Mr. Solo Interview
by Aug Stone
Mikey Georgeson and I caught up of a March evening in the living room of TOTP
Towers in Camden after Mikey added his part to Keith TOTP’s now legendary
Two Of The Beatles Have Died.
Beverages consumed: Mikey—2 Fosters, Aug—2 Budweisers, Keith TOTP— one of each.
Aug: It has 59 hours…
Mr. Solo:: 59?
Aug: hours capacity…
Mr. Solo:: Really? Should we go for it? (Laughter) Have you ever done a 59 hour interview? I don’t know if anyone has but it’d be worth doing…
Keith TOTP: Something to do…
Aug: Without repeating the questions…
Mr. Solo:: (Laughter) I’m sure we could do that…I can’t remember what day of the week it is…no danger of repetition…
Aug: First off, anything you’d like to say by way of introduction to our American readers?
Mr. Solo:: Wow, that’s a…(laughter) that’s a tough question, that’s not a question, that’s a …. Hello America, yeah…I’ll come back to that if I may…
Aug: How did Mr Solo come into being then?
Mr. Solo:: I did a gig the other night in an art gallery and it was the loudest I’ve ever heard my ukulele slap on my bottom when I play a song cause it was unamplified but afterwards, the man that asked me to do the gig, who is quite a friendly man obviously, but he said, “Oh, I heard… Why are you called Mr. Solo?” And I said, ‘You know, cause I’m afraid of being alone…and confronting my issues’ and he said, ‘Oh, I heard it was cause you were in a band and they all …left’ and this was all part of the performance and it was alright but I thought that was quite…revealing that he was prepared to go that far (laughs) having asked me that, I felt like he set me up a bit…but yeah, you know, we’re all….perigones, little islands…joined up…I think I was watching ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ when I came to the decision that I would be called ‘Mr. Solo’ and I taped a little bit of ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ on a dictaphone not unlike that (nodding to my dictaphone) but with probably…less capacity (laughter)…but I’m a great believer in backwards causality, you know, if you follow your passions and then the ideas come back from the future…I mean some people think that’s like, you know when you…rationalize something afterwards and I rationalize the fact that I’m called Mr. Solo but I see it as intuiting the fact that I’m called Mr. Solo, in all seriousness…
Aug: Does it have anything to do with the clothing store on Holloway Road?
Mr. Solo:: Someone sent me a picture of that, I think it’s probably all to do with that (laughs) and I will play my final gig at that clothing store…we could do the album launch there, couldn’t we? (laughs)
It Makes You Wonder Mr. Solo
Aug: On the new record – “Wonders Never Cease” – there seem to be various themes running through it, multiple mentions of “wonder” and “release”, what’s the idea behind those? And speaking of release, when it’s coming out?
Mr. Solo:: (Laughter)…Weee…April the 6th. Um…wonder and release…yeah…I think I mourn the loss of wonder and loss of childhood innocence in general, I think I fight for the cause of wonder, I think it’s…part of what we are and it should be encouraged, I suppose that’s why I… (laughter) I’ve noticed all through the album there are lots of words which repeat themselves and it’s quite confusing for people learning the songs cause (laughs) they think they’re playing one song and then realize it’s actually another song cause they have the same words cropping up which I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing but …
Aug: well it makes the whole strong and thematic…
Mr. Solo:: Yeah, I mean it feels quite…what’s the word…concept, it wasn’t a concept album but it could almost be a fiction, you know cause it’s like me but it’s a fiction, because that allows my thought process to go a bit further than it would otherwise…you know, like a good potholing in the brain, try ideas out…there’s a form of painting, Alta-Modern, which is all about embracing the global but denying the homogenous nature of globalization but admitting we’re all connected and I think wonder is a part of that and dealing with specific things with a sense of wonder. You know, so not trying to be universal but being really, really specific it’s a bit like David’s (Shah, The Melting Ice Caps) lyrics are very specific but that kind of somehow makes something that joins us all up
Aug: Did you ever read “Gravity’s Rainbow?”
Mr. Solo:: I started it. (laughs) I started it, yeah.
Aug: I just finished a critical study of it last night and was reminded of it saying “Paranoia is the onset of the realization that we’re all connected.”
Mr. Solo:: (Pause) Wow. But…I think to kind of flirt with that realm is to deny madness, to sort of say there are these ideas and we are all connected but to do it brazenly without fear of madness, that appeals to me.
