MUDKISS FANZINE

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JAMES DE MALPLAQUET: [THE MISERABLE RICH] AND THE MERCURY PRIZE WINNERS FOR 2012 ARE..........INTERVIEW BY ANDY BARNES

My first introduction to the delights of The Miserable Rich came through a live session on 6 music, a rendition of “Boat Song,”  prior to the release of debut album “Twelve Ways to Count,” experiencing one of those moments the world appears to stop turning as you immerse yourself completely within a gorgeous piece of music.  Ever since, both the debut and more personal follow up “Of Flight and Fury” are albums I’ve constantly revisited, which although critically acclaimed, sadly ignored within the U.K by the wider public and the industry in general. 2011 finds the release of album three  “Miss You in the Days,” to coincide with Halloween, a collection of songs based around ghosts, sex and death and the extended Brighton six piece  take once again to the road with their Haunted Tour.  Mudkiss met with lead vocalist James De Malplaquet at the St Philip and Stephen’s Church gig in Salford to discuss the new record and particularly the pledge campaign surrounding the release as we see the music industry in a steady decline.

ANDY: You’re just a few dates into your Haunted tour, how have the audiences received it so far.

JAMES: Yeah, it’s good….the first show was in London, in Westminster, the Reference Library……. and sort of Halloween get up kind of thing , so everyone was dressed up and it was sponsored by Hendrix Gin, so it was really happy, (Laughing) some blasting punch going around and Mike cooked some dinner for everybody…….for our V.I.P guests who’d helped us out on the Pledge . Yeah, I mean it was a kind of a bit nerve racking doing the first show with the new album…..cos basically unless people really want us to, we’re playing just the new record on this tour after several years of playing some of the other ones…..Like “Oliver” even though that’s on the second record we’ve been playing that for three years.  So yeah, it’s maybe a little bit nerve racking doing your first show in London to a sold out crowd (Laughing)…..but it went down well I thought……..nice show. Next night was just for my family really…… it was in Windsor, it’s not really a hotbed of music… independent music Windsor…….. but I wanted to go there cos you know my parents are getting on, not able to get to shows, so it was nice to do that and sing the “Boat Song” for me Mum.  And then Blickling on Monday was really nice to sort of finish off the album……you know that’s where we recorded so much and we got to say thank you to people, got to play in the long gallery….nobody had played there for thirty years and it was obviously built as a music room four hundred years ago.  You don’t often get to have things like that, we had nice four poster beds and served cooked breakfast by the pub landlady, who’s my friend, she helped us get the gig. And then last night was Oxford, in a castle……well actually it was in the lunatic asylum part of it……Oxford Castle was turned over into a prison and a lunatic asylum and we were playing in the lunatic asylum part of it, which kind of fitted with everything.  And you know, nice crowd, very enthusiastic, some quite emotional parts to it…….and here we are……..you know Manchester’s one of those places we’d like to think of as a kind of bit of a homecoming cos Humble Soul’s based here, we’ve got a lot of friends here, Gus who’s with us on tour and he’s been brilliant, Alabaster DePlume, he’s from round here, so yeah, here and Brighton we’d like to think of like a home town crowd……..it’s a bit like when we go to Frankfurt in Germany it’s a similar thing because the record label’s based there and we’ve got lots of friends there……….yeah, you look for ones that are going to be, oh that one will be alright. (Laughing)

ANDY: I know the album has only been out for a matter of days, but what’s the critical response been so far?

JAMES: We got an amazing review from Mark Beaumont who’s a big NME, Guardian, BBC critic and he wrote it for the BBC and he was quite entertaining about the ghostly side of it but also gave us a Mercury tip…………I mean we don’t really expect any of that stuff nowadays………you know he was saying it deserved to be up there with Beirut, P.J Harvey and Andrew Bird so that was very flattering. A lot of the blogs have been very, very positive……the NME weren’t very positive quite strangely……..they were unhappy because after the first song it wasn’t frightening enough, there was absolutely no criticism of the music at all, it was like, it’s all very well, it’s really nice but it’s just not frightening enough…………ok………..not particularly helpful there, but you have to take these things with a pinch of salt.

ANDY: Well, that’s the NME for you, they slagged off The Fleet Foxes latest album for no particular reason. I don’t think they’re interested in particular kinds of music unless it’s regarded as being cool at the time.

