Mike Scott (the Waterboys) on His New Record — And Seeing Pan Everywhere

Mike Scott (the Waterboys) on His New Record — And Seeing Pan Everywhere

Mike Scott’s newest Waterboys album, Out of All This Blue, is an explosion. An explosion of love and character and swagger. An explosion of words and wildness and mystery. It’s also a bit of a fireside chat, a sitdown with some kind of wandering troubadour who has chosen you (lucky you!) to tell his tales to. It’s a lot of things really — and 23 songs in tow, it can afford to be everything.

From prancing come-on tunes like “If the Answer is Yeah” and “If I Was Your Boyfriend,” to tense stompers like “The Connemara Fox” and “Mr. Charisma,” Scott’s decades of songwriting skill is out in full effect here. As is his love for new wife, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, whose image sways in tender tracks like “Payo Payo Chin” and “The Elegant Companion.”

Out of All This Blue is only the most recent in a discography that stretches back to the early ‘80s — one that’s packed with gems like “The Big Music” (how many refer to the Waterboys’ early sound), “The Whole of the Moon,” and myriad songs that play off the native Scotsman’s love of poet William Butler Yeats.

On release day, Scott stopped by the TIDAL offices to talk about his wife, his obsession with the Greek god Pan and, perhaps, writing a children’s book.

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On how he met his wife, Megumi Igarashi… We made contact on Twitter, but I had heard about her when there was a big court case in Japan. She made vagina art that fell afoul with the government in Japan. She was arrested and put on trial and it was covered in the West. I read about it in the Western media and thought, ‘She’s great! I agree with what’s she’s doing. Her art is brilliant.’ And there was also something about the fact that she had been persecuted by her government, but she kept smiling… I knew there was someone really special behind that smile. So I followed her on Twitter and she followed me back.

Then we started sending tweets to each other, and then messages, and then I asked her out to dinner. I had sent her a message in Japanese — I got a songwriter friend of mine to translate for me — saying, ‘Next time I come to Tokyo, you should have dinner with me.’ And she replied to say, ‘Well, it’s a bit early to talk about romance, because we’ve never met.’ Very sensible. ‘But, yes, I will have dinner with you as a friend.’

A few months later I went to Tokyo and we had dinner. I was realistic about it; I knew we might not have chemistry, because you don’t know until you meet with someone. But the chemistry was great and we got on fabulously. So at the end of the evening I said, ‘Well, how about a romantic date next time?’ And she said, ‘OK.’

The later songs on the record are all about my wife. The other love songs were written before we met.

 

On a possible collaboration… We haven’t talked about album art, but we have talked about working together — maybe children’s books, because I make up a lot of stories for my four-year-old daughter and I know at some stage they’re going to spill over into getting written down and saved. Megumi would be a wonderful artist for that. Or maybe she’d do a manga comic, because that’s her main day job — she’s a manga artist.

I’m from Edinburgh and my little daughter wanted me to tell her stories about my childhood, so I told her some stories about my school days and I put a boy into one of my stories who was in my class. His name was Ansley Dunnit. He was the boy that everything always seemed to happen to. Who done it? Ansley Dunnit. So I put him into the stories. My little girl really likes it.

On “New York I Love You”… [Duke] is based on a real character called Savoia the Tailor. He had a shop on the Lower East Side and he had a motorcycle in the window and zoot suits all over the walls. He used to do clothes for movies and TV shows. He specialized in ‘40s, ‘50s baggy trousers, long jackets, wide lapels, gangster-type clothes. He had a pencil mustache. He was a very charismatic character with a whiff of danger about him. I remember him telling me if I fancied cocktails I should go to this bar and say that Savoia sent me.

That wasn’t my scene and I never did go — and then a few months later I read that he had died. Drowned in the East River on a winter’s night. I don’t think there was any crime involved. So that was the character that Duke in my song was based on.

On “Mr. Charisma”… [Is about] Keith [Richards] of the Rolling Stones, who did, indeed, slag Sgt. Pepper scurrilously. It was his latest bit of publicity. What I’m saying in the song is that Keith is one of my absolute all-time characters and musicians, but he seems to make headlines these days because he falls out of a tree and slags Sgt. Pepper or he reveals something about the size of Mick’s dick in his biography rather than for writing a killer song. And I’m saying, ‘What will your next trick be? I wish it were a riff. I wish it were a song as good as “Wild Horses.”’