Aug: Listening to the new record often gives me the feeling of being at a late-September fairground in the evening, possibly one in the 1950’s. Obviously this is a fictional nostalgia but still it does create a very nice overall picture and setting. What is your inspiration when you write or paint? Is there a connection between the two?
Mr. Solo:: Well, there’s definitely a connection. The issue of nos-stal-gia and retro-ness, there’s a way you can say something is deliberately archaic and it makes it sounds good because nostalgia is a bad thing. Well, I thought… But with Alta-Modernism ‘archaic’ is good (laughs) Rob who recorded it with me, he was like just learning lots of new things…about how to record…’new’ in the sense that lots of people talk about when you play the guitar everytime it should be like you just picked it up for the first time and I think for him recording, when he met me, became like that. He was on that trajectory of learning about…well, ‘drums, you record them like this, they sound like this’ (laughs) so it was all very real and that might have given it quite an archaic feel. With that particular album I just wanted it to be quite …unexpurgated and put thoughts down and I think I read a little bit of Bob Dylan’s lyrics and I thought, ‘Actually, these are quite extreme’, some of them just ramble on (laughs) and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have a go at that’ and I think my thoughts are much more dislocated than Bob Dylan’s, I naturally think in quite a dislocated way and I join up…I have to have several notebooks so that I can get an idea to come together…from several places and that’s a bit like how I paint pictures, I have several sketchbooks and pull them all together. It was kind of…not trying to neaten it up but actually going, ‘Well, this is how I work so I’ll work like that.’
Aug: You recommended ‘Lint’ (by Steve Aylett) to me.
Mr. Solo:: (laughs) Oh yeah.
Aug: I thought it was fantastic. I loved the part where he visits Burroughs or somebody like Burroughs who did the cut-up technique, Lint decides to take the scraps up off the floor, puts them back together and got what they originally had written. Ruining the entire experiment. (laughs)
Mr. Solo:: (Laughter) I don’t need to cut my thoughts up, they are already cut up. (laughs) I’m trying to neaten them up.
I’m Not Even Going To Try taken from David Devant & His Spirit Wife’s stint as house band for the 1996 rarely seen British sitcom “Asylum” starring Simon Pegg, Julian Barratt, Jessica Stevenson co-written with Edgar Wright and David Walliams
Aug: So “Using passions as beacons can lead to instances of backwards causality” is a line in both one of your paintings and from “Astrology” off the new record. Would you like to say anything more about that? When did this idea first strike you?
Mr. Solo:: Yeah, I think it was…(thinks) J.G. Ballard that actually said about using passions, ‘use your passions as beacons’… to steer you, you know, don’t take any bullshit (laugh) just steer by what you believe in, but for ages I didn’t know what I believed in and then I realized it was the little voice that I thought was rubbish, was actually, that’s my opinion (laughs)…So I thought, ‘Ah, I’ll make that bigger and I’ll go with that’ and the backwards causality is how ideas, if you work in an open way…it appears that an idea came to you from the future…because you stayed true to your idea, and when you stay true to your idea things come to you that you didn’t think would, so I that’s what that’s about…Allowing things to come back from the future…like Michael J. Fox (laughter)
Aug: One thing I’ve always loved about your lyrics is what I call, for lack of a better term, ‘thwarting the rhyme’ (Examples: ‘Next time I’m gonna spend my money on an old-fashioned girl who finds me amusing’ – “All Will Be Revealed”, ‘This song doesn’t say you make your own luck, This song doesn’t give a flying family-planning clinic, baby’ – “Genius”, “My uncle says I’m barmy, cause I don’t pack my bags and join the navy’ – “Slip It To Me” ; to name but a few).
Mr. Solo:: Oh. yeah.
Aug: What lyricists or wordsmiths in general do you like?
Mr. Solo:: I like English poets…Auden, people like that…obviously the great man, Howard Devoto is probably…I think he’s quite like Auden in some, in my humble opinion, so I like those two people…and I like…Raymond Chandler…very sort of descriptive yet plot-driven…I like Chaucer as well (laughter)…I think non sequitur is the posh word, isn’t it for avoiding the rhyme…I think so…it’s kinda like a rebellion, isn’t it? the idea of evolutionary genetics…like we’re all just, it’s predestined…so avoiding the rhyme is actually (laughs) a way of not being predestined (laughter)…But some people are very good at that, aren’t they? just like not rhyming anything and making it sound like it’s rhymed…No, that’s very different…I like a framework, rhyme is a framework. I wrote a song called “Me And Mrs. Rhyme” which I never released (laughs), yeah it was ‘Me and Mrs. Rhyme, happy all the time’ but that doesn’t have any non sequiturs in it (laughs)
Aug: What I’ve always liked about it is it’s set up perfectly because you want the rhyme to come and it doesn’t and that adds a whole new dimension to the words.
