Nine Songs: Lawrence
If fame was measured in musical influence, rather than record sales, Lawrence would be a household name.
Lawrence, who like fellow pop auteurs Madonna and Prince is sans surname, was the architect of Felt, who wrote some of the '80s most influential songs, with the likes of 'Primitive Painters' and ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow' having an indelible influence on future generations of guitar bands. Having fulfilled their manifesto of ten albums and singles, he disbanded Felt to create Denim, before entering the third stage of his career with Go-Kart Mozart.
Lawrence is an artist ahead of his time rather than behind it. As we sit in his flat in East London he explains the songs he’s chosen are a mix of those he was listening to whilst making his latest record, Mozart’s Mini-Mart and “some that have been hanging around, so these are nine songs I’m listening to at the moment.” His choices - which range from J-Pop to ‘70s TV adverts - have been discovered without the help of the internet. “Me not wanting to use the internet started because there were too many wires involved, all of my friends’ houses are just wires everywhere and I can’t bear it. So I don’t download, I haven’t got the facility to and I just don’t want to. I want to invest in the things I love and the industry I love, I don’t want it to collapse.” Instead he discovers music from print magazines, record fairs and word of mouth.
Yet for all of his unique ways of consuming music, one thing Lawrence isn’t is nostalgic, above all he's still a consummate music fan. He plays most of his choices on vinyl as he talks through them and the last thing he asks me is if there’s any bands he should look out for. The songs here are a story of continual musical discovery. He hints he’ll return to guitar music at some point, but for now, like the songs he’s listening to now, Lawrence is in search of the perfect pop song, a song that mixes the hidden gems of the past with the music of the future.
"On the inside of Mozart’s Mini-Mart there’s a collage I made of ephemera to do with the period of making the album. It has the phrase ‘Counter-culture is back’ written on it, because it’s all to do with shopping in a Mini-Mart and I love counter-culture and the underground. On the back there’s the books I was reading, things I watched and the music I was listening to that pertain to the making of it and Nadia Oh is on there.
“‘Amsterdam’ is glossy, futuristic pop; that’s what I’m looking for, pop that sounds like the future and this is a perfect example. I call it ‘modern machines’, it’s a laptop-based vocal track and very synthetic, its high-pitched music, it’s really up there. I don’t know what it would sound like in a club, there might be some sub-bass but I don’t think so, it’s not about bass with these tracks - some of them don’t even have bass, or the bass is just an odd note here and there. That made me rethink things; that you don’t have to have bass on everything, conventional basslines are disappearing from new pop, which is really interesting.
“This didn’t influence the songs on the album or make me write in a different way, but it did inspire me to carry on doing crazy things. I like it because it corresponds to what I’m doing, it’s a kindred spirit, like ‘Gosh, there’s someone out there doing something even more far-out than I am.’
"I kind of feel lonely musically, there’s nobody like Go-Kart Mozart, I can’t think of any bands that are similar. You mix a song and think ‘Is anyone going to like this?’ because it’s so far out and sometimes you feel uncomfortable, it’s not like ‘People will like this because it’s similar to The Stones’ or something. You feel like you’re on a plateau on your own and there’s no kindred spirts around, but when I hear something like ‘Amsterdam’ it spurs me on.”
"I’m really bored with the guitar format. Unless someone does something unique and different with it - and I might try and do that in the future - the white boy, guitar-playing four piece is over, I was sick of it years ago. I don’t think there’s been anyone futuristic in a guitar sense since Television, they were the masters, you’d hope people would’ve been inspired by them and created their own guitar bands but they fell well below Television’s mountain peak. You don’t have to be as good as them, but you can be inventive and unique.
"In the ‘80s there were a few good guitar bands but when the ‘90s started that format died and I was looking for something different if I was going to carry on. That’s where these ideas come from, to try and find something modern. I’m not being retrogressive at all, obviously I love old music, but you can put old and new music together and you should arrive at the present, that’s the idea, but being retrogressive is so boring and that’s what guitar bands are now.
"So I love the idea and ethos of PC Music, there’s a mystery there. I think popstars and musicians should be mysterious, you shouldn’t know everything about them. PC Music are doing that kind of pop mystery but wanting to be famous at the same time.
“’Lemonade’ sounds like the future of pop, the way we should be going. It’s of its time but it’s also very futuristic and much more exciting and interesting than the modern production records in the charts - which I don’t have a problem with at all - but these songs have more depth and vision. It’s hard to think of producing a record in a different way but suddenly you hear something like this and it’s ‘Wow, its pop, but it’s a brand new idea.’ It’s of its time but it’s not the sort of thing that will date like a lot of early ‘80s synthetic stuff. I think ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Amsterdam’ will always sound futuristic, they’re just great pop.”
