and recorded over the previous 2 years at Gorbals Sound studios, Glasgow. Produced by Kevin Burleigh (Glasvegas, Simple Minds), the album ranges from the skiffle beat of My Sweet George to the satirical whimsy of Air Hostess with the wry balladry of Zombie and many points in between. The band hark back to their Sixties roots in what is a resounding return to form with their knack for offbeat, wry story telling welded to catchy melodies. The cover of the album, the shoreline of the Firth of Clyde, refers to the sea journey undertaken in the last song on the album, 360, and like the title of the album reflects the band’s return to its original sound.
The Supernaturals formed in 1991 and toured extensively around Scotland releasing 4 mini albums on their own label. They signed to EMI/Food in 1995 releasing two albums “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and a “Tune a Day”. The band had 7 Top 50 singles between 1995 and 1999. The band’s third album, the Beach boys influenced electronica of “What We Did Last Summer” was released in 2002 on Universal records, after which the band went on a long overdue break. Meantime, several of the band’s songs, the Ivor Novello nominated “Smile” and “I wasn’t built to get up” have taken on a life of their own in subsequent years, having been used in adverts around the world. Rod Stewart covered the band’s song “Dylan’s Day Off” in 1997.
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