Interview: Luke Tuchscherer

Carousel’, the new solo album by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer, is a stripped-back record that stands in marked contrast to his previous release, the full-on rocking ‘Pieces’ on which he was accompanied by his band The Penny Dreadfuls. What both albums share, though, (aside from their 8/10 ratings from AUK) is some keen social observation and storytelling. Mark Underwood spoke to Luke about his influences, his prodigious musical output, the political situation as we approach the dreaded ‘B’ day, his recent live shows, life in New York, and what the future has in store for him.

Hi Luke, we’ve been really enjoying the new album. Quite a few of these songs date back to the 2000s. Why decide to release them now?
Thanks! I was a bit nervous about this one, being as stripped down as it is, but the reception has been great so far. I’m glad you like it.

While The Whybirds were active, the band acted as a kind of filter as to which songs would get recorded and released. However, I write a lot and always have done, so there were a bunch of songs piling up.

My first solo album was mainly a group of songs that I felt fit together and that had been, for want of a better word, rejected by the ’birds. I kind of envisioned that’s what my solo career would be — a more acoustic project to clear that side of my backlog, while the band took care of my rockier output. However, by the time my second album was released, the band was all but done. And I’m more of a rocker than anything, so if the band wasn’t going to scratch that itch, I had to get back to that in my solo stuff. That’s why I made the ‘Shadows’EP and ‘Pieces.

But I still had this issue of clearing some of the older acoustic songs. While I’m not so busy musically, I thought this would be the perfect time to give some of those tracks an airing, and I picked the ones I thought would make the best solo acoustic record, as well as following a vague theme.

You managed to finish the album in a single day? Tell us a bit about the recording process.
I don’t really like to labour over the recording process anyway, but most of all, I wanted the album to be live, just like all those early Dylan records. So I made sure I’d practiced enough before I went in, and then went in to Storybook Sound in Maplewood, NJ. A guy called Scott Anthony — who I met through my Clubhouse labelmate Pete Gow when he was in NYC — recorded it and did a great job. I basically ran through the numbers in order. Most of them were first or second takes, and that was it!

Around the time of the ‘Pieces’ album, you were talking about having the next four albums pretty much fully mapped out – and I think you had material for ‘Widows & Orphans’ already in the can (another more acoustic-based album with his guitar player, Dave Banks). ‘Carousel’ was originally slated for release in 2023. Why the change of plan?
Yeah, ‘
Widows & Orphans is done save for a bit of piano. That’s Dave and I live in the studio. The only overdubs were some harmonica parts. It’s a really — and forgive me for using this word — vibey record. It shows just how fucking amazing Dave is as a guitar player because every single note, including some solos that he wasn’t expecting, were completely live. I can’t wait for that one to come out. I changed my mind because of the song ‘My Darling England’ on ‘Carousel. That’s literally the only reason. I felt with all the Brexit nonsense, it had to come out right now, while all that shit is still going on. As for Brexit, I can’t keep up with it. They’re all bastards. They should put me in charge. I’d cancel it immediately.

Photo: Richard Markham

So is the idea to release ‘Widows & Orphans’ after this latest record, and then run with the (provisionally titled) ‘Salvation Come’ or is it likely to be another full-band Penny Dreadfuls album instead?
I want to release albums in cycles of three: a quiet one, a middle one, and a loud one. ‘
Carousel’ starts the second cycle. ‘Salvation Come will be the middle one, and there will be a rocky one third. ‘Widows & Orphans will start the third cycle. Work on ‘Salvation Come has already begun, we’re probably about a third of the way through. It’s got fiddle as the lead instrument, which will be played by a Brooklyn guy I met called Steven May, which gives the thing a bit of ‘Desire (by Bob Dylan) feel.

Turning to some of the individual songs on the album, ‘My Darling England’ – which you recorded with the Whybirds all of 15 years ago now – still seems sadly all too prescient now. Did you have to make any changes to bring it up to the present?
Yeah, we recorded that in a full-band rock version for  ‘
Cold Blue Sky, but it didn’t really fit with the rest of the album. Dave always said that he thought it would be better as an acoustic number, which made me think of putting it on ‘Carousel. I changed the first two lines in the last verse to hammer home a point about current affairs, but the rest was essentially left the same. It’s weird, I wrote that song when I was 21 and it’s never made more sense to me than now.

