Liam Fray, songwriter, guitarist and lead singer with the Courteeners chats with Kevin Cooper about his solo acoustic tours, the inspiration behind Tip Toes, their latest album Mapping The Rendezvous, and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Courteeners are an English indie rock band formed in 2006 by Liam Fray, guitar and vocals, Michael Campbell on drums, Daniel ‘Conan’ Moores on guitar and more recently Joe Cross on bass joined them.
They have released five studio albums; St. Jude (2008), Falcon (2010), Anna (2013), Concrete Love (2014) and Mapping The Rendezvous (2016); as well as several EPs and two DVD albums. All the music and lyrics for the Courteeners’ songs are written by the band’s front man Liam Fray.
Aside from the band, Liam Fray also performs acoustic solo shows, playing the band’s songs. In August 2011 he performed a headline set at the re-opening of Salford Lads’ Club with XFM which was a career highlight.
On 13th May 2013 the band played a free set in Albert Square as part of the Manchester United’s Premier League Victory Parade, after their song Not Nineteen Forever, was named the official title song by the club following their record 20th league championship victory. The song was also played at a number of matches, including the game when they won the title and the final home game.
About to embark upon a tour of the UK, lead singer Liam Fray took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Liam how are you today?
Kevin, I’m good thanks how are you mate?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
That’s okay it’s my pleasure. You are very welcome. You sound full of beans Kevin, I like it. Enthusiastic, that’s what I like.
How is life treating Liam Fray?
It’s pretty good, it’s pretty good mate you know. We have this thing in the Courteeners where you have eight months of doing absolutely nothing, you find yourself looking in the mirror every morning questioning what you are doing, we should really be making a record (laughter). Then the phone rings and it doesn’t stop for another eight months so it is kind of busy. From a personal point of view when it is busy then I am very happy. I would much rather be up and about doing stuff than sitting at home watching Bargain Hunt or bloody Judge Rinder (laughter).
You have mentioned making records, is your latest album Mapping The Rendezvous all done and ready to go?
Yes, I have to say that it is all finished and ready to go. It will be unleashed onto the general public on Tuesday 8th November. They will be able to tame it in their own time (laughter). I can’t wait you know, I really can’t wait.
Well I have to tell you that I’ve been playing it for a few weeks now and I think that it is a great piece of work.
Excellent, thanks mate that really does mean a lot. We have only spoken to three or four people about the album to date and every single person that I have spoken to has been extremely complimentary and not the kind of bullshit ‘oh I like it’. You can really tell when someone is just saying that to make me feel good. I think that I am finally at ease with my song writing; I feel a little less pressure to impress people. I feel less pressure to have to tell people what I am not. When we first came out people had me down as this kind of Liam Gallagher wannabe. I absolutely love Oasis but that is like saying I want to be Johnny Rotten. There will never be another Liam, he is him. I am not that anyway.
I think that with the last album perhaps I was trying too hard to prove that I wasn’t this bolshie blah blah blah (laughter). Whereas with Mapping The Rendezvous I just thought sod that, just do what you want now. Let people make their own assumptions, let the fans come to the gigs and just make a record that you like making. So here we are really releasing album number five and to be honest I can’t believe it (laughter).
I know that favourite songs on albums change like the weather but at the moment I really do like Tip Toes and Finest Hour.
That’s brilliant, that makes me very happy. I think that Tip Toes might be the next proper single complete with a big video and all of that carry on (laughter). So for me that was a good choice. I too love Finest Hour which started life as just me on the piano tinkering around; happy days.
What was the inspiration behind Tip Toes?
Oh god (laughter) it was written about a very close friend and it is one of those, everyone has got one, where they have just kind of been in love since the first day that they met when they were both a lot, lot younger. They never really do anything about it and then the next thing you know is that they are married with a kid and you have to go “fantastic mate, many congratulations. I hate you both but all the very best” (laughter). But we are still friends and stuff, but it is a weird one. Sometimes the songs are autobiographical and that one is. I think that has been a bit of a thing as well; in the past it all used to be a hundred percent autobiographical. Now it’s a bit like me having a bit of artistic licence (laughter).
I really did find it a bit too much going out there every night singing 23 songs that were like ‘fuck me mate, stop reading your diary’ (laughter). Do you know what I mean, it all became too much for me. I’m now having much more fun with it and that has been quite liberating within itself. It means that when the honest songs come around you can still play with them and its now tongue in cheek. There is not as much heartbreak, it is more like ‘get on with it’ and there is always something else just around the corner.
A little bit more of a smile on your face.
Yes, that is exactly right. Definitely yes.
Are you happy with the final product?
