We talk with Tindersticks keyboardist and founding member David Boutler about version 2.0 of The Tindersticks, the stunning new album The Hungry Saw, the re-issue of their back catalogue, Songs for the Young at Heart and more.
It’s been half a decade since the last Tindersticks album, Waiting for the Moon, a fine record and better than most other releases that year, but one that saw the band revisiting past glories instead of forging new paths. The intervening five years saw a compilation of their Polygram years entitled Working for the Man and the remaster and reissue of their first four albums with bonus discs. Lead singer Stuart Staples released two acclaimed solo records and last year, with David Boutler, created the children’s album Songs for the Young at Heart, which included an impressive array of vocal talents including Robert Forster, Stuart Murdoch, Cerys Matthews and Jarvis Cocker among others.
But it’s the new album The Hungry Saw which has fans and critics collectively salivating. Breathing new life into the band and recorded at Stuart’s studio in France it’s both accessible and raw, lush yet sparse. The cross pollination of rock and classical orchestration that many associate with The Tindersticks is present on half of the tracks, but the main focal points are the pervasive piano and organ, thick jazzy bass lines, gentle acoustic guitar and Staples’ languid vocals and almost — this is still a Tindersticks record after all — optimistic outlook. This focus comes as no surprise when you learn that the 2008 version of The Tindersticks is a reinvigorated and rejuvenated band consisting of three original members: Stuart Staples on vocals and guitar, Neil Fraser on guitar and David Boutler on keyboards with assistance from new recruits Thomas Belhom on drums and Dan McKinna on bass.
On the eve of The Hungry Saw’s release and a series of European shows David Boutler graciously answered Webcuts’ questions.
Some of the new songs hark back to the musical simplicity and directness of your early work (in particular “Patchwork”). Was this a conscious decision to get away from the dark themed, dense, orchestrated songs you’re often associated with?
Maybe consciously and subconsciously. There was no meeting to decide anything, it just started in a simple way between the three of us. Just to see if something sparked. Not having Dickon, whose arrangements sometimes shaped songs, meant keeping everything simple to begin with anyway. We did know there’d be strings arrangements, but there was more space for myself and Neil to jump into.
Has songwriting changed now you’re stripped down to a three piece core? Is it easier to communicate ideas now?
It feels like more of a collective now. It could be three people or it could be fifteen. Thomas Belhom and Dan McKinna are great people to work with, and they both bring a lot of ideas and energy. It feels more open for everyone: Terry’s (Edwards) brass, all the string players and Lucy Wilkins’ arrangements. Everyone pushed and stood up for this record. I hope that carries on in the future.
The album was recorded at Stuart’s studio in France. Did having the luxury of your own studio make for a more relaxed atmosphere? Alternatively was this distracting at times? Who produced the record?
Once we decided to make the album there we had to build it. It took a lot of hard work getting floors in, getting it all ready. We felt a real sense of “that was the hard bit, now we can relax and make music.” We gave ourselves eight days and it was enough. We did the strings in London. Stuart produced it on his own. The hardest thing was having too many songs. It took a while to agree which ones to lose.
After sixteen years and seven albums you obviously have an extensive body of work behind you, something you must bee quite proud of, but does having such a history sometimes become a burden e.g. when choosing a set list or in interviews?
Not really. We’re excited about the new songs, and writing more to play live. And we still enjoy the past. For a while it seemed all we had was the past. Then it became a burden. That’s why we stopped. Now we have a future we’re excited about, so it all becomes easier.
Did not having a violinist (Dickon Hinchliffe left in 2006) as a full time member influence your songwriting for The Hungry Saw. Does it play a part in choosing your current sets?
Dickon was a massive part of the band’s sound and songwriting, but so were Al (Macaulay, formally on drums) and Mark (Colwill, formally on bass) in different ways. But you have to move on. We’ve been rehearsing old songs to include in the set. The first shows we’ll play are as a twelve piece with strings and brass. We’ll have different sets and people to suit the event.
You’re a band who for the most part get pretty good notices — the ones coming in for The Hungry Saw seem to be overwhelmingly positive. How important are reviews to you?
I suppose they feel more important at the moment, not having done it for a while.
How did you narrow the songs down for the Working for the Man compilation album?
It was governed by the time period — from the beginning to the end of our Polygram? contract. Even though it seemed we were on a lot of labels for the first five-seven years, they were all under the Polygram umbrella. Some early singles were on different labels, so didn’t fit. We thought they might not like the title but we’ve always managed, somehow, to get it done our way.
Did you oversee the re-issues closely? Will the Beggars albums (Can Our Love…, Waiting for the Moon) be eventually re-issued in the same way?
Yes. I wrote the booklet notes, Stuart re-mastered the songs and did the new artwork. We chose the track listing. I don’t know about the Beggars albums. That’s something for the future.
Songs for the Young at Heart has an impressive array of vocalists. Did the project come together easily or was it a challenge, logistically and in other ways? Did everyone you approach say yes? Is a Volume 2 planned?
It was a lot easier than It could of been, mainly because everyone was so helpful and generous with their time and talents. Almost everyone said yes (two people said no). And one person is missing, Thom Yorke. We didn’t ask him because the song for him didn’t work, which I regret. We have a plan for volume 2, but it’s got nothing to do with children’s songs. It’s just a good reason to ask people you love to get involved in something.
You’ve played some special concerts (e.g. the Botanique shows in Belgium and the Don’t Look Back show at the Barbican) in the past are there any plans to do something in a similar vein for this tour, or in the future?
The fact that we’re here kind of feels special to us. As I said, the first shows will be a larger group of people. We might not do that after the first run of shows. We’ll see what happens.