Interview: Daniel Meade – “I’m kind of touching base, going back to stuff I used to play in pubs.”

Glasgow musician and songwriter, Daniel Meade, first came to attention with The Ronelles, who had 15 minutes of fame in 2015, touring the States and Japan. Next up were The Meatmen who played a much rootsier blend of country blues before Meade kicked off his solo career. With and without his latest band, The Flying Mules, Meade has since released several albums to critical acclaim with 2014’s ‘Keep Right Away‘, recorded in Nashville with members of Old Crow Medicine Show along with Joshua Hedley and Diana Jones, perhaps the best regarded.

Aside from his prolific song writing and recording, Meade has been in demand as a live performer. Either solo, as a duo with his long-time lead guitar foil, Lloyd Reid or with The Flying Mules he has undertaken numerous tours of the UK and Europe. The list of artists he has supported is quite awesome but it’s to be noted that the firm bonds he has with both Sturgill Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show mean that he is their first choice for support when they come here to play. He has also undertaken several UK and European tours playing keyboards with Ocean Colour Scene.

As is so often the case, such a relentless rock lifestyle takes its toll and Meade has been open about his dependency on alcohol and the ensuing issues he had with anxiety and depression. His last album, ‘When Was The Last Time‘, was an exercise in exorcising some of his demons, the songs on the album inspired by a series of letters to himself, a technique designed to help people cope with such issues. His latest release, ‘Rust‘, finds him sober and settled into married life and it moves away from his usual country and folk styles, harking back to his first loves, boogie woogie and old time rock’n’roll, for much of the time.

Americana UK sought out Daniel to talk about the album and we started off by asking him about this shift away from his usual fare.
Well, a lot of my original musical influences were boogie-woogie and old time rock ‘n’ roll and with these songs, it was just how it kind of evolved. I didn’t start off thinking, I’ll do a rock’n’roll album, but I’m writing all the time and I usually end up with all these different folders where I store the songs before trying to sort them saying,  this could be a country like album, this one’s more rock ‘n’roll. Usually the folder which fills up the quickest is the one I’ll then work on for an album release. For me, it’s more important to keep it fresh rather than sitting down working to polish a song for several days on the trot. ‘Rust‘ is a bit different in that it’s the first time I’ve totally produced all of it on my own, recorded at home and finished without anyone else being involved. It’s been a bit of a learning curve but essentially it all boils down to my first instrument being the piano and that was the starting point for most of these songs. I’ve had the same piano since I was about 15. I had a couple of bangers when I was learning to play, £30 jobs from flea shops, but this one, it was only a couple of hundred pounds but it’s a really nice piano. The sound of it, it has that bottom end that I need for boogie-woogie so I just kind of got lucky with this one. So playing it kind of led me to these songs and I’ve kept the drumbeats more simple, just a rock ‘n’roll backbeat.

It’s all home recorded so is there a drum kit in your front room alongside the piano?
No, I used samples. It was kind of an experiment I suppose, working away on my own to see what I could come up with and I was blown away by the results. Although I like going into a studio I quite like the idea of doing it yourself, working at home and learning all the time.

I like the way that on some of the songs there’s a pretty straightforward fifties rock influence but elsewhere there’s a raggedy folk like swagger to it, something like Ronnie Lane being backed by a honky tonk bar band.
I think that really comes across on the new single, ‘These Things Happen‘, and if you listen to it, it even has a similar kind of story or vibe to it as Ronnie’s song ‘Ooh La La‘, you know, those words he sings, “I wish that I knew what I know now When I was younger.”

I was going to ask you about that as there is a sense throughout the album of looking back, the idea of revisiting the past and learning from it.
Well, you’re always going to do something like that as a songwriter type of thing but there’s a couple of songs on the record which I’ve had for two or three years which didn’t seem to fit into my earlier albums. One of the things I found out was that they seemed to work a bit better as I started singing them with my Scottish accent. I don’t know why this worked, it was kind of weird. I tried to record ‘Dreams Grow On Trees‘ for the last album, ‘When Was The Last Time‘, but it just didn’t work. This time, singing in a more natural accent, it just fitted perfectly into what I was aiming for with the record. The older songs, some were just ideas I had left unfinished which I then went back to and I didn’t try to get back into the mindset I had when I started a song, it was more an attempt to bring more recent experiences to the table. I think that today I’m much more able to pull a song together and I’m more confident in my writing so these older songs benefit from that.

