Farnborough is a town located in Hampshire, south of England, UK, often best known for the prestigious Air Show that the English town hosts every couple of years. Together with being on the Worldwide Aviation Business Map, Farnborough means also "Home" for one of the most loved R&B, Soul, R&R and Cajun singer/songwriters, guitarists and performers of the whole country, Big Boy Bloater.
The British musician, who is also an old friend of our website, has been writing and recording albums for well over two decades, bringing to the panorama of the overall English music a breath of fresh air, through an highly eclectic and entertaining formula that has not just allowed him to successfully bring his enormous talent on many stages worldwide but also to gain the love and admiration of thousands of fans and some of the most respected fellow artists of the Music Business (Jools Holland and Imelda May, among many others).
Big Boy Bloater, despite the numerous highly positive accolades received throughout his career, went, not in a very remote past, through a difficult time battling with depression, something that he eventually (and thankfully) overcame between 2015 and 2016. That particularly tough period for the British artist saw, coincidentally, Big Boy Bloater being at one of the most prolific peaks of his career, by releasing a truly splendid album in 2016 called Luxury Hobo, which saw the guitarist and singer/songwriter touring incessantly, together with his band The Limits, for the following couple of years around the country, registering Sold Out almost everywhere.
With this new found energy and creative juice at its very peak, Big Boy Bloater started to write, during this last couple of years, the musical roots of his brand new album called Pills, released earlier this year. The album, previously reviewed by our website, captures an artist in one of the best stages of his career, both from a compositional and musical point of view.
When Bluebird Reviews meets Big Boy Bloater, we do so in one of the artist's most favorite pubs in town called Prince Of Wales, a name that sounds perfectly "ad-hoc" with the importance of the musician that Bluebird Review is due to meet. As always, Big Boy Bloater's larger-than-life presence and charisma will be present throughout the whole of our conversation, focusing particularly on the making of Bloater's new album, Pills.
Photo by Internet Archive
BR - Thank you so much for meeting us again and to talk with us about the making of your very inspired new album, Pills. The first thing that comes to mind, by looking at the album cover, is the fact that you have chosen a white background, in comparison to the black one you used on the highly successful Luxury Hobo record. Is that a conscious choice that reflects new perspectives in your personal life or simply a casual choice of color to match the big lips ingurgitating Pills, on the album cover?
BBB – You know, that is a very interesting question, I never thought about that! You are right, the Luxury Hobo album cover was black, with a black and white photograph on there and that album was obviously coming out in a sort of depressing time, which I have got over now, thankfully, although the lyrics of that record clearly reflected the mood I was at the time. I guess that I was in a much happier place, when I wrote Pills and the color maybe, unconsciously, reflects that chilled mood. Do you know, you are the first person asking me about that, honest to God, I had never thought about that until now! (smiles). I have to go away and really think about that, now you asked me! (Laughs).
BR - You are and you have always been a splendid storyteller, when it comes to songwriting but with the new album, I noticed that you have become slightly less autobiographical in your lyrics and rather more observant of the world surrounding you. What are the aspects of modern society that fascinate you the most, when you are writing a song?
BBB – I guess that, for me, is the People Watching aspect that really intrigues me. Most of the album is about me, writing about what is going on around me, as you said, especially in songs like Friday Night’s Alright For Drinking. I am not sure if I told you the spellcheck story about that song. There’s the first line of that song that says “The sun takes over Toyland” but when I first wrote that line, I wrote and meant Totland, which is the name of the estate where I live, rather than Toyland. The spellcheck changed Totland to Toyland and when I noticed it, I thought “Well, that it’s interesting, I like that, I’ll better leave it like that” (smiles). On that song in particular, which is more personal, you can still see that while Friday Night is a song about me, I am also looking at the world surrounding me at the same time. But it is true, great part of the album is about what is going on around me in my day-by-day life. I like also to shuffle those observations about people with a pinch of imagination and make the listeners think about what is reality and what is made up, in my songs, a bit like playing a little game of “Can you guess which is which?” kind of thing. The listeners will then make up their own minds about it. The thing that I found, about the Pills album, is that so many different aspects of the songs appeal to many different people in different ways, because everyone is different and some lines of my songs will mean something different to each and everyone of them. For a songwriter like me, this is a great thing, because you always aim to wanting people to identify the meaning of a word or a sentence and make it their own mind about it.
