EUGENE MCGUINNESS

 

For most of us, they’re among the strangest days of the year: the week in limbo between Christmas and New Year, seven days between two parties, fuelled by leftovers and the unloved portion of the Quality Street box. But for Eugene McGuinness, those dark December days were the most productive of the year. The London-based singer-songwriter wrote the majority of his new album - Chroma, his fourth - in that hazy week, but only after he’d searched listlessly for his muse for much of the preceding year. “It’s when the album cycle and the tour cycle dies down," he explains. "Months go by and you feel more and more invisible, out of that loop of interviews and shows and recording. And that’s where the songs for this album come from: it’s all about disappearing for a while. I had 20 or 30 songs, but they were just decent, solid songs until Amazing Grace and Deception Of The Crush came along. I stopped writing after that, then the majority of the album arrived in that no-man’s-land week. Godiva was written on New Year’s Day, with a hangover, waiting for Sherlock to come on telly.”


The February recording sessions nearly as brisk as the songwriting, and they too took place in a kind of limbo, though this time because McGuinness’ private life was in turmoil outside of the studio walls (“personal stuff that everyone goes through, but stuff that had a huge impact on the record - and probably makes it more special,” he says). He spent just two weeks in the home studio of Dan Carey, the producer behind both the Speedy Wunderground label and recordings by artists including Toy, Franz Ferdinand and The Invisible, whose drummer and bassist Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor play on Chroma. Carey recorded Videogame, from 2012’s ‘The Invitation To The Voyage’, an album that saw McGuinness experiment with big pop sounds. Carey and McGuinness became firm friends as a result, and that friendship helped the self-sufficient McGuinness to trust Carey’s judgement implicitly when it came to recording Chroma. “It’s the first time that I’ve properly let go of real control,” he says. "Dan had peace of mind knowing I wouldn’t be chirping away. Well, only when I knew I was right...“ Capturing the pace and freshness of the writing was the main objective. “Often, the stuff that catches me when I hear it on the radio are the songs where you can tell they were written in a dash,” he says.


The result is lightning in a bottle, a clean, crisp, warm sound informed by mid-‘60s Beatles, The La’s, Richard Hawley. “My influences are vast, but I forget about how intrinsically certain things are in my bones, and this album is about reconnecting with that stuff.” The sound is an uncharacteristically direct statement for a man who, by his own admission, has often favoured eclecticism to the point of confusion. “Dan loved the last album because it goes in a lot of different directions, but it was exciting for both of us to go, what if I were to commit and make a, you know, ‘normal’ album?”


In practical terms, that meant putting McGuinness’ songwriting to the fore. “I wanted to do a direct, stripped-back guitar album, and a guitar album in my mind is different to what most London bands think a guitar record should be, because it’s not about listening to the Velvet Underground and acting cool,” he says. So this is McGuinness’ idea of a guitar album: it would fit on two sides of vinyl (or one side of a C90), it includes riffs so timeless you’ll be convinced you’ve heard them before and contains everything from a tale of one-night stands (Amazing Grace) to a “soppy ballad” (All In All) and a veiled swipe at The X Factor (Immortals). “It’s the modern day living room fireplace, The X Factor,” says McGuinness. “Everybody accepts it and eats a Malteser, but it’s awful. They’re awful for judging it, we’re morons for watching it. And if I was about 15 or 16, I would’ve probably done it myself." Elsewhere, I Drink Your Milkshake comes from a line in the film There Will Be Blood, She Paints Houses comes from gangster speak for being a hired hitman and Deception Of The Crush is Bond theme by way of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.


Have we, in these 11 songs and this brisk album, found the ‘real’ Eugene McGuinness? Only for now. “If you’re a singer songwriter, all you do is live with yourself and your whole job is based around you as the individual and what you do," he says. "So in order for me to maintain interest in myself, you have to shake it up,” he says. “I’m just a receptor to all those sorts of influences. It’s not me being flimsy - I go where my passions are.”


“If the last record was about travelling, seeing the world and constantly moving” he says, “This one is almost the opposite, because it's about disappearing. Talking about Oasis, The La’s, The Kinks, there’s a certain spirit of music where they’re saying, There’s fuck all to do, so let’s dance. This album isn’t about me as an individual. It’s not an intellectual record or over-produced album. It’s just the most honest thing I could have done right now, and I just want it to make anybody who’s into it to feel fucking good about themselves.”