Ghost of Electricity: In Conversation with James Grant--Part 1
January 16, 2004


The following interview took place at Secret Music Recording Studios on the afternoon after the gig at The Arches in Glasgow on January 16th 2004, in a large, high-ceiling leather sofa'd area, complete with grand piano and huge sun-streaming windows. No airs, no graces; we just plonked down, took a load off and hit record.

GF: I was just shopping in Sauchiehall Street and thought of you, there was a guy playing bagpipes outside Boots, and he was giving it some real stick, then all of a sudden he burst into a rousing rendition of The Flintstones theme music...hilarious.
JG: Aye, I'm not really against them in principle but there's so much more to celtic music and the instruments....

GF: Try telling Mike Oldfield that.
JG: Mike Oldfield?

GF: Er yeah, grew up on his stuff, and I still buy it, except he ruins it by chucking bagpipes all over some of it.
JG: What do you prefer, his old stuff, Tubular Bells, etc?

GF: Yeah, that was the first real thing I learned to play along to on piano and guitars. I prefer his old stuff more than the newer stuff; I'm getting old.
JG: Cool, like Ommadawn? I really like that one, I had a mate years ago who was really into him in a big way, got me listening to him and I really liked his early stuff.

GF: Yeah it's weird because I really like the instrumental version of Little Death, very Olfieldy with the Dobro and Acoustic guitars etc.
JG: Aye, I suppose.

GF: So tell me, do you keep a track of that internet Strange Kind of Love list thing, as that is where a lot of the questions have come from, y'know, questions the fans ask each other but would actually like to ask you personally...like me this afternoon?
JG: Occasionally, I don't keep a track of it, you know what I mean; it's not that interesting for me.

GF: It's all predominantly Love And Money stuff
JG: Aye Strange Kind of Love, and that's fine, you know. It's like last night, I was saying, "I can't live in the past;" it just doesn't make any sense.

GF: I know, because I made the mistake of erm, well, to cut a long story short, I found about about Love And Money working for David Bates as a temp at Phonogram.
JG: Right.

GF: In '89, a long time back, I remember talking to his secretary and saying "I really like Steely Dan," and she said "If you like them, you've got to meet David Bates," and I think at the time, he was Gary Katz's manager for the UK?
JG: He was, he was kind of managing Gary in the UK.

GF: He came running out of the office, and said "You like Steely Dan?" I'm like a lowly temp and this guy, he's quite famous as such, so I say "Yeah," and he said "If you like Steely Dan, you've got to meet Gary Katz!," me thinking "Yeah right," and he says, "No, no, he's over next Tuesday but before you meet him, get a load of this!" And he gave me the Strange Kind of Love album which I think had either just come out or had been out for a while. So I listened to it and at the time, because I was so into Steely Dan, it was like a world apart, it didn't grab me because it was so radically different than Steely Dan, the LA-type American thing, and he says, "Well there's Jeff Porcaro from Toto, and a few other folks on it; give it a listen."
JG: It's not really like Steely Dan as such, I mean I do like Steely Dan, aye, yeah and Donald Fagen actually played on.....

GF: That was one of the questions I was going to ask you, as it's mentioned in the liner notes; "Thanks to Donald Fagen."
JG: We didn't want it listed because we felt that people would ask us more about that than the music, so, it was "no," and you know, you have arguments about these things as well. People are like, "But that would be amazing; you could put stickers on the front." That's not what it's about.

GF: They did that with Rosie Vela's album a couple of years before that.
JG: Nah, it's just not about that; I didn't want that to happen.

GF: It was like "Reuniting Steely Dan," and you're thinking "Poor girl, she's written all that music and has all that talent and they only sell it because of the Dan involvement."
JG: Well yeah, she was really pally with Donald Fagen as well, as so I gathered.

GF: Probable.
JG: Donald's a strange person, very odd. Some people have a presence that sort of fills the room; he's the antitheses. He's almost invisible; he could be in a room and you wouldn't notice him.

GF: I get the impression he'd be in a room and you'd be whispering "Oh my God, it's Donald Fagan, don't say anything."
JG: Aye, he's very sort of hunched shoulders.

GF: Is he?
JG: Aye, yeah, he is sort of a strange wee guy.

GF: Unassuming type...
JG: Yeah but he was an incredible musician. I mean, there was one thing we were struggling with--obviously we took a long time over everything--and we said, "You could you do this or whatever." Without asking for the chords, which were really complex, he just went up, started playing and was saying "That sort of thing?" We were like, "That's amazing," but it wasn't us. I mean it was brilliant, but it wasn't us.

GF: Not appropriate for the album?
JG: We used a wee bit of clavinet thing he did.

GF: What did he play on?
JG: "Halleluiah Man."

GF: Oh right.
JG: But you'd barely notice it.

GF: Is it on the album?
JG: Yeah....

GF: Is it the...

(GF: sings the bit he thinks DF plays)

JG: Aye, just at the end. It was my birthday, and Bobby and Paul and I were out in NYC. Bobby was like "I wasn't gonna tell you," because there was a lot of pressure on and I had a lot on my mind and he said, "Gary's trying to get me and you to play on the new Donald Fagen thing."

