As Yet Untitled

Monday, March 27, 2006

M+F - Mick Harvey

Mick Harvey is probably best known for his work in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. What people tend to gloss over is that he has produced film soundtracks, four solo albums, and recorded countless releases with Crime and the City Solution, The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Anita Land, Rowland S. Howard, PJ Harvey, and, of course, Nick Cave. He has just released "One Man's Treasure", a collection of personal favorites and original compositions.

Interview after the jump.


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Tyson said...

M+F caught up with Harvey (via a very shaky connection) at home in Melbourne, Australia.

M+F: How are you doing?

Mick: Not bad. It's quite muggy. And raining.

M+F: Is that common for Australia?

Mick: I don't know really. People say it never rains. But here it is raining. We get a little rain.

M+F: You have just released "One Man's Treasures."

Mick: I have.

M+F: How do you feel about the record?

Mick: I'm pretty happy with it really. You go through a process and you have to make a lot of decisions, and then you have to let it go. You finish the whole thing and go "Is that it? Well I guess I've got to put it out now." [Laughs] And it's hard to know how you're going to feel about it a couple of months down the line, but I feel pretty good about it. It sort of seems in a way that releasing an album like that, people might see it as sort of a definitive thing, and I didn't really mean it that, so hopefully it stands up to that sort of scrutiny and I can make another album soon.

M+F: Here's hoping. You recorded that in your home studio?

Mick: I started it in my home studio. I finished it, took it do the mixing and the strings at a studio in Melbourne. When I'm working at home, just by myself, it gets a bit lonely. There's not much feedback. Somewhere along the line, I like to take my things-and I don't really like to mix things by myself because I'm not an engineer. I like to get feedback, and get someone engineering who knows how to do that job properly, as opposed to the modern age where a lot of musicians are forced by ProTools and record company expectations into recording their own albums. I'm not an adherent of that process. They're going to have to get a professional eventually and get it done properly. [Laughs]

M+F: Did you have to re-record any of the parts when you took it in for mixing, or did you use them as-is?

Mick: No. I'd only done rough drums for some parts, knowing that I would rather get someone who knows about microphone techniques to record the drums properly. So, apart from replacing the rough drums, which I knew I'd replace anyway, no. The drums and the vocals. Those are the key things in production. The drum sounds and the vocal sounds are very crucial and a lot of the other stuff, keyboards and guitars and everything, it's really not that difficult to get something you like the sound of. Anyway, the whole process, the basic shape of the songs that I put down were basically the ones I did at home.

M+F: Did you have a record deal before this album or was it something you were doing for yourself?

Mick: I've worked with Mute for 20 years or something, so I suspected that they might be interested in what I was doing, but I basically just did it off my own back. I did it, and then took it them, and said, "Are you interested in releasing this, or am I going to have to do it myself?" [Laughs]. They were interested, and that was probably the better option because I think doing it myself might not have been ... it's very hard, doing it yourself, to get attention for an album. And it's good when you've made an album that it gets as much exposure as it can, really. Put it out there, and at least people find out that it exists, and if I'd done it myself, it would have been much harder to get that to happen.

M+F: All but two songs on "One Man's Treasures" are covers. How did you go about picking the songs?

Mick: Over time I've sat down and looked at my favorite songs, not really being a songwriter myself, you know, in a
full-on way, writing songs everyday, as some people do. I knew that if I wanted to do an album that represented me, that was my own thing, I'd probably want to do a lot of cover versions on it. Through the years, I've made lists of different songs that I might like to do, or I thought should be re-visited or re-worked or exposed in another way, and I suppose that I went about recording versions of those songs at the time. There was no sort of master plan particularly with it. So at some point in time, I ended up with this, I don't know how many songs I've recorded-20 or so-that were basic versions of these songs. I think I opted more for songs, the ones that I finished, that had more of an obscurity about them, where a lot of people who would be hearing the album would not really know the originals. It would be a fresh experience for people, rather than choosing songs that were on the end of the scale of being well-known or classics, or whatever. In the end, that's the reason I choose the songs I choose.

M+F: In reworking these songs, did you look to the originals to guide your versions, or did you try to make each cover completely new?

Mick: I think for the most part, re-creating what the original has done is not enormously interesting. I did that on a few occasions with the Gainsbourg material because it was justified, in that it was being translated. I think, there was always the idea of re-interpreting them in one way or another. Kind of re-working them instead of copying the original.