Yes I am, I really do love it. It really has been a case of look, you make something and then you fret over it for so long afterwards; what’s going to happen, are we going to do this, are we going to do that. I thought, let’s just do it because we will be making another one in eighteen months. Even if no one buys it we will make another one in eighteen months so who cares (laughter). We, the band love it and for me the process was easier this time as well.
Didn’t you spend some time writing for the album over in Paris?
(Laughter) who has told you that (laughter). Yes I did. I really did enjoy making this album and yes, your information is correct, I wrote a lot of the songs on the new album in Paris. I took my producer Joe over with me, we set up a little studio in the apartment and we lived in Paris for six weeks. It was incredible. You are pretty lucky if you get to do that with your job aren’t you, so we didn’t mess about. You read about the Nottingham lad Jake (Bugg) for instance. He has got a massive label behind him, a massive budget so they can afford to send him over to Malibu where he can swan around for six months with Rick Rubens. We never get stuff like that. So for me to be able to just go out for five or six weeks to somewhere different is such a great experience.
Let me tell you that I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Being honest, that wasn’t me being snide about Jake Bugg, it’s just to illustrate the difference when you have a major label and money behind you. There are only a few artists that get to experience that side of things. Sometimes music fans think that if you are in a band then you are automatically a billionaire; loaded, fur coat, Rolls Royce (laughter). That is not the way that it is anymore, maybe twenty years ago but not anymore. So yes, it was great fun writing in Paris; it was a different experience, I loved just walking along the cobbled streets. It was a bit like being in Manchester but the people’s jackets were better tailored and they tended to smoke a bit more (laughter).
So yes, it was a very cool experience and I think that kind of fresh outlook has transported itself into the songs. I personally don’t think that any of the new songs necessarily sound like anything that we have done before, but you can still tell that it is us. And if you can get that balance right, for me that is the essence of it. If you can grow sound wise but keep the core of what you are about, tongue in cheek lyrics for example, being able to have a laugh at yourself, a little bit of heartbreak, then why not.
Would you agree that Mapping The Rendezvous is your best work to date?
I’m not just saying this because it is what everybody does say but I think that I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I am a hundred percent positive that it is the best work that we have ever done. However, I am not saying that people will like it the most, because nobody ever likes anything more than your first record. Everybody knows that and you simply can’t win against that argument can you. The first album is always the album that people fall in love with, The Strokes, Oasis, The Libertines; it is what happens. There was a bounce in the studio when we were recording the album. It felt like, right we have recorded it, let’s move onto the next one. The ideas were just flowing and flowing.
However, it didn’t really start like that. I actually demoed in Loch Ness for a couple of weeks in a really weird converted chapel (laughter). It was spooky right but it was fucking great. I also have to say that the whiskey is very strong up there (laughter). Once we had gone up there and recorded a couple of demos it was good but it wasn’t great. So we decided to take a month off and listen to what we had got and then when I went over to Paris something just seemed to click. We knew then that we were in a groove and that there was something there. So in answer to your question, yes we are really pleased with it and yes I would have to say that it our best work to date.
You have mentioned writing. Do you personally feel any added pressure because you do all of the writing for the band?
No not really. I have got used to it by now (laughter). However, I did feel under a lot of pressure when I was writing for the third album because I knew that the gigs that we were playing were getting a little bigger each time. We had parted company with Universal after the second album and I suddenly found myself wondering if anyone would even want the songs that I had written. I found myself writing in an attempt for us to get a new deal with a record label. At that time I found myself in a bit of a quandary really, not only was I writing for a record deal but I was also writing for the ten thousand kids who came to see us at the shows, and they are not the same people at all.
I was trying to write for the lad who is in the sixth form who hates his Saturday job and is trying his hardest to get into University, but I was also trying to write for these people who you think might give you a future. So that was a tough one really. We were told by various record companies that they didn’t like this song and didn’t like that song, but we simply told them that those songs were going onto the album and if they didn’t like that fact then we wouldn’t sign for them (laughter). We actually got offered quite a bit of money from a few record companies but we would rather sign with a label who believes in what we are doing rather than simply follow the dollar.
So in terms of pressure I have to say that I quite like it. I like it when the other lads are happy, I like it when I see that they are happy and they think that I have taken something to the table that they think is really good. Whenever I get a pat on the back from one of them that’s it for me; that for me is the starting point I guess. If they like it and it goes down well, and I see the foot starting to tap or the head nodding, I think right, they are into this one, it’s another winner (laughter).
You will be playing here in Nottingham at Rock City on Tuesday 22nd November. The gig is already sold out which must please you?