GF: The "Rock And Soul Review" thing? [A series of US tours that led to the reformation of Steely Dan--Ed. Note.]
JG: No it was a movie thing and I was like, "Great, it'll be a gas," but we didn't. To me, a lot of the records [he produced] sound, well, [as if] he wrote out the guitar parts for this guy and it's just so rigid, [like] he wrote everything. Y'know, why not just say to the guy, who could obviously play like fuck, "Here's the kind of thing I'm looking for," and let him do his thing a wee bit, because you know those old Steely Dan records--you felt that guys were getting a run at it. But [it was like that for] everything, he made every...he made the percussionist do every hit, and every conga and every timbale--it was written down in advance.

GF: Gary Katz got everything laid down so well with Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd and he literally had people like Bernard Purdie come into the studio to do something like the Aja album and at night time they'd sneak back in, I mean Bernard Purdie is an absolutely awesome drummer and he refused to tune his snare or toms, so Elliott Scheiner or Wayne Yurgelun would record his drums within an inch of his life and at night time Donald & Walter would come back in the studio and tweak the drums and tune them and they'd sample loads of different snares, etc.
JG: Yeah they're very, very obsessive, aye strange because I felt Steely Dan records do have an air of play y'know? They breathe a lot more. I think Donald's own records have really suffered from being really rigid, that's just my personal view obviously, but I'm sure he does very well, aye, strange guy, I liked him, he was alright with us, y'know what I mea? It's weird--you become infected with that kind of fastidiousness, making music, and I don't think it's that healthy.

GF: I agree, I was talking to Bobby in his restaurant last year; he sat down with me for a good hour or so and he was talking about the Strange Kind of Love album and he said that you had to go back there on your own to do all the vocals? And that Gary had you nailing stuff down absolutely perfectly and it kind of ruined the edge of the whole Strange Kind of Love sessions, because you were spending so much time getting everything right that it put a bad vibe on it
JG: That kind of destroyed my self-esteem.

GF: That's exactly what Bobby said. Gary Katz has a reputation as being a really thorough recorder, is it true?
JG: Yeah it was really, really hard, but I've kept pleasant memories of it, although I've never felt more confident in my voice than now and I think I'm a better singer now than I was then.

GF: So Gary was the recording perfectionist that we're all led to believe he was? Fussy?
JG: Yeah he was. One day, I sang a few takes and Bobby was like, "You're sounding great, and I'm like "I feel good today." And then Gary comes in and it was, "Tsk, tsk.... Not your day today, is it James?" And I'm like "oh...ok."

GF: Was him justifying his wage, like "I'm Gary flippin' Katz?"
JG: Gary's a good guy, and he's got his own way of doing things. I think when you're working with a producer, there's got a be a "look how do you want to do this, that's what I'm here for"-type thing, and he's an affable character. He's one of these guys with great stories, he's fun to be with.

GF: He must have a plethora of anecdotes.
JG: Doing guitars was great; he'd keep you at it, but that was fine--that wasn't a problem for me. We'd sit and play guitar for four hours. It's different, you know; you'd do solos, you'd pick bits you like and that's not a problem.

GF: Are you still in touch with him?
JG: I haven't seen Gary; he came over to Glasgow and Bobby put him up and to be honest with you there was a whole list of people wanting to hang out with him, Craig Armstrong and all that, and all the Blue Nile guys were wanting to ask him questions. Don't get me wrong, I get on fine with Craig and the guys, but everybody was there, it was just a shmooze and I was like "I'll leave you to it, it's just not my bag."

GF: Yeah it'd be like me coming up here and there are 15 journalists lying around and I'm thinking "This is not what I came for."
JG: Aye but it was nice to catch up with him again, I'd heard things weren't going too good for him, I know he started a record company and got really into the hip-hop stuff.

GF: Gary Katz? Hip Hop? Strange! I mean that's the total opposite to a live session band etc
JG: Yeah, oh, and he hated sampling, which would be a set back .

GF: Yeah, talking of sampling, on the Karen Matheson album Time to Fall, there's a track that has a cool little sample near the end and the same on I Shot The Albatross where you've got a lot of samples going on.
JG: Karen's stuff or the stuff I wrote, the majority of stuff on that, the samples would have been created . For my record, I used a good few samples, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Dorsey, it's just records I really like, good grooves, and I think part of sampling, part of the art of it is who you use. Like name dropping, like its gotta be cool or really cheesy--I mean the Gary Numan thing [A mashup with "Are Friends Electric?"--Ed. Note] the Sugababes did, I thought it was brilliant.

GF: Clever stuff
JG: Aye, It was really smart.

GF: Simple but effective.
JG: Aye! Because when you heard it, it was like, 'Yeah, fuck, that's fuckin' great."

GF: Yeah and it was quite an edgy song.
JG: Aye but Gary hated sampling. I think he heard the De La Soul thing--the sample of Steely Dan's "Peg," just the intro bits. It was a really good record and he was appalled.

GF: Yeah someone also did the intro to "Black Cow."
JG: Aye

GF: Have you been sampled?
JG: Erm, I really don't know. There was talk of doing House versions of Strange Kind of Love because it was four on the floor. I wish we'd been a wee bit more mellow about it, but we were just so into controlling our own vibe at the time. Probably made the right decision at the time. There were a couple guys wanted to remix it that were playing it at clubs and stuff like that--this is well after it came out, but we said no. I would have liked, on reflection, to have heard something because it might well be cool, but you're always a wee bit "that's ours."

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