Mr. Solo:: Yeah. But the funny thing is, it ends up sounding like it does rhyme…at least to me it does (laughs). It’s like when you read that back to me it’s “Yeah, that’s the lyric”. I no longer think it’s gotta have a rhyme (laughs)
Aug: Ah, cause I remember when I first heard ‘Pimlico’ and I said to my girlfriend at the time “It’s great because you want it to be ‘Maybe your lover is living in Ealing’ (to rhyme with the first line ‘Sometimes London don’t seem that appealing’) and she went “What? Oh yeah, I could see that.” But to her the way it was was just the lyric.
Mr. Solo:: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) But that’s another thing, applying conviction. I think if you do apply conviction you can make something non-rhymed sound rhymed…I can’t think of any examples right now (laughter)
Aug: Although your songs seem to me very much in line with classic pop and rock songs, I’ve never quite been able to place exactly who they remind me of, except perhaps sometimes Bowie. So who are your musical influences?
Mr. Solo:: Um, well yeah, Bowie, definitely…I like Devandra Barnhart lately…in that he just sort of seems to just express himself very directly, so like musically I might not copy him but I like his directness…Eno…Clive Sands, I heard him lately, he’s a new influence, sort of 60s/70s…he was the brother of the guy that…yeah, it’s gone, but his brother was also a pop singer and Clive Sands had a song, I think it was called “Marie”…Who else? (laughs) I really like, I mean when I was a kid the reason I formed a band was New Order and The Human League and I didn’t really think I could write songs so…Yeah, New Order couldn’t really write songs, could they?
Aug: (Laughter) No, you’re right there.
Mr. Solo:: And I loved the way they used to struggle with technology. And Mr. Solo is very much about, well the first two years of Mr. Solo were me and technology and struggling and setting it all up myself, cause I always remember New Order doing a session on BBC2 and it was like I was a fan, well I was a fan so I supported them and it was like the equipment was gonna break down any moment (laughter) their sampler had a massive floppy disk, it was an Emulator…so it’s quite a rubbish role model really, you know, cause like Bernard Sumner is not the world’s greatest lyricist and the music is obviously great but it’s not classic songwriting. So I don’t know where I, you know, I think a lot of my classic songwriting comes from the fact that my dad liked jazz, so jazz standards have great rhymes, great structures, that’s definitely been an influence, you know, trying to write songs which are complete…cause making something complete and finished is quite a satisfying thing, especially if you think in a dislocated way, like what I do (laughs) so to make something that is finite, so you can step back from it and go “Well that’s there and done”…Hoagie Carmichael, great singer, that kind of songwriter I really like…
Aug: Gary Numan at all?
Mr. Solo:: (excited) Gary Numan, yeah!
Aug: Whenever I hear “Home Sick Home”, that always seems very Numan-esque to me.
Home Sick Home Mr. Solo
Mr. Solo:: Oh yeah, well “Genius” has a line about Gary Numan, doesn’t it? I do like Gary Numan. Well, “Cars” and “Are Friends Electric?” and I will always maintain “Are Friends Electric?”, yeah that’s…that was probably the second record I ever bought, picture disc…
Aug: What was the first?
Mr. Solo:: “What A Waste” by Ian Drury. And you know the lyric in that – “I could be a singer in a six-piece band” is like, ah yes, (laughs) that is almost predestined, you know, what a waste…Mr. Willier, our music teacher, I took it in when I was 10, the boys at the back were noisy so he took it off after about 20 seconds and said, “Well, that was a waste, wasn’t it?” (laughs)…Well, Ian Drury, obviously, is another influence…and Eddie Argos from Art Brut and Keith TOTP…
Aug: I really like The Julie Elected stuff. Care to say anything about that?
Mr. Solo:: What’s that? Julie Elected? Is that on the album? (general confusion) What’s that then? (long pause) It’s coming to me, I know the phrase, have I used it in something recently?
