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Friday, 17 May 2013

JUDY DYBLE: Chatting about her new album

JON: Tell me about the new album because it feels like it’s got a concept.

JUDY: It has been sequenced so that it flows.  But all the songs were written at different times so they weren’t written as an ongoing thing. We recorded all the songs and thought they all fit, or Alistair made them fit, together.  It’s not a concept album; it’s just a heap of songs that were waiting to be sung.

JON: It sounds like a concept; it’s all so cohesive and sounds like its about you; it’s all very English.

JUDY: Yes well it is.  I find it hard to write about anything that isn’t connected to me, so I have to write about something that has some resonance – that’s not strictly true actually come to think of it. <laugh> Each song is a little story in itself I suppose.  My songs are about what I hope people will resonate with. They’ll find something within the songs that will make them go “Oh I did that”, or “Yes I know. I see what’s happening”. That’s more or less what it is about really.

JON: Birds are reoccurring motif

JUDY: Yeah I don’t know why <laugh> perhaps because I see so many of them outside my window. Plus I’ve always had little bird s as pets.  I haven’t got any now, but always had as a child.  Budgies, and then my daughter wanted zebra finches. They’ve always been about. We had a parrot at one stage, and chickens, and guinea fowl.

JON:  That’s wonderful. I like birds.  Anyone who writes about birds is OK by me. I like the one about the crow.

JUDY: That was really about …. I got fed up with people saying “Oh crows, they are dreadful birds, they steal baby animals, and they steal this and that”, and I thought, they’re only doing what they do. You can’t take the nature out of the animal, out of the bird, it was born to do exactly what it does. It’s no different to another bird eating the seeds of plants.

JON: Who is the guy that you are singing with on one of the tracks?

JUDY: That’s  Matt Malley. He’s the ex-bass player from Counting Crows.

JON: Your two voices work ….. Again, crows. It’s your Corvidae obsession coming out again.

JUDY: I do like them.  There are lots of them around.

JON: Your two voices mesh very, very well.

JUDY: Well, I was pleased to use Matt. He actually introduced me to Rob because Gonzo released his solo album and another album of his a couple of years ago. 
If you understand … the words about two people who are trying to meet, but actually can’t do it because their letters are stuck in a postbag. And then they both say “Oh did I do something wrong?”  So they never actually get to meet. And I like the vulnerability of his voice and it seemed to work quite well with me.

JON:  It works beautifully.  I love the two opening tracks.  I like the black dog song and the one about you and your sisters. 

JUDY: ‘Black Dogs’ has got Mike Mooney from Echo and the Bunnymen to play the lap steel guitar, that wonderful lap steel guitar bit.

JON: Which is gorgeous.

JUDY: And my sisters…I am so pleased that I found a photograph of me and my sisters when we were very young to use as the background to the lyrics on the album. We are standing there by the gate, me and my sisters. They both said, “Oh I don’t remember it being like that.” <laugh> but then I am probably using a bit of poetic license.

JON: I kept of thinking of when … because I’ve just listened to the album again…. and the thing that kept on coming into my head during that song was Jessica Mitford’s writing about her very young childhood.

JUDY: Oh yes, with Unity and the other one. I can’t remember her name.

JON:  Deborah. She’s the only one still alive.  I believe she is still alive.

JUDY: I think so, I can’t remember now.  I lose track of people dying these days.  Erm.. yeah it was just what we did. As three little girls, there was my baby brother as well.  I am not sure whether he got the Dancing in the Moonlight, I think he might have been a little bit young. We turned all the lights off in the house and danced around dancing to just tunes.  Just something we did when we were little.

JON: I’ve been listening to the mp3s you sent me a lot, and I tell you I think I prefer this album to the last one.  The last one is gorgeous. But this is even better...

JUDY: I’m glad it’s not a disappointment, because there is always that problem of when you do another album whether it’s going to be liked, preferred, or whether it’s going to actually not going to be enjoyed enough and that it’s going to be  “why has she done that one?”  Well they were different times, and because it was me and Alistair this time without Tim, who was busy, it has a different feel to it.  It’s more – it’s an easier listen I think.

JON: It’s more personal.

JUDY: Yes.

JON:  It feels more intimate. It feels like you are in the room singing.

JUDY: Ah good.  That’s the effect I want to have.

JON:  My goodness, I’m actually getting it right.  I was interviewing somebody else the other day, and I told him – because he asked me what I thought one song was about  and I got it completely and utterly wrong. My interpretation had been completely wrong to what he actually meant it to be.