“Perfume are a three-piece from Japan who sing other people’s songs, a pop group like we have in England. They’ve made a lot of records and they’re not all of the same quality but I think what’s good about this song, ‘Natural ni Koishite’, is the producer Yasutaka Nakata, he’s amazing. He’s probably the best producer in the world at the moment, he’s created this whole new pop sound - what he’s making is pop, but it’s brand new pop. PC Music love Yasutaka Nakata as well, they’re very influenced by him.
“When Perfume worked with Yasutaka Nakata on this song it all came together. It’s the production, the sounds and the instruments. I’m sure they’re all apps but they’ve mixed them with old-fashioned synths so you get a mixture of the old and the new. It doesn’t sound retro like a lot of synth bands who rely on Moogs do, where it’s very much like a pastiche of an old style. This guy might be using the same old-fashioned equipment but when he mixes it with modern equipment it doesn’t sound retrogressive at all and that’s what I like. I’m looking for the future, not the past.”
“Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was the first modern pop star I found that made me think ‘God there’s something brilliant going on in the world and it’s in Japan.’ She’s a massive superstar in Japan, an online sensation, and she probably will be here too.
“The first time I saw her it was a visual thing, there was a picture of her in a magazine and I liked the way she looked, she was really kooky, unusual and interesting. I read the feature and then I bought the CD, but I had to get someone to order it for me online because I couldn’t find it in the UK. I tried to gather as much information as possible, but because I’m not online I find things ad-hoc. I know you could say ‘Why don’t you just go online and find out about a band?’ but I like it this way.
“When I went to Japan I bought lots of her stuff, it was fantastic. There was a fan camped outside the hotel and I asked him to take me to Tower Records and show me the Pamyu Pamyu stuff. I bought some more CDs and they’re all amazing, she’s also produced by Yasutaka Nakata, who did the Perfume track.
“Not only is the music good, but the video for this is probably the best video I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen anything like it; it looks like it cost a million pounds. When we made our video the first thing I said to the Director was ‘watch this.’ We did a great video, it’s nothing like hers but that’s what I want to do, to have a video to go with our album that people will love when they see a visual representation of the band, but it’s not necessarily the band, it’s just a film to go with the song. I got that idea from her, doing something high end that looks very expensive.”
“Those are the songs that blew my mind whilst I was making the record and this is stuff I’ve been playing lately. This is from my favourite album of last year, Excellent Musician. I love the artwork, he’s a wax-work with people doing selfies with him; it’s such a modern sleeve isn’t it? It’s going to date so much but it’ll be great in ten years’ time, you’ll go ‘remember when everyone had that thing on a stick?’
“The music is amazing and the song has such a great story, it’s about a holiday that goes wrong, “I took a holiday in Spain by the sea / it was so hot it nearly killed me / the food was good, squid calamari.” I love that, the idea of this guy eating really nice food, he’s not saying ‘fish and chips’, it’s ‘squid calamari.'
“I knew his last band Let’s Wrestle, they were kind of a guitar band but he decided to put the guitar down and learn keyboards. It was a new way of writing, so it sounds different. I knew him and what usually happens then is you don’t see people as an artist anymore but this is totally different and it’s very unusual when that happens, that you can still love their music. He’s very modern, I can’t place the music; it sounds like today, its modern pop - the production, his voice and the lyrics about living in the moment. It doesn’t sound like the past for sure.
“The lyrics are very good and I’m struggling to find good lyric writers. I know they’re out there, I do still look but I’m not finding as many as I used when I was a fan growing up. I’m a lyric man, I’m all about the words, even if it’s one line repeated over, if it’s a good line it doesn’t have to be wordy. Euan’s a real guy, he’s his friend and it’s lovely that he put him in a song. ‘It was all going wrong, but then I spoke to Euan.’”
“Jim Dale from the Carry On films wrote this, someone else covered it and had a hit with it, but this is his version and I finally found a copy of it on vinyl at a record fair a few weeks ago. He was a songwriter as well as a comedian, he wrote ‘Georgy Girl’ and he had some hits, but other people had bigger hits with his songs. I discovered this from the version by the artist who had a hit with it, which was Des O'Connor believe it or not, when I bought a record of his that had an amazing cover of ‘Dick-A-Dum-Dum’.