BR - Sonically, we feel Pills is a true jewel, despite the fact that The Limits are now reduced to a trio. Did you and the band feel extra added pressure in creating the fabulous musical alchemy of Rock &Roll, Boogie, R&B, Soul, Jive and Funk present on the record?
BBB – Not real pressure, we just did on the album what we normally do, which is the very essence of The Limits. We just play as we feel it and there are, literally, no Limits! (smiles). When we recorded the album, we just went to the studio and we put down what, organically, we felt right to put down as a band. The recording process was a very chilled one, very relaxed, despite the fact that we had just one week to record the album, but that didn’t put any extra pressure on us, it was just real fun to record the album. We stuck a kettle in, because we had a rigorous No (Alcoholic) Drinks policy in the studio, whilst recording, so we were all sort of tea-total, during that week.. We recorded Pills at Bucks University Studio once again, during the holiday period. What I like about that place is that they have those amazing facilities and we loved spending a week there. It really felt like a normal day, hanging out with your mates, you know, that is why I was saying that we did not feel any extra pressure at all, whilst recording. We just did what we normally do, as a band and everyone knows, within the band, what to do. After all, we have been playing for such a long time that we know pretty well, by now, how and when to create the right tension and dynamic between us, while we are recording a new album.
BR - One of your many great skills is to be constantly a forward thinker, when it comes to music. I particularly liked the way you opened the record, with the title-track of the album creating a bridge, a kind of "segue" between the atmospheres and the moods expressed on the Luxury Hobo album and the way that Big Boy Bloater sees the world in 2018. What has been the most challenging aspect for you, during the making of Pills?
BBB – I think that the biggest problem that we had was on a couple of songs. We worked once again on Pills, with Adam Whalley, the record’s producer and we decided that we wanted to have some strings on a couple of songs of the album. We couldn’t really get it right and we also couldn’t afford to get hold of a whole Orchestra to achieve that, so Adam came up with the idea of using a mellotron, a sort of keyboard of the 60’s. The outcome was that we got exactly what we were hoping for, in the end, i.e. a creepy, horrible kind of sound (giggles) that was working really perfectly for us, on the songs in question. I think that was the biggest issue that we faced during the recording of Pills, which, by the way, we resolved in about an hour, so no big deal. Absurdly enough, in the end, we ended up having a “faked” orchestra sound on those songs I was telling you of, which, however, worked just about right for us, because it allowed the songs to have that extra texture, that extra layer of sound that we needed to create exactly the atmospheres we wanted, on those songs.
BR - Do you feel that Pills is the most diverse album, musically speaking, that you have recorded so far in your career?
BBB – Yeah, I like to think so and I am pretty pleased about that. I often get labelled, musically, in the Blues genre, which, don’t get me wrong, it is a cool thing. I am a big fan of Blues and I have certainly Blues, within my music but it is not entirely what my music is all about. There are a lot more genres that I listen to and like and, therefore, I love to mix all those different influences in my music, when I am making an album. The idea, with the band, since Day One, was to have no limits on music styles, like, if we wanted to do a Hip-Hop song, then we do one. It hasn’t happened yet, but it was just to give you an example (giggles). I am a big fan of Hip-Hop too, so, you never can tell, you better watch out! (smiles).
BR - One of my most favorite tracks off the album is Mouse Organ, a tune with a truly splendid arrangement and I also loved the way that you stretched your vocal range to a complete new level. Where did the inspiration for that marvelous song come from?
BBB – That song is all about gossips, people that talk behind your back and the moral of that song was that, if you have nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all. Now that you mention it, I can’t even remember writing that song! (giggles). I remember that I came up with the first few lines and I thought that the song was starting shaping up in a kind of creepy way and I just followed the heat of the moment. The chords were weird too, all strangely mixed-up and that was one of those songs that kind of wrote by itself, something that was destined to be written, perhaps, even before I wrote it.
