One of the more fun—if not slightly more obscure—musical trends from the early 1990s was the amalgam of jazz, pop, and soundtrack music. Sure, bands like Stereolab and Combustible Edison made the papers, but there were plenty of other bands out there, making quality music. Few bands did so with aplomb than London-based Corduroy. Recording for the legendary Acid Jazz label, the band released a handful of impressive, enjoyable records for the label in the 1990s, which have been compiled handily in a four-disc box set entitled Very Yeah. We were happy to sit down with the members of “The Fabric Four” to talk about their career and their inspirations.
What was a bigger influence on Corduroy’s sound and style–cinema or music? Initially speaking, who were your prime influences, and what did you feel you wanted to accomplish with Corduroy?
Simon Nelson-Smith (Guitarist): Your words sum us up well, sound/style/cinema/music/TV (I added the last one). A nice marketing line, where were you 20 years ago? My parents weren’t interested in music really, so TV and cinema became an important musical stimulus. TV is where you found out about Oscar Peterson and Ian Dury, or saw a piece of Bernard Hermann music animated into human, angular form. We all soaked that up because there was nothing else, it could have been worse. Influence wise, it was always quite broad for all of us. I was a right fucking poser–and I still am–and mostly listen to Jazz and Funk, but never at the same time.
Scott Addison (Keyboards/Vocals): Since a very early age Good Guys, Bad guys, Costumes, Fast Cars, Spaceships, Gadgets and Glamorous women have all been major influences. The films and TV shows which cultivated such fascination had music/soundtracks provided by such people as Neil Hefti, Quincy Jones, Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schiffrin and Michel Legrand. It seemed paramount to draw on those influences when Corduroy started, as we saw ourselves as hopefully appearing in one of those films one day!
Ben Addison (Drums/Vocals): Both. I was asked to put an instrumental band together for a half hour one off show. Scott and I at least had always found music from film and television to be at least as exciting as pop music. We decided to be every band from every 60s film that featured a party /club scene: Blow Up, The President’s Analyst, and things of that sort. Being an instrumental group, we figured we’d need at least one cover, and chose Sesame Street, but in a Sergio Mendes bossa style. The rest was put together from old Boys Wonder rifts, bits from film and television parts, and sections influenced by Quincy Jones, and Rufus, amongst others, over a two-week period. There was no plan beyond picking up the £100 for the gig.
When I listen to your music in consideration with the musical movements of the era, I’m brought around to two genres: the Madchester/baggy movement and the American lounge music/exotica that developed about the same time as your debut. Did you hold any allegiance to either movement?
Ben: My father had raised Scott and I on Jazz, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and the like, so witnessing the effect of dance music on UK pop was interesting I guess, but the real encouragement came from going to the London club Smashing, and dancing to various film and tv themes and musicals from the 60s and 70s. Martin Green‘s Sound Gallery compilation of UK library material seemed to make the whole thing legit, without any real concern for the US lounge movement.
Scott: We didn’t have any allegiance to anything other than the mood and sense of opportunity that seemed to permeate the Acid Jazz label, but it was always a pleasure to hear someone who knew how to use a Wah pedal, whether they were from Madchester or not. And the Steve Lawrence/Edie Gourmet version of “Black Hole Sun” could not be ignored; it just went to prove that cover versions are generally motivated by good songwriting.
Simon: Baggy was very un-Corduroy, thuogh I did like the more modern, rare groove loopy stuff. But mostly it was something I would be feed up with before the tune finished. I don’t think any of us knew of the American Lounge revival scene. It makes sense though, they had all the lounge bars. Lounge bars in Greenwich were for getting a kicking in.
Between Dad Man Cat and High Havoc, you went from being an all-instrumental band (save for the occasional vocal harmonies) to being a mixture of vocals and instrumentals, and by the time of Out of Here, you were almost exclusively a vocal band. Was there an intentional plan for Corduroy to be an instrumental-only band? Did adding vocals represent a compromise to your sound, was it something that you became more comfortable about doing, or did you collectively feel that singing needed to be added to the mix?
Ben: After the success of that first one off show, we gradually started playing London clubs. Then having signed the deal with Acid Jazz within three months of forming, we found that a four piece instrumental band perhaps had limited appeal. Eddie Pillar asked Scott and I to write a song for a girl he wanted to sign, with a Bossa-type brief. “Something in My Eye” was the result, and rather than add members to the group, we found that singing was a cheap way to expand our sound. As the band and label’s reputations grew, we realized there was a small chance of some pop success, so the singing served to increase that chance.
