Monday, 2 December 2019

Inspiral Carpets: In My Second Interview With Clint Boon, The Keyboardist Reveals The Stories Behind "Devil Hopping"

Originally published in American Music Press (April 1994)
By Devorah Ostrov

Inspiral Carpets - photo from the video for "Saturn Five"
Follow this link to watch the full video:/
I got into the hotel elevator with Inspiral Carpet's keyboardist Clint Boon. His signature bowl haircut was gone, as was his trademark crazy-colored shirt. Both hairstyle and clothing were now more contemporary verging on low-key. Still, I knew it was him. But he didn't know it was me (or rather, he didn't know that I was on my way to interview him, or perhaps someone else from his band — at that point, it was potluck who I would get).

I wondered if I should say something, but worried about saying something stupid. Then we got off on the same floor and took the same turn down the wrong hallway. Two more hallways and we finally consulted on the room number we were both looking for. I mentioned that we'd talked on the phone two years ago, when the Inspirals were promoting Revenge of the Goldfish. He seemed strangely relieved and said he'd thought I was going to mug him. By the time the record company rep opened the door we were chatting like old friends.

Devil Hopping (Elektra/Mute Records - 1994)
"Oh, I see you've already met," said the rep. He sounded a tiny bit peeved as he sent another journalist in the direction of vocalist Tom Hingley.

The guys were in town to publicize their new CD, Devil Hopping (Elektra/Mute Records). Produced by Pascal Gabriel (whose Belgian-accented pronunciation of "developing" inspired the weird title), the band's latest release has already generated two hit singles in their native UK.

The trippy "Saturn 5" entered the British Top 20 and stayed there for six weeks. Meanwhile, a remix of the album's opening track, "I Want You" (featuring guest vocals by the Fall's Mark E. Smith, Melody Maker amusingly called it "psychedelic optimism meets psychedelic miserabilism"), shifted 20,000 copies before the video had even aired. There's a different schedule in the US, where the pristine pop tune "Party in the Sky" will be the first single.

Taking a seat on the bed, Boon explains that's because "Saturn 5" is a "very Inspirally song. As soon as the organ starts you know it's the Inspirals. And the record company thought it was a better idea to promote something a bit more..." He runs through assorted ways to end this sentence in his head, before eventually settling on "unusual."

While I'm not convinced that a vast majority of Americans would be annoyed with an "Inspirally sounding song" (or even know what that means), they trusted the label's decision. "We said, 'Okay, you know America better than we do. Do what you want.'"

Clint Boon is at the wheel in this pic from the "Saturn 5" video.
Originally formed in Oldham, Greater Manchester, the Inspiral Carpets' current lineup came together in 1986/ 1987.

Over the course of a handful of EPs, a 4-track Peel Sessions recording, and their first two major-label releases (1990's Life and '91s The Beast Inside), the group acquired a reputation for its retro-psychedelic/ pop-infused songs.

This was fuelled in large part by Boon's hair and vintage Farfisa organ. "When we started out, we wanted to sound like the Seeds and ? and the Mysterians," he confessed in our previous interview.

They have an enormous and devoted UK following, and their singles — described variously as "the Doors meet the Electric Prunes" ("Directing Traffic"), "a colorful revisit to San Francisco acid rock" ("Commercial Rain"), and "sturdily melodic" ("This Is How It Feels") — consistently top Britain's independent charts.

Planet of Sound flyer for a "Devil Hoppings"
 promotion at Mad in Athens, Greece. 
The Inspirals finally broke through in the US with 1992's Revenge of the Goldfish. But the band that we discovered was one that had become increasingly enamored with studio technology to create its sound.

Commenting on a particularly feedback-frenzied track from that LP, Boon observes, "When we were playing 'Generations' live last year, I had to think, how did I get that sound? It was created by a machine in a studio."