Aug: Is it not you then?
Mr. Solo:: What is that?
Aug: The band name?
Mr. Solo:: (drawn out) Noooo. Is it someone sounds….What is that then?
Aug: I’ve been convinced, I found the Myspace page of The Julie Elected and it sounds very much as if it was you.
Mr. Solo:: Not me and Foz? (more confusion) But that’s very weird cause the phrase is very familiar to me. I might’ve done it in my sleepwalk.
Pimlico David Devant & His Spirit Wife
Aug: So what other projects, musical or otherwise, going on right now?
Mr. Solo:: I’ve just done some more stuff with Foz, and we’re trying to get Devant together…cause after the 100 Club gig where we had Martin (White) and Arec (Koundarjian), I thought it would be good to do something much more…layered, lots more musicians…it’s been fun getting a band around Mr. Solo…so that’s what’s going on, I think this year I’m trying not to do too much, but Glam Chops [glam band with Mr. Solo & Eddie Argos] might come up. Any idea when that’s coming up? (laughs)
Keith TOTP: Later
Mr. Solo:: Later, yeah…I think we all think Glam Chops could be a mighty, mighty band. It’s got all the ingredients. (laughs)
Aug: It really does.
Mr. Solo:: But maybe it’s just one of those things that’s kind of best (laughs) in the imagination.
Aug: At Stay Beautiful (Simon Price’s London club night) it was really a tour de force.
Mr. Solo:: Oh! That was good, wasn’t it? That was a lovely gig, yeah. Cause it felt completely right, yeah. I’d forgotten about that. It was like, “Yes. Glam Chops.” (laughs)
Aug: I’ve often said that there’s something about a really great pop song that’s akin to the feeling you have after you’ve first kissed someone you’ve really fancied for quite a while.
Mr. Solo:: Wow.
Aug: What do you think is inherent in all great pop music? Or any similar comparisons?
Mr. Solo:: For me, it’s like, ‘Where the fuck did that come from? How did they do that? Where did it come from? What…place is it from? What world is it from? How is that possible?’
Aug: And yet it seems like it’s been there all along.
Mr. Solo:: Yeah. Yeah and I missed it…all along. How did I miss that?…I think the first Libertines single was like that, but then the rest weren’t like that.
Aug: What was the first one?
Mr. Solo:: It sorta starts with the bloke shouting? (laughs) It might not be the first single. Do you know what that one was, Keith?
Keith TOTP: ‘What A Waster?’
Mr. Solo:: Yeah. So I think that, yeah, otherness… But I like the idea of (laughs) kissing someone you’ve fancied for a while.
Aug: I texted Mr. Alex Sarll earlier to see if he had any questions to ask you.
Mr. Solo:: Oh yeah.
Aug: He shot back with this – “Does the quiff house a function related to the harmonics of parallel universes?”
Mr. Solo:: Yeah, well again, I think it does…it’s like I wore the quiff to a fancy dress party and…the rest is history…
Aug: Favourite colour?
Mr. Solo:: Aw, it changes all the time, it can be pink, pink seems to be the main one that I like, yeah. I like green as well.
Aug: They’re good in combination.
Mr. Solo:: (Laughs) Are they? (laughs) It depends on your taste really, doesn’t it? Yeah, yeah…
Ginger (David Devant & His Spirit Wife)
Aug: Favourite film(s)?
Mr. Solo:: ‘Fahrenheit 451’and ‘Science Of Sleep’ are probably my two current favourites.
Aug: All-time favourite?
Mr. Solo:: Yeah, well ‘Fahrenheit 451’ felt like an all-time favourite when I watched it. It was like, ‘yeah, this is…how did I miss this?’ It’s Truffaut, isn’t it, so it’s all there. Raymond Bradbury, Truffaut, Julie Christie, what more could you want? It’s like everything from every angle. Beauty, existential, metaphysics, science-fiction, romance, books…
Aug: That’s the next question…Favourite book(s)?