On Trump… I’ve tried writing two songs about the dark phenomenon that’s going on in America and neither of them made it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll give up trying. See, I’m a songwriter, and like the old Irish bards, I know how to use mockery and satire to undercut someone. And I keep thinking of the right description for Trump.

Trump himself is very good at giving people names, like ‘Crooked Hillary’ or ‘Lyin’ Ted’ or ‘Little Marco.’ His names stick. He’s very cunning at that. It’s probably the only thing he’s good at — is making up these nasty names for his enemies. If I could only come up with one for him, I would enshrine it in a song. The best I can come up with is ‘Batshit Hullabaloo.’ It’s funny, but it’s too long.

On how books influenced the record… I read a lot of music books while I was making this record. I noticed how much I was digging them and how inspired they were making me, so I decided not to read any books unless they were about music. I maintained that for about 18 months. I must have read about 60, 70 books about music.

I was encouraged by [a book I read about Motown] to visit the psychedelic soul period of the Temptations that had bypassed me. I knew the great singles, but I didn’t know the deep cuts — the album tracks. This period of the Temptations was so fascinating to me, where soul met the counter-culture at the same time that soul music was getting so sophisticated with the orchestrations and confident of its own success. And the records were fascinating and I got lots of ideas from listening to the records. I would get more ideas from listening to the records than from reading the books, but the books took me to the records. And the books decoded the records for me.

On one track on this record, ‘The Hammerhead Bar,’ I did a spoof of the intro of ‘Psychedelic Shack.’ At the start you hear someone going up to the door and they knock on the door and then doors opens and there’s all these voices talking: ‘Hey, man! Hey, listen to this!’ And then the music starts. So I did my own version.

There’s another Temptations influence on ‘Love Walks in.’ There’s a long outro where the choir is singing ‘I’m so in love with you’ over and over without any change — just deadpan. There’s no build to it, just holding a mood. That’s from ‘Message from a Black Man,’ where the outro is this multi-voice chorus that never builds. It’s hypnotic.

On “The Hammerhead Bar”… It’s a song about that gonzo rock Babylon of the ‘70s when this generation of mainly British rock stars suddenly had this wealth and they all bought country mansions and thought of themselves as lords of the manor. They all went kind of mad, I think. John Entwistle of the Who had a country mansion and he had a bar called the Hammerhead Bar. Entwistle was famous for his horror movie taste. He would write songs like ‘Boris the Spider’ in this comedic, horror movie style. His house was like that and the Hammerhead Bar had stuffed sharks suspended from the ceiling. It looks really horrible.

A friend of mine once went there in the ‘80s and described it to me. He told me there was magic mushroom soup and sharks hanging from the ceiling and all of John Entwistle’s fancy bass guitars are on the wall. So I translated his account into a verse that rhymed, which is the first verse of the song. Then I wrote the rest of the verses out of my own imagination, but based on that same rock Babylon milieu.

On his fascination with Pan… Pan is a Greek god of wild places. He’s also the god of humanity’s animal aspect, corrupted, I think, by the early Christians into the image of the devil because they wanted to replace the old nature religions with their own Christian religion.

I first encountered Pan in that wonderful book The Wind in the Willows. There was a fantastic chapter called ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ which is where Pink Floyd got their album title, with a description of two of the animal characters, Rat and Mole. These very lovely friends in the story. They have an encounter with Pan on an island on a midsummer morning. Very beautiful chapter. Very powerful description of Pan. I next encountered a Pan-ish figure in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books: Mr. Tumnus, the fawn.

So I grew up with this idea of Pan as a very powerful mythological figure and when I was living in Ireland in the second half of the ‘80s, Steve Wickham, a fiddler, and I used to often talk about Pan as if the whole of our life in music was a quest to find the spirit of Pan and bring that into our music.

I had experiences in the West of Ireland where I would see Pan in people’s faces, which is a very disconcerting thing at first. I hadn’t been taking any LSD — I’ve never taken any LSD in my life — yet I would see the god in people’s faces. I think it was because I was living so close to the old world in the Western part of Ireland, which is still a very wild place. It was giving me eyes to see differently.

I remember being in a bar in Inishmore in the Aran Islands, which is a very wild place, and this fisherman came in and his face looked just like Pan. I’m not sure how I know that he looked like Pan. But it was like Pan had walked in.

The character of Pan has come into my songs many times. The first time was ‘The Pan Within’ in This is the Sea. And then in this one, ‘Pan’s little sister’ is in the song ‘Man, What a Woman,’ which is about a lady who I admired very much who was already married. She had a Pan-ish spirit about her.

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