With Devil Hopping, they were determined to recapture the energetic feel of their early releases. "We wanted to sound like a band excited about what we're doing," asserts Boon. "In the past, we've gone into the studio individually, done whatever we had to do, and gone home. That's how we did Revenge of the Goldfish. It's a brilliant album to listen to, but my memories of making it are driving 40 miles from my house to the studio, doing a few hours work, looking at my watch... This time I said, 'Let's all get together in the studio and stay there.' We brought our wives and kids to the studio, and it was really relaxed."

And instead of letting machines fix any gaffes ("Y'know, you play a half-decent organ solo, but a few of the notes are wrong so you move them on the tape."), the guys prepared the old-fashioned way. "This time we put a lot more concentration into the rehearsal period before the recording session," states Boon. "That meant we could spend less time actually recording and be more spontaneous." As an added bonus, Boon can unwind onstage. "Now that we're playing these songs live, it's very easy because I know what I did," he says.

Inspiral Carpets 
(Mute Records publicity photo)
Traditionally, all Inspiral Carpets material is credited to the group as a whole. However, when asked, Boon is delighted to point out exactly which tracks he wrote. The enigmatic "Plutoman," inspired by his infant daughter Harley Luv, is one of them. "I'll go through the lyrics for you," he offers. As he pulls out the lyric sheet, he reassures me that he's "not gonna start writing loads of songs about babies."

You know what they say about the lady who talks with the fishes
They say she will always have at least a billion, billion friends...

"There's this little person who's so innocent she's talking to the fish on the wallpaper. She's not got any of the prejudices that will come later on in life. But the other character is the Plutoman..."

2014 advert for the 10th-anniversary 
celebration of Manchester's Mint Lounge, 
featuring a DJ set by Clint Boon. 
Even out here where he sits
Drowning in isolation
He's stacking his bricks high
 And slowly walling out the world...

"He's the person we've all got inside us. He wants to isolate himself. So he not only moves to Pluto, he builds a wall around himself."

She's sending him flowers and sunshine
But he doesn't notice
On the stem of a rose she writes
"Have a nice day, Plutoman"...

"And she's sending him messages on the stems of roses." He chuckles. "Er… as you do."

Two other Boon compositions, "Just Wednesday" and "The Way the Light Falls," take a disillusioned look at the music business and the detrimental effect it can have on a relationship.

"Just Wednesday," he reveals, "is about this guy whose girl or wife has left him because of the business. It's taken over his life."

Maybe it was my fault all along
'Cos I'm constantly talking in pictures and song...

"Which is what I do. I talk in terms of music — lyrics and songs. In conversation, something somebody says will remind me of a song. It's an occupational hazard."

And for anyone else this would be
The best days of his lifetime...

Inspiral Carpets - publicity photo
Clint Boon with his signature bowl haircut
in the center.
"Which it should be, being in a pop group and doing all this stuff. At the moment I have a really good relationship, but basically, it's my fear of what might happen if it all gets out of control."

But not for me 
It's just Wednesday
Or some other day...

"Like today, it took me a long time to figure out what day it was. I used to think that people like that were pretentious wankers, but it happens to you. You don't have weekends, you don't know what day it is, and sometimes you have to think about what month it is."

"The Way the Light Falls" echoes the same theme (here Boon refers to the music business as "the monster"), but one line pays tribute to a pop star hero of the keyboardist:

See the smile on the new music pages, now his face is all of the rages
Hey pretty satellite sing me a tune, the one I love is the man on the moon...

"That's my favorite R.E.M. song," he blushes.

Boon also wrote "Saturn 5," and the verses (which contain references to his American-born wife's family) hold a huge amount of personal significance.

Lady take a ride on a Zeke 64...

"My mother-in-law first met her husband when he offered her a ride in his Ford Mustang. The license plate was Zeke 64, which was his nickname and his football jersey number."

"Saturn 5" (US CD/maxi-single)
Jerry wants to be a rockette...

"Jerry is my wife's auntie. She always wanted to be a Radio City Rockette, and now she is one! The song's about optimism and ambition."

There's a popular misconception 
Says we haven't seen anything yet...