Mr. Solo:: (thinks for a while) I’m reading the collected works of Charles Fort at the moment, who founded the Fortean Times and that’s kind of like…one of them is ‘The Book of The Damned’, I suppose that’s one of my favourites cause it’s just like all these anomalies, anomaly after anomaly, he saw it as…something flying in the face of rationalist…oligarchs, you know, take over and you’re saying, ‘yeah, but what about this?!’…things like lights in the sky, even if they never lead to anything, I love the power of his writing, his conviction…(laughs) I suppose if I say ‘Crime & Punishment’, that’s like…loony…psych-…but ‘Crime & Punishment’ I did like, it was a good book…I think ‘Crime & Punishment’ is sort of rather apt as it feels like a penance reading it cause it’s really painful…
Aug: And long…
Mr. Solo:: Yeah. But it’s quite readable. And it screwed a lot of people up, I think. You know, famous psychopaths (laughs) like that book so I’m slightly worried that I enjoyed it.
Aug: Beverage of choice?
Mr. Solo:: Well I do like a Loire Valley Red. A Saumur Red, or something.
Aug: Favourite food?
Mr. Solo:: (thinks for a while) I like anything Mediterranean. I do like a coq au vin, actually, but that’s not Mediterranean, I know. I like Thyme in my food as well, so…Coq au vin with thyme in it…I don’t know if you traditionally put thyme in coq au vin, but…
Aug: Favourite member of ‘The Young Ones’?
Mr. Solo:: Probably Motorhead (laughs)…I’ve been trying to get my kids into Motorhead. They quite like it, cause they really like rock, and you can’t get more rock than that, can you?
Aug: Do you see any connections between all these favourites and the music you make or the music you like in general?
Mr. Solo:: Uh, wow…I should be able to…I think…there’s something that…I love beautiful melodies and stuff but I also love “Smash It Up” by The Damned…Miró the painter talked about painting as the act of scribbling over things and that’s similar, the connection to The Damned is like “Smash It Up”, it’s a glorious song, I love it…and uh, name-drop, well, most people have met Rat Scabies if they’re in a band and he’s a very nice man, and I said to him, “Why is the single version so much better than the album?” He didn’t know it was any different but to me they sound completely different…and that’s a frightening thing but one mustn’t be scared of that, you know the fact that you can record something, just one little thing can make it sound fantastic but you might never know what that is, but you mustn’t ever be scared of that I think…or else you’d never do anything, would you? But…I love that song….but I don’t know why I like the idea of smashing things up, and there’s that film “Hope and Glory” and the kids go on bombsites…as in the second world war and they go, “Time to smash things up!” and they just smash things up. Cause they’re in houses that have been bombed so they can smash things up. So…starting again, picking things up, pick the guitar up as if it’s the first time ever, maybe that’s the connection…
Aug: And put things back together in a different way…possibly…
Mr. Solo:: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a joy, isn’t it? It’s destructive but there’s a joy…but I’ve never smashed a guitar on stage (laughs), I just mime smashing my guitar….like smashing my ukulele, my pink ukulele into the amp, I mime it.
Aug: What’s the perfect song?
Mr. Solo:: “My Way’, isn’t it? (extended laughter) Yeah.
Aug: What’s the perfect album?
Mr. Solo:: (thinks for a while) ‘All Mod Cons’ is pretty good. But that’s like cause it’s from when I was a kid, so I sort of think…it’s a storytelling picture…’The World Of David Bowie’ is pretty good, I don’t know if it was always called that, I think it might’ve been ‘The World Of David Jones’ and then re-released as ‘David Bowie’…um, ‘Hunky Dory’’s a pretty good album, isn’t it…’Nevermind’….’Here Come The Warm Jets’… ‘Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy’, those two albums were pretty…seminal… but I hate to admit I am a bit like Simon Cowell in that I like a good song…(laughs) not bands…he always says, ‘I like songs’…
Aug: Last question – Say you’ve stolen a space shuttle and are flying it directly into the sun, for whatever reason, what would the soundtrack be?
Mr. Solo:: What, I’ve stolen…? Well it might be ‘Smash It Up’, mightn’t it? (laughs) I think so.
Cookie David Devant & His Spirit Wife
Visit Mikey’s blog here.
“Wonders Never Cease” was released that April and became my favourite record of 2009. Mikey continues to perform solo as Mr Solo and now occasionally with a full Mr Solo band. David Devant & His Spirit Wife have been performing new songs live which bodes well for a new album sometime soon. Mikey’s “Demonstation Songs”, a continually updated collection of, well, demos, is up for free download at Corporate Records.
There’s lot of other David Devant stuff up on YouTube as well, check it out!
And, finally, a link to Glam Chops—Eddie Argos & Mr Solo’s glam band.
This interview was conducted by Mr. Aug Stone, whose own blog can be found here.