UK new wave founders Squeeze are quite popular in Canada. The band first surfaced on the Canadian charts with the song “Cool For Cats” in 1979 and had a string of hits though the 80s and early 90s.
The band hit the road to tour the United States this summer, after waiting to restart their 2019 tour.
Founding guitarist and lyricist Chris Difford Zoomed in from his tour bus to confirm Squeeze is alive and well.
You guys just kicked off your North American tour, what does it feel like to be playing during COVID-19?
Very emotional. Our first show was in Nashville, and I have to say, the audience and the band were very moved by the response, it felt very, very genuine, and I felt lifted by the audience, they kind of held us in the palm of their hand. And it was a really lovely thing. I found that everywhere that we’ve played, people have been responding like, it’s the first time they’ve been to a gig, which is nice.
The band has had its share of band members over the years. So what does the current lineup look like for this US tour?
Well, the current lineup is the strongest lineup we’ve had, and it seems to go from strength to strength. Our new bass player, Owen Biddle, who’s actually from Nashville, is a terrific bass player. It seems like some get more energy, the older that we get. And I don’t know why that is, I guess, because we’re understanding the journey a little bit more.
COVID-19 took us in various different directions. How did you spend your downtime?
Well, in that shed that you can see on my screen, I spent 18 months, probably a year and a bit in the shed. And what I did was every other week, I did a live stream show to raise money for different charities, and we raised over $60,000, from me being in that shed.
Then I started to help musicians who were out of work and had nowhere to go by running songwriting workshops online. And that brought lots of people together who never met, and it was a great joy for me to meet all these wonderful writers.
You touched on something that I wanted to ask you about with the charity aspect. You guys are not afraid to contribute to charities. What is it about charities and what charities attract you?
Well, on the last UK tour Squeeze opened its doors to the Food Banks of the UK, which is ridiculous when you think about it, that people have to go to a church or a social center to get food to feed their family. And we’re not just talking about people that aren’t around the world. We’re talking about nurses and doctors and all sorts of people. So that was something that was just refreshing to do.
Help Musicians is a charity that I specifically work for, and we just raise money and awareness for musicians who are out of work. I haven’t got anywhere to go at the moment, because there’s been so many dark stages.
That perfectly leads into my next question. When you guys headed to The O2 arena last year, you were very vocal about the way music and the arts were treated during the pandemic. It feels the same way here in Canada, the arts, and music and the whole entertainment business just got the shaft.
Yeah, it’s tragic, in particular in the UK with Brexit as well. It seems like songwriters and musicians are not invited to the table when there are negotiations, whether it’s with Spotify, or in the European Union to get visas to work. It’s like, we don’t really matter. And I find that disgusting considering that we bring in. I mean, the music industry brings in billions of pounds into the UK Economy.
I heard once that Paul McCartney earned more money than British Steel every year. So why wouldn’t they look after the people that are bringing that much income and presumably paying lots of tax?
When the band was on tour last time, back in 2019, there was one show where Dave Grohl joins you guys on stage. Tell me about that experience.
We played a festival and the night before the Foo Fighters were on, we didn’t get there in time to see them. But I’d met them before a couple of times.
Rather than to fly off in their jet after the show, they decided to stay an extra night to see Squeeze. So they we were on, I didn’t know that was happening. We went on stage. And then I turned around at one point and Dave was playing the drums. It was extraordinary, because he didn’t miss a beat. It just sounded like he was meant to be there.
I’ve always found the Squeeze songwriting style very unique, because it’s just the two of you for the most part. One does the lyrics and one does the music, has it always been that way with you guys right from the start, or did that develop and this is, we found the perfect mix?
It’s always been like that since 1973. When we first met, it’s changed more recently, because Glenn has things to say and is a lyricist himself. So, why wouldn’t he contribute lyrically to Squeeze? He is a very different lyricist to myself and that brings a bit of change, a bit of swerve to what Squeeze does.
Was there ever a time where you wrote the lyrics or something, and it came back and the music was not what you even remotely envisioned?