It is indeed yes, and yes it really does feel good when you keep being told that another date on the tour has already sold out. The whole tour has flown out, it has been brilliant so far. Nottingham has always been very good to us. I remember us playing our first ever date on a tour up there in Nottingham. We were supporting The Coral at the time. It was either a Tuesday or a Wednesday night and let me tell you it was a baptism of fire; it was like fucking hell I’m into this (laughter). I remember that so clearly because we were playing Monopoly on the way down to the gig in the back of the van. There was a big fight because someone had cheated and some of the hotels had gone missing (laughter). So to me that gig in Nottingham sticks out like a sore thumb (laughter). Nottingham is infamous for Monopoly gate (hysterical laughter).
They always say that you should never believe your own publicity but when someone like Bono says that the Courteeners are the best band in the last ten years surely that has got to make you feel good, hasn’t it?
(Hysterical laughter) well, what can I say, he obviously knows what he is talking about and he is certainly a man of good taste (laughter). I have to say that I really do love U2 and I find it really strange just how quick many people are to say that they don’t like them. I honestly think that they are fucking brilliant. I don’t trust people who don’t like U2. It’s a bit like The Smiths, people are soon to slag them off without even hearing them. What’s that all about? As a song I think that With Or Without You is about as good as it gets although I am not quite sure about The Edge’s hats (laughter). Song wise, you don’t get that big by writing bad songs for thirty years do you?
People who only have negative things to say always seem to shout the loudest. It’s a cliché for me to say that but it is true.
You mention The Smiths I was lucky enough to see them on Tuesday March 12th 1985 on their Meat Is Murder Tour at The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham when they were being supported by James.
Wow, fucking hell man. Now that’s the ticket that I would have loved to have had.
Morrissey is very fond of both you and the band. Has he been a help?
He has yes, he has indeed. Actually I’ve not seen him in a while but yes, he was a big help to us. He took us on tour with him over in the States. I mean it’s a bit surreal isn’t it, to hear someone who is one of your heroes saying complimentary things about you. For me it’s kind of ‘wow okay’ (laughter).
Your solo acoustic tours have gone down really well. Is that something that you will be doing again?
To be honest, I am not really sure. I recently did one in Manchester at the Albert Hall which was a venue that I had never played before and there were two thousand people there. It was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it is the band that I always love doing but every now and again it’s great for me to wear the acoustic hat. It is lovely to see the songs connecting on a different level. I remember Johnny Marr once saying that lots of people always say that if a song works on an acoustic guitar then it is going to work on an electric guitar. However, Johnny says that in his experience that statement is not necessarily true at all. He commented that a song can work on an electric guitar and not work on an acoustic guitar. So what I find quite interesting is that I used to write all of my songs using an acoustic guitar and then we would build it up from there.
But now a lot of the time I will start with a drum loop or a bass loop or something and then we will work it from there. So it was quite interesting working some of the new songs out into an acoustic form. I loved it even if it didn’t finally work. So it was really fucking cool to be there with two thousand people, me and the acoustic guitar. Adam (Payne) who plays the keyboards did a couple of numbers with me helping me out on a couple of songs and it is just such a nice feeling knowing that there is no chest puffed out saying ‘look here I am’. It’s just like these are some songs that I wrote in my bedroom and if you like them then let’s have a singsong. It’s fucking great (laughter).
Looking back to when you formed the band ten years ago now, did you ever think that you would still be doing it now?
No, I don’t think so but I think that’s because back then we were looking towards the end of each week or the end of the month for your pay packet. I was working at a clothes shop back then and the rest of the guys all had different jobs. We were just living week to week and month to month really. All of that changed when we realised that you could get paid in cans of beer for playing a gig. We all just thought that it was a fantastic deal to get twenty-four bottles of whatever for playing a gig (laughter). So that is kind of where it all started and it’s good that we are all friends and we stay close and stuff but I guess it’s all down to you having that belief in yourselves as musicians.
The songs have to be decent enough and they have to connect and it’s no good having big major labels pumping loads of money into you because eventually the money runs out. The money will run out because labels won’t fund you for ages. In order for you to last in this business you have to change and evolve whilst continuing to keep your fans happy and staying loyal to the core of what you are all about.
Once the album is released and you have finished the tour what next for the Courteeners?
I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will be heading off to Europe for eight dates which to be honest is really exciting, but usually we either tour over Christmas or we have a huge Manchester show so for us December is always chock a block. However, this year for the first time in nine years it was like ‘fucking amazing, we will be able to get down to the Christmas market to do all of my shopping and get it all sorted’ but no, fuck that, I have just had a phone call telling me that we will be out on tour (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, that is not a complaint so I guess that we will be somewhere in the middle of Europe or Berlin. This will be really great; sod that, we haven’t been over there for a few years now. I think that is the next step for us really, to try and spread the wings into Europe and see if anyone fancies a Courteeners gig over there. We will have to see if we can fly the flag over there.
On that note Liam let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham at Rock City.
You are very welcome Kevin. You take care and come over and say hi at Rock City. Bye for now.