JAMES: Well they gave us 8/10 for the first album and I bumped into somebody at a gig and they said, “what kind of music do you make” and I said, “well, I used to call it bar room chamber music” but the NME slagged us off for that…..and the other girl who was with us said, “I wrote that review…….sorry about that, but bar room chamber music, come on” I said, “well don’t worry, you gave us 8/10 I’m really pleased” and she said “actually I wanted to give you 10/10 but the editor wouldn’t let me because you didn’t have a high enough profile,” so yeah it shows you how these things kind of work.

ANDY: That’s just crazy, surely an album should be rated on it’s content not profile. Crazy.  Just looking at the new album “Miss You in the Days” compared to your last, “Of Flight and Fury,” while the subject matter of the supernatural, death and sex is quite dark, it’s actually quite a bit lighter than “Of Flight and Fury” (Laughing)

JAMES: You wrote to me last time and said “Are you alright mate” (Laughter) and weirdly enough the same thing happened last night……..the promoter said “I really love that first album, but you know I just wanted to say….are you alright” (More laughter) I was like, yeah I know the second one was you know……a bit bleak. He said,  “No, the first one you can tell you’ve been through it,” I thought it was quite chirpy.

ANDY: I thought “Twelve Ways to Count” was quite chirpy, but with “Of Flight and Fury” it came across as very personal and you were really wearing your heart on your sleeve.

JAMES: Yeah, I think I do that anyway……. I mean “Pisshead” is that isn’t it. I try to write about things that people,………I don’t expect that I’m the only one to have the experiences that I have………. I imagine they’re fairly common. (Laughing) I think you might be referring to the orgasm bit in “Let Me Fade,” “Your hips don’t shudder like before” (Laughing)

ANDY: There’s certainly that, but “Let Me Fade” in general is quite a heart wrenching song.

JAMES: Yeah, it is, although as I think I’ve mentioned before, that’s all of my break up’s in one, but I’m sure it won’t be the last (Laughing).  I just think those break up songs are so common a garden, so I wanted to make it a little bit different.

At this point we are offered the green room to carry on with the interview, which is politely declined, although with hindsight it may have been a better idea to accept as you’ll discover shortly.

ANDY: So when you came to write the new album

JAMES: I think this is a bouncier album…

ANDY: Yes, musically it’s certainly bouncier and perhaps more theatrical?

JAMES: We kind of wanted it to have the immediacy of some of the pop songs that I’d written for the first album but the musicality that the band had given the second album, but we felt that the second album perhaps didn’t have as many direct…..”Let Me Fade” is perhaps one of the more poppy ones, maybe “Chestnut Sunday” but had other ones that weren’t quite so poppy……the first one had “Pisshead,” “Boat Song,” “Time is Mine”……. “Muswell,” all quite immediate……..so we wanted to have plenty of them on this one, but we also wanted it to be quite crafty and we also just wanted to throw the kitchen sink at it a bit really, we didn’t want to have any limitations……..”Of Flight and Fury” we’d decided that we’d play all the instruments and everyone would play at least two instruments and everyone would sing…….. that was kind of one of our little rules, this time we thought, oh, we don’t have to do that……I mean it’s weird enough that we’re going away to a haunted house to write songs just about ghosts, sex and death (Laughing) we don’t really need to make it much more difficult for ourselves………so we were like yeah, we’ll get a piano, we’ll hire a piano, we’ll get a drummer in, you know we’ll play a bit of electric guitar and stuff……..and I didn’t actually play………I don’t think I played any instruments on it this time……. I just concentrated on singing and a lot of the time just producing in the kind of day to day, this is what we’re going to do today…….I’ll go and get the shopping in while you do that………making the phone calls and stuff……So yeah, I didn’t really pick up……..well I did pick up stuff while we were writing but I didn’t record anything…….but I guess I kind of don’t really care anymore, I’ve done it enough……I’ve scratched that itch, I don’t mind just singing now if there’s somebody else better in the room….which there is (Laughing.)

ANDY: Do you write all the lyrics or are the band also involved?

