An Interview with Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds

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By Victoria Holdsworth

I can hardly believe it has been 13 years since we last heard anything new from one of Liverpool’s finest bands, The Lightning Seeds. I spent an afternoon catching up with lead singer Ian Broudie talking about past and future endeavours, while getting open and brutally honest about the new album, See You in The Stars

Ian Broudie, it’s been a long time since we last chatted. I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to deal with your phone account for your mobile provider!
Oh god yes! How are you? You know what? I’ve just got a mobile phone and it’s insanely loud. My old one, you could hardly hear it, and now I don’t know how to turn this one down [laughs]

Please don’t tell me you still have a Nokia.
I can’t believe you actually remember that! It’s good to see you have moved on from being my phone lady. Talk about synchronicity, me having issues with my new phone, and then you of all people calling me!

So the last time I saw you was at Cotton Clouds Festival back in 2018 when you headlined on the last night.
That’s the festival where they turned the electricity off on us, wasn’t it? It was so funny. When I came off stage, they were all looking at me rather sheepishly, and I said to them afterwards, “If you’ve got your headliner, then you can’t let all the other bands go late, then cut off your main act. It was not a cool look, but after saying that, the people that run the festival are really nice.

So it’s 13 years since you released your last album, what the devil have you been up to?
Well, I’ve done a few interviews and everyone has been saying different numbers. Some have said 15 years, others have said 14. However, I thought the last one was 2007, so just goes to show you [laughs] and even though it really doesn’t matter, but everyone I speak to is coming up with a different number, but it is 13 years. Either way it has been ages. I think the last time I had a record was… it was when I went through a funny time really, and I was dealing with the aftermath of a run of success, and then not as successful and I was quieter and less busy, but at the same time I had a lot of bereavements in my family alongside various other things. I think it kind of just took my focus away initially from music. When I went back to recording, I did a solo album called Tales Told, which was a very simple album, very wistful songs, and when I came to do another one, and I signed to a label, they were very insistent that it should be a Lightning Seeds album. So I tried to kind of work these songs, that weren’t Lightning Seed songs, into a Lightning Seeds sound, and I feel like it neither ended up one way or the other. Although there were moments on the album that I did like, I couldn’t really get behind it when I had finished it. It was a very anxious time for me. The whole process really just put me off, and with me being an anxious person anyway, I subconsciously moved away from it. The Lightning Seeds stuff, even though it’s me and I write it, I think it has to be a specific kind of song to be a Lightning Seeds song and have certain qualities about it, and I just felt like the songs I was writing just weren’t them.

ian broudie interview lightning seedsMy interest definitely waned a little bit, and we started playing live but I wasn’t concentrating. There were a couple of line ups that were not brilliant, and then my son Riley started playing with me, which was quite inspirational to me. It was a bit like, I wanted it to be excellent so that he could also experience that, then the band started getting really good that June and Jim the drummer, who was Riley’s friend, and his dad was our original drummer, so they had both grown up with all the songs and the band and it was a great affection. So it became better and better, and a few years ago I thought that this was the best possible line up we have ever been. Bands are fragile ecosystems really, that sometimes don’t last that long, so it was good to have so much love and respect amongst us. It was a lovely moment and I started writing a couple of tunes, and a friend of mine, who is the lead singer of The Coral, he asked me if I had any songs and were any of them finished, and I said, “No!” [laughs] so he told me I needed to finish one, and he would come up and record it.

So, eventually I went to Liverpool and we spent a couple of days in the studio, recording a song called ‘It’s Great To Be Alive’, and a lot of my thought and feelings of that time were in that song, and I really liked it when I finished it, and it felt like this is a Lightning Seeds song, with a slight difference, but it’s still definitely a Lightning Seeds song. I always want Lightning Seeds songs to be positive. Not necessarily happy, and not stupid or anything, but I think its hard to write something like that, so sometimes there is a lot of melancholy and sadness in them but they have a positive feeling, which then in turn makes me go off and do other things musically, almost like giving my music a 3D quality, and multiple layers, and it makes me feel like I’m winning when I get a song like that. When you have managed to then write a few songs like that, it starts being an abstract idea and you think, should I make an album? But it turns into something that’s much more and it got to the point where I’m thinking I’ve got these songs and now I’d really like to play them to everyone.