BR - In that highly entertaining and lyrically humorous song that is Oops Sorry, you describe, in your own style, one of the many life's daily tales about relationship between couples, as always, with great irony and intelligence. Talking of relationships, you and your wife Lisa have been knowing each other since 1991, when you both met in Hemsby in May that very same year. How has Lisa's (your Queen Bee, as you mentioned on the lyrics of the Luxury Hobo Blues song) presence impacted your personal life and career?
BBB – (Pauses) Massively. I think that if it wasn’t for Lisa, I wouldn’t be able even to do what I am doing right now, to be honest. (pauses for few seconds again). That is such a big question, I cannot quite find the words to answer your question. All I can say is that, if it wasn’t for Lisa, I wouldn’t be definitely do what I do like, for instance, sitting down with you right now, talking about my new album. She is inspirational, supportive and just the best person I could possibly dream to spend my life with. She is what keeps me going, literally.
BR - The energy that erupts from the Chuck Berry-esque uptempo of This Ain't Rufus always makes me want to come up and dance. Who is the Rufus you are referring to and inspired the song's title?
BBB – That is actually Rufus Thomas, great R&B and Soul singer and one of my all-time music heroes. We used, with the band, to finish our sets with one of his songs, Bear Cat, which used to be Thomas' personal response to the song Hound Dog. At the time that we recorded the Luxury Hobo album, we actually recorded our version of Bear Cat but we did not include it in that album. Then what happened was that I took away the stems of the track, then started messing about with the drum part of it and started also to put a slightly different rhythm to it, together with a slightly different guitar riff as well. What happened next, was that I came up with those vocals that were strangely sounding like “This Ain’t Rufus” and that was exactly where the whole idea about This Ain’t Rufus came from. It’s fundamentally a song about gigging with The Limits, drinking shots, playing guitar and overall, having a good time.
BR - You have been making music since the early 90's and witnessed many rises and falls of the music industry, as the years went by but your creativity and talent have been always there, pure and untouched from Day 1, right back when you started until now. How challenging is it for an artist, nowadays, to find the right motivations to create music, given the tough time the music industry is going through?
9 – It is indeed very challenging. When I did the Luxury Hobo album, I didn’t write any songs until I HAD to write songs, a bit like waiting for the green light to then go and work on the album and then, just then, starting to make it happen. With Pills, it was different. I felt more motivated, when the time came to write the new album and I remember that I had started already to write few lines of songs and starting making up song titles while I was touring the Luxury Hobo album. To find motivations in the music industry is always a tough goal to reach. If you look around too much and think about all the atrocity going on into modern music, with all those so called Pop Idols, it may get a bit demoralizing, especially when you see people having their 15 minutes of fame on TV and then disappearing, replaced promptly by the next one coming, treating music like a disposable commodity. Very sad. People nowadays is just burning through stuff, including music, faster and faster, just like a machine. Of course, big companies are loving this scenario because they are turning things out in their favor, making big bucks and it is all good news for them. But the problem remains for us artists, trying to make a decent living out of music. And then, adding to that the fact that so many venues are closing down, because of the big expenses they have to face themselves with rent or neighborhood complaining about noises, it doesn’t get any easier neither for us artists nor for the venues’ proprietors. And there is another thing; Tribute Bands are not helping us at all either, especially looking at the live music scene. Those bands are constantly feeding the public with a diet of junk food and as a consequence, given what they know, the people is getting out of the habit of taking the chance on new music, because they know that they can get, from those bands, a musical comfort blanket, something that they are familiar with and recognize instantly.
BR - Can we ask you whether Leonard Cohen (a song inspired by a true story) is still staring at you or, after all these years, you managed to leave him behind you?
BBB – (laughs) The strange things about that Leonard Cohen thing is that it was all about a feverish night, obviously and food poison was involved. Leonard Cohen’s Cd was on the dashboard of my van, with his face on the album’s cover reflecting in the windscreen, heads up and staring at me and it felt like we were looking for hours at each other’s eyes. Since that day, I have never seen that CD again, I have no idea what happened to it! (laughs uncontrollably). I thought that was the strangest thing in the world. It almost felt like, on that day, the song was divinely delivered to me through that CD that I have never, after that episode, seen ever again.
Big Boy Bloater & The Limits are currently on Tour and further information about the Tour Dates can be found on the artist's Official Website