Badly Drawn Boy One Plus One Is One

Badly Drawn Boy One Plus One Is One
A funny thing happened in the plan hatched by Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) to take the piss out of the record industry — between endless gigs that played more as Kaufman-esque comedy than Springsteen revival meetings, Gough became an excellent songwriter and, with One Plus One Is One, has made the first truly great record of his career. Less scattershot than his debut, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, and less cramped and busy than his two 2002 releases (the About A Boy soundtrack and Have You Fed the Fish? album), his new effort is organic and spacious, occasionally dark without being hopeless, and demonstrates some real restraint from the pile-on instrumental approach he’s taken before. Instead of returning to work with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Foo Fighters), Gough comes home to Andy Votel, with whom he co-founded the Twisted Nerve label; it’s Votel who does most of that label’s artwork. The result is a spacious, piano-heavy singer-songwriter record that recalls the early ‘70s heyday of James Taylor, Richard Thompson and Billy Joel (or, to more contemporary ears, the late Elliott Smith). But where it used to be a challenge to layer flute, multi-tracked instrumentals and choice sonic delights onto simple pop songs, in this technologically advanced day and age it actually requires restraint to limit oneself sonically as Badly Drawn Boy does here. Now instead of snatching every opportunity and piling on every impulse, BDB has added subtlety to his arsenal and his songwriting is purer and more focused for it. No longer will this incarnation of BDB get tagged as a "slacker icon.” Instead, he’s puddings proof that patience, discipline and luck are more important than image or "positioning” — if you’ve got the talent to back it up, that is.

How did you approach this record? I was making an attempt to be darker and moodier because I don’t think I’ve explored that in songs before, but now that it’s done, it’s still got the old traits that I can’t shake. There’s still an underlying positivity and romantic notion. Music is the thing that gives me hope, so I can never go 100 percent dark. I wanted to make a much more spacious record, much less overblown. Trying to zoom in on the important details instead of throwing everything at every song.

Was the sound of the album a conscious choice? This is the first album that I had a bit of space to think. I woke up one morning and thought "I really want to do this at home, I want to work with Andy Votel,” my old partner from Twisted Nerve. I wasn’t under any time pressures, so there was no real rush. I’ve learned how to distil what I’ve got into more finely tuned songs. On other albums, I’ve had the spectrum, where some of the songs feel disconnected, but on this one, they all feel like shades of one colour – shades of green on this record, as opposed to reds and purples.

Are your ambitions changing? Without realising it I think I evolved into a songwriter. Five years ago, I was a dabbler — I was good at music and good at being myself, an original, but I was guessing all the time. Stumbling upon ideas instead of controlling them. Now I’m much more likely to write a good song every day of the week than I was five years ago. I’ve still not written my best song, I’m pretty sure of that. (Twisted Nerve)