You mention singing in a Scots accent and I thought that was quite noticeable on the opening song, ‘Anywhy, Anywhere, Anyhow’ and on ‘These Things Happen’ with the last one reminding me at times of The Proclaimers.
Well, we were on tour with The Proclaimers a while back so some of that might have rubbed off on me. We had been on the Isle Of Man and I started writing ‘These Things Happen‘ on the way back on the ferry and that’s what got me started on thinking about singing in a more natural accent. The song pretty much wrote itself although getting the riff to fit it took a bit longer. One of my favourite albums is The Proclaimers’ ‘Born Innocent‘ and I thought that ‘These Things Happen‘ could have a similar sound.

Going back to the idea of revisiting old songs, you actually have a track on the album called ‘Workin’ On An Old Song’. It’s just you and a guitar and it seems to be at the core of the record.
That’s another song I had written early last year and it was just knocking about for a while. I was going to fill it out with more instruments but when I sat down and really looked at it, it was just the demo really, I just thought that it as it stood it summed up the rest the album, the thread that’s running through it. It is in a way looking back at life and that’s part of human nature I suppose, not dwelling on the past but looking back and thinking of the future.

It reminded me of Neil Young’s ‘Borrowed Tune’ where he nicks an old Stones’ melody as he’s too whacked out to write a new one.
That’s how I started out in a way. Not the whacked out part but playing in bands in pubs, doing covers, Chuck Berry and Elvis and that and I just started to change the lyrics and then gradually learn the rythym of how someone like Berry wrote and I took it from there. I still do that sometimes when there isn’t a song naturally coming. I wouldn’t record or put something like that out, I don’t want to get sued, but I find it’s a way of kick-starting your own writing. I remember chuck Berry saying something about trying to write a Muddy Waters song and coming up with something completely his own.

I don’t want to overdo the comparisons here but when I was listening to the last song on the album, ‘Another Conversation’, I was reminded of The Beatles attempting to get back to their rock’n’roll roots on ‘Let It Be’, songs such as ‘One After 909’ and ‘Dig A Pony’.
When I wrote that I was actually listening to a lot of Gerry Rafferty and I also think there’s a little bit of the feel of The Stones’ ‘Midnight Rambler‘ in it. It’s probably as much of a blues song as I’ve written. My palette’s widened over the past couple of years and I’m not doing as much of the country type stuff now although that’s always going to be knocking about. On a song like this I’m kind of touching base, going back to stuff I used to play in pubs.

Let’s talk about ‘Fanny Fanny Bang Bang’.
That’s just a daft song I’ve had for ages. I came up with the title when I remembered being out in Glasgow many years ago, going into a club. There was a really drunk girl coming out and she fell over and started calling us fannies and pretended to shoot us, shouting out bang bang. I don’t know why but it kind of stuck in my head and I thought it could be kind of like a Little Richard song title and I actually wrote it a few years ago. Again, I tried it out on a couple of albums but it just didn’t fit but this time it did. I think it was the piano that held it all together this time. It’s just a nonsense song using some Glaswegian humour and some call and response with the title.

That’s another thing you tend to do. Some of the songs have that front room sing-along style to them.
I’d love to hear a family party singing ‘Fanny Fanny Bang Bang‘, that would be something! But I like to write songs like that. I think some people take themselves much too seriously and wouldn’t want to put a song like that out but I think it’s all part of my process. Look at the album we brought out as The Basement Boogiemen, it’s all nonsense songs and then there’s stuff like ‘Please Louise‘ which is just as daft.

You described your last album, ‘When Was The Last Time’, as almost therapeutic, a healing of sorts. How does this one compare, is it more optimistic?
If anything I think that this album is more carefree. There’s been a process of getting sober, staying sober and that can be tough. It takes a long time. I remember Alan McGhee saying it took him ten years to get to a point where he felt almost normal again and I totally get that. It’s like learning how to live over again because you haven’t really dealt with anything for a long time while there are things like panic attacks, insomnia, depression going on. You have to learn how to deal with it. The last album, that was initially wee letters I wrote to myself, reminding myself that things were actually not too bad, it was a technique I’d read about. This album is certainly more optimistic but just as honest, right now I feel I’m in a good place to be.

Daniel Meade’s ‘Rust‘ is now available and there will be a live launch at Glasgow’s Rum Shack on October 31st. Tickets are free but limited, you can get them here.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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