Bill Ryder-Jones, a founder of The Coral, has been carving out a dual career as a solo artist and producer this last decade. His latest record, Yawn, again released on Domino, is a beautifully languid work that showcases his ear for melody. While on a trip to Resident for an in-store signing and session, he took some time out to chat with Jeff Hemmings, about the new album, his deep and on-going relationship with Domino, The Coral, and his production work.
Yawn sounds like a bit of a departure for you.
The first record was an orchestral record, really. The second album had mainly piano on it, and lots of drum brushes. The one after that had a bit more electric guitar, and this one has gone a bit further, a slower, swampier tempo, less acoustic sounding. All of these songs could have been done in any way, but they are still very similar songs, structurally. I certainly added more atmospherics on this record. Everything else has been bone dry, predominantly quite brittle. This one is more expansive, although the first song on the album is just electric guitar, and brushes on a drum. It’s not like a Radiohead, do you know what I mean!?
Tell me about the song ‘Mither’, what does that mean?
It’s a northern word for ‘bother’. It’s when someone is pestering you, or troubling you. I think it’s a Lancashire, Greater Manchester word. My mother is from Manchester way, and I picked it up off her. It’s quite a charming word. I used to hear her say it to animals everywhere – she always had animals in the house – and I was writing a song about someone who had the loss of someone constantly on their mind. I thought it was a nice way of saying it, like to a ghost: ‘Not tonight’. Just give me the night off, type of thing.
So, that song is not about your mother, which is originally what I thought?
None of the songs are about one thing. This record was a conscious decision to have collections. There’s always one central message that I’m getting at, but none of it is verbatim. It still is a bit about my mum. She is the one I used to hear saying, “not today Daniel”, about my brother, after he passed away. That probably stuck. But it’s not necessarily about my mother, even though she is always there.
Is she still around?
Yeah, she is still alive and kicking. All she does is smoke, drink, and eat cheese. Actually, she’s a vegan now, so just bread!
There’s much less lyrical directness on this album, it seems.
When I didn’t know what album I was going to make, and I’d become bored of being so candid, and so direct, which is what the last record was… I always start writing melodies, and I wanted to write things that weren’t instantly recognisable, or catchy. What great writers do, like U2, is write melodies that are already there, and make them feel universal. I was conscious that I wouldn’t write things that wouldn’t be straight away in your head. And as a result I figured I would do the same with the lyrics. I didn’t want it to be a narrative, just preaching my shit. There’s one song that is just a story, but the rest of them are collections of things, the aim is that they would be tied together by just my voice.
‘And Then There’s You’ is a favourite of mine. What is that about?
You kinda defeat the point when you talk about them too much. It’s just a collection of nice lines, rather than a message or anything like that. I just like the reference of the Michael Head & The Strands song, and how helpful I found it in my life, and that’s called ‘Something Like You’.
It does however suggest to me a searching for something, and then momentarily finding it – ‘and then there’s you’.
That’s the point of not being too direct. There’s hints. You’ve pretty much nailed it really. But most of the songs are about just the struggle of this, and how you cope with it, and some of the songs are about the way I cope, which aren’t great. ‘And Then There’s You’ is meant to be nice, but then there’s a chorus, which is a little more pessimistic. But again, that is what I wanted.
Why did you call the album Yawn?
Couple of reasons. I always liked the word. It’s a bit of a joke. There’s much more intended humour in the album than anyone has mentioned. Maybe I’m not as funny as I think I am, or not as good a writer as I think I am.
Who is that on the cover?
That’s our Daniel, I’m just there in the background. People must be getting bored of a 35-year-old, middle class guy talking about his problems. And if they are not, why not!
I keep telling myself to stop complaining!
What are you going to do about it!? Unfortunately there’s loads of them, and they rule the world.
You recently produced Our Girl’s debut album. In your own studio?
Not in my place. We had them do some demo’ing up at my place. I think they were quite keen to do it there, but the studio is nowhere near good enough. We did it in Eve studios in Stockport, an amazing studio. I take no credit for it. There are some albums I work on where I have to do a lot, and I know what my value is. But with the Our Girl record, and I’m not being overly modest, I didn’t have to do anything. They just sound like that.
Soph (Our Girl’s singer and guitarist) told me differently…
Well, she is very kind.
She was expecting a replication of their live sound. She said you were keen to add more texture, more guitars.
We did do that. But in my mind it’s super obvious that you would do that.
She really likes it!
I was probably drinking too much when I was making that record. I’m not sure how much I remember. But, with a lot of groups, it’s man-management as much as anything. Making sure the atmosphere is right, and no one gets overly stressed. Usually there’s one member who gets worked up about their parts. It’s about grabbing them quietly, and saying “We’ve got it. We’re good for time”. I just played the guitar with a screwdriver for a bit. This is fucking brilliant!
