Even though you should never trust a press release, there is at least one kernel of truth hidden deep within Damon Gough’s: The musician better known as Badly Drawn Boy is indeed somewhat of an anti-pop star.
In this age of highly polished Top 40 image and production, Gough definitely doesn’t look the MTV part. Unshaven and tattered, his wardrobe typically consists of a pair of dirty jeans and a knit cap he’s donned for years. Plus, after winning the U.K.’s Mercury Award in 2000 for his debut album, Hour of Bewilderbeast, his follow-up was enigmatically a film score for a Hugh Grant vehicle, Nick Hornsby’s adapted novel About a Boy. But what is most notable is that it truly is the raw, rough-around-the-edges Gough—not some game show-produced American Idol or over-the-top Andrew W.K.—that you get whether hearing a recording or participating in a rollicking live show.
The upcoming Badly Drawn Boy album, Have You Fed the Fish? is just one more testament to the life currents driving Gough. “With all the touring and recording, I started to question how I find time to be with my family,” he says.
“Even though music has given me a lifestyle with security and financial pleasures, I started to question what songs do for me; and for anyone else really. ‘Have you fed the fish?’ was a phrase that just struck a chord in me; it made the album feel more orange, more colorful,” Gough says, explaining why he didn’t go the route of, say, Oops! I Did It Again. Ultimately, it was around that title track, a question that points to a small, everyday saying that floats around his home, that the entire album began to take its end shape. “It was then that I realized what the album was turning into. It was an album about my feelings, about home, in a way, or my normal life versus my celebrity life.”
But, for Gough, life as a musician can’t be separated from “real” life. Life is made of memories and the music now is a huge part of that memory bank. “Take, for instance, the last time I played Salt Lake City. There’s this guy, Kevin I think his name was, right in the front row for the whole gig. He was an older gentleman—not old-old, probably 30s or 40s. I gave him a harmonica and he played a solo. That was good. I recorded the show on my own Walkman and I still listen to ‘Kevin’s Harmonica Solo.’”
At that same show, he passed a picture of his newborn baby girl Edie out into the crowd, bragging as any proud parent should. He tried this again recently in Madrid with a picture of his second, Oscar, and some bugger rudely made off with it.
“I can sometimes understand the criticism I’ve come in for, in that I’ve got an unwillingness to be totally professional or present gigs in the manner other bands do. My life’s too real to go down those avenues. I just want to share the experience, really. Each night is a different group of people that have spent a little money to come and see you play, so I’m trying to do as much as I can to honor that situation. It’s difficult to give it that much importance, because a lot of people just want to see you play the songs on the record.”
And there’s that little nugget of truth, the importance he places on everything he does—be it a stage show in Salt Lake City, producing an album or feeding the fish. “I don’t expect everyone to like what I do, but what I care about is making a real product from real life. I always nostalgically think of vinyl because I’m old and old school, so I picture the way an album is going to play out on a record. I always think of the way a group of songs will play down as a listen, of what an album should do by nature of its name. A record is a document and Have You Fed the Fish? does document my time in the last 12 months—the raw feelings and emotions of it all.”