Scott: We started Corduroy with every intention of being purely instrumental, but after doing some gigs and signing to Acid Jazz, we realized that as musicians we weren’t really good enough to compete with proper jazz musicians, and to avoid the additional costs of hiring a brass section or other musicians we started to introduce our own vocals, which gave rise to writing more songs than tunes.
Simon: It was the natural that the twins sang, we needed to grow and were fortunate that they have sweeter voices than Al Jackson and Booker T. I’m Steve Cropper, in case you’re wondering.
Listening to Live in Japan, I really get a sense that having fun was one of the foremost reasons for being. Did you enjoy touring as much as it sounds like you did? What are your favorite memories of touring? Would you have preferred touring to studio work?
Ben: Personally I always had big fun doing both. Playing shows to an appreciative audience is one of the biggest highs available, and recording /arranging is always an immense creative pleasure. Touring highlights would include dropping acid with all members of Corduroy and Mother Earth in Switzerland (or was it Austria?) Italy was always frenetic, and Japan seemed like fate. Even though I was older than thirty, getting chased through Tokyo streets by two hundred schoolgirls was the closest we ever got to a Beatles fantasy!
Scott: Generally speaking I loved touring, the excitement of being in a foreign county/country and playing to a fresh crowd was very appealing- From visiting Japan seven times to supporting Jamiraquai and playing to thirty-six thousand people in Bercy, France, gigging proved to be a huge passion but being in the studio was just as much fun, creating something that we could then go and show off live.
Simon: On balance and preferences aside, our reputation was always based on our live performance. I found extended studio time masturbatory and would rather jab pins in my eyes than record Click again. I was always good at falling over on stage, not drunk just falling over. We were on stage in the centre of Cardiff on a Saturday afternoon, my friend Cass was in the crowd but right at the back with ropey sound. She couldn’t tell who she was watching till I fell backwards over a monitor.
In listening, it’s hard not to notice the impressive growth of Corduroy, but one thing I hear, from going through your discography in chronological order, is that your growth almost feels like listening to the growth of music. For instance, Dad Man Cat is a very 50s/60s record in feel; High Havoc feels like a 60s revival, and Out of Here is almost a disco/R&B record straight out of the late 70s. Was this intentional? Coincidental?
Scott: I would suggest it was all coincidental, the first album was intentionally instrumental, the 2nd was basically a concept album, where each track related to a scene in an imaginary movie, and for the 3rd album we felt we needed to provide more than just the same, so as we were singing more live wise, it made sense at the time to write more song based music.
Ben: That’s a good question, but again, there was no conscious plan. No one likes to repeat themselves, and I suppose we wanted to explore different areas in musical history.
What was the impetus for leaving Acid Jazz? Looking back on the decision, do you feel it was a wise one? How do you feel about your final recordings?
Ben: I realized that after the Mini campaign died on its feet, we could never take things any further with Acid Jazz. There were money issues too, so rather than keep things on the same level forever, I thoughtwe should move on. There was no objection from the rest of the band, but after two years spent breaking the Acid Jazz contract, we’d lost a lot of momentum. The New You was a little affected by the growth of rock music in UK pop of the time, and having performed on Reading festivals main stage, it all seemed to fit. Clik! gave us the first chance to work with a producer and from the list of interested parties we felt that Rob Playford would provide the most interesting results. At this time we were straddled between live band and studio project, involving playback providing horns, strings etc to big up the arrangements at gigs again an efficient way to expand sound without involving another nine musicians. It’s academic and pointless to speculate what would have happened with another producer, or having stayed with Acid Jazz.
Scott: After a few critical mishaps and misunderstandings with the label, we as a band decided we needed to expand our lot and felt that the whole genre of Acid jazz music was becoming a little constraining, Leaving one label and signing to a new one suggested to us that we had a lot more to give as a band, but on reflection, leaving the home that in effect gave birth to us seems a little rash now.
What do you feel is Corduroy’s legacy? What are you the proudest of?
Ben: The easy answer would be the amount of sound-alike bands that keep appearing even today, but the best answer would come from a fan.
Scott: Eddie Pillar used to call us his “Punk Jazz band,” and if there is one thing I’m proud of, it has to be the fact that if you have a half decent idea, and even if you’re not very good at executing it, do it with pride and people will see value in it. Go on, try it yourself!
Categories: A Conversation With...