By Ian GormelyIt's been four years since we had a proper album from Mancunian troubadour Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy). Creatively reinvigorated after delivering the soundtrack for The Fattest Man in Britain, Gough is now aiming to release a trilogy of albums under the banner It's What I'm Thinking. The first, Photographing Snowflakes, dropped last month. Gough took some time before his UK tour to speak to us from his Manchester home to discuss his new project and how home renovations curtail creativity.
The new record has a very distinct and uniform sound. Was that conceived while you were writing or was it discovered once you were in the studio? I don't think I ever know what I want to achieve. The recording process for me, you write your basic songs at home on a guitar or piano. When you take them into the studio you start doing overdubs. A song can go in many different directions depending on the mood you're in on the day you're recording that one song. It's quite a daunting thing to go through. I'm quite an indecisive person at the best of times. It could sound good with piano or without piano, or with strings ― there are so many different ways to do it. I find the process exhilarating but also a bit of a nightmare because there are so many things that could be different. I think my philosophy over the years has been to just go with your instincts and whatever seems to start working the best. I think across this album I didn't over think anything too much. I just went with what seemed to be working. And that went through to the ten songs that are on there. They were the first ten to be finished from a batch of about 30. What I usually do is finish the whole batch of 30 or 40 and drive myself insane trying to figure out which ones are the best. Because I reached a point at which ten were done I figured I'd relieve myself of that heartache for once and finish the others and do a trilogy. It's imposed on me to work on another couple of albums in rapid succession. But the sound emerged in the studio. There's quite a lot of reverb going on. That's because when I'm doing a guide vocal I need tons of reverb because I'm too shy of singing without having any words and the reverb gets me through. We had some demos where the reverb just worked and I went with it because it seemed like it was the right sound for this collection of songs.
So the songs are written and recorded for the next two instalments? No. There are 15 or 20 that we made a start on and I may go back to them. There's a few that I like and I've written others since. But I never finish anything till I go into finish. So there's a handful of ideas for the next instalment. I could even go back to songs I'd written ten years ago. On this one there's a healthy mix of old and new. There are really old songs that are three or four or five years old and songs that are brand-new that were recorded on the night. The general rule is there are no rules to this trilogy. That's why I like the title It's What I'm Thinking, because that allows me the freedom to say that's what I was thinking on that day or during the three- or four-week period of making this album. It's just opened up my creative world in a way that I've never really had before. I should've discovered this before now but it's taken me this long to see that that's how simple it can be. And all the songs were recorded relatively quickly by my standards. And the lyrics were written quite spontaneously. I didn't cross anything out or change stuff. It was almost as it came out of my head. That's something I'd like to maintain. Photographing Snowflakes, the sub-head, was a metaphor for capturing moments fairly quickly and not changing it too much. I might one day go in and just play piano and release that. There's no real rules to it, which is the way forward for me, which has opened up my world in a way. And this epiphany came while writing the soundtrack for The Fattest Man in Britain? That soundtrack came along as a bit of a godsend in a way. At the beginning of last year I was intending to start recording the next album and for a few months I was writing songs and I just couldn't see a way through. I'd not been in the studio for a while and I was nervous about doing it again. I wasn't suffering from writer's block; I just didn't want to do it. I just didn't feel I had any good ideas to present. When the soundtrack came along it forced me to go into the studio and do some demos. I was really quite nervous. I hadn't played in a studio in over a year and I sat there and after about ten minutes I settled in. I thought, "Why have I not been doing this all the time?" I've always got something to offer in the studio. I don't like leaving at the end of the day with no results. It made me quickly realize I'd been quite stupid to not have been continuously doing it because you get out of practice and you get nervous about the idea of it. I think that was the catalyst for making me want to do a trilogy. I did the soundtrack and it was a low-key release but it was rewarding and it just got me going again and made me realize that I can't afford to not be in the studio and be creating because that's essentially who I am as a person. It keeps me ticking and keeps the rest of my life easier.