Well that certainly answered some of the questions I was going to ask you.
Sorry, that was a really long answer wasn’t it? [laughs] I bet I’ve answered ten questions there!

You mentioned your son Riley, who I have seen you play with. Does he still get a kick out of playing with his old dad?
[Laughs] You’d have to ask him that! I certainly get a kick out of playing with him though. He was great while I was doing the new album because he kind of cracked the whip a little bit and got me to finish it. I think we both enjoy it. I think musically, brothers or fathers or daughters just lock in a certain way that’s just not like anything else. Myself and Riley just have this real synchronicity that you can just feel, and it’s just a really great thing for me to have going on in the band.

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The new album, See You In The Stars, has some pretty amazing songs on there, one of my favourites being ‘Green Eyes’. Underneath most of those beautifully crafted indie pop sounds, there are some really emotive and hard hitting lyrics, as you explained previously, but how do you balance the juxtaposition of it and get it just right.
You know something? I’ve never really considered myself to be a lyricist. I always thought that I just wrote melodies and tunes, and just come up with words. Over the years, that dynamic has changed somewhat, and I think for this album… sometimes I feel a lack confidence, shrouding things and placing music over them, but I felt that for this album I wanted to be more open, to be more direct. I just tried this time not to cover things up, and I am talking about a lot of stuff that is quite real, with a lot of feelings about getting older and about looking backwards and forwards, and lots about regrets. I feel the album became, and maybe it was because of the pandemic, but I felt that some of the songs, like the one you mentioned, ‘Green Eyes’, it reminded me of ‘Pure’, and it made me feel like I was almost writing the ending to that song. Then I started shadowing the musicality of it, almost like an echo. I did that with a few of them, and it gave me a way to go of just referring to myself and the past me at different times.

I have always found your lyrics to be packed many great metaphors and similes, almost bordering Ted Hughes levels. Was English something that you enjoyed and excelled in at school, and who would be your literary heroes?
I didn’t really excel at anything much at school if I’m honest, except from playing football. I left school when I was 15 and I was just obsessed with music. So I consider myself going then to the school of Bob Dylan or John Lennon. I would just be listening to people like that, and just loved their sounds but never paid attention to the words so much. I remember when I was about 18 years old in bands and I would be singing a song wrong. People would ask me, why are you singing that? Those aren’t the words. I’d just be singing whatever I had thought they were saying [laughs]. I think the song that first made me cry over lyrics was ‘In My Life’. I was quite young when I heard it but I just thought that it was amazing. It amazed me into thinking, how on earth did he write that? I suppose as I have gone on further in my career, I wanted to put a lot of myself and how I feel into my music more, and especially this album? I was just hoping that it didn’t become too wordy.

You were actually more well known for being a music producer back in the day, making records with the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, The Fall, and The Specials singer Terry Hall, whom you have co written the song ‘Emily Smiles’ with, which appears on the new album. Firstly, what made you step from behind a mixing desk and put yourself right up front and centre with a band? And how easy do you find it to have a writing partner?
I think Terry is one of the greatest lyricists of our times. He’s such a great wordsmith! I only tend to write with people that I know, so it’s not that easy for me to just walk into a room with strangers and be able to write something, although I have avoided doing that, so technically I don’t really know or not, but I don’t think it is something that I could do. I’m a bit like that with musicians. I don’t tend to use session musicians, I always try and find people that I know, or who are in bands to do something if I need something on a record, or playing live. I always rather it was personal, ya know?