Production is a big part of your life nowadays.
The first record I ever produced was in 2009, but only because I had some equipment, and out of my friends, I was the only one who half knew anything about it. I did that, and then I got the Saint Saviour record (Union) off the back of that. And then somehow I did The Wytches record, Annabel Dream Reader. Again, that was another record I did very little on. I was there to help calm everyone down. After that, people started talking about me as if I was a producer. I produce my own records. It’s not the same, but it has picked up, and become a job. It’s weird; there was a point when I was just a musician who had put out two records, and I have no idea how I filled the time in-between. Now, it’s a tricky thing to find the time. Now I’m working like a proper human.
I took over the studio in the village where I’m from. It’s great having your own place. I’m starting to get some really good results there. My record was done there. The studio is called Yawn. A bit of free press! No one is talking about it as much as I had hoped! I’m sure the offers will start flooding in now!
You’ve had some success over the years, starting with The Coral…
Not that successful!
In the big scheme of things, they did alright!?
We were shitkickers, and lunatics. Bonkers. All of us. Like the League of Gentlemen characters. Like in one of these nothing villages (most of The Coral are from Hoylake). I’m from West Kirby. Most of them live there as well now. It’s a bit nicer. All around the Wirral, it’s known as the one-eyed city.
Why is that?
‘Cause they reckon we’re all inbred.
That’s not very nice, is it?
It’s not unfair, though! There’s a lot of cross-pollination going on.
But it was a good group, we had a good time. The music landscape was really different then. Everything was really bland, and we came off the back of the end of the really poor Britpop records, that were really overblown, and stagnant.
Did you leave The Coral?
Yes, twice. I escaped once, and then left left. The first time I left I was given ‘leave’ to sort my head out. I was away for a year, and then I was called back and stayed for another album, and two tours. I shouldn’t have gone back in the first place. I had always thought I should have gone to university, so I did that. But, I couldn’t cut it. I couldn’t cope with the work load. I couldn’t believe how aggressive it was. Just about when I was about to bail on that I got a phone call from Lawrence (Bell) at Domino, out of the blue. Someone had told him that I wanted to make film scores. He phoned me up and I said “Of course I do, but like every one else. Isn’t that the business to be in?” He said, “Someone showed me songs, do you want to come for a meeting?” Which I did. He offered me a publishing deal. I was very unwell at the time, so it took a long time to convince me to step back into music. I literally had no money, I was down to my last £70, and I was prepared to move out of my flat and all the rest of it. It was very fortunate that he popped up when he did, because at that point I couldn’t get hold of my management, and my record label and bandmates weren’t speaking to me. What the fuck do I do?
He’s quite a fellow. I’ve heard him do many good things over the years.
Other than my parents and a couple of ex-partners, I can’t place anyone who has had more of an impact. When he phoned me it was six months before I finally got the dissociative order diagnosis I had, and I was in an episode when he contacted me and I remember I was really beating myself up on the phone. “Calm down, we’re not going to send you on tour. We just want to make a record”. The things he’s done for me I wouldn’t really talk about in these situations, but there’s many times when he has gone way above and beyond. You’ll get that from other people. He’s very loving, and he absolutely loves music. His label could have folded three times in the 90s. He wasn’t into Britpop, and loads of people were making money off that crap, and he was releasing American groups that would end up being the identity of his label. And then Franz Ferdinand signed. They said they knew Domino through Pavement and Sebadoh. And then the (Arctic) Monkeys signed through Franz Ferdinand. It’s great how it feedbacks into itself. If you stick at what you believe in long enough… And they’ve stuck with him. Shows you what kind of man Lawrence is.
Everything cool with you now then?
Very happy now. It’s been up and down but it just always is, I think. I’m actually working with an artist from Brighton, County Line Runner. I’ve pumped all my money into the studio, so I need to fill up all my spare time with producing to make sure I don’t fuck everything up, and I end up at my mum’s.
You like Brighton?
We always seemed to have a day off when we played Brighton. I remember we were here when the pier burnt down, when I was playing with The Coral. We had this hotel room with this massive window, getting stoned watching it. We used to stock up on clothes and take it back up north. There are record shops and guitar shops here, one thing we don’t have very much of back home. And I just seem to work with a lot of people down here.
What do you tell them, about making a career of it in this day and age?
If I’m working with younger artists I always make sure not to just do the job. I always try and have a chat with them about what it’s like. The first thing I say, for most of us there isn’t a great deal of money. Even though I’ve made four records, and got a great label behind me, I don’t own a house. I’ve got a bit of equipment, but I’m not flush. I’m always just three months away from having no money in the account. The message is simple. You can’t have the need to do anything else. I don’t desire to have a career, I just like making music.