JUDY: I sent ‘Crow Baby’ to somebody – one of the earlier versions – a guy who – well he’s a very well known musician in America and does a lot of film music and stuff. And he was really quite snotty about it.  He said “oh yes that would go nicely in an album of children’s songs.”  And I thought you haven’t listened to it have you? ‘Crow Baby’ as a children’s song? <laugh> Having said that, my grand-daughter loves it, and my son has to keep playing it to her so she can dance to it.

JON: I think that’s gorgeous.

JUDY: And the other one, ‘Beautiful Child’ which is actually about her, she’s very proud of that.

JON:  What sort of period of time were the songs written over?

JUDY: ‘Black Dog’ was written in 2006 I think. Oh and ‘Head full of Stars’ was also written around that time – the words, not the tune, although Simon House wrote the tune for ‘Black Dog’ we didn’t actually record it properly until recently. ‘Head full of Stars’, I wrote the words in 2006 but Julianne Regan put music to them in 20011 – something like that.  And the rest of them have really been within the last year I suppose.

JON: With those first two songs, I had always imagined that somebody gave you the tunes and you wrote the words to them.

JUDY: I’m just trying to think how ‘Black Dog’ came about.  ‘Black Dog’ I wrote the words first and Simon wrote the music. ‘Feather Dancing’ – I can’t remember whether Alistair wrote the tune first. Nope I wrote the words first and Alistair wrote the tune to it. ‘Beautiful Child’ Alistair wrote the tune and I found the words. What’s next ... ‘Crow Baby’ I wrote the words and Alistair found the tune, so it’s a mixture of me sending words to people and them coming back with the tune, or them sending me a tune and me finding the words that are within it. 

JON: Well whatever way you did, it works beautifully.

JUDY: It does doesn’t it.  It’s always a surprise because I tend to make up a tune… if Alistair has sent me music I always find a surprising tune for it that he wasn’t expecting which is interesting.  ‘Silence’ was just a little jazz tune till I put those rather dire words to it <laugh> which made everyone go ‘Oh no’, and cry their eyes out.

JON: I love the string quartet.

JUDY: They’re brilliant.  They are just so good. And the arrangements by Phil Toms who is part of the string quartet are just stunning.  He’s a lecturer in Essex at the Colchester Institute. And he’s a good friend of Steve Bingham who plays the violin who also works with No-Man and various other extraordinary people. It is worth Googling him to find out what he does. I think his wife plays viola. They have their own little string quartet because they do a lot of classical work but they love doing different stuff like this as well.

JON: The thing that I found most extraordinary about the album is that you told me last time all the musicians on it play their things separately and you weren’t in the studio with any of them.

JUDY: Nope.

JON: Because it sounds surprisingly intimate.  It sounds like you and a bunch of musicians sat around and plucked the tunes out of the air and sang it to each other as you were writing it. It’s got that freshness about it.

JUDY: I’m delighted to hear that because mainly Alistair sent stuff of to people and they’d send back what they thought it should be. And I think around 99% of the time they got absolutely everything right. It’s been fantastic to hear what people thought would work but it was the same with ‘Talking with Strangers’ only the tiny bit that Simon Nichol did and the bit that Jacki McShea did which were done in my house but at the end of the whole process nothing was rehearsed with anybody.  And I quite like the way that works. In fact when I did the gig in London I used most of the musicians – the basics of the musicians on this album- to play with me and it was amazing how well it gelled.  We didn’t have to work too hard on the arrangements because everyone knew what they had done.  I think they may have rehearsed a bit beforehand to be honest but when they got to me we just played the songs through a couple of times and thought that’ll do. 

JON: It’s a very organic album.

JUDY: Yes.  I think so.  I don’t know why my music turns out the way it does.  I just send it to people and let them do what they want with it. And I don’t think I’ve ever said “No, I don’t like that”.  

JON: Another thing I find extraordinary is that your background of music is old school but you have adapted so well to the 21st Century way of recording.  You’ve adapted a hell of a lot better than quite a few more contemporary artists I could name.

JUDY: Well, I was really delighted I could do it this way by having people come to me with a laptop because with the health problems that I have I really can’t travel – it is really quite stressful to go. So I was just very lucky to find the people who were brilliantly talented who had the ability to record me, and who were happy to come here and record me and take the stuff away and turn it into something else. I am very happy working with laptops and things. Provided nobody asks me how it works, because I’ve no idea – it’s magic as far as I’m concerned.

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