“I knew Des O’Connor’s version first but when I heard about this record Meet Jim Dale I always wanted it. It was always really hard to find on vinyl, I had it on CD, because él Records re-released it years ago, but when I found it at a record fair I couldn’t believe it, I was so chuffed, because I don’t want a CD of it.
“‘Dick-A-Dum-Dum’ is all about London in the ‘60s and I’m a big fan of songs about London in general, I’m mad on them, punk songs about London, any songs about London. I try and write my own London songs as well. I would die to write a song that’s as catchy as this.”
“I can’t believe I got this on vinyl, it’s so rare and Well At Least Its British is such a classic album, every track on it is good. Alan Klein was a songwriter and I identified with him because he was a guy who was ‘I can’t stand this blues revival and American blues, what’s wrong with music-hall songs?’ He was in that music-hall tradition but he was a teenager, a pop kid and that’s why he called this album Well At Least It's British, because he was sick of twelve-bar blues, which I abhor, I can’t bear it. I much prefer the tradition of music-hall into pop, not blues into pop.
“The production of this is really corny but it’s also really good and the chorus-line is amazing. It kind of relates to the Mini-Mozart album, we’ve got a song called ‘Chromium-Plated, We’re So Elated’ which is set in the Old Kent Road, about a robbery gone wrong. It’s in the tradition of this kind of song, going all the way back to music-hall and trying to write a modern version of those songs.
“Somebody told me about Alan Klein because they thought Damon Albarn saw the sleeve of this and apparently it was an inspiration for Modern Life is Rubbish. I don’t know if that’s true and it’s got nothing to do with why I like it. When they were describing the cover, with all the rubbish on it I just thought it sounded interesting.
“I found out that Alan Klein wrote for Joe Brown and he’s a very interesting character, even in the ‘70s when he had a pub-rock band. I’ve always had a thing for his hair, it was like Bowie's; I nearly wrote a song called ‘Joe Brown’s Hair. I’ve written it down loads as a potential song title. So when I found out Alan Klein wrote songs for him I thought ‘Oh this is good, this is all connecting.’”
"This from 1974 and it’s amazing, I’d read about it for years and I finally found a 7” of it recently. It was written for a TV advert, I think it was for Rowntree’s Pastilles.
“It’s absolute, ultimate pop and when I was growing up people were dismissive of pop, as if it was too easy to write and progressive songs were better because they were longer. I remember when I was small there was a lot of abuse hurled at ‘Grandad’ by Clive Dunn and I disputed that at the time, saying ‘I like ‘Grandad!’ It went to number one and was written by Herbie Flowers, who was an amazing bass player, he played on ‘Walk on the Wild Side.’
“As I became immersed in trying to write pop songs I realised the ones that sound the simplest are the hardest to write. They can sound frivolous or throwaway but they're much harder to write than a prog opus or a ten minute synth jam.
“This was written by a guy called John Carter, who I love and respect so much. There’s a couple of his compilations on RPM Records and that’s how I got into him. He wrote lots of things I’d heard growing up and he did lots of records under pseudonyms and that’s another thing I like about him. I love people who do pseudonym bands and The Tots were one of his fake bands. If you Google him you’ll go ‘I know that band and I know that band...’ He wrote lots of hits under different names, he was in lots of bands, he was a big session guy and an amazing songwriter who wrote hundreds of hits, he’s all over the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.”
“This another one I got on 7” recently and it’s such a great track. It’s by Bay City Rollers from 1971, before Les McKeown joined. It was their first hit and then they had a dull period where nothing happened for a couple of years and then they came back. I don’t really know who the Bay City Rollers are on this song, I don’t think it’s the Bay City Rollers that we know, there might be a couple of them on here. Jonathan King had the name and he formed the band.
“The reason I love this is because of the drums, it’s a session drummer but I love the drum rolls on this song, I’d love to know who it is, he’s such a great drummer. This drum sound is from 1971 and it’s still pretty amazing, sometimes I like a record because of a bass player or a drummer.
“I knew this song growing up but I didn’t take any notice of it or get into it until very recently, it’s one of the latest things I’ve bought. I saw it second-hand and it was very cheap but I bought it because it was on Bell Records, I collect Bell and I thought ‘Oh, let’s hear their early one, I know the song, but I can’t remember what it sounds like’. When I put it on I was just consumed by the drummer.
“It’s another one of those simple songs that are so hard to write, a lot of them sound banal, but not to me. So in these songs I’ve chosen there’s no Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, nothing like that!”