“We tried to get away from computers and back to the songs” - hmv.com talks to Madness
Madness commemorate their 40th anniversary as a band this year and celebrate with a brand new album named Can’t Touch Us Now. The album was recorded in Toe Rag studios, the same complex where The White Stripes made their universally acclaimed LP Elephant and where all the gear is analogue and decidedly lo-fi.
To find out all about the making of the album, why Toe Rag played a big part in the record’s sound and their plans for a big, big tour, we spoke to frontman Suggs...
How did making this album compare to your previous album Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da?
“The album that really snapped us out of full-on 80s nostalgia was the Norton Folgate album, which was the album before Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da and we made that at this tiny studio in Hackney. It’s a great studio and such a good vibe so we went back, there’s something great about the whole band being in a room together which changes the atmosphere. This album is about the atmosphere and not technology. We tried to get away from computers and back to the songs.”
What’s Toerag like? Is it just a treasure trove of old gear?
“It’s a fantastic place. Sometimes making music is as much about the place you’re in and the atmosphere as it is the words and the music. Liam (Watson) who runs it is like this gatekeeper to this other world where all the equipment looks like something out of Doctor Who. It’s also nice to be around gear where you know that legends like The Beatles and The Kinks have used it, it’s very inspiring.”
You worked with Clive Langer again, he’s been producing you right throughout your career, you must have a great relationship now...
“We keep trying to get away from Clive and we can’t escape him, we’ve been friends since we were kids and we share a long history and an empathy for the same music. Clive’s very good at arranging drama and theatre in music and it’s always fun working with him.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“We’ve explored everything we’ve gone through over the years. The reggae aspects, the happy aspects, the melancholy aspects, there’s a bit of politics in there. It’s the full spectrum of what Madness is, six very strong individuals and lots of very strong feelings and emotions. My songs like ‘Mr. Apples’ and ‘Herbert’ are more about specific people, I wanted to get back to more narrative structure, more like the writers who inspired me like Ray Davies and Ian Dury.”
When did you settle on the title of Can’t Touch Us Now?
“Lee (Thompson, saxophonist) wrote that song and we really liked it and then we needed to call the tour something so we could get the tickets on sale and that name suited it really well. It’s a bit cheeky, a bit like catch us if you can. Then when it came to the album title it seemed really fitting, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs but we’re in a great place now and we can kind of do what we like.”
You’re back on Universal after flitting around a few labels, why did you decide to do that?
“We did the last few ourselves and this time all the record companies came along and there was a bit of a bidding war, it was very exciting, I didn’t even know you could get a record deal anymore! Universal were really enthusiastic, they didn’t even hear the album, we’d done it and paid for it ourselves, but it’s a great feeling to have this big machine behind you. It’s nice to feel like we’re really giving it a go.”
They’ve even given you the resources to include a board game on the deluxe edition...
“We’ve got a TV advert too! We’re always trying to come up with something for the fans and we worked hard on that game, it’s a lot of fun!”
You’ve got a big tour coming up at the end of the year, what have you got planned?
“It’s going to have this strange prison set-up on stage, but we’re still working on that. There’ll be five or six new ones and then we’ve got 20 odd hits to pick from so we’ll be able to rotate a bit. I’ve been to gigs where artists play their whole new jazz fusion album and you’re stood there going ‘Where the f**k are the hits?’. So we’ll aim to get the balance between showing off the new album and a big dollop of hits.”