JAMES: I guess I probably write about 90% nowadays…….like “Tramps,” Will wrote, but he didn’t have a chorus and he didn’t have the last verse and I just twisted it around a little bit. He had this idea and I had to sort of tie it in a little bit………..his was about living ghosts, about these people that you see……they become well known in the town, maybe they’re alcoholics or they’re veterans or something who wander around……… I know somebody in particular from Brighton who always used to go (adopting aged, husky voice) “Spare ten pence”……..used to always work with this big black thumb….and if you gave him some money he’d walk away and then he’d come back and it was just his mind was just gone so he didn’t know he’d gone to you again……..and Will was thinking about this one guy with a big red face, he’ll probably mention it tonight……….but I then read a story called “On the Brighton Road” which is about a tramp who dies and doesn’t know that he’s died and that he’s a ghost now……he meets a hitch hiking child……so I tied it around a bit and gave it the chorus.  “Pillion”……I think that’s all Will is it………..no I just wrote the last little bit……..so I mean, in the same way that I’ll bring a guitar part and go let’s do this…….but I don’t mind them adapting it, if it’s good……then similarly you know, if I’m going to say you play this guitar part and then adapt it……. I’ve got to be able to then have them go, you write this but adapt it……..but I think there’s two songs that Will originated on his own and all the rest are mine……..or at least my lyric.  “On a Certain Night” I just had this idea of having three chords, something really, really simple……. and took it to the band and yeah, of course they put a hundred more chords in it (Laughing) I was doing the cooking at the time, because we take it in turns to do the cooking and went away……fatal mistake……… came back there were hundreds of chords in it……. but it was quite nice so I found a vocal line  and found a lyric for it……..but yeah, I mean that’s my job is the lyrics really.  But I guess partly it’s not so dark because I wanted to put a bit of sex in it and I wanted it to be playful in that respect…….. but also Will’s stuff is quite playful…….”Tramps” is playful in a sarcastic way kind of way……and “Pillion” I think has got this sort of…..it seems a bit like Agatha Christie meets The Cure.

ANDY: That’s a great mix (Laughing)

JAMES: The opening riff……….I’m hearing “Tramps” in my head at the moment………the opening riff really sounds like an Agatha Christie theme…….not THE Agatha Christie theme, but it would really fit a Poirot…… but the rhythm is really like The Cure, “Love Cats” kind of a vibe…….so he’s partly responsible for that but then again “Laid Up in Lavender” is quite playful as well and it’s mine.

ANDY: The vocal on “Laid Up in Lavender” is very playful, it’s a very, Cockney, cheeky chappy kind of sound.

JAMES: Yeah…….yeah…….Mockney……….Well I’m from the wrong side of London for Cockney so it’s Mockney (Laughing)

ANDY: You’ve been involved with the Pledge Campaign for the latest album, can you explain to people who aren’t aware or don’t know what the Pledge Campaign is, how it works?

JAMES: Well the thing is that people……….you know everybody goes on about the music industry is in crisis and it is…….look at the bands who are doing the Pledge Campaign and there’s some really high profile bands who are doing it, which tells you something about the state of the industry……fact is, nobody buys CD’s anymore, hardly anybody’s paying for music but that doesn’t mean that they’re spending more money on tickets when they go out or they’re buying T-shirts and stuff, they’re just not buying…….because they can get stuff for free…..and when people can get stuff for free, A, you do, and, B, you kind of devalue it a bit you know…..it’s not so important, and that’s something that’s going on at the moment…… so people kind of have to find ways of making things happen, it’s not like people don’t want music to be made but unless a bands just going to make one album and that’s it…..then they’ve got to find ways of keeping going.  If you make one album, you can do that while you’re working and then you just take six months off and go touring with it……but if you want to actually have a………..body of work…….I almost said career then and stopped myself (Laughing)……. if you want to have a body of work then you’ve got to find ways of doing it. So it’s nice in that you find out who supports you and that can be really touching and some people have been incredibly generous…..obviously there’s a bit of  families help out but basically they’re just buying stuff off you….trouble with that is you’ve then got to go and get the stuff to sell to them, so you’ve got to find the money beforehand to buy the mugs, the t-shirts the whatever……so it’s quite a complex thing…….I think things like writing the lyrics out, although it’s time consuming, that’s a really nice thing…….. and a couple of people have got married to “The Boat Song” for example and they wanted me to handwrite it and send it out to them……..one bloke wanted to come to a rehearsal…..those sort of things are lovely, but you know, really in these straightened times when people are finding it difficult to pay the mortgages and do anything……..it is difficult with the music industry but we’re just going through a time where nobody’s paying for anything…….they’re not paying for digital photography…..they’re not paying for films……. but that’s part of the digital revolution that’s going on and it’s massive…….but at the same time people haven’t quite realised that if nobody pays for anything, then nobody gets paid and that is problematic…..and nobody’s really worked out how that works yet and I think people are quite afraid  it could mean a lot of really good stuff will just get lost.