"I'm saying: You might think it's alright, but things are gonna get even better."

Laying down the lifeless corpse of President 35
The lady crying by his side is the most beautiful woman alive...

"That's John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy."

Saturn 5, you really were the greatest sight
Stretching out on a summer's day, Houston is calling me back to her...

"What really inspired the song was seeing the rocket. Saturn 5 is a space rocket, the rocket that launched all the Apollo missions. Last year I went to see it in Houston. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. And on the way home, I wrote the song."

An eagle lands...

"That's a reference to the Eagle landing on the moon."

Promo postcard for the "Uniform"/"Paranoid" single/2-CD set
(Mute 1994)
And a planet full of people raises its hands
All hail the men who walk up in heaven today...

"Obviously, the people cheering while they watch the astronauts walk in space."

Monochrome TV...

"Black and white telly."

All the things you ever represented to me
Take me once more, take me to heaven again...

Comic take on the "Madchester" scene featuring
the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets & James
Boon places his hand reverently on the hotel room's television as if he's going to testify on a Bible.

"Seeing the rocket reminded me of being a kid and watching this stuff on the telly, seeing Kennedy on the telly, and Elvis, and the Empire State Building. When I was growing up, America was this little box!"

He's positively beaming with pride. "Good, innit?" It sounds like a question, but it's actually a statement and Boon isn't waiting for an answer.

"I think it would be great to have a separate sheet with the album that explains what the lyrics are about," he continues. "People don't do that, do they?" This time it is a question. I shake my head to indicate they do not, and he makes a mental note to discuss this with someone.

While the lyric sheet is out, I ask Boon to clarify some of his bandmate's more cryptic stanzas. "We never ask each other what the songs are about," he argues. But he agrees to take a stab at "Half Way There."

"Tom wrote that song," he remarks. "I think it's about..." There's a long pause during which Boon glances over at Hingley to see if he's eavesdropping (he isn't). Boon leans in, and dramatically hisses "SEX!"

Clint Boon - photo from the "Saturn 5" video
Though I'll never see you again
It only makes me wanna do it some more...

"He knows that this is the one and only time he's going to do anything with this person. And he's got no respect for her."

Would I lie to you? 
Yes, I probably 

"I know Tom's not promiscuous," insists Boon, defending his buddy. "If I wrote a song like that, my wife would kill me."

Is Tom married?

"Yes!" exclaims Boon. "And he's got four kids!"

★ ★ ★

Carpet Burns - My Life with Inspiral Carpets
Hardback cover of Tom Hingley's memoir
Q: Is there a way to tell which Inspiral's songs are yours? Any tell-tale clues to your writing style?

Boon: There are certain things I do that the others don't. One thing, I'm very sentimental when I write, and I don't try to hide it. Like when I wrote, "This is how it feels to be lonely/This is how it feels to be small/When your world means nothing at all." It's very blunt. I'm not trying to hide my feelings. And I like to make sure there's no superfluous syllables. If the syllables don't quite fit on the beat, it bothers me until I get it right. Then I ponder over the lyrics for ages, thinking: What's a nice way to describe Michael Stipe out of R.E.M. without saying, "Michael Stipe out of R.E.M.?" So, "Hey pretty satellite sing me a tune." I spend a lot of time on things like that.

Q: Tell me about Mark E. Smith and how he came to collaborate on the remix of "I Want You." 

Boon: We came up with this idea to do some collaborations for the B-sides, just to make the singles more interesting and more sellable in England. And Mark is someone we respect a lot. As you can imagine, he's an icon! He's a god to a lot of people! I'm the biggest Fall fan in the band, so I was appointed the job of ringing him up. I was thinking, he's gonna tell me to fuck off. I mean, people like U2 and Sonic Youth would probably be glad to work with this guy if they had the chance. And he says he's been asked to work with people too big to mention, but he's always turned down the idea of a collaboration. So I phoned him up, put the idea to him, and he was really into it. He jumped into a taxi and came down to the studio; made a video with us a couple of weeks later; did a photo session; an interview with the Melody Maker. He's gone headlong into the project!

