Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook on the band's new album and working with Chris Difford
While Squeeze (due at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield on Wednesday, July 4) has had a few hiatuses in its almost forty year history, singer and guitarist Glenn Tilbrook says the band sounds more energized these days -- so energized, in fact, that the group has even started work on a new album, a platter which will feature the outfit's first new material in fifteen years.
In 2010, Squeeze released Spot the Difference, which featured a number of re-recorded hits like "Tempted," "Black Coffee in Bed" and "Hourglass" to compete with the group's back catalog master recordings, which are owned by Universal Records. We recently spoke with Tilbrook about working with co-writer Chris Difford again, the new album and how some of the new material was influenced by early Squeeze.
Westword: How did this tour with the B-52s come to be?
Glenn Tilbrook: We've been on the peripheral of each other's lives way back since the late '70s. I remember meeting up with them on our first tour in the States in '78 and going out for a drink. We got on really well then and we get on really well now. It's a good blend of bands I think.
I understand you guys are gearing up for a new record, or have you already started?
We've started doing it. We're doing a few of the new songs in the set now. It's really good because the songs are standing up... If people don't like them they'll let you know. That's the way it should be.
How would say the new songs compare to your earlier material?
You know, I'm not making that comparison. The only comparison I will make is whether it stands up in a set with other songs, and it really does. So that's the only way I can judge it, you know?
And you're shooting to release it sometime next year?
I'm going to wait until it's done, but it will be out next year, definitely. I don't really know what a record means these days. For me, it's for the fans who are listening and they get it on Spotify, iTunes or they'll find it one way or another.
Has your songwriting process with Chris changed at all over the years, or has it stayed the same?
It's definitely changed. Our writing process is a lot slower. It's more deliberate. We're ending up with some stuff... I think some of the songs we have in the set now are at least equal if not better than anything we've written before. That's the bit I was waiting for. You feel like what you're doing is actually exciting for now that has nothing to do with your past; that's the trick of it.
Since you do take a long time writing songs how do you know when they're finished?
Because I've spent a few months writing songs that weren't... Chris and I struggled to get started this time around. It's like anything, as soon as you do that thing that's really good you think, "Okay, we can do it." Anytime until you do it there's always doubt, particularly after the gap that we've had.
You've got your own studio and I've heard you do these elaborate demos. What happens to the demos after you and Chris get together?
The way we're doing now is that I haven't demoed them. It's a really deliberate decision. I wanted to get away from the demo culture and be working everything out ahead of time. I have the songs in my band and we work out how they go. That's a little more interesting, actually. It's a bit more scary for everyone, but it's a good thing because it makes us think. No one is too comfortable.
So it's much more of a collaborative process than you just bringing songs to the band?
Yeah. I think we need to sound like a band.
You guys are approaching forty years together as a band in a few years. Do you have anything big planned for the fortieth anniversary, or maybe you're not looking that far down the road?
What I think is that we really need to take each time as it comes. Right now, I'm looking forward to recording. I'm enjoying playing with this band. We sound really good live. I think we were just beginning to get a little bit tired. It was five years of just playing old songs. Now is the time we need to either move ahead or stop. I think we've crossed the divide and we're going to move ahead. That's how I feel about it.
I was reading about how with Spot the Difference one of the reasons you did that was that you'd have more control over your masters for film or commercial licensing?
Yeah. But we've done a good job with it. It was good fun.
Gang of Four did something similar, but I think one of their reasons was that they didn't like the way the original recording sounded. Was that part of your reasoning as well, or was it more to have control over your master recordings?
No, not so much. It was purely that Universal wanted our back catalog, and they're not letting us do anything with it. That's really frustrating. They don't care about our stuff. We care about it. They don't. They own it and they're not bothered. So we tried negotiating with them but they just weren't interested, and that's very depressing. The positive way to deal with that is to say, "Okay, you don't want to deal with us. We'll go and do our own thing."
Really, essentially, we did that to compete with our own back catalog. So our idea was to make it sound as good as it possibly could without, for the most part, changing it. There were three songs that I'd say we made better. Most of them sound like the earlier versions. As far as I'm concerned, that's a job well done.
I heard you guys also tried to round up some of the same gear you used on the original sessions, right?
We tracked down a lot of the original gear, and I still have a lot of the original gear that we used. I'm an equipment hoarder. I have most of the original amps and the original Minimoog we used on "Cool for Cats," stuff like that; I've got that still so we can use that.
Speaking of "Cool for Cats," when I first heard it, it totally reminded me of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Was that intentional when you wrote that?
That was definitely an influence at the time. No doubt about it.
How have your music tastes changed over the years and has that changed the songs that you're writing now?
I think it always changes and it's always a product of what you do. I try not to get too concerned about what it is and I can only think about what it is after the fact. I realized that I've been influenced quite a lot by early Squeeze in writing the stuff that we have now. It sounds quite a lot more energized than the last few Squeeze Records. And we sound more energized and I really enjoy that.
With the band taking a couple of breaks, how it working with Chris again after a few years off?
Well, it took time where we could get to a point to where we could do new stuff. We had many false starts. I think that's a good thing because I don't want to come back and do Squeeze stuff unless I think it's the best thing we've ever done. There's no point in doing that unless that's what we can do. Some of my solo stuff I've loved completely and utterly and I still do, and I can bring that enthusiasm back to Squeeze, which wasn't in Squeeze towards the end.
With you being a guitarist, do you write a lot of material on guitar or on keyboards?
I always split between guitar and keyboards. And the split is pretty much 50-50. If I've got both, I'll swap between. But on the road I'm doing a bit of writing on guitar since I don't have a keyboard.
Do the different instruments inspire you in different ways?
Yeah. I mean, I experiment more on keyboard because my keyboard playing is worse than my guitar playing. I've been playing keyboards longer than guitar, but my keyboard playing stopped getting any better when I was about 13. That's okay. That's cool. It helps me write. I like the bigger canvas of a piano and different bass notes and stuff. I always have liked that.