ANDY: Do you ever sit back in a quiet moment, look back to when you started the band and feel that you’re, for want of a better expression, having to prostitute yourself to make ends meet?

JAMES: Ermm………………I……….I don’t think that is the concern for me…….. I don’t want to be too egotistical about it you know, it’s just another industry, the entertainment industry…….we’re not anything special in terms of people, we’re just people…….I think what we do is quite special and I’m proud of it but never get ahead of yourself, we’re just blokes…..we’re just a bunch of blokes……….so no I don’t feel that kind of like (adopting a very theatrical voice) “Oh I’m prostituting myself…….I will not…….” (Laughing) Just get over yourself if that’s what you think…….. and really when you’re working, there’s so much humiliation that goes with any small amount of adulation…… but no, that doesn’t bother me at all, what bothers me is wondering how we can actually make six people a viable thing and keep it going and how……. I’m not the youngest kid on the block….what that will mean for my future as a person, so that part worries me.

Martin, a friend of mine who came along to the gig appears, and offers to buy us a drink. After a debate over who’s driving, James deciding it will be guitarist Ricky’s turn tonight (no tour bus for The Miserable Rich) we settle back down with a couple of Stellas.

JAMES: I grew up in a musical family, my father was a session drummer, so I know that it’s hard work and you have to just have to go out there and do it………..sometimes, as the kind of responsible…..they might laugh at this….but the responsible figure in the band, in that I run the band, I worry constantly about how we can keep the band together……..how we can keep it going…..so that sometimes brings me down a bit cos I’m worried about how I can keep this thing on the road…..keep people in it, but I think a hi-faluting sense of yourself serves no one, including yourself……..so yeah why would it be prostituting yourself to sell……..like I say, “Boat Song” they’re asking me to write out the lyrics and somebody will get a frame to put on the wall……that’s really touching, it’s important to them…….these are real people who are doing that and yeah I think that’s enormously valuable and really, really touching…….I’m sometimes amazed when some of them want five sets…….what, five lyrics….what are you going to do with them, I presume they’re just going to give them to people as presents or whatever.

ANDY:  I think the frustrating aspect for me, having followed you for a few years and also with other bands, you should be able to make a living from making great music and basically you should sell a lot more.

JAMES: I don’t think our music is that inaccessible…………we’ve never really been cool, I don’t really know why and I don’t really care either…..I think a band like ours in another period would probably have survived much better……..like you know late 70’s……..if Penguin Café Orchestra could get around without even having a vocalist and could do alright in the 70’s and sell records, I suspect we probably would have done alright at that time, but you know, I was a bit too young then (Laughing) and the other side of it is, would we have been able to record the first two albums at home in the 70’s……probably not……and we probably wouldn’t have got a German Record Label  just because we put a couple of songs up on My Space and they happened to find it and we’ve had all these marvellous experiences. I think in any given circumstance you can whinge about other things that could have been, but you’ve just go to get on with it……I mean I’m in slightly more positive mood at the moment because we are actually getting on with it, we’re playing now….I’m not doing any of the other admin stuff…..well I am (Laughing) but at least I’m getting to play every night so that’s nice.

ANDY: Well, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it.

JAMES: Yeah……well it should be……the manager keeps saying it’s 80/20….the 20 is the playing part……the 80 is the…..

ANDY: Well I suppose as you said before, it’s a business at the end of the day.

JAMES: Well it’s got to try and be…….got to make it keep going.

ANDY: You still have a number of dates in the UK, but what comes after that?