Q: Did you know he was a big Inspiral Carpets fan?

Clint Boon - recent publicity photo
Boon: He never let it be known that he was a fan. But he never slagged us off, either. Mark doesn't say nice things about a lot of other bands, so by process of elimination... I always had a suspicion that he thought we were a bit cool. When we did the interview with Melody Maker, the guy asked Mark why he was doing this. It was the first chance we'd had to hear his explanation. He said that the Inspirals is the greatest pop band of this generation, and that pop music is what he's always loved. He went on to compare us to the Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators — which is his ideal pop era. Briefly, he said he loves his band, but the Fall can't do the pop music that we do. So, for him, it was a chance to become a pop singer.

Will the track be released over here?

Inspiral Carpets - publicity photo
Boon: We're not planning for it to come out in America, but we've got a few tracks in the can for B-sides which are too brilliant not to release over here. We also just did two tracks with Peter Ork from New Order. We got Orky to produce the Inspirals doing a cover of [Black Sabbath's] "Paranoid," and he played some bass on it as well. The other track doesn't have a proper title yet; we just made it up in the studio. It's a very ambient... It's like a collage where things keep coming in and going out, things that don't suit each other; there's a bit of African-like singing and some synth noises. It goes on for like six minutes, and Ork plays bass over it — you can spot his bass a mile off! It was so spontaneous, and it's one of the most beautiful things we've done.

Q: I've heard about your cover of "Paranoid," but I thought it involved a rap group.

Boon: Collapsed Lung! They'd expressed an interest in doing something with my organ on it, so we sent them a multitrack of "Paranoid" and said, "Do what you want with it. Preferably rap over it and leave some of us on it." It's a really good track! In fact, the version with Collapsed Lung is so good, we have to remix our conventional version to make it sound better. But again, it's all B-sides.

Q: Maybe you could do an EP of B-sides for your American fans...

Inspiral Carpets with Mark E. Smith 
performing "I Want You" on Top of the Pops
Follow this link to watch the full video: 
Boon: I'm thinking about an LP of B-sides! I'm pushing for the next album to be as loose and spontaneous as these experimental sessions. The compromise might be a double album: one pop album and one over-indulgent, progressive rock — whatever you want to call it.

Q: You guys cover great tunes, but don't include them on your albums. Why is that?

Boon: We're a bit precious about the albums. Those are the definitive Inspiral's records that people will listen to, and we feel it's important that they know they're our songs. Plus, covers date what you do in some ways. Like when we first started, we used to do [the Seeds'] "Can't Seem to Make You Mine," and [the Velvet Underground's] "What Goes On," and [? and the Mysterians'] "96 Tears." If we'd put those songs on our first album, it would've made us look even more retro than people suggested we were. And "Paranoid" is a good example. If we'd put that on Devil Hopping... This is the year that progressive music is big again, innit? Pearl Jam, Blind Melon — they're all dropping names like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. So, the last thing we want to do is put a track like that on an album.

Follow Clint Boon on Facebook:
Q: I've heard that you and Tom have been doing some acoustic radio sets while you've been over here. Any chance the group will go in that direction?

Boon: No! But I am thinking of busking in Manchester. Y'know, me and Tom on a street corner. The Clash did it in Manchester and Bob Dylan did it in London. People would be like, "It can't be the Inspirals! They're a Top 20 band!" Ha!

Q: Finally, I just want to say how amazing it is that your label flew you and Tom over here just to chat with some journalists. They must be really supportive of the group.

Boon: It's a sign that the company is giving us a good push! Somebody said to me last night, "You're really going for it with all this promotion." And I said, "Not really." I'm very happy to exist at the level we're at. If we get any bigger, great! If we don't get any bigger, no problem. I'm very comfortable and very happy with it.

* R.I.P. Inspiral Carpets drummer Craig Gill who died on November 20, 2016

* To read my first interview with Clint Boon, go here: carpets/revenge of the goldfish

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