- by Ian Johnston Release Date: Label:
Celebrated guitarist, songwriter and producer Richard Warren finally emerges from the shadows of Echoboy to deliver his emotionally raw debut solo album, Laments. After spending five years touring the globe as a key player with a host of renowned artists, most notably Spiritualized and Soulsavers, it's clear that this was also an amazingly productive song writing period for Warren. Richard Warren sings his bittersweet Laments straight from the heart and through a myriad of musical genres. Warren's distinctive take on explosive guitar rock ('The Devil's My Shepherd') to gentle southern soul ('It's a Crying Shame') through contemporary folk song ('Black Stone Empires') , country ('How Could You Be So Blind'), mournful blues ('No Companion Like Solitude') and the haunting existential post-punk flavoured' No Angel' (the first seven inch single to be released from Laments this week) featured on the record have garnered wide critical acclaim, with the NME nominating the LP as on of the 50 Best Albums of the Year So Far.
Laments was recorded over a long period of time. Why did it happen that way and did that contribute to it's gratifyingly eclectic musical range?
It was written over five years, so I amassed a huge amount of material. I recorded in a lot of different rooms with loads of different musicians, so the sonics across the album are really broad. It was a bit of a struggle to whittle the list down to the final 11, but it hangs together well. It's important to me that an album is a diary of the time it was created.
How has your work with Spiritualized and Soulsavers and your production/engineering work with Tenebrous Liar helped to shape the music on the Laments album?
With Spiritualized and Soulsavers you're working with artists who have very strong ideas about the way their music sounds. You don't mess with that. Just play for the song and enjoy the ride, and with Mark Lanegan or Jason Pierce at the helm it's always an exhilarating journey.
I had five years touring all over the world. Met a lot of amazing characters and got into some pretty strange situations. Every now and then it's good to get out there and live a little, re-fill the memory banks so you've got shit to write about. I lived a lot in those five years.
It's a different thing with Tenebrous Liar, although they have just as strong an idea about their sound. But as producer I worked a lot closer with them. They are the most uncompromising band i've ever come across. They dragged me back to the beauty of analogue tape and made me re-discover that it's all about performance over production.
What led you from your work as Echoboy towards your solo career and the Laments album?
A need to get back to a more elemental sound.
Do you feel that your style of song writing has changed on Laments and if so, what brought that about?
"I discovered the importance of economy. What brought that about? Two words: HANK WILLIAMS.
Your guitar playing on Laments, particularly on the blistering opening track 'The Devil is My Sheppard', and in your work with Soulsavers is very dynamitic and exciting. Who is your favourite guitar player?
Link Wray. 'Rumble' is as about as good as it's ever going to get.
'The Devil is My Shepherd' sounds like a song that could not have been written by a man in his twenties. Do you agree?
I certainly couldn't have written it in my twenties. You have to wait patiently for stuff to happen, for life to unfold, then write it down, tell the truth. Simple as that.
Laments has been issued by TV Records on vinyl. Was that particularly important for you, to see your LP released in that format?
It was originally planned to be exclusively on vinyl, commercial suicide seemed briefly attractive.
The Laments tracks 'How Could You Be So Blind?' and 'No Companion Like Solitude' are pretty strongly rooted in country music. Is that a musical genre that particularly appeals to you?
Yeah, the good stuff's hard to beat. I'm big on the country blues pickers, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Lightning Hopkins, Robert Johnson. The thing is, all my music is born out of the guitar, and until pretty recently a kind of bastardised blues was my default style, it generally is for rock musicians. But I've got into a more country style of playing, which has really coloured the songs. Plus I've been pretty much exclusively playing a beautiful little 1950s Martin 0018 guitar, which has been a powerful inspiration. I get very attached to instruments.
Dylan and The Beatles are obviously important musical figures for you. But the maverick spirit of Alex Chilton seems to loom large across Laments as well. Is he a significant musical influence for you?
Of course. He was an outsider. I can relate to that.
Having watched you perform 'Black Stone Empires' live, that song seems to have a particular personal resonance for you. Is that the case?
All the songs do. It's impossible to get any sort of feel going if you've not lived them in some way. That particular tune is about my late grandfather. A real working class hero. A coal miner and devout union man. He didn't live to see the unions smashed in the 1980s. But it still makes me so angry that his life's work was undone and trashed. Such a sad waste. Obviously it has even more resonance now with the Tories back in power. I worked in a factory for six years, Believe me, I know how important the unions are.
'Brother Mary' carries the charge of Ono Band-era Lennon. Is the subject of religion something that particularly vexes you?
Thanks, that's a big compliment. Spirituality is universal. Be you a believer or not, there's an amazing power to Blind Willie Johnson singing 'John the Revelator'; it resonates in some heavy, mysterious way, which is disturbing but at the same time comforting. I'm intrigued by that. The best art is always mysterious, disturbing and comforting.
I notice that there is a strong visual aspect to your work, both with the dramatic black and white album portrait sleeve (by renowned photographer and Tenebrous Liar front man Steve Gullick) and the film you've made for the 'No Angel' single (available for a month on the Richard Warren website). Would you agree?
It's as important as the music. I'm dubious of musicians that don't care how their records look. I've bought so many records on the strength of their sleeve, I wouldn't advise it though. A lot of the music was bad. As for the monotone theme. It's not an image. If anything it's anti image. It's standardisation. One of my favourite all time bands, The Creation once said, 'OUR MUSIC IS RED WITH PURPLE FLASHES', I always loved that. Well 'MY MUSIC IS BLACK WITH BIG WHITE SCRATCHES'.