Incendiary interview Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy

If I give myself a chance to be anal about the vocals I will take every available opportunity to go on and on until I’m fucked. So I did.

If I give myself a chance to be anal about the vocals I will take every available opportunity to go on and on until I’m fucked. So I did.


Wandering around the press area of the Haldern Festival I find Neil Hannon, dressed casually in a white shirt and jeans, hair flopping around his forehead and wandering around looking rather lost and bewildered. He’s been doing the rounds, passing from one interviewer to the next for the best part of the last two hours and he seems almost on autopilot. So much so that, after simply saying hello I have to scramble to get my recorder working as he’s already off, starting the interview whilst I’m still looking for the record button.


NEIL HANNON: So many bands. Hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread and then, a year later, “Oh, you’re the old greatest thing since sliced bread.”


IN: Have you noticed that so many of the new bands seem to have the same effects pedal?


NH: Well actually what they’ve done is they’ve all thrown out all of their effects pedals and they’re just going  DURR NURR NURR NUR NURR and turned their amps up. Which, in someways, I approve of. It’s just that they’re all the fucking same.


IN: There seems to be a number of bands who have one song and then just make eleven versions of it.


NH: Yeah it seems very much about, “Ooh, we haven’t heard this sound in twenty years. Let’s do it a lot.” The song is kind of secondary.


IN: But you’ve always been a bit counter to that.


NH: Hopefully.


IN: And I love the way you can be so flippant lyrically and jolly. But you’re also very adventurous with your arrangements and aren’t afraid to get a little, if you don’t mind me saying so, a bit pretentious every now and again.


NH: Damn right!


IN: There’s one song on the new album, Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont that contains the lines ‘Push Sisyphus, Push’ and ‘Newton release this apple from it’s Earthly shackles’ and when I heard it I thought, “Nobody else could have written this.”


NH: And not be shot at dawn.


IN: But you make it work.


NH: Yes well, I stuck it in second to last so that only the people who could take it would ever get that far.


IN: And isn’t the last song about a cigarette?


NH: Well it’s not really about the cigarette. It’s about the metaphor of the ash. Whereas you’re kind of meant to be a snowball, kind of gathering experiences and becoming a bigger person as you get older. But actually it’s more like when you flick ash, onto the roof of my house actually, out of the attic. It just gradually disintegrates as it goes down and I was thinking that actually, it’s more like that isn’t it? Where you fucking give the best that you fucking can and gradually, there’s nothing left. (laughs)


IN: So from what I’ve read up, it seems like this album has almost come around by mistake, because you’ve been doing a lot of stuff for other people and soundtracks and things. It seems that this wasn’t as planned and thought out as some of your past albums.


NH: Well it was as much of a mistake as one of mine ever could be. Because, after I realized that I was going to make an album, by mistake, I realized that I had lots and lots and lots of music and lots of words, some of which were attached to one another. And I didn’t realize that I kind of had that much and I just thought, “Oh shit, I’d better make an album.” That was about this time last year and then I took eight weeks or so to finish and arrange all the songs.


So that bit wasn’t very spontaneous, obviously, but it was quite quick for me. I usually take a lot longer. And, you know, Natalie, my manager was kind of, “You want to make an album? Before the year is done? Oh crap.” You know. (laughs) So we booked ourselves into rag for a couple of weeks and kicked it live, so to speak.


Although after I’d smoked too many fags of course and I couldn’t sing a note so I had to do all the vocals after Christmas. And then, as usual, if I give myself a chance to be anal about the vocals I will take every available opportunity to go on and on until I’m fucked. So I did.


IN: And here you are at Haldern again. What can we look forward to tonight. No repeat of the full orchestra this time I suppose.


NH: No. The full orchestra was a brilliant abhorration. We’ve done it every now and again over the years but it’s just ridiculously complicated. You build yourself up and say, I’m gonna do it I’m gonna do it. You get it together. You work your arse off trying to get it to work but it’s not like setting up an orchestra in a classical venue, which is all acoustic. You have to try and make it sound good through the PA and it’s almost a practical impossibility.


And with Haldern and with a few of the other shows we did in Europe that year, they were hired in. They were just local orchestras and we rehearsed for only one day before each one and it was pretty nightmarish. Although they were all great shows and I remember Haldern as being, the best, but I just couldn’t possibly get up the motivation to repeat it. (laughs)


But also, it kind of diminishes the first one if you do it again, in a hurry. So with this record, because it was more of a traditional, kind of, well slightly traditional band feel as opposed to Absent Friends which was more lush and orchestral I thought better, really, to get a solid band together and to get really good. And I have and we are really good, but we’ve still got a cello and a few other things so it’s not all rock and roll. But it’s alright.



It was better than alright. They were bloody marvelous.


Interview: Damian Leslie