David McAlmont and Bernard Butler celebrated 20 years of their music partnership by reissuing debut album The Sound Of McAlmont And Butler last week (2 October). To mark its re-release Q turned to the clued-up interviews on the project to ask the tough questions, namely David McAlmont and Bernard Butler…
Bernard asks David…
Where does The Sound Of McAlmont & Butler stand amongst everything you’ve done?
I’m over the moon that I co-created a proper rock n roll album. It’s kind of the only one. My musical education began as a child watching Top of the Pops. The most exciting things to capture my attention then were Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and David Bowie’s Laughing Gnome. My teens were in South America and all the music on the radio was American pop. The most Rock n Roll things that got through to me then were Bruce Springsteen circa Born in the USA and Prince’s Purple Rain. If I had been in the UK maybe I would have picked up the guitar, but I wasn’t. I just started singing, but I always longed to have a close proximity to axe heroism. Enter Bernard in 1995.
What is your favourite moment on the record?
I wouldn’t be able to name one. Yes astounds me. I can’t believe that all of those glorious, sweeping ideas came together so quickly: the lyric, the melody, the backing vocals, the Smokey Robinson-esque outro. My favourite aspect of the arrangement is the cheeky flute line that you hear the second time we do the verse. Yes would be closely followed- if not rivalled in my affections- by How About You? I love the melancholy intimacy that suddenly explodes into dark epic flamenco, and then there is that guitar of yours again. Disappointment would be number three. The manner in which it swings between elegant soul revue and frenetic glam workout reminds me of the way that Boogie Wonderland goes from sweaty underground New York Club to feather headdresses in Vegas. The long sax instrumental that builds to a thunderous conclusion makes me smile and it is the one I am most likely to play when I fancy a bit of M&B action.
Which song do you most enjoy singing?
The Debitor. I will never sound like Axl Rose, but I gave it a bloody good go. I think somebody once compared it to an opera singer at a football match. What is so wrong with that?
David asks Bernard…
What is the sound of McAlmont and Butler?
It’s a visceral noise; it’s what comes out of the speakers and nothing else; it’s the pure pop aesthetic; it’s the big and the small, the happy and the sad, the high and the low; it’s a record that needs no review, anecdotes or explanation….haha!
You have an enviable gift for chord sequencing. Lots of songwriters can overcook their influences and go off course; something you rarely do. How come?
Thanks, love! I decided not to bother learning about diminished chords so if i hit one it falls like a surprise. Key changes are a once of year luxury and you have to choose your moment very carefully. Chords are just tools to build the atmosphere, to tell the tale. The intro is the pathway to the front door, the verse is that corridor, and the chorus is your entrance to the party. Some days you get there and the door is really small, the corridor dark, and everyone already went home and you have to deal with it.
I would describe your guitar playing as virtuosic: you seem to be able to play what you want with the sound that you want without giving it a second’s thought. How do you do that?
I sing it. When a singer is great they sing their life, and that’s how i feel my way through music. I always look for singers who are characters. The physical work that goes on between a guitar players’ fingers and the wood of the neck – that’s a minute connection which for me decides whether that one note on one string moves you or sounds like everyone else whoever played it. It’s about picking your moment well. I’ve arrived in the front room and everyone is there….now i have to give them the bad news. It’s like that…