“There’s a little bit of me in every song,” states Wedding Present main man David Gedge. Since the striking heartbreak of “My Favourite Dress” on the Weddoes’, as their fans affectionately refer to them, 1987 debut LP George Best, Gedge has never held back from baring his heart, consistently capturing love’s intensity, unrequited love and infidelity. It’s what led John Peel to declare: “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!”
Their eighth studio album, Valentina is a continuation of this theme, opening with an exploration of a girlfriend’s infidelity in “You’re Dead.” Despite the lineup changes through the years, rendering each album slightly different from the last (Valentina‘s louder, more frenzied, guitars compared to previous album El Rey‘s pop vibe), the chatty delivery and honest lyrics of their one constant member Gedge remain the band’s driving force. Valentina further cements his reputation as the indie rock king of the bittersweet love song and as one of the most consistent songwriters.
eMusic’s Elisa Bray talks with David Gedge about embarrassingly honest songwriting, lineup changes and seedy hotels.
Your album titles are typically obscure (Bizarro, El Rey). What inspired Valentina?
It’s basically the title of a weird Italian comic book from the 1960s. There’s a comic book writer called Guido Crepax, and Valentina is a superhero-like character, then it goes all weird and erotic and surreal. I’ve got a little tradition for LPs over the years for plucking words from pop culture without any reference to the album, so it continues in that tradition. It’s quite odd because the lyrics and the titles of the songs are very specific and it’s all very obvious, but the album titles are always more abstract.
You’re a prolific songwriter, so four years since your last album is quite a gap. Why the delay?
Yeah, it’s a long time. I think mainly it was because we had a couple of lineup changes, and quite fundamental ones, really. It’s a different group that recorded El Rey to Valentina and I think there was a certain feeling within the band that they were going to be compared to that album.
How do you find the lineup changes?
It’s a tricky question to answer, because obviously when you’re in a band with people it’s a fairly intimate relationship. You’re on top of each other all the time, and so when somebody leaves it’s always a destruction. It’s a bit stressful.
But then to counter that, you’ve got this thing that happens every time — when someone comes into the group they’ve got this whole new set of ideas and inspirations and it does feel like a little renaissance every time. You’ve got all this excitement because you’re almost starting again and everyone’s enthusiastic and wanting to get into the studio. So, from my point of view, it sounds a bit heartless, but they’re actually good for the group because musically it moves us on and makes us stronger. I think all of the records have been different because of that.
What did you set out to do to move on from El Rey?
We felt that El Rey was more of a pop record. Which was a bit odd, really, because it was actually recorded by Steve Albini, who’s not known for making pop records. But we wanted to move away from that a little bit, so I think as a result Valentina became rockier; there’s louder guitars on there, it’s a bit more aggressive sounding.
You’ve always written autobiographically.
Some of the songs are completely autobiographical to the point of embarrassment [laughs]. With George Best, at that time every song that I wrote was about growing up. It’s kind of the greatest hits of my life and then, having got that LP out of the way, I was looking to develop the style and expand it and got less autobiographical. That process continued until Take Fountain came out (the LP before El Rey) when I went through a bit of a life change because I split up with my girlfriend of a long time and then moved to America for a couple of years so that was again very personal because I was living the songs as I was writing them. They are very intimate. It’s almost like looking at your diary, listening to those records now and thinking, “Oh God, I remember that exact situation.” It can be quite excruciating. There’s a little bit of me in every song.
Where is your ideal place for songwriting?
What I tend to do now is lock myself away in a seedy hotel somewhere, because I realize I can’t do it if there’s any distractions. I’m always really envious of these bands you hear who have written their new LP on tour. Radiohead have this special van that travels around with them on tour and they all go in there and lay down ideas while waiting between the sound check and the gig. And it sounds great, but I just can’t work like that. I need isolation and no distractions.
For El Rey I went to these little hotels and just stayed there for a week and did nothing apart from write. Again, you hear these legendary tales of “Paul McCartney knocks out a song in half an hour and it goes on to be the biggest selling song of all time,” and it takes me days to get to the point where I’m actually happy with it, so I’m probably not a good person to be around at those times anyway. I find it quite hard [to] work so I disappear.
So it doesn’t have to be a luxurious five-star hotel?
[Laughing] It would be nice, but in some ways that would be more distracting. If it was a great hotel in a great city I’d probably be exploring the city and using the facilities. So no, the cheaper and the seedier, the better. It’s not what you want to hear — it’s not very glam for a rock ‘n’ roll icon!
Have any new bands caught your attention?
There’s a band which caught my attention on Twitter which I heard about because they’ve got two Gedges in the band. It’s such a weird name, Gedge, it’s quite rare obviously, so I checked them out and they were great. I was really pleased because I thought it would be a real shame if I find this band where two of them are called Gedge and they end up being rubbish. I want to get them to do a few concerts with us this year.
You’re doing a Wedding Present and Cinerama gig. Will you ever combine the two bands?
With the Wedding Present, it’s the classic rock ‘n’ roll line up, whereas with Cinerama it’s more a case of me on my own trying to put together these filmic scores and arrangements. It’s a bit crazy, but it would be good if Cinerama one day covered a Wedding Present record. Valentina, for instance, is quite a rock record; it would be good for Cinerama to take that away and arrange that into a filmic pop concept and see how that worked.