Every time. It’s just like that, I can never tell what’s going to happen and in a way, that’s the beauty of the relationship is I never know what’s gonna happen. And it’s kind of like Christmas day when I listened to the demos.
Is there a point where it almost creates a totally different song for you then? It wouldn’t take on a different meaning, but it would definitely take on something different.
Yeah, very much so. And it must be hard for, Glenn to write too things that I feel, at least in the past anyway. Stories that I tell in my lyrics is quite a challenge, I think for him. But he does a brilliant job of it. And that’s what makes us unique.
When you guys started the crank out albums again, starting in 2010, what inspired the desire to make new music?
Well, a friend of ours wrote a script for a TV show. And he asked us if we would write the music and the songs for the TV show, which we did. That brought us together to make the record.
Then the knowledge which followed quite quickly afterwards, was just that we had to pick between our teeth to make another record. So we just went in and made another record. It wasn’t for any reason, in particular.
Squeeze originally was a five piece band making albums. But when you fast forward to “The Knowledge”, there’s a lot of people making that album, a lot of specialty musicians and guests on the album. So that seems more like a grand vision compared to the earlier albums. Is that accurate?
It is the production, you know, Glenn produced? Well, Glenn has been involved in production from the very beginning in one way or another. But I guess with “Cradle to the Grave” and in “The Knowledge”, we’ve got to know a lot more musicians over the years, and why not add people if it’s going to enhance your song.
I think that kind of works, we’re not a five piece band anymore. But we could be, that would be a lot of fun to go in the studio and say we’re going to make a record in a week with just five guys, it would be quite loud.
The first Squeeze song I ever heard was “Cool for Cats” in Canada. I saw it originally on a television show in Toronto, called the New Music and they always played cool cutting edge stuff that you never heard before. And so I saw the music video and the whole thing, it took me in a whole new world of musical experience because new wave was something new for me at the time. So tell me about that song.
Well, it was a song that didn’t have a lyric, it just had a backing track and we were due to go into record it. I needed to work fast to find a lyric and it just came to me like all the best lyrics just come to you really, they don’t mess about, they just fall in your lap. If I ever spend more than a day on a lyric then I know that I’m barking up the wrong tree.
Since we’re in Canada, I want to ask about the five charting hits that you had here and how those songs got created. It would make it uniquely Canadian for us. So the first hit you guys had “Another Nail in My Heart”.
I always associate that song with Canada funnily enough because it did chart that much higher than it did in the UK.
The genius bit about that record is the guitar solo I think, it’s the most thought out and well crafted guitar solo than any other records apart from maybe Some Fantastic Place. So yeah, I adore it.
“Tempted” – This one was big for me as a teenager because it was huge here.
“Tempted” was a song that we recorded originally with Dave Edmunds and then Elvis Costello produced it and Paul Carrack sang it. I’ve never looked back. I think it’s a terrific song. I’m still learning about it.
“Hourglass” was probably one of the very early songs that Glenn and I wrote in the same room, in his house, and it was a bit awkward being in the same room with Glenn writing a song. But we came up with “Hourglass” and thankfully, it’s been a good friend.
This song is less of a friend, it’s been a bit of a, we’ve never had it in the set. There’s a lyric that is not one that I would take to my grave to protect particularly, but it’s a beautiful melody.
And the last Canadian hit “Satisfied”
Now “Satisfied” is one of my favorite Squeeze songs. I loved recording it. I think it’s a terrific song. The transitional of the chord sequence is brilliant. And I always thought that George Michael could do a very good job of it.
The last question, will there be another Squeeze album in the near future?
Not for a while, I don’t think. It’s difficult to know who really wants a Squeeze album and what it actually means. It’s an awful lot of work. Costs are an awful lot of money and we don’t have that money to make records.
We don’t have a record company that would give us the money to do it either. So as a lyricist, I’m writing pretty much as much as I normally write, but Squeeze is not the outlet for those lyrics.
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