But in contrast, ‘You Still Have My Heart’, the last song on the album, was written only two weeks before recording.
Exactly right. It’s just a nice, simple love song about my wife. When I wrote it, I realised that it would be the perfect final song for the record, and I think it works well in that spot.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Don’t Let Him Change You‘. What was the inspiration for that song?
That’s one of my favourites too! I’m glad you like that one. It’s funny, I think it was Scott’s favourite on recording day and it’s been played on the radio, but other than that, no one’s really mentioned it, so thanks for saying that!

It’s about seeing someone you care for — could be male or female, I’ve seen both do it — change themselves to accommodate the new person in their life. I’m not talking about positive change, which is obviously something that comes from a healthy relationship. For example, would I be vegan if it wasn’t for my wife? Perhaps not. Is it some sort of betrayal of who I was before? Definitely not. It’s a positive move any way you slice it. I might have said in my upper school yearbook that I was “least likely to go vegetarian”, but that was me being young and dumb.

The song isn’t about people being positively influenced, it’s talking about the people who abandon large chunks of themselves and try to be something that goes against the grain of their core beliefs — either consciously or unconsciously, whether they’re being coerced or gaslit or whatever — to please someone else.

Aside from the social and political themes on the album in songs like ‘Violets’ and ‘Potash’, some of your material is quite nakedly personal. I’m thinking particularly here of tracks like ‘The Other Side’, ‘Road to Damascus’ and maybe ‘Charing Cross’ from the ‘Pieces’ album. Songs as apologies – and how we can find some kind of redemption in an increasingly scary world through a personal relationship. Would that be a fair assessment?
That’s an interesting point! I’ve written a few of those: ‘Foolish Heart’ from
The Whybirds; ‘Dear Samantha’ and a few other tracks from ‘You Get So Alone…’

I don’t really know how to answer to be honest. I basically just write what comes to me. They’re always written quickly, I never think about writing songs before I do, they just fall into my lap. I write about what I’m feeling, which is why for a long period — during times I was single — I wrote a lot of brokenhearted love song stuff. That included accusatory songs, poor-little-me songs and, yeah, apology songs! But now my personal life is stable, I tend to write about the wider world a lot more. I’ve always done that to be honest, but the ratio is a lot higher now.

But to your point, I think the best song I’ve written about finding solace from the outside world within a good relationship would be ‘Batten Down The Hatches’ from ‘Pieces’.

Your dedication to Tom Petty (‘The Night Tom Petty Died’) sounds really heartfelt. I think his passing was pretty much around the time you moved to New York. The song strikes me as much about what was something of a seminal moment in your life, as well as being about what his music meant to you?
Yeah, I arrived here on Saturday 30th September 2017. The massacre in Las Vegas happened on the Sunday, then Tom Petty died on the Monday. I was out and about, getting pissed up in various bars, when I heard the news. And as you may remember, there was a lot of contrasting stories coming out about how bad it was and whether he’d survive or not.

But you’re right, the song isn’t really about Tom Petty. It’s about this huge upheaval in my life. It was something that my wife and I had wanted for a long time and worked hard to achieve. We had to move in with my parents — thanks mum and dad! — in order to be able to afford it. We had to give up our lovely house, our car, Amanda’s job, and worst, we were going to be away from friends and family. Then, when it finally happened, I moved two weeks before Amanda. We were booked into this pretty terrible shared house in Hunts Point in the Bronx, which if you look it up, is the second worst neighbourhood for crime in the entire city. I had no idea how long we were going to have to stay there, how Amanda was going to get a job, and all of a sudden, the situation became very real. Then you had all this exterior stuff going on. The horror of that shooting — and there have been fucking loads since — then the death of a hero of mine.

Tom Petty is a top 10 songwriter for me. Not top five, but top 10. But more than that, his story as told in the Running Down a Dream documentary was very close to me and specifically Taff from The Whybirds. We used to watch that thing all the time. It represented the vision of the band — Tom Petty’s dream was our dream. Me leaving the country was really the nail in the coffin for the band, and now Tom Petty was gone too. But don’t get me wrong, I love the city now. And to set the record straight, despite what the song says, for a little while at the Tribeca Tavern I wasn’t alone at all, I was talking to a nice couple from Seattle. Hi Alan and Sue!

How has the move to New York worked out for you? I understand it was something of a reaction to slogging away at the musical coalface for many years with scant reward.
Yeah, that’s right. You can hear on
Always Be True how I was feeling about music. ‘Waiting For My Day to Come’, ‘Outside, Looking In’ and ‘No One Did It Like Us’ all deal with it. As far as The Whybirds goes, Taff had already left for Canada. The three of us soldiered on a while as a three-piece and put out a record. But then Ben started his family, and understandably couldn’t commit much time to the band.

I spent all of my 20s — and all my holiday, all my spare time, all my spare money — on the band. I started freelancing in order to devote even more time to it, which put me in a perilous financial situation. There was a time that it really seemed like we were going to make it and I loved being part of it, so to me it was all worth it. I don’t regret it. But then obviously we didn’t make it. The New York situation presented itself and we decided to go for it. I wanted to do something with my life that didn’t involve music. An experience for my wife and I to share.

The band was all but done, but as I said, the decision to move was the nail in the coffin. Of course, since pulling back from music, I’ve grown to miss it. And getting to go home and play shows and festivals, and even to travel to Germany to play, have completely reignited my love for it. The band never did anything cynical or calculated in order to succeed. Because of some of our shared influences — Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Tom Waits — we already had a fairly anti-commercial stance. Of course, what we didn’t realise was that those artists all had hits before they started to buck against the industry! However, now that “making it” isn’t even remotely possible, I’m just going to double down on that ethos. I will make music for myself and that’s it. I’m looking forward to doing more of it again, but I will keep it fun and not let it become a burden again. As for New York, it’s great. It was tough to begin with, but we’re in love with it now. It’s an amazing place.

I was fortunate enough to catch you at both the Static Roots festival in Germany and then shortly afterwards at the Water Rats in London. How did the small run of dates in the UK go?
They were good! Germany was an amazing time. I’d love to go back to that festival. The UK shows were great too. Best I’ve ever done. I think the only regret was not putting Bedford last. Being a hometown show, it was a really fun atmosphere. The Water Rats show, while really good — and there’s a decent recording of it up on the Internet Archive — couldn’t compete with the night before unfortunately, just because the homecoming gig was always gonna be too much of a blast.

And you recently undertook an album launch in Brooklyn. How is the new album being received Stateside?
What’s smaller than a cult artist? That’s my status in New York. The launch was fun but playing over here has been like starting again from square one. Just makes me appreciate the small but perfectly formed audience I have back home!

You also told me at your recent Water Rats gig in London that you were looking to return to the UK in the not too distant future?
Well, I’ll be back again in April for some full band shows. Can’t wait for that. As for moving back permanently, we’ll see what happens.

I know you’ve said in the past that your eventual plan is to finish recording studio albums entirely given how few people buy recorded music nowadays. Given the way in which you’ve quite studiedly mapped out your approach to recording do you ever think of what the long term holds in store, or is it rather a case of simply seeing what unfolds in future?
Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the cycles, I want to make three cycles of three. Nine albums. Then I want to do a “best of” — it can’t be a greatest hits of course, I haven’t had any! — and put that out on vinyl. By the end of those nine albums, I’ll have cleared my backlog of songs, and doubtless will include any new ones I write in those records as I go, wherever they fit best.

While there are people who do — and I love them dearly — most people don’t buy CDs anymore. These days lot of people don’t even listen to albums in full!
Records are really expensive to make and with the collapse of things like Pledge Music, it makes it that much harder. So while I’ll always write and always play, I might stop making full albums. Maybe I’ll just do little EPs here and there. I don’t know. Of course, if I write 10 songs that I think just has to be a record, or I have more of an audience to justify the expense, then I would certainly do it again. I guess we’ll see what happens!

Carousel‘ is out now on Clubhouse Records

Photo: Jez Brown

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