JAMES: (Fighting to be heard over the sound of Golden Fable starting to sound check, hence the hindsight, perhaps I should have taken the offer of the Green Room)  We finish in Brighton on the 12thand then we’ve got I think two whole days off, but to be honest I’ll be packing more Pledge stuff to go in the post……..and then we drive to Germany, we’ve got our first gig in Weisbaden just outside Frankfurt so that should be a good one…..we’ve got two weeks gigging there and Austria I think……….we come back on the 3rd of December and we’ve got a gig in London hopefully on the 4th and then we’ll be putting out some more stuff in January I think…..there might be some filming over the next month or so……….Joe Patrick who made the documentaries with us,  he’s going to make a film probably for “Under Glass” which will be the next single but it’ll be with three songs that aren’t on the album…..they didn’t get rejected from the album, quite frankly, there were other songs we would have perhaps swapped for them but we felt they weren’t quite ready and we could give them a bit more…….. we also wanted to put out an EP within a year and we wanted to have more stronger stuff so there’s three more songs you won’t have heard of yet to come out behind “Under Glass” hopefully with a video. We’re doing a video for “Ring of Changes” which will involve riots, all the rioting that’s been going on, it will be a kind of metaphor between dance and riot…….dance my love, crash, bang, crash……..Because it’s been a year of rioting hasn’t it, some less than savoury stuff in Britain but some really positive stuff with the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring stuff…..really potent stuff…..I mean it is the dominant theme of the year isn’t it……..So yeah, Joe had the idea of taking some footage and putting it to the song so we’ll put that out as well……I mean that will just be a web thing. Then a couple of weeks off for Christmas and we go to Germany again, I think on the 12th of January  for a month…….that will also be a bit of Czech Republic,  a bit of Switzerland and then we’ll come home, maybe six weeks off and then another U.K tour probably in April and that’ll be coming to the end of tour promotion for this album…….I think maybe May we’ll go to Germany again for a week and then we’ll hope we get some festival spots this year, cos we haven’t really been very lucky with that so far, haven’t played a lot of festivals, but that’s mainly because Howard our manager has been booking and you need a proper booker but he’s got someone who’s kinda taking that on.

ANDY: Green Man Festival would be perfect for you surely?

JAMES: Yeah…….Green Man, End of the Road………well we’ve played End of the Road, that’s really good.

ANDY: You spend a lot of time in Germany,  are you pulling bigger crowds over there and what’s the differences in general between the audiences in Germany and the U.K.

JAMES: Yeah………..I think there’s a bit more money about the German scene, that said there’s plenty of people willing to work for nothing, it’s just their passion……..but I think they get a bit more subsidies in Europe…….also they just generally have a different attitude, part of it’s because we’re not from there so they respect us because we travel, in the same way that we respect American bands just because they’re over here…… like…oh, right, ok, you’re not from just down the road……that whole profit’s never recognised in it’s own country thing going on, which helps us there, but also I think there’s a European thing generally……….let it speak to you first……in England we’re a bit (adopts gruff Northern accent) “What you got then”….. we start from a negative point……..and our bookers done a good job.

ANDY: A guy I spoke to a few weeks ago who plays in a metal band came out with a great quote while discussing the same issue between music fans in the U.K and Germany in particular.  Play in Germany and people come along to the gigs and buy a CD.

JAMES: The demographic is different……..I mean it depends, we’ve played places where…… like three days in a row we’ve played completely different demographics and they’ve all liked it……we’ve played a place called Wurzburg and it’s all teenagers and you sell very little…..everybody’s 18 to 22…….we’ll play in Nuremburg the next night and it’s like everybody’s in the thirties or late 20’s and we’ll sell a reasonable amount but not that much and then we’ll play Halle and everybody’s over 40 up to 60’s and you sell shit loads…… and you know that’s partly  to do with the fact they’ve got more disposable income but also just the mentality……kids at shows will come up with flyer and ask you to sign it……and you’re like…. can you not just buy a little something…….they just think it’s fine to do that.

ANDY:  The same guy said in the U.K especially, the most you expect sometimes is a like on Facebook.

JAMES: Yeah, yeah, yeah….it is a crazy situation to be in that we’re kind of getting pleased about someone clicking a button and you’ve still got to find a way to fund your tour and eat and the rest of it.

ANDY: I think now that the Golden Fable sound check is in full swing we’d better end it there unfortunately, so I’d just like to say thanks very much for taking the time to speak with me.

JAMES: No, no, it’s a pleasure, thanks for the support man.

Sometimes, you can be too close to something to fully appreciate it’s glory.  Having been a fan of The Miserable Rich for a number of years and feeling the disappointment of not witnessing their star rise, particularly on home soil, it’s easy to ignore the obvious.  Almost in the same way James mentions the band don’t expect anything in the way of Mercury Nominations, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind whilst discovering the inner beauty of “Miss You in the Days.” As a collection of songs from an irreplaceable and characteristically British band, “Miss You in the Days” it’s perfect for the Mercury Prize and perhaps……just perhaps, 2012 could be the year we see the rise and rise of The Miserable Rich.  Just remember where you heard it second.

www.themiserablerich.com

Interview by Andy Barnes - photos by Russ Learmont