Jackie McKeown enthusiastic front man with Glasgow’s 1990s talks effortlessly about their sophomore effort Kicks which is being booted about, delving into the rigours of recording under Bernard Butler, sharing vocals duties, girlfriends and carrying the most inappropriate hand luggage in Germany.
While most critics (including Webcuts’ own) have criticised Kicks for merely providing more of the same as their debut Cookies, I have to respectfully ask — what have they been smoking? Kicks is the sound of a band expanding and experimenting while never losing sight of its initial good time rock ‘n’ roll goal. While tracks like “Vondelpark” and “I Don’t Even Know What That Is” stick to the 1990s formula fairly closely the delegation of lead vocals to drummer Michael McGaughrin and bassist Dino Bardot and shared songwriting duties has added variety and depth rarely seen in most rock albums.
The relaxed soul-pop of “59” sees McGaughrin sweetly sing about girls on the Glaswegian bus route of the same name while at the other extreme “Kickstrasse” is an explosive blend of heavy riffs, sex and drugs and Baader-Meinhof bags in Berlin. “Local Science” fronted by a crooning Bardot is a gorgeous, glittering ’60s anthem while “Sparks”, another bittersweet relationship tale, is catchy as anything seen in the last twenty years of indie pop. We last spoke to McKeown in 2007, but this time we resist the impluse to broach the topic of his previous band The Yummy Fur. Well mostly.
Kicks is a very upbeat record and sounds like it was fun to record. Were any of the songs more fun to record than others?
(Laughs). That’s an interesting question. I don’t remember any of the songs being amazingly fun to record. I remember quite a tense atmosphere in the studio. Even though we were quite calm and really up for doing it we had a few problems occasionally with the producer and so sometimes it was little bit strained in the studio. But it didn’t affect the music and in fact made the music better.
That’s interesting because you once again employed the services of Bernard Butler to produce. I assumed there was a healthy relationship from the first record.
There was a good relationship and that good relationship still exists. I think we work well with each other in the studio. The first time it was just like there was no other way to make the record, it was only every going to made that way, everybody was on the same page. But with the second record, because we it didn’t have that Stonesy, New York vibe we were really obsessed with on the first album, it wasn’t immediately obvious how to record the songs or know what to do with them. So a lot of disagreements came up. Each song was quite self contained and there were so many elements you could mess around with which led to many different versions. It was kind of weird, but I think it was good because you would keep the best ideas of everybody.
What qualities did Bernard bring to the recording process?
He is very good at taking songs apart, in a good way. Bands always think they’ve got the last say on a song and they’ve got it perfect but a producer, a good one, can do things that make the song much better. He very good at focusing in and doing edits and stuff and it works. Once he’s got an idea he’s very good at pursuing it. Unfortunately if you’re not quite thinking the same idea that he wants to pursue you can get in trouble.
So you ganged up on him a few times?
No he ganged up on us!
The most obvious difference between Kicks and Cookies is that there is a demarcation when it comes to lead vocals. Was it a conscious decision that you would sing lead on six, Michael four and Dino two?
When we were doing the first record, actually when we were writing the first batch of songs, it was always this thing that me and Michael would sing together, it wasn’t like there was a “singer”. Obviously with me playing guitar it was a little easier for me to sing than him. So two times out of three I’d end up singing the lead vocal and on the album Michael ended up with two lead vocals and I had ten, although a lot of the time Michael and myself would sing together. Jamie never sang, he never wanted to, and we could respect that but Dino already was a singer [in Stinky Munchkins — Ed] so suddenly it cracked open a little bit.
It was interesting because then you could say to people: “we’re trying to write an album”. Rather than pen millions of songs and divide them up amongst the three members we thought why don’t each of us write a couple of songs for ourselves, and on a bunch of others we collaborated. It made the writing process more interesting for us.