M+F: In addition to that, you do have two of your own original compositions on the album. How was that process for you, since you don't classify yourself as a songwriter?

Mick: The distinction I make there is that a lot of people who are songwriters hold that very dear, and it's very important to them, it's their primary mode of expression, if you like. For me, it's not something I worry about. Every so often a song will pop out, and I'll work on it for a bit, but that's not my driving force. So, the process is...I don't know. The process is pretty simple really. I don't know how they come about, some of these songs, really. Sometimes you'll just have some music or a chorus idea, and eventually you realize that you might have a song there. I don't work on them particularly. They just come together over time. About one every two years. That's not being a songwriter, is it? [Laughs] One song every two years does not a songwriter make.

M+F: Were these two songs written during the course of creating this album, or are they older?

Mick: They were-which ones are they-written during the late '90s. I would probably have had about six or seven original songs that I could have worked up and finished, and I picked those two because either they were the most formed or they fitted with the rest of the material on the album, thematically and lyrically. It wasn't a matter of picking my favorites, or even my most recent, it was just the ones that fitted and I was happy to finish. I've got a couple more, a couple more for the next album. [Laughs]

M+F: Would you ever want to put out an album of your own, original material?

Mick: Well, I think it would take me about ten years. So if I was going to continue this process, which I quite enjoy actually; it's nice, after all these years, to put out something that represents me, and my position about music, and what I want to present. It's an interesting process for me, after so many years of being in bands beside singers and songwriters, whom I'm essentially helping out with the musical arrangements and stuff, to actually present myself is quite exciting, I've discovered, so I'd like to continue doing that. I think to wait around for an album or original material, I'll probably be dead before I finish that. 75 or something. What's the life expectancy in the West? No, I think I'll just get on with doing other stuff, I certainly don't concern myself with doing an album of original material.

M+F: You say this album is more personal, but it consists of quite a few covers. What makes this more personal than, say, your Serge Gainsbourg material?

Mick: The songs are, in one way or another, personal favorites of mine. They are songs that I have a personal relationship with. Perhaps their obscurity gives me the opportunity to reinterpret them, knowing that people don't know the originals, and gives me the opportunity to make them mine in a way as well. To take possession of them. That feels much more personal than the Gainsbourg material that was, on one sort of level, a project that I started and then had to finish, if you see what I mean. I had to work it through, and certainly not every song on those albums were favorite songs of mine. It became a project in itself, an album of Gainsbourg material, translated. You can imagine, that required a lot of research, a lot of intellectual work, if you like. This is much more...this material is comprised of personal favorites. Many of the songs were written by friends of mine. That adds a personal touch to it as well.

M+F: Indeed. Is there a difference in your production work when working on your album as opposed to working with other artists?

Mick: Well, I think it's probably pretty similar. I tend to work faster when I'm doing my own things. A lot of times when I'm doing Nick's-the Bad Seeds albums-or working with PJ Harvey or those sorts of things, I find people tend to work...well, the Bad Seeds work fast, but the mixing process is slow. When I'm doing my own stuff, I can dictate that we will mix four songs a day, and that's that. [Laughs] Whereas with the Bad Seeds, it's more of a struggle, and we aim for two a day, and the engineer is usually very concerned about his professional reputation and he tinkers and refines everything more than I would normally do it. With my own stuff, I can dictate procedures a bit more, but beyond that, my process is fairly similar. You're just recording the song, and putting on there what you think makes it work the best.

M+F: What's your next project?

Mick: I've constantly got film work coming through. I've usually got at least one film project on the horizon, and I've got another I've got to do now. So that takes cycling. Beyond that, I'll try to do a follow-up to "One Man's Treasure", that will be different from "One Man's Treasure" because I think I'll try to reduce it right down to a couple of instruments and singing instead of building it up as ended up happening. My intention with "One Man's Treasure" was to keep it very spare and having hardly any instrumentation on it, and in fact, of course, ended up having what sounded like a full band and strings and all sorts of stuff. It wasn't really my intention, it's just where it got taken. So, I think that's what I'd like to do. Make a second album and keep it very spare.

M+F: Have you already picked out the songs you'd like to do for that album?

Mick: I've already recorded half of them, I think. I haven't checked my tapes lately. I've been a little preoccupied the last few months, but I recorded a whole lot of stuff before I went to Europe in July, so I'll have to pull the tapes out and see what I recorded. [Laughs] I've got lists of potential songs I'd like to try and do, and I know I got around to recording basic things for some of them. I'll keep that under my hat anyway.


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