As for stepping out from producing… I was even a reluctant producer. I never really wanted to do it and somehow I actually ended up producing my mates, which was Echo & the Bunnymen, and that was the first thing I’d done. It was kind of unusual that they’d asked me really, because they had a major label and huge record deal, which back then was a really big deal, and I was just their mate, who had never really done much, and Ian McCulloch had such faith in me. Looking back it was incredible for Ian to be putting his career in my hands. It was such an amazing leap of faith that he took with no evidence it would be OK. I’d like to think he went on emotion and intuition. I am always very grateful to Ian for that but, it kind of led me down another path. I always felt like I was a songwriter who maybe wanted to be in a band, but because I was always in the studio producing music, I never got to get out there to find a band. It came to a certain point where I thought, if I don’t do this now, it’s never gonna happen, so you’ve got to stop and write some songs. So, I wrote a few songs and the people that I was working with were really encouraging. I believe I was working with The Fall at the time, and now when I think about it, I cringe at the thought that I played Mark E Smith some demos which, let’s face it, no one wants their producer playing them demos, but he was telling me that I really had to do this. He was so helpful and supportive.

So I ended up with these songs, with no band. I didn’t know what to do, because in those days that’s how you would get signed, because you had a band. A record company came up to Liverpool and said that they thought I was great and wanted to sign me, but I still had no clue what to do. I had met this one guy, who was a publisher. A real 60’s era, big cigar type of guy, he was a musical rogue, and I remember him cleverly saying to me, “You’re obviously more than just a producer, and you’re able to make the bands you work with sound great. If you ever get around to finishing your songs, send me them because I would love to hear them.” So I sent him three or four songs and he phoned me back and said, “I’m sitting in my garden. I’ve got a glass of white wine and the sun is shining. I’m listening to your songs, and I love them! They’re great! I love this song ‘Pure’. Let’s put it out!”

I said to him, “Don’t I need a record contract?” and he replied that he would just get a couple of hundred pressed up, and hire someone to take it to all the radio stations and see what happens. That’s kind of how it all happened really, and that moment changed my life. It was a miracle really, because ‘Pure’ just went out into the world and just kept getting re-pressed, gradually getting on radio stations throughout the world, and it just exploded from the magic of that track and gave me a platform to be a songwriter.

What’s your favourite song from the new album and your reason for it being so?
It changes all the time! Sometimes I can’t listen to some of them, I actually hate them, but then the same song again I can love. I stopped listening to the songs on the album after I kind of signed off on it, and then recently I have listened to a couple of things.. But at the minute, the one that I really like is a toss up between ‘Permanent Danger’ and ‘Emily Smiles’.

Who is your favourite artist at the moment?
That’s a very good question that, really. I have been listening to a lot of Robert Wyatt, which is quite old really. What am I listening to at the minute? I think like anyone else, that because of Spotify and Apple Music or whatever, I kind of listen to playlists of all different kind of artists, so I don’t really listen to many albums. When I was growing up, I absolutely loved The Velvet Underground, and loved Lou Reed. When they released his 1971 demos when it was just him and an acoustic guitar, playing his songs, I just still to this day, listen to it all the time. He writes such greats songs, I just love Lou Reed, and I had forgotten maybe just how much.

ian broudie interview lightning seeds albumI know we touched on Cotton Clouds earlier, and the last song of the night, when you got the plug pulled on you was of course, ‘Three Lions’. With the World Cup coming up in the winter, which is going to be a little strange, will the song be getting a re-release or any updates to it?
You know, we haven’t really updated or re-released it for about 28 years. We don’t really do that much with it. However, the fact that it is Christmas, and it will probably never be another Christmas World Cup again probably, so its kind of a one off event. Given the time of year too, and the whole pantomime that comes with the season, does make you think that maybe there is something there to be changed and to be said. It could be quite funny to do a Christmas football song. We have thought about it, and its still a maybe or maybe not. I didn’t think that I would ever do another version, but it is possible, just because of those factors and would maybe be fun to do.

Will we have to wait over another decade to hear any more material from you? What do the next 12 month look like for Ian Broudie?
Jesus, I really hope not! [laughs] I’m really looking forward to the tour. It’s ourselves and Badly Drawn Boy. I love him and it’s just gonna be lots of great nights. It’ll be great to play all the songs that everyone wants to hear, plus we get to play some new ones and maybe some that we haven’t played for a very long time… and of course there will be the World Cup. I have hopes for incoming new year, and would really like to get back out there playing festivals over the summer, and then get back to writing some more songs, and hopefully do another album fairly quickly, well maybe more insanely quickly for me! [laughs]

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