Monday, 9 March 2009

Eugene McGuinness

Published in Stool Pigeon in November. I'm worried that I made Eugene sound like he was being rude. He wasn't, he was being funny, I'm just not a good enough writer.

"By the way," says Eugene Mcguinness, "Don't put any exclamation marks in the interview. They always put exclamation marks in interviews. You can just picture the guy who said it with their eyebrows raised and a massive stupid grin on his face."

Deadpan, sipping on a Tiger beer at the Social on London's Little Portland St, McGuinness is being somewhat instructive over the course of his interview. This town being the way it is, he is already familiar with both the interviewer and the photographer, and is either batting away questions with absurdist quips, or commenting on how best to write the piece when it's done. It's a little like hitting a tennis ball over a net and having your opponent throw back a fish or a shoe.

"Come on," he teases, "this is going down like the Titanic."

Sure, if the Titanic was sunk by awkwardness. McGuinness makes the kind of music that attracts the hardcore music fan, the kind who is militant about quality and encyclopaedic in obsession, but today his own view of his music is so flippant, it might serve to break the hearts of anyone who has ever tried to find meaning in it. The album, which has come out two days before the meeting, is self named, he says, because he 'couldn't think of anything else', and he stands on the cover staring intently into the camera, wearing nothing but a leotard and a fencing helmet, for no reason other than he liked the way it looked. If he wasn't surrounded by people he would consider his peers, you would think him dangerously nonchalant, but on this occasion, he's probably just being funny. Funny, however, doesn't get you answers.

"What's happened since your album came out on Monday," he is asked.

"I've had a bean salad," he replies.

"Are there high expectations from a label perspective?"

"Not in these serious times. Doesn't credit crunch sound like a cereal?"

It's a nightmare, and don't even begin to ask him about his lyrics. On the pretence that he doesn't think about them enough, but probably because he doesn't want other people telling him what his lyrics are about, McGuinness is being exceedingly literal about everything he's asked. Tell him you like how he writes about London, and he will make you list every song that mentions it, and counter with a list of the ones that don't. Ask him what God In Space, the haunting and absurdly beautiful album closer, is about, and he will claim: "I just try and make the words rhyme." Furthermore, tell him that the strings sound cinematic and he will tell you that all strings sound like that because they are 'classy' and no, he doesn't know any Brian Wilson. Hold on. Pet Sounds? Oh yeah, he's heard of that.

"It's hard doing interviews and things," he explains later, "I don't have any concepts about my music. Nobody can be Bowie, nothing shocks, there's nothing I can say in interviews to surprise anyone with. I just have to write good songs."

So does he have no agenda whatsoever with his music?

"I want it to be uplifting," he says, "I can't be dealing with too much unrequited love. I want my music to be uplifting, which makes things seem good and beautiful in its own non-glamorous way."

It's the first statement he's made all day, other than a truly inspired argument against pop snobbery which brings into question if he's ever seen the inside of an art gallery ("Music isn't supposed to be interesting, stuff in museums is interesting." "Well they put art in museums, and music is art." "Yeah well they put stuffed leprechauns in museums too." "Eugene, nobody puts stuffed leprechauns in museums."). However, his lack of statement is something of a statement in itself. If he's already made the album and written the songs, why does he need to further explain himself in interviews? "This stuff doesn't mean anything anyway, I don't read it," he says, "the only thing that means anything is lots of people liking your songs. And it's better if they draw their own conclusions." Furthermore, he says, "I can't make sweeping generalisations about my album, I can't pretend there was an umbrella aesthetic."

In an industry where music is rarely unaccompanied by a carefully composed back-story, and when most emerging artists are so good at spinning their own mythology, you wonder if they didn't start out in PR, to speak to someone who claims not to have conceptualised anything is unique. But, admirable as it is that he refuses to deal out what he considers bullshit, it does seem the boy protests too much. Does he really draw no inspiration from nursery rhymes, even though his last album quoted Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and this one contains a song called Rings Around Rosa? And does he really not detect an element of nostalgia in his work, despite songs such as Those Old Black and White Movies are True? By the time the decision is made to quit the interview and go find his record in a shop, it seems pretty clear that none of these questions are going to be answered. "Sorry I've been flakey," he says, looking sheepish, "Was it a total disaster?"

It was not a total disaster. The casually named Eugene McGuinness is still a great album, whether it was constructed carefully around a theme or puked onto an 8-track the night before mastering. Like McGuinness attempted to say himself, music means something different to everybody who hears it, and the person who makes it should be secondary to the result. But why, if he thinks so little about it, does he do it in the first place? On this, the boy is finally clear.

"Because music is the best thing in the universe," he says, "and there are people who allow me to do it. Those loons!!!"

Sorry, Eugene, it had